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The Settlers in Canada
Chapter XXXVII The Trail Struck

Previous to his starting for the fort, Alfred had a hasty communication with his father and mother, in which he informed them simply that it was evident that Mary had been carried off, and that it was the opinion of Malachi and Martin that the Angry Snake was the party to be suspected.

“But what cause could he have?” said Emma, weeping.

“Merely to get powder and shot as a reward for bringing her back again,” replied Alfred; “so there is not anything to fear as to her being ill-treated; but if he has any other reason for what he has done, it is well known that an Indian always respects a female. But here comes my horse.”

“But what are you going to do, Alfred?” said Mrs Campbell, who was in a state of great agitation.

“Ride to the fort for assistance, bring Captain Sinclair, and go in pursuit as fast as we can, mother. Martin will get all ready by my return; Malachi is following up the trail with the Strawberry. But there is no time to be lost; I shall soon be back.”

Alfred then sprang upon his horse, which Martin had brought to the door, and galloped away to the fort.

As it may be supposed, Mr and Mrs Campbell and Emma were in great distress; this did not, however, prevent them from listening to Martin, and supplying him with all that he requested, which was salt-pork and other food for their journey, powder and shot for their rifles, etcetera. Having specified all that was wanted, Martin then went off to summon young Graves and Meredith; they were soon found, and when they heard the intelligence, were ready in a minute for departure. Their rifles and an extra pair of mocassins each was all that they required for the journey, and in a few minutes they accompanied Martin to the house. After they had been occupied for a little time in dividing the various articles into different packages, that each might carry his proportion, Mr Campbell said—

“Martin, supposing that you and Malachi are correct in your supposition, where do you think that they will take my poor niece?”

“Right away to their own wigwams, sir,” replied Martin.

“Have you any idea how far that may be?” said Mrs Campbell.

“Yes, ma’am, I have heard that the Angry Snake’s quarters are about twelve days’ journey from this.”

“Twelve days’ journey! how far is a journey?”

“As far as a stout man can walk in a day, ma’am.”

“And will my niece have to walk all that way?”

“Why, yes, ma’am; I don’t see how it can be otherwise; I don’t know of the Indians having any horses, although they may have.”

“But she cannot walk as far as a man,” replied Mrs Campbell.

“No, ma’am, and so I suppose they will be twenty days going instead of twelve.”

“Will they ill-treat or ill-use her, Martin?” said Emma.

“No, ma’am, I shouldn’t think they would, although they will make her walk, and will tie her at night when they stop.”

“Poor Mary; what will she suffer?” exclaimed Emma; “and if you do come up with them, Martin, will they give her up to you?”

“We shan’t ask their leave, miss,” replied Martin; “we shall take her.”

“But not without bloodshed, Martin,” said Mrs Campbell.

“No, ma’am, certainly not without bloodshed, for either the Indians must destroy us or we them; if we conquer, not an Indian will be left alive; and if they master us, it will be about the same thing, I suppose.”

“Heaven protect us, but this is dreadful; I was prepared for difficulties and annoyances when I came out here,” exclaimed Mrs Campbell; “but not for such trials as these.”

“Never fear but we’ll bring her back, ma’am,” said Martin; “Malachi is a better Indian than them all, and he’ll circumvent them.”

“How do you mean?”

“I mean, ma’am, that we will, if possible, fall upon them unawares, and then we’ll have the advantage, for half of them will be killed before they know that they are attacked; we’ll fight them Indian fashion, ma’am.”

Mrs Campbell continued her interrogations till Alfred was seen at the end of the prairie returning at full speed, accompanied by Captain Sinclair and two other men, also on horseback.

“Here they come,” said Martin; “and they have lost no time, that’s certain.”

“Poor Captain Sinclair! what must be his feelings, I pity him,” said Mrs Campbell.

“He must take it coolly, nevertheless,” observed Martin; “or he may do more harm than good.”

Alfred and Captain Sinclair now dismounted; they had brought with them two of the soldiers who were well used to the woods, and excellent shots with the rifle. A hurried conversation of a few minutes took place, but time was too precious, and Alfred, embracing his father and mother, who, as they shook hands with Captain Sinclair, expressed in a melancholy way their hopes for their success, the party of seven which had been collected set off to rejoin Malachi and the Strawberry.

