Chapter XX. Guarding the Trading-Post
 

"Did you see anything of Sam Barringford?" asked Dave, who was just then thinking more of his old friend than of his father's belongings.

"I did not. But I shouldn't be surprised if those Frenchmen and redskins had some prisoners," answered Jadwin. "They have one wigwam that they are guarding closely. If it doesn't contain prisoners, it contains something of great value."

For quarter of an hour the frontiersmen and Dave talked over the situation, but could not solve the problem of what was best to do next.

"To attack would be foolhardy, even if we hid ourselves among the trees," said Sanderson. "They'd drive us from cover sooner or later, and kill us."

"One of us might go back for help," suggested the young pioneer.

"I was thinking of that. But that would take time, and your father couldn't spare enough men to make it worth while. As near as I can make out there are six Frenchmen in the camp and nineteen red men, or twenty-five fighters in all. The most we could muster up would be ten or a dozen. That would be two to one."

"If they have any captives, and especially Sam Barringford, I wish we could release them."

"Let us wait until nightfall," suggested Ira Sanderson. "Something may turn up."

Not far away was a slight rise of ground, and behind some bushes on this they hid themselves. From this quarter they could get a fair view of the village and note much of what was going on.

They had scarcely settled themselves when they heard a shout, and an Indian who had been on guard came in with another Indian, who had just arrived on foot from a distance.

"It is an Ottawa!" murmured Jadwin. "One of the braves of Pontiac's tribe."

"He evidently has news," said Dave. "I wish we knew what it was."

Jadwin decided to crawl to another spot and learn if he could overhear what was being said.

This time he was gone the best part of an hour, nor did he return until Dave and Sanderson saw the strange Indian messenger depart.

"What did you learn?" asked the youth eagerly.

"A great deal," answered Jadwin hurriedly.

"We must get back to the trading-post without delay."

"Why?"

"The Indians are going to make an attack. The Miamis are up in arms. Pontiac has told them that if they do not destroy the forts and trading-posts the English will soon wipe them from the face of the earth."

"The Old Nick take Pontiac!" ejaculated Sanderson.

"I'd like to get on his trail and make him a prisoner," put in Dave.

"Another thing, Sam Barringford is Bevoir's prisoner."

"Are you certain?"

"Yes. I heard Bevoir speak of it to another Frenchman. He says he will make Barringford suffer before he is done with him."

"Oh, the rascal!" burst out Dave. "I wish--"

"Never mind, lad, I know how you feel. But every moment is precious. We must hasten to the post and prepare for the attack."

"Yes! yes! Come!" and Dave himself led the way.

Not to excite the suspicions of either red men or white, they did not use the canoe which was at hand, but recrossed the stream on the tree trunk which had brought them over in the first place. This done, they cast the tree adrift and lost not a moment in mounting their steeds.

"'Tis a long, long ride," said Jadwin. "But if the horses can make it without a night's rest, so much the better for us and for all of the others."

It proved a ride that Dave Morris never forgot. All that day and through the night the three pressed on, through the mighty forests and across the creeks and small rivers. More than once a horse would stumble and almost throw his rider, and the branches of the trees often cut them stinging blows across the faces and necks and hands. Once Dave received a long scratch on the left cheek from which the blood flowed freely, but he did not stop to bind up the wound, nor did he complain.

"To save father, and Henry, and the post!" Such was the burden of his thought. He remembered how that other post, on the Kinotah, had been attacked. Should the new post fall, he well knew that it would go hard with all who had stood to defend it.

When at last the post was gained Dave was more dead than alive. Chafed by his hard ride, and almost exhausted, he tumbled rather than leaped from the saddle. It was the middle of the night and the coming of the three had provoked a small alarm, so that all at the trading-post came to learn what was in the air.

Jadwin's story was soon told, and Dave and Sanderson corroborated it. Without delay James Morris called the whites and Indians around him.

"There is news that the French and Indians intend to attack this post," he said loudly. "Will you help me to save what is my own, or must I surrender?"

At once there was a hubbub. White Buffalo was the first to step to the trader's side.

"White Buffalo will fight for his brother James," said the Indian chief simply. "And his braves will fight also," and he motioned for the other Indians to follow him.

"I'm for the post, every time," cried Jadwin. "If I hadn't been, I shouldn't have been in sech a hurry to get back."

"Ditto myself," put in Sanderson.

"I reckon we air all with you," drawled one of the trappers. "We want an English tradin'-post hyer, eh, boys?"

"That's the tune," added another. "The only question is, air we strong enough for 'em?"

"Got to be!" exclaimed Sanderson emphatically. "I'll fight 'em for all I know how!" muttered Henry. His rest had done him much good.

The details of the defense were quickly arranged, for James Morris had often speculated upon just what to do in such a situation as was now at hand. Everything left outside of the palisade was brought in and then the gates were closed, barred, and reenforced by large rocks which lay handy. This accomplished, every gun and pistol in the post was examined, cleaned, and put into perfect order for use, and powder and ball were dealt out liberally. The Indians also looked after their bows and arrows, and hunting knives and tomahawks were not forgotten.

By the time arrangements were all complete, the sun was shining in the eastern sky. Hour after hour passed and no strangers put in an appearance.

"But they will come, never fear," said Jadwin. "I've made no mistake."

"Somebody coming now!" shouted James Morris, who was near the gate. A moment later an Indian came strolling along the bank of the river. Evidently he had expected to find the gate to the stockade wide open. Seeing it closed, he hesitated for a moment.

"Hoola! hoola!" he shouted. "Brown Bear come to trade!"

"Where are your furs?" asked James Morris, mounting some steps so that he could see over the gate.

"Furs in canoe on river," answered Brown Bear. His eyes were full of distrust and suspicion.

"You are one of the Wanderers, I believe," said James Morris. "You trade with the French, not with the English."

"Trade with English now," said the red man doggedly.

"You can't trade here, so pass on."

"No take furs from Brown Bear?"

"No."

"Make much cheap trade. Buffalo skin, too, an' bear."

"Bring them up till I see them."

"White man open gate."

"Show me your buffalo and bear skins," was all James Morris would answer.

With a grunt of disgust Brown Bear walked away and disappeared among the bushes.

"Do you think he really has the furs?" asked Henry. "I don't."

"No, Henry. He came to report what we were doing. He is a spy. We'll see some more of them soon."

[Illustration: 'Where are your furs?' asked James Morris]

Mr. Morris was right; half an hour later another Indian, accompanied by Louis Glotte, came into view from over the hill.

"Open the gate! Want to trade!" cried the Indian.

"Vat for you close ze gate, Meester Morris?" asked Glotte smoothly. "No fighting now, no!" And he laughed shortly.

"No, I don't reckon there will be any fighting," answered the trader. "But if it comes, I am ready for it. The Indian can't come in, but you can, if you wish." And he threw a ladder over the gate, keeping hold of the top.

Not knowing what a trap he was walking into, Louis Glotte spoke to the Indian in his native tongue and then mounted the ladder. As soon as the Frenchman was inside of the stockade James Morris returned the ladder to its original position.

"Don't you come too near!" he shouted to the Indian, and waved him away.

"I'll keep an eye on him, never fear," said Sanderson, who was at one of the port-holes.

"What want you of me?" demanded Glotte, as he gazed around at the armed English and Indians in dismay.

"I want to talk to you," replied James Morris. "Come into the cabin with me."

More suspicious than ever, the Frenchman followed into the building slowly. Dave came after and so did Jadwin.

"Now, Glotte, you can consider yourself a prisoner," said James Morris shortly. "Place your gun on that table, and your pistol also."