Read CHAPTER V - JOURNEYING SOUTHWARD of Camp-fire and Wigwam , free online book, by Edward S. Ellis, on ReadCentral.com.

It never occurred to Jack and Otto that their captors meant to separate until the division actually took place.  As if by a general understanding, one half of the party moved to the right, and the rest partly to the left, the course of the former being due west, and of the latter directly south.

“Halloo, Otto!” called Jack, turning his head and stopping among the members of his own division who were moving off; “they’re going to part company.”

“Dot is vot it looks like; but I guess it ain’t going to be for one great vile.  Good-by!”

Jack was unwilling to part with his friend in this abrupt fashion, and he started toward him with a view of shaking his hand.  He did not dream that his movement would awaken the least opposition; but he presumed too much on the indulgence of the red men, for, before he could take three steps, one of the warriors caught his arm, and, with a violent wrench, flung him in the opposite direction.

It required the utmost effort of Jack to save himself from falling, and a stinging pain ran through his shoulder.  His hot Kentucky blood was aflame, and the instant he could poise his body he drew his knife and rushed upon the Indian with the fury of a tiger.

“I’ll show you that you can’t treat me that way!” he exclaimed.

The warrior whom he was about to assail faced him in a crouching posture, both hands resting on his knees, while his ugly countenance was bisected by a tantalizing grin which showed the molars of both jaws.  His black eyes gleamed like those of a rattlesnake, and his whole attitude and manner showed that he was seeking to goad the lad to attack him.

The impetus was not needed.  Jack Carleton had no thought of hesitation, though even in his rage he felt that there was scarcely a shadow of hope that he would escape with his life from such an encounter.

The moment Jack was close enough he bounded forward and made a sweeping blow, with the knife gripped in his right hand.  Had the weapon struck where it was aimed, there would have been one Indian less before the spectators could have realized what had taken place.  The other warriors were looking upon the picture as though in doubt of what was coming.  Among those watching the scene was Otto Relstaub, whose eyes were riveted on his friend.  The thrilling encounter had opened so suddenly that he fairly held his breath, certain that Jack would not live two minutes longer.

But the knife of the boy missed its mark altogether.  The keen point whizzed through empty air, the spiteful force of the blow turning the lad half way around on his feet, and leaving him utterly at the mercy of the warrior; the latter could have smitten him to the earth with the suddenness of the lightning stroke.

But the Indian did not so much as draw his weapon.  With a quickness which the eye could scarcely follow, he snatched the wrist of the boy’s hand and bent it back with such force that poor Jack was glad to let the weapon fall to the ground.  He was discomfited and helpless.

Jack folded his arms, so as to bring the injured wrist against his left side and under his elbow.  Pressing it close to his body, he shut his white lips and forced back the cry that struggled for utterance.

With wonderful coolness the triumphant red man stooped to the ground, picked up the hunting-knife, and with the same expanse of grin, presented it to Jack, the handle toward him.

“Takes him, Jack!” called out Otto, who was probably the most astounded spectator of the scene; “but don’t try to kills him ag’in.”

Young Carleton for a moment was as bewildered as a child; but his good sense rapidly returned, and, with a smile in answer to that of the Indian, he accepted the weapon and shoved it back in its place.

Jack was mortified beyond expression at the sorry show he had made.  He had cut a ridiculous figure, and no wonder a general smile lighted up the faces of the red men gathered around.

But the youth made a mistake when he believed he had lowered himself in the eyes of his captors.  The American race (like all others) admire true courage and pluck, even though judgment may be lacking, and the dauntless style in which the young captive attacked his tormentor, when there was no prospect of success, awoke a responsive chord in the breast of all.  Had Jack shown himself a coward, they might have treated him as they often did such captives; but the brave young fellow was in no danger, at least for the present.

The occurrence took but a fraction of the time that has been occupied in the telling, and Jack was only given opportunity to replace the knife, when his captors, arranging themselves so as to surround him, resumed their march to the westward.  Precisely at the same instant the other half of the company did the same in the other direction, and once more Otto Relstaub called out: 

“Good-by, Jack! good-by to you!”

“Good-by, my friend!” shouted Jack, his heart filled with a deep misgiving over the singular event.  “Keep up a good heart, though there’s no telling whether we shall ever meet again.”

“If I get home before you gets dere I will tell Colonel Martin, and we’ll follow you to the Rocky Mountains-

Even in that serious moment Jack Carleton broke into laughter when he saw that the usual fortune of Otto clung to him.  His foot caught in some obstruction, and while in the act of waving his hand and exchanging greetings with his friend, he stumbled forward and went down.  Clambering to his feet he turned to complete his words, but his captors seemed to have lost patience on account of the delay.  One seized his right and another his left arm and began walking him rapidly off.  The last sight which Jack gained of the fellow showed him between two Indians, who were hurrying him along with such vigor that his head rose and sank with each unwilling footstep, as though he was alternately lifted from and pressed down to the ground.  A few seconds later and the intervening trees hid him from sight.

