Chapter XXVI. Strange Indian Magic
 

"Well, where in the world can Henry have ridden to?"

It was Dave who asked the question. He sat on his horse, peering forth in all directions through the storm and the oncoming darkness. Beside him was Barringford, equally anxious to learn what had become of their companion.

Killing the first buffalo had not proved easy, and they had spent more time over the game than they had anticipated. But a bullet from Dave's pistol had finished the big creature, and then the pair had looked around for Henry, to find that he had vanished.

A hunt had followed in first one direction and then another. As the storm came up Dave's horse was unfortunate enough to run into a mud reach close to the river, and it proved no light task to save the steed from being drowned.

With the coming of night, Barringford had proposed that they go into camp, but Dave was too worried to do this, and urged that the search be continued.

"For all we know, those buffaloes may have turned and charged on Henry," he said. "I shan't rest until I know the truth."

"If they turned an' charged, I'm afeered it's all up with Henry." returned the old frontiersman. "A mad buffalo can make short work o' a hunter. He's wuss nor a mad bull."

They moved off slowly after this in something of a semicircle. Occasionally one or the other would raise a yell, but to these cries no answer was returned.

"Might as well give it up, Dave, onless ye want to ride around all night," said Barringford at last.

He had hardly spoken when Dave drew up his horse.

"Hark, Sam! what is that?"

The old frontiersman listened attentively for several minutes.

"Wolves, onless I miss my guess," he replied presently.

"They appear to be heading toward us."

"No, they are off in that direction, Dave." Barringford pointed with his hand. "They are after something."

"Not our buffalo meat, I hope."

"No, they are heading the other way. It's something else."

"Let us follow. They may be after another buffalo, or after Henry."

"That is so."

On they went once more. Soon they could no longer hear the wolves, and drew up in perplexity. While they were consulting together, they heard a distant gun shot.

"Somebuddy is a-firin' on 'em!" ejaculated Barringford. "Perhaps it's Henry. Come!" And he set off at a gallop, with Dave beside him. As they rode on they heard another gun shot, and a moment later the report of a pistol.

"It must be Henry, and, if so, he is having a fearful fight with the wolves!" cried Dave. "Oh, Sam, we must help him!"

"I see him!" shouted Barringford, and in less than half a minute later he was blazing away at the wolves. Dave also fired his gun and his pistol, and four wolves were put out of the fight in almost the time it takes to tell of the deed.

"Save me!" came faintly from Henry. "Save me!"

"I will!" answered Barringford, and leaped from his horse, hunting-knife in hand. The blade was plunged deeply into a wolf that had Henry by the left arm. Dave used his musket as a club, and another of the beasts was sent staggering back with a broken jaw.

What few remained of the beasts were scared by the new arrivals, and now they made off at top speed. It was high time, for Henry had suffered much, and as soon as the living wolves had disappeared he plunged forward and fainted in Barringford's arms.

"He has had a lough time of it, poor fellow," murmured the old frontiersman. "If we hadn't 'a' come up as we did, he would have been done for."

"Is he seriously hurt?" questioned Dave anxiously.

"Don't think he is, Dave. It's his wind as has given out."

Barringford was right, and it was not long before Henry revived. His arm was slightly pierced in three places and on his left leg were two long, irregular scratches. These were washed and bound up by Dave, and during the time consumed Barringford managed to start up a tiny fire in spite of the dampness.

"Where in the world have you been?" asked Henry. "I watched and watched for you."

"And we've been hunting for you until we were about ready to give it up," answered his cousin. "The wolves put us on the track."

Sitting around the fire, which Barringford coaxed into a respectable blaze, each party told what had happened since the separation.

"Reckon as how you've had your fill o' buffalo huntin' jest for the present," said Barringford, when the narratives were concluded. "Buffaloes an' wolves is a terribul bad combination."

"Where is your game?" questioned Henry.

"About two mile from here, I reckon."

"Perhaps the wolves will be after that."

"Can't help it if they air, lad. Dave wanted to look for you, an' wouldn't stay by the game nohow. Can't blame him, nuther, seein' as we came up jest in the nick o' time," added the old frontiersman.

All thoughts of sleep were now out of the question, and the three sat around the tiny campfire, discussing the situation. With the first streak of dawn Barringford set to work skinning the buffalo, and Dave assisted.

While they were thus occupied, Henry saw a familiar form advancing slowly over the prairie. He set up a call, and in a few minutes his horse came up on a trot, to mingle with the other horses.

"You rascal! to leave me in the lurch!" cried Henry, but he did not strike the steed, but patted him instead. "Be thankful that he has come back," said Barringford. "Sometimes a frightened critter like thet runs off an' never shows himself again." After the buffalo had been skinned, the best portions of the meat were cut out and rolled in the hide, which was strapped to the back of Barringford's saddle. The wolves were left where they had fallen. "Sooner or later them other wolves will come back," said the old frontiersman, "an' they'll eat wot's left of the buffalo an' the wolves' carcasses, too." It was fully an hour before they reached the spot where the other buffalo had fallen. No wild beasts had been near the carcass, and now this was also dressed and the hide packed up behind Dave. Then they set off for the camp on the edge of the prairie, reaching it shortly after noon. "I declare, the spot seems like home!" cried Dave. "I must say I am glad to return to it." All were equally happy, and lost no time in preparing a regular meal, which tasted far better than the makeshift they had indulged in early in the morning. Hunting was declared to be at an end for the time being, and for the rest of that day, and all of the next, the three took it easy.

"My bear hasn't shown himself," said Dave. "But I reckon I can do without him."

