Read CHAPTER XI - THE SHIFTLESS ONE of The Keepers of the Trail A Story of the Great Woods , free online book, by Joseph A. Altsheler, on ReadCentral.com.

The next day dawned as brilliant as the one that had gone before, a golden sun clothing the vast green forest in a luminous light.  It seemed to Henry that each day, as the spring advanced, deepened the intense emerald glow of the leaves.  Down in the valley he caught the sparkle of the brook, as it flowed swiftly away toward a creek, to be carried thence to the Ohio, and on through the Mississippi to the sea.

Further up the opposite slope, five or six hundred yards away, were gathered the Indians around a fire in an opening, eating breakfast.  Henry saw Wyatt and Blackstaffe with them, and he counted eighteen figures.  As they had already suffered severe losses he concluded that they had received a small reinforcement, since they must have out four or five scouts and spies watching the little fortress.

Evidently they had not been daunted by their repulse of the night before, as they were broiling venison on the ends of sharpened sticks and eating heartily.  The two white men finishing their food lay down on the grass and rested lazily.  By and by the red members of the band did likewise.

“It’s just as we thought last night,” said Henry, “They will not try to carry us by assault again, but will undertake to starve us out with a long siege.  Even if they’ve guessed the meaning of our smoke they don’t know that we have in here running water that runs on forever.”

“Would they care to carry on a long siege?” asked Paul.

“Maybe not, if Wyatt were not there.  You know how he hates us all, and he will be continually urging them to attack us.  Perhaps Red Eagle and Blackstaffe will now go on and join the main army, leaving Wyatt with a chosen band to take us by siege.”

“’Pears likely to me,” said Long Jim, who was listening.  “It’s easy enough for them to set thar out uv range an’ hold us in here, but they forget one mighty important thing.”

“What’s that, Jim?”

“Shif’less Sol.  He’s in the bush, an’ he kin stalk ’em when he pleases.  They don’t know that the warrior killed at the door last night fell afore his bullet, an’ he kin bring down one uv ’em any time he feels like it.  Thar’s a panther in the bushes right by the side uv ’em an’ they don’t know it.  An’ it’s a panther that will bite ’em, too, an’ git away ev’ry time.  Hark to that, will you?”

They heard the distant sound of a rifle shot and saw one of the Indians around the campfire sink over in the grass.  The others uttered a terrific yell of rage, and a half-dozen darted away in the bushes.

“I ain’t no prophet, nor the son uv a prophet,” said Long Jim, “but I’ll bet my scalp that in an hour or two they’ll come back without Shif’less Sol.”

“I won’t take your bet,” said Paul.  “Six warriors started away in pursuit, and now we’ll see how many return.”

“The first will be back in an hour,” said Long Jim, “’cause Sol won’t leave no trail a-tall, a-tall.  He made shore uv that afore shootin’.”

“I believe you are a prophet, Jim,” said Paul.  “Let’s watch together.”

Within the appointed hour two warriors returned, bringing with them nothing that they had not taken away, and sat down in the opening, their attitude that of dejection.

“They never struck no sign of no trail, nowhere, nohow,” said Long Jim, exultantly.

“Too many negatives, Jim,” said Paul, reprovingly.

“Too many what?” exclaimed Long Jim, staring.  “I never heard of them things afore!”

“It’s all right anyhow.  There comes another warrior, and he too bears no bright blonde scalp, such as adorns the head of our faithful and esteemed comrade, Solomon Hyde.”

“That’s three ‘counted fur, an’ three to come.  I know, Paul, that Sol will git away, that they can’t foller him nohow, but I’d like fur them three to come back empty handed right now.  It would be awful to lose good old Sol.  Uv course he’s always wrong when he argys with me, but I’m still hopin’ some day to teach him somethin’, an’ I don’t want to lose him.”

Paul saw deep anxiety on the face of Long Jim.  These two were always in controversy, but they were bound together by all the ties of the border, and the loss of either would be a crushing blow to the other.

Long minutes dragged by and became an hour, and the face of Jim Hart expressed apprehension.

“It’s time fur at least one more to come back,” he said.

“Well, there he is,” said Paul.  “Don’t you see him stepping out of those bushes on the east?”

“Has he anything at his belt?” asked Long Jim eagerly.

