The Young Trailers by Joseph A. Altsheler
Chapter XIX. An Errand and a Friend
Two stalwart lads were marching steadily, through the deep woods, some months later.
They were boys in years, but in size, strength, alertness and knowledge of the forest far beyond their age. One, in particular, would have drawn the immediate and admiring glance of every keen-eyed frontiersman, so powerful was he, and yet so light and quick of movement. His wary glance seemed to read every secret of tree, bush and grass, and his head, crowned by a great mass of thick, yellow hair, rose several inches above that of his comrade, who would have been called by most people a tall boy.
The two youths were dressed almost alike. Each wore a cap of raccoon fur, with the short tail hanging from the back of it as a decoration. Their bodies were clad in hunting shirts, made of the skin of the deer, softly and beautifully tanned and dyed green. The fine fringe of the shirt hung almost to the knees, and below it were leggings also of deerskin, beaded at the seams. The feet were inclosed in deerskin moccasins, fitting tightly, but very soft and light. A rifle, a tomahawk, and a useful knife at the belt completed the equipment.
They were walking, but each boy led a stout horse, and on the back of this horse was a great brown sack that hung down, puffy, on either side. The sacks were filled with gunpowder made from cave-dust and the two boys, Henry Ware and Paul Cotter, were carrying it to a distant village that had exhausted its supply, but which, hearing of the strange new way in which Wareville obtained it, had sent begging for a loan of this commodity, more precious to the pioneer than gold and jewels. The response was quick and spontaneous, and Henry and Paul had been chosen to take the powder, an errand in which both rejoiced. Already they had been two days in the great wilderness, now painted in gorgeous colors by the hand of autumn, and they had not seen a sign of a human being, white or red.
They walked steadily on, and the trained horses followed, each just behind his master, although there was no hand upon the bridle. They stopped presently at the low rounded crest of a hill, where the forest opened out a little, and, as if with the same impulse, each looked off toward the vast horizon with a glowing eye. The mighty forest, vivid with its gleaming reds and yellows and browns, rolled away for miles, and then died to the eye where the silky blue arch of the sky came down to meet it. Now and then there was a flash of silver, where a brook ran between the hills, and the wind brought an air, crisp, fresh and full of life.
It was beautiful, this great wilderness of Kaintuckee, and each boy saw it according to his nature. Henry, the soul of action, the boy of the keen senses and the mighty physical nature, loved it for its own sake and for what it was in the present. He fitted into it and was a part of it. The towns and the old civilization in the east never called to him. He had found the place that nature intended for him. He was here the wilderness rover, hunter and scout, the border champion and defender, the primitive founder of a state, without whom, and his like, our Union could never have been built up. Henry gloried in the wilderness and loved its life which was so easy to him. Paul, the boy of thought, was always looking into the future, and already he foresaw what would come to pass in a later generation.
Neither spoke, and presently, by the same impulse, they started on again, descending the low hill, and plunging once more into the forest. When they had gone about half a mile, Henry stopped suddenly. His wonderful physical organism, as sensitive as the machinery of a watch, had sounded an alarm. A faint sound, not much more than the fall of a dying leaf, came to his ears and he knew at once that it was not a natural noise of the forest. He held up his hand and stopped, and Paul, who trusted him implicitly, stopped also. Henry listened intently with ears that heard everything, and the sound came to him again. It was a footfall. A human being, besides themselves, was near in the forest!
"Come, Paul," he said, and he began to creep toward the sound, the two darting from tree to tree, and making no noise among the fallen leaves, as they brushed past, with their soft moccasins. The trained horses remained where they had been left, silent and motionless.
Henry, as was natural, was in front, and he was the first to see the object that had caused the noise. A man stepped from the shelter of a tree's great trunk, and, although armed, he held up one hand, in the manner of a friend. He was an Indian of middle age and dignified look, although he was not painted like any of the tribes that came down to make war in Kentucky.
Henry recognized at once the friendly signal, and he too stepped from the cover of the forest, walking slowly toward the warrior, who was undoubtedly a chief and a man of importance. Twenty feet away, the boy started a little, and a sudden light leaped into his eyes. Then he strode up rapidly, and took the warrior's hand after the white custom.
"Black Cloud! My friend!" he said.
"You know me! You have not forgotten?" replied the chief and his eyes gleamed ever so quickly.
"You have come far from your people and among hostile tribes to see me?" said Henry who instantly divined the truth.
"It is so," replied the chief, "and to ask you to go back with me. Our warriors miss you."
Henry was moved to the depths of his nature. Black Cloud had come a thousand miles to ask him this question, and he had a far, sweet vision of a life utterly wild and free. Again he saw the great plains, and again came to his ears, like rolling thunder, the tread of the myriad-footed buffalo herd. He was tempted sorely tempted and he knew it, but, with a mighty effort he put the temptation away from him and shook his head.
"It cannot be, Black Cloud," he said. "My people need me, as yours need you."
A shadow passed over the eyes of the chief, but it was gone in a moment. He knew that the answer was final, and he said not another word on the subject. Black Cloud went on with Henry and Paul half a day, then he bade them farewell. They watched him go, but it could be only for a minute or two, because his form quickly melted away into the forest. Then the two boys, turning their faces steadily toward duty, marched on, and the great wilderness, gleaming in its reds and yellows and browns curved about them.