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

Rosalind was a good distance from the Ohio, and consequently a long way was to be traveled by Kent and Leslie.  During the first night of their journey, a bright moon favored them, and they continued on without halting until morning.  The hunter struck the trail at an early hour in the day, and the two continued their pursuit with renewed ardor until the sun was high in the heavens, when they halted for rest.

When they finally halted, it was on the banks of Big Sandy, at the point where the West Fork unites with it.  Here they discovered signs of the encampment of a large body of Indians.  Leslie felt hope increase, and was impatient to pursue their way.  They judged it best ­or rather Kent judged it best ­to remain in their present position, and follow the trail only during the day.

The hunter left Leslie in order to search for game, as they both were exceedingly hungry.  He returned in a short time, to the surprise of Leslie, who had not heard the report of his gun.  Kent informed him that he had slain it without firing a shot, as he dared not to risk one.  A fire was started, it being concealed by the river-bank as much as possible, and their food was cooked.  This finished, the fire was extinguished, and they partook of the repast.

A moon as bright as that of the preceding night arose, and the clear river, glistening in the moonlight like liquid silver, was visible for a great distance.  Leslie was soon asleep, but Kent lay awake the greater part of the night, revolving in his mind the best course to pursue in regard to capturing Rosalind.  At last he hit upon the plan, and having fully determined what to do, he fell into a peaceful slumber.

“Now to the rescue,” said Leslie, springing to his feet as soon as it was fairly light.

“I’d advise you to put a stopper on that jaw of yourn, if you don’t want the whole pack down here in a twinklin’,” quickly retorted the hunter, slowly coming to the sitting posture.

“Why, what’s the matter, Kent?”

“Oh, nothin’; only there’s a few Injins squatted over on t’other shore.”

“Ah! well, they can’t see us, at any rate, for a thick fog has gathered during the night and is resting upon the river.”

“Wal, they can hear you easy ’nough, ’specially if you go on that way.”

“Come, come, Kent, don’t be cross.  I’ll wager that they haven’t heard me, and I promise that they shall not.”

The two shouldered their rifles, and, as the mist was slowly rising from the river, again commenced their journey.  The trail was now easily discovered, and followed without difficulty.  It led most of the time along the bank of the river, and its distinctness showed that the savages had no fear or cared little for pursuit.  Instead of proceeding in Indian file, as they had at first, they traveled promiscuously and carelessly, and their number could be easily made out by their footsteps.  During the course of the day Kent gave the exact number to Leslie, and the precise time that they had journeyed over the ground.

Leslie, in the ardor of his hopes, still had a fear that they might not really be upon the track of Rosalind.  Might not some other party be misleading them?  Was it not possible that the party had subdivided, and the one that held her taken an entirely different course?  The probability of error prevented him from experiencing the joyous hopefulness that he might have otherwise felt.  This worried and caused him so much anxiety, that he expressed his fears to Kent.

“Don’t know but what we are,” returned the hunter, composedly.

“Do you think that we are?” asked Leslie, earnestly.

“Can’t say; I’ll go back if you want to.”

“Heigh! what’s that?”

He sprung forward and caught a shred fluttering from a bush.

“That’s it! that’s it!” he shouted, fairly leaping with joy.

“That’s what?” asked the hunter, seemingly disgusted at this display of childlike emotion.

“Why, a piece of her dress, sure enough,” responded Leslie.

Here the corners of Kent’s mouth gave a downward twitch, and turning his head so as to glance at Leslie, a deprecating grunt escaped him.

“She did it on purpose to guide us,” added Leslie, not heeding him.

Kent’s mouth jerked forward, and a loud guffaw was given.

“Let us hurry,” said Leslie, starting forward.

“I allow,” commenced the hunter, unable to restrain himself further, “that if you play many more such capers you’ll go alone.  If the sight of her dress sets you in such fits, what do you s’pose’ll ’come of you when you set your eyes on her? and I daresn’t think of the consequences of once gettin’ your arm around her.  Whew!”

“You must pardon my feeling, Kent; but the sudden assurance that we were not mistaken or proceeding by guess, completely overcame me.”

“Somethin’ queer come over you, no mistake.”

“Well, if you don’t like to see it, I will try and repress it in future.”

“I hope you will when I’m about.”

The two hurried on without further conversation for some time.  At noon they made a shorter halt than usual, as Kent informed Leslie that, by pressing forward, they could gain the region of the savages by nightfall.  As the afternoon advanced, the experienced eye of the hunter began to detect unmistakable signs of the presence of Indians.