“Nothing that he doesn’t usually carry.  He has no yellow scalp, nor any scalp of any kind.  Empty he went away and empty he has returned.”

“So fur, so good.  Two more are left out, an’ it’ll now be time fur them to come trampin’ back.”

“Be patient, Jim, be patient.”

“I am, but you must rec’lect, Paul, that thar comin’ back soon means the life uv a man, a man that’s one uv us five, an’ that we could never furgit ef so be the Injuns took him.”

“I’m not forgetting it, Jim, but I’ve every confidence in Shif’less Sol.  I don’t believe those warriors could possibly get him.”

Another half-hour dragged away, and Long Jim became more uneasy.  He scanned the woods everywhere for the two missing warriors, and, at last, he drew a mighty sigh of relief when a tufted head appeared over the bushes, and a warrior returned to the opening.

“He’s a Shawnee,” said Long Jim.  “I marked him when he went away.  I kin see that he’s tired an’ I could tell by the bend in his shoulders that he wuz comin’ back with nothin’.  He’s set down now, an’ ez he ’pears to be talkin’ I guess he’s tellin’ the others, to ’scuse his failure, that it wuzn’t really a man that he wuz follerin’, but jest a ghost or a phantom, or suthin’ uv that kind.  Thar ain’t but one left an’ he ought to be in in a few minutes.”

But the few minutes and many more with them slid into the past, without bringing back the last warrior, and once more that look of deep apprehension appeared on the face of Long Jim Hart.  The man should have returned long before, and Jim held him to personal accountability for it.

“I didn’t like his looks when he went away,” he complained to Paul.  “He wuz a big feller, darker than most uv the others, an’ he wuz painted somethin’ horrible.  I guessed by his looks that he wuz the best scout an’ trailer in the band an’ that he would hang on like a wolf.  Ugly ez he is his face would look nice to me now, ‘pearin’ in that openin’.  He’s done outstayed his leave.”

“I wouldn’t be worried, Jim,” said Paul.  “We know what a man Sol is in the woods.  No single warrior could bring him down.”

“That’s so.  Sol’s terrible smart, but then anybody might be ambushed.  I tell you, Paul, that wuz the wickedest lookin’ warrior I ever saw.  His eyes wuz plum’ full uv old Satan.”

“Why, Jim, we are too far away for you to have seen anything of that kind.”

“I know that’s so at usual times, but them eyes uv his wuz shinin’ so terrible bright with meanness that I caught thar look like the gleam uv a burnin’ glass.  I reckon he wuz the wüst savage in all these woods.  All but him hev come back more ‘n a half-hour ago, an’ I’m beginnin’ to hev a sort uv creepy feelin’.”

“Hark!” exclaimed Henry, who had been standing almost in the mouth of the opening.

“What is it, Henry?  What is it?” exclaimed Long Jim eagerly.

“That strong wind brought the sound of a rifle shot.  It was so faint and far away that it was no more than the snapping of a little twig, but it was a rifle shot and no mistake.  Sol and that warrior have met.”

“And who fired the bullet?  And who received it?  That’s what we’d like to know!” said Paul.

Complete silence succeeded the shot.  Evidently the Indians around the campfire had not heard it, as they showed no signs of interest, but the four in the mouth of the cavern waited in painful anxiety, their eyes turned toward the point from which the report had come.  At last the scalp lock appeared above the bushes and four hearts sank.  Then the figure of the warrior came completely into view and four hearts sprang up again.  The man’s left arm was held stiffly by his side and he was walking with weakness.  Nor did any bright blonde scalp hang from his waist or any other part of his body.

“I knowed it!  I knowed it!” exclaimed Long Jim, triumphantly.  “He come too close to Sol, an’ got a bullet in his arm.  It must hev been a long shot or he must hev been nearly hid, else he would now be layin’ dead in the bushes.  But ez it is he’s shorely got enough to last him fur a long time.”

Paul was less vocal, but like the others he shared in the triumph of the shiftless one.

“I’ll admit I was worried for a while,” he said, “but Sol has given us one more proof that he can take care of himself any time and anywhere.”

“And he has also proved to our besiegers,” said Henry, “that every hour they spend there they’re in peril of a bullet from the bush.  I think it will give them a most disturbing feeling.”

