Chapter XXIII. Dave and the Fawn
 

"Sam, do you think he will live?"

Over and over Henry asked the question as he and the old frontiersman worked over the inanimate form they had brought to shore from the waters of the river.

"Hope so, Henry, but I can't tell yet," was Barringford's answer. "We'll do all we can, and trust the rest to God."

Both worked with a will, doing whatever they thought was best. Barringford held Dave up by the ankles and allowed much of the water to run from the unfortunate's mouth, and then they rolled the youth and worked his arms and rubbed him.

At first it looked as if all their efforts would be in vain, and tears gathered in Henry's eyes. But then they saw Dave give a faint shudder, followed by a tiny gasp.

"He's comin' around!" shouted Barringford, in a strangely unnatural voice. "Praise Heaven for it!"

But there was still much to do before Dave could breath with any kind of regularity, and they continued to rub him and slap him, while Barringford forced him to gulp down a small quantity of stimulants brought along in case of emergency. Then a fire was started up, and later on Henry brought over the youth's clothes, for to take Dave across the stream was out of the question.

For over an hour Dave felt so weak that neither of the others attempted to question him. Both helped him into his clothes, and gave him something hot to drink, and made him comfortable on a couch of twigs and leaves.

"I thought my time had come when I went under," he said, when he could talk. "The rock pinned me down between the tree-roots, and if it hadn't been for the roots, I suppose I should have been crushed to death. I held my breath as long as I could, and then I gulped in some water and lost my senses."

"It was truly a narrow escape," was Barringford's comment. "I didn't expect no sech accident when I let ye go into the swimmin' match."

"Did you go under, Henry?"

"Yes, but I soon got myself loose," was the reply. "I was almost scared stiff when you didn't come up, Dave. After this we'll have to be more careful than ever."

"It was wuss nor thet wildcat, I reckon," came from Barringford.

"I should say so," returned Henry promptly. "It almost makes me vow never to go in swimming again."

As Dave continued to feel weak it was decided to remain where they were all of the next day. Henry procured a log and some brushwood, and on these ferried over their things, and he likewise tied up the horses, so that they might not stray away.

By morning Dave felt more like himself, and he would have gone ahead on the hunt, but Barringford would not permit it.

"We have plenty of time," said the old frontiersman. "You jest lay around in the sun, an' you'll feel better for it."

"Well, then, you and Henry can go out," insisted Dave. "There is no reason why you should suck your thumbs waiting for me."

At this the others demurred, but about noon, having had a lunch, Barringford and Henry set out, promising to return before sundown. They had not expected to hunt on this side of the river, but, now they were there, the old frontiersman said they might see what they could stir up.

The camp had been pitched behind some bushes that fringed the river bank. Close at hand was a clump of trees, and back of these was the edge of the mighty forest, yet unspoiled by the ax of the pioneer. Not far from the camp was a small brook where the water rushed over a series of sharp rocks, making a murmur pleasing to hear.

Having straightened out the camp, Dave took Barringford's advice and lay down in the warm sunshine to rest. The little work that he had done had tired him more than he was willing to admit, and, having closed his eyes to do some thinking, he quickly fell into a sound slumber which lasted for several hours.

When he awoke all was still around him, and he rubbed his eyes, wondering what had aroused him. Then he caught sight of a tiny squirrel sitting bolt upright at the foot of the nearest tree, gazing curiously at him.

"Hullo, you little rascal!" said Dave, good-naturedly. "So you ran across me, did you? What kind of an animal did you take me for?"

The squirrel continued to gaze at him, but at his first movement to arise, the frisky animal gave a swish of his brush and was gone up the tree in a twinkling.

"Don't believe in making friends, that's sure." went on the young pioneer as he stretched himself. "Heigh-ho, but I must have slept pretty soundly, and for three hours at least! Well, it was as good a way as any to put in the time."

The sunshine had made Dave thirsty, and presently he walked to the brook to get a drink. As he was in no hurry he took his time, and, consequently, made little or no noise.

He had parted some low bushes, and was just looking for some favorable spot at which to bend down, when something caused him to look up the brook. There, to his astonishment and delight, he beheld a beautiful fawn, standing in several inches of water, watching some birds which circled close by.

"Oh, what a shot!" was Dave's thought, and as quietly as a mouse he fell back out of sight and then ran to where he had left his gun. The weapon was ready for use, and soon he was at the brook once more.

There was no breeze blowing, and the only sound that broke the stillness was the rushing of the little watercourse and the songs of half a dozen birds in the vicinity. The fawn was still there, but seemed to be on the point of running away; why, Dave could not tell.

Not to let such a chance to bag tender meat escape him, the young pioneer took hasty aim and fired. The bullet sped true, and, with a convulsive leap into the air, the fawn fell into the shallow brook dead.

While the smoke was still pouring from his gunbarrel, Dave caught sight of a larger deer, previously hidden from view by some brushwood. Scarcely had he laid the fawn low when another gunshot rang out, and this deer also went down, kicking convulsively.

