Carpenter resumed his position at the head of the column, which now moved slowly over the mountain through a thick forest matted with vines and bushes and without a path. The march was now so painful and difficult that they did not make more than two miles an hour. The stronger of them helped the men to gather more whortleberries, as it was easy to see that the food they had with them would never last until they reached Fort Penn, should they ever reach it.
The condition of the country into which they had entered steadily grew worse. They were well into the mountains, a region exceedingly wild and rough, but little known to the settlers, who had gone around it to build homes in the fertile and beautiful valley of Wyoming. The heavy forest was made all the more difficult by the presence everywhere of almost impassable undergrowth. Now and then a woman lay down under the bushes, and in two cases they died there because the power to live was no longer in them. They grew weaker and weaker. The food that they had brought from the Wyoming fort was almost exhausted, and the wild whortleberries were far from sustaining. Fortunately there was plenty of water flowing tinder the dark woods and along the mountainside. But they were compelled to stop at intervals of an hour or two to rest, and the more timid continually expected Indian ambush.
The five met shortly after noon and took another reckoning of the situation. They still realized to the full the dangers of Indian pursuit, which in this case might be a mere matter of accident. Anybody could follow the broad trail left by the fugitives, but the Iroquois, busy with destruction in the valley, might not follow, even if they saw it. No one could tell. The danger of starvation or of death from exhaustion was more imminent, more pressing, and the five resolved to let scouting alone for the rest of the day and seek game.
"There's bound to be a lot of it in these woods," said Shif'less Sol, "though it's frightened out of the path by our big crowd, but we ought to find it."
Henry and Shif'less Sol went in one direction, and Paul, Tom, and Long Jim in another. But with all their hunting they succeeded in finding only one little deer, which fell to the rifle of Silent Tom. It made small enough portions for the supper and breakfast of nearly a hundred people, but it helped wonderfully, and so did the fires which Henry and his comrades would now have built, even had they not been needed for the cooking. They saw that light and warmth, the light and warmth of glowing coals, would alone rouse life in this desolate band.
They slept the second night on the ground among the trees, and the next morning they entered that gloomy region of terrible memory, the Great Dismal Swamp of the North, known sometimes, to this day, as "The Shades of Death."
CHAPTER XII. THE SHADES OF DEATH
"The Shades of Death" is a marsh on a mountain top, the great, wet, and soggy plain of the Pocono and Broad mountains. When the fugitives from Wyoming entered it, it was covered with a dense growth of pines, growing mostly out of dark, murky water, which in its turn was thick with a growth of moss and aquatic plants. Snakes and all kinds of creeping things swarmed in the ooze. Bear and panther were numerous.
Carpenter did not know any way around this terrible region, and they were compelled to enter it. Henry was again devoutly thankful that it was summer. In such a situation with winter on top of it only the hardiest of men could survive.
But they entered the swamp, Carpenter silent and dogged, still leading. Henry and his comrades kept close to the crowd. One could not scout in such a morass, and it proved to be worse than they had feared. The day turned gray, and it was dark among the trees. The whole place was filled with gloomy shadows. It was often impossible to judge whether fairly solid soil or oozy murk lay before them. Often they went down to their waists. Sometimes the children fell and were dragged up again by the stronger. Now and then rattle snakes coiled and hissed, and the women killed them with sticks. Other serpents slipped away in the slime. Everybody was plastered with mud, and they became mere images of human beings.
In the afternoon they reached a sort of oasis in the terrible swamp, and there they buried two more of their number who had perished from exhaustion. The rest, save a few, lay upon the ground as if dead. On all sides of them stretched the pines and the soft black earth. It looked to the fugitives like a region into which no human beings had ever come, or ever would come again, and, alas! to most of them like a region from which no human being would ever emerge.
Henry sat upon a piece of fallen brushwood near the edge of the morass, and looked at the fugitives, and his heart sank within him. They were hardly in the likeness of his own kind, and they seemed practically lifeless now. Everything was dull, heavy, and dead. The note of the wind among the leaves was somber. A long black snake slipped from the marshy grass near his feet and disappeared soundlessly in the water. He was sick, sick to death at the sight of so much suffering, and the desire for vengeance, slow, cold, and far more lasting than any hot outburst, grew within him. A slight noise, and Shif'less Sol stood beside him.
"Did you hear?" asked the shiftless one, in a significant tone.
"Hear what?" asked Henry, who had been deep in thought.
"The wolf howl, just a very little cry, very far away an' under the horizon, but thar all the same. Listen, thar she goes ag'in!"
Henry bent his ear and distinctly heard the faint, whining note, and then it came a third time.
He looked tip at Shif'less Sol, and his face grew white—but not for himself.
"Yes," said Shif'less Sol. He understood the look. "We are pursued. Them wolves howlin' are the Iroquois. What do you reckon we're goin' to do, Henry?"
"Fight!" replied the youth, with fierce energy. "Beat 'em off!"
Henry circled the little oasis with the eye of a general, and his plan came.
"You'll stand here, where the earth gives a footing," he said, "you, Solomon Hyde, as brave a man as I ever saw, and with you will be Paul Cotter, Tom Ross, Jim Hart, and Henry Ware, old friends of yours. Carpenter will at once lead the women and children on ahead, and perhaps they will not hear the battle that is going to be fought here."
A smile of approval, slow, but deep and comprehensive, stole over the face of Solomon Hyde, surnamed, wholly without fitness, the shiftless one. "It seems to me," he said, "that I've heard o' them four fellers you're talkin' about, an' ef I wuz to hunt all over this planet an' them other planets that Paul tells of, I couldn't find four other fellers that I'd ez soon have with me."
"We've got to stand here to the death," said Henry.
"You're shorely right," said Shif'less Sol.
The hands of the two comrades met in a grip of steel.
The other three were called and were told of the plan, which met with their full approval. Then the news was carried to Carpenter, who quickly agreed that their course was the wisest. He urged all the fugitives to their feet, telling them that they must reach another dry place before night, but they were past asking questions now, and, heavy and apathetic, they passed on into the swamp.
