Read CHAPTER III - KENT AND LESLIE of The Ranger / The Fugitives of the Border, free online book, by Edward S. Ellis, on ReadCentral.com.

When Roland Leslie reached his destination some miles up the Ohio, his fears and suspicions were confirmed.  There had been a massacre, a week previous, of a number of settlers, and the Indians were scouring the country for more victims.

This information was given by Kent Whiteman, the person for whom he was searching.  This personage was a strange character, some forty years of age, who led a wandering hunter’s life, and was known by every white man for a great distance along the Ohio.  Roland Leslie had made his acquaintance when but a mere lad, and they often spent weeks together hunting and roaming through the great wilderness, which was the home of both.  He cherished an implacable hatred to every red-man, and they in turn often sought his life, for they had no enemy so dangerous as he.

“Yes, sir, them varmints,” said he, as he leaned upon his long rifle and gazed at Leslie, “are playing particular devil in these parts, and I calkelate it’s a game that two can play at.”

“Jump in the boat, Kent,” said Leslie, “and ride down with me; I promised George Leland that if he needed assistance I would bring it to him.”

“He needs it, that’s a p’inted fact, and as soon as it can conveniently reach him too.”

“Well, let us be off.”  Leslie dipped his oars in the water and pulled out into the stream.  It was the morning after the burning of the Lelands’ home, which of course was unknown to them.  For a few moments the boat glided rapidly down the stream, when Whiteman spoke: 

“Where’d you put up last night, Leslie?”

“About ten miles down the river.  I ran in under the bank and had an undisturbed night’s rest?”

“Didn’t hear nothin’ of the red-skins?”

“No.”

“Wal, it’s a wonder; they’re as thick as flies in August, and I calkelate I’ll have rich times with ’em.”

“I cannot understand how it is, Kent, that you cherish such a deadly hatred for these Indians.”

“I have good reason,” returned the hunter, compressing his lips.

“How long is it that you have felt thus?”

“Ever since I’s a boy.  Ever since that time.”

“What time, Kent?”

“I have never told you, I believe, why the sight of a red-skin throws me into such a fit, have I?”

“No; I should certainly be glad to hear.”

“Wal, it doesn’t take long to tell.  Yet how few persons know it except myself.  It is nigh thirty years ago,” commenced Kent, “that I lived about a dozen miles above the place that we left this morning.  There I was born and lived with my old father and mother until I was ten or eleven years old.

“One dark, stormy night we war attacked by them red devils, and that father and mother were butchered before my eyes.  During the confusion of the attack, I escaped to the woods and secreted m’self until it was over.  It was a hard matter to lie there, scorched by the flames of your own home, and see your parents, while begging for mercy, tomahawked and slain before your eyes.  But in such a position I was placed, and remained until the savages, satisfied with their bloody work, took their departure.

“When the rain, which fell in torrents, had extinguished the smoking ruins, I crawled from my hiding-place.  I felt around until I come upon the cold bodies of my father and mother lyin’ side by side, and then kneelin’ over them, I took a fearful oath ­an oath to which I have devoted my life.  I swore that as long as life was given me, it should be used for revengin’ the slaughter of my parents.  That night these savages contracted a debt of which they little dreamed.  Before they left the place, I had marked each of the dozen, and I never forgot them.  For ten years I follered and tracked them, and at the end of that time I had sent the last one to his final account.  Yet that did not satisfy me.  I swore eternal enmity against the whole people, and as I said, it shall be carried out.  While Kent is alive, he is the mortal enemy of every red-skin.”

The hunter looked up in the face of Leslie, and his gleaming eyes and gnashing teeth told his earnestness.  His manner and recital had impressed the latter, and he forbore speaking to him for some time.

“I should think,” observed Leslie, after a short silence, “that you had nearly paid that debt, Kent.”

“It is a debt which will be balanced,” rejoined the hunter, “when I am unable to make any more payments.”

“Well, I shouldn’t want you for an enemy,” added Leslie, glancing over his shoulder at the stream in front of him.

Both banks of the river at this point, and, in fact, for many miles, were lined with overhanging trees and bushes, which might afford shelter to any enemy.  Kent sat in the stern and glanced suspiciously at each bank, as the boat was impelled swiftly yet silently forward, and there was not even a falling leaf that escaped his keen eye.

“Strikes me,” said Leslie, leaning on his oars, “that we are in rather a dangerous vicinity.  Those thick bushes along the shore, over there, might easily contain a few red gentlemen.”

“Don’t be alarmed,” returned the hunter, “I’ll keep a good watch.  They’ve got to make some movement before they can harm us, and I’ll be sure to see them.  The river’s wide, too, and there ain’t so much to fear, after all.”

Leslie again dipped his oars, and the boat shot forward in silence.  Nothing but the suppressed dip of the slender ashen blades, or the dull sighing of the wind through the tree-tops, broke the silence of the great solitude.  Suddenly, as Leslie bent forward and gazed into the hunter’s face, he saw him start and gaze anxiously at the right shore, some distance ahead.

“What’s the matter?” asked Leslie.

