Read CHAPTER VI - THE RAFT of The Ranger / The Fugitives of the Border, free online book, by Edward S. Ellis, on ReadCentral.com.

Slowly, silently and gently the boat glided onward ­both Leslie and Leland as motionless as death, yet with hearts throbbing wildly and fearfully.  The former stooped and whispered: 

“There are three Indians on it, upon the opposite side from us.  We must pass beyond the log before they will be in range of our guns.  They will not fire until we begin to pass them.  Take a quick but sure aim, and drop down in the bottom of the boat the instant your gun is discharged.”

Nearer and nearer came the canoe to the log, until but a few rods separated them, but not a breath or fluttering of a leaf disturbed the profound silence.

When at the nearest point, scarcely more than two rods would separate them.  Still onward the boat swept until its prow was even with the log.

“Ready,” whispered Leslie, “you take the nearest one.”

The next instant the enemies were in full view of each other.  Simultaneously the two rifles in the boat broke the solemn stillness.  But not a sound showed whether their shots had produced any effect at all!  Not a savage’s head, however, could be seen!  They either had been slain or else had quietly drawn out of sight when they became aware of the danger that menaced them.  The latter was most probably the case, although neither of the whites could satisfy himself upon that point.

As the thin haze from the guns diffused itself over the spot, the same oppressive silence settled upon the water, and the same absence of life was manifest in everything around.  So sudden had been the interruption, that, a few minutes afterward, it was almost impossible to realize that it had actually occurred.  More than once both Leslie and Leland caught themselves debating this very point in their minds.

For a few moments the two remained concealed within the boat, for they well knew that danger yet threatened; but, nervously excited over the event, Leland, with a sad want of discretion, peered over the gunwale of the canoe.

“Down, instantly,” admonished his companion, catching his shoulder.

The report of another gun came at that very instant, and George dropped so suddenly and awkwardly out of sight, that Leslie inquired with much concern: 

“Are you hurt?”

“Pretty near it, at any rate,” returned Leland, putting his hand to his face.

He was not struck, however, although the ball had grazed and marked his cheek.  The instant Leland saw that he was not injured, he raised himself and aimed toward the log.  No sign of an enemy was visible, and not knowing but what there might be more loaded rifles behind the contrivance, he dropped his head again.

Peering cautiously over the gunwale, the young man saw the raft gradually approaching the Kentucky shore.  The Indians possessing no means of reloading their pieces without running great risk, probably deemed it best to make a safe retreat.

The distance between the whites and the savages slowly but surely increased, and when the former judged they were comparatively safe, they arose and plied their paddles.

“Now if we can only come across Kent, I shall be pretty hopeful of getting out of the woods,” remarked Leslie.

“But how is that to be done?  There is just the trouble.”

“I think he will find us if we only wait for him.”

“I agree with you, that it is all that we can do.  We will row down-stream a short distance further, where we will be sheltered more from the observation of our enemies, and wait until he comes, or until it is pretty certain that he will not.”

Leslie bent to his oars, and the boat again shot forward.  Each now felt a stronger hope.  The depression of spirits under which Leland was laboring began to undergo a reaction.

Leslie was naturally of a more buoyant disposition than Leland, and seldom suffered those spells of melancholy which are so apt to affect those of a temperament less sanguine.  The latter at seasons was more light-hearted than the former, yet adverse circumstances easily affected and depressed him.

The locality to which Leslie had referred was a place in the river where the overhanging boughs and underwood were so thick and luxuriant that it was an easy matter to send a small boat beneath them and remain effectually hidden from any enemy passing up or down the river.

Their plan was to conceal themselves, and thus, while affording themselves comparative security, to keep an unremitting watch for the appearance of Kent.  They expected, and in fact were certain, that he would descend the opposite side, which, from their hiding-place, could be easily seen.

Leslie, with a vigorous pull, sent the boat under the sweeping branches, and, coming to rest, remarked: 

“There, George, we are safe for the present.  An Indian might pass within twenty feet of us, and not dream of our proximity.”

“True, Leland, I feel glad that we are thus fortunate.”

“See,” continued Leslie, “what a nice arrangement.  From my seat I can keep a good view of the opposite side.”

“How long do you intend to remain here?” asked Leland, whose fears were ever on the alert.

“Can’t say precisely.”

“Remember that food will be necessary, and soon necessary, too.”

“I am aware of that, yet we can do without it for some time.  If Kent is going to pass us, it will be during to-morrow.”

“Leslie,” said Leland, earnestly, “I have been thinking deeply upon our chances of meeting him, and I must confess that they seem few indeed.”

“I do not doubt it.  They would have the same appearance to me, were it not for one thing.  I have been calculating, and though, of course, a great deal of guess-work has been employed, yet I think that I have come to a very nearly correct conclusion.  I’m pretty positive that if Kent reaches us, it will be in the neighborhood of to-morrow at mid-day.  Not seeing him, I shall fire my rifle.  Kent knows the sound of it, and will search for us.”

“Perhaps he may not be upon the opposite shore.”

“Which will be as well, yet I can think of no reason that would induce him to cross.”

“In the meantime, how do you propose that we pass away time and keep off ennui.”

“In sleep, if that is possible.”

“I think it is with myself,” returned Leland, with a light laugh.

“And the same with me,” added Leslie.

“Well, the circumstances being favorable, I propose that we commence operations at once.”

“A good suggestion.”

Both disposed themselves as best they could in the boat, and being tired and fatigued, were soon asleep.