Henry was right, and he was also right in some of his earlier surmises.  Red Eagle and Blackstaffe departed to join the main army, leaving Braxton Wyatt in command of the besieging band which had been reinforced by a half-dozen warriors.  Wyatt, animated by wicked passion, was resolved not to leave until he could kill or take those in the little fortress, but he was upset by the certainty that one of the terrible five was outside.  He had believed from the first that it was Henry Ware, and, when their best warrior came in shot through the arm, he was sure of it.

The warriors shared his state of mind.  Their losses had inflamed them tremendously and all of them were willing to stay and risk everything for eventual triumph.  Yet a terror soon fell upon them.  The single marksman who roamed the woods sent a bullet singing directly through the camp, and the search for him failed as before.  An hour later another who went down to the brook for water was shot through the shoulder.  Wyatt saw that in spite of their desire for revenge superstitious fears were developing, and in order to prevent their spread he organized a camp, surrounded by sentinels whom nothing could escape.  Then he awaited the night.

Henry and his comrades had heard the second shot and they had seen the man whose shoulder had been pierced by the bullet, run toward the others leaving a red trail behind him, but they were not alarmed this time, as nobody left the camp.  Evidently the warriors, stout-hearted though they were, did not care to trail the shiftless one once more, and in the growing dusk, too, when they would be at the mercy of his rifle.

“He’s got ’em stirred up a lot,” said Henry, “and if they come again he will surely be a host on our side.”

Another attack was made that night, but it did not come until late, halfway between midnight and morning, and, as Henry had suspected, it was not an assault, but an attempt by sharpshooters, hidden in the dark brush, to pick off watchers at the opening.  The bullets of the besiegers were fired mostly at random and did nothing but chip stone.  The besieged fired at the flash of the rifles and were not sure that they hit an enemy, but believed that they succeeded more than once.  Then, as the night before, came the report of the lone rifle in the thicket, and a warrior, throwing up his hands, uttered his death cry, making it apparent to the defenders that the shiftless one was neither idle nor afraid.

Then the Indians withdrew and the primeval silence returned to the valley.  The four remained for a while without speaking, watchful, their rifles loaded anew and their fingers on the trigger.

“Sol could come in now,” said Long Jim.  “He must know that the way will be clear for a little while.”

“He doesn’t want to come in,” said Henry.  “He’s our link with the outside world, and when they attack he can be of more help to us because they don’t know from what point he will strike.  The besiegers are also besieged.”

“I’m thinkin’ they won’t attack ag’in fur a long time,” said Long Jim, “an’ that bein’ the case, I’m goin’ to eat some uv my own cookin’, knowin’ that it’s the finest in the world, an’ then go to sleep.”

“All right, Jim,” said Henry, “you deserve both.”

Long Jim was soon asleep, but Henry remained awake until daylight.  He considered whether they should not attempt to escape now, join Shif’less Sol, and follow as fast as they could the main Indian army with the cannon.  But he decided in the negative.  The savages, despite their repulse, would certainly be on watch, and they were still too numerous for a fight in the bush.

Hence they entered upon another day in the cavern, which was beginning to assume some of the aspects of home.  It looked cosy, with the supply of venison and bear meat, the pleasant rill of cold water, the dry leaves upon which their blankets were spread for beds, and it was filled with cold fresh air that poured in at the opening.  Henry felt once more that they had had luck, and he chafed at nothing but the long delay.

And delay now it was certainly going to be, as Braxton Wyatt refrained from attack, both that day and the next, although he drew his lines so close to them that they had no chance to slip out.  But cultivating Indian patience, they kept one man always on guard while the others lay at their ease on their beds of leaves, and, after the fashion of those who had much time, talked of many and various things.  On the third day when the siege seemed to have settled down to a test of endurance, the day being clear and sharply bright, the four sat near the door of the fortress.  Silent Tom was keeping watch with an eye that never failed, but he was able at the same time to hear what his friends said, and, when he felt the impulse, he joined in with a monosyllable or two.

They were speaking of the main band going south with the cannon for the great attack upon the settlements, a subject to which Henry’s mind returned constantly.  Alloway and the chiefs had a start of days, but he was incessantly telling himself that his comrades and he, as soon as they were released from the siege, could overtake them quickly.  The cannon which made their great strength also made their march slow.

