On the Trail of Pontiac by Edward Stratemeyer
Chapter IV. Searching for Clews
The others gathered around and surveyed the articles Barringford had brought along with keen interest. The money amounted to two pounds and six shillings, some in Spanish coin, but mostly in English. The pistols were English weapons, but the knife was such as could be bought at any frontier town in the colonies. The watch was a large, open-faced affair, and on the dial was marked, Richard Gardell, Maker, London, 1742.
"Hard to tell if he was an Englishman or a colonist," mused James Morris. "What of his clothing, Sam?"
"Almost torn to ribbons by the wild beasts."
"We'll have to go back to the spot as soon as the storm clears away," said Joseph Morris.
"You didn't find anything with the man's name on it?" came from Dave.
"Nary a thing, lad. But my search wasn't any too good, remember," answered Barringford.
"As soon as I saw the babies I started for here with 'em."
"Each has a locket around its neck," came from Mrs. Morris suddenly. "Perhaps they will give some clew."
"I trust they do," answered her husband. "That man may have been their father or otherwise only a servant sent to take them to some place. But, be that as it may, we must discover where the little ones belong."
"Oh, let us keep them!" burst in little Nell "I want some little brothers to play with!"
"Hush, dear!" came from the mother. "Mayhap the mother of these little ones is this moment mourning for them and wondering where they can be."
The lockets were small, oval affairs, rather hard to open until a thin knife blade was inserted between the two parts of each. One contained a miniature of an old lady in court dress and the other a portrait of an elderly gentleman, with powdered wig and gold-rimmed spectacles. The face of each was full of kindness and nobleness.
"Two fine old folks, I'll warrant," came from Joseph Morris.
"More than likely the grandparents of the little ones," returned his brother.
"The lockets seem new," said Rodney. "Perhaps they were christening presents, or given to the babies on their first birthday."
"The babies look very much alike and seem of an age," said Mrs. Morris, who had by this time fed them all they cared to eat. "I doubt not but that they are twins."
"Just what I was thinking," said Henry. "You had better remember which locket belongs to each, or you may get 'em mixed up."
"Mercy on us! I never thought of that!" exclaimed his mother. "Let me see,--yes, the first locket came from this one," and she hastened to replace it.
"There is a slight difference in their looks," said Dave, after a close survey of the two tiny faces. "One has a rounder chin than the other and a flatter nose."
"Dave is right," answered his aunt. "But the difference is not very great."
"Will you keep the babies for the present?" questioned Sam Barringford. "I don't know what to do with 'em, I'm sartin."
"To be sure we will," said Mrs. Morris. "Poor dears! if it was their father who was killed, it may go hard with them."
The matter was talked over during the meal and for two hours afterward, but none could reach any conclusion regarding the identity of the little strangers. All agreed that the best thing to do would be to look for more clews as soon as the weather permitted.
There was a large Indian basket in the cabin, in which Dave and Henry usually brought in kindling for the fire. This was emptied and cleaned and in it was made a comfortable bed for the babies to sleep on. Having satisfied their hunger and become thoroughly warm both slept soundly, nor did they awaken until early morning.
By sunrise the storm was practically over, although a few hard particles of snow still whirled down in the high wind. Joseph Morris said they had better wait an hour or two longer for the wind to go down, and this was done.
"Can I go along?" asked Dave eagerly. "I'm sure I won't mind the walk at all."
"I'd like to go, too," added Henry; and when the party started it consisted of the two youths, their fathers, and Sam Barringford.
The men took turns at leading the way and breaking open the trail, no mean task when in some spots the snow lay to a depth of four and five feet. They kept as much as possible in the shelter of the trees and bushes, where the drifts were not so high. The sun, shining clearly, made the scene on all sides a dazzling one. Not a sound broke the stillness, birds and beasts being equally silent.
It took over an hour to reach the ruins of the Chelingworth cabin--one of the first erected in that territory and burnt four times before it was finally abandoned. As they passed the ruins Sam Barringford came to a halt.
"Listen!" he said briefly.
All did so, and at a distance heard a sudden yelping, which gradually increased.
"Wolves!" cried Henry.
"You are right," answered the old frontiersman. "Reckon they have come back to finish their work."
