Chapter VII. Preparing for the Expedition Westward
 

The winter had been a severe one, but early in March came a rapid change and in a few days the spring thaw began in earnest, flooding the banks of the creeks and rivers and causing not a little damage to such buildings as were located close to the water's edge. The forest in that vicinity was still heavy, so that the freshet was not as severe as it is in these days, when there remains but little timber to break the rush of snow and ice and water down the sides of hills and mountains.

With the coming of spring James Morris began to make his arrangements for visiting his trading-post on the Kinotah. In the meantime those at the cabin did their best to learn something concerning the two babies Sam Barringford had picked up. But the efforts in this direction were without success.

Nothing could be learned of the traveler who had the little children, although diligent inquiries were pursued at Fort Bedford, and many other points. Letters were sent to Annapolis and to Philadelphia concerning Barringford's discovery but brought no satisfaction. Once a party wrote that the children might belong to his dead brother, but this proved to be untrue.

"It's a complete mystery, that's what it is," declared Henry.

"And it looks to me as if it will never be solved," added Dave.

The children still remained at the Morris house and Mrs. Morris gave both the best of care. The kind woman felt positive that they were twins, and all who saw the children agreed that she was right. One was slightly darker than the other in eyes and hair, and one chin was rounder than the other, but otherwise it was next to impossible to tell them apart.

"Reckon I'll have to shoulder 'em as my own," remarked Sam Barringford one day. "I'd do it in a minit if it wasn't thet I haven't nary a home to take 'em to."

"You may leave them here," said Mrs. Morris promptly. "I have talked it over with Joseph and with James and it will be quite suitable."

"If you'll take 'em in charge I'll pay you for it, Mistress Morris," said the old frontiersman. "It will be a weight off my shoulders to have ye do it. I know as how the little chaps will get the best o' care."

And so it was arranged that the twins should remain with Mrs. Morris. Barringford named them Tom and Artie, after two uncles of his own, and these names clung to them as they grew older. Little did Barringford or the Morrises dream of what the finding of these twins was to lead to in years to come.

"Of one thing I am certain," said James Morris one day. "They are of good breeding. No common blood flows in their veins."

"I take it you are right," answered his brother. "And it may be that some day Sam will be well rewarded for saving them from death."

After a great deal of deliberation it had been decided that James Morris should start for the west about the first of May. Dave and Henry were to go with him, and likewise Sam Barringford and three other frontiersmen named Lukins, Sanderson, and Jadwin. The party was likewise to contain four Indians of the Delaware tribe under White Buffalo. The whites were all to go mounted and were to take six pack-horses in addition. At first James Morris thought to take a couple of wagons, at least as far as Fort Pitt, but this plan was at the last moment abandoned, for wagons were scarce and high in price, and there was no telling if they could be sold when the last fort on the frontier was gained, and further progress with anything on wheels became out of the question.

The coming of White Buffalo with his handful of trusted braves was an event for Dave and Henry. This chief had been their friend for many years and they felt that they could rely upon him, no matter how great the emergency. In the past the tribe to which White Buffalo belonged had been split, some fighting with the English and others with the French, but now some of the leaders, including Skunk Tail, were dead, and, the war being at an end, all were reunited under the leadership of White Buffalo and a young chief named Rain Cloud. But White Buffalo could not forgive some of the men of his tribe for taking up arms against the English and he was glad enough in consequence to get away with his few chosen ones.

"How? How?" said the Indian, meaning "How do you do?" as he took first Dave's hand and then Henry's and gave each a tight grip. "White Buffalo is glad to see his young friends looking so well. The war has not harmed them."

"No, White Buffalo, we are as well as ever," answered Dave. "And how have you been since last we saw you?"

"White Buffalo is not so young as he once was," answered the chief. "His step is not so light and his eye cannot see so far. Before many winters he will be gathered to his fathers."

"Nonsense!" put in Henry. "You can shoot as straight as any of us, and I know it, and walk just as far, too. Who told you that you couldn't?"

