The Warrior's Path
What I hoped for was a fat beer, and what I came up with was a skinny Indian.
It was lonely on the mountain, and I had been watching the sun crest the peaks with light. There was some mist lying in the valleys, and all around me the rhododendrons were in bloom, covering the flanks of the Blue Ridge and the mountains nearby. Seated among them, their petals falling across my shoulders and into my hair, I watched the path below.
All through the afternoon there had been no sound but the twittering of birds, but I knew something was coming up the trail yonder, for I'd seen birds fly up from time to time, marking its progress along the path, which was visible only at intervals.
What I wanted was a fat bear, for we were needful of grease, and my ribs were showing. An Indian was the last thing I was wishful of seeing.
This Indian was old, and he was hurt. He was still a-coming when I slid into the trail before him, but he was weaving a mighty weird path and was ready to drop in his tracks. I was close enough to catch him.
He wasn't only worn down from travel, he was gun shot.
Getting an arm around him to keep him from falling, I took time to slip his knife from its sheath for safety's sake. Then I walked him to where I could lead him through the brush to our cabin.
When I put that Indian down on the bed he just naturally passed out. Putting water on to boil, I unlaced the top of his hunting shirt and found he'd been shot through the top of the shoulder with a musket ball. The ball was still there. Taking my hunting knife, I slit the skin and oozed it out. The wound was several days old but wasn't in bad shape.
The old man opened his eyes while I bathed his wound. "You are Sack-ett?"
"I come Penney."
The only Penney I knew was Yance's wife, whose name had been Temperance Penney when he took her to be wed. She was back on Shooting Creek, waiting our return.
"Miz Penney say me come Sack-ett. Much trouble. Carrie gone."
Carrie? That would be Temp's baby sister, of whom I'd heard her speak.
"Gone? Gone where?"
"Pequots take him. Bad Indian. All much afraid of Pequot. Miz Penney say you come. Much bad Indian. Take two girls."
Taking up my musket, I moved to the door, standing where I could watch the path to our clearing.
"You wife Penney?"
It took me a minute to realize he'd mistook me for Yance. What had he said before? Two girls gone? Taken by Indians?
He'd come a far piece if he'd come from Cape Ann or the nearby country, and those girls were long gone now. Still, I'd heard of a swap being made, goods for girls, or whatever. Anyway, she was kin by marriage to Yance. We'd never let them down. Whatever we could do would be done.
The old Warrior's Path would be the fastest route even though we might encounter war parties along the trail. Yet we must travel fast. Indians were notional about prisoners. They might want them simply to exhibit and then kill, but if they whined and carried on or got weak so they could not travel, the Indians would surely kill them out of hand.
"Who took those girls?" I asked the old Indian again.
Had he hesitated there just a mite? Or was that my imagination? If they were not already dead, trying to get prisoners away from the Pequots would be a hard-bought thing.
Yance was suddenly in the yard, astride that big red horse he favored, his pack animals loaded down with fur. I took only a minute or two for me to lay it down on him.
"I'll go. No need for you to lose your crop."
Well, I just looked at him, and then I said, "Pa always said, `I want it understood that no Sackett is ever alone as long as another Sackett lives.'"
Yance put up his horses and then went to eating. On horseback, we would make good time up the Warrior's Path. We had meat, and we had cold flour, so there would be no need to stop for hunting.
"That other girl," I asked, "the one with the Penney girl, who was she?"
It was a full minute before he spoke. "She Macklin girl. She plant woman."
Why the hesitation? What had happened up there, anyway? What was wrong with their own men folk?
"We'd better hurry, Kin. I think we'll have this to do alone. Those folks aren't going to look for Diana Macklin."
Something in his tone made me look up from the packing. "No? Why not?"
"Because they do be saying she's a witch woman. They'll be saying `good riddance,' and they'll just walk away."
But what about the Penney girl?" I protested.
"Too bad for her that she was in such company. I tell you, Kin, they will do nothing. Unless it be us, the girls will be lost -- lost, I say."