Read CHAPTER XII - ON THE GREAT TRAIL of The Keepers of the Trail A Story of the Great Woods , free online book, by Joseph A. Altsheler, on ReadCentral.com.

An hour after the little gray bird had announced that it was noon and all was well Henry awoke, and now he sat up.  The bird, hearing rustlings below, and feeling that his task of watchman was over, flew away.  His song was heard for a moment or two in the boughs of a tree, then it grew faint and died in the distance.  But his work was done and he had done it well.

Henry put his hand on Sol’s shoulder, and the shiftless one also sat up.

“You’ve slept a week, Sol,” Henry said.

“That’s a whopper.  I just laid down, slept a minute, waked up, heard a bird singin’, then slept another minute.”

“Just the same happened to me, but it’s past midday.  Look through the vines there and see the sun.”

“It’s so.  How time does pass when the warriors are lettin’ your scalp alone.”

“Wake up, Jim.”

Shif’less Sol poked Long Jim with his moccasined foot.

“Here you, Jim Hart,” he said.  “Wake up.  Do you think we’ve got nothin’ to do but set here, an’ listen to you snorin’ fur two days an’ two nights, when we’ve got to overtake an Injun army and thrash it?”

“Don’t tech me with your foot ag’in, Sol Hyde, an’ don’t talk to me so highfalutin’.  It’s hard to git me mad, but when I do git mad I’m a lot wuss than Paul’s friend, A-killus, ’cause I don’t sulk in my tent, specially when I haven’t got any.  I jest rises up an’ takes them that pesters me by the heels an’ w’ar ’em out ag’in the trees.”

“You talk mighty big, Saplin’.”

“I’m feelin’ big.  I think I’ll go out an’ stretch myself, bein’ ez it’s a fine day an’ these are my woods.”

The talk awoke Paul also and all went outside.  Henry and Silent Tom scouted for some distance in every direction, and, finding no sign of an enemy, the five ate cold venison and drank from one of the innumerable streams.  Then they deliberated briefly.  They must find the trail of the Indian army and they were quite sure that it lay toward the east.  If it were there they could not miss it, as a way for the cannon had to be cut with axes.  Hence their council lasted only five minutes, and then they hastened due eastward.

Speed was impeded by the creeks and brooks, all of which were swollen yet further, compelling them in several cases to swim, which had to be done with care, owing to the need of keeping their ammunition dry.  Night came, the great trail was still unfound, and they thought they might possibly have been mistaken in going to the east, but when they debated it again they resolved to continue their present course.  Every probability favored it, and perhaps the Indian army had taken a wider curve than they had thought.

“I’ve had so much rest and sleep that I’m good fur all night,” said Long Jim, “an’ the ground bein’ so soft from so much rain them cannon wheels will cut ruts a foot deep.”

“That’s so,” said Shif’less Sol.  “Why we could blindfold ourselves an’ hit that trail.  Out o’ the mouths o’ men like Long Jim wisdom comes sometimes, though you wouldn’t think it.”

“All that you are, Solomon Hyde,” said Long Jim, “I’ve made.  When I fust knowed you a tow-headed boy you didn’t have sense enough to come in out uv the rain.  Now, by long years uv hard trainin’, mixin’ gentleness with firmness, I’ve turned you into somethin’ like a scout an’ trailer an’ Injun fighter, fit to travel in the comp’ny uv a man like myself.  Now an’ then when I look at you, Solomon Hyde, I’m proud uv you, but I’m prouder uv myself fur makin’ a real man out uv sech poor stuff to start with.”

“I’m still willin’ to learn, Jim,” grinned Shif’less Sol.

“The trail!  The trail!” suddenly exclaimed Henry.

They had emerged from heavy forest into a stretch of canebrake through which ran a long swath, trampled by many feet and cut by deep ruts.  Here the cannon had passed perhaps a week ago, and they could follow the ruts as easily as the wheel of an engine follows the rails.

