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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Lost Trail - Chapter 10. At Bay
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The Lost Trail - Chapter 10. At Bay Post by :donmo Category :Long Stories Author :Edward Sylvester Ellis Date :May 2012 Read :860

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The Lost Trail - Chapter 10. At Bay

CHAPTER X. AT BAY

While Jack and Otto were talking in guarded tones, and carefully picking their way through the wood, each stopped and became silent at the same instant. They saw nothing, but their ears told them some person or animal was approaching through the undergrowth behind them.

Within the same minute the creature revealed himself in the form of a large, black bear, which was lumbering along unmindful that enemies were near.

"Mebbe he don't be an Indian," whispered Otto, who knew much of the cunning of the red men.

The same thought had occurred to the Kentuckian, who held his gun at full cock, until he should be able to learn the truth. While thus employed be could not help reflecting on the improbability of such a clumsy artifice being that time, for there was no call for the attempt, no prospect of deceiving two persons who displayed such excellent woodcraft.

Jack speedily saw that the bear was a genuine one, probably on his way to the river. There no occasion for shooting him, and the hunters stepped aside to allow him to pass. Jack kept eye on him, however, for it being the spring of year, he had not been long out of his hibernating quarters, and was likely to be lean, hungry, fierce.

Bruin caught sight of the hunters, while several rods off, and throwing up his snout, took a look at them, as though uncertain of the species to which they belonged.

"He looks pig, don't he?" said Otto, referring to his size, and half inclined to give him a shot. "One pullet would make him put up dot snout down."

"Let him alone, so long as he doesn't disturb us. He isn't half so dangerous as the Indians and they would be likely to rush upon us before you could reload your gun."

Otto saw the prudence of his friend's words, and he not only let down the hammer of his rifle, but emphasized his intention by turning his back upon the bear.

The huge beast seemed disposed to attack the boys. It may be that the plump, ruddy-faced Gorman looked specially tempting to him while in his hungry state, for Jack fancied that it was he on whom his large eyes were fixed with a peculiar lodging.

The bear took several steps toward the couple, and Jack cocked his gun, believing he would have to fire. Otto, seeing the movement, turned, but at that moment the animal, if he had actually any purpose of opening hostilities, changed his mind, moving off to one side, and continued his awkward gait toward the river.

The boys watched him until be reached the stream and began lapping the water, when they resumed their withdrawal from the spot, still walking in a northerly course along the right bank of the Mississippi.

Both were anxious to get as far away as they could, in the hope that they would be able to keep a safe space between themselves and the red men, whom they held in such fear.

Their uneasiness was not lessened when the sharp crack of a rifle broke upon their ears, from a point not far down the stream. It was followed by another report deeper in the woods, and then several whoops came from different parts of the forest, all being within a short radius.

The boys could not guess the cause of the firing, unless they were meant as signals, but they were sure the cries referred to them. Most likely, as they viewed it, they were meant to direct the actions of the parties, who must have felt that it only needed a little care and energy to capture the youths that, up to that time, had baffled the enmity of both the Miamis and Shawanoes.

The result was, that Jack and Otto, keeping as near as was prudent to the river, pushed on as fast as they could. A species of running vine close to the ground caused them much annoyance, the more chubby one falling forward several times on his hands and knees.

They had traveled a short distance only, when the signals that had so alarmed them were heard again. The Indiana called to each other by means of the whoops and shouts, as intelligible to those for whom they were meant as if they were so many spoken words.

The lads could not fail to observe that they were considerably nearer than before. The red men were evidently converging in their pursuit, and meant to force the struggle to an issue with the least delay possible.

"We must travel faster," said Jack Carleton, compressing his lips, after glancing behind him. "This has settled down to a regular race between us."

"Dot is so," assented Otto, sprawling forward again on his hands and knees, from the running vine which caught, like fine wire, around his ankles. "If it Vos who falls down the most and cracks his head, den I would beat dem, don't it?"

"We shall have to make a fight for they can travel a great deal faster than we--"

"Let's jump mit the river; we gets so far off afore dey learns vot we don't do."

It seemed to be the only recourse left to the fugitives, and they turned toward the Mississippi. But at that very moment Jack caught sight of a pile of logs only a short distance ahead.

It seemed a direct interference of Providence, totally unexpected by both. Whether the logs were the retreat of a friend or enemy could only be guessed. The probabilities were that the former was the case, since the structure was not of the kind made by Indians.

Jack caught the arm of Otto and whirled him back.

"Vot ain't de matter?" asked the German, half angrily at the check, when there was so much necessity for haste.

"See?" asked Jack, in turn, pointing to the logs as seen through the trees.

Otto nodded his head. It was enough, and he made a desperate rush to reach the refuge, catching his foot and falling headlong again.

