Chapter XXVII. The Trail of Pontiac
 

The fright of such a brave chief as White Buffalo may seem strange to my young readers, but it must be remembered that among the Indians the art of magic was considered the blackest art of all, and a magician was looked upon as something far out of the ordinary. The art was somewhat similar to that of the voodoos of the South, and the fakirs of India, and a real magician was looked up to and obeyed where a common medicine man would be ignored.

It is said, upon fairly good authority, that Pontiac belonged to the magicians of the Great Lakes. This has already been mentioned, but nothing has been said of how he practiced the black art. Much that was recorded has been lost, so some things can only be surmised. But his doings had a strong hold on all who came in contact with him, making his friends stick to him closer than ever, and causing many of his enemies to drop their antagonism and sue for peace.

"Don't you get afraid of him, White Buffalo," whispered Barringford. "His magic is all humbug."

"No! no! it is true!" insisted the Indian chief. He caught Dave by the hand. "Come! If Dave is caught watching, he will surely lose his life!"

"I shall stay, if Sam stays," said the youth. "We'll take good care that we are not discovered."

"You can go back to the others," went on Barringford. But at this White Buffalo demurred, and in the end remained to see the weird performance.

The dance of the magicians lasted fully a quarter of an hour. Then came a low chant, and a conference followed. Strange strings of beads were exchanged, and finally Pontiac made an address, in an Indian dialect of which neither Barringford nor Dave could understand a word.

White Buffalo listened to the address with keen interest. His first fright over, he was now fairly calm, and when Pontiac stopped and prepared to leave the village he pulled the others back to a place of safety.

"Pontiac will go away alone," he said. "White Buffalo follow on the trail. Want his brothers Dave and Sam to come, too."

"Why?" asked the others, in a breath.

"Learn much. Maybe do the English great good. Pontiac is like a fox in wisdom. If the spell of magic is broken, Pontiac may fall as falls the mighty tree of the forest before the hurricane."

"I must say I don't quite follow ye, Buffalo," came from Barringford. "Where is Pontiac going?"

"To the woods, where the waters fall in the sunshine. White Buffalo thinks he knows the spot, but he is not sure."

"Why should we follow him?"

"White Buffalo cannot explain. There is much magic. Perhaps the coming of night will clear the mystery."

Both Dave and Barringford were much perplexed. Never before had White Buffalo acted in this manner, and it was easy to see that he was laboring under great excitement.

"We may as well do what White Buffalo says," came from Dave, after he had talked to the old frontiersman in private. "We'll only lose a day or two by the operation and we are in no particular hurry to reach Will's Creek."

"Very well, lad, I'll go ye on't," was the answer. "We may learn something of great importance to the English authorities."

White Buffalo had by this time joined those of his tribe who were with him. His speech to his followers was as peculiar in its effects as had been the mysterious incantations of the magicians upon himself. Two voted to follow Pontiac, while the others said they would not do so under any circumstances. "The squaws can return to the trading-post," said the chief. And thus were the others dismissed. A short while after this all were on the trail of Pontiac, who, contrary to expectations, had taken with him a young brave known by the extraordinary name of Foot-in-His-Mouth, a Wyandot famous for his accuracy at shooting. Foot-in-His-Mouth had often won prizes at target shooting, both among the Indians and the French, and he was called one of the best hunters in the Ohio valley. Both Pontiac and his escort were on horseback, and they rode so swiftly along the forest trail that the others had all they could do to keep close to them. White Buffalo led, and never once did he allow those he was following to suspect his presence. Whenever they slowed up so did he, and instead of passing over an open space he invariably rode around it, keeping his steed in the shelter of the trees and brushwood. "If he is simply going to his home on the Detroit River, we'll have our ride for nothing," observed Dave, after six or eight miles had been covered.

"Oh, something is in the wind, you may be sure of that," returned Barringford. "The question is, what is it?"

It was growing dark when Pontiac and his companion came to the side of a fair-sized brook, rushing swiftly over some rough rocks. They passed up this brook for a distance of several hundred feet and then took to the other side. Here there was a burnt spot covering half an acre, and Dave and the others noted the remains of a cabin.

"Somebuddy lived here once an' was wiped out," remarked the old frontiersman laconically. "Can't tell who did it."

The falling of waters could now be plainly heard, and before long Pontiac and Foot-in-His-Mouth reached a beautiful waterfall, fifteen or eighteen feet in height. The fall was narrow and was lined upon either side with rugged rocks, overgrown with mosses and trailing vines. At the foot of the waterfall was a circular pool of great depth.

Pontiac and his companion came to a halt and, dismounting, tied their horses to trees near by. At once those who were following did the same, and all crawled forward with extreme caution to learn what would next take place.

For several minutes Pontiac stood talking earnestly to Foot-in-His-Mouth, and pointing to the waterfall. Then both climbed the rocks at the side of the fall until they could touch the water with their hands.

"Something is up now, that's certain!" whispered Dave.

The words had just been uttered when a curious thing happened. With a quick movement Pontiac stepped through the waterfall and disappeared from sight!

"Well, I never!" murmured Dave. "Where did he go to?"

"Hush!" murmured Barringford. "Look!"

Foot-in-His-Mouth was gazing fixedly at the waterfall. He hesitated for fully a minute. Then, watching his chance, he dove into the waterfall as Pontiac had done and also disappeared.

White Buffalo looked at his white companions gravely. "Do my white brothers know what that means?" he asked.

"I think I do," answered Barringford. "There must be a cave back there, and the opening to it is through the waterfall."

"But how would they be able to find such a cave?" questioned Dave.

"In two ways, lad. There may be some other opening, and they may have discovered this opening when the waterfall had run dry."