Malachi and the Strawberry had not been idle; the latter had ran back to the lodge and procured a bow and arrows, and since that they had tracked the footmarks through the forest for more than a mile, when they had come to a small rivulet which ran through the forest. Here the trail was lost, at least, it was not to be perceived anywhere on the opposite side of the rivulet, and it was to be presumed that, to conceal their trail, the Indians had walked in the water, either up or down, for a certain distance before they put their feet on the other side; but as it was near the time that they might expect the arrival of Alfred and the others, Malachi had returned to the spot where Alfred and Martin had left them, leaving the Strawberry to walk down and up the side of the rivulet to recover the trail. As soon as the party joined him, they and Malachi set off to where the trail had been lost, and the latter had left the Strawberry.

There they waited some time, as the Strawberry was not in sight, and they took this opportunity of distributing the provisions and ammunition among them. Captain Sinclair, although his feelings may well be imagined, was very active in arrangements, and shewed that, if his heart was smitten, his head was clear. The order of the march was settled by Malachi and him, and as soon as all was arranged, they waited impatiently for the return of the Indian girl; she came at last, and informed them that she had recovered the trail about three miles up the course of the stream, and they all started immediately. As was agreed, they kept perfect silence, and followed the newly-discovered trail for about a mile, when, on their arrival at a clear spot in the woods, where the grass was very short and dry, they were again at fault. They went over to the other side of the heath, to see if they could again fall in with it, but after half-an-hour’s search, could not discover it, when they were summoned by a low whistle from the Strawberry, who had returned to the spot where the trail had been lost.

“They have turned back again,” said the Strawberry, pointing to the former footmarks; “see the track of the mocassins is both ways.”

“That’s true,” said Malachi, after a close examination; “now then, Strawberry, to find out where they have left the old trail again. I told you, sir,” continued Malachi to Alfred, “that the Strawberry would be useful; she has the eye of a falcon.”

It was not till another half-hour had elapsed that the spot where they had left the trail, which, to deceive those who might pursue them, the Indians had returned upon, was discovered, and then they started again, and proceeded with caution, led by the Strawberry, until she stopped and spoke to Malachi in the Indian tongue, pointing at a small twig broken upon one of the bushes.

“That’s true, let us see if it happens again.”

In a few moments the Strawberry pointed out another.

“Then all’s right,” said Malachi; “I said that she could help us again if she chose, and so she has. The Injun woman who wrote the letter,” continued Malachi, turning to Captain Sinclair and Alfred, “is our friend still. See, sir, she has, wherever she has dared to do it without being seen by the Injuns, broken down a small twig as a guide to us. Now, if she has continued to do this we shall not have much trouble.”

They continued their course through the woods until the sun went down, and they could see no longer, having made a journey of about nine miles from the settlement. They then laid down for the night under a large tree; the weather was very warm, and they did not light a fire as they had some cooked provisions.

The next morning, as soon as it was daylight, they made a hasty meal, and resumed their task. The trail was now pretty clear, and was occasionally verified by the breaking of a twig, as before. This day they made sixteen miles’ journey, and at the close of it they arrived at the borders of a lake about ten miles long, and from one and a-half to two wide; the trail went right on to the shore of the lake and then disappeared.

“Here they must have taken to the water,” said Alfred; “but what means have they had to cross?”

“That we must discover somehow or another, sir,” replied Malachi, “or else we shall not find the trail again; perhaps, however, we shall see to-morrow morning; it is too dark now to attempt to find out, and we may do more harm than good by tracking down the bank. We must bring to for the night. There is a high rock there on the beach farther up; we had better go there, as we can light a fire behind the rock without being discovered by it, supposing the Injuns are on the opposite shore; and to-night we must cook all our provisions if we possibly can, for, depend upon it, we have travelled faster to-day than they can have done with the young lady, and if we can once get well on the trail again we shall soon be up with them.”

“God grant that we may!” exclaimed Captain Sinclair; “the idea of what poor Mary must suffer almost drives me mad.”

“Yes, sir, she will be terribly foot sore, I have no doubt,” replied Malachi; “but the Injuns will not treat her ill, depend upon it.”

Captain Sinclair sighed, but made no reply.

