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The Lost Trail   By: (1840-1916)

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By Edward S. Ellis



One afternoon in early spring, Jack Carleton, a sturdy youth of seventeen years, was following a clearly marked trail, leading through the western part of Kentucky toward the Mississippi river. For many a mile he followed the evenly spaced tracks made by a horse on a walk, the double impressions being a trifle more than three feet apart.

"Helloa!" exclaimed, Jack, when he looked at the earth again and observed that the tracks had taken a new form, with nearly eight feet between them. "Otto has forced the colt to a trot. He must be in a hurry, or he thinks I am fond of traveling."

Thus far the lusty young Kentuckian felt no misgiving, but within fifty yards the trail underwent the startling change the footprints being separated by more than three yards now.

"My gracious," muttered the boy, coming to a full stop, "something is wrong: Otto would not have put the horse on a dead run if he hadn't been scared."

Jack Carleton proved his training by the keenness and quickness with which he surveyed his surroundings. The woods were on every hand, but they were open and free from undergrowth, so that he gained an extensive view.

As he advanced with vigorous steps along the winding path, his eyes sometimes rested on the pendulous branches of the majestic elm, a small purple flower here and there still clinging to the limbs and resisting the budding leaves striving to force it aside; the massive oak and its twisted, iron limbs; the pinnated leaves of the hickory, whose solid trunk, when gashed by the axe, was of snowy whiteness; the pale green spikes and tiny flowers of the chestnut; the sycamore, whose spreading limbs found themselves crowded even in the most open spaces, with an occasional wild cherry or tulip, and now and then a pine, whose resinous breath brooded like a perennial balm over the vast solitude.

Jack Carleton was arrayed in the coarse, serviceable garb of the border: heavy calf skin shoes, thick trousers, leggings and coat, the latter short and clasped at the waist by a girdle, also of woolen and similar to that of the modern ulster. The cap was of the same material and, like the other garments, had been fashioned and put together by the deft hands of the mother in Kentucky. Powder horn and bullet pouch were suspended by strings passing over alternate sides of the neck and a fine flint lock rifle, the inseparable companion of the Western youth, rested on the right shoulder, the hand grasping it near the stock.

Jack's hasty survey failed to reveal any cause for fear, and he resumed his pursuit, as it may be termed. The quick glances he cast on the ground in front showed, in every instance, that the horse he was following was fleeing at the same headlong pace. His rider had spurred him to a dead run, at which gait he had shot underneath the limbs of the trees at great risk to himself as well as to his rider.

The trail was broad, for loaded horses had passed in both directions, and wild animals availed themselves of it more than once in making their pilgrimages to the Mississippi, or in migrating from one part of the country to the other.

But there were no footprints that had been made within the past few days, with the single exception noted that of the horse which had abruptly broken into a full run.

The balmy afternoon was drawing to a close, and Jack began to believe the chances were against overtaking his friend and companion, young Otto Relstaub.

"If he has kept this up very long, he must be far beyond my reach, unless he has turned about and taken the back trail."

Glancing at the sky as seen through the branches overhead, the youth observed that it was clear, the deep blue flecked here and there by patches of snowy clouds, resting motionless in the crystalline air.

Comparatively young as was Jack, he had been thoroughly trained in woodcraft. When beyond sight of the cabins of the straggling settlement, where he made his home, he was as watchful and alert as Daniel Boone or Simon Kenton himself... Continue reading book >>

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