Chapter XVII. The Attack on the Pack-Train

With the coming of spring, both James Morris and Dave looked eagerly for the time when Henry and Barringford should return to the trading-post with many articles which were much needed, and with what was better yet, news from home.

"I can hardly wait for Henry to get here." said Dave one day. "There is so much I want to know about."

"You must be patient, Dave," returned his parent. "The trails are by no means good yet, and it may be that they have not got started on the journey."

The Indians were now bringing in many beaver skins, to exchange for blankets and powder, but James Morris had nothing to offer them. Many came from a great distance and were much disappointed, so it was not long before the trader looked for the coming pack-train as anxiously as did Dave.

"If they don't come soon, I'll lose what trade I have established," he said. "They will take their skins and furs where they are sure of making an exchange."

With the white hunters and trappers it was different. All were willing to trust James Morris, and simply left their goods at the post, to be paid for when the pack-train arrived. It may be added here that Barringford and Henry had been told, in secret, to bring with them one hundred pounds (about five hundred dollars) in gold and silver money, for not a few wanted cash for their pelts.

In the meantime came news that Jean Bevoir and Jacques Valette had been seen among the Indians on the upper Muskingum River. They had done a little trading with the Indians in that neighborhood, and had become very friendly with a young chief named Flat Nose, and with some warriors under him who went by the name of the Wanderers.

"Did you ever hear of this Flat Nose?" asked Dave of the frontiersman who had brought in the information.

"Not I, but Jadwin has," said the hunter. "He says he is as treacherous as they make 'em, and so are all the Wanderers under him. They move from place to place, taking whatever they can lay their hands on."

"Then they will just suit a fellow like Jean Bevoir."

"I don't doubt but that you are right, lad, and they'll suit Jacques Valette, too."

"What has become of Hector Bergerac, do you know?"

"I think he has cut company with Bevoir and Valette. He was too honest for them, I reckon."

In the meantime, matters between the English and the Indians all over the Colonies were going from bad to worse. Those in authority would not listen to such a man as Sir William Johnson, who knew the red men thoroughly, and such a wise statesman as Benjamin Franklin, who believed in giving the Indian his just due. The war had cost a great deal, and now it was decided to cut down expenses, which meant that in the future the Indians would get but few of the presents which, in the past, had been presented to them. More than this, English traders of all sorts were allowed to go among the red men and barter as they pleased, and some of these literally robbed those who were too ignorant or simple of heart to trade intelligently.

The coming of so many English traders made the French traders furious, and as they saw their business slipping away from them they did all they could to get the English into "hot water" with the red men. They told the Indians that the English meant to take everything from them, their lands, their wigwams, and their possessions, including their squaws and children--to make slaves of the latter--and that the red men must fight or be wiped out. And they always added that, if the Indians would make war, they, the French, would help them in every possible manner.

This was but the empty talk of brutal and ignorant traders, who had everything to gain and nothing to lose. But the Indians listened to them, and at last concluded that it must be so--that the English meant to exterminate them. They held long councils of war, and at last determined to strike a blow at the first favorable opportunity. Pontiac spoke at many of these secret meetings, in a manner that was truly eloquent of the cause he espoused.

"The Indian must fight or he must become as a squaw and a slave," said Pontiac. "The English will press him to the bitter end. They say they are our friends, but they come as wolves in the night to take away our all. You ask how are we to fight them, for they are many? We must use our cunning, we must not let them think we are their enemies. We must treat them as our best friends. Then, when the time is ripe, shall the blow be struck, and no English man, woman, or child shall escape. Pontiac has spoken. Who is there to dispute what he has said?"

The discontent of the Indians was strongest throughout Virginia, Pennsylvania, and New York. The Delawares--those who would not listen to such chiefs as White Buffalo--were angered in the extreme, and the Shawanoes were likewise unsettled. In New York State some simple-minded Indians petitioned Sir William Johnson to have the English forts "kicked out of the way," as they expressed it. This, of course, could not be done, and the red men viewed the strengthening of the strongholds with increased suspicion. Some threats were made to destroy the fort at Detroit, but the time was not ripe for a well-planned attack, and nothing came of it.

At last James Morris could bear the waiting no longer, and leaving Dave and the frontiersman, Sanderson, in charge of the trading-post, he set out with Jadwin on horseback, to see if he could learn anything about the pack-train that was expected.

"Be very careful while I am gone," he said to his son, and Dave promised to do his best.

The route of Mr. Morris and his companion lay through the burn-over, and along the trail previously followed. Good time was made, for their steeds were fresh, and by nightfall they had covered at least twenty-five miles. They went into camp at a convenient spot on the bank of a purling brook, where nothing came to disturb them while they slept. Hardly had they gone two miles in the morning, however, when they came upon a sight that filled them with alarm. Propped up against a tree was Henry, capless, and with the blood streaming over his face from an ugly cut in the forehead.

"Henry! What does this mean?" demanded James Morris.

"Uncle James!" faltered the youth. "Help--help me!"

"To be sure I'll help you, Henry. But what does it mean? Where are Sam and the others, and the horses?"

"We were attacked--some Indians and some white men came upon us at nightfall yesterday. Lampton and Cass, who were with us, were shot down, and Sam was hit and so was I. Our Indians fled into the forest, for the enemy were four to one. Sam and I did what we could, but we had to run. In the darkness we became separated--and here I am."

While Henry was speaking, his uncle was washing his wound, for the youth had stopped near a brook, and now the hurt was bound up with a bit of cloth which was always carried by the trader for just such emergencies. Henry was very weak, and said he had wandered aimlessly about during the night, trying to find the trail to the trading-post. "It may be that Sam is dead," he said sadly. "I know he was struck twice, by a rifle bullet and by an arrow which went into his shoulder. Lampton and Cass, I know, are dead, for I examined them. Conoseka, one of the Indians, was hit in the left arm, but he fled with the other redskins of our party."

"Did you recognize any of those who attacked you?"

"No, for they were in the forest, while we were in a little clearing. The attack came without warning. We were just building a camp-fire when two rifle shots rang out, and Lampton and Cass fell. Then came a yell from the whites and the war cry from the Indians, and shots and arrows flew in all directions. Sam and I picked up our guns, and I know Sam hit one of the whites, for I saw him throw up his hands and fall in some brushwood. Then one of the redskins went down, and after that I was hit and went into a twist, so I can't exactly tell what followed. I heard Sam yell to me to run, or we'd be killed, and I picked up my gun and ran for the trees. I hadn't gone very far when I tripped and fell, and the gun got lost in a dark hollow. I tried to find the gun, but I couldn't, and then I heard some Indians coming after me and I ran on again until I found a small place between the rocks, where I hid until about three hours ago. Then I started to look for the trail, but I got dizzy and had to sit down where you found me."

"You haven't seen any of your party since you ran away?"

"Not a soul. The Indians and Sam ought to be somewhere near, and the pack-train, too, for that matter."

"The rascals must have known the pack-train was coming." said Jadwin, who had been through many fights on the frontier. "To my mind it looks like a well-planned attack."

"That is true," answered James Morris. "The question is, shall we go forward and investigate, or return to the post and give the alarm?"

"Reckon you had better give the alarm. Those rascals may be plannin' to attack the post, too."

"I was thinking of that. But I would like to know what has become of the pack-train and all of my belongings."

"Then, supposing you go ahead alone and take a look around, while Henry and I go to the post?"

This was quickly settled upon, and a few minutes later James Morris moved onward, on horseback, with his gun ready for use, should the enemy put in an appearance.