"Dunderation!" he exclaimed; "wonder if dere ain't no blamed vines that I hef not fall over and proke mine nose."

The whoops of the Miamis and Shawanoes sounded still closer; they were pressing the pursuit with utmost vigor, and were upon the heels of the fugitives.

The Kentuckian, who continually glanced back, caught sight of more than one figure flitting among the trees. Suddenly something red gleamed; it was the flash of a gun, and, at the same moment the sharp report rang out, the bullet passed between Jack and Otto, who were striving desperately to get beyond reach before a fair aim could tempt their enemies.

The second view which Jack caught of the shelter told him it was simply four walls of logs, a dozen feet square, half as high, and without any roof. When, why, and by whom they had been put up was a mystery.

But no oasis in the flaming desert could be more welcome to the traveler dying with thirst than was this simple structure to the panting fugitives. Jack Carleton, with a recklessness caused by the imminence of his peril, flung his gun over into the enclosure, sprang upward so as to grasp the topmost log, and scrambled after it with the headlong impetuosity of a wounded animal.

Otto was only a second or two behind him, and, .puffing and gasping, he dropped squarely on his head and shoulders, rolled over, caught up his gun again, and sprang to his feet.

"Dot's de way I always climb down stairs," he exclaimed, raising the hammer of his gun and holding it ready to fire on the first appearance of a foe.

"It's all well enough, if you ain't hurt, but look out for the red men; they're right on us."

"Dot's vot I don't dinks," replied Otto, who, still panting from his exertion, seemed to have recovered his coolness; "if dey climbs up dot vall, den dey run agin de, pall of mine gun and one of dem gets hurt, and it ain't de pall-don't it?"

The pursuers were so close to the fugitives that the tramp of their moccasins was heard at the moment the boys braced themselves for the shock which they were sure would come within the next few seconds. The sight of a flying foe intensifies the courage of the pursuer, and it may have been that the Shawanoe who discharged his gun at the lads, when they were so close to the shelter, believed he had wounded one at least, and that a vigorous assault could not fail to end the struggle speedily. There may, in fact, have been a dozen causes which incited him to a bravery and personal effort greater than that of any of his companions.

"They'll try to overwhelm us," said Jack. "Hold your gun ready."

The words were yet in his mouth, when a peculiar, soft scratching, which was ended the instant it began, told that one of the warriors had inserted the toe of his moccasin in a crevice of the logs, with the purpose of climbing over into the enclosure.

"I'll attend to him if there's only one," added Jack, naturally fearful of throwing away a shot.

"I dinks I 'tends him mit myself--"

Suddenly the painted face of a Shawanoe Indian rose to view. One hand had grasped the top log, and he was drawing himself rapidly upward with the purpose of leaping over. The countenance was frightful beyond description--the streaks and circles in red, yellow, and black, from amid which glared the black eyes, with an expression of ferocity like that of a Bengal tiger, and the white teeth, gleaming between the parted lips, drawn far back at the corners, gave a hideous fierceness to the visage that would have appalled a brave man who saw it for the first time.

"I dinks I 'tends him mit myself--"

Just as Otto Relstaub reached that point in his remark, he pulled the trigger of his rifle. A rasping howl followed, and the horrible face vanished a speedily as if the owner had been standing on a trap-door, which was sprung.

"Yaw--I dinks I 'tends mit him," repeated Otto, coolly lowering his gun and looking at the spot where the head and shoulders were visible an instant before.

"Load up quick!" said Jack, who held his cocked rifle in hand while his eye glanced hastily along the upper part of the logs, "don't lose a second."

The thump of the body was heard as the Shawanoe--dead before he could fall the brief space--struck the ground on the outside. At the same moment a second warrior (a Miami that time), drew himself upward close to the place from which the Shawanoe had dropped. He rose until his tufted head, his sloping forehead and his gleaming eyes appeared just above the horizon of the enclosure. Staring downward, he looked straight into the muzzle of a rifle, held by a young Kentuckian, who had just become aware of his presence.

Down went the Indian, possibly with a suspicion that his bronzed skull was also perforated, as he fell across the limp body beneath him; but Jack Carleton had not fired, not because the opportunity was not inviting enough nor because he felt the least scruple about shooting one of the savages who were thirsting for his life, but he was afraid to discharge his piece before Otto should force another bullet home.

Repeating and percussion rifles were unknown at that day, and it took much valuable time to reload musket or gun after its discharge. Knowing this, the infuriated redskins were likely to make a rush whenever they knew that the weapons within the enclosure were unloaded.

Inasmuch as the boys possessed no other firearms, it will be seen that in such an event they would be helpless. Indeed, it was impossible for them to hold out if their assailants determined to force matters. They had but to leap over the walls, as could be easily done, and the contest would be decided right speedily; that decision must inevitably be against the daring defenders.

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