“I ’low they can’t make more’n ten or fifteen miles a day,” said Silent Tom.

“While we, if we were hard pressed, could go thirty or forty, or more,” said Paul.

“We could overtake ’em in three days,” said Henry.

“An’ hevin’ done it,” said the shiftless one, “what are we goin’ to do next?”

“It’s the cannon we’re after, as we all know,” said Henry, “and I confess that I can’t see yet how we’re going to get at ’em.”

“I fancy we can tell more about it when we approach the Indian army,” said Paul.

“There’s no other way,” said Henry.  “If we keep close beside ’em we may get a chance at the cannon, but we’ve got to look out for Braxton Wyatt and his gang, who will be just behind us, on the same trail.”

“Then we go straight ahead?” said Paul.

They followed the great trail nearly all night, under the clear moon and stars, a fine drying wind having taken away all the dampness.  As usual Henry led and Silent Tom brought up the rear, the one in front keeping an eye for a rear guard and the one behind watching for the advance of Braxton Wyatt’s force.  The trail itself was leisurely.  The speed of the cannon had to be the speed of the army, and there was ample time for parties to leave on hunting expeditions, and then rejoin the main band with their spoils.

“They’re living well,” said Henry, as he pointed to the dead coals of numerous fires, and the quantities of bones scattered about “They’ve had buffalo, bear, deer, turkey and lots of small game.”

“It’s an ideal country for an Indian army to travel in,” said Paul.  “The game fairly swarms in it.”

“An they don’t spare it neither,” said Shif’less Sol.  “These warriors are jest eatin’ thar way down to the settlements.”

“Here’s where they kept their cannon,” said Henry, pointing to a place near the edge of the opening, “and they covered them for the night with strong canvas.”

“How do you know that?” asked Long Jim.

“See this thorn bush growing just beside the place.  The edge of the canvas caught on the thorns and when they pulled it away it left these threads.  See, here are three of ’em.”

“But how do you know it was strong canvas?”

“Because if it hadn’t been, more than these three threads would have been left.  I’m astonished at you!  What have you done with your wits?  It was just over there, too, that Alloway and Cartwright sat with the chiefs and held a council.  Two or three bushes were cut down close to the ground in order that a dozen men or so might sit comfortably in a ring.  They smoked a pipe, and came to some agreement.  Here are the ashes that were thrown from the pipe after they were through with it.  Then Alloway and Cartwright walked off in this direction.  You can see even now the imprint of their boot heels.  Moccasins would leave no such trace.  It must have rained that night, too, because they spread their tent and slept in it.”

“You’re guessing now, Henry,” said Long Jim.

“I don’t have to guess.  This is the simplest thing in the world.  One has only to look and see.  Here are the holes where they drove the tent pegs.  But the two officers did not go to sleep at once after the council.  They sat in the tent and talked quite a while.”

“How do you know?”

“More ashes, and on the ground covered by the tent.  Evidently they have pipes of their own, as most all English officers do, and they wouldn’t have sat here, and smoked, while on a hard march, if they did’nt have something important to talk about.  I take it that the leaders of the Indian army are trying to solve some question.  Perhaps they don’t know which of the settlements to march against first.”

“Over here is where they kept the horses fur the big guns,” said Silent Tom.  “Mebbe we might git at them horses, Henry.”

“We might, but it wouldn’t help us much.  The warriors are so many that, although they don’t like work, they could take turns at pulling ’em along with ropes.  They could do that too, with the wagons that carry the ammunition for the cannon.  Come on, boys.  It don’t pay us to linger over dead campfires.  Here goes the trail which is as broad as a road.”

He led the way, but stopped again in a few minutes.

“They had their troubles when they started the next morning,” he said, as he pointed with a long forefinger.

They saw flowing directly across the road one of the innumerable creeks, swollen to a depth of about four feet by the rain, and with rather a swift current.  Hundreds of footprints had been left in the soft soil near the stream, and they examined them carefully.  In two places these traces were packed closely.