Paul watched the last of them disappear among the black bushes and weeds, and turned back to his friends on the oasis. The five lay down behind a big fallen pine, and gave their weapons a last look. They had never been armed better. Their rifles were good, and the fine double-barreled pistols, formidable weapons, would be a great aid, especially at close quarters.
"I take it," said Tom Ross, "that the Iroquois can't get through at all unless they come along this way, an' it's the same ez ef we wuz settin' on solid earth, poppin' em over, while they come sloshin' up to us."
"That's exactly it," said Henry. "We've a natural defense which we can hold against much greater numbers, and the longer we hold 'em off, the nearer our people will be to Fort Penn."
"I never felt more like fightin' in my life," said Tom Ross.
It was a grim utterance, true of them all, although not one among them was bloodthirsty.
"Can any of you hear anything?" asked Henry. "Nothin'," replied Shif'less Sol, after a little wait, "nothin' from the women goin', an' nothin' from the Iroquois comin'."
"We'll just lie close," said Henry. "This hard spot of ground isn't more than thirty or forty feet each way, and nobody can get on it without our knowing it."
The others did not reply. All lay motionless upon their sides, with their shoulders raised a little, in order that they might take instant aim when the time came. Some rays of the sun penetrated the canopy of pines, and fell across the brown, determined faces and the lean brown hands that grasped the long, slender-barreled Kentucky rifles. Another snake slipped from the ground into the black water and swam away. Some water animal made a light splash as he, too, swam from the presence of these strange intruders. Then they beard a sighing sound, as of a foot drawn from mud, and they knew that the Iroquois were approaching, savages in war, whatever they might be otherwise, and expecting an easy prey. Five brown thumbs cocked their rifles, and five brown forefingers rested upon the triggers. The eyes of woodsmen who seldom missed looked down the sights.
The sound of feet in the mud came many times. The enemy was evidently drawing near.
"How many do you think are out thar?" whispered Shif'less Sol to Henry.
"Twenty, at least, it seems to me by the sounds." "I s'pose the best thing for us to do is to shoot at the first head we see."
"Yes, but we mustn't all fire at the same man."
It was suggested that Henry call off the turns of the marksmen, and he agreed to do so. Shif'less Sol was to fire first. The sounds now ceased. The Iroquois evidently had some feeling or instinct that they were approaching an enemy who was to be feared, not weak and unarmed women and children.
The five were absolutely motionless, finger on trigger. The American wilderness had heroes without number. It was Horatius Cocles five times over, ready to defend the bridge with life. Over the marsh rose the weird cry of an owl, and some water birds called in lonely fashion.
Henry judged that the fugitives were now three quarters of a mile away, out of the sound of rifle shot. He had urged Carpenter to marshal them on as far as he could. But the silence endured yet a while longer. In the dull gray light of the somber day and the waning afternoon the marsh was increasingly dreary and mournful. It seemed that it must always be the abode of dead or dying things.
The wet grass, forty yards away, moved a little, and between the boughs appeared the segment of a hideous dark face, the painted brow, the savage black eyes, and the hooked nose of the Mohawk. Only Henry saw it, but with fierce joy-the tortures at Wyoming leaped up before him-he fired at the painted brow. The Mohawk uttered his death cry and fell back with a splash into the mud and water of the swamp. A half dozen bullets were instantly fired at the base of the smoke that came from Henry's rifle, but the youth and his comrades lay close and were unharmed. Shif'less Sol and Tom were quick enough to catch glimpses of brown forms, at which they fired, and the cries coming back told that they had hit.
"That's something," said Henry. "One or two Iroquois at least will not wear the scalp of white woman or child at their belts."
"Wish they'd try to rush us," said Shif'less Sol. "I never felt so full of fight in my life before."
"They may try it," said Henry. "I understand that at the big battle of the Oriskany, farther up in the North, the Iroquois would wait until a white man behind a tree would fire, then they would rush up and tomahawk him before he could reload."
"They don't know how fast we kin reload," said Long Jim, "an' they don't know that we've got these double-barreled pistols, either."
"No, they don't," said Henry, "and it's a great thing for us to have them. Suppose we spread out a little. So long as we keep them from getting a lodging on the solid earth we hold them at a great disadvantage."
Henry and Paul moved off a little toward the right, and the others toward the left. They still had good cover, as fallen timber was scattered all over the oasis, and they were quite sure that another attack would be made soon. It came in about fifteen minutes. The Iroquois suddenly fired a volley at the logs and brush, and when the five returned the fire, but with more deadly effect, they leaped forward in the mud and attempted to rush the oasis, tomahawk in hand.
But the five reloaded so quickly that they were able to send in a second volley before the foremost of the Iroquois could touch foot on solid earth. Then the double barreled pistols came into play. The bullets sent from short range drove back the savages, who were amazed at such a deadly and continued fire. Henry caught sight of a white face among these assailants, and he knew it to be that of Braxton Wyatt. Singularly enough he was not amazed to see it there. Wyatt, sinking deeper and deeper into savagery and cruelty, was just the one to lead the Iroquois in such a pursuit. He was a fit match for Walter Butler, the infamous son of the Indian leader, who was soon to prove himself worse than the worst of the savages, as Thayendanegea himself has written.
Henry drew a bead once on Braxton Wyatt-he had no scruples now about shooting him-but just as he was about to pull the trigger Wyatt darted behind a bush, and a Seneca instead received the bullet. He also saw the renegade, Blackstaffe, but he was not able to secure a shot at him, either. Nevertheless, the Iroquois attack was beaten back. It was a foregone conclusion that the result would be so, unless the force was in great numbers. It is likely, also, that the Iroquois at first had thought only a single man was with the fugitives, not knowing that the five had joined them later.
