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   Chapter 4 ON THE EDGE OF THE CLEARING.

The Phantom of the River By Edward Sylvester Ellis Characters: 9901

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


The arrival of Kenton naturally caused a stir on the part of all the members of the party that halted on their way through the Kentucky wilderness to the block-house, somewhat less than ten miles distant and on the other side of the Ohio River.

Not only Hastings and his brother rangers, but the Ashbridges and Altmans gathered around the pioneer to hear what he had to say and the directions as to their own proceedings.

Mr. Ashbridge and his friend Altman were roused by the murmur of voices and the subdued excitement, and joined the group that surrounded the tall, athletic figure-all excepting little Mabel Ashbridge, who was just getting her tiny dam in shape, and deemed that of more importance than listening to the conversation of the elders.

The words of Weber Hastings proved that he was as quick as Boone and Kenton to comprehend the peculiar peril which confronted the party.

"It isn't far to the block-house," he replied to the question of Kenton, "and we can do it in two or three hours, if the redskins would give us the chance."

"What caused you to make this stop, Weber?"

"Rattlesnake Gulch," was the response.

"What's the matter with that?"

"There's where the Shawanoes mean to ambush us."

"You're right," replied Kenton, nodding his head and compressing his lips. "That's just what the varmints have fixed things to do, and if they can do it they'll wipe out every one of this party. Boone and me made up our minds that that was their trick. He's gone ahead to watch 'em, and I've come back to help you folks."

"From what Mr. Hastings said," remarked the elder Ashbridge, who, like his friend Altman, was thoroughly roused, "the woods are so matted and choked with dense undergrowth on both sides of the gulch that it is impossible for us to pick our way through it at night without being heard by the Indians."

"He's right," was the emphatic comment of Kenton, "the thing can't be done."

"That being admitted," said Altman, "why would it not be wise to cross the river at this point, or make the rest of the journey through the Ohio woods? We who know how to swim can take over those who cannot, or better, perhaps, construct a raft upon which to float to the other side."

"That would be the idee exactly, if it could be hid from the varmints, but they're watching us, and have been doing so ever since we've left the clearing. They know everything you do. Afore you could get half-way cross the river with the raft they would open on you from the woods on both sides, and pick off each woman and gal and them as was pushing the raft."

"I do not doubt what you say," observed Altman, with a shudder at the graphic picture drawn by the scout, "but it seems strange to me," he added, with a glance around, as if he expected to catch sight of some of their terrible enemies, "that they have not already opened upon us, while we are here in camp, as may be said. What better chance could they ask?"

"They could pick off a number of you, but Weber here and the rest of the boys would make them dance to lively music if they tried it. That's what holds 'em back, for these chaps," remarked Kenton, looking proudly around upon his companions, "have fout the varmints afore to-day."

"Then we are doing the only thing possible, by remaining here until it becomes so late in the day that we shall not reach Rattlesnake Gulch until after dark, and then, instead of attempting to go through it, we will cross the river, I presume, though I am not aware of the decision that has been reached by Mr. Hastings."

"What will they suspect, then, if we stop here?" asked George Ashbridge.

"Now you've hit the trouble. When they find you don't arrive at some p'int where they've been looking for you, they'll know you're stopped. Some of their spies will sneak back through the woods to l'arn what it means-more'n likely they've already done so," added Kenton, with another glance around him, "and then when they see you setting or standing or lolling around, without any partic'lar reason for your doing so, they'll understand the real cause powerful quick. As soon as they diskiver you don't mean to try the Rattlesnake Gulch route, they'll fix things to open onto you, and send as many as they can under."

"Then the problem, as I understand it," said the older Ashbridge, "is to act so as to convince the Indians that we intend to follow the path through the gulch where they mean to ambuscade us, and to keep up this impression until nightfall."

"You've hit it precisely, Mr. Ashbridge."

"But how is that to be done? I know of no one beside you to answer the question."

"Boone and me have been thinking powerful hard over the matter, and the best thing to be done, as I see it, is this: You know we left a canoe down by the clearing alongside the boat. I'll go back there and get it, that is, if it is still there. I'll try to keep so close in under the bank that the varmints wo

n't know what I'm driving at. I'll manage to reach a p'int just this side of Rattlesnake Gulch early in the evening, and will wait for you. Then I'll hurry the women folks 'cross to the other side and make the rest of the journey to the block-house on the Ohio bank."

