“Gemini,” cried Jackson, how came this scalp here, it has been freshly taken—this very day—yet how could it get here?”
“Depend upon’t,” said Green, “that chief that was here just now, could tell somethin’ about it, if he had a mind.”
“Then he must have had it in his breech-cloth,” remarked the corporal seriously, for not a rag besides had he about him. “No, no it couldn’t be him, and yet it’s very strange.”
“Of course it couldn’t be him,” maliciously interfered Collins, who had so far conquered his first disgust, as to take the object of discussion into his own hands, “for you know he was a Pottawattamie, and therefore wouldn’t scalp for the world.”
“But whose can it be?” resumed Jackson, and how did it get here, I am sure its that of a boy.”
“Could it have floated here from the farm?” half questioned Green musingly.
“Somethin’ struck me like shots from that quarter, about an hour before the Injin swam across, and dash me, now I recollect it, I’m sure I heard a cry, just after the corporal left us to go after that bear.”
“Nonsense,” said the Virginian, “how could it float against the stream, and as for the shots you think you heard, you most have taken Ephraim Giles’s axe blows for them. Besides, you couldn’t hear shots at that distance. If you did, it most be from some of the hunters.”
“But the cry, corporal,” urged Jackson, “what say you to the cry Green says he heard when you left us?”
“All stuff; did anybody else hear it besides Green, you were all sitting on the bank with him?”
No one answering in the affirmative, Corporal Nixon declared the thing to be impossible, or he should have heard it too; nor could he see what connection there was between that cry—supposing there had been one—and the facts that had come immediately under their own observation.
“Hist,” interrupted Collins, placing one hand upon the speaker’s shoulder, and with the other directing his attention to what, now seen by the whole of the party, was ill calculated to re-assure them.
Stealthily gliding through the fresh and thinly foliaged wood, that skirted the opposite shore, yet almost concealed from view, Corporal Nixon now beheld the crouching forms of several armed Indians, nearly naked, and evidently in war costume. They were following the serpentine course necessitated by the interposing trees, and seeking cautiously to establish themselves behind cover on the very verge of the bank.
“Back men for your lives, there’s nothing friendly there,” exclaimed the Virginian the moment that his glance had taken in the scene, “out with the arms, and divide the dry ammunition. Collins, you are a smart fellow, do you and Green set to work and light a fire, but out of sight, and dry the muskets as fast as you can. There are twelve pounds in each of the five remaining cartouch