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With the dawn the boat was again launched, and went flying down the stream, requiring all the vigilance of eye and hand to keep it from being wrecked. Now they would shoot straight toward a rock, around which the water foamed and boiled in fierce eddies—again glance away from a cliff, against which they threatened to dash, and at last grounded on a deceitful shoal, compelling the whole party to disembark in the icy water. The savage king and the tall young envoy had to wade along, side by side, dragging the boat for half an hour over the pebbles before they could get into deep water again, and then, chilled and dripping, continue their voyage. At length they came upon a barricade of ice, stretching completely across the channel. Around this the canoe had to be carried for a quarter of a mile. They were a whole week making this hundred and thirty miles.
Having at last reached Venango, Washington bade the Half-King good-by, with much good advice not to let the fine speeches of the French detach him from his friendship to the English, and next day struck into the wilderness. The horses, however, were feeble and emaciated, and being overloaded with provisions which the party were obliged to carry
with them, soon began to show symptoms of giving out. In order to relieve them as much as possible, Washington gave up his own animal for a pack-horse, and, dressed in an Indian hunting-shirt, waded on foot through the forest. But the cold becoming intense, and the soft snow freezing hard, through which the horses floundered with difficulty, it was evident they could not proceed; so after the third day, he left them and the party in charge of Mr. Vanbraam, and with Mr. Gist alone set out for the distant colonies. The tall, handsome, and athletic young Virginian, in his closely fitting Indian costume, his pack on his back, his knife in his belt, and his trusty rifle in his hand, presented a fine contrast to the brawny backwoodsman by his side, as they passed through the primeval forest together. At the approach of night they kindled a fire, and scraping the snow from a fallen tree for their table, and cutting pieces of bark for plates, ate with a keen appetite their coarse supper. Then wrapping themselves in their blankets, with the snow for their couch, and the sparkling wintry heavens for their canopy, they lay down to sleep. With the first streakings of dawn they were again afoot, and through the blinding storm and under the trees that swayed and groaned in the fierce December blast, strained up the steep mountain sides, or threaded the dark gorges with unflagging spirits and undaunted hearts. On approaching a spot called Murdering Town, upon a fork of Beaver creek, they met an Indian, whom Gist was sure he had seen at Venango, and whose appearance was suspicious. He, however, seemed very friendly, was loquacious, asking many questions about the party behind, their horses, etc., and when they would be along. Major Washington wished to go the shortest route to the forks of the Alleghany, and asked the Indian if he would be their guide. He readily consented, and taking the major's pack started off. But after traveling eight or ten miles, Washington declared that his feet was sore, his limbs weary, and he must halt. To this the Indian objected, grew churlish, and offered to carry Washington's gun, if he would go on. He said the Ottaway Indians occupied the woods, and if they laid out they would be scalped, and urged them to go to his cabin, from which he declared he just then heard a signal gun, where they would be safe. They kept on for awhile, but Washington's experienced eye soon discovering that they were going the wrong course, he became uneasy and remonstrated with him. The latter, to pacify him, harkened a moment, and then declared he heard two whoops from his cabin. Washington then went two miles farther on, when he declared that at the next water he came to he would halt. Before they reached it, however, they emerged into an open space, on the even snow surface of which the bright moonlight lay. The Indian was some distance ahead, but kept his wary eye on his victims, and, as they stepped from the deep shadow of the forest into the clear light, suddenly turned and leveled his rifle. The next instant a quick, sharp report rang through the woods. Washington immediately cried out to Gist, “ Are you shot ?" “ No," replied the latter, and sprang towards the savage, who had leaped behind a big oak, and begun rapidly to reload his piece. Washington reached the treacherous guide at the same time with Gist, but, instead of seizing him, stood by and saw him ram home a ball without manifesting any suspicion, pretending, on the contrary, to believe that he considered the shot as a signal to those in his cabin. Gist then told Washington he must kill the traitor on the spot. The latter objected-he could not consent to murder the poor wretch there in cold blood, richly as he deserved such a fate. Gist replied that he must then be got away, and they travel all night.