“Besides,” he said to the others, “they will have to cross many rivers and creeks with them, and every crossing will take trouble and time.  As I figure it, they could go four-fifths of the way and we could still overtake them before they reached the settlement.”

“I hope we’ll ruin the cannon fur ’em,” said Long Jim earnestly, “an’ that at last the settlers will beat ’em so bad that they’ll never cross the Ohio ag’in.  All this fightin’ with ’em breaks up my plans.”

“What are your plans, Jim?” asked Paul.

“They’re big ones, but thar’s nary one uv ’em that don’t take in you three here an’ Shif’less Sol that’s outside.  I want to git in a boat, an’ go on one uv the rivers into the Ohio an’ then down the Ohio to the Missip, an’ down the Missip to New Or-lee-yuns whar them Spaniards are.  I met a feller once who had been thar an’ he said it wuz a whalin’ big town, full uv all kinds uv strange people, an’ hevin’ an’ inquirin’ mind I like to see all kinds uv furriners an’ size ’em up.  Do you reckon, Paul, that New Or-lee-yuns is the biggest city in the world?”

“Oh, no, Jim.  There are many much larger cities in the old continents, Europe, Asia and Africa.”

“Them are so fur away that they hardly count nohow.  An’ thar’s a lot uv big dead cities, ain’t thar?”

“Certainly.  Babylon, that our Bible often speaks of, and Nineveh, and Tyre, and Memphis and Thebes and ­”

“Stop, Paul!  That’s enough.  I reckon I ain’t sorry them old places are dead.  It took a heap uv ground fur ’em to stand on, ground that might be covered with grass an’ bushes an’ trees, all in deep an’ purty green like them out thar.  Me bein’ what I am, I always think it’s a pity to ruin a fine forest to put a town in its place.”

“Those cities, I think, were mostly in desert countries with an artificial water supply.”

“Then I don’t want ever to see ’em or what’s left uv ’em.  People who built cities whar no water an’ trees wuz ought to hev seen ’em perish.  Wouldn’t me an’ Sol look fine trailin’ ‘roun’ among them ruins an’ over them deserts?  Not a buff’ler, nor a deer, not a b’ar anywhar, an’ not a fish; ’cause they ain’t even a good big dew fur a fish to swim in.

“But leavin’ out them old places that’s plum’ rusted away, an’ comin’ back to this here favored land o’ ours, I want, after seein’ everythin’ thar is to be seen in the great city of New Or-lee-yuns, to go straight west with you fellers, an’ Shif’less Sol that’s outside, clean across the great buff’ler plains that we’ve talked about afore.”

“Cross ’em!” said Silent Tom, speaking for the first time.  “You can’t cross ’em.  They go on forever.”

“No, they don’t.  Once I come across a French trapper who had been clean to the edge uv ’em, tradin’ with the Injuns fur furs.  I don’t know how many weeks an’ months it took him, but cross ’em he did, an’ what do you think he found on the other side, Tom Ross?”

“The sea.”

“Nary a sea.  He found mountains, mountains sech ez we ain’t got this side the Missip, mountains that go right up to the top uv the sky, cuttin’ through clouds on the way, mountains that are covered always with snow, even in the summer, an’ not a half-dozen or a dozen mountains, but hundreds uv ’em, ridges an’ ranges runnin’ fur hundreds an’ thousands uv miles.”

“An’ beyond that?” asked Silent Tom.

“Nobody knows.  But think what a trip it would be fur us five!  Why it raises the sperrit uv romance mighty high in me.  Paul hez often told us how them old Crusaders from France an’ England an’ Germany an’ all them Old World countries started off, wearin’ their iron clothes even on the hottest days, to rescue the Holy places from the infidel.  I guess the sperrit uv adventure helped a heap in takin’ ’em, but thar travels wouldn’t be any greater, an’ grander than ourn across all them great plains an’ into them almighty high mountains beyond.  You couldn’t even guess what we’d find.”

Long Jim drew a deep breath, as his spirit leaped before him into the vast unknown spaces, and Paul’s eyes sparkled.  The seed that Jim was sowing fell upon fertile ground.

“I believe I’d rather travel in the unknown than the known,” the boy said.  “We’d come to rivers, big ones and lots of ’em, too, that no white man had ever seen before, and, when at last we reached the mountains, we’d explore in there for months and months, a year, two years may be.  And we’d name the highest five peaks for ourselves.”

