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Footprints in the Forest

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Those of my friends who have done me the honor of reading "Campfire and Wigwam," will need little help to recall the situation at the close of that narrative. The German lad Otto Relstaub, having lost his horse, while on the way from Kentucky to the territory of Louisiana (their destination being a part of the present State of Missouri), he and his young friend, Jack Carleton, set out to hunt for the missing animal. Naturally enough they failed: not only that, but the two fell into the hands of a band of wandering Sauk Indians, who held them prisoners.

Directly after the capture of the lads, their captors parted company, five going in one direction with Jack and the other five taking a different course with Otto. "Camp-Fire and Wigwam" gave the particulars of what befell Jack Carleton. In this story, I propose to tell all about the hunt that was made for the honest lad, who had few friends, and who had been driven from his own home by the cruelty of his parents to engage in a search which would have been laughable in its absurdity, but for the danger that marked it from the beginning.

The youth, however, had three devoted friends in Jack Carleton, his mother, and Deerfoot, the Shawanoe. But for the compassion which the good woman felt for the lad, she never would have consented that her beloved son should enter the wilderness for the purpose of bringing him home.

One fact must be borne in mind, however, in recalling the two expeditions. In the former Jack and Otto were the actors, but now the hunters were Jack and Deerfoot, and therein lay all the difference in the world. Well aware of the wonderful woodcraft of the young warrior, his courage and devotion to his friends, the parent had little if any misgivings, when she kissed her boy good-by, and saw him enter the wilderness in the company of the dusky Shawanoe.

Something like a fortnight had gone by, when Deerfoot and Jack Carleton sat near a camp-fire which had been kindled in the depths of the forest, well to the westward of the little frontier settlement of Martinsville. The air was crisp and cool, and two days had passed since any rain had fallen, so the climate could not have been more favorable.

The camp was similar to many that have been described before, and with which the reader has become familiar long ago. It was simply a small pile of blazing sticks, started close to a large tree, with a little stream of water winding just beyond. More wood was heaped near, and Jack was lolling lazily on the blanket which he had brought with him, while his friend sat on the pile of sticks opposite.

"Deerfoot, you remember I told you that while I was in the lodge of Ogallah, an Indian came in who was one of the five that had taken Otto away?"

The Shawanoe nodded his head to signify he recalled the incident.

"He made some of the queerest gestures to me, which I could no more understand than I could make out what his gibberish meant, but when I described his actions to you, you said they meant that Otto was still alive—that is, so far as the Indian knew?"

"My brother speaks the truth: such was the message of the Sauk warrior."

"They say all the red men can talk with each other by means of signs, but, without asking you to explain every word of the Sauk, I would like to hear again what it was he meant to tell me."

"He said that Otto had been given to a party of Indians, and they had started westward toward the setting sun with him."

"But why did they turn him over to the strangers?"

"Deerfoot was not there to ask the Sauk," was the reply of the young Shawanoe.

"That is true, for if you had been, you would have known all about it; but, old fellow, you can explain one thing: why do you not make your way to the Sauk village and get those warriors to give you the particulars?"

Such it would seem was the true course of the dusky youth, on whom it may be said the success or failure of the enterprise rested. He was silent a minute as though the question caused him some thought.

"It may be my brother is right, but it is a long ways to the lodges of the Sauks, and when they were reached it may be they could tell no more than Deerfoot knows."

Jack Carleton did not understand this remark.

He knew how little information he had given his friend, and it seemed idle to say that the real captors of Otto Relstaub could not tell more of him.

Strange things happen in this life. Several times during the afternoon Deerfoot stopped and glanced about him, just as Jack had seen him do when enemies were in the wood. He made no remark by way of explanation, and his friend asked him no question.

"It seems to me the Sauks can tell a good deal more than I; for instance—"

Deerfoot suddenly raised his forefinger and leaned his head forward and sideways. It was his attitude of intense attention, and he had signaled for Jack to hold his peace. The tableau lasted a full minute. Then Deerfoot looked toward his friend, and smiled and nodded, as if to say it had turned out just as he expected.

