The Spirit of the Border HTML version

Chapter 27.
At last the fugitives breathed free under the gold and red cover of the woods. Never
speaking, never looking back, the guide hurried eastward with long strides. His followers
were almost forced to run in order to keep him in sight. He had waited at the edge of the
clearing for them, and, relieving Jim of the heavy pack, which he swung slightly over his
shoulder, he set a pace that was most difficult to maintain. The young missionary half led,
half carried Nell over the stones and rough places. Mr. Wells labored in the rear.
"Oh! Jim! Look back! Look back! See if we are pursued!" cried Nell frequently, with
many a earful glance into the dense thickets.
The Indian took a straight course through the woods. He leaped the brooks, climbed the
rough ridges, and swiftly trod the glades that were free of windfalls. His hurry and utter
disregard for the plain trail left behind, proved his belief in the necessity of placing many
miles between the fugitives and the Village of Peace. Evidently they would be followed,
and it would be a waste of valuable time to try to conceal their trail. Gradually the ground
began to rise, the way become more difficult, but Wingenund never slackened his pace.
Nell was strong, supple, and light of foot. She held her own with Jim, but time and time
again they were obliged to wait for her uncle. Once he was far behind. Wingenund halted
for them at the height of a ridge where the forest was open.
"Ugh!" exclaimed the chieftain, as they finished the ascent. He stretched a long arm
toward the sun; his falcon eye gleamed.
Far in the west a great black and yellow cloud of smoke rolled heavenward. It seemed to
rise from out the forest, and to hang low over the trees; then it soared aloft and grew
thinner until it lost its distinct line far in the clouds. The setting sun stood yet an hour
high over a distant hill, and burned dark red through the great pall of smoke.
"Is it a forest fire?" asked Nell, fearfully.
"Fire, of course, but---" Jim did not voice his fear; he looked closely at Wingenund.
The chieftain stood silent a moment as was his wont when addressed. The dull glow of
the sun was reflected in the dark eyes that gazed far away over forest and field.
"Fire," said Wingenund, and it seemed that as he spoke a sterner shadow flitted across his
bronzed face. "The sun sets to-night over the ashes of the Village of Peace.
He resumed his rapid march eastward. With never a backward glance the saddened party
followed. Nell kept close beside Jim, and the old man tramped after them with bowed
head. The sun set, but Wingenund never slackened his stride. Twilight deepened, yet he
kept on.