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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Lost Trail - Chapter 9. A Timely Arrival
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The Lost Trail - Chapter 9. A Timely Arrival Post by :donmo Category :Long Stories Author :Edward Sylvester Ellis Date :May 2012 Read :778

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The Lost Trail - Chapter 9. A Timely Arrival

CHAPTER IX. A TIMELY ARRIVAL

One of the most convincing evidences of a Power beyond our comprehension, governing and directing everything for the best, is the marvelous degree to which the different faculties of our nature can be trained. There is a skill which cannot be explained or understood by him who attains it; and, interwoven through the five senses which science assigns to us, seems to be a sixth not yet understood, of whose wonderful functions every one of us has seen proof.

The Shawanoe warrior, after parting with his companion, walked leisurely toward the tree behind which the young Kentuckian was hiding, until about twenty yards separated them. Then he stopped as abruptly as if stricken by a thunderbolt. There was "something in the air" which whispered danger.

The Indian had neither seen nor heard anything to cause this misgiving, but he knew that peril confronted him. What he would have done in the event of Jack Carleton remaining silent and stationary behind the trunk can only be conjectured; but the impatience of the youth ended that phase of the situation.

Softly removing his cap, the young Kentuckian slowly moved the side of his head to the right. In doing so, he kept his face in a perpendicular position, so that the least possible part of his head was exposed. Had he inclined it, the upper portion would have shown before the eye could have been brought into use.

The first object on which Jack's vision rested was the Shawanoe warrior, standing erect, one foot slightly advanced and both hands grasping the rifle in front of him. The face was daubed and streaked with paint, and the gleaming black eyes were looking straight at the startled youth.

Like a flash the dusky arms brought the gun to his shoulder, and it is safe to say that Jack Carleton never in all his life drew back his head with such celerity.

Quick as was the Indian, he was not quick enough to catch the lad, who, it will be seen, had very little to do in order to save himself for the moment. With a faint whoop, the redskin bounded behind the nearest tree, and, with his cocked rifle at command, awaited an opening that would allow him to slay his foe.

Thus the two occupied precisely the same, relative position; each was protected by a trunk of a tree large enough to shield his body, and each grasped a loaded and cocked rifle, eager to use it the instant the opportunity presented itself.

Who was to win in this curious contest? Looking at the situation dispassionately, it must be admitted that the chances favored the Indian. He was older, stronger, more active, and possessed greater cunning than did the youth. What, after all, is one of the most important factors in such a problem, the American race possess by training, and nature--patience scarcely second to that of the Esquimau. The probabilities were that the Shawanoe would wait until the youth was led into some fatal indiscretion.

All this, be it remembered, is based on the condition that no such thing as "foreign interference" took place.

Is there any reader of mine who has not been entertained in his early youth by the story of the white man and the Indian, who, being placed in the situation of Jack and the Shawanoe, remained in hiding from each other, until the Caucasian drew the shot of the American, by placing his cap on the end of the ramrod or gun and projecting it far enough from behind the tree, thus leading the Indian to believe that the head of his foe was in range? If such an incident ever took place, the warrior must have been unusually stupid to leap from cover, as the story makes him do, until certain he had brought the other down.

Jack Carleton attempted the same artifice, except that, instead of taking the trouble to draw his ramrod or using his rifle for that purpose, he held his cap in hand, shoving it forward very slowly and with great care,

The trick failed. The Shawanoe must have suspected the truth on the first appearance of the head-gear. Jack pushed it forward until sure it was seen, but no demonstration came from the warrior, who, for aught the youth knew, was essaying the same deception.

Determined to learn something about his enemy, Jack threw his head to one side and drew it back again before the warrior could pull the trigger. He knew precisely where to look, but he was unable to catch sight of the Shawanoe or his weapon.

"I wonder whether he has shifted his quarters," said Jack to himself. "If he has, he will shot at me before I can learn where he is. Holloa!"

The second time he thrust forward his face withdrawing it with the same celerity as before, he caught a passing glimpse of the Shawanoe, who, rather curiously, adopted exactly the same artifice. This "located" the savage and relieved Jack, for the moment, of his terrifying dread that death threatened from an unknown point.

But, within the next minute, the redskin utterance to a faint whoop, clearly meant as a signal to a comrade not far off.

"He is calling back the Miami, who left him a few minutes ago," was the conclusion of Jack. "It'll go rough with me if I have two of them to fight. I'll try a little of the signaling myself."

Placing the thumb and forefinger of his left hand against his tongue, he emitted a low, tremulous whistle, such as he and Otto used when on hunting expeditions together. He repeated it, and then, greatly to his relief, received a reply, though it was so guarded that he could not guess the point whence it came.