It would have been difficult for Jack Carleton to describe his varied emotions when forced to admit the fact that he was an actual prisoner among a band of wandering Indians.  The memorable journey from Kentucky into Louisiana had been attended by many stirring experiences, and more than once every avenue of escape seemed to be closed, but, now for the first time, he found himself a captive within a few miles of his own home.

Whither would these red men take him?  Did they mean to hold him a permanent captive, or, as is often the case with their race, would they put him to torture and finally to death?  The settlements of Kentucky and Ohio were crimsoned with the deeds of the red men, and, though some tribes were less warlike than others, it was not to be supposed that any of them were distinguished for mercy and forbearance.

“If Colonel Martin only knew this,” thought Jack, while tramping forward, “it wouldn’t take him long to gather the men together, and they would come down on these folks like a whirlwind; but Otto and I may be gone for weeks before any one will suspect we are in trouble.  Even then they won’t know what to do.  No, sir,” added Jack, compressing his lips, “whatever is done must be done by myself, and, with the help of heaven, I shall part company with these red men just as soon as the chance presents itself.”

Any one in the situation of Jack Carleton cannot lack for themes on which to employ his brain.  It is safe to assert that the boy did more thinking while on that eventful march than he had done in the same space of time for years.

It may be said that while the party were on the march, and the warriors were together, it was utterly out of the question for Jack to leave against their will.  Three strode along in front, while two were in the rear.  Every one was fleeter of foot than he, and they had six rifles in their possession, while he had none at all.  Could he secure several hundred yards’ start, they would have no difficulty in trailing and running him down, for the sky was clear, the sun bright, and the footprints of the boy would show as distinctly to the keen eyes of the red men as though made in the dust of the highway.

No, he must wait for the darkness of the night, when a few yards between him and his enemies would prove like a stone wall; when insidious sleep would seal the eyes of the dusky barbarians, and he could steal out in the gloom, leaving them to wait for hours before taking up his trail.

One person was continually in the thoughts of Jack Carleton-Deerfoot.  “Where is he?  Is he days’ journey to the south?  Is there any hope of him playing the part of a friend for Otto and me?”

These and similar questions were asked again and again while the youth was tramping through the wood in the company of his captors, and his heart sank when his own good sense obliged him to answer each one in the most unsatisfactory manner.

He recalled that Deerfoot parted with them only a few days before in a manner which implied that considerable time must pass before they would see each other again.  The young Shawanoe could not suspect that when his friends reached home, they would immediately proceed to get into trouble, as they had just done.

“No,” added Jack, with a sigh, “from what I know and have heard of Deerfoot, he has a wonderful way of turning up when wanted, but it’s no use to look for him in this case.”

The conclusion of the boy was a sensible one, and he resolutely faced the situation as it presented itself to him.  It was most serious, and it may be said that every passing hour rendered it more so, for he was moving away from home, and thereby increasing the difficulties of returning thither, should it become his good fortune to gain the opportunity to do so.

The warriors who were walking in front, followed the usual custom of their people-that is, they proceeded in Indian file, so that the boy was given a fair view only of the one immediately before him-the glimpses of the others being fragmentary.  Glancing behind, he observed the same fact, so that the entire party made but the single trail, for Jack himself was wise enough to fall in with their custom.

“It may be,” he muttered, after traveling several miles in silence, “that they live hundreds of miles off and that I won’t have a chance to leave them for weeks or months or-years,” he added in a hushed voice, and with an additional heart-throb, “but I shall never be reconciled to live in the wigwams of the red men.”

It seemed curious to the young captive that a party of friends, like the Indians, should tramp mile after mile as they did without speaking a single word.  Now and then, some one would utter an exclamation which sounded more like the grunt of a porker than anything else, but frequently they advanced steadily for an hour or more in perfect silence.

Sometimes the forest was open and free from undergrowth, then it was cluttered up with running vines which would have annoyed any one unaccustomed to them, but which proved no obstacle to the Indians.  In fact, they walked without showing the least regard to them.  Where Jack, if leading, would have lifted his feet, they shoved ahead and without effort snapped and turned them aside as though they were so many cobwebs.

“It all comes from training,” concluded our friend, as he attempted to catch a switch which swung back and struck him across the face; “if I was alone, it would take me twice as long as it takes them, and then I would fare worse than they do.”

All at once, they came upon a creek.  It was barely twenty feet in width, but muddy, swift and deep.  There was something impressive in the speed with which the volume of water rushed through the woods, as if fleeing in a panic from some peril at its heels.

The entire party came to a halt, ranging themselves along the bank and surveying the turbid torrents, as though they wished to talk with each other upon the best method of placing themselves on the other side.

“I hope they won’t swim it,” Jack said to himself, “for their people make no allowance for those that are not as skillful as they, and I will get into trouble.”