"Hullo, Sam and Henry must be near!" he thought, and ran forward to make certain that the second animal should not get away. At the same time he set up a shout, so that neither of the others might fire on him by mistake.

But the second shot bad been almost as true as the first, and by the time he came up the large deer was breathing its last.

"Hullo!" he shouted. "We must have spotted these deer at exactly the same time."

No answer came back to this call, and now Dave looked around with surprise. If Henry and Barringford were near, why did they not show themselves?

"It's mighty queer," he muttered to himself. "If they--hullo! Hector Bergerac!"

Dave was right, and an instant later the French hunter and trapper stepped into the opening. He gazed around sharply to see if the young pioneer had any companions with him. His clothing was almost in tatters, and his general manner showed that he had been having a hard time of it.

"Are you alone, Morris?" was his first question.

"Perhaps I had better ask you that question," came just as quickly from the young pioneer.

"Yes, I am alone," was the answer. "I was making my way to your father's trading-post when I saw the deer and shot it."

"And I shot the fawn. What were you going to do at the trading-post?"

"I wish to talk to your father on matters of business."

"Did Jean Bevoir send you?"

At the mention of Bevoir, Hector Bergerac's face grew dark and took on a look full of bitterness.

"No, he did not send me, I came of my own accord. I was a fool to go with him in the first place, and that is why I wish to see your father."

"Did you have anything to do with the looting of the pack-train?"

"No! no! I am not a robber of the road, like Bevoir and Valette. They wanted me to go into the thing, but I refused. Then we quarreled, and I went my own way. But after that Jean Bevoir made me a prisoner--he and Flat Nose--thinking I was going to tell upon them. I was a prisoner until yesterday, when I managed to get away, taking this gun with me. For twenty-four hours I have tasted nothing but one little bird, and I am half starved."

"You say you want to see my father," went on Dave after a pause. "May I ask what you wish of him?"

"I want to tell him of some plans Bevoir and Flat Nose have made. They wish to make trouble."

"Are they near here?"

"No, they are going away for the present. But they will be back, either in the winter or the spring."

Hector Bergerac was willing enough to go into the camp with Dave, and between them they dragged the fawn and the large deer to the spot. The fire was started up and some venison set to broiling, and of this the Frenchman partook liberally, proving that he was indeed half starved.

"You cannot be alone," he ventured, while eating. "Where are your companions?"

"They are off on a hunt, but will soon be here," answered Dave; and half an hour later Barringford and Henry put in an appearance. They were doubly astonished, first upon seeing Bergerac and then upon seeing the game. Their own luck had not been very good, and they only had a few birds and a beaver to their credit.

They listened with interest to what Bergerac had to tell, and when the Frenchman had warmed up he related the full particulars of how Bevoir, Valette, and Flat Nose had concocted the plan to loot the Morris' pack-train, corroborating Glotte's story in all details. He said that all the Frenchmen with Bevoir knew that it was nothing but an act of thievery, but that some of the Indians had looked upon it merely as the beginning of the new uprising against the English, an uprising which he considered had been started by Pontiac and those under the great chief.

"I am no longer for war," he concluded. "I wish only for peace, and I am sorry that I did not remain in the St. Lawrence territory. The war has cost me all that I possessed. It was not much, but it was enough. Now I must start over again."

"If you will do what is square, my father will be glad to deal with you, and he will pay you all your skins are worth," returned Dave. "But you must not play him false."

"He can trust me, take my word upon it," said Hector Bergerac. "I have thought it over, and I feel certain that French rule in this country is at an end. England is too strong for us. To fight longer would be like striking one's head against a stone wall."

"Which shows that you have some sense," put in Barringford. "I must say I'm sick o' war too. Let us all go to huntin,' I say, an' make money. If the French an' the English would unite, we'd have nothin' to fear from the redskins."

"But they will not unite, it is not in their nature. But if they will only keep the peace, it will help greatly," concluded Bergerac.

He was worn out from traveling and glad enough to remain with the others over night. He dressed his deer and said he would take the skin to the trading-post, and also such a part of the meat as he could readily carry.

"He probably means to turn over a new leaf," said Henry, after Bergerac had departed. "I hope he does."

"He seemed to be mighty anxious to see your uncle," put in Barringford.

"Well, if he can save Uncle James from serious trouble, I hope he does it."

"What a scoundrel Jean Bevoir is!" put in Dave. "Wouldn't you think that, after all his upsettings, he would be content to rest and do what was right?"

"Some men are born that way, lad," said the old frontiersman. "It's in their nature. He won't stop bein' bad until he's killed or dies a natural death; no two ways on't."

"I think Jacques Valette must be about as bad."

"More 'n likely--blackbirds generally flock together. But I don't reckon that Valette is the schemer Bevoir is--he don't keep sober enough."

"I've often wondered if it wasn't Bevoir who robbed Valette that time." ventured Dave. "I think he'd be equal to it."

"Like as not--or else Valette dropped his money on the trail an' never knew it."