threw the reins in Buck's hands and, grabbing his musket, leaped to the
'Watch the wagon, Buck!' he directed, then, 'Come on, Dad; there's something amiss up here!'
Mr. Nelson needed no second urge. Musket in hand, he was quickly beside his son, and together they climbed, hurriedly yet cautiously, up the steep, wooded slope that bordered the trail. Again the cry came, nearer this time, and Jimmie quickened his steps.
'I ought to know that voice,' he muttered, then, 'Hullo!'
A plaintive bleat followed like and echo on the cry, then an ominous yelping, snapping sound.
They gained the top, and Mr. Nelson gave an exclamation, raised his musket, and fired! Jimmie's weapon burst simultaneously, then he ran forward with outstretched arms, towards a large oak tree, while his father counted the bodies of at least three wolves, and glanced searchingly left and right in the direction of vague rustlings that betokened the rest of the pack's retreat.
'All right, sonny; here's friends! Why, Stanley James Hamilton, what on earth are you doing up that tree, and with a lamb?'
Thus the astonished Jimmie, as the boy he had rescued slid down towards him, a protesting lamb gripped securely under one arm.
'Oh Jimmie Jimmie Nelson! Is it really you, back at last?'
'Of course it's me! Take it easy laddie; don't tremble so; you're safe now. Here, let me take the lamb. No, we'll hand it to Dad. there now, have you been here long?'
'All night,' answered Stanley, willingly relinquishing his charge. 'Yes, take the lamb, Jimmie; it's yours, anyway. We lost it last night, and I went one way, while Cynthy and Pear Dew went the other, and -- Oh Jimmie! Is this big man your father?'
'Correct, young man,' laughed the elder lad, 'and you'll meet my big brother when we hit the trail again. We left him with the wagon!'
But Stanley was staring at Mr. Nelson, his recent fright forgotten. 'Were you in gaol, sir!' he asked. 'Well, even though it was for England's sake, it must have been very nasty.'
'All gaols are nasty, son,' returned Mr. Nelson, nodding. 'You appear to have been in some sort of one yourself. How did you come to be trapped by those wolves?'
Then Stanley told his adventures.
'I found the lamb -- and that makes eighteen in your flock, Jimmie; we haven't lost one. But I'd been hunting for hours -- long after the sun went down. I thought I saw smoke 'way down beyond the shore road, as if there was an Indian camp there, and at first I was afraid they'd found the lamb and were eating it for supper. Then I heard it bleat. It had tumbled down a hollow in the bush -- such a deep place; I think it must have been a dried water-hole -- and I had quite a job getting it up. Then I heard the wolves; they were howling, and they came nearer and nearer, so I knew they'd scented me. And that silly lamb wouldn't keep quiet! Well, I ran, but they ran faster; and when I reached to top of the hill I thought I heard them breaking through the bush. So I ran hard to that big tree. I know wolves can't climb trees, so I shinned up it, and I was only just in time. I was barely out of reach when they were below, and they jumped high in the air, snapping at me. That made the lamb kick and bleat more, but I held him fast and sat in the fork there, with my arm round a bough. Oh, Jimmie, I didn't know a night could be so long! It was horrid. i think the wolves sat there all the time; for when I looked down I saw eyes gleaming. I knew when the daylight came Father would be hunting for me -- or the neighbours. Then I heard voices and the creaking of wagon wheels, so I shouted. Is that your yoke of oxen, Jimmie? My! You've grown up and got quite rich!'
They were back at the trail now, and Stanley, weary as he was, was all eyes for the prosperous-looking team. Then he was introduced to Buck, whom he promptly regarded as a national hero, and, perched on the seat between them, he was quite ready to ask and answer questions and give the local news.
'We found some money -- about a year ago,' he announced,' and we shared it with the Settlement, and kept some for you, Jimmie. It was at the bottom of that old well we thought was dry. It isn't dry at all, and now we've lots of spring water. Pear Dew said we must keep your share ---'
'Pear Dew?' interrupted Jimmie, while the others listened interested.
