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Rolf in the Woods(Chapter72)

2006-09-08 20:00

  CHAPTER LXXII The Duel

  This was temporary relief, but left no suggestion of complete escape. He lay there till nearly noon suffering more and more from the cramped position and thirst, and utterly puzzled as to the next move.

  "When ye don't like whar ye air, git up without any fuss, and go whar ye want to be," was what Sylvanne once said to him, and it came to Rolf with something like a comic shock. The soldiers were busy in the woods and around the forges. In half an hour it would be noon and they might come back to eat.

  Rolf rose without attempting any further concealment, then stopped, made a bundle of the stuff that had sheltered him and, carrying this on his shoulder, strode boldly across the field toward the woods.

  His scout uniform was inconspicuous; the scouts on duty at the mill saw only one of themselves taking a bundle of hay round to the stables.

  He reached the woods absolutely unchallenged. After a few yards in its friendly shade, he dropped the thorny bundle and strode swiftly toward his own camp. He had not gone a hundred yards before a voice of French type cried "'Alt," and he was face to face with a sentry whose musket was levelled at him.

  A quick glance interchanged, and each gasped out the other's name.

  "Francois la Colle!"

  "Rolf Kittering! Mon Dieu! I ought to shoot you, Rolf; I cannot, I cannot! But run, run! I'll shoot over your head," and his kindly eyes filled with tears.

  Rolf needed no second hint; he ran like a deer, and the musket ball rattled the branches above his shoulders.

  In a few minutes other soldiers came running and from La Colle they heard of the hostile spy in camp.

  "I shoot; I t'ink maybe I not hit eem; maybe some brood dere? No, dat netting."

  There were both runners and trackers in camp. They were like bloodhounds and they took up the trail of the fugitive. But Rolf was playing his own game now; he was "Flying Kittering." A crooked trail is hard to follow, and, going at the long stride that had made his success, he left many a crook and turn. Before two miles I they gave it up and the fugitive coming to the river drank a deep and cooling draught, the first he had had that day. Five miles through is the dense forest that lies between La Colle and the border. He struck a creek affluent of the Richelieu River and followed to its forks, which was the place of rendezvous with Quonab.

  It was evening as he drew near and after long, attentive listening he gave the cry of the barred owl:

  The answer came: a repetition of the last line, and a minute later the two scouts were together.

  As they stood, they were startled by a new, sudden answer, an exact repetition of the first call. Rolf had recovered his rifle from its hiding place and instantly both made ready for some hostile prowler; then after a long silence he gave the final wail line "hoooo-aw" and that in the woods means, "Who are you?"

  Promptly the reply came:

  "Wa wah wa wah Wa wah wa hoooo-aw."

  But this was the wrong reply. It should have been only the last half. The imitation was perfect, except, perhaps, on the last note, which was a trifle too human. But the signal was well done; it was an expert calling, either an Indian or some thoroughly seasoned scout; yet Quonab was not deceived into thinking it an owl. He touched his cheek and his coat, which, in the scout sign language, means "red coat," i. e., Britisher.

  Rolf and his partner got silently out of sight, each with his rlile cocked and ready to make a hole in any red uniform or badge that might show itself. Then commenced a very peculiar duel, for evidently the enemy was as clever as themselves and equally anxious to draw them out of cover.

  Wa-wah-wa hooo-aw called the stranger, giving the right answer in the wrong place. He was barely a hundred yards off, and, as the two strained their senses to locate him, they heard a faint click that told of his approach.

  Rolf turned his head and behind a tree uttered again the Wa-wah -a - hoo which muffled by his position would convince the foe that he was retreating. The answer came promptly and much nearer:

  Wa - wah - wa - hoooo-aw.

  Good! the medicine was working. So Rolf softened his voice still more, while Quonab got ready to shoot.

  The Wa - wa - hooo-aw that came in answer this time was startlingly clear and loud and nearly perfect in intonation, but again betrayed by the human timbre of the aw. A minute or two more and they would reach a climax.

  After another wait, Rolf muffled his voice and gave the single hooo-aw, and a great broad-winged owl came swooping through the forest, alighted on a tree overhead, peered about, then thrilled them with his weird:

  Wa - hoo - wa - boo

  Wa - hoo -wa - hooooooooo-aw, the last note with the singular human quality that had so completely set them astray.

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