CHAPTER I. AT HOME.
On the evening of a dismal, rainy day in spring, a mother and her son were sitting in their log-cabin home in the southern portion of the present State of Missouri. The settlement bore the name of Martinsville, in honor of the leader of the little party of pioneers who had left Kentucky some months before, and, crossing the Mississippi, located in that portion of the vast territory known at that time as Louisiana.
There were precisely twenty cabins, all of which had been constructed with a view to rugged strength, durability, and comfort. Lusty arms had felled the trees, that were cut the proper length and dovetailed in the usual manner at the corners, the crevices being filled with a species of plaster, made almost entirely from yellow clay. The interiors were generally divided into two apartments, with a broad fireplace and the rude furniture of the border. Colonel Martin himself, with the assistance of his two full-grown sons, erected a more pretentious dwelling with two stories and a loft, but the other houses, as has already been stated, were of such a simple and familiar character that the American reader needs no further description.
Mrs. Carleton was a widow, whose husband had been slain by Indians in Kentucky some time previous, and who, in the daily requirement of her duties, and in her great love for her only child, Jack, found some relief from the dreadful sorrow that overshadowed her life. Kind neighbors had lent willing hands, and her home was as well made as any in the settlement. Jack and his companion, Otto Relstaub, had arrived only a couple of days before, and each had wrought so hard in his respective household that they had scarcely found time to speak to or see each other.
The evening meal had been eaten, the things cleared away, and wood heaped upon the fire which filled the little room with cheerful illumination. The mother was seated at one side, the silent spinning-wheel just beyond, while her deft fingers were busy with her knitting. Jack was half reclining on a rude bench opposite, recounting, in his boyish fashion, the adventures of himself and Otto on their memorable journey, which has been fully told in the "Lost Trail."
The good mother possessed an education beyond the ordinary, and, knowing its great value, insisted upon her son improving his spare moments in study. Jack was well informed for his years, for no one could have been blessed with a better teacher, counselor, and friend, than he was. Even now, when we reintroduce him to the reader, he held an old-fashioned spelling-book in his hand. He had tried to give his attention to his lesson, but, boy-like, his mind persisted in wandering, and his mother, looking fondly across the fire, was so pleased to hear him chat and to ask and answer questions, that she could not find it in her heart to chide him.
"You have never seen Deerfoot, have you, mother?" he asked, abruptly breaking in on his own narrative.
"Yes, I have seen him; he saved the life of your father."
"What!" exclaimed Jack, straightening up and staring at his parent in open-mouthed amazement: "I never heard of that before."
"Didn't Deerfoot tell you?"
"He never hinted anything of the kind. He once asked me about father's death and about you, but I thought it was only a natural interest he felt on my account. But tell me how it was, mother."
"Some months before your father's death, he was absent a couple of days on a hunt to the south of our home. He kindled a camp-fire in a deep valley, where the undergrowth was so dense that he felt sure of being safe against discovery. The night was very cold, and snow was flying in the air. Besides that, he had eaten nothing all day, and was anxious to broil a wild turkey he had shot just as it began to grow dark. He started the fire, ate his supper, and was in the act of lying down for the night, when a young Indian walked out from the woods, saying in the best of English that he was his friend. Your father told me that he was the most graceful and handsome youth he had ever looked upon——"
"That was Deerfoot!" exclaimed the delighted Jack.
"There can be no doubt of it, for he told your father that such was his English name. I forget what his own people called him. Well, he said to your father, in the most quiet manner, that a party of Shawanoes were very near him. They had heard the report of his rifle, and, suspecting what it meant, were carefully arranging to capture him for the purpose of torture. Deerfoot had seen them, and, having also heard the gun, learned what was going on. If your father had stayed where he was five minutes longer, nothing could have saved him. I need not tell you that he did not stay. Under the guidance of Deerfoot he managed to extricate himself from his peril, and, by traveling the entire night, was beyond all danger when the sun rose again. Deerfoot did not leave him until certain he had no cause for fear. Then, when your father turned to thank him, he was gone. He had departed as silently as a shadow."
