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CHAPTER XII FROM PERIL TO PERIL
The Rangers would, of course, have much preferred keeping together, but they quite understood the wisdom of their leader's plan, and dutifully did as they were told.

Seth struck off to the east, with the idea of making a long detour and then steering straight for the rendezvous. He could get through the forest at a surprising rate of speed, and ere many minutes had passed had put such a distance between himself and the enemy that he had little to fear from their pursuit.

But they were not the only source of danger. He knew well that the whole country round about was being constantly traversed by scouting parties of Indians in the pay of the French, and if he should be captured by any of them he was far more likely to be made the victim of their fiendish ingenuity as torturers, and to be finally tomahawked and scalped, than to be delivered over to the French as a prisoner of war.

Still he did not allow these thoughts, disquieting as they were, to depress his spirit. The dangers that threatened were just what were to be expected, and so long as he continued a member of Rogers' band they would have to be faced.

"The Major was right enough, of course, in making us scatter like this," he said to himself philosophically, "but all the same I'll be everlastingly glad when we all get together again."

Guided by his compass he pursued his lonely way through the forest until sundown, and then looked about for some snug spot in which to pass the night.

It was cold enough to render a fire almost a necessity, but, although he had a well-equipped tinder-box, he did not attempt to make a blaze, lest it should betray him to some skulking Indians.

A small portion of ox tongue, cold and tasteless, served him for supper, and he lay down on some moss at the roots of a big tree to pass the long hours of the night as best he could.

The cold chilled him to the marrow, and hunger gnawed at his vitals. The forest that was so silent during the day now gave forth sinister sounds as the birds and beasts of prey hunted eagerly for victims. First far off and then nearer, one answering to another, the blood-curdling howl of wolves echoed through the darkness, and Seth, shivering with cold, hugged his trusty gun tightly, and hoped that the fierce brutes would not scent him.

He wondered where the others were, and what distance separated him from them. If only Reuben were with him, his situation would not be quite so miserable; but Reuben had taken a southerly direction, and was no doubt miles away at the moment.

The horrid howling of the wolves drew nearer, and the unpleasant conviction began to force itself upon him that they had found him out and were of a mind to hold a nocturnal banquet on his body.

"They'll have to pay dearly for their supper," he soliloquized grimly, "for I'll kill as many of them as I can first, but if the pack is a big one, they're bound to get me in the end, unless"—and at the idea his heart leaped and the blood coursed warmly through his veins—"I keep them off with a big fire. I'll do it and risk the Indians being round."

With trembling fingers he went to work and, of course, the first attempts to light the dry moss with a spark from his tinder-box failed, but he tried again and again, and at last succeeded in starting a tiny flame, which he sedulously fanned into a blaze.

There was no lack of fuel at hand, and, piling this on, he presently had a glowing fire, that lit up the far-reaching forest aisles, and revealed the proximity of the wolves by being reflected in their gleaming eyeballs.

"Just in time!" he ejaculated fervently. "They'll keep their distance so long as the fire lasts, but if it goes out, they'll be on me quick."

If he had had only the wolves to consider, he would have seized the opportunity to do execution amongst them that they afforded by sitting upon their haunches and gazing hungrily at him; but the report of his gun might betray him to the enemy if any of them were within hearing of it, and so he was fain to content himself with speculating how many of them he might kill before the pack would have the sense to take to flight.

The fire burned so brightly that, in spite of the purpose for which it was lit, he found it cheering to his spirit, but it required a lot of wood to keep it going, and after a while he had gathered all that was near at hand, and must needs go farther from the protecting flames in order to keep up the supply.

This, of course, brought him nearer to the waiting wolves, and they were quick to snap at him menacingly, so that he had to make sudden dashes out and in again to the circle of safety.

Presently he bethought himself of a better plan.

"I'll be a magician and carry a wand that will be my protection," he said to himself, smiling at the childish notion, which, nevertheless, he put into execution, for, seizing a blazing brand from the heart of the fire, he swung it before him shouting.

"Avaunt, ye fiends! Begone into the darkness!" (quoting from a book of legends he had read in his school-days) and charged dauntlessly at his determined besiegers.

The seemingly desperate expedient succeeded beyond his expectations. The frightened wolves fled howling before him, and he had time to secure more than one big armful of wood ere they recovered from their panic sufficiently to resume the siege.

Seth laughed at the brutes being so easily fooled, and congratulated himself on having solved the problem which at first promised to be so difficult.

What between the heat of the fire and the warmth due to his exertions, he had lost all thought of the cold, and if only Reuben or any other of the Rangers had been there to keep him company he would not have minded the situation at all, save that he never forgot the possibility of Indians suddenly announcing their presence by a well-aimed bullet or the whiz of a tomahawk.

But the hours went by, and the wolves were still kept at bay, and no wolves in human guise appeared, and at last the darkness gave way to dawn.

The new day found Seth sorely tired, and suff............
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