Leslie could not repress his agitation as he realized that every minute was bringing him nearer and nearer to the object of his desires.  Fear and hope filled him, and he was alternately gladdened by the one and tormented by the other.

He did not notice that Kent had changed his direction, and was proceeding more cautiously than before; he only knew that he was following closely in his footsteps, and relying entirely upon his guidance.

All at once the hunter came to a stop, and laid his hand upon Leslie’s arm.  He looked up, and there, before him, was the Indian village.  Kent had conducted him to a sort of rising ground, which afforded them a complete view of it, while the forest gave them an effectual concealment.

“Is this the place?” asked he, in astonishment.

“This is the place,” answered the ranger.

Leslie feasted his eyes a long time upon the scene before he withdrew his gaze.  Every wigwam was visible, and the squaws and children could be seen passing to and fro through the sort of street or highway.  Many of the warriors were gathered in groups, and reclined upon the ground, lazily chatting; while their far better halves were patiently toiling and drudging at the most difficult kinds of work.

Leslie scanned each form that came under his eye, in the hope of distinguishing one; but he was disappointed, and compelled to see the night closely settle over the village without obtaining a glimpse of her.  “After all,” he thought, “she may not be there, and I am doomed to be frustrated, at last.”  But again hope whispered in his ear, and rendered him impatient for the hour when his fate must be decided.

The moon arose at about midnight, consequently, all that was to be done must be done before that time.  As soon as it had become fairly dark, so that Leslie was unable to distinguish anything in the village, he seated himself beside Kent to ascertain his intentions.

“The time,” said he, “has arrove when we must commence business, and I allow that we must be at it soon.  Here’s your part.  You are to stay here till I come back.  I am goin’ down into their nest to hunt her up, and when I come back you’ll know whether she’s to be got or not.  Keep quiet, and don’t stir from this spot till I give you the order.  Remember, if we’re goin’ to do anythin’, you must do as I tell you.  Take care of yourself.”

With these words the hunter departed ­departed so silently and stealthily, that Leslie hardly comprehended that he was gone.

Kent, while it was yet light, had taken a survey of the village, and viewed it, too, with a scout’s eye.  He had distinguished the chief’s lodge from the others, and rightly conjectured that this would be the most likely to contain Rosalind.  Accordingly, he determined to direct his footsteps toward it, before looking in any other direction.  This was situated in the center.  He was, consequently, exposed to greater danger in reaching it; yet he placed great reliance upon his disguise, which he yet assumed, and determined to venture within the village in a short time.

He stood at the extreme end, and now and then could discern a shadowy form passing silently before him, or, perhaps, the voice of some warrior or squaw; but soon these sights and sounds ceased, and he commenced moving forward.  Not a savage was encountered until he stood before the lodge for which he was seeking.  He had now reached the point where his most subtle powers of cunning were called into requisition, yet thought not of hesitating.

Standing a second in front of the lodge, he glanced about him, but not a form was to be seen.  Had he been observed he must have been taken for an Indian, and attracted no further notice.  Kent being certain that his way was clear, sunk to the earth, and lying upon his face, worked himself slowly and cautiously toward the lodge.  He seemed to glide precisely like a serpent, so easy and silent were his motions.  In a moment he was beside it, and, as he believed, within ten feet of the object of his search.  A dim light was burning.  By its light he hoped to satisfy himself shortly of the truth of his conjectures.  Running the keen point of his knife along the skin that formed the lodge, he had pierced it enough to admit his gaze, when the light was suddenly extinguished.

For a moment the hunter’s calculations were at fault.  He had not counted upon this, but had hoped to gain a view of the interior while the light was burning.  He felt barely able to repress his disappointment, as he was again compelled to devise some other plan.  For once he had been frustrated in his design, and he felt it keenly.

But he determined to risk a look at all hazards.  The aperture was completed; Kent raised his head and peered in ­and betrayed himself.

Pequanon was at his place in the inside as usual, watching, in the nobleness of his soul, the life of Rosalind.  His quick ear detected the noise, slight as it was, occasioned by Kent’s labor.  The latter supposing the inmates of the lodge would be slumbering, hoped for an opportunity to do what he wished.  But Pequanon was on the alert, and detected him at work.  When his face was placed at the opening, it was brought between the sky and the darkness of the lodge, and the Indian plainly observed the outlines of his face.  His first impulse was to seize a rifle and shoot the intruder instantly, for he believed that it was the one who sought the life of Rosalind; but checking himself, he arose and passed out noiselessly, determined to satisfy himself before action.