"That was just like Deerfoot!" exclaimed Jack, with kindling eye; "it seems to me he is like Washington. Though he has been in any number of dangers, I don't believe he has so much as a scar on his little finger. He has been fired upon I don't know how often, but, like Washington, he carries a charmed life."
The serious mother shook her head, and, looking over her knitting at her boy, made answer:
"Such a thing is unknown in this world; more than likely he will fall by the knife or bullet of an enemy."
"I suppose he is liable to be shot, like any one else; but the Indian that does it has got to be mighty smart to get ahead of him. Plenty of them have tried it with knife and tomahawk, but they never lived to try it on any one else. But that ain't the most wonderful part of it," added Jack, shaking his head and gesticulating in his excitement with both arms; "Deerfoot knows a good deal more about books than I do."
"That does not imply that he possesses any remarkable education," said the mother, with a quiet smile.
The boy flushed, and sinking back said:
"I know I ain't the best-educated fellow in the settlement, but who ever heard of a young Indian knowing how to read and write? Why, that fellow can write the prettiest hand you ever saw. He carries a little Bible with him: the print is so fine I can hardly read it, but he will stretch out in the light of a poor camp-fire, and read it for an hour at a time. I can't understand where he picked it all up, but he told me about the Pacific Ocean, which is away beyond our country, and he spoke of the land where the Saviour lived when he was on earth. I never felt so ashamed of myself as I did when he sat down and told me such things. He can repeat verse after verse from the Bible; he pronounced the Lord's Prayer in Shawanoe, and then told me and Otto that if we would only use the English a little oftener the Great Spirit would hear us. What do you think of that?"
"It is very good advice."
"Of course it is, but the idea of a young Indian being that sort of fellow! Well, there's no use of talking," added Jack, as though unable to do justice to the theme, "he beats anything I ever heard of. If the truth should be written as to what he has done, and put in a book, I don't 'spose one person in a hundred would believe it. He promised to come and see us."
"I hope he will," said the mother; "I shall always hold him in the highest esteem and gratitude for his kindness to your father and to you."
"I tell you it would have gone rough with Otto and me if it hadn't been for him. I wonder how Otto is getting along?" said Jack, with an expression of misgiving on his face.
"Why do you ask that?" inquired his mother.
"I think Deerfoot was worried over him."
"I do not understand you."
"Why, you know Otto has got the meanest father in the whole United States of America——"
"Those are strong words," interrupted the parent reprovingly.
"It is contrary to your teaching to talk that way, but you know, too, that it is the solemn truth. Deerfoot stopped at Jacob Relstaub's cabin, in this very settlement, some weeks ago, when it was raining harder than now, and asked for something to eat, and to stay all night. What do you 'spose Relstaub did? He abused him and turned him away."
"What a shame!" exclaimed the good woman indignantly. "Why did Deerfoot not come here or to one of the other cabins?"
"I don't know, but he went off in the woods by himself. Otto tried to befriend him, and was whipped for it; but Deerfoot never forgot it, and he risked his life to help Otto and me."
"It was very unkind in Mr. Relstaub, but you have not told me why you and Deerfoot were alarmed for Otto."
"Otto had the best horse that his father owns. It ran away from us, and, though we tried hard to get him again, we couldn't, and Otto and I came home on foot. Knowing his father as well as we do, Deerfoot and I were afraid the poor fellow would be punished because he lost the animal. I haven't had a chance to say much to Otto, and when I did, I didn't want to ask him about it, but I would like to know whether he has been punished for what he couldn't help."
"I can answer that question," said Mrs. Carleton, softly; "his father whipped him most cruelly yesterday."
"The old scamp——"
"Tut, tut!" warned the parent, raising her finger, "it was cruel, but Otto will survive it, as he has many other times, and before many years he will become so large that his father will not be able to punish him."