“About twenty warriors gathered at each of these spots,” said Henry, “and lifted the cannon into the wagons.  Look how deep some of these footmarks are!  That was when the weight of the cannon sank them down.  The Indians could have gone across the creek without the slightest trouble, but the cannon and the wagons delayed them quite a while.  Come, boys, we’ve got to do some wading ourselves.”

Reaching the opposite bank they found where the cannon had been lifted out again, and saw the deep ruts made by their wheels running on through the forest.

“I don’t find the traces of no boot heels,” said Silent Tom.  “What’s become uv them English?”

“They’re riding now,” replied Henry.  “They’re not as used as the Indians to forest marches, and they’ve all been compelled to take to the wagons for a while.  But they won’t stay in ’em long.”

“Why not?”

“Because Alloway won’t want the warriors to look down on him or his men, and the Indians are impressed by physical strength and tenacity.  As soon as they’re fairly rested he’ll get out and make all the others get out too.”

In a half-hour he called their particular attention to a point in the great trail.

“All of them got out of the wagons here,” he said.  “Look where the boot heels cut into the ground.  What’s this?  A warrior coming out of the forest has joined them here.  Perhaps he was a man sent by Braxton Wyatt or Blackstaffe to tell how they were getting along in their siege of us, and here is another trail, where a dozen warriors split from the band.”

“A huntin’ party, o’ course,” said the shif’less one as he looked at it.  “They send ’em off on ev’ry side, ev’ry day, an’ we’ve got to watch mighty close, lest some o’ them light on us.”

“Still,” said Henry, “when they got their game they wouldn’t come straight back to a trail already old.  They’d go on ahead to catch up.  It’s lucky that we’ve got plenty of venison and don’t have to do any hunting of our own.  Jim, you certainly did noble work as a cook back there.”

“Which reminds me,” said Long Jim, “that I’ll chaw a strip uv venison now.”

“Jim wuz always a glutton,” said the shiftless one, “but that won’t keep me from j’inin’ him in his pleasant pursuit.”

Daylight found them in dense canebrake with the road that the army had been forced to cut for the cannon leading on straight and true.

“We’ll find another camp about a half mile ahead,” said Henry.

“Now that’s a guess,” said Long Jim.

“Oh, no, it isn’t.  Jim, you must really learn to use your eyes.  Look up a little.  See, those buzzards hovering over a particular spot.  Now, one darts down and now another rises up.  I suppose they’re still able to pick a few shreds of flesh from the under side of the big buffalo bones.”

“I reckon you’re right, Henry.”

They reached the old camp presently, within the indicated distance, but did not linger, pressing on over little prairies and across streams of all sizes.  They noticed again and again where the hunting parties left the main army, and then where they came back.

“They’ve lots of ammunition,” said Henry.  “They must have the biggest supply that was ever yet furnished by Detroit.”

“Mebbe we kin git some uv it fur ourselves later on,” said Tom Ross.

“That’s not a bad idea, to get ammunition at the expense of the enemy.  Their bullets might not fit our rifles, but we could use their powder.  We may have our chance yet to raid ’em.”

At noon they turned aside into the forest and sought a deep recess where they could rest and plan.  Foliage and earth were dry now and they stretched themselves luxuriously, as they ate and talked.  They reckoned that they could overtake the army on the following night or at least on the morning after, as its progress had been manifestly slower even than they had thought.  Taking cannon through the great woods in which not a single road existed was a most difficult task.  But every one of the five felt the need of exceeding great caution.  Besides the hunters they might have to deal with the party that had left under Blackstaffe and Red Eagle.  For all they knew, this band might have taken a shorter course through the woods, and chance might bring on an encounter at any time.

“If they should strike our trail they’re likely to follow it up,” said the shiftless one.  “Some o’ ’em in lookin’ fur game are shore to be far in the rear, an’ them too may stumble on us.”