"You will have to make two trips with the canoe."

"Onless I can find another one that was hid under the bushes on this side not fur from the gulch. If that's there, I'll take one party over, and Boone, or some one else, tother."

"And the rest of us will have it out with the redskins," remarked Weber Hastings, with flashing eyes.

"You must start on agin," said Kenton, addressing Hastings, as the leader of the party in the absence of himself and Boone; "don't hurry, for as it is you've got too much time now on your hands. If you find you're getting too near Rattlesnake Gulch afore sun-down, you must have some sort of accident that'll give you an excuse for stopping for a time. That'll keep the varmints from 'specting anything."

"We ought to be able to arrange some accident," remarked George Ashbridge, with a smile, slyly pressing the hand of Agnes, standing beside him. "I'll fall over a log if necessary and break a leg."

"A better plan will be for Jethro to get shot accidentally like."

"Gorrynation, dat won't work!" exclaimed the negro, who did not let a word escape him; "de bestest way to fix dat will be to stuff me so full of victuals dat I won't be able to walk alone, and de rest ob yo' will hab to carry me slow like."

"Wal, time is passing; it won't do to stay here any longer; I leave you in charge of Weber; he can do as well as me or Boone."

The scout turned to move away, when Jethro Juggens laid his hand on his arm.

"See yar, Mr. Kenton, I's worried 'bout yo'," said the colored youth, with an anxious expression on his countenance.

"What's the cause of that?" asked the ranger, who, as already stated, held a kindly feeling toward the good-natured fellow.

"I's feard sumfin' will happen to yo'-feels it in my bones; I tink yo' oughter hab some one to look after yo' while yo's gone."

"Would you like to do it?"

"I tinks a good deal ob yo', Mr. Kenton, and I's willin' to take keer ob yo', and see dat yo' gets back all right."

Yielding to that waggish disposition which was a marked characteristic of Simon Kenton, sometimes under the most trying circumstances, the ranger said:

"Come on, younker, you shall take care of me."

And to the astonishment of the party, the two walked off side by side, and disappeared among the trees to the westward.

"We'll make this bargain," remarked Kenton, a few minutes after they were beyond sight of their friends: "You'll take care of me, and I'll do my best to take care of you."

"Dat hits me 'bout right."

"You'll do just what I tell you to do, and won't speak or move without my first telling you to do so."

"Dat's it; and yo' won't speak or move without fust askin' me; I'll be easy with yo', Mr. Kenton."

"But," gravely remarked the scout, "if each of us should happen to forbid t'other to stir or speak, we'd have to stand still forever. I'll act as boss at first, and then when I'm ready I'll give you your turn."

"Dat don't strike me ozactly right, but, as I jist obsarved, I'll be easy wid yo', Mr. Kenton, and let yo' start in," replied Jethro, somewhat puzzled at the off-hand manner in which the ranger took hold of the reins.

But the ranger never laid aside his caution and vigilance. He kept Jethro Juggens at his heels, forbidding him to speak a word, but to watch and listen to the utmost. The sun was in the horizon when, without any special incident, they arrived at the clearing, which all had left earlier in the day.

The first view brought a disappointment to Kenton. Nothing in the appearance of the settlers' cabin intimated that it had suffered any disturbance since the departure of the pioneers, and the unladen flatboat rested against the bank, just where it lay when the ranger cast a backward glance at it some hours before. The canoe, however, which was the magnet that drew him thither, was missing.

It was in as plain sight as the larger craft upon the departure of the party, but the keen vision was unable to discover the first outline of the bow or stern. Since it could not have removed itself, it followed that its disappearance was due to human agency.

"The varmints seem to be everywhere to-day," muttered the impatient ranger; "they've been there since we left, and more'n likely some of 'em are there now; but I've come after that canoe, and I'm going to have it, or my name isn't Sime Kenton."

"Shall I go wid yo' to see yo' don't get hurt?" inquired Jethro Juggens.

"No; stay where you be, and keep out of sight, and don't speak, nor stir, nor breathe, till I come back," replied the ranger, making ready to set out on one of the most perilous adventures of his eventful career.

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