“An’ I’d want a river named after me, too, Paul, an’ I don’t want it to be any little second rate river, either.  I want it to be long an’ broad an’ deep an’ full uv mighty clear water, an’ when after a while, fur hunters come along in thar canoes, I’d say to ’em, ’Dip down!  Dip down with your paddles an’ don’t be afeard.  This is the Long Jim Hart river, an’ me bein’ Jim Hart, the owner, I give you leave.’”

“I heard the sound o’ a shot,” said Silent Tom.

“And there goes another,” said Henry.  “It seemed to be up the valley.  Is it possible that Shif’less Sol has let himself be trapped in broad daylight?”

All crowded into the doorway and looked and listened, intense anxiety, despite themselves, tearing at their hearts.  Shots at such a time were deeply significant.  The Indians at the camp opposite, Braxton Wyatt with them, had risen and were looking fixedly in the same direction.

A long triumphant shout suddenly came from a point in the forest up the valley, and then was succeeded by another in which six or seven voices joined, the Indian chant of victory.  The hearts of the four dropped like plummets in a pool, and they gazed at one another, aghast.

“It can’t be that they’ve got him!” exclaimed Long Jim.

“Listen to that song!” faltered Paul.  “It celebrates the taking of a scalp!”

“I’m afeared fur good old Sol,” said Tom Ross.

Henry was silent, but a great grief oppressed him.  The Indian chant was so triumphant that it could mean nothing but the taking of a scalp, and there was no scalp but that of the shiftless one to take.

Louder swelled the song, while the singers were yet invisible among the bushes, and suddenly, the band gathered in the opening, began to sing a welcome, as they danced around the coals of their low campfire.  Around and around they went, leaping and chanting, and the songs of both bands came clearly to those in the cave.

Henry’s face darkened and his teeth pressed closely together.  An accident must have happened or the shiftless one would never have allowed himself to be trapped in the day.  Yet he had hope, he said resolutely to himself that he must retain hope, and he watched continually for the smaller band that was approaching through the bushes.

They emerged suddenly into view, and as his heart sank again, he saw that the leading warrior was whirling a trophy swiftly around his head.  The cries of the others at sight of the scalp redoubled.

“It’s Sol’s, uv course!” growled Long Jim.  “He’s gone an’ a better man never trod moccasin!”

The others were silent, overwhelmed with grief.  The two bands now joined and the dance of a score of warriors became wilder and wilder.  At intervals they caught a glimpse of the scalp as it was waved aloft, and they raged, but were powerless.

“We can’t go after them cannon now,” said Long Jim.  “We’ve got to stay an’ git revenge fur poor old Sol.”

“An’ that’s shore,” said Tom Ross.

Henry and Paul were silent.  It was the most terrible irony to stand there and see the savages rejoicing over the cruel fate of their comrade, and, as the water rose in their eyes, there came at the same time out of the depths of the forest the long lone howl of the wolf, now a deep thrilling note, something like a chord.

“It’s Shif’less Sol! he’s safe!” cried Long Jim.  “It’s jest a trick they’re workin’, tryin’ to beat down our sperrits, an’ good old Sol is tellin’ us so!”

“It’s shorely time,” said Silent Tom, “an’ that’s an old scalp they’re whirlin’.”

They had never before known the cry of a wolf to have such a deep and thrilling quality, but it came again as full and resounding as before, and they were satisfied.  Not a doubt remained in the heart of any one of them.  The shiftless one was safe and he had twice told them so.  How could they ever have thought that he would allow himself to be trapped so easily?  The savages might dance on and sing on as much as they pleased, but it did not matter now.

“After lookin’ at them gyrations,” said Long Jim, “I needs refreshment.  A dancin’ an’ singin’ party always makes me hungry.  Will you j’in me in a ven’son an’ water banquet, me noble luds?”

“Go ahead the rest o’ you,” said Tom Ross, “I’ll watch.”

They drank from the rill, lay down on their couches and ate the deer meat with splendid appetites.  The revulsion was so great that anything would have been good to them.

“That wuz a purty smart trick, after all,” said Long Jim.  “Ef they’d made us think they’d got Shif’less Sol’s scalp they’d make us think, too, that they’d git our own soon.  An’ they reckoned then, mebbe, that we’d be so weak-sperrited we’d come out an’ surrender.”

