Chapter X. A Wait in Camp
 

Let us go back to the time when the buffalo, in his mad eagerness to get away from the hunters, plunged headlong into the shelter of the whites and hurled it flat.

Under the canvas lay Dave, with the breath knocked completely out of him. He felt something heavy come down on his back and then for the moment knew no more.

When he opened his eyes he found that his father had hauled him from under the wreckage and was gazing earnestly into his face.

"Are you hurt, son?" demanded James Morris quickly.

"I--I--reckon not" was the slow answer. "But something hit me in the--the back. Whe--where is the buffalo?"

"Gone, and Barringford and Henry after him."

"Hope they lay him low."

"So do I. But are you quite sure you are not injured? I thought the animal stepped on you."

"Maybe he did, father. But I'm all right, thank goodness." And Dave stretched himself to prove his words.

The Indians had gathered around and were talking excitedly. Some wanted to join in the hunt, but the frontiersmen under Barringford held them back.

"You let Sam an' Henry go it alone," said Sanderson. "They know wot they are a-doin'."

"That is true," answered White Buffalo. "My white brothers can shoot well--I have seen it."

Soon the knocked-down tent was raised again, and the fire stirred up. Then, as the storm, increased, all crouched in the shelters they had erected and awaited the return of Henry and the old frontiersman.

"I'd like to eat a buffalo steak now first-rate," said Dave, smacking his lips. "It would touch the spot and chase away the blues."

"Buffalo steak is rather strong, like elk's meat," answered his father. "But we need strong food, on such a rough journey as this."

"It's a pity there isn't a better trail, father."

"Some day there will be a regular road, Dave--when there are more settlements to the westward. I look for the time when we shall have cities out here, the same as along the seaboard."

"Won't never see that" said the frontiersman named Lukins.

"Why not?" risked James Morris.

"The Injuns won't allow it, that's why, Mr. Morris. They don't mind a tradin'-post or two, whar they kin sell hides an' git rum an' sech things. But they don't want no towns or cities. You won't never see a city on the Ohio, nor in them Western countries at all."

"I believe the cities are bound to come," said Dave. "As more folks come over from England, and Germany, and France, they'll be bound to spread out. The Indians won't stop 'em."

"They will if they rise an' dig up the war hatchet," put in Jadwin, the other frontiersman.

"If they dig up the hatchet too often they will be wiped out," said James Morris. "They may fight all they please--in the end both the English and the French will conquer them."

"How large do you think our country will get in time, father?" questioned Dave.

"That is a hard question to answer, Dave. I think you may live to see strong settlements on the Ohio, and your children may see towns on the Mississippi. About the great Western countries I know nothing, nor does any other white man. I suppose they are overrun by Indians and all sorts of wild beasts, or perhaps there is nothing there but beasts and trackless forests."

"It's too bad the Indians won't live as the white people live," went on Dave thoughtfully. "We might get along famously together."

"It is not the Indian's nature to till the soil, my son. He loves to roam about and to hunt and fish and then take it easy. More than this, when the spirit stirs him, he must fight; and if he cannot fight the white man he will fight his fellow Indians. You have often heard White Buffalo tell how one tribe will fight another tribe for several seasons, and how the tribes sometimes split up and fight among themselves."

"Of course; didn't the Delawares to whom he belongs split up, one side going to the French and the others fighting under White Buffalo for our cause? But when a war is over they might settle down."

As the time passed the others concluded that Henry and Barringford had found the buffalo hunt longer than they had anticipated.

"Perhaps the animal has led them such a chase they won't come back until morning," suggested James Morris. "It is no fine thing to travel in the wet and darkness."

"Right you are," said Sanderson. "Sam may hunt in the wet if he wants to, but none of it for me."

An early supper was had, and something was kept hot for those who were missing, for it was felt they would come in chilled to the bone and with tremendous appetites.