“Just wait a minute,” returned the hunter, rising and gazing in the same direction.  “Stop the boat.  Back water!” he added, in a hurried tone.

Leslie did as he was bidden, and again spoke: 

“What is it, Kent?”

“Do you see them bushes hangin’ a little further out in the stream than the others?”

“Yes; what of them?”

“Watch them a minute.  There ­look quick!” said Kent.

“I can see a fluttering among the branches, as if a bird had flown from it,” answered Leslie.

“Wal, them birds is Indians, that’s all,” remarked the hunter, dropping composedly back into the boat.  “Go ahead!”

“They will fire into us, no doubt.  Had I not better run in to the other shore?”

“No; there may be a host of ’em there.  Keep in the middle of the stream, and we’ll give ’em the slip yet.”

It must be confessed that Leslie experienced rather strange sensations as he neared the locality which had excited their suspicion, especially when he knew that he was exposed to any shot that they might feel inclined to give.  A shudder ran through his frame, when, directly opposite the spot, he distinctly heard a groan of agony.

Kent made a motion for him to cease rowing.  Bending their heads down and listening, they again heard that now loud, agonizing expression of mortal pain.

As soon as Leslie was certain that the sound proceeded from some being in distress, he headed the boat toward the shore.

“Stop!” commanded Kent; “you should have more sense than that.”

“But will you not assist a person in distress?” asked he, gazing reproachfully into his face.

“Who’s in distress?”

“Oh, Gorra mighty!  I’s been dyin’,” now came from the shore.

“Hallo there! what’s wantin’?” called Whiteman.

“Help, help, ’ fore dis Indian gentleman ­’fore I dies from de wounds dat dey’s given me.”

“I’ve heard that voice before,” remarked Kent to Leslie, in an undertone.

“So have I,” replied the latter.  “Why, it is George Leland’s negro; he wouldn’t decoy us into danger.  Let us go in.”

“Wait until I speak further with him.” (Then, to the person upon shore):  “What might be your name?”

“Zeb Langdon.  Isn’t dat old Kent?”

“Yes; how came you in this scrape, Zeb?”

“Gorra mighty!  I didn’t come into it.  Dem red dogs ­dese here nice fellers ­brought me here ’bout two months ago, and den dey all fired at me fur two or free days, and den dey hung me up and left me to starve to death.  Boo-hoo-oo!”

“But,” said Leslie, “you were at home yesterday when I came up the river.”

“Yes; dey burned down de house last night, and cooked us all and eat us up.  I’s come to live ag’in, and crawled down here to get you fellers to take me home; but, Lord bless you, don’t come ashore ­blast you, quit a hittin’ me over de head,” added the negro, evidently to some one near him.

Leslie and Whiteman exchanged significant glances, and silently worked the boat further from the land.

“Who is that you spoke to?” asked the former, when they were at a safe distance.

“ Dis yere blasted limb reached down and pulled my wool,” replied the negro, with perfect nonchalance

“Where is George Leland?” asked Leslie.

“Dunno; slipped away from dese yere nice fellers what’s pulled all de wool out of me head, and is tellin’ me a lot o’ yarns to tell you.  Gorra mighty! can’t you let a feller ‘lone, when he’s yarnin’ as good as he can?”

“Where is Miss Leland?”

“How does I know?  A lot of ’em run off wid her last night.”

“Oh God! what I expected,” said Leslie, dropping his voice, and gazing with an agonizing look at Whiteman.  The latter, regardless of his emotion, continued his conversation with Zeb.

“Are you hurt any?”

“Considerable.”

“Now, Zeb, tell the truth.  Did they capture George Leland?”

“Bless you, no.  He got away during de trouble.”

“Did they get Miss Leland?”

“’Deed they did.”

“Is she with you?”

“No.  It took forty of ’em to watch me and de rest.”

Here the negro’s words were cut short with a jerk, and he gave vent to a loud groan.

“Gorra mighty!” he ejaculated, in fury.  “Come ashore, Mr. Whiteman and Mr. Leslie.  Come quick, and let dese yer fellers got you.  Dey wants yer too.”

“Are there any of the imps with you?” asked Kent, more for amusement than anything else.

“What shall I tell him?” the negro asked, in a husky whisper, loud enough to be plainly heard by the two in the boat.

“Dey say dar ain’t any of ’em.  Talk yourself, if dat doesn’t suit you,” he added, in great wrath.

“Three cheers for you,” shouted Whiteman.  “Are there any of ’em upon the other side?”

“Dese fellers say dey am all dar.  Gorra, don’t kill me.”

“Good; you’re the best nigger ’long the ’ Hio.  I guess we’ll go over to the other side and visit them.”

So saying, Kent seized the oars and pulled for the opposite shore.  He had not taken more than a couple of strokes when a dozen rifles cracked simultaneously from the bushes, and as many bullets struck the boat and glanced over the water.

“Drop down,” he whispered to Leslie.  Instead of doing the same himself, he bent the more vigorously to his oars.  A few minutes sufficed to carry them so far down that little danger was to be apprehended from the Indians, who uttered their loudest shouts and discharged their rifles, as they passed beyond their reach.