"What in the name of the mischief is the matter?" asked Jack, unable longer to repress his curiosity; "you've been acting queer all the afternoon."

"Deerfoot and his friend have been followed by some Indian warrior for many miles. He is not far away; he is now coming softly toward the camp; I have heard him often; he is near at hand."

"If he wants to make our acquaintance, there is no reason why he should feel so bashful," remarked Jack, glancing at different points in the darkening woods; "I don't see any reason why he should prowl around in that fashion."

The lad's uneasiness was increased by the fact that Deerfoot was manifestly looking over his head and into the forest behind Jack, as though the object which caused his remarks was coming from that direction.

"The Indian is not far off—he is coming this way—he will be in camp in a breath."

"And, if I stay here, he will stumble over me and perhaps break his neck," remarked Jack, who caught the rustle of leaves, and springing to his feet, faced toward the point whence the stranger was approaching.

It can not be said that the youth felt any special alarm, for he knew the sagacious Deerfoot would take care of him, but the knowledge that an armed stranger is stealing up behind a person, is calculated to make him nervous.

At the moment Jack faced about, he caught the outlines of a middle-aged warrior, who strode noiselessly from the wood and stepped into the full glare of the camp light. Without noticing Jack, he advanced to Deerfoot, who shook him by the hand, while the two spoke some words in a tongue which the lad did not understand.

But when the visitor stood revealed in the firelight, the boy looked him over and recognized him. He was the Indian who came into the hut of Ogallah, the Sauk chieftain, when Jack was a captive, and who went through the odd gesticulations, which the lad remembered well enough to repeat to Deerfoot, who, in turn, interpreted them to mean that Otto Relstaub had not been put to death, as the two youths had feared.

It was strange indeed that he should come to the camp of the lads, at the very time they were in need of such information as he could give.

While Jack identified the visitor as that personage, Deerfoot recognized him even sooner as Hay-uta, the Man-who-Runs-without-Falling. It was he who, while on a hunt for scalps, came upon the young Shawanoe and engaged him in a hand-to-hand encounter. You will recall how he was disarmed and vanquished by the younger warrior, and how the latter read to him from his Bible, and told him of the Great Spirit who dwelt beyond the stars, and whose will was contained in the little volume which was the companion of the Shawanoe. Hay-uta showed he was deeply impressed, and abruptly went away.

It will be remembered, therefore, that there were peculiar circumstances which caused the two red men to feel friendly toward each other and which led them to spend several minutes talking with such earnestness that neither seemed aware that another party was near. Jack did not object, but busied himself in studying the two aborigines.

Hay-uta has been already described as a middle-aged warrior. He was strong, iron-limbed and daring, but was not to be compared as respects grace, dignity and manly beauty to Deerfoot. What specially attracted Jack's attention was the rifle which he idly held with one hand while talking, the stock resting on the ground. It was the finest weapon the lad had ever seen—that is so far as appearance went. The stock was ornamented with silver, and the make and finish were as complete as was ever seen in those days. It was a rifle that would awaken admiration anywhere.

"I shouldn't wonder if he shot the owner so as to get it," thought the lad.

But therein he did the Sauk injustice. The savage gave all the furs and peltries that he was able to take during an entire winter to a white trader from St. Louis, who with a similar weapon bought enough more supplies to load him and his animal for their return trip to that frontier post.

While Hay-uta and Deerfoot talked, they smiled, nodded and gesticulated continually. Of course the watcher could not guess what they were talking about, until he noticed that Hay-uta was making the same motions that he saw him use in the lodge of Ogallah, adding, however, several variations which the youth was unable to recall.

"By George!" muttered Jack, "they're talking about Otto; now I shall learn something of him."