"I hope he will undertake it, and Otto will knock him——"
"Stop!" said the mother, more sternly, "you have already allowed your feelings to lead you too far."
"Pardon me, mother," said Jack, humbly, "I would not hurt your feelings for the world; but there is such a contrast between his father and you, and his mother is just as bad——"
Jack checked himself again, for his quick ear detected something. He turned quickly toward the door of the cabin, and his mother, reading the meaning of the movement, did the same, holding her fingers motionless while both listened.
The rain beat upon the roof, dashed against the window-panes, and rattled on the logs of the cabin, with a melancholy sound that made the interior seem doubly cheerful by contrast. At times the wind roared among the trees, and some of the pattering drops found their way down the chimney, and hissed among the flaming brands, making tiny black points that were instantly wiped out by the ardor of the fire itself.
Suddenly the latch-string, which was only drawn in when the inmates were ready to retire, was pulled, the latch raised, the door opened, and Otto Relstaub, his garments dripping water, entered the room.
"Good-evening!" he called, pausing a moment to close the door against the driving storm.
Both greeted the visitor, and Jack, laying aside his book, advanced and warmly shook the hand of his friend, bringing him forward and giving him a seat on the bench, which was drawn still nearer the fire.
Otto was attired very much as when we saw him last, but he did not carry his gun with him. He took off his peaked hat, shook the water from it, and then his broad, good-natured face, gleaming with moisture and rugged health, was raised to meet the mild, inquiring gaze of the lady, who asked him how he was.
"Oh, I ish well," he answered, speaking English much better than he did a short time previous, "I have been working so hard dot I couldn't come over before."
"I'm real glad to see you," said Jack, cordially, slapping him on the back and making the water fly; "if you hadn't called to-night I would have dropped in to-morrow to see you. We've hardly had a chance to speak to each other since we got back."
"No, dot ish so," said Otto, with a sigh. "Father, he makes me work harder as I never did, to make up for the time dot I wasted in play, he says. By Jiminy! I don't think dot was much play, do you, Jack?"
"It was the worst play I ever went through; two boys never worked harder for their lives than did we, and if it hadn't been for Deerfoot, we never would have reached Martinsville. I suppose your father gave you a whipping for losing Toby?"
"I should thinks he did! I hadn't been home one hours, when he went out and cut a stick, and used it up on me, and he doned the same yesterday."
Jack was about to break forth into vigorous language, when his mother anticipated him. Her voice was slightly tremulous, for, despite her enforced calmness, she could not altogether restrain her feelings.
"Surely he could not have understood the matter; I will speak to your mother."
Otto shrugged his shoulders, with a laugh in which there was more sadness than mirth.
"Moder is worse than him; she tole him he didn't whips me half enough, and so he tried it again yesterday. I heard her tells him to-night dot I needed more, so I slips out and comes over here before he could get everythings ready. May I stay here all night?"
"All night!" repeated Jack, "you may stay a week—a month—a year—yes, forever."
"I don't want to stay dot long," said Otto, with his pleasant laugh; "but fader, he tells me he will beat me every day till I brings back de horse."
"Very well," said Jack, compressing his lips, "you won't go back till you get the horse—if it takes five years."
"Did your father tell you to stay away till you recovered the animal?" asked Mrs. Carleton.
"Dot vos just vot he says."
"Then it is proper that you should obey him."
Otto nodded his head to signify that his sentiments were those of his friends. He glanced slyly around the room, but did not explain what he was looking for, and, unfortunately, neither mother nor son suspected the meaning of the look; but Otto's hard-hearted parents had actually driven him from their home without allowing him to eat a mouthful of dinner or supper. He was suffering with hunger, but was plucky enough to bear it without complaining, since his friends had partaken and cleared away the table long before.
"What do you intend to do?" asked Mrs. Carleton, who deeply sympathized with the poor lad.