Dave was beginning to grow sleepy when he heard a movement outside, and a moment later Sam Barringford came into view, with downcast face and with the water dripping from his coonskin cap and hunting shirt.

"Sam!" cried James Morris, leaping up. "So you've got back at last. Did you get the buffalo? Where is Henry?"

"No, we didn't get the buffalo," answered the old frontiersman. His voice grew husky. "Henry--he is--missing--he dropped over a cliff--" He could not go on.

"Over a cliff!" gasped Dave. "You don't mean he is--is--" He too failed to finish what was in his mind.

"I can't tell you what happened after he slipped from my sight," went on Barringford.

"Oh, Sam, do you mean to say he is killed?"

"I hope not, lad. But it looks juberous, no two ways on't."

"Tell me how it happened," said James Morris, and now all in the camp gathered around to hear what the old frontiersman had to say.

The ice once broken, Barringford's tongue grew more talkative, and he related all the particulars so far as he knew them.

"When I worked my way down into the waterway I felt sartin I would find Henry in some sort o' shape," he concluded. "But I couldn't find nuthin', not even his cap. His gun he dropped on the hill, an' here it is," and he handed it to Dave.

It was a fearful shock, and the tears stood in Dave's eyes and ran down his cheeks, while the youth's father was scarcely less affected. The frontiersmen had little to say, and the Indians, with the exception of White Buffalo, took the matter stoically, for the perils of the hunt were no new things to them.

White Buffalo took in every word that was spoken. When matters of importance were to be considered he had little to say.

"Shall White Buffalo go forward and make a search?" he asked simply, after Sam Barringford had stopped speaking.

"What can you do, after Sam here has failed?" questioned James Morris. "I know you are keen on the trail, White Buffalo, but you know that Sam is too."

"Four eyes are better than two," returned the Indian, using an old saying of his tribe.

"Let him go by all means if he wishes," put in Barringford. "The man to find Henry an' bring him back to camp is my best friend."

"White Buffalo, will you take me along?" asked Dave eagerly.

"Dave, son, don't you think you had better remain with me?" asked his father.

"No, father; we must find Henry. Please let me go!"

"Dave can go if he wishes," answered White Buffalo. "The journey will not be pleasant, but if Henry is found we shall be glad. Is not White Buffalo right?"

"Take torches with you, or a lantern," said Barringford.

Torches were quickly procured and placed in a bit of skin, that they might not get wet. Then another torch was lit, and the old frontiersman gave the Indian chief minute directions about the trail to the water course under the cliff.

"White Buffalo knows something of that land," said the chief. "He will not go astray."

"I should hope not," said Dave. "We want to find Henry, not lose ourselves."

"Take a bag full of eating along," put in James Morris. "You may want something before morning. And also a bandage and some stimulants for Henry, in case he is badly hurt and needs them." He could not let himself believe that his nephew was dead.

"All right, father; I'll take whatever you say," answered Dave, and soon he and White Buffalo had all the articles mentioned. Each went armed with his rifle and hunting knife, and the Indian carried his hatchet as well.

"Do not remain away later than to-morrow noon," said James Morris, when they were ready to leave. "If you are not back by that time I shall fear that something has happened to you also."

"Don't fear for me so long as I am with White Buffalo," replied Dave; and this speech pleased the Indian chief very much.

"Don't you try to go down to the stream by way of the hill," cautioned Sam Barringford. "If you do you may break your necks."

The old frontiersman had sprained his foot, but he did not deem it best to mention that fact. Nevertheless, if he had been better able to walk he would probably have accompanied Dave and White Buffalo in spite of the first search made by him.

"It's a shame, thet's wot it is," he declared, after the youth and the Indian had departed. "It distresses me oncommonly to think such a thing could happen to Henry."

"I hope with all my heart he is alive," responded James Morris.

"But if he is dead--?"

"Then I shall return to Will's Creek without delay, and start for the west some time later--after I have given my brother and his family all the comfort I can," said the trader soberly.