The Keepers of the Trail_ A Story of the Great Woods
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Title: The Keepers of the Trail
A Story of the Great Woods
Author: Joseph A. Altsheler
Release Date: May 25, 2008 [eBook #25596]
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OF THE TRAIL
A STORY OF THE GREAT WOODS
JOSEPH A. ALTSHELER
AUTHOR OF "THE YOUNG TRAILERS," "THE FOREST RUNNERS," ETC.
Copyright, 1916, by
D. APPLETON AND COMPANY
All rights reserved. This book, or parts thereof, must not bereproduced in any form without permission of the publishers.
Copyright, 1944, by Sallie B. Altsheler
Printed in the United States of America
"The Keepers of The Trail" deals with an episode, hitherto unrelated, inthe lives of Henry Ware, Paul Cotter, Shif'less Sol Hyde, Long Jim Hart,and Silent Tom Ross. In point of time it follows "The Forest Runners,"and, so, is the third volume of the "Young Trailer" series.
I. Henry in His Kingdom 1
II. The Big Guns 23
III. The Indian Camp 41
IV. The Deed in the Water 61
V. The Forest Joker 83
VI. The King Wolf 101
VII. The Forest Poets 123
VIII. The Path of Danger 140
IX. The Keepers of the Cleft 164
X. Besieged 187
XI. The Shiftless One 207
XII. On the Great Trail 230
XIII. Five Against A Thousand 251
XIV. Holding the Ford 270
XV. The Great Culmination 293
THE KEEPERS OF THE TRAIL
HENRY IN HIS KINGDOM
A light wind blew over the great, primeval wilderness of Kentucky, thedense, green foliage rippling under it like the waves of the sea. Inevery direction forest and canebrake stretched in countless miles, thetrees, infinite in variety, and great in size, showing that Nature hadworked here with the hand of a master. Little streams flashing in silveror gold in the sunlight, flowed down to the greater rivers, and on abush a scarlet tanager fluttered like a flash of flame.
A youth, uncommon in size and bearing, stepped into a little opening,and looked about with the easy, natural caution belonging to the nativeof the forest who knows that danger is always near. His eyes pierced thefoliage, and would have noticed anything unusual there, his ear was sokeen that he would have heard at once any sound not a part of the woods.
Eye and ear and the indefinable powers of primitive man told him noenemy was at hand, and he stood on the green hill, breathing the fresh,crisp air, with a delight[Pg 2] that only such as he could feel. Mighty wasthe wilderness, majestic in its sweep, and depth of color, and the lonehuman figure fitted into it perfectly, adding to it the last andfinishing touch.
He blended, too, with the forest. His dress, wholly of fine, tanneddeerskin, was dyed green, the hunting shirt fringed, hunting shirt,leggings and moccasins alike adorned with rows of little beads. Fittingthus so completely into his environment, the ordinary eye would not haveobserved him, and his footsteps were so light that the rabbits in thebush did not stir, and the flaming bird on the bough was not frightened.
Henry Ware let the stock of his rifle rest upon the ground and held itby the barrel, while he gazed over the green billows of the forest,rolling away and away to every horizon. He was a fortunate human beingwho had come into his own kingdom, one in which he was fitted supremelyto reign, and he would not have exchanged his place for that of anytitular sovereign on his throne.
His eyes gleamed with pleasure as he looked upon his world. None knewbetter than he its immense variety and richness. He noted the differentshades of the leaves and he knew by contrast the kind of tree that borethem. His eye fell upon the tanager, and the deep, intense scarlet ofits plumage gave him pleasure. It seemed fairly to blaze against thebackground of woodland green, but it still took no alarm from thepresence of the tall youth who neither stirred nor made any sound.
Another bird, hidden behind an immense leaf,[Pg 3] began to pour forth thefull notes of a chattering, mocking song, almost like the voice of ahuman being. Henry liked it, too, although he knew the bird was flinginghim a pretty defiance. It belonged in his world. It was fitting that onesinger, many singers, should live in his wilderness and sing for him.
A gray squirrel, its saucy tail curved over its back, ran lightly up anoak, perched on a bough and gazed at him with a challenging, red eye.Henry gave back his look, and laughed in the silent manner of theborder. He had no wish to hurt the swaggering little fellow. His heartwas bare of ill will against anything.