"I goes home in de mornings and gets my gun and powder-horn before they can whips me, and then I goes off to hunt for Toby."
"And I'll go with you!" exclaimed the impulsive Jack, springing to his feet; "you'll let me, mother, won't you?" he asked, turning beseechingly toward her.
Recalling the perils through which her only child had passed so recently, the widow could not but contemplate with dismay the prospect of having him venture into the wilderness again; but she felt deeply for poor honest Otto, who was so willing and good-natured, and who had shown such a desire to help her while her own boy was in Kentucky.
Furthermore, she knew that Louisiana was a much less dangerous country than the Dark and Bloody Ground. Few of the Shawanoes, Hurons, and other actively hostile tribes ever crossed to the western side of the Mississippi, where the Osages gave little trouble to the settlers scattered through that immense territory.
Otto's eyes sparkled when Jack Carleton leaped to his feet and declared he would go with him on the search for the lost horse (subject, of course, to the consent of his mother), and the German youth looked pleadingly toward the good woman, who, it is hardly necessary to say, yielded consent, giving with it a large amount of motherly counsel, to which the boys listened respectfully, though candor compels me to say that the thoughts of both were far away among the green woods, beside the sparkling streams, and in the shadows of the chasms, ravines, and gloomy mountains, whither, as they well knew, the curious search would lead them.
CHAPTER II. A DOUBTFUL ENTERPRISE.
One of the commendable habits of the early settlers and old-fashioned folks was that of retiring and rising early. They were ardent believers in the saying of Poor Richard that "early to bed, and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise."
It was not yet nine o'clock, when Jack and Otto, despite the deep interest they felt in their projected campaign, voluntarily withdrew to the other room, where they fell asleep within five minutes after their heads touched the pillow. The mother remained by the fire some time after the boys withdrew. Her small white fingers flitted hither back and forth, while her mild brown eyes seemed to look beyond the flashing needles, and into the glowing coals on the hearth. Her thoughts were sad and sorrowful, as they always were when she sat thus alone. They wandered back to that awful time when her loved husband was stricken down in defence of her and their little boy.
But to-night she was thinking more of that boy than of the father. She saw how much like the latter he was growing, and she trembled when she recalled that he was soon to start on another excursion into the wilderness, to be gone for days, and likely for weeks, and with no certainty of ever returning again.
As the night advanced, the fury of the storm diminished. At "low twelve" the fall of rain ceased altogether. The wind blew strongly, sometimes with a power which caused the strongest trees to bow their heads to the blast. As the morning approached, it died out altogether, and the sun rose on one of the fairest days that ever was seen.
Early as was the orb, the inmates of the cabin were waiting to greet it when it appeared above the horizon. The boys were in high spirits over the beautiful morning, and both felt that it promised well for the venture before them.
"I tell you we're going to win!" said Jack, compressing his lips and shaking his head. "I feel it in my bones, as your father says, just before a storm comes."
"Dot's vot I dinks," assented Otto, whose only discomfort was his exceeding hunger: "Vot you dinks, Mrs. Carleton?"
"I hope you will not be disappointed; that is the most I can say. Jack's feeling that you are going to succeed is simply his pleasure over the prospect of a ramble in the woods. We will eat breakfast, after which you can go home and make your preparations for the journey."
When they were seated at the table and Otto's hunger was nearly satisfied, he told his friends with a grin, that it was the first food he had tasted in twenty-four hours. They were shocked, and both took him to task for his failure to make known the truth the evening before. He made the philosophic reply that if he had done so he would have missed the boundless enjoyment of such a meal as that of which he was then partaking.
Mrs. Carleton on rising in the morning felt that Otto ought not to be allowed to go on the expedition until after a further talk with his parents, who, despite what they had said, might be unwilling for him to engage in such an undertaking; but when she learned how the poor fellow had been made to suffer with hunger her feelings changed....