No one could have looked into the face of Ben Ripley without seeing he meant just what he said.
Jabez Zitner supposed, when he made known that he intended to take the little Delaware girl with him as a hostage, that though it might be displeasing to the Ripleys, they would not dare object; but he was mistaken.
The lad was sitting furthest away on the fallen tree, with his rifle resting across his knees, when he warned the man that if he laid a hand on Linna he would shoot him.
Ben spoke low, but mingling with his words were two faint clicking sounds. They were made by the hammer of his rifle, as with his thumb he drew it back ready for use. His face was slightly pale, but his eyes glittered, and he rose to his feet and looked at the startled man.
Mrs. Ripley gave a gasp of fright and clasped her hands, while the children mutely stared.
Even Zitner was silent. He knew Ben's pluck, but did not believe it would take him thus far, for it looked as if there were two adults against a single boy.
Burwink however, was more of a man than his companion. He looked smilingly at Ben and said – "Jabez, I reckon this has gone far enough."
"What do you mean?'" angrily asked the other.
"You must leave the little gal alone."
"Oh, thank you! thank you!" exclaimed Mrs. Ripley. "I might have known you would see that right is done."
Zitner had a few sharp words with his friend, but the latter was immovable. He would not listen to his proposition, and that ended the matter.
"Well," finally said Zitner, rising to his feet, "I intended to see you folks safe to the Delaware; but I won't have anything to do with you now. Come, Horace."
He strode off without another word or looking to the right or left. Burwink waited a minute, and then, with a quizzical look at Mrs. Ripley and her son asked –
"Do you think you can stand it?"
"We shall have to," replied Ben.
"Well, goodbye, and good luck to you;" and he followed his friend among the trees.
"That was a luckier ending than I expected," remarked Ben, letting down the hammer of his rifle.
"If Mr. Burwink had sided with him, there would have been no help for it," said his mother.
"Such people are always cowards. I wasn't afraid of him."
Now that they had departed, Linna came over to her champion – though she could not have fully understood all that had passed – and placed her hand confidingly on his shoulder.
"Linna, I have two sisters," he said tenderly; "yonder is one, and her name is Alice: can you tell me the name of the other?"
"Yes – she name be Linna."
"You are right. Now, if you will kiss me, I won't tickle you any more for making my nose itch this morning."
The lips were put up to his, and with deep affection on the part of both, the salute was exchanged.
"If any more white people show themselves, and they ask you your father's name, let mother and me answer for you."
"Me do what you say," was the obedient response.
It need not be said that our friends were greatly relieved by the departure of Zitner. While as I have already said, they ought to have been glad of the company of him and Burwink, they would have been ill at ease so long as the surly fellow was with them. He surely held no good will toward the little girl, and would have found some chance to show it.
"But are we really rid of him?" asked Ben of his mother. The two sat close to each other on the tree, and the children were playing a few steps away.
"I am quite sure we are."
"He may steal back tonight, if we camp near."
"Why should he? He does not want to harm Linna, but to use her as a means of safety against her own people."
"That was what he said, but I don't believe him. It seems to me we ought to change our course, to be certain of not meeting him again."
"As you think best."
"We have had a good rest. Come, girls, we must be off." Taking the lead as before, Ben strode down the incline, bearing more to the left than he had been doing.
All smiled at Linna, for she noticed the change on the instant.
"You go wrong," she said; "dat not right way."
"Which is the right way, Miss Smartness?"
She pointed it out.
"You are right, but that is the course of that bad man, who doesn't like you. We will go around, so as not to see him again."
She was satisfied, and gave her attention to Alice, who thought it odd that she and Ben should have so many disputes.
Over the varying surface, turning aside now and then to pass some obstacle in the shape of rocks or ravines – now up hill and down, among the dense trees, where the briars and bushes scratched their hands and faces, across small rippling streams and natural clearings – they pushed on until the sun was far beyond meridian and the halt and rest were grateful.
"I don't think we need give any more thought to Zitner," said Ben; "and I am sure we are all glad. He could not find us now, if he tried."
"If they kept to their course, we must be several miles apart."
"I have been working my way back, so that, after all, I do not think we have lost much ground. I hope Miss Linna is satisfied."
"She would make complaint if she was not."
They had stopped near another of the small running streams, for it was harder to do without water than food.
"I'm hungry, mother."
"So we all are," she added, producing half a loaf, which was the last of their food.
"To leave any portion of this will only aggravate all your appetites, so we will finish it."
The bread was divided among the four, and when eating ceased not a crumb was left.
"It isn't a good time of the year for hunting, mother, but if I can get sight of any game, I'll bring it down, whether it is a deer, bear, wild turkey, quail, or anything that will serve for a meal."
"It isn't a time to be particular – in watching for danger look also for game."
"That's what I have been doing for the last few hours."