'Yes, Pear Dew. Oh, I forgot, you don't know. Pear dew isn't Pear Dew at all -- I mean she isn't an Indian, and the money belonged to her. Father found a locket at the bottom of the well with a picture in it. It's just like her. She's really a French-Canadian, and her name is Marguerite, and --'
'It sounds like a romance,' interposed Mr. Nelson, chuckling at the torrent of information. 'But tell me, isn't this your father riding up the trail? I seem to remember him, and -- My! but he looks worried!'
'Yes, it is,' cried Stanley, starting up. 'Hi! Father! Father! I'm here safe, and the lamb. And I've found Jimmie, and his father, and Buck, and they shot some wolves! Here we are, Father! Right here!'
'Thank God!' said Mr. Hamilton as he reined his horse. 'Stanley, my son, your mother has been nearly frantic!'
Then he turned to the others.
'John Nelson, as I'm alive!' he cried, welcoming hands outstretched, 'and Buck, too! Welcome to Stony Creek and Britain's Canada, old friends. Jimmie lad, you've done well! And Stanley, my son, you've retrieved the lamb, I see. Well, I am proud of you. Come, let's be getting home. the women folk will be delighted.'
'Is Cynthia Elizabeth home, Father?' called Stanley, as they journeyed on and the Hamilton homestead came into view.
'I hope so, son. She came in last night, then started out early this morning with Pear Dew to look for you.'
The cavalcade rumbled down the trail into the clearing, and soon Mother Hamilton, with Slow Deer at her heels, came running out, with little Celista, who was caught up and kissed by her big brother, then folded in an even more tender embrace by a big, dim-eyed, white-haired man who called her 'dear little daughter'.
Frances Rebecca came running, too, with Asahel her husband, and here was a further surprise, for Rebecca was a little mother now, and there was a brown-eyed, dimpled baby to be presented to the new arrivals.
'She was born last Easter,' said Frances Rebecca, smiling up into Mr. Nelson's face, 'and we thought we'd call her "Jessie Nelson", because -- because--'
'I understand,' he answered gently; 'it is because you loved Jimmie's mother, who was my Jessie Nelson, isn't it?' Then as she nodded, 'Well, I think that is very nice of you.' Then he kissed the tiny rose=petal fist, and yielded his roughened fingers to its soft grasp. 'Little Jessie Nelson McCollum,' he said, 'tiniest Loyalist Daughter that you are, right now, the best I can wish for you is that you become as noble a woman as your namesake. Good friends, who is that dark-haired lassie running down the trail?'
'It's Marguerite -- our Pear Dew,' answered Mother Hamilton, as the rest looked round. 'What is she doing alone? What has happened to Cynthia Elizabeth?'
The girl, dark hair streaming, eyes wide with alarm, was soon among them. 'Father, Mother Hamilton, Asahel, Rebecca, everybody, oh come quickly. Some Indians have kidnapped Cynthia Elizabeth, and one of them is going to marry her!'
'What's that!' Jimmie grabbed the girl, dragging her roughly towards him.
'Ow -- don't. Oh, Jimmie, it's you, come back! Then go after her, and quickly. They're taking her away!'
'Which way did they go?'
'North, beyond the Indian pasture. i think they were heading towards the other side of the mountain. Oh, Jimmie, don't squeeze me so hard. I'm telling you as fast as I can!'
'Sorry, girlie!' Jimmie's strong fingers relaxed, and he looked ruefully at the dark marks they left on her round, brown arm.
But Pear Dew was too sensible a girl to reproach him -- she knew how he felt.