Two of the Iroquois were slain at the very edge of the solid ground, but their bodies fell back in the slime, and the others, retreating fast for their lives, could not carry them off. Paul, with a kind of fascinated horror, watched the dead painted bodies sink deeper. Then one was entirely gone. The hand of the other alone was left, and then it, too, was gone. But the five had held the island, and Carpenter was leading the fugitives on toward Fort Penn. They had not only held it, but they believed that they could continue to hold it against anything, and their hearts became exultant. Something, too, to balance against the long score, lay out there in the swamp, and all the five, bitter over Wyoming, were sorry that Braxton Wyatt was not among them.
The stillness came again. The sun did not break through the heavy gray sky, and the somber shadows brooded over "The Shades of Death." They heard again the splash of water animals, and a swimming snake passed on the murky surface. Then they heard the wolf's long cry, and the long cry of wolf replying.
"More Iroquois coming," said Shif'less Sol. "Well, we gave them a pretty warm how d'ye do, an' with our rifles and double-barreled pistols I'm thinkin' that we kin do it ag'in."
"We can, except in one case," said Henry, "if the new party brings their numbers up to fifty or sixty, and they wait for night, they can surround us in the darkness. Perhaps it would be better for us to slip away when twilight comes. Carpenter and the train have a long lead now."
"Yes," said Shif'less Sol, "Now, what in tarnation is that?"
"A white flag," said Paul. A piece of cloth that had once been white had been hoisted on the barrel of a rifle at a point about sixty yards away.
"They want a talk with us," said Henry.
"If it's Braxton Wyatt," said Long Jim, "I'd like to take a shot at him, talk or no talk, an' ef I missed, then take another."
"We'll see what they have to say," said Henry, and he called aloud: "What do you want with us?"
"To talk with you," replied a clear, full voice, not that of Braxton Wyatt.
"Very well," replied Henry, "show yourself and we will not fire upon you."
A tall figure was upraised upon a grassy hummock, and the hands were held aloft in sign of peace. It was a splendid figure, at least six feet four inches in height. At that moment some rays of the setting sun broke through the gray clouds and shone full upon it, lighting up the defiant scalp lock interwoven with the brilliant red feather, the eagle face with the curved Roman beak, and the mighty shoulders and chest of red bronze. It was a genuine king of the wilderness, none other than the mighty Timmendiquas himself, the great White Lightning of the Wyandots.
"Ware," he said, "I would speak with you. Let us talk as one chief to another."
The five were amazed. Timmendiquas there! They were quite sure that he had come up with the second force, and he was certain to prove a far more formidable leader than either Braxton Wyatt or Moses Blackstaffe. But his demand to speak with Henry Ware might mean something.
"Are you going to answer him?" said Shif'less Sol.
"Of course," replied Henry.
"The others, especially Wyatt and Blackstaffe, might shoot."
"Not while Timmendiquas holds the flag of truce; they would not dare."
Henry stood up, raising himself to his full height. The same ruddy sunlight piercing the somber gray of the clouds fell upon another splendid figure, a boy only in years, but far beyond the average height of man, his hair yellow, his eyes a deep, clear blue, his body clothed in buckskin, and his whole attitude that of one without fear. The two, the white and the red, kings of their kind, confronted each other across the marsh.
"What do you wish with me, Timmendiquas?" asked Henry. In the presence of the great Wyandot chief the feeling of hate and revenge that had held his heart vanished. He knew that Paul and Shif'less Sol would have sunk under the ruthless tomahawk of Queen Esther, if it had not been for White Lightning. He himself had owed him his life on another and more distant occasion, and he was not ungrateful. So there was warmth in his tone when he spoke.
"Let us meet at the edge of the solid ground," said Timmendiquas, "I have things to say that are important and that you will be glad to hear."
Henry walked without hesitation to the edge of the swamp, and the young chief, coming forward, met him. Henry held out his hand in white fashion, and the young chief took it. There was no sound either from the swamp or from those who lay behind the logs on the island, but some of the eyes of those hidden in the swamps watched both with burning hatred.
"I wish to tell you, Ware," said Timmendiquas, speaking with the dignity becoming a great chief, "that it was not I who led the pursuit of the white men's women and children. I, and the Wyandots who came with me, fought as best we could in the great battle, and I will slay my enemies when I can. We are warriors, and we are ready to face each other in battle, but we do not seek to kill the squaw in the tepee or the papoose in its birch-bark cradle."
The face of the great chief seemed stirred by some deep emotion, which impressed Henry all the more because the countenance of Timmendiquas was usually a mask.
"I believe that you tell the truth," said Henry gravely.
"I and my Wyandots," continued the chief, "followed a trail through the woods. We found that others, Senecas and Mohawks, led by Wyatt and Blackstaffe, who are of your race, had gone before, and when we came up there had just been a battle. The Mohawks and Senecas had been driven back. It was then we learned that the trail was made by women and little children, save you and your comrades who stayed to fight and protect them."
"You speak true words, Timmendiquas," said Henry.
"The Wyandots have remained in the East to fight men, not to kill squaws and papooses," continued Timmendiquas. "So I say to you, go on with those who flee across the mountains. Our warriors shall not pursue you any longer. We will turn back to the valley from which we come, and those of your race, Blackstaffe and Wyatt, shall go with us."
The great chief spoke quietly, but there was an edge to his tone that told that every word was meant. Henry felt a glow of admiration. The true greatness of Timmendiquas spoke.
"And the Iroquois?" he said, "will they go back with you?"
"They will. They have killed too much. Today all the white people in the valley are killed or driven away. Many scalps have been taken, those of women and children, too, and men have died at the stake. I have felt shame for their deeds, Ware, and it will bring punishment upon my brethren, the Iroquois. It will make so great a noise in the world that many soldiers will come, and the villages of the Iroquois will cease to be."
"I think it is so, Timmendiquas," said Henry. "But you will be far away then in your own land."
The chief drew himself up a little.
"I shall remain with the Iroquois," he said. "I have promised to help them, and I must do so."
"I can't blame you for that," said Henry, "but I am glad that you do not seek the scalps of women and children. We are at once enemies and friends, Timmendiquas."