"The young braves at White Buffalo's village. They do not care for a chief who is old."

"They make a big mistake, and I'd tell them so if I had the chance," went on Henry earnestly. "You are all right, White Buffalo, and we'll be very glad to have you along, even if your tribe doesn't want you any longer."

At this the eyes of the old Delaware glistened. "Henry is my true friend," he murmured. "And David is my friend, too. White Buffalo shall never forget them."

"Are the men with you young men?" questioned Dave.

"No, they are almost as old as White Buffalo himself."

"That will suit father. He doesn't care for the young braves. They always want to do what pleases them and not what is ordered."

"They are like untrained dogs, who follow one trail and then another and hunt out nothing," was the old chief's comment.

True to his word, he had brought a new doll for little Nell, made by himself with no other tool than his hunting knife. It was of wood, with eyes of beads, and with joints fastened with deer thongs. It was wonderfully painted, and on the top of the head was a bit of fur for hair.

"White Buffalo bring the papoose he told of," he said, producing it from under his blanket. "Lady papoose, her name Minnehaha."

"Oh, what a beautiful, beautiful doll!" screamed little Nell, as she embraced it. "And her arms and legs move, too! And such a nice name, Minnehaha."

"What does Minnehaha mean?" asked Mrs. Morris, as she too surveyed the precious gift.

"Minnehaha means Laughing Water," answered the Indian chief. "Grand lady, like Queen."

"She is certainly a grand doll," put in Rodney. "Nell, you must take the best of care of it."

"I shall," answered the little miss; and she did.

James Morris had gone to Annapolis, accompanied by his brother, and at this important seaport purchased such things as were needed for the expedition, including some extra weapons, powder, ball and shot, a box of flints, some clothing, and many other things of more or less usefulness. To these were added, when Will's Creek was again reached, two casks of salt pork, two bags of beans, a sack of flour, a canister of coffee, others of sugar, salt, pepper, and various other articles meant for the table. No fresh meat was taken, the party depending upon their firearms to supply game and their lines and hooks to furnish fish. A small supply of feed was also taken for the horses, but this was to be used only when natural fodder could not be found.

And all this was for an expedition from Cumberland to the Ohio River, a distance of not much over a hundred miles, and which to-day can be made in the trains inside of three hours with ease! But the trail the party was to take was all of two hundred miles in length, and fifteen to twenty miles per day was considered good traveling. This shows well the progress made in our country in the past one hundred and forty odd years.

There were not sufficient accommodations at the Morris' cabin for all the whites of the party, and the frontiersmen who were to go with Barringford remained at the fort at Cumberland until the start, while the Indians made themselves at home in the woods. Once White Buffalo was invited to take dinner at the cabin, and did so with his usual reserve, eating the meal in almost total silence, and immediately following with a "smoke of peace" between himself and James and Joseph Morris.

"That Indian is one out of a hundred," remarked Joseph Morris to his brother afterward. "I don't believe in trusting them much, but I would trust White Buffalo."

"That is exactly how I feel about it," was the answer, "and why I was so anxious to have him along. He has proved himself our friend through thick and thin. It is too bad that there are not more of such."

"Perhaps there would be, James, had the Indians been treated fairly from the start. But you know as well as I how the traders have cheated them when driving bargains, and how some have given them too much rum and then literally robbed them."

"Yes, yes, I know, and it is the one black spot on our colonization. There should be a law against it. But even that does not warrant the red men in being so savage as they have at times proved themselves."

"True again; but both the English and the French have been almost equally brutal at times. Look at some of the old frontiersmen--those Barringford has often spoken about. They liked a slaughter as well as the Indians, and did not hesitate to scalp the enemy in the same way."

"Yes; but they learned that from the redskins in the first place."

"That is true, too; but they should not have taken up the custom, but instead they should have tried to teach the Indians to do better," concluded Joseph Morris; and there the unsatisfactory argument rested.