“I foresee another dull and long period of inaction,” said Henry.

And what he said came to pass.  They remained two more days in their little fortress, besieged so closely that they did not dare to move.  Yet the besiegers themselves were kept in a constant state of alarm.  One of their best hunters, sent out for deer, failed to come back, and his body was found in the forest.  The others began to be oppressed by superstitious fears, and it required all of Wyatt’s eloquence and force to keep them to their task.

It was in Henry’s mind to wait for a wet night and then risk all and go.  It was the rainy time of the year, and on their sixth night in the cavern the storm that they wished for so earnestly came, preceded by the usual heralds, deep thunder and vivid lightning.

The four made ready swiftly.  Every one carried upon his back his blanket and a large supply of venison.  The locks of rifles and other weapons and powder were kept dry under their hunting shirts.  Henry thrust the extra rifle into a crevice, having an idea that he might need it some day, and would find it there.  Then as the thunder and lightning ceased and the deep darkness and rushing rain came they took a last look at the strong little castle that had been such a haven to them.  Only eyes like theirs trained to dusk could have made out its walls and roof and floor.

“It’s like leaving home,” said Paul.

“Thar’s one good thing,” said Long Jim.  “The savages in thar meanness can’t destroy it.”

Henry led, and, Silent Tom bringing up the rear, they slipped into the open air, keeping close to one another lest they be lost in the thick darkness.  Despite the pouring rain and the lash of the wind it felt good out there.  They had been so long in one small close place that it was freedom to have again the whole open world about them.  The four stood a little while to breathe it in and then Henry led through the underbrush to the top of the hill.

“Bend low,” he whispered to Paul, who was just behind him.  “They must have a sentinel near here somewhere, and we don’t want to run into him.”

Paul obeyed him and went on, but none of them noticed that Tom Ross, who was last, turned softly aside from the path, and then swung the butt of his rifle with all his might.  But all heard the impact and the sound of a fall, and, as they whirled around, Henry asked: 

“What is it?”

“The sentinel,” replied Ross.  “He won’t bother us.”

On they went in single file again, but Paul shuddered.  As their flight lengthened they increased their speed, and, when they were a half mile away, Paul jumped, as the long piercing howl of the wolf rose directly in front of him.  It was Henry sending the signal to the shiftless one, and in an instant they heard a similar note in answer from a distant point.

As they advanced further the signals were repeated and then the shiftless one came with swiftness and without noise through the bushes, rising up like a phantom before them.  There were happy handshakes and the five, reunited once more, fled southward through the darkness and rain.

“I thought you’d come out tonight, Henry,” said Shif’less Sol.  “An’ I wuz waitin’ on the ridge ’til I heard your signal.  Ain’t it grand fur all o’ us to be together ag’in, an’ to hev beat Braxton Wyatt?”

“It was you, Sol, who were our greatest help.”

The shiftless one chuckled, pleased at the compliment.

“Guess I wuz the flyin’ wing o’ our little army,” he said.  “Mebbe Wyatt an’ them warriors will hang ‘roun’ thar two or three days afore they find out we’ve gone.”

“Not that long.  The head of a warrior met Tom’s clubbed rifle as we came away, and if they don’t find him tonight they certainly will in the morning.”

“I don’t care anyway.  That band can’t overtake us, an’ it can’t trail us on a night like this.  Thar!  They’ve found the warrior!”

The faint sound of a yell, more like an echo, came on the wind and rain, but it brought no fears to the five.  They were quite sure that no pursuit could overtake them now.  After a while, they let their gait sink to a walk, and began to pick their way carefully through the dripping forest.  As they were wet, all save their ammunition, they did not hesitate to wade many flooded brooks and they felt that when day came their trail would still be hidden from even the keenest of the Indian trailers.

Henry did not believe that Wyatt and his warriors could find them unless by chance, and as they were now many miles from the cavern, and the day was not far away, he began to think of a stopping place.  Continued exertion had kept them warm, despite the rain, but it would not be wise to waste their strength in a rapid flight, continued a long time.

“All of you keep an eye for shelter,” he said “Maybe we can find a windrow that will at least shut off a part of the rain.”