White Lightning bowed gravely. He and Henry touched hands again, and each withdrew, the chief into the morass, while Henry walked back toward his comrades, holding himself erect, as if no enemy were near.
The four rose up to greet him. They had heard part of what was said, and Henry quickly told them the rest.
"He's shorely a great chief," said Shif'less Sol. "He'll keep his word, too. Them people on ahead ain't got anything more to fear from pursuit."
"He's a statesman, too," said Henry. "He sees what damage the deeds of Wyoming Valley will do to those who have done them. He thinks our people will now send a great army against the Iroquois, and I think so, too."
"No nation can stand a thing like that," said Paul, "and I didn't dream it could happen."
They now left the oasis, and went swiftly along the trail left by the fugitives. All of them had confidence in the word of Timmendiquas. There was a remote chance that some other band had entered the swamp at a different point, but it was remote, indeed, and it did not trouble them much.
Night was now over the great swamp. The sun no longer came through the gray clouds, but here and there were little flashes of flame made by fireflies. Had not the trail been so broad and deep it could easily have been lost, but, being what it was, the skilled eyes of the frontiersmen followed it without trouble.
"Some uv 'em are gittin' pow'ful tired," said Tom Ross, looking at the tracks in the mud. Then he suddenly added: "Here's whar one's quit forever."
A shallow grave, not an hour old, had been made under some bushes, and its length indicated that a woman lay there. They passed it by in silence. Henry now appreciated more fully than ever the mercy of Timmendiquas. The five and Carpenter could not possibly have protected the miserable fugitives against the great chief, with fifty Wyandots and Iroquois at his back. Timmendiquas knew this, and he had done what none of the Indians or white allies around him would have done.
In another hour they saw a man standing among some vines, but watchful, and with his rifle in the hollow of his arm. It was Carpenter, a man whose task was not less than that of the five. They were in the thick of it and could see what was done, but he had to lead on and wait. He counted the dusk figures as they approached him, one, two, three, four, five, and perhaps no man ever felt greater relief. He advanced toward them and said huskily:
"There was no fight! They did not attack!"
"There was a fight," said Henry, "and we beat them back; then a second and a larger force came up, but it was composed chiefly of Wyandots, led by their great chief, Timmendiquas. He came forward and said that they would not pursue women and children, and that we could go in safety."
Carpenter looked incredulous.
"It is true," said Henry, "every word of it."
"It is more than Brant would have done," said Carpenter, "and it saves us, with your help."
"You were first, and the first credit is yours, Mr. Carpenter," said Henry sincerely.
They did not tell the women and children of the fight at the oasis, but they spread the news that there would be no more pursuit, and many drooping spirits revived. They spent another day in the Great Dismal Swamp, where more lives were lost. On the day after their emergence from the marsh, Henry and his comrades killed two deer, which furnished greatly needed food, and on the day after that, excepting those who had died by the way, they reached Fort Penn, where they were received into shelter and safety.
The night before the fugitives reached Fort Penn, the Iroquois began the celebration of the Thanksgiving Dance for their great victory and the many scalps taken at Wyoming. They could not recall another time when they had secured so many of these hideous trophies, and they were drunk with the joy of victory. Many of the Tories, some in their own clothes, and some painted and dressed like Indians, took part in it.
According to their ancient and honored custom they held a grand council to prepare for it. All the leading chiefs were present, Sangerachte, Hiokatoo, and the others. Braxton Wyatt, Blackstaffe, and other white men were admitted. After their deliberations a great fire was built in the center of the camp, the squaws who had followed the army feeding it with brushwood until it leaped and roared and formed a great red pyramid. Then the chiefs sat down in a solemn circle at some distance, and waited.
Presently the sound of a loud chant was heard, and from the farthest point of the camp emerged a long line of warriors, hundreds and hundreds of them, all painted in red and black with horrible designs. They were naked except the breechcloth and moccasins, and everyone waved aloft a tomahawk as he sang.
Still singing and brandishing the tomahawks, which gleamed in the red light, the long procession entered the open space, and danced and wheeled about the great fire, the flames casting a lurid light upon faces hideous with paint or the intoxication of triumph. The glare of their black eyes was like those of Eastern eaters of hasheesh or opium, and they bounded to and fro as if their muscles were springs of steel. They sang:
We have met the Bostonians [*] in battle, We slew them with our rifles and tomahawks. Few there are who escaped our warriors. Ever-victorious is the League of the Ho-de-no-sau-nee.
[* Note: All the Americans were often called Bostonians by the Indians as late as the Revolutionary War.]
Mighty has been our taking of scalps, They will fill all the lodges of the Iroquois. We have burned the houses of the Bostonians. Ever-victorious is the League of the Ho-de-no-sau-nee.
The wolf will prowl in their corn-fields, The grass will grow where their blood has soaked; Their bones will lie for the buzzard to pick. Ever-victorious is the League of the Ho-de-no-sau-nee.
We came upon them by river and forest; As we smote Wyoming we will smite the others, We will drive the Bostonians back to the sea. Ever-victorious is the League of the Ho-de-no-sau-nee.
The monotonous chant with the refrain, "Ever-victorious is the League of the Ho-de-no-sau-nee," went on for many verses. Meanwhile the old squaws never ceased to feed the bonfire, and the flames roared, casting a deeper and more vivid light over the distorted faces of the dancers and those of the chiefs, who sat gravely beyond.
Higher and higher leaped the warriors. They seemed unconscious of fatigue, and the glare in their eyes became that of maniacs. Their whole souls were possessed by the orgy. Beads of sweat, not of exhaustion, but of emotional excitement, appeared upon their faces and naked bodies, and the red and black paint streaked together horribly.
For a long time this went on, and then the warriors ceased suddenly to sing, although they continued their dance. A moment later a cry which thrilled every nerve came from a far point in the dark background. It was the scalp yell, the most terrible of all Indian cries, long, high-pitched, and quavering, having in it something of the barking howl of the wolf and the fiendish shriek of a murderous maniac. The warriors instantly took it up, and gave it back in a gigantic chorus.