“That’s too good a chance to be lost,” muttered the ranger, bringing his long rifle to his shoulder.  Leslie followed the direction of his aim, and saw a daring savage standing boldly out to view, and making furious gesticulations toward them.  The next instant Kent’s rifle uttered its sharp report, and the Indian, with a yell, sprung several feet in the air, and fell to the ground.

“That was a good shot,” remarked Leslie, gazing at the fallen body.

“Yes, and it’s done just what I wanted it to,” replied Kent, heading the boat toward shore.

“They are going to pursue us, are they not?” asked Leslie.

“Yes, and we’ll have fun,” added the ranger, as the boat touched the shore, and he sprung out.

“Come along and make up yer mind for a long run,” said he, glancing furtively toward the savages.

Leslie sprung after him, and they darted away into the forest.

When Whiteman had fired his fatal shot the Indians were so infuriated, that, setting up their demoniac yells, they plunged down the banks of the stream, determined to revenge their fallen companion.

This was what Kent desired.  He exulted as he saw that he was being gratified.  “If there isn’t fun pretty shortly it won’t be my fault,” said he, as he plunged onward into the forest.

In a short time the pursuers gained the opposite shore, and followed with renewed ardor into the wilderness.  Kent and Leslie, however, had gained a good start.  Both being rapid runners, they had not much to fear.  Had nothing unusual occurred, they would easily have distanced their pursuers.  But Leslie, following Kent in a leap across a rocky gorge, struck in his comrade’s footsteps in the earth upon its edge.  The earth had become loosened and started by the shock, and ere Leslie could recover his footing, he fell some fifteen or twenty feet to the bottom.  The fall bruised him so much that he was unable to rise, or in fact hardly to stir.

“Hurt?” asked the ranger, gazing over at him.

“Yes,” groaned Leslie.  “I can’t get up.  Don’t wait for me, for it’s no use.  Go on and save yourself.”

“I hate to leave you, but it’s got to be done.  Lay down there; crawl in under that rock.  Perhaps they won’t see you.  Quick, for I hear ’em comin’.”

With these words the hunter turned and disappeared, and succeeded in getting beyond the gorge without being seen by his pursuers; but this delay had given them time to gain a great deal upon him, and when he started their hurried tramp could be distinctly heard.

His words had roused Leslie to a sense of his peril.  By struggling and laboring for a few minutes he succeeded in disengaging himself and managed to crawl beneath a projecting ridge of rock.  This effectually concealed him from sight, and had his pursuers no suspicion of his fall, he yet stood a chance of escaping.

In a few moments he heard them overhead, and the pain of his wounds was forgotten in the anxiety which he now felt for his safety.  He knew that they had hesitated, but whether it was on account of the leap which they were required to make, or on account of any suspicion that they might entertain, he could not divine.

The place in which he had fallen had probably once been swept by a torrent, but now a tiny stream only warbled through it.  The murmur of this, by Leslie’s side, prevented his understanding the words of those above.  The hum of their voices could be heard but not their words.

Presently, however, he distinguished a well-known voice evidently in expostulation with some one.

“Gorra mighty! does yer s’pects I can jump dat?  It’s bad ’nough to make me git drownded in dat river without broken my neck down dar!”

Leslie could not help wondering why Zeb was brought along, nor how he managed to keep pace with the rest.  But as he had not heard his voice before, he concluded that the negro must have been brought by several Indians who remained behind for that purpose.  This conclusion was confirmed by the words which he heard the next minute.

“Whar’s de use ob jumpin’?  Dem yere fellers’ll soon be back, coz dey ain’t agwine to cotch dat man nohow.  He can run like a streak o’ sunshine, and likes as not dey’ll all get shot.  You’d better go on and coax ’em to come back while I stay here and waits fur ye.”

In answer to this, Leslie heard some angry muttering and mumbling, but could distinguish no words.  In a moment, however, Zeb’s voice was audible.

“Bless yer, you’re de all-firedest fools I eber see’d.  How does you s’pects I’s gwine to light on toder side.  Ef one of you’ll take me on your back, I won’t mind lettin’ you try to carry me over; but I tells you I ain’t agwine to try it.  So you can shut up yer rat-traps.”

Hardly a second elapsed before he again spoke: 

“Hold on dar; you kickin’ all my brains out!  I’ll try it!”

The next moment Leslie heard a dull thump, and Zeb came rolling down directly beside him.

“I’s killed!  Ebery bone is broken.  I can’t live anoder second.”

“Zeb!  Zeb!” whispered Leslie, in a hurried whisper.

The negro suddenly ceased his groaning and exclamations, and rolling his head over toward him, asked, in a whisper.

“Who’s dat?”

“It’s I, Zeb.  Get up quick, for God’s sake, before they come down, or I’m lost!”

The negro clambered to his feet without difficulty, and disappeared, shouting to those above: 

“I isn’t hurt.  It war de rock dat was broke by my head striking it!  How de pieces flewed!”