How long the journey lasted Walter could not tell, but he judged that it was at least half an hour before there suddenly broke out ahead a cry, so human yet so wild, that he felt the very roots of his hair crawl. Once more it rang over the lake, a high-pitched, maniacal laugh that rolled across the water and was flung back in crazy echoes from the shores. In a flash it came to Walter that this must be the cry of the loon, the Great Northern Diver, of which he had often read. This time it was answered from the rear. A few minutes later the canoe grated on the shore. Walter was lifted out, his eyes bandaged, the bonds removed from his legs and, with a captor on either side, he was led for some distance along what seemed like an old corduroy logging road.
On signal from the leader a halt was made and the bandage was removed from the captive's eyes. Curiously he glanced about, but in the faint light could make out little. Apparently they were in the middle of a small opening in the forest. On all sides a seemingly unbroken wall of blackness, the forest, hemmed them in. In a half circle before him squatted some two dozen blanketed forms.
One of these now arose and stepped forward.
He was tall and rather slender. In the uncertain light his features appeared to be those of an Indian. A single feather in his scalp lock was silhouetted against the sky. A blanket was loosely but gracefully draped about his figure. Standing in front of the captive he drew himself up proudly to his full height and, leveling a long bare arm at the prisoner, addressed him in a deep guttural.
" Paleface, dweller in wigwams of brick and stone, it is made known to us that your heart turns from the settlements to the heart of the great forest, and that you desire to become a child of the Lenape, whose totem is the tortoise, to be adopted by the Delawares, the tribe of Uncas and Chingachgook ; that you long to follow the trail of the red deer and to spread your blanket beside the sweet waters; to read the message of the blowing wind, and interpret aright the meaning of every fallen leaf.
" You have come among us, paleface, not unheralded. Our ears have been filled with a tale of valor. It has warmed the hearts of the Delawares and their brothers, the Algonquins. Our young men have had their ears to the ground ; they have followed your trail, and they yearn to make a place for you at their council fire. But, lest the tales to which they have listened prove to be but the chirping of a singing bird, it has been decided in secret council that you must undergo the test of the spirits.
" Alone in the wigwam of the spirits, where, it is said, on the fifth night in every month the spirit of a departed brave, stricken in the prime of his manhood, comes seeking the red hand of his slayer,—here alone you shall keep watch through the black hours of the night. Thus shall we know if your heart be indeed the heart of the Lenape; if you are of the stuff of which Delaware warriors are made; if our ears have heard truly or if they have indeed been filled with the foolish chatter of a Whisky Jack (Canada jay).
" If you meet this trial as a warrior should, making neither sign nor sound, whate'er befall, then will the Delawares receive you with open arms, no longer a paleface, but a true son of the Tortoise, a blood brother, for whom a place in the council chamber is even now ready."
Turning to the shadowy group squatting in silence he threw out both arms dramatically.
" Sons of the Lenape, do I speak truly ? " he demanded.
A chorus of guttural grunts signified assent. Turning once more to the captive the speaker asked :
" Paleface, are you prepared to stand the test?"
As the harangue had proceeded Walter recalled that during the afternoon he had heard vague references to a haunted cabin across the lake. Now the conviction was forced upon him that this was the place in which he was to be left to spend the night alone. In spite of himself a shiver of something very like fear swept over him, for the mystery of the night was upon him. But he had firmly resolved not to show the white feather. Then again he was possessed of a large bump of sound common sense, and he felt certain that if, when left alone, he gave way to fear, sharp eyes and ears would be within range to note and gloat over it. In fact he shrewdly suspected that spies would be watching him, and that his solitude would be more apparent than real. He therefore replied : " I am ready."
Thereupon the leader gave some brief directions to the band, of whom all but two trailed off in single file and disappeared in the blackness of the forest. Presently he heard the faint clatter of paddles carelessly dropped in canoes, and surmised that his late companions were embarking for camp. A few minutes later the hoot of a horned owl came from the direction they had taken. This seemed to be a signal for which his guard had been waiting. Once more the bandage was placed over his eyes, and he was led for some distance along an old tote road.
At length a halt was called. His legs were bound and he was picked up and carried a short distance. Although he could see nothing he was aware by the change of air that they had entered a building. He suspected that this was the haunted cabin. He was deposited on a rough board floor with what appeared to be a roll of old burlap beneath his head. He was told that his hands and feet would be freed of their bonds, but he was put upon his honor not to remove the bandage from his eyes for half an hour.
" Keep your nerve, son, and don't sit up suddenly," was whispered in his ear.
He could not be sure, but he had a feeling that the speaker was Woodhull, and to himself he renewed his vow that, come what might, he would not show the white feather. He heard his captors silently withdraw and then all was silent.
Cautiously he felt around him. Sticks and bits of bark littered the floor. Rough hewn logs shut him in on one side, but on the other as far as he could reach was open space. Feeling above he found that there was not room to sit upright, and he thanked his unknown friend for that last timely warning.
The silence grew oppressive. It was broken by a light thump on the roof, followed by the rasp of swift little claws. " Squirrels," thought Walter, after the first startled jump. Gradually he became aware of a feeling that he was not the only tenant of the cabin. Once he heard something that sounded very like a long drawn sigh. He held his breath and listened, but there was not another sound.
What were those tales he had heard of the cabin being haunted ? He tried to recall them. How far from the camp was he ? Would they come for him in the morning or would he have to find his way in alone?
In spite of his strange surroundings and lively imagination Walter found difficulty in keeping awake. Outraged nature was asserting herself. There had been little sleep for more than twenty-four hours, and now even the uncertainty of his position could keep him awake no longer. In fact he had not even removed the bandage from his eyes when he fell sound asleep.
He was awakened by having this suddenly snatched off. For a few minutes he blinked stupidly while a mighty shout from the entire wigwam greeted him :
"Oh, warrior, tried and true, We hereby welcome you ! We like your nerve ! We like your sand ! A place you've won Within our band. You've won your feather fair— You are a Del-a-ware !"
Then Walter was hauled forth and shaken hands with and thumped and pounded on the back by a whooping, laughing crew of boys in all stages of undress. It was broad daylight and, to his amazement, Walter found he was not in the haunted cabin but in his own wigwam, where he had spent the night on the floor underneath his own bunk. The boys, noting the expression of his face, shouted afresh and mercilessly guyed him till presently, realizing how completely he had been duped, he wisely joined in the laugh at his own expense.
Reveille had sounded. Buxby joined him at the wash bench, and on the way to mess explained how the initiation was worked. When he had been placed in the canoe they had simply paddled around near camp for half an hour. He had then been led over an old trail to an opening near, but out of sight of the camp, and there Woodhull, in the character of the Indian chief, had delivered the harangue. At its conclusion all but the guard had gone to the wigwam and at once turned in, one of them first slipping down to the lake and rattling the paddles, afterward giving the owl signal. The guard had then led him back to the wigwam and put him under his own bunk, where the floor had been strewn with chips and bark to fool him when he felt around, as they had foreseen he would.
" You're all right, Upton, and say, wasn't Louis a lulu ? " concluded the garrulous Billy.
At mess Walter realized that he had " made good," and was already accepted as one of themselves by the merry crew of sun-browned youngsters amongst whom he had come a total stranger less than twenty-four hours before. Most of all he prized Woodhull's quiet " Good boy," as he saluted him at the door.