A ghastly figure bounded into the circle of the firelight. It was that of a woman, middle-aged, tall and powerful, naked to the waist, her body covered with red and black paint, her long black hair hanging in a loose cloud down her back. She held a fresh scalp, taken from a white head, aloft in either band. It was Catharine Montour, and it was she who had first emitted the scalp yell. After her came more warriors, all bearing scalps. The scalp yell was supposed to be uttered for every scalp taken, and, as they had taken more than three hundred, it did not cease for hours, penetrating every part of the forest. All the time Catharine Montour led the dance. None bounded higher than she. None grimaced more horribly.
While they danced, six men, with their hands tied behind them and black caps on their heads, were brought forth and paraded around amid hoots and yells and brandishing of tomahawks in their faces. They were the surviving prisoners, and the black caps meant that they were to be killed and scalped on the morrow. Stupefied by all through which they had gone, they were scarcely conscious now.
Midnight came. The Iroquois still danced and sang, and the calm stars looked down upon the savage and awful scene. Now the dancers began to weary. Many dropped unconscious, and the others danced about them where they lay. After a while all ceased. Then the chiefs brought forth a white dog, which Hiokatoo killed and threw on the embers of the fire. When it was thoroughly roasted, the chiefs cut it in pieces and ate it. Thus closed the Festival of Thanksgiving for the victory of Wyoming.
CHAPTER XIII. A FOREST PAGE
When the survivors of the band of Wyoming fugitives that the five had helped were behind the walls of Fort Penn, securing the food and rest they needed so greatly, Henry Ware and his comrades felt themselves relieved of a great responsibility. They were also aware how much they owed to Timmendiquas, because few of the Indians and renegades would have been so forbearing. Thayendanegea seemed to them inferior to the great Wyandot. Often when Brant could prevent the torture of the prisoners and the slaughter of women and children, he did not do it. The five could never forget these things in after life, when Brant was glorified as a great warrior and leader. Their minds always turned to Timmendiquas as the highest and finest of Indian types.
While they were at Fort Penn two other parties came, in a fearful state of exhaustion, and also having paid the usual toll of death on the way. Other groups reached the Moravian towns, where they were received with all kindness by the German settlers. The five were able to give some help to several of these parties, but the beautiful Wyoming Valley lay utterly in ruins. The ruthless fury of the savages and of many of the Tories, Canadians, and Englishmen, can scarcely be told. Everything was slaughtered or burned. As a habitation of human beings or of anything pertaining to human beings, the valley for a time ceased to be. An entire population was either annihilated or driven out, and finally Butler's army, finding that nothing more was left to be destroyed, gathered in its war parties and marched northward with a vast store of spoils, in which scalps were conspicuous. When they repassed Tioga Point, Timmendiquas and his Wyandots were still with them. Thayendanegea was also with them here, and so was Walter Butler, who was destined shortly to make a reputation equaling that of his father, "Indian" Butler. Nor had the terrible Queen Esther ever left them. She marched at the head of the army, singing, horrid chants of victory, and swinging the great war tomahawk, which did not often leave her hand.
The whole force was re-embarked upon the Susquehanna, and it was still full of the impulse of savage triumph. Wild Indian songs floated along the stream or through the meadows, which were quiet now. They advanced at their ease, knowing that there was nobody to attack them, but they were watched by five woodsmen, two of whom were boys. Meanwhile the story of Wyoming, to an extent that neither Indians nor woodsmen themselves suspected, was spreading from town to town in the East, to invade thence the whole civilized world, and to stir up an indignation and horror that would make the name Wyoming long memorable. Wyoming had been a victory for the flag under which the invaders fought, but it sadly tarnished the cause of that flag, and the consequences were to be seen soon.
Henry Ware, Paul Cotter, Sol Hyde, Tom Ross, and Jim Hart were thinking little of distant consequences, but they were eager for the present punishment of these men who had committed so much cruelty. From the bushes they could easily follow the canoes, and could recognize some of their occupants. In one of the rear boats sat Braxton Wyatt and a young man whom they knew to be Walter Butler, a pallid young man, animated by the most savage ferocity against the patriots. He and Wyatt seemed to be on the best of terms, and faint echoes of their laughter came to the five who were watching among the bushes on the river bank. Certainly Braxton Wyatt and he were a pair well met.
"Henry," said Shif'less Sol longingly, "I think I could jest about reach Braxton Wyatt with a bullet from here. I ain't over fond o' shootin' from ambush, but I done got over all scruples so fur ez he's concerned. Jest one bullet, one little bullet, Henry, an' ef I miss I won't ask fur a second chance."
"No, Sol, it won't do," said Henry. "They'd get off to hunt us. The whole fleet would be stopped, and we want 'em to go on as fast as possible."
"I s'pose you're right, Henry," said the shiftless one sadly, "but I'd jest like to try it once. I'd give a month's good huntin' for that single trial."
After watching the British-Indian fleet passing up the river, they turned back to the site of the Wyoming fort and the houses near it. Here everything had been destroyed. It was about dusk when they approached the battlefield, and they heard a dreadful howling, chiefly that of wolves.
"I think we'd better turn away," said Henry. "We couldn't do anything with so many."
They agreed with him, and, going back, followed the Indians up the Susquehanna. A light rain fell that night, but they slept under a little shed, once attached to a house which had been destroyed by fire. In some way the shed had escaped the flames, and it now came into timely use. The five, cunning in forest practice, drew up brush on the sides, and half-burned timber also, and, spreading their blankets on ashes which had not long been cold, lay well sheltered from the drizzling rain, although they did not sleep for a long time.
It was the hottest period of the year in America, but the night had come on cool, and the rain made it cooler. The five, profiting by experience, often carried with them two light blankets instead of one heavy one. With one blanket beneath the body they could keep warmer in case the weather was cold.
