The news that Dave was not at the Indian village of Shanorison was dismaying to Mr. Morris, Barringford, and Henry, for they had expected beyond a doubt to find the captive there.
"All we can do is to continue on the trail," said James Morris promptly. "I shall not turn back until he is found."
"Nor I," added Henry promptly.
"We're bound to catch 'em some time," came from the old frontiersman. "Don't you think so, White Buffalo?"
"White Buffalo is sure he can overtake those who are fleeing," answered the chief. "But it may take many days."
Lieutenant Peterson was consulted and he said he would follow the trail for one day longer.
"After that, I will have to turn back," he continued. "I have strict orders to go but so far from Fort Pitt, and no further. You see we may be needed there, if the redskins contemplate an attack." "That is true," said James Morris. "I should like to have you with us, but orders are orders.
"I will detail two of my best shots to go with your party, Mr. Morris. They are men who are used to fighting the redskins in their own way, and will be of great assistance."
The day passed slowly, but when the sun went down no Indians had been seen. The little party went into camp under the shelter of some trees, and in the early morning Lieutenant Peterson set out on the return to Fort Pitt, leaving behind the two sharpshooters as he had promised.
"And now to go it alone!" cried Henry. "Perhaps we'll do better than with so many soldiers behind us."
"We can certainly continue the hunt with less chance of being observed," answered his uncle.
Henry was very impatient to overtake those who had Dave in charge, but the trail was an uncertain one, and once they made a false move which took them some miles out of their true course. This false turn made White Buffalo very angry, and he berated himself roundly for the mistake.
"White Buffalo is getting old," he declared. "He is like a squaw on the trail. He had better go and live with the old women of his tribe."
"Never mind, White Buffalo, we are all liable to make mistakes," said the trader kindly.
At last the Indian chief announced that they had reached fresh tracks, and that they were close to another village. Soon after that Barringford came in and announced that he had seen the trail of some white men, evidently hunters and trappers.
"We must be careful now," said the old frontiersman, "If we ain't, we may run into a reg'lar trap."
The party came to a halt, and soon after that it began to snow, and by the time it was dark the snow covered the ground to the depth of an inch and more.
"That ends trailing," said Barringford. "Hang the luck anyway!"
As the snow continued to come down, they made themselves comfortable under some immense spruce trees whose branches almost touched the ground. Here supper was had, and then Henry and Barringford, accompanied by White Buffalo; moved up to the top of a small hill which was close at hand, hoping to discover something from that point of vantage.
"I see a camp-fire!" cried Henry, who was the first to gain the high ground.
"Yes, an' it ain't more 'n quarter o' mile from here, nuther," came from Barringford. "Tell ye what, boys, I think we've come about to the end o' the trail; eh! White Buffalo?"
"White Buffalo thinks his brother Sam is right," was the slow answer. "'Tis the camp-fire of the Wyandots, and no other camp-fire is near," he added, sweeping the entire distance with his sharp eyes.
"Shall we go forward at once?" questioned the young pioneer eagerly.
"We'll see what your uncle says," returned Barringford.
It did not take them long to consult with James Morris, and as a result, the whole party moved onward once more, with the Morrises, Barringford, and White Buffalo in advance.
This movement occurred on the very night that Dave meant to try for liberty. The knife in the logs was still there, and all unknown to the Indians who were holding him a prisoner, he backed up to it and cut the thongs that bound his hands behind him.
Outside of the hut it was snowing furiously, and the Indian guard did not attempt to pace up and down as usual, but sat under a shelter of bark, smoking and dozing. The Indians did not think that their prisoner would attempt to escape, for on all sides of the village lay the immense forest, inhabited by many savage animals and now fast filling with snow. Unarmed, and unguided, a single person in that region would soon become lost, and most likely perish from hunger.
At last Dave thought it time to make a move. He had not yet heard the signal agreed upon between himself and Jean Bevoir, but he did not wish to wait for this, being even more anxious to escape from the Frenchman than from the red men.
With the hunting knife in his hand, he moved cautiously to the rear of the hut. Here was a small opening which he had discovered the day before. Through it he wormed his way, coming out through the dead leaves and the snow on the outside. A dozen steps away was a fringe of brushwood, and hither he moved, with the silence of a ghost.
As he gained the bushes the hoot of an owl, or rather the imitation thereof, came to his ears. It was the signal, and he knew that Jean Bevoir must be close at hand.
Instead of going directly toward the signal, Dave attempted to go around it. His object in doing this was to get behind Bevoir, obtain one of the horses the Frenchman had mentioned, and be off before Jean Bevoir could stop him. He knew he would run the risk of being shot should the Frenchman still be treacherous, but hoped that the darkness of the night would favor him.
Again came the hoot of the owl, in the same place as before. Dave was moving around to the southward, trying to pierce the darkness. Between the thick branches of the trees and the snow he could see next to nothing, and almost before he knew it he had stepped into a hollow and gone down a distance of several feet. His knee struck a rock, hurting him severely and causing him to give a gasp of pain.
As Dave was rising a form appeared before him, and an instant later he was confronted by Flat Nose. The Indian came forward before the young pioneer could think of withdrawing.