“‘Pears to me,” said Long Jim, “that we’ve come knowin’ it, plum’ into a big hornet’s nest, but we ain’t stung yet.”

“An’ we ain’t goin’ to be,” said the shiftless one confidently.

Thus did the knights of the forest discuss their chances, and they were as truly knights as any that ever tilted lance for his lady, or, clothed in mail, fought the Saracen in the Holy Land, and, buried in the vast forest, their dangers were greater, they so few against so many.

Knowing now that they had no need to hurry and that to hurry was dangerous, they lay a long time in the woods, and some of them slept a little, while the others watched.  But those who slept awoke when they heard the haunting cry of the owl.  The five sat up as another owl far to the left hooted in answer.  Not one of them was deceived for an instant, as the signals were exchanged three times.  Indian, they knew, was talking to Indian.

“What do you think it means, Henry?” asked the shiftless one.

“I’ve a notion that a small band has struck our trail and that it’s signaling to a bigger one.”

“I’m sorry o’ that.”

“So am I, because it will put the great band on guard against us.  Our best weapon would have been the ignorance of the Indians that we were near.”

“Ef troubles git in our way we kin shoot ’em out uv it,” said Long Jim philosophically.

“So we can,” said Henry, “but there goes one of the owls again, and it’s much nearer to us than it was before.”

“An’ thar’s the other answerin’ from the other side,” said Shif’less Sol, “an’ it, too, is much nearer.”

“‘Pears ez ef they knowed more about us than we thought they did, an’ are tryin’ to surround us,” said Long Jim.

“An’ we jest won’t be surrounded,” said Shif’less Sol.  “We ain’t trained to that sort o’ thing an’ it ain’t a habit that we’d like.”

“Come on,” said Henry, and, rifle on shoulder, he flitted through the thickets.  The others followed him in single file, and they advanced toward a point mid-way between the opposing bands.  Their line formed according to its invariable custom, Henry leading, the shiftless one next, followed by Paul, with Long Jim following, and Silent Tom covering the rear.

They traveled now at high speed, and Henry felt that the need was great.  He was sure that the bands, besides signaling to each other, were also calling up wandering hunters.  The circle about them might be more nearly complete than they had thought.  They kept to the darkest of the forest and fled on like a file of phantoms.  A rifle suddenly cracked in the thicket and a bullet whistled by.  Henry’s rifle flashed in reply and no further sound came from the bushes.  Then the phantoms sped on faster than ever.

Henry reloaded his rifle, and all of them listened to the chorus of the owls, as they cried to one another in a circle the diameter of which might have been a third of a mile.  The heart of every one beat faster, not alone because they were running, but because of that demon chorus.  All the warriors had heard the rifle shots and they knew now just about where the fugitives were.  The cry of an owl has a singularly weird and haunting quality, and when so many of them came together, coming as the five knew, from the throats of those who meant them death, its effect was appalling even upon such hardy souls as theirs.

“I wish they’d stop them cries,” growled Long Jim.  “They git into my bones, an’ give me a sort uv creepy weakness ’bout the knees.”

“Don’t let your knees buckle,” said Shif’less Sol.  “Good knees are mighty important, jest now, ’cause you know, Jim, we’ll hev to make a pow’ful good run fur it, an’ ef your legs give out I’ll hev to stay back with you.”

“I know you would, Sol, but that creepy feelin’ ’bout my knees don’t weaken the muscles an’ j’ints.  Runnin’ is my strongest p’int.”

“I know it.  I don’t furgit the time your runnin’ saved us all when the emigrant train wuz surrounded by the tribes.”

“Down!” suddenly called Henry, and the five dropped almost flat, but without noise, in the bushes.  Two dusky figures, evidently scouts, were running directly across their line of flight about fifty yards ahead of them.  But Henry was quite sure that the two warriors had not seen them and the five, lying close and scarcely breathing, watched the dusky figures.  The warriors paused a moment or two, looked about them, but, seeing nothing went on, and were quickly lost to sight in the brush.