With the passage of time and the increase of the distance between them and Wyoming the hopes of the little party naturally rose. They were now a good many miles from their old home, and as yet had not seen a single red man. That numbers were abroad there could be no doubt, although it is a fact that a great many people did not start eastward until several days after the battle.
But it was a long, long way to the Delaware, with the travelling such as they had to face. I have spoken of the forest as being trackless and a wrong impression may have been given. An old trail led from the Susquehanna to the Delaware, and was followed by many of the fugitives; but great risk was run by those who did so, for most of the pursuers used the same path. As a consequence, some were overtaken and slain.
Those who avoided the beaten route of necessity suffered greater hardships; but none was equal to that of meeting their enemies. Omas took care to steer wide of this trail when leading the party into the wild section to the east of the river, and he showed them that he wished them to do the same. Ben was too wise to forget his wishes.
The location of the sun in the sky, the appearance of the bark and moss, and the tops of certain trees, enabled the young woodman to keep a pretty true course. He remarked, with a laugh, that if there was any likelihood of going wrong, Linna would correct him.
The afternoon was well past before they came upon any more water, and, with the warm weather and their long tramp, all suffered from thirst. They were not traversing a desert country, however, and soon found what they wanted in abundance.
"But," said Ben, "I am worried about food, mother. It is nearly night, and we haven't a mouthful. I suppose if there was plenty, I wouldn't feel half as bad, but it seems to me I was never so hungry in all my life."
"That is natural; but, if necessary, we can go all night without food."
"If necessary, of course we can, but I dread it. Alice and Linna will suffer, though I'm not so sure about Linna. I would give almost anything for a wild turkey."
The dusky child looked up from where she was sitting on the ground, playing with Alice.
"Want turkey – eh?" she asked.
"Yes; have you any to sell?"
"Me get you one."
Mother and son stared in amazement. They could not believe she was in earnest. She saw it and, with a grin, added – "Omas showed Linna how get turkey."
"What can she be driving at?" asked the puzzled Ben. "She surely would not say what she does without reason. Linna, teach Ben how to get a wild turkey; we want one for supper, for if we don't have it, we shall all have to go without food."
"Me hungry," she ventured; "so be Alice – so be you."
"You are right. Come, sister, show me how to catch a turkey."
She gravely rose from the ground. Her face appeared serious, but those who looked at her closely detected a sparkle of the black eyes, for all the world as if she meditated some prank upon her confiding friends. Ben was suspicious. She added –
"Go wid me – me show you." Then he was sure she was up to something.
He rose from where he was sitting, and, rifle in hand, walked a little way in the wood. She looked round once or twice, and continued advancing a few minutes after they were out of sight of Alice and her mother.
She held the hand of the youth, who acted as if he was a bad boy being led to punishment. He started to ask a question, but she checked him by raising her forefinger and a "S – h!" and he did not presume again.
Finally she stopped among a number of trees where several trunks were two or three feet in diameter. Stepping behind one, she motioned him to do the same with another a few yards off. Surveying him a moment, as if to make sure he was doing right, she suddenly emitted a sound from between her lips, which caused Ben Ripley to utter the exclamation under his breath – "Well, by gracious! If that doesn't beat everything!"
"Why don't shoot?" she abruptly asked.
The call made by Linna was the exact imitation of a wild turkey when lost in the woods. Perhaps you may know that the body of every one of those birds contains a bone which a hunter can so use as to make the same signal; but it is hard to produce the sound without such help, though it has been done.
Linna had succeeded to perfection.
"Who would have thought it possible for one so young as she to learn the trick?" Ben asked himself. "I have tried it many a time without the bone, but never could do it."
He looked at her admiringly, and was certain she was the smartest girl he had ever seen.
"If there are any turkeys within hearing, that is bound to fetch them, but I have seen no signs of them."
Linna continued the signalling at intervals for fifteen minutes or more, peeping meanwhile from behind the tree and around her in every direction. Ben did the same, and saw nothing.
"Why don't shoot?" she abruptly asked.
He noted the direction of her gaze, and there, not fifty feet away, was a big hen turkey, walking slowly over the leaves, with head aloft and glancing here and there for the lost one.
The target was a good one, and taking careful aim, Ben toppled it fluttering to the ground at the first fire.
"Dat all want?" queried Linna.
"Yes; that will do for tonight, Linna."
"Den go back – play wid Alice."
And off she ran to rejoin her companion, while the delighted lad picked up his prize and brought it to camp.
Turning that and his knife over to his mother, he made a fire ready to pass the night, full of thankfulness that all had gone so well. Ben agreed to stand watch until near midnight, and then allow his mother to help him at the necessary duty.
While the simple preparations were going on, Linna knelt on the bare ground with her ear pressed to the earth. Almost instantly she raised her head and whispered:
"Somebody comin' dis way – guess be Injins!"