"White young man here!" cried Flat Nose softly. And he followed this with the call of a night-bird, thrice repeated.
"I want nothing of you!" exclaimed Dave, and started to retreat, when Flat Nose caught him by the arm. But Dave struck out with the hunting knife, and the Indian fell back with a wound in his shoulder. Before he could recover, the young pioneer was running off as swiftly as his hurt knee would permit.
In a moment more Dave heard, not only Flat Nose, but also several others in pursuit. A call reached him in the voice of Jean Bevoir, but to this he paid no attention. He knew that his only safety lay in escape.
But while he was running from Flat Nose and Jean Bevoir he was making directly towards Jacques Valette, and in less than a minute the two came face to face. Valette had his gun handy and the moment the young pioneer appeared he raised the weapon.
"Stop!" he roared. "Stop, or I shoot!"
"Do not let him escape!" cried Jean Bevoir, in French.
"I have him safe enough," came from Valette.
Covered by a gun in the hands of such a villain as Jacques Valette, Dave did not know what to do. The fellow looked ready to shoot, and even anxious to pull the trigger.
While he was meditating, Jean Bevoir, Flat Nose, and several Indians of the Wanderers' tribe came up. The young pioneer was immediately surrounded, and Flat Nose caught him around the breast from the rear, pinning his arms to his side. The hunting knife was taken from him, and he realized at once that further resistance would be useless.
"Ha! so you think to escape, not so?" sneered Jean Bevoir. "I was afraid it would be so. But now you are my prisonair, ha! ha!"
"What are you going to do with me?" asked Dave, as calmly as he could, but with a sinking heart.
"You will learn that later, Dave Morris."
"You said you would take me back to my father's trading-post."
"Did you believe zat? Ha! ha! you are a leetle fool! I shall take you to the west, far away, oui! Then your father shall come to terms, not so? He will do anything to geet back his only son."
Like a flash the full realization of Jean Bevoir's plot forced itself upon the young pioneer. He was truly in the hands of the enemy, and it was safe to say that Bevoir would not treat him any better than had Pontiac, if as well.
"Supposing I won't go with you?" he said.
"You shall go with us," replied Jean Bevoir. "You are my prisonair and must do as I say. Jacques, bring up the horses."
Valette turned away to do as bidden. As he did so there came a shout from a distance, followed by a peculiar Indian-cry, telling all in the village that the white captive had escaped.
"We must be quick!" said Bevoir, in French. "There is not a moment to spare."
Jacques Valette brought up the horses with all possible speed. There was one for Dave, and he was hoisted in the saddle, with his hands bound behind him. Then the whole party turned directly westward, toward a trail well known to Flat Nose and his followers.
It was now snowing furiously, and the trail left by the party was quickly covered. In the village the alarm continued, and several of the Wyandots and the red men left behind by Pontiac began a diligent search for the missing prisoner. In the party was Foot-in-His-Mouth, and before long he found the right trail and came in sight of Jacques Valette, who was in the rear.
He had hardly raised his cry of discovery when Valette turned in the saddle, took aim through the falling snow, and fired. His bullet went true, and Foot-in-His-Mouth pitched headlong and lay still forever.
"They are coming!" cried Valette, as he went forward once more. "We shall have to fight for it!"
"No! no! we must escape through the snow!" ejaculated Jean Bevoir. He had not dreamed that the situation would take such a serious turn. "Come! come!"
On they went, faster than ever. The branches of the trees struck Dave in the breast and in the face, and once he was almost thrown from the saddle. They were passing down into an open space, where the snow was blowing furiously. Jean Bevoir hailed the falling flakes with satisfaction. They would surely cover the trail which so badly needed obliteration.
Beyond the open space was another patch of timber. But here the trees were further apart, so progress was easier. On and on they went, with the Wyandots and Ottawas still in pursuit. The horses were almost out of breath, yet were urged to do their utmost by the Frenchmen and the Wanderers, who knew that if the pursuers came up to them a fierce pitched battle would surely result, with perhaps a number killed and wounded on each side.
Dave was tugging at the cords which tied his hands, and now to his satisfaction they came loose, leaving him free. He wondered what he had best do. Should he risk a rush to the right or the left? That would place one set of enemies in front of him and one behind. But all might pass on, leaving him to shift for himself.
While he was deliberating a shout rang out ahead, followed by a rifle shot. Then, as if in a dream, he heard a yell in Sam Barringford's voice:
"Stop, Jean Bevoir, you everlastin' rascal! Stop!"
"Sam! Sam!" he screamed, and rode forward. "Sam, is it really you!"
"Dave!" came in the voice of Henry. "Dave! What can this mean? What are you doing here?"
The cry came from the left, and Dave turned his horse in that direction. More shots rang out, and he saw an Indian go down. Then Jacques Valette turned toward the young pioneer.
"You shall not get away!" cried the rascally French hunter, and raised his gun. But before he could use the weapon James Morris fired upon him, and Valette pitched into the snow, shot through the thigh. Then Dave went on, and in a moment more found himself among his friends and relatives.