"Let us drive them off," put in Dave, with a shudder. "If there is anything left of the man, we ought to give him a decent burial."
"Yes, lad, I agree; but there ain't much left but bones."
All pushed forward and soon reached the spot where Sam Barringford had made his strange discovery. Five wolves were close by, sniffing eagerly through the snow, and more were in the rear.
"I've my shot-gun," said Dave. "Shall I give 'em a dose?"
"Yes," answered Barringford, and taking aim at two of the foremost wolves, the youth pulled the trigger of his weapon. The report was followed by a mad yelp of pain, and both wolves went down, one dead and the other badly wounded. The other wolves then ran off with all possible speed.
[Illustration: The report was followed by a mad yelp of pain]
"A fair shot, Dave!" cried the old frontiersman, and striding forward he dispatched the wounded wolf with his hunting knife. "Doin' almost as well as Henry now, ain't ye?"
"Not quite as well as that," was Dave's modest answer.
The new fall of snow had covered all traces of the tragedy recently enacted at the spot, but the Morrises had brought along a pair of shovels and a broom, and soon the party was at work, clearing away the snow as Sam Barringford directed.
The remains of man and horse were at last uncovered, and then began an earnest search for some clew which might lead to the identity of the unfortunate person.
"Here is a gold ring," said Henry presently, and held it up.
Joseph Morris took the ring and examined it with care. There was an inscription inside, but it was so worn he could not decipher it.
They also brought to light several pieces of clothing, torn to tatters as Barringford had said. The horse's saddle was likewise there and the reins and curb, but absolutely nothing which gave either name or address.
"This looks as if we were stumped," said Henry, pausing in his labor of digging away the snow.
"Right ye are," came from Barringford. "Too bad! I'd like to know who them twins belong to."
"Reckon they'll belong to you, Sam," said James Morris, with a faint smile.
"Me! Well, I vum! An old man like me, all alone in the world, with twins! What'll I do with 'em? Answered me thet, will ye?" And he scratched his head in perplexity.
"We can keep them for the present," answered Joseph Morris. "Indeed, I don't think my wife will care to give them up in a hurry. She said this morning the youngsters had taken a tight hold of her heart."
"Ef I had a hum of my own--" began Barringford. "But no, 'tain't right--I ought to find out whar they belong."
"Perhaps you can find out all about them at Bedford, or Fort Loudan, or Annapolis, or Philadelphia," put in James Morris. "Certain it is they belong somewhere."
They had now come to the end of their search and, as there seemed nothing more to do, prepared to return home. The ground was too hard to permit of the burial of the remains of the stranger, and they were placed between some rocks, with other rocks over them, to keep off the wild beasts. Then Joseph Morris marked the nearest tree with a large cross and a question mark--a common sign of those days, showing that somebody unknown had met death in that vicinity.
When the Morris cabin was again reached they found the babies wide awake and cooing contentedly. Mrs. Morris had dressed them up as best she could, and she was holding one while Rodney held the other. Little Nell was dancing around the floor in wild delight.
"Oh, I just love those babies so much!" cried the little miss. "I want mamma to keep them, if nobody comes to take them away."
"Don't want to send them to the poorhouse, then?" questioned her father quizzically.
"To the poorhouse?" she repeated scornfully. "No, indeed!"
"What a fate for such darlings!" murmured Mrs. Morris. "No, Joseph, hard as times may be, I cannot consent to send these little ones away to live on charity, even if the authorities were willing to take them--which I doubt."
"Never fear, Lucy, I do not intend to be hard on the twins. And you must remember, Sam here has a claim on them."
"Oh, Uncle Sam," began little Nell--she often called him uncle--"won't you please let me keep the babies?"
The question was so gravely put the old frontiersman had to laugh outright. "A great question truly," he made answer. "And I don't know if they are mine yet."
"But if nobody calls for them--"
Barringford scratched his head.
"In thet case, I reckon as how I'll have to adopt 'em. Don't see nuthin' else to do."
"One thing is certain, they shall stay here for the present," said Mrs. Morris, and that important question settled, she turned over the baby she held to Dave, while she bustled about to prepare a late dinner.