Chapter VIII. On the Old Braddock Road
 

As old readers of this series will remember, there were but two roads or trails leading from the eastward to Fort Pitt, at the junction of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers, where is to-day located the great manufacturing city of Pittsburg.

The southern road was that cut through at the time General Braddock made his unsuccessful attack on Fort Duquesne, as the stronghold was then named by the French. This ran through Great Meadows and then northward to Fort Pitt. It started at Fort Cumberland, and passed within short walking distance of where the Morris homestead was located.

The northern road was that cut through by General Forbes during the second campaign against Fort Duquesne, when the French had been driven from that territory by the English troops and Royal Americans. This started from Fort Bedford, about thirty miles north of Fort Cumberland, and ran over the Allegheny Mountains, and across Stony Creek, Bushy Run, and oilier streams. It was a considerably shorter route than the other, but the trail was, in certain spots, more difficult.

At first James Morris, had thought to use the upper and shorter route, but he was fairly well acquainted with the other, and at last decided to stick to that which he knew rather than experiment with the unknown.

"I know we can get through on General Braddock's road," he said. "It may take a few days longer, but time is of no immense value to us."

"You are quite sure the Indians on that road are at peace with us?" asked his brother's wife timidly, "I do not wish Henry to get into more fighting. He saw quite enough of that during the war."

"White Buffalo assures me that, for the present, the war hatchet has been buried everywhere, Lucy. To be sure, there is no telling when it will be dug up again. But I reckon we can take care of ourselves should trouble come."

The starting of the expedition proved quite an event at Will's Creek, and many neighbors living within a radius of two and three miles came to see them off. Among the number was Paul Thompson, who said he would do what he could for those left behind during the absence of James Morris, Dave, and Henry.

It was a perfect day, with a warm breeze blowing up from the Potomac River. Not a cloud ruffled the sky, and the spring birds filled the air with their melody.

"Puts me in mind of the time I went out to the trading-post with you," said Dave to Sam Barringford, as the two rode along side by side, "Don't you remember what a time we had getting through, and how I fell into the river and was afraid of being captured by the Indians?"

"Yes, lad, I remember it well," answered the old frontiersman. "But the trail ain't half as bad as it was then--Braddock's pioneers smoothed down the rough places putty well,--not but what some of the brushwood has grown up ag'in."

"Shall we stop again at the Indian village of Nancoke?"

"The village ain't thar no more, Dave; fire in the forest swept it away last year, so I heard tell some time ago. But I reckon we'll stop at some redskin village afore we git to the Kinotah."

The end of the first day's traveling found the party miles beyond the last plantation on the road. They stopped in the midst of a little clearing where there had once been a house, but this the Indians had burnt years before and the tall brushwood covered the half-burnt logs and choked up the neighboring spring.

"The trail is poor," observed James Morris. "Much poorer than I expected. We shall have our own troubles getting through."

"It is not as good as when Barringford and I marched under General Braddock," answered Dave. "Then the pioneer corps cut down every tree and bush that was in our way."

"And lost so much time our army was defeated," put in the old frontiersman grimly. "Braddock meant well, but he didn't know how to fight Indians."

Early in the morning the movement forward was resumed. There was a small stream to cross, and a long hill, and then they entered into the depths of a primeval forest, where the tops of the trees were a hundred feet and more overhead, and the great twisted roots lay sprawling in all directions, covered partly with moss and decayed leaves. The trail was still visible, but the branches of the trees on either side met overhead, cutting off the sunlight and making it uncomfortably dark excepting at midday.

James Morris and Sam Barringford led the way, with the frontiersmen, Lukins, Sanderson, and Jadwin, bringing up on either side. Back of these came the pack-horses with their loads, looked after by Dave and Henry, and further to the rear were the Indians under White Buffalo. All told the party made quite an imposing appearance, and if put to it could have offered considerable opposition to any enemy that might have appeared.