There was no time to answer questions. The Wyandots and Ottawas were coming up swiftly, and once more the Wanderers and Jean Bevoir attempted to outdistance them. Jacques Valette also attempted to remount his horse, but ere he could do so a Wyandot reached him and struck him down again. The blow crushed the Frenchman's skull, and he died before sunrise.
"We must get out of this," said Dave, when he could speak. "The Indians are after us! If we stay here we may be caught between two fires."
"Come with me!" came from White Buffalo. "White Buffalo knows a good hiding place."
James Morris' party turned back, and with Dave by his father's side, all rode through the forest to the southward. Here they reached a small brook, backed up by rugged rocks and a thick patch of timber. In the timber they halted, and in a short while the snow, now whirling in every direction, hid their trail completely from view.
Listening intently they heard many shots at a distance and knew that a fierce fight was on, between those from the village and the party under Jean Bevoir. The fighting kept on for a good half-hour, then gradually died away to the northward.
Safe in the shelter near the brook, Dave told his story, to which his father, Henry, and the others listened with great interest.
"You can be thankful that we came up as we did" said James Morris.
"I am thankful," said the young pioneer. "I never want to see Jean Bevoir and his rascally companions again."
"Perhaps Jean Bevoir is dead," put in Henry. "That shooting must have meant something."
"I brought down Jacques Valette," continued Mr. Morris. "But I don't believe I killed him."
"I hit Bevoir in the arm," came from Barringford. "He'll remember it a while, I'll warrant."
"It was all Pontiac's fault," came from Dave. "I think the authorities ought to bring him to book for it."
"Perhaps they will," answered James Morris seriously.
Let me add a few words more and then bring to a close this story of pioneer life, and of adventures while "On the Trail of Pontiac."
The snowstorm that started that evening proved a heavy one, and it was not until nearly a week later that the Morris party managed to get back to Fort Pitt. Here the commandant listened to what they had to relate with close attention and said he would report to the proper authorities at the first opportunity. But means of communication were now almost entirely cut off; and in the end little or nothing was done to make Pontiac and his followers explain their actions, matters of greater importance coming up in the meantime.
When they felt able to do so, Dave and Barringford continued on the trip to Will's Creek, taking White Buffalo and some of his followers with them. The others of the party returned to the trading-post, anxious to learn if matters there were quiet. They found no cause for alarm, but a few days later two trappers came in with news that nearly all of the Bevoir party had been killed, Bevoir himself escaping after being wounded both in the arm and the side.
"The Wyandots and the Ottawas are very angry at the Wanderers," said the hunter who furnished the news. "They say the Wanderers must hereafter keep to the hunting grounds in the far west. The Wyandots say there was some mistake made about Dave, and they are going to bring in, next spring, the goods they got away from Bevoir, and which were stolen from the pack-train."
"I trust they keep their word," answered James Morris. "But I reckon that fifty pounds is gone for good."
"I think they will keep their word," said Sanderson, who knew many of the Wyandots well. "They want to be at peace and they'd be all right if only the Ottawas would leave them alone."
"Pontiac will never rest until he has united the Indians in a regular war against the English," said James Morris, and how true his words were will be shown in another volume of this series, to be entitled, "The Fort in the Wilderness; or, The Soldier Boys of the Indian Trails." In this volume we shall meet all of our old friends again, and learn what more was done toward establishing the trading-post on the Ohio, and of how Jean Bevoir again crossed the path of the Morrises and made himself more odious than ever.
The home-coming of Dave was made a joyous time at the Morris cabin. His Aunt Lucy came out to greet him warmly, followed by Rodney and little Nell. The twins stood in the doorway, gazing shyly at him and Sam Barringford.
"I am so glad you are safe!" said Mrs. Morris, as she kissed her nephew.
"And I'm glad myself," answered Dave, but she did not fully understand all he meant until he had told his story.
"Reckon as how this is my family," came from Sam Barringford, as he took one of the twins in each arm. "No news of 'em, is thar?" he asked.
"No news, Sam," said Rodney. "Reckon they are yours right enough." But Rodney was mistaken, as later events proved.
"Well, I'll try to give 'em a father's care," went on the old frontiersman. And he gave each twin a half-dozen hugs and kisses, at which both crowed loudly. They were the pets of the household and all loved them dearly.
"You can't imagine how good it feels to be at home once more," said Dave, later on. "The trading-post is all well enough, but it can't touch a place like this."
"If all goes well, I am going out to the trading-post next year," came from Rodney. "I am now as strong as any of you."
"Do not talk of spring yet," said Mrs. Morris. "We have still a long, hard winter to face."
What she said was true, and winter started in earnest the very next day, snowing for the best part of a week, and then turning off bitterly cold. Yet firewood was to be had in plenty and the cabin was kept warm and comfortable for all.
"We've had some great times this past season," said Barringford, as he warmed himself by the cheerful kitchen blaze. "Great times, eh, White Buffalo?"
The Indian chief, who had come in to smoke a friendly pipe, nodded. "My brother Sam is right," he said. "But all has gone well, so let us be thankful."
"Yes, let us be thankful," came from Dave.
And they were thankful; and here let us leave them, wishing them the best of luck for the future.
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