Their position had now become critical; that rifle shot might have had a double purpose—to send one of them to his long account, and at the same time be a signal to companions near by, whose wild hoop might at any moment break on their startled ears.
They, however, took the Indian with them, till they came to a little run of water, where they compelled him to make a fire. The guns were stacked against a tree, but either Gist or Washington always stood by them. The keen sav. age saw he was suspected, and grew uneasy.
He still de clared, however, that his cabin was but a little way off, and he could soon reach it. Gist then gave him bread, and told him to go home and fetch them some meat in the morning, while they, as they were tired, would encamp where they
The fellow was glad to get off, and, shouldering his rifle disappeared in the forest. Gist followed him stealthily some distance and then returned. The two adventurers then went on about half a mile and built a fire. By its light they set their compass, took their course, and started forward. Knowing that the Indians, if really in pursuit, would take their trail as soon as it was morning, they kept up a tremendous pace all night. Nor did they slacken it at daylight, except to snatch a mouthful of food, but, weary and sore as they were, traveled all day. Two days and a night on the stretch, without a path to guide them, was terrific work; but it was a matter of life and death, and they never halted till dark, when they struck the Alleghany river. They had expected to find this frozen over, and put it between them and their pursuers before stopping; but the ice extended only about one hundred and fifty feet from either shore, while the channel between was swollen and angry, and loaded with huge fragments of ice which had broken loose from above. This abrupt termination of their journey was heart-sickening enough; and as the two weary travelers stood on the ice-bound shore and gazed on the appalling spectacle, they felt that the crisis of their fate had
There was no escape, and if the savages continued their pursuit, they must fight them there, whatever their numbers might be. Nothing, however, was to be done, and wrapping themselves in their blankets, they lay down upon the snow and listened to the grinding, crushing sound of the ice as it drifted down in the gloom. The ear was constantly turned to catch the sound of approaching footsteps, while the lonely cries that rose from the forest combined to render the night long and dreary. At daylight they rose from their unquiet, fitful slumbers and began to prepare a raft, on which they could float across.
With but “one poor hatchet,” to hew down the trees, they commenced their arduous task. Its tiny strokes made feeble echoes along that wintry stream, and it was night-fall before the raft was completed. They then slid it on the ice to the edge, and as it
fell heavily in the water, jumped upon it. Caught by the current, it was whirled rapidly down. They had not proceeded far, however, before the descending fragments of ice so pressed upon and "jammed it against other pieces, that it began to sink. Washington immediately struck his setting-pole heavily into the mud at the bottom, to arrest the raft till the ice crowded by. But the weight of the ice and raft together was so great, that, when the latter came in contact with the pole, Washington, who had grasped it firmly, was jerked over, and fell in ten feet water. He, however, succeeded in getting hold of one of the logs, and held on while the whole mass swept together down the stream. Their position now was perilous in the extremein the middle of the channel, carried resistlessly forward by the current and the ice, they could reach neither shore. Fortunately they drifted near a small island, when, as a last resort, they both abandoned the raft and made for it. Here on this mere rock, with an angry and turbulent river on either side, with no materials to construct a new raft, with no fire, wet to the skin, they were compelled to pass the long winter's night. To add to their discomfort, the night set in intensely cold, and it required the most unwearied efforts and constant exercise to keep from freezing. As it was, Mr. Gist's hands and feet were both frozen, and Washington escaped only by his great powers of endurance, inherent in his constitution, and strengthened by his long exposure in the woods and mountains. The frost, however, which well-nigh deprived them of life, proved their salvation, for it formed a bridge of ice between the island and eastern shore sufficiently strong to bear them. Crossing cautiously on this, they the same day reached a trading post of Mr. Frazier, near the spot where afterward the battle of Monongahela was fought.
Here they remained several days, to procure horses with which to continue their journey. In the mean time Washington