Now they lay in a row against the standing wall of the old outhouse, protected by a six- or seven-foot slant of board roof. They had eaten of a deer that they had shot in the morning, and they had a sense of comfort and rest that none of them had known before in many days. Henry's feelings were much like those that he had experienced when he lay in the bushes in the little canoe, wrapped up from the storm and hidden from the Iroquois. But here there was an important increase of pleasure, the pattering of the rain on the board roof, a pleasant, soothing sound to which millions of boys, many of them afterwards great men, have listened in America.
It grew very dark about them, and the pleasant patter, almost musical in its rhythm, kept up. Not much wind was blowing, and it, too, was melodious. Henry lay with his head on a little heap of ashes, which was covered by his under blanket, and, for the first time since he had brought the warning to Wyoming, he was free from all feeling of danger. The picture itself of the battle, the defeat, the massacre, the torture, and of the savage Queen Esther cleaving the heads of the captives, was at times as vivid as ever, and perhaps would always return now and then in its original true colors, but the periods between, when youth, hope, and strength had their way, grew longer and longer.
Now Henry's eyelids sank lower and lower. Physical comfort and the presence of his comrades caused a deep satisfaction that permeated his whole being. The light wind mingled pleasantly with the soft summer rain. The sound of the two grew strangely melodious, almost piercingly sweet, and then it seemed to be human. They sang together, the wind and rain, among the leaves, and the note that reached his heart, rather than his ear, thrilled him with courage and hope. Once more the invisible voice that had upborne him in the great valley of the Ohio told him, even here in the ruined valley of Wyoming, that what was lost would be regained. The chords ended, and the echoes, amazingly clear, floated far away in the darkness and rain. Henry roused himself, and came from the imaginative borderland. He stirred a little, and said in a quiet voice to Shif'less Sol:
"Did you hear anything, Sol?"
"Nothin' but the wind an' the rain."
Henry knew that such would be the answer.
"I guess you didn't hear anything either, Henry," continued the shiftless one, "'cause it looked to me that you wuz 'bout ez near sleep ez a feller could be without bein' ackshooally so."
"I was drifting away," said Henry.
He was beginning to realize that he had a great power, or rather gift. Paul was the sensitive, imaginative boy, seeing everything in brilliant colors, a great builder of castles, not all of air, but Henry's gift went deeper. It was the power to evoke the actual living picture of the event that bad not yet occurred, something akin in its nature to prophecy, based perhaps upon the wonderful power of observation, inherited doubtless, from countless primitive ancestors. The finest product of the wilderness, he saw in that wilderness many things that others did not see, and unconsciously he drew his conclusions from superior knowledge.
The song had ceased a full ten minutes, and then came another note, a howl almost plaintive, but, nevertheless, weird and full of ferocity. All knew it at once. They had heard the cry of wolves too often in their lives, but this had an uncommon note like the yell of the Indian in victory. Again the cry arose, nearer, haunting, and powerful. The five, used to the darkness, could see one another's faces, and the look that all gave was the same, full of understanding and repulsion.
"It has been a great day for the wolf in this valley," whispered Paul, "and striking our trail they think they are going to find what they have been finding in such plenty before."
"Yes," nodded Henry, "but do you remember that time when in the house we took the place of the man, his wife and children, just before the Indians came?"
"Yes," said Paul.
"We'll treat them wolves the same way," said Shif'less Sol.
"I'm glad of the chance," said Long Jim.
"Me, too," said Tom Ross.
The five rose up to sitting positions against the board wall, and everyone held across his knees a long, slender barreled rifle, with the muzzle pointing toward the forest. All accomplished marksmen, it would only be a matter of a moment for the stock to leap to the shoulder, the eye to glance down the barrel, the finger to pull the trigger, and the unerring bullet to leap forth.
"Henry, you give the word as usual," said Shif'less Sol.
Presently in the darkness they heard the pattering of light feet, and they saw many gleaming eyes draw near. There must have been at least thirty of the wolves, and the five figures that they saw reclining, silent and motionless, against the unburned portion of the house might well have been those of the dead and scalped, whom they had found in such numbers everywhere. They drew near in a semicircular group, its concave front extended toward the fire, the greatest wolves at the center. Despite many feastings, the wolves were hungry again. Nothing had opposed them before, but caution was instinctive. The big gray leaders did not mind the night or the wind or the rain, which they had known all their lives, and which they counted as nothing, but they always had involuntary suspicion of human figures, whether living or not, and they approached slowly, wrinkling back their noses and sniffing the wind which blew from them instead of the five figures. But their confidence increased as they advanced. They had found many such burned houses as this, but they had found nothing among the ruins except what they wished.
The big leaders advanced more boldly, glaring straight at the human figures, a slight froth on their lips, the lips themselves curling back farther from the strong white teeth. The outer ends of the concave semicircle also drew in. The whole pack was about to spring upon its unresisting prey, and it is, no doubt, true that many a wolfish pulse beat a little higher in anticipation. With a suddenness as startling figures raised themselves, five long, dark tubes leaped to their shoulders, and with a suddenness that was yet more terrifying, a gush of flame shot from five muzzles. Five of the wolves-and they were the biggest and the boldest, the leaders-fell dead upon the ashes of the charred timbers, and the others, howling their terror to the dark, skies, fled deep into the forest.
Henry strode over and pushed the body of the largest wolf with his foot.
"I suppose we only gratified a kind of sentiment in shooting those wolves," he said, "but I for one am glad we did it."
"So am I," said Paul.
"Me, too," said the other three together.
They went back to their positions near the wall, and one by one fell asleep. No more wolves howled that night anywhere near them.
When the five awakened the next morning the rain had ceased, and a splendid sun was tinting a blue sky with gold. Jim Hart built a fire among the blackened logs, and cooked venison. They had also brought from Fort Penn a little coffee, which Long Jim carried with a small coffee pot in his camp kit, and everyone had a small tin cup. He made coffee for them, an uncommon wilderness luxury, in which they could rarely indulge, and they were heartened and strengthened by it.