As soon as they had arrived at the mass of rock which Malachi had pointed out they all commenced collecting firewood, and the Strawberry in a few minutes had a sufficient fire for their purpose. They had not any cooking utensils with them, but the pork was cut in slices and stuck upon the ends of small sticks round the fire until it was sufficiently cooked, and then it was packed up again in parcels, with the exception of what was retained for their supper. They had finished their meal, and were sitting round the embers of the fire conversing and calculating the probabilities as to their overtaking the Indians, when Martin sprang up, with his rifle ready to bring to his shoulder.

“What is it?” said Alfred in a low tone, as Martin held up his finger as a sign for silence.

“There’s somebody coming this way—he is behind that large tree,” said Martin; “I see his head now, but it is too dark to make out who it may be.”

As Martin said this a low and singular sort of whistle between the teeth was heard, upon which the Strawberry gently put down Martin’s rifle with her hand, saying—

“It is John.”

“John; impossible!” said Alfred.

“It is,” replied Strawberry. “I know well that whistle. I go to fetch him. Have no fear.”

Strawberry stepped out from the group, and went up to the tree, calling John softly by name, and in a few seconds afterwards returned, leading John by the hand, who, without saying a word, quietly seated himself down by the fire.

“Well, John, how did you come here?” exclaimed Alfred.

“Followed trail,” replied John.

“But how—when did you leave home?”

“Yesterday,” replied John, “when I came back.”

“But do your father and mother know that you have come?” said Captain Sinclair.

“I met old Graves, and told him,” replied John. “Have you any meat?”

“The boy has had nothing since he left, I’ll answer for it,” said Martin, as the Strawberry handed some of the pork to John. “Have you, John?”

“No,” replied John, with his mouth full.

“Let him eat,” said Malachi; “it’s long for a lad to be two days without food, for I’ll answer he left as soon as he heard we were gone, and did not wait for yesterday’s supper. Indeed, he must have done so, for he must have followed the trail some time yesterday to be up with us to-night; so let him eat in quiet.”

“What surprises me, Malachi, is how he could have found his way to us.”

“Well, sir, I do confess that I’m as much surprised almost as I am pleased,” replied Malachi. “It is really a great feat for a lad to accomplish all by himself, and I am proud of him for having done it; but from the first I saw what a capital woodsman he would make, and he has not disappointed me.”

“There are not many who would have been able to do it, that’s certain,” said Martin. “I wonder as much as you do, Mr Alfred, how he could have done it; but he has the gift.”

“But suppose he had not come up with us, how would he have lived in these woods? It is a mercy that he has fallen in with us,” said Captain Sinclair.

John slapped the barrel of his rifle, which was lying by him, and which Captain Sinclair had not perceived.

“You don’t think that John would come into the woods without his rifle, sir, do you?” said Malachi.

“I did not perceive that he had it with him,” said Captain Sinclair, “but I certainly ought to have known John better.”

John having finished his supper, they all lay down to rest, one keeping watch that they might not be surprised.

At daylight they made their breakfast, and then went down again to the borders of the lake, where the trail had been lost. After a long examination, Malachi called the Strawberry, and pointing to the edge of the water, asked her to look there. The Strawberry did so, and at last decided that there was the mark of the bottom of a canoe which had been grounded.

“Yes, I thought so,” said Malachi. “They have had their canoe all ready, and have crossed the water. Now, we must walk quite round the lake to discover the trail again, and that will give them half-a-day’s start of us.”

They immediately set off coasting the shores of the lake, until they arrived at the other side, carefully examining the ground as they went. This took them till noon, by which time they had arrived at that part of the lake which was opposite to the large rock behind which they had kindled their fire the night before; but no traces were to be perceived.

“They have not crossed over in a straight line,” said Captain Sinclair, “that is evident; we must now try more to the northward.”