'We were looking for Stanley James and the lamb,' she went on, 'and there you are, after all, Stanley -- you got home safely. The Indians came out from among the trees just as we were going down towards Creek Valley. We'd been hallooing, hoping Stanley would reply. Then they came silently -- they were around us before we knew; three of them. They tried to grab me, but Cynthy fought so hard it took two of them to hold her, and I managed to kick one and get away. I know they mean to marry her to somebody, for I heard them shouting about a squaw for a brave called Bear's Paw.'
Jimmie had grabbed Father Hamilton's horse and swung into the saddle.
'Call the Settlement,' he directed. 'Follow as fast as you can!'
Then he galloped away.
Cynthia Elizabeth crouched down upon a log and wept. It seemed to her that her captors had dragged her for miles, until she was weary and footsore and too exhausted to resist them further. Now they had reached their encampment, and had pushed her roughly to one side, evidently quite sure she could not escape from them, even if she tried. She knew enough of their customs and their speech to understand what was going on. They were going to force her into marriage with that great hulking Chief of theirs, and already their barbaric wedding preparations were going forward, while they threw covert glances, half-triumphant, half-contemptuous, towards her.
'I'd rather die,' she told herself desperately, remembering her own hard-won, but now very comfortable home, then gazing with disgust at the teepees standing near, which seemed to her dirty and smoky and altogether nasty. 'Oh, whatever will I do? Father may never find me, even if Pear Dew does manage to get back safely. And maybe they haven't found Stanley, and Father with the neighbours will be out hunting for him! Then there's nobody to come after me -- not even Asahel. Oh, what shall I do! What shall I do! I'll never see Mother again, or Rebecca, or the baby, or --' then an old memory awakened -- 'Oh Jimmie, Jimmie!' she sobbed aloud. 'If only you were here they never could have taken me!'
Those particular Indians had neither pity nor remorse, but they eyed their gold-haired prisoner's distress with a sort of churlish curiosity. It interested them so much, indeed, that they never heard a stealthy movement in the bush -- noticed nothing, in fact -- until something was upon them like a whirlwind, striking right and left, knocking over their cooking-pots, stamping out their fires, hurling them right and left with blows and kicks and most unceremonious jostlings.
They scattered, yelling, and Cynthia Elizabeth had not time to push back her hair and look up before she was grabbed, swung into somebody's saddle, and then they were speeding away through the forest, thundering hoofs beneath her, an around her a strong arm, not naked or dirty, but muscular, and comfortably clad in a stout leather sleeve!
For a long time as they rode she clung to her unknown preserver, still weeping and trembling very much, with her face hidden against his coat. After a time, however, the pace slackened, the protective hand gave a comforting pat, then a well-remembered voice protested:
'Come, Cynthia Elizabeth, haven't you got a word of welcome for an old friend?'
She looked up, startled. The ruddy, handsome face, the wind-blown hair -- the same old merry smile!
'Jimmie. Oh, dear Jimmie, is it really you?'
'Really me!' he answered, laughing into her amazed eyes. 'And about time, I'm thinking!'
'Oh Jimmie, Jimmie, I thought you were lost!'
'And I thought you were,' he returned more gravely. 'There, there, calm down -- you're safe from them now. Poor girlie! It's a bad scare you've had!' Then his smile returned. 'Come, cheer up Cynthy. We're at the top of the trail now, and the homesteads are below! Look at all the folks scurrying about! Getting ready to come after us, I guess. Well, they needn't, for I've fixed those Indians for good, I'm thinking. I'll give them a hail! There! they see us! Wave your hand to them, Cynthy -- let them know you're safe.'
So Cynthy waved vigorously, and heard the answering cheer, as she turned again to her old play-mate.
'Then you have found your father and your brother, Jimmie?'
'Yes, thank God I did. They're down there, with your folks, getting acquainted with Celista, I hope.'
'And Jimmie, you've really come home -- come home to stay?'
Jimmie Nelson looked searchingly into the shining blue eyes, and when he answered his voice had a new and deeper note:
'Yes, Cynthia Elizabeth,' he said gently, 'I have come back home -- to stay.'