He alluded to the masses of trees sometimes thrown down by a hurricane, often over a swath not more than two hundred yards wide.  Where men did not exist to clear them away they were numerous in Kentucky, accumulating for uncounted years.  But it was more than an hour before they came upon one of these heaps of tree trunks thrown thickly together.

Yet it was a good den or lair.  Many of the fallen leaves had sifted in and lay there.  Perhaps bears had used these recesses in the winter, but the five were not scrupulous.  Their lives were passed in the primitive, and they knew how to make the most of everything that nature offered, no matter how little.

“I reckon we den up here,” said Long Jim.

“We do,” said Henry, “and we might go farther and find a much worse place.”

The trees evidently had been thrown down a long time, as great masses of vines had grown over them, forming an almost complete roof.  Very little rain came through, and, as they had managed to keep their ammunition as well as their blankets dry, the lair was better than anything for which they had hoped.  Trusting to the darkness and their concealment, all five wrapped themselves in their blankets and went to sleep.

Now and then drops of rain forced their way through the vines and fell on the sleepers, but they did not awake.  Such trifles as these did not disturb them.  They were a part of the great wilderness, used to its ways, and troubled little by the ordinary hardships of human beings.  The mental tension and the anxieties from which they had suffered were gone.  The siege broken, and reunited, they could pursue the main force and the cannon with speed.

The great revulsion made their sleep easy and untroubled.  Not one of them stirred as he lay beneath the covering made by the ancient hurricane, and every one of them breathed long and deep.

Nature was watching over them while they slept.  They belonged to the forest, and the forest was taking care of its own.  The rain increased and it was driven harder by the wind, but folded in their blankets they remained snug, while their clothing dried upon them.  A bear that had hibernated there, fleeing from the rain sought his own den, but he was driven away by the man smell.  A bedraggled panther had an idea of taking the same shelter, but he too was repelled in like manner.

The forest watched over its own not only through the night but after the sun rose.  Braxton Wyatt and his warriors, consumed with rage, could find no sign of a trail.  They had entered the cavern and seized upon the portions of venison left there, although the rifle escaped their notice, and then they had begun the vain pursuit.  Long before day they gave it up, and started after the main army.

It had been Henry’s intention to sleep only the two hours until dawn, but the relaxation, coming after immense exertions and anxieties, kept him and all the others sound asleep long after the dripping forest was bathed in sunlight.  It was a bright ray of the same sunlight entering through a crevice and striking him in the eye that awakened him.  He looked at his comrades.  They were so deep in slumber that not one of them stirred.

He heard a light swift sound overhead and saw that it was a gray squirrel running along their roof.  Then came a song, pure and sweet, that thrilled through the forest.  It was sung by a small gray bird perched on a vine almost directly over Henry’s head, and he wondered that such a volume of music could come from such a tiny body.

The squirrel and the bird together told him that nothing unusual was stirring in the forest.  If warriors were near that morning song would not be poured forth in such a clear and untroubled stream.  The bird was their warder, their watchman, and he told them that it was sunrise and all was well.  Feeling the utmost confidence in the small sentinel, and knowing that they needed more strength for the pursuit, Henry closed his eyes and went to sleep again.

The little gray bird was the most redoubtable of sentinels.  Either the figures below were hidden from him or instinct warned him that they were friends.  He hopped from bough to bough of the great windrow, and nearly always he sang.  Now his song was clear and happy, saying that no enemy came in the forest.  He sang from sheer delight, from the glory of the sunshine, and the splendor of the great green forest, drying in the golden glow.  Now and then the gray squirrel came down from a tree and ran over the windrow.  There was no method in his excursions.  It was just pure happiness, the physical expression of high spirits.

The shiftless one was the next to awake, and he too looked at his sleeping comrades.  His task had been the hardest of them all.  Although his body had acquired the quality of steel wire, it had yielded nevertheless under the strain of so many pursuits and flights.  Now he heard that bird singing above him and as it told him, too, that no danger was near, he shifted himself a little to ease his muscles and went to sleep again.

A half-hour later Long Jim came out of slumberland, but he opened only one eye.  The bird was trilling and quavering in the most wonderful way, telling him as he understood it, to go back whence he had come, and he went at once.  Then came Paul, not more than half awakened, and the music of the song lulled him.  He did not have time to ask himself any question before he had returned to sleep, and the bird sang on, announcing that noon was coming and all was yet well.