Two consummate hunters were now maneuvering against each other.  The movements of both with respect to themselves were as much at fault as though they were inexperienced youngsters.  The noise of Pequanon was so slight that it failed to awake either Rosalind or any of the inmates; yet Kent heard it distinctly, and crouched down upon the ground and listened.  In an instant he caught the step upon the outside.  He knew that he could spring to his feet and easily make his escape; but in doing so, he would raise an alarm, and thus effectually prevent anything of use being done by himself.  He therefore withdrew some ten or fifteen feet, and trusted that the Indian would not search further; but he was mistaken.  Pequanon was determined to satisfy himself in regard to Rosalind’s secret enemy; and espying the shadowy form gliding along from him, he sprung toward it, hoping and expecting that it might leap to its feet.

The form leaped to its feet in a manner that he little suspected.  Kent saw that an encounter was unavoidable, when, concentrating his strength, he bounded like a panther toward the savage, bearing him to the earth, with his iron hand clutching his throat.  Pequanon struggled, but was powerless, and could not make a sound above a painful gurgle.  Kent whipped out his knife, and had just aimed at his breast, when the savage found voice to speak a few words.

“Hold! you strike the white man’s friend!”

The excellent English startled Kent, and he relaxed his hold.

“Who are you?” he demanded.

“Pequanon, the white man’s friend.”

“What did you come nosin’ out here fur then?”

Kent’s knees were upon the arms of the Indian, while he was seated upon his breast.  The hunter loosed his grasp.

“The pale-faced maiden.  Pequanon wished to save her.”

“Wal, see here, old red-skin, I’m after her.  You’s sayin’ as how you’s her friend.  Mind to help?”

The Indian answered in the affirmative.

“Wal, I’ll let you up, pervidin’ you’ll go and bring her out.  What you say?”

“Is it her friends that wish her?”

“You’ve hit it there.  Goin’ to help?”

“Pequanon will lay his life down for the captive.”

“I’ll let you up then, and give you two minutes to trot her out.  If you undertake to come any of your tricks over me, I’ll blow your brains out.”

Kent permitted Pequanon to arise, who departed silently for the lodge without giving a reply to his remark.

The hunter was not to be deceived by any artifice of the savage, and to guard against treachery, withdrew still further from the lodge.  He doubted very much whether the Indian would endeavor to assist him at all, but he had done the best he could under the circumstances.

In a moment his doubts were put to flight by the reappearance of the noble Indian, with Rosalind.  As cool and collected as was the hunter, he could not repress a joyous start as he gazed upon her form.

“That’s the fust Injin, accordin’ to my opine,” he muttered to himself, “that ever was a man.”

Rosalind, all trembling eagerness and anxiety, on coming up to Kent, seemed unable to speak.  The hunter noticed her action and forbore speaking, making a motion, as an apology, for silence.  For a second the trio remained motionless and undetermined what course to pursue.  Pequanon noticed this and started toward the river.

“Hold on, cap’n!” said Kent; “there’s another chap that come with me.”

The hunter now took the lead; and leaving them hopefully pursuing their way, let us glance at Leslie until they arrive.

Chafing, fretting, hoping, fearing and doubting sat Leslie, impatiently awaiting the appearance of Kent.  The falling of a leaf, or rustling of the branches under some light breeze startled him; and when a night-bird, that had been resting above him gave utterance to its unearthly hoot, and swooped past, its voice he mistook for the yell of his savage foes, and the flap of its wings for their approaching tread.

Now he pictured the bliss that he hoped to feel; then again he was the prey of most poignant doubts and fears.  Would he see her, and clasp her to his bosom, or was she a hopeless captive?  Was she living or dead?  Would Kent come back without information or hope?  Suddenly there arose a wild, prolonged yell, that fairly froze him with terror.  Kent was discovered, and all hope was gone!  Oh, the agony of that moment!

Hardly comprehending the state of things, he formed a dozen different plans at once.  Now he was going to rush madly forward and rescue Rosalind during the confusion, and then was about shouting for Kent.

All at once he heard a footstep.  The pursuers were then at hand!  Resolved to lay one savage low, he rushed forward toward the approaching figure.  Could it be possible?  Was it not a dream?  There she stood before his eyes.  His limbs trembled, and he felt upon the point of falling.

“Is this Mr. Leslie?” asked a sweet voice that had thrilled him more than once before.