When the conversation had lasted some minutes, the talkers appeared to become aware that a third party was near. A remark of Deerfoot caused Hay-uta to turn and look at the young man, as though uncertain that he had ever met him before.

"Hay-uta has traveled a long ways since my brother saw him," said Deerfoot, who did not deem it worth while to explain why it was he had made such a journey: "he followed us a good while before he knew I was his friend; then he came to the camp that he might talk with me."

Hay-uta, though unable to understand these words, seemed to catch their meaning from the tone of Deerfoot, for they were scarcely spoken, when he extended his hand to Jack, who, of course, pressed it warmly and looked the welcome which he could not put into words that would be understood.

These ceremonies over, all three sat on the ground, Hay-uta lit his pipe and the singular conversation continued, Deerfoot interpreting to his friend, when he had any thing to tell that would interest him.

"What does he know about Otto?" asked Jack.

"He cannot tell much: the warriors who made him prisoner walked slowly till the next morning; they took another path to their lodges; on the road they met some strange Indians, and they sold our brother to them for two blankets, some wampum, a knife and three strings of beads."

"How many Indians were there in the party that bought Otto"

Deerfoot conferred with Hay-uta before answering.

"Four: they were large, strong and brave, and they wanted our brother; so he was sold, as the young man was sold by his brothers and taken into a far land, and afterward became the great chief of the country, and the friend of his brethren and aged father."

Astonished as was Jack Carleton to hear these tidings, he was more astonished to note that the young Shawanoe was comparing the experience of Otto Relstaub with that of the touching narrative told in the Old Testament of Joseph and his brethren.


"But who were the Indians?" asked Jack Carleton.

Deerfoot shook his head, smiled in his faint, shadowy way and pointed to the west.

"They came from the land of the setting sun; Hay-uta knows not their totem; he never saw any of their tribe before and knows not whither they went."

"I should, think that even an Indian would have enough curiosity to ask some questions."

"He did ask the questions," replied Deerfoot, "but the strange warriors did not give him answer."

"Then all that we know is that Otto was turned over to four red men who went westward with him."

Deerfoot nodded his head to signify that such was the fact, and then he continued his conversation with Hay-uta.

Jack Carleton recalled that when he and Deerfoot were guessing the fate of Otto, the suggestion was made that probably such had been the experience of the poor fellow. He had been bartered to a party of red men, who had gone westward with him, and beyond that important fact nothing whatever was known.

My reader will remember also that I spoke in "Campfire and Wigwam," of the strange Indians who were sometimes met by the hunters and trappers, and well as by the red men themselves. They were dusky explorers, as they may be termed, who like Columbus of the olden time, had the daring to pass beyond the boundaries of their own land, and grope through strange countries they had never seen.

The four warriors had come from some point to the west, and Hay-uta said they could not speak a word which the Sauks understood, nor could the Sauks utter any thing that was clear to them. But the sign-language never fails, and had the strangers chosen, they could have given a great deal of information to the Sauks.

A little reflection will show how limitless was the field of speculation that was opened by this news. Beyond the bare fact, as I have said, that the custodians of Otto Relstaub came from and went toward the west, little, if any thing, was known. Their hunting grounds may have been not far away on the confines of the present state of Kansas or the Indian Nation, or traversing those hundreds of miles of territory, they may have built their tepees around the headwaters of the Arkansas, in Colorado (as now called), New Mexico or the Llano Estacado of Texas. It was not to be supposed that they had come from any point beyond, since that would have required the passage of the Rocky Mountains—a feat doubtless often performed by red men, before the American Pathfinder led his little band across that formidable barrier, but the theory that Otto's new masters traveled from beyond, was too unreasonable to be accepted.

Yet from the little camp where the three persons were lounging, it was more than half a thousand miles to the Rocky Mountains, while the territory stretched far to the north and south, so that an army might lose itself beyond recovery in the vast wilderness.

The task, therefore, which faced them at the beginning was to learn whither the four warriors had gone with the hapless Otto....