The rest of the hunting tour passed without anything out of the ordinary happening. Many small animals were brought in by both Dave and Henry, and Barringford varied the sport by laying low a wildcat that came one night to rob them of some of the meat.

When the start for the trading-post was begun, they found their steeds loaded down with the trophies of the chase. Consequently, progress was slow, and it took one day longer than they had expected to reach the Ohio.

"Back again, I see!" cried James Morris cheerily. "And safe and sound, too! I am glad to see it."

"We've had a powerfully good trip," answered Barringford. "Two buffalo, an' no end o' small game."

"That is certainly fine. Boys, I reckon you are proud of the haul."

"We are," answered Dave promptly, and Henry nodded. "Have you seen anything of Hector Bergerac?" he continued.

"Yes, he is here now. He has told me his story, and told me all about Jean Bevoir, Jacques Valette, and that redskin they call Flat Nose. Hector Bergerac wants to cut the whole crowd, and I am going to help him to do it."

The weather had threatened a change, and inside of a week after Dave and his companions returned to the trading-post there was a heavy frost, and, two days later, a touch of ice.

"I think winter is coming now," said James Morris. "And if anybody is going to start for home he'll have to do it soon."

"I shouldn't mind taking the trip," answered Dave. "It seems an age since I saw Uncle Joe and the others."

The matter was talked over for several days, and it was finally agreed that Dave should go eastward this time, in company with Barringford and White Buffalo and his braves. Henry would remain with his uncle, and so would the others at the trading-post. Only a few horses were to be taken along, and in the spring Dave and Barringford were to purchase ten additional steeds, and bring along a well-guarded pack-train containing goods to the value of eight hundred pounds. The trading-post was now doing well, and it looked as if, sooner or later, the Morrises would make a small fortune out of it.

The departure was made in a keen, frosty air, which was as clear as it was invigorating. Henry and Dave's father accompanied those who were going as far as the burn-over on the Kinotah, and then watched them out of sight around a bend of the trail.

"It looks a bit familiar to me now," said Dave to Barringford, as they rode along under the big trees.

"I suppose in a few years more there will be a regular road here, just as there now is from Fort Pitt eastward."

"Like as not, lad, onless the redskins upset everything again."

"They have been very quiet lately."

"Yes, Dave, but thet may be the calm afore a storm, as sailor men call it. I don't believe in trustin' a quiet Injun."

"White Buffalo is good enough when he is quiet," answered the youth, with a merry glance at the chief mentioned, who was riding a short distance to the rear.

"True, but a few good Injuns don't make a basketful," answered Barringford, using a form of speech he had heard once when down East.

The weather proved fine until Fort Pitt was gained. Here the party put up for two days, the commandant of the stronghold being glad to meet those who might bring news.

"All is quiet here," said the officer. "There was something of a plan to attack us during the summer, but it fell through, why I don't exactly know. I think the Indians are waiting for the French to help them."

"Will they do that?" asked Dave.

"I don't think so. The French are having their hands full in the old country."

When the party left Fort Pitt the sky was overcast, and that night came a light fall of snow. They had been told that there had been a landslide on the route, and that they had better take another trail, one leading around to the northward.

"This trail bring party to Indian village of Ninalicmic," announced White Buffalo.

"Are they much of a tribe?" asked Dave.

"Only a handful. But my white brothers must beware of the Ninalicmics. They are of the magicians, and do great wonders."

"They are a branch of the magicians who live up near the lakes," put in Barringford. "I've heard of them, but I thought they had cleared out long ago."

When they came close to the village, they heard a strange beating of Indian tom-toms and a loud shouting and clapping of hands.

"Some kind of dance going on," said Barringford. "Reckon as how I'll go in advance and see if it's safe to break in on 'em."

"Let me go with you," said Dave.

The others were halted, and Dave, Barringford, and White Buffalo went forward on foot, keeping themselves out of sight behind a row of bushes and a series of low rocks.

Before them was a fair-sized glade, in the midst of which was located the Indian village, consisting of a dozen or more wigwams, all of good dimensions and each gaudily painted with many signs and symbols. In front of several of the wigwams were erected posts on which hung strips of feathers and other strips of bear's claws and wampum belts that were new to Dave's eyes.

In the center of the village was a cleared space, and here a bright campfire was burning. On each side sat several Indians, all smeared with various colored paints and greases. Other red men were dancing around the fire, keeping time to the tom-toms and chanting in a low, monotonous tone.

"Big medicine men and magicians," said White Buffalo. "Make much magic."

Dave looked at his old Indian friend and saw, to his astonishment, that White Buffalo was ill at ease, if not actually nervous. Had he been alone, it is likely that he would have turned on his heel and hurried away.

"What be they a-saying?" demanded Barringford, after listening to the chant. "I never heard sech gibberish in my life afore."

"Much magic," answered White Buffalo. "Magic make the Indians strong to fight their white enemies."

"Oh, so that's it, eh? Do they believe in it, White Buffalo?"

"Magic is magic," returned the old chief simply.

"Does it mean digging up the war hatchet?"

"White Buffalo cannot tell, for he is not in their secrets. But if the hatchet should be dug up--ha!"

White Buffalo stopped short, for the flap of one of the wigwams had opened and a tall Indian had stepped outside. The red man was naked to the waist and painted with rings and blotches of several colors. On his head he carried something of a crown of black feathers with brass ornaments dangling over each ear. As he came out, those around the fire set up a yell of welcome.

"Who is it?" questioned Dave, in a whisper.

"Pontiac, the great chief of the Ottawas," answered White Buffalo. And then he added hastily, as Pontiac threw up his arms and swept them around in a circle: "Let us go, let us not stay! It is not safe! Pontiac will make great magic! Let us go ere it is too late!"