A deep, clear creek flowed at the base of the hill, and a fish, snappingat a fly, leaped clear of the water, making a silver streak in the air,gone in an instant as he fell back into the stream. The glimpse pleasedHenry. It, too, was a part of his kingdom, stocked with fur, fin andfeather, beyond that of any other king, and far more vast.
The brilliant sunlight over his head began to dim and darken. He lookedup. The van of a host, the wild pigeons flying northward appeared, andthen came the great wide column, millions and millions of birds,returning from their winter in the south. He had seen the huge flightsbefore, but the freshness and zest of the sight never wore away. Nomatter how far they came nor how far they went they would still beflying over his forest empire. And then would come the great flocks ofwild ducks and wild geese, winging swiftly like an arrow toward thenorth.[Pg 4] They, too, were his, and again he took long, deep breaths of adelight so keen that it made his pulses leap.
From the wood at the base of the hill came a crackling sound as ofsomething breaking, and then the long crash of a tree falling. He went alittle way down the slope and his moccasins made no sound in the grass.Gently pulling aside the bough of a sheltering bush he saw the beaversat work. Already they were measuring for lengths the tree they had cutthrough at the base with their long, sharp teeth.
The creek here received a tributary brook of considerable volume, andthe dam erected by the beavers had sent the waters far back in a tinysheet like a little lake. But as Henry saw, they were going to raise thedam higher, and they were working with the intelligence and energy thatbelong so peculiarly to the beaver. Four powerful fellows were floatinga log in the water, ready to put it into place, and others on the bankwere launching another.
It was one of the largest beaver colonies he had ever seen, and hewatched it with peculiar enjoyment. He killed the beaver now andthen—the cap upon his head was made of its skin—but only when it wasneedful. The industrious animals were safe from his rifle now, and hefelt that his wilderness had no more useful people.
He looked at them a long time, merely for the pleasure of looking. Theyshowed so much skill, so much quickness and judgment that he was willingto see and learn from them. He felt, in a sense, that[Pg 5] they werecomrades. He wished them well in their work, and he knew that they wouldhave snug houses, when the next winter came.
He left them in their peace, returned to the brow of the hill, and thenwalked slowly down the other side. He heard a woof, a sound ofscrambling, and a black bear, big in frame, but yet lean from thewinter, ran from its lair in the bushes, stopped a moment at fifty orsixty yards to look hard at him, and then, wheeling again in frightenedflight disappeared among the trees. Henry once more laughed silently. Hewould not have harmed the bear either.
A puffing, panting sound attracted his attention, and, walking fartheron, he looked into a glade, in which the grass grew high and thick. Hehad known from the character of the noise that he would find buffaloesthere, and they numbered about a dozen, grazing a while, and thenbreathing heavily in content. He had seen them in countless herds on thewestern plains, when he was with Black Cloud and his tribe, but south ofthe Ohio, owing to the heavy forest, they were found only in smallgroups, although they were plentiful.
The wind was blowing toward him, and standing partially behind a hugeoak he watched them. They were the finest and largest inhabitants of hiswilderness, splendid creatures, with their leonine manes and hugeshoulders, beasts of which any monarch might be proud. He could easilybring down any one of them that he wanted with his rifle, but they weresafe from all bullets of his.[Pg 6]
He looked at them a while, as a man would gaze at a favorite horse.There was a calf among them, and whenever it wandered from the middle ofthe glade toward the edge of the forest the mother would push it back.Henry, studying the woods there, saw just within their shadow the longslinking figures of two gray wolves. He knew their purpose, but he knewalso that it would not be fulfilled.
He watched the little forest drama with an interest none the lessbecause it was not new to him. He saw the gray shadows creeping nearerand nearer, while the calf persistently sought the woods, probably forshade. Presently the leader of the herd, an immense bull, almost black,caught an odor, wheeled like lightning and rushed upon the wolves. Therewas a single yelp, as one was trampled to death, and the other fledthrough the forest to seek easier prey.
The buffaloes returned to their grazing and the foolish calf, warned bythe danger from which he had been saved, stayed in the middle of theglade, with his elders as a wall around him. Henry smiled. He hadforeseen the result, and it was wholly to his liking. He passed aroundthe opening, not wishing to disturb the animals, and went northward,always on soundless feet.
A stag, catching the human odor on the wind, sprang from a thicket, andcrashed away in wild alarm. Henry laughed again and waved his hand atthe fleeting figure. The stag did not know that he had no cause to dreadhim, but Henry admired his speed. A flock of wild turkeys rose from abough above[Pg 7] his