This they did; and at last discovered that the canoe had crossed over to the north part of the lake, having coasted along the eastward shore the whole way. The spot of landing was very evident, and for some distance they could trace where the canoe had been hauled up. It was now late in the afternoon, and it became a question whether they should follow the trail or discover the place of concealment of the canoe, as it might be advantageous to know where it was when they returned. It was decided that they should first discover the canoe, and this was not done till after a search of two hours, when they found it concealed in the bushes, about one mile from the lake. They then followed the trail about two miles; the twigs had been bent and broken as before, which was a great help to them, but the night was now closing in. Having arrived at a clear knoll, they took up their quarters under the trees, and retired to rest. At daybreak they again started, and, after two hours’ walk, had to track across a small prairie, which gave them some trouble, but they succeeded in finding the trail on their arrival at the wood on the opposite side and then they made a very rapid progress, for the twigs were now more frequently broken and bent than before. During this day, with the bow and arrows brought by the Strawberry, Martin had procured them two wild turkeys, which were very acceptable, as their provisions would not last more than seven or eight days longer, and it was impossible to say how far they would have to travel. It was not far from dark when the quick ears of the Strawberry were attracted by a noise like that of a person breathing heavily. She at last pointed with her finger to a bush; they advanced cautiously, and on the other side of it they found an Indian woman lying on the ground, bleeding profusely. They raised her up, and discovered that it was the Indian whom they had cured of the sprained ankle, and who, they presumed, had been then discovered breaking the twigs that they might follow the trail, for, on examination, they found that she had received a heavy blow on the head with a tomahawk; but, fortunately, it had glanced sideways, and not entered into the brain. She was not sensible, however, at the time that they discovered her, for she had lost a great deal of blood. They stopped the effusion of blood with bandages torn from their linen, and poured some water down her throat. It was now dark, and it was not possible to proceed any further that night. The Strawberry went into the woods and collected some herbs, with which she dressed the wound, and, having made the poor Indian as comfortable as they could, they again lay down to rest, but not until Malachi had said to Alfred—

“There is no doubt, sir, but that the Injuns have discovered this woman was marking the trail for us, and that they have tomahawked her for so doing, and have left her for dead. I think myself that the wound, although it is a very ugly one, is not dangerous, and so says the Strawberry. However, to-morrow will decide the point; if she is not sensible then, it will be of no use waiting, but we must go on as fast as we can.”

When they awoke the next morning they found the Strawberry sitting by the Indian woman, who was now quite sensible and collected, although very weak and exhausted. Malachi and Martin went to her, and had a long conversation with her at intervals. Malachi had been right in his supposition; the Angry Snake had discovered her in the act of bending a twig, and had struck her down with his tomahawk. They gained from her the following information. The Angry Snake, irritated at the detention of the Young Otter, had resolved to have another hostage in lieu of him, and had carried off Mary Percival. He had six Indians with him, which were the whole of his grown-up warriors. They were now but one day’s journey ahead of them, as Miss Percival was very sore on her feet, and they could not get her along, but that in every other respect she had been well treated. That the Indians were not going to their lodges in a direct course, but by a circuitous route, which would make a difference of at least six or seven days; and that they did this that they might not be seen by some other tribes who were located in their direct route, and who might give information. She said that it was she who had written the Indian letter which Malachi had received the autumn before, and that she had done it because she had been so kindly treated by Mr and Mrs Campbell, when she had been found in the forest with her ankle sprained. That Percival was at the Indian lodges, quite well when they left, and that if the Angry Snake did not receive a large quantity of powder and shot, and a great many rifles in exchange for him, it was his intention to adopt the boy, as he was very partial to him. On being asked if the boy was happy, she replied that he was not at first, but now he was almost an Indian; that he was seldom permitted to leave the lodges, and never unless accompanied by the Angry Snake. In answer to their questions as to the direction and distance to the lodges, she said that they were about seven days’ journey by the straight road; but that the party with Miss Percival would not arrive there in less than fifteen days, if so soon, as she was every day less able to travel. Having obtained all this information, a council was held, and Malachi spoke first, having been requested so to do.

“My opinion is this,” said Malachi, “that we can do no better than remain here at present, and wait till the woman is sufficiently recovered to travel, and shew us the direct road to the lodges. In two or three days she will probably be well enough to go with us, and then we will take the direct road, and be there before them. The knowledge of the place and the paths will enable us to lay an ambush for them, and to rescue the young lady without much danger to ourselves. They will have no idea of falling in with us, for they of course imagine the woman is dead; a tomahawk seldom fails.”

After a long parley, the advice of Malachi was considered the most judicious, and a further conversation with the Indian woman confirmed them in the resolution. As they had no fear of the Indians discovering that they were on their trail, Martin and Alfred went out in pursuit of game for provisions, while the others raised up a large hut with branches of trees, for the accommodation of the whole party. In the evening Martin and Alfred returned, carrying a fine buck between them. The fire was lighted, and very soon all were busy cooking and eating. The Indian woman also begged for something to eat, and her recovery was now no longer considered doubtful.

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