“It was lucky,” said Henry, as they rose and resumed their flight, “that the warriors didn’t look more closely.  I think fortune is favoring us.”

“It ain’t fortune or luck,” said Shif’less Sol.  “It’s jedgment, an’ our long an’ hard trainin’.  I tell you jedgment is a power.”

A fierce yell arose behind them, a yell full of savagery and triumph.

“They’ve hit our trail in the moonlight,” said Henry, “and as we have no time to dodge or lie in cover, there’s nothing to do but run faster.”

“An’ keep a good lookout to both right an’ left,” said Shif’less Sol.  “They’re comin’ now from all directions.”

The owls now began to hoot in great numbers, and with extraordinary ferocity.  The cry made upon Paul’s sensitive mind an impression that never could be effaced.  He associated it with cruelty, savagery and deadly menace.  His ear even multiplied and exaggerated the sinister calls.  The woods were filled with them, they came from every bush, and the menacing circle was steadily and surely drawing closer.

Henry heard the heavy panting breaths behind him.  They were bound to grow weary before long.  Even if one were made of steel he could not run on forever.  But he recalled that while they could not do so neither could the warriors.  His keen ear noted that no cry of the owl came from the point straight ahead, and he concluded therefore that the circle was not yet complete.  There was a break in the ring and he meant to drive straight through it.

“Now, boys,” he said, “slow up a little to let your breath come back, then we’ll make a great burst for it and break through.”

Their pace sank almost to a walk, but the beat of their hearts became more nearly regular, and strength came back.  Meanwhile the cries of the owls never ceased.  They drummed incessantly on the ears of Paul, and made a sort of fury in his brain.  It was a species of torture that made him rage more than ever against his pursuers.

They stopped in a clump of cane and watched a single warrior pass near.  When he was gone they stepped from the cane and began to run at high speed toward the opening in the circle which Henry judged could not be more than a hundred yards away.  It was fortunate for them that the forest here contained little undergrowth to impede them.

It was a great burst of speed to make after so long a flight, but the brief rest had helped them greatly, and they spurned the earth behind them.  Now the Indian warriors caught sight of them, and rifles flashed in the night.  The last owl ceased to hoot, and instead gave forth the war hoop.  The forest rang with fierce yells, many anticipating a triumph not yet won.  Many shots were fired on either flank, and leaves and twigs fell, but the five, bending low, fled on and did not yet reply.

The young leader in those desperate moments was cool enough to see that no shots came from the point straight ahead, making it sure that the opening was still there.  He counted, too, on the dusk and the generally poor markmanship of the savages.  A single glance backward showed him that none of his comrades was touched.  Farther away on either side he saw the leaping forms of the warriors and then the flash of their wild shots.  And still his comrades and he were untouched.

“Now, boys,” he cried, “let out the last link in the chain!” and the five bounded forward at such speed that the Indians in the dusk could not hit the flying targets, and, still untouched they drove through the opening, and beyond.  But the warriors behind them joined in a mass and came on, yelling in anger and disappointment.

“Now, Sol,” said Henry, “we might let ’em have a couple of bullets.  The rest of you hold your fire!”

Henry and the shiftless one, wheeling swiftly, fired and hit their targets.  A cry of wrath came from the pursuers, but they dropped back out of range, and stayed there awhile.  Then they crept closer, until a bullet from Silent Tom gave them a deadly warning to drop back again, which they did with great promptness.

Then the five, summoning all their reserves of strength, sped southward at a rate that was too great for their pursuers.  Paul soon heard the owls calling again, but they were at least a half mile behind them, and they no longer oppressed him with that quality of cruelty and certain triumph.  Now they only denoted failure and disappointment, and, as his high tension relaxed, he began to laugh.