"Now, if Otto proves sharp enough to grasp the situation, without running into ambush, we may settle the matter with this fellow before the other can take a hand--"

As on the previous day, something twinkled among the trees to the left. A glance in that direction and Jack saw, with dismay, that the Miami warrior had arrived.

The worst of it, too, was that he appeared so far over from where the Shawanoe stood that lines connecting the three would have made almost a right angle. It looked as if the youth must be exposed to the enfilading fire of one of his enemies.

It was a frightful situation, but the brave Kentuckian did not lose heart. He pressed against the bark as closely as he could, endeavoring to watch both points, but he was fearfully handicapped, and there was little hope for him, unless his friend could interfere.

Suddenly the Miami, who, naturally enough, had taken to the shelter of a tree, after the manner of his comrade, made a bound of several feet which placed him behind a second trunk that was still further to the rear of Jack Carleton. Another such leap and the youth would be effectually uncovered.

But the anxiously prayed for deliverance came at this critical moment. While the Miami was maneuvering for position, Otto Relstaub appeared behind him, and, in the twinkling of an eye, the merciless warrior was placed between two fires.

"You let dot chap alone?" called out the German, with his gun to his shoulder, "or py gracious I'll shoot my ramrod clean through you as nefer vos I don't it?"

The unexpected discovery of his mortal peril threw the Miami into a panic. It was impossible for him to find shelter at the same moment from both his enemies, for, on whatever side of the tree he took refuge, he would be in range of one of them. With a howl of consternation, he whirled on his heel and ran like a frightened deer. As he did so, he ducked his head and leaped from side to side, after the manner of the Digger Indians of the present day, with a view of distracting the fire of his enemies.

It would have been a feat of marksmanship had either lad brought him down, when so many and varying objects intervened, and neither of the youths made the attempt. When the terrified fugitive vanished, he was without a wound or scratch to tell of the danger from which he had fled.

During these stirring moments, the Shawanoe had taken no part and given no sign of interest in what was going on; but Jack, who was fully aroused by the venomous attempt on his life, called to his friend, whose position he knew commanded that of the savage:

"Otto, shoot the wretch!"

"Dot is vot I vos going to do," was the reply of the German, who took careful aim around the side of the tree.

He was in plain view of Jack, who watched him with a rapidly beating heart, knowing as he did that the fellow carried an excellent gun and was it good shot.

But, while glancing along the rifle-barrel, with one eye closed, Otto raised his head, opened both eyes and looked toward the point at which he had been aiming. Then his cheery laughter rang out.

"What is the matter?" asked the astonished Jack.

"Now, ain't dot funny? He Indian ain't dere!"

"Yes, he is," shouted Jack, suspecting trickery. "He will shoot you, if you don't bring him down!"

Otto glanced affrightedly behind him, as though he heard a stealthy footstep, but called back once more that the Shawanoe had disappeared.

It occurred to the other youth, just then, that if the warrior was in the vicinity and could be seen by Otto, he must be visible to him. But a sweeping survey of the field failed to bring to light the painted face and feathered crown.

There could be no doubt that the Shawanoe had taken advantage of the diversion caused by Otto's arrival, and had not stood on the order of his going. Five minutes before, there seemed no chance of Jack Carleton preserving his life. Now, how changed! Toward whatever point of the compass he looked, he saw not the first evidence that peril threatened.

But for all that, it was uncomfortably nigh, and it was difficult to find a place in which there was less safety than where they were. Jack resolved to leave at once.

At the moment he stepped from behind the tree which had sheltered him, Otto strode toward him, his broad face still broader on account of his beaming pleasure.

"Dot vos me," he said, triumphantly. "Otto doned it."

"Did what?"

"Scared 'ern so dot they forgits him nefer."

"You did well, beyond question. I cannot see how I would have saved myself if you hadn't come as you did. I shall never forget it, Otto, though I think it was a mistake when we parted company it short while ago. It looks as though these Miamis and Shawanoes are on all sides of us, and we must find some kind of shelter or make a hasty change of base."

"Dot's vot I dinks," assented the other. "I am waiting for you to show me vot's I doesn't do."

"It is hard to tell what is the best course," said Jack, who, while talking, was moving slowly toward the Mississippi, watching, meanwhile, every point of the compass. "But, somehow or other I feel there's less danger by the river than anywhere else."

"I likes it dere better than other places, for if we finds the Indians are going to boder us, we can cheat 'em as easy as nefer vos."

"How?"

"We can jump in the river and drowns mit, ourselves; won't dey be fooled!"

"Perhaps they would be disappointed; but I don't see where we are likely to gain anything."

"I doesn't see hims mineself," grinned Otto, whose whims led him to be amusing during the most trying moments, as well as grave when others were light-hearted.

"I only wish we were on the other side," said the young Kentuckian, who at that moment caught the gleam of the Mississippi through the trees in front.

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