Read CHAPTER IV - ON THE PASCATAQUA of Neal‚ the Miller A Son of Liberty, free online book, by James Otis, on ReadCentral.com.

Twenty-four hours after Stephen Kidder had warned Walter Neal against returning to Portsmouth the latter was skirting the west bank of the Pascataqua River, within sight of the tract of land whereon he hoped to see at some day a grist-mill owned by himself.

When Stephen selected such goods as he thought Walter might need during his enforced retreat, he did not neglect anything which would possibly be useful to the fugitive, and the result was that when the young messenger started through the pathless forest, his load was so heavy as to retard his progress very decidedly.

Therefore it was that on the following morning he had not yet arrived at his proposed destination, although it was but a comparatively short distance from Portsmouth.

He had slept in the woods where night overtook him, and at the first faint light of day was making a frugal breakfast of the bread and cheese sent by his mother.

When the gloom of night had been dispersed by the heralds of the approaching sun, Walter was at that point on the river from which he could see the landmarks of his tract, and the knowledge that he was about to enter on his own possessions served to cheer his drooping spirits.

“If it is necessary to skulk around here in the woods to avoid being seen by Sam Haines, there is no reason why I should not make the most of my time,” he said to himself, as hope began to spring up once more in his breast.  “There is little chance I shall be able to raise any money for the mill now, when I have been defrauded of a goodly portion of my poor possessions, but I can at least make preparations for the day when I shall be in a position to carry out my plans.  It is better to work than remain idle.”

It was the first time since he took leave of his friend Stephen that the mental burden had been lightened, and now he pressed forward eagerly, impatient to begin the work resolved upon.

There was very much which he could do toward making ready for the erection of that wished-for mill, and he felt confident the labour would not be useless, although performed so far in advance of the building operations.

With this idea in mind, his first care was to select the most advantageous spot for a mill, and to this end he deposited his burden on the shore of the river, where it could readily be found again, after which he set about inspecting the property.

He spent several hours in this work, and had fully decided upon the location for the building when he was startled by hearing what sounded very like a human voice among the underbrush a short distance from the shore.

With his gun held ready for instant use in case any danger threatened, he went cautiously in the direction from which the noise appeared to have come, and after a brief time threw aside the weapon with an exclamation of dismay.

In a dense portion of the forest, where were several aged trees partially decayed at their base, he dimly saw the figure of a man, apparently pinned to the ground by the heavy branches of a fallen hemlock.

He was sufficiently versed in woodcraft to understand that the unfortunate had either felled a tree which had fallen upon him, or passed beneath one of the giants of the forest at the precise moment when its rotten trunk gave way under the burden of the enormous top.

A low moan from the sufferer told he was yet alive, and at the same time proclaimed that relief must soon come if death was to be cheated of its prey.

“Hold out a few minutes longer, friend,” Walter cried, cheerily.  “I must have an axe before I can do very much toward getting you free from that timber.”

There was no reply; the poor wretch’s strength was nearly exhausted, and the boy understood that he must work, with all possible speed if he would save a human life.

“It seems that my coming here may be of more use than simply hiding from Sam Haines,” he cried, as he ran with all speed toward the spot where the goods had been left.  “I have been grumbling because Stephen brought an axe instead of a hatchet, but now I should be able to do very little without it.”

Ten minutes later he was chopping furiously at the imprisoning branches, using due care to prevent additional injury to the helpless man, and when so much of the foliage had been cut away as to give him a clear view of what was beneath, he exclaimed in surprise, -

“An Indian!  What could have brought him so near the town?”

Then he forgot the colour of the sufferer, thought not of what his kind had done in the way of savage cruelty to helpless women and children, but devoted all his strength and energies to releasing him.

The wretch was so nearly dead as to be unable to render any assistance to his would-be rescuer, and at least half an hour elapsed before Walter could drag him from beneath the heavy weight which had so nearly deprived him of life.

When this work was accomplished, it seemed to have been in vain, so far as saving life was concerned; but, fortunately, Walter did not cease his efforts.  Dragging the apparently lifeless body to the river, he applied such restoratives as were at hand, and after a short time had the satisfaction of seeing the red man open his eyes.

“Better not try,” he said, as the Indian attempted to speak.  “You have had such a squeezing as would discourage a bear, and it will take some time to get over it.  Luckily I haven’t much of anything to do except take care of you, and I’ll warrant we shall soon have you around as well as ever.  So far as I can make out, no bones have been broken, though I doubt if you could go through the same experience again and come out anywhere near whole.”

There was nothing more he could do to relieve the sufferer, and after cautioning him to remain quiet, Walter set about putting up some kind of a shelter against the elements.

A “lean-to” of brush was soon erected, and in one corner the boy made a bed of fir boughs, upon which he placed the sufferer, who, after the first attempt, made no effort to speak.

Walter divided with the Indian his store of bread and cheese, and had the satisfaction of seeing the latter eat heartily.

“I reckon you’re all right if you can get away with as much food as a well person, and it’s time I did something toward laying in a stock of provisions.  Will you stay here while I go after game?  There are partridges enough, even though deer should be shy.”

“I wait,” the Indian said, with a sigh as of relief; and the boy, gun in hand, plunged into the thicket.

The result of this first hunting excursion was half a dozen plump birds, and Walter had seen such signs as told he would have but little difficulty in bagging a deer on the following morning.

During the remainder of the day Walter acted as nurse and cook; but never once did the Indian speak.

Next morning, before the sun appeared, he was out to replenish the larder, returning with the hind-quarters of a deer and, when a plentiful supply of steaks from these had been broiled over the coals, the Indian ate like one in perfect health.