Then they went again up the valley, as beautiful as ever, with its silver river in the center, and its green mountain walls on either side. But the beauty was for the eye only. It did not reach the hearts of those who had seen it before. All of the five loved the wilderness, but they felt now how tragic silence and desolation could be where human life and all the daily ways of human life had been.
It was mid-summer, but the wilderness was already reclaiming its own. The game knew that man was gone, and it had come back into the valley. Deer ate what had grown in the fields and gardens, and the wolves were everywhere. The whole black tragedy was written for miles. They were never out of sight of some trace of it, and their anger grew again as they advanced in the blackened path of the victorious Indians.
It was their purpose now to hang on the Indian flank as scouts and skirmishers, until an American army was formed for a campaign against the Iroquois, which they were sure must be conducted sooner or later. Meanwhile they could be of great aid, gathering news of the Indian plans, and, when that army of which they dreamed should finally march, they could help it most of all by warning it of ambush, the Indian's deadliest weapon.
Everyone of the five had already perceived a fact which was manifest in all wars with the Indians along the whole border from North to South, as it steadily shifted farther West. The practical hunter and scout was always more than a match for the Indian, man for man, but, when the raw levies of settlers were hastily gathered to stem invasion, they were invariably at a great disadvantage. They were likely to be caught in ambush by overwhelming numbers, and to be cut down, as had just happened at Wyoming. The same fate might attend an invasion of the Iroquois country, even by a large army of regular troops, and Henry and his comrades resolved upon doing their utmost to prevent it. An army needed eyes, and it could have none better than those five pairs. So they went swiftly up the valley and northward and eastward, into the country of the Iroquois. They had a plan of approaching the upper Mohawk village of Canajoharie, where one account says that Thayendanegea was born, although another credits his birthplace to the upper banks of the Ohio.
They turned now from the valley to the deep woods. The trail showed that the great Indian force, after disembarking again, split into large parties, everyone loaded with spoil and bound for its home village. The five noted several of the trails, but one of them consumed the whole attention of Silent Tom Ross.
He saw in the soft soil near a creek bank the footsteps of about eight Indians, and, mingled with them, other footsteps, which he took to be those of a white woman and of several children, captives, as even a tyro would infer. The soul of Tom, the good, honest, and inarticulate frontiersman, stirred within him. A white woman and her children being carried off to savagery, to be lost forevermore to their kind! Tom, still inarticulate, felt his heart pierced with sadness at the tale that the tracks in the soft mud told so plainly. But despair was not the only emotion in his heart. The silent and brave man meant to act.
"Henry," he said, "see these tracks here in the soft spot by the creek."
The young leader read the forest page, and it told him exactly the same tale that it had told Tom Ross.
"About a day old, I think," he said.
"Just about," said Tom; "an' I reckon, Henry, you know what's in my mind."
"I think I do," said Henry, "and we ought to overtake them by to-morrow night. You tell the others, Tom."
Tom informed Shif'less Sol, Paul, and Long Jim in a few words, receiving from everyone a glad assent, and then the five followed fast on the trail. They knew that the Indians could not go very fast, as their speed must be that of the slowest, namely, that of the children, and it seemed likely that Henry's prediction of overtaking them on the following night would come true.
It was an easy trail. Here and there were tiny fragments of cloth, caught by a bush from the dress of a captive. In one place they saw a fragment of a child's shoe that had been dropped off and abandoned. Paul picked up the worn piece of leather and examined it.
"I think it was worn by a girl," he said, "and, judging from its size, she could not have been more than eight years old. Think of a child like that being made to walk five or six hundred miles through these woods!"
"Younger ones still have had to do it," said Shif'less Sol gravely, "an' them that couldn't-well, the tomahawk."
The trail was leading them toward the Seneca country, and they had no doubt that the Indians were Senecas, who had been more numerous than any others of the Six Nations at the Wyoming battle. They came that afternoon to a camp fire beside which the warriors and captives had slept the night before.
"They ate bar meat an' wild turkey," said Long Jim, looking at some bones on the ground.
"An' here," said Tom Ross, "on this pile uv bushes is whar the women an' children slept, an' on the other side uv the fire is whar the warriors lay anywhars. You can still see how the bodies uv some uv 'cm crushed down the grass an' little bushes."
"An' I'm thinkin'," said Shif'less Sol, as he looked at the trail that led away from the camp fire, "that some o' them little ones wuz gittin' pow'ful tired. Look how these here little trails are wobblin' about."
"Hope we kin come up afore the Injuns begin to draw thar tomahawks," said Tom Ross.
The others were silent, but they knew the dreadful significance of Tom's remark, and Henry glanced at them all, one by one.
"It's the greatest danger to be feared," he said, "and we must overtake them in the night when they are not suspecting. If we attack by day they will tomahawk the captives the very first thing."
"Shorely,', said the shiftless one.
"Then," said Henry, "we don't need to hurry. We'll go on until about midnight, and then sleep until sunrise."
They continued at a fair pace along a trail that frontiersmen far less skillful than they could have followed. But a silent dread was in the heart of every one of them. As they saw the path of the small feet staggering more and more they feared to behold some terrible object beside the path.
"The trail of the littlest child is gone," suddenly announced Paul.
"Yes," said Henry, "but the mother has picked it up and is carrying it. See how her trail has suddenly grown more uneven."
"Poor woman," said Paul. "Henry, we're just bound to overtake that band."
"We'll do it," said Henry.
At the appointed time they sank down among the thickest bushes that they could find, and slept until the first upshot of dawn. Then they resumed the trail, haunted always by that fear of finding something terrible beside it. But it was a trail that continually grew slower. The Indians themselves were tired, or, feeling safe from pursuit, saw no need of hurry. By and by the trail of the smallest child reappeared.
"It feels a lot better now," said Tom Ross. "So do I."
They came to another camp fire, at which the ashes were not yet cold. Feathers were scattered about, indicating that the Indians had taken time for a little side hunt, and had shot some birds.
"They can't be more than two or three hours ahead," said Henry, "and we'll have to go on now very cautiously."