“Stop it, Paul!  Stop it!” said the shiftless one sharply.  “It’s too soon yet to laugh!  When the time comes I’ll tell you!”

Paul checked himself, knowing that the laugh was partly hysterical, and closely followed Henry who was now turning toward the west, leading them through rolling country, clothed in the same unbroken forest and undergrowth.  It was his idea to find a creek or brook and then wade in it for a long distance to break the trail, the simplest of devices, one used a thousand times with success on the border, and they ran at their utmost speed, in order to be out of sight of even the swiftest warrior when they should come to water.

They passed several tiny brooks too small for their purpose, but, in a half-hour, came to one two feet deep, flowing swiftly and with muddy current.  Henry uttered a sigh of satisfaction as he stepped into the water, and began to run with the stream.  He heard four splashes behind him, as the others stepped in also, and followed.

“As little noise as you can,” he said.  “There may be a lurking warrior about somewhere.”

After the first hundred yards they waded slowly, in order to avoid more splashing, and, after another hundred, stopped to listen.  They heard faint cries from the warriors, but they were very far away, at least a mile, they thought, and the hearts of every one of the five rose with the belief that the Indians had taken the wrong course.  But they neglected no precaution, wading in the middle of the brook for a long distance, the water enclosed on either side with a thick and heavy growth of willows and bushes so dense, in truth, that one could not see into the stream without parting the foliage.

“Didn’t I tell you we were lucky!” said Henry.  “This branch poked itself right across our path at the right moment to help us break our trail.”

“Jedgment, Henry!  Jedgment!” said the shiftless one.  “We knowed that it wuz best fur us to find a branch, an’ so we jest run on till we found one.”

“It ‘pears to me,” said Long Jim, “that we’re takin’ to water a heap.  Always jumpin’ into some branch or creek or river an’ wadin’, I feel myself turnin’ to a fish, a great big long catfish sech as you find in the Ohio.  Fins are comin’ out on my ankles right now.”

“An’ your face is plum’ covered with scales already,” said Shif’less Sol.  “You’re shorely a wonder, Jim.”

Long Jim involuntarily clapped his hand to his face, and then both laughed.

“At any rate,” said Long Jim, “I’ll be glad when we take to dry ground ag’in.”

But Henry led them a full mile, until he parted the bushes, and stepped out on the west bank.  The others followed and all five stood a moment or two on the bank, while the water dripped from their leggings.

“Them fins has done growed on me, shore,” whispered Long Jim to Shif’less Sol.  “Cur’us how water sticks to deerskin.”

“How much further do we go, Henry?” asked Paul.

“Far enough to be safe,” replied Henry.  “I think two or three miles more will put us out of their range.  The walking won’t be bad, and it will help to dry our leggings.”

“Wish I had one o’ their hosses to ride on,” said Shif’less Sol.  “’Twould jest suit me, a lazy man.  I guess hosses wuzn’t ever used in these parts afore, but I’d ride one like the old knights that Paul talks about, an’ you, Long Jim, could hang on to the tail.”

“I wouldn’t hang on to the tail of nobody’s hoss, an’ least uv all to the tail uv yourn, Sol Hyde.”

“You’d hev to, Jim Hart, ’cause you’d be my serf.  Knights always had serfs that wuz glad to hang on to the tails o’ their hosses, when the knights would let ’em.  Wouldn’t I look grand, chargin’ through the forest on my war hoss, six feet high, me in my best Sunday brass suit, speckled with gold scales, with my silver spear twenty feet long, an’ my great two-handed, gold-hilted sword beside me, an’ Long Jim tied to the tail o’ my hoss, so he wouldn’t git tired an’ fall behind, when I wuz chargin’ the hull Shawnee tribe?”

“You’ll never see that day, Sol Hyde.  When we charge the Shawnee tribe I’ll be in front, runnin’ on these long legs uv mine, an’ you’ll be ‘bout a hundred yards behind, comin’ on in a kinder doubtful an’ hesitatin’ way.”