“I guess it’s him or his spook,” answered Kent, for him.  “If there’s goin’ to be any huggin’ done, hurry up with it, fur they’re follerin’ us.”

This threw off all reserve.  Leslie folded Rosalind to his breast.  She spoke not ­resisted not ­her trembling limbs and sobs told more than words could have done.

“That’ll do for the present,” interrupted Kent, in a kind tone.  “We must be off now, fur the red-skins have smelt the rat, and I should judge by the noise they’re makin’ that they’re in a confounded muss.  Never mind, don’t cry.  When we get down home out of danger, I’ll let you hug and cry as much as you please.  Which way, Mr. Red-skin?”

Pequanon turned to the left and took long, impatient strides.  Kent followed closely in his footsteps, while Leslie led the trembling Rosalind.  Often, regardless of the danger which threatened, he pressed her to him and whispered words of which we can only guess the meaning.

On they hurried, half running, over the tangled underwood and fallen trees until they paused upon the brink of the river.

Here, to the surprise and joy of all, Pequanon running to a clump of bushes pulled forth a large canoe and shoved it into the stream.  The others needed no admonition to use it.

“Here,” said their guide, “we part.  May the great Spirit guide you.”

“Say, you, you’ll get into trouble, won’t you, if you go back?” queried Kent.

“The Great Spirit will protect me.  Farewell.”

“Wait, Pequanon,” said Rosalind, rising from her seat.

“Pequanon has only paid his debt to the pale-faced maiden.”

The Indian was gone.

Rosalind sunk back upon her seat in tears.

“He’s the first Injin that I ever got my clutches on that has got away after it, and the first one that I ever felt like lettin’ go.  Somehow or other my old gun didn’t burn and wriggle when I sot my eyes on him, as it is used to doin’ in such cases; and if it wasn’t fur that red hide of hisn’ I wouldn’t believe he was one of them.”

All this time the shouts and yells of the savages could be heard, and now and then it seemed to the fugitives that they must have been discovered.  Kent pulled the boat to the opposite shore, and as he expressed it, “hugged the bank mighty close.”  He had little fear of being discovered, but the utmost caution was to be used, for, in their rage, the savages would use every means in their power to recapture them.

Kent knew that by keeping on, he would in time reach the banks of the Ohio.  Their enemies would probably suspect the true nature of their escape and take to the river in pursuit; and, as the Indians, in case of discovery, could easily overtake and recapture them, they must necessarily be saved by fortune and stratagem.  Though scarce a ripple was heard, the shadowy form of the boat shot swiftly under the hanging trees and round the projecting points of the bank, like some serpent gliding noiselessly over the surface.

Soon the edge of the great moon slowly rose above the dark line of the forest, and its long rays streamed over wood and river; when it had finally risen high up in the heavens, the stream shone as brightly as at noonday.  Its winding course could be discerned ahead until it was lost in the forest, and for miles behind, its banks were as clearly defined as it could have been under the sun’s rays.

Now that the river and its objects were so plainly depicted, Kent kept closer yet under the shadows of the friendly bank.  Now and then he hurried through some opening in the trees of the shore, where, for a minute, he was exposed to any gaze that might chance to be given; then, when the water was shallow, he struck the muddy bottom, and patiently worked himself on again.  Being engaged in rowing, his face was turned toward the stern, and thus had a full sweep of the river which he had passed over, the only point from which he had reason to apprehend danger.

He was upon the point of speaking, when his quick eye detected a speck in view around a bend in the river, some distance back.  He halted, for he knew its character.

“We’re follered!” said he, guiding the boat in to shore.

A few minutes more and the boat could be plainly seen by all three.  It was in the center of the stream, and approaching rapidly.  The heads of four or five Indians could be discerned.  Their object was plain to all.

Kent had run his boat against the shore, and the three were now waiting breathlessly for their enemies to pass.

The Indians plainly had no suspicion that the fugitives were so close at hand, and kept steadily onward.  Hardly daring to breathe, our three friends saw the long, sharp canoe, with five of their mortal enemies, shoot past, and disappear.

“Did you see how my gun kept twitchin’ and jumpin’?  Why, I had all I could do to hold him.  Thunder! it’s too bad to see them fellers give you such a nice shot and then miss it,” said the ranger, again taking the oars.

Kent now guided the boat with greater caution, ever and anon turning and looking ahead, not daring to leave the sole watch to Leslie, who had other things far more interesting to himself with which to occupy his mind.