The route through the forest soon grew worse. The heavy frost of the past winter had upheaved many rocks and they lay scattered in all directions on the side of a hill up which they were climbing. Sometimes a horse would slip on them and go down, and once a pack animal rolled completely over, smashing flat what was on his back.

"There goes our beans!" cried Henry. "Oh, what luck!"

Dave gave a look, and then, regardless of the seriousness of the situation, burst into a laugh. The beans were rolling in all directions, under the rocks and the horses' feet. It took some time to rescue the fallen animal and gather up the best part of the beans.

"Never mind," said Barringford philosophically. "Those beans will grow, and when you come back this way ag'in ye can pick 'em, Henry."

"Thank you, but I shan't come back just for a quart or two of beans," was the youth's answer. If the silence was sometimes oppressive during the day it was doubly so at night. Occasionally some birds would break the stillness, or they would hear the croaking of frogs in the marshes, or the bark of a distant fox, but that was all. If any big game was at hand it took good care to keep its distance.

The party soon reached the river where Dave had had his stirring adventure on horseback, as already described in "With Washington in the West," and the youth pointed out to his cousin the spot where he had gone into the rapids.

"I'll never forget that event," said he, with something like a shudder. "It was what Barringford would call a close call."

Fortunately there was now a good fording place at hand, so the entire party crossed without difficulty. On the other shore the trail made a new turn, and now began the ascent of a long hill, up which the pack-horses moved with the pace of snails. Those in the saddle had often to dismount and lead their steeds, and at the end of each mile all stopped for a needed rest.

"Don't know as this 'ere trail is as good as tudder," remarked Sam Barringford. "But they tell me it knocks three miles out o' the bend, an' that's something'."

James Morris and the old frontiersman had imagined the weather would remain fair, but on the morning of the fourth day out a cold rain set in that chilled all to the bone. The Indians under White Buffalo wished to go into camp at once, but James Morris decided to keep on and did so until the middle of the afternoon, when, as the storm increased, the party halted beneath a large clump of trees and lost no time in getting out their shelters and putting them up. The Indians had a wigwam of skins and the whites two canvas coverings. These were placed close together, and a roaring camp fire was started near by, where all hands tried to dry themselves and get warm. A steaming hot meal was also served, which did much to make everybody feel comfortable.

"I do hate a cold rain on a march," grumbled Henry, as he crouched in the shelter beside Dave. "Makes me feel like a wet hen that can't get inside of the coop."

"If only one doesn't catch cold," replied Dave. "Don't you remember the cold I caught when we were up at Lake Ontario?"

"To be sure; and I had a cold myself." Henry paused for a moment. "Where has Barringford gone?"

"He said he was going to try to stir up some game. I don't know what he expects to get in this rain."

"He ought to know what he is doing. He is the best white hunter that I ever ran across."

An hour passed, and by that time it was dark. The Indians sat in their wigwam smoking and talking in low guttural tones. The white hunters were also telling yarns of the war and of the various Indian uprisings before that time. They were thrilling tales and the youths listened to them with deep interest. Both Dave and Henry had been through a great deal themselves, so they knew that the stories, though wild and wonderful, were probably based on facts. To-day, when we live in such security and comfort, we can hardly realize the dangers and privations those pioneers endured to make our glorious country so full of rich blessings to us.

Growing tired of sitting down, Henry had just arisen to stretch his limbs, when a sudden rushing sound through the forest reached his ears.

"What is that?" he questioned, and instinctively reached for his rifle.

"Some animal, I reckon," answered Dave.

A rifle shot rang out, and the sound came closer. Then, as Henry ran out of the shelter, he uttered a yell of alarm.

"A buffalo! Lookout!"

He was right, a magnificent specimen of the buffalo tribe was crashing along under the wet trees and among the bushes. He was alone and rushing along at his best speed. In a twinkling he struck the clump of trees, and, hitting the shelter of the whites, smashed it flat!