“Here is good dry ground now,” said Henry, “and I don’t think we need to go any farther.”

They were on a small hilltop, densely covered with trees, and the five gladly threw themselves down among the trunks.  They were sure now that they were safe from pursuit, and they felt elation, but they said little.  All of them took off their wet leggings and moccasins, and laid them out to dry, while they rested and ate venison.

“I’m gittin’ tired, paddlin’ ‘roun’ in wet clothes,” said Long Jim, “and I hope them things uv mine will dry fast, ’cause it would be bad to hev to run fur it ag’in, b’ar-footed this time, an’ with not much of anythin’ on up to your waist.”

“But think how much harder on you it would be ef it wuz winter,” said the shiftless one.  “Ef you hed to break the ice in the branch ez you walked along it, an’ then when you come out hed nothin’ but the snow to lay down in an’ rest, it would be time fur complainin’.  Ez Henry says, we’re shorely hevin’ luck.”

“That’s true, an’ we’ve found another fine inn to rest an’ sleep in.  Ain’t this nice solid dry groun’?  An’ them dead leaves scattered ’bout which we kin rake up fur pillows an’ beds, are jest the finest that ever fell.  An’ them trees are jest ez big an’ honest an’ friendly ez you could ask, an’ the bushes are nice an’ well behaved, an’ thar shore is plenty of water in the forest fur us to drink.  An’ we hev a good clean sky overhead.  Oh, we couldn’t come to a nicer inn than this.”

“I’m going to sleep,” said Paul.  “I’m going to wrap my blanket around the lower half of me, and if the warriors come please wake me in time, so I can put on my leggings before I have to run again.”

All soon slept save Henry and Ross, and, after a while, Henry clothed himself fully, everything now being dry, and with a word to Ross, started eastward through the forest.  He believed that Blackstaffe, Red Eagle and their party were somewhere in that direction, and he meant to have a look at them.  He was thoroughly refreshed by their long rest, and alone he felt able to avoid any danger.

He advanced through the forest, a great flitting figure that passed swiftly, and now, that he was the trailer and not the trailed, all of his marvelous faculties were at their zenith.  He heard and saw everything, and every odor came to him.  The overwhelming sense of freedom, and of a capacity to achieve the impossible, which he often felt when he was alone, fairly poured in upon him.  The feeling of success, of conquest, was strong.  He and his comrades, so far, had triumphed over every difficulty, and they had been many and great.  The omens were propitious and there was the rising wind singing among the leaves the song that was always a chant of victory for him.

He inhaled the odors of the forest, the breath of leaf and flower.  They were keen and poignant to him, and then came another odor that did not belong there.  It was brought on the edge of the gentle wind, and his nostrils expanded, as he noticed that it was growing stronger and stronger.  He knew at once that it was smoke, distant, but smoke undeniably, and that it must come from a campfire.  In all probability it was the fire of Blackstaffe, Red Eagle and their band.

He went at once toward the smoke, and gradually the light of a fire appeared among the trees.  Approaching cautiously, he saw the correctness of his surmise that it was Blackstaffe, Red Eagle and their band.  Most of the warriors were lying down, all save two or three asleep, but the renegade and the chief were talking earnestly.  Henry was eager to hear what they were saying, as it might prove of great value to him in the little campaign that he was leading.  Since Wyatt and the rest of the band had not had time to come up, they could not yet know that it was the five with whom they had been in battle that night.

He resolved that he would overhear them at all costs, and lying down in the bushes he began to edge himself forward in the slow and difficult manner of which only an accomplished scout is capable.  Fortunately the fire was near the edge of a thicket, from which he could hear, but it took him a long time to gain the position he wished, creeping forward, inch by inch, and careful not to make a bush or a leaf rustle.

When he was at last in place, he lay hidden by the foliage and blended with it, where he could easily see the faces of Blackstaffe and Red Eagle, in the firelight, and hear what they said.