“You’ll do now, I reckon.  It doesn’t stand to reason that you feel like moving around very much, therefore, you shall stay here while I go to work.”

Then he set about making the foundations for a mill that might never be completed, and when it was so dark that he could no longer see to work, he felt satisfied with the progress made.

The Indian had cooked supper, and the boy showed that he appreciated the culinary efforts, rude though they were.

“You know Jim Albert?”

This question was asked when an hour had been spent in almost perfect silence by the occupants of the lean-to, and the boy was startled both, by the name and the voice.

“Yes; I know him,” Walter replied, grimly, thinking of the part played in his capture by the half-breed.

“Big rascal!”

“You’re right.  I know it isn’t just the thing to give way to revengeful thoughts, but some day that scoundrel shall answer to me for what has been done.  If he and Sam Haines had remained where they belonged, I wouldn’t be here hiding as if I really was a thief.”

The Indian did not continue the conversation, although Walter gave him every encouragement, and at an early hour the tired boy sought the repose to be found in slumber.

When he set out for work next morning the Indian accompanied him, and during the day laboured faithfully hewing trees, or gathering rocks which were to form the foundation of the proposed mill.

“I didn’t fancy having an Indian for a companion at first, but it begins to look as if finding him under that tree would be a fortunate thing for me.  We are getting this place into shape very fast, and when it is possible for me to raise the money, it won’t be necessary to spend very much time making ready for the more serious portion of the work.”

During the week which followed, with the exception of the Sabbath, the two laboured industriously, save at such tittle as one or the other spent in hunting, and Walter could see the outlines of the structure he intended one day to build.

A large pile of rocks had been rolled together to form the lower walls, huge timbers were hewn and roughly “squared” for the framework, and a road from the riverbank to the highway, four miles distant, was “blazed” a goodly portion of the way.

During all this time, while he had laboured as industriously as if it was some project of his own, the Indian remained comparatively silent.  He had told the rescuer his name was Sewatis; that he was a member of the Penobscot tribe, and acquainted with “Jim Albert,” but never a word regarding the reason for being in that vicinity.

There had been no scarcity of food; the forest teemed with game, and if the labourers fancied deer, bear or birds, it was only necessary to go a short distance from the encampment in order to get it.

Almost unconsciously Walter had explained to his assistant what it was he hoped to do.  There had been many times when it seemed positively necessary he should speak with some one, and to the silent Indian the boy talked freely.  It was as if thinking aloud, because no reply was made unless one was absolutely required; and it is quite possible the young messenger would have been greatly surprised had some one been there to tell him he had confided more fully in Sewatis than in any other person except his mother.

More than once had Walter suggested that there was no reason why the Indian should remain if he had business elsewhere.

“I suppose you think because I pulled you from under that tree you must stay here and work, but it is all a mistake.  You have already repaid me ten-fold, and I don’t want you to believe there is any necessity of stopping with me.”

“Me wait,” Sewatis would say, whenever the conversation touched upon this subject, and by the end of a week Walter would have felt decidedly lonely without his silent companion.

“There’s one thing about it,” the boy said once, when the Indian had refused to leave him, “while you are here I feel as if I could learn at any time how matters are at home.  It wouldn’t be much of a task for you to go into Portsmouth?”

Sewatis made a gesture which signified that such a journey would be as nothing.

“I think you had better go and see my mother presently.  Of course she won’t be worrying about me, for she knows I am able to take care of myself; but at the same time it will give her some satisfaction to know what I am doing.  You could find my mother?”

Sewatis nodded.

“And it wouldn’t be too hard work for you to tell her what we have done.”

Another nod, and something very like a smile on the silent Indian’s lips.

“If you don’t open your mouth to her any oftener than you do to me, you might stay on the farm a year without her knowing what we have been doing.”

“I tell all; make heap much talk.”

“Then we’ll start you off about day after to-morrow.  How long would you want for the journey?”

“Go to-day, back to-morrow.”

“Of course you understand it wouldn’t do to say a word about me to Jim Albert, or anyone whom, he knows?”

“Jim Albert, rascal! - I fix him.”

“But you mustn’t get into trouble while you are there, Sewatis, or I shouldn’t see you back again very soon.  The white men wouldn’t allow any fighting in town, and there is no reason why you should settle with Jim Albert on my account.”

“I fix him,” Sewatis repeated; and Walter began to fancy it might not be prudent to send the Indian into the town, however eager he was to learn what Master McCleary had done in his behalf.

He argued the matter for some time with his companion, receiving; only the same reply, and then abandoned the attempt.

“It is certain Sewatis won’t tell many secrets, whoever he may meet, or whatever trouble he may get into, therefore I need feel no anxiety on that score.  Perhaps it will be as well to let him go, and take the chances of his not meeting the half-breed.”

The next day was the Sabbath, and the two remained in camp, doing nothing save to prepare the meals.

Next morning Walter set about hewing timber, and Sewatis was sent into the forest after game, for the larder was not as well filled as it should be.

The Indian was absent the greater portion of the day, and when he returned, Walter was half a mile from the camp, up the river.

“What’s the matter?” the boy asked, as the Indian approached suddenly, looking disturbed.

“White man come; down shore, huntin’ for trail!”

Walter dropped his axe in dismay.  He could think of but one reason why any person should seek him, and that was to arrest him for stealing Samuel Haines’s horse.

“They mustn’t see me,” he muttered.  “Go back to the camp, that they may think it is you who has been doing this work, and I win strike off into the forest.”

Sewatis handed Walter the gun, and silently turned to retrace his steps.