"It must be a cave," came from White Buffalo. "And if it is, it is the cave Pontiac told about at the village of Ninalicmic."

"What did he say about it?"

"Pontiac told of planting guns in the ground. He said they would grow, and the Indians could one day pluck them and use them."

"Planting guns? I don't understand."

"It's an amazement truly," put in Barringford. "We won't know what it means until--"

"Until what, Sam? Do you feel like following into the cave?"

"I shouldn't mind if I knew the directions Pontiac gave to that other redskin. But without them directions a feller might lose his life easy enough in the attempt. He might have told him to turn to the left or the right, or somethin' like that, you know."

"True enough. Well, what do you advise?"

The matter was talked over with White Buffalo, and it was decided to remain where they were until Pontiac and Foot-in-His-Mouth returned for their horses.

"They are bound to do thet, sooner or later," said Barringford. "By the way they tethered 'em I reckon they expect to come back shortly."

An hour passed, and Dave was growing tired of the watch, when White Buffalo, who lay beside him, gave his sleeve a quick jerk and nodded toward the waterfall. As the young hunter looked in the direction he saw a sudden movement, and Pontiac emerged on the rocks, dripping wet. An instant later Foot-in-His-Mouth followed, and both climbed down to the side of the pool.

"They have been on some sort o' a mission," whispered Barringford. "Wonder what's next?"

Untying their horses, Pontiac and his companion turned them up the slope leading to the stream above the waterfall. Here the pair consulted for some time. What was said neither White Buffalo nor those with him could make out. But soon Pontiac rode off in one direction and Foot-in-His-Mouth in another.

"Shall we follow Pontiac further?" questioned Dave. "For my own part I'd rather stay here and find out what this cave, if such it is, contains."

"'Tis the cave of the magicians," answered White Buffalo. "My white brothers must be careful how they enter it."

"I am not afraid of magic, White Buffalo. But of course I want to know what I am doing."

"We can examine the place in the dark as well as the daylight," came from Barringford. "It's queer Pontiac and his friend didn't take torches with 'em."

"There may be torches inside."

"Perhaps; but if I go in I'll take my own torch."

"So will I, Sam, and a good big one, too."

Again there was a consultation, and at last it was agreed that Barringford should attempt to enter the cave first. If he succeeded, and the way was an easy one, Dave was to follow, and lastly White Buffalo. The other Indians would remain on guard.

Tucking a good bit of torch wood in his leathern belt, Barringford climbed up to the footing Pontiac had first occupied. He examined the waterfall with care and also looked at the pool below.

"Don't think I'll git more 'n a dirty tumble if I fail to git in," he said to Dave. "Here goes!"

He made a leap and passed through the falling sheet of water before him. With his heart almost in his throat, Dave watched and waited. He was still doing this when suddenly Barringford came to view again.

"It's easy, boys," he chuckled. "Jest like walkin' down a pair o' big stone steps. Jump about six feet an' you'll be all right."

Again he passed through the waterfall, and now Dave and White Buffalo lost no time in following. The opening beyond was two feet wide and high enough for a man to stand upright. The flooring led downward several steps, and then turned to the left, where the passageway spread out into an irregular cave of uncertain dimensions and various heights.

"That was certainly easy enough," remarked Dave, while Barringford was busy lighting the tinder in his box. "I declare I only got the water on my head and shoulders. With a good big hood a fellow could keep as dry as a bone."

With some difficulty the tinder was lit and the torch followed. Swinging it around, Barringford soon had a good blaze, and then he held the torch aloft, that they might look around them.

Their first view of the interior of the cave was a disappointment. Close at hand were nothing but bare rocks, covered here and there with rude writing in the Indian language. A little further on were some heaps of bones, probably those of wild animals, but whether killed for the meat or not they could not tell.

"Not much wuth seein' so far," remarked the old frontiersman as he gave his torch another swing. "Let us move on."

"Be careful, the walking may be treacherous," came from White Buffalo, and the warning came none too soon, for a short distance further on was an opening in the flooring a yard wide and of great depth. They leaped it with ease, but had one fallen into it there is no telling what would have happened.

Beyond this the passageway narrowed for a short distance. Here some of the rocks were wet, showing that there was a small stream or a pool of water overhead. The flooring was exceedingly rough, so that they had to move slowly and make sure of one footing ere they tried another.

"I wonder how long the Indians have known of this cave?" said Dave.

"White Buffalo hear of strange cave many years ago," came from the Indian chief. "Hear much when Colonel Washington and General Braddock fight the French and the Indians under Pontiac."

"Then is it a fact that Pontiac fought against us at that time?" asked Dave.

"White Buffalo has heard so. Pontiac is a great warrior."

"Hullo!" suddenly cried Barringford, who was a few feet in advance. "We're coming to something interesting now."

"What is it?" asked Dave eagerly.

"Look fer yourself, lad."

They had gained a portion of the cave that was almost circular in form. In the center was an immense black stone. On this rested a large pile of tobacco and several pipes, and beside these were strings of beads and wampum, and curiously shaped shells and spears. There were likewise some strings of feathers, and a dozen or more pairs of curiously worked moccasins. There were also a number of medals, evidently of English design and workmanship.

"Army medals!" cried Dave, picking one up. "Why, Sam, these must have been stolen from our soldiers!"

"Taken from our dead heroes most likely," answered the old frontiersman." It's a curious collection, ain't it, Dave?"

"Cave of the big council," said White Buffalo, pointing to the wampum strings and belts. "Much magic here."

"These are undoubtedly medals belonging to English soldiers and Royal Americans," said Dave, "They should be restored to their owners or else to the government."

"I agree with ye there, lad," answered Barringford. "An' when we leave we can take 'em along."