They were in a country of high hills, well covered with forests, a region suited to an ambush, which they feared but little on their own account; but, for the sake of extreme caution, they now advanced slowly. The afternoon was long and warm, but an hour before sunset they looked over a hill into a glade, and saw the warriors making camp for the night.
The sight they beheld made the pulses of the five throb heavily. The Indians had already built their fire, and two of them were cooking venison upon it. Others were lying on the grass, apparently resting, but a little to one side sat a woman, still young and of large, strong figure, though now apparently in the last stages of exhaustion, with her feet showing through the fragments of shoes that she wore. Her head was bare, and her dress was in strips. Four children lay beside her' the youngest two with their heads in her lap. The other two, who might be eleven and thirteen each, had pillowed their heads on their arms, and lay in the dull apathy that comes from the finish of both strength and hope. The woman's face was pitiful. She had more to fear than the children, and she knew it. She was so worn that the skin hung loosely on her face, and her eyes showed despair only. The sad spectacle was almost more than Paul could stand.
"I don't like to shoot from ambush," he said, "but we could cut down half of those warriors at our firs fire and rush in on the rest."
"And those we didn't cut down at our first volley would tomahawk the woman and children in an instant," replied Henry. "We agreed, you know, that it would be sure to happen. We can't do anything until night comes, and then we've got to be mighty cautious."
Paul could not dispute the truth of his words, and they withdrew carefully to the crest of a hill, where they lay in the undergrowth, watching the Indians complete their fire and their preparations for the night. It was evident to Henry that they considered themselves perfectly safe. Certainly they had every reason for thinking so. It was not likely that white enemies were within a hundred miles of them, and, if so, it could only be a wandering hunter or two, who would flee from this fierce band of Senecas who bad taken revenge for the great losses that they' had suffered the year before at the Oriskany.
They kept very little watch and built only a small fire, just enough for broiling deer meat which they carried. They drank at a little spring which ran from under a ledge near them, and gave portions of the meat to the woman and children. After the woman had eaten, they bound her hands, and she lay back on the grass, about twenty feet from the camp fire. Two children lay on either side of her, and they were soon sound asleep. The warriors, as Indians will do when they are free from danger and care, talked a good deal, and showed all the signs of having what was to them a luxurious time. They ate plentifully, lolled on the grass, and looked at some hideous trophies, the scalps that they carried at their belts. The woman could not keep from seeing these, too, but her face did not change from its stony aspect of despair. Then the light of the fire went out, the sun sank behind the mountains, and the five could no longer see the little group of captives and captors.
They still waited, although eagerness and impatience were tugging at the hearts of every one of them. But they must give the Indians time to fall asleep if they would secure rescue, and not merely revenge. They remained in the bushes, saying but little and eating of venison that they carried in their knapsacks.
They let a full three hours pass, and the night remained dark, but with a faint moon showing. Then they descended slowly into the valley, approaching by cautious degrees the spot where they knew the Indian camp lay. This work required at least three quarters of an hour, and they reached a point where they could see the embers of the fire and the dark figures lying about it. The Indians, their suspicions lulled, had put out no sentinels, and all were asleep. But the five knew that, at the first shot, they would be as wide awake as if they had never slept, and as formidable as tigers. Their problem seemed as great as ever. So they lay in the bushes and held a whispered conference.
"It's this," said Henry. "We want to save the woman and the children from the tomahawks, and to do so we must get them out of range of the blade before the battle begins." "How?" said Tom Ross.
"I've got to slip up, release the woman, arm her, tell her to run for the woods with the children, and then you four must do the most of the rest."
"Do you think you can do it, Henry?" asked Shif'less Sol.
"I can, as I will soon show you. I'm going to steal forward to the woman, but the moment you four hear an alarm open with your rifles and pistols. You can come a little nearer without being heard."
All of them moved up close to the Indian camp, and lay hidden in the last fringe of bushes except Henry. He lay almost flat upon the ground, carrying his rifle parallel with his side, and in his right hand. He was undertaking one of the severest and most dangerous tests known to a frontiersman. He meant to crawl into the very midst of a camp of the Iroquois, composed of the most alert woodsmen in the world, men who would spring up at the slightest crackle in the brush. Woodmen who, warned by some sixth sense, would awaken at the mere fact of a strange presence.
The four who remained behind in the bushes could not keep their hearts from beating louder and faster. They knew the tremendous risk undertaken by their comrade, but there was not one of them who would have shirked it, had not all yielded it to the one whom they knew to be the best fitted for the task.
Henry crept forward silently, bringing to his aid all the years of skill that he had acquired in his life in the wilds. His body was like that of a serpent, going forward, coil by coil. He was near enough now to see the embers of the fire not yet quite dead, the dark figures scattered about it, sleeping upon the grass with the long ease of custom, and then the outline of the woman apart from the others with the children about her. Henry now lay entirely flat, and his motions were genuinely those of a serpent. It was by a sort of contraction and relaxation of the body that he moved himself, and his progress was absolutely soundless.
The object of his advance was the woman. He saw by the faint light of the moon that she was not yet asleep. Her face, worn and weather beaten, was upturned to the skies, and the stony look of despair seemed to have settled there forever. She lay upon some pine boughs, and her hands were tied behind her for the night with deerskin.
Henry contorted himself on, inch by inch, for all the world like a great snake. Now he passed the sleeping Senecas, hideous with war paint, and came closer to the woman. She was not paying attention to anything about her, but was merely looking up at the pale, cold stars, as if everything in the world had ceased for her.
Henry crept a little nearer. He made a slight noise, as of a lizard running through the grass, but the woman took no notice. He crept closer, and there he lay flat upon the grass within six feet of her, his figure merely a slightly darker blur against the dark blur of the earth. Then, trusting to the woman's courage and strength of mind, he emitted a hiss very soft and low, like the warning of a serpent, half in fear and half in anger.
The woman moved a little, and looked toward the point from which the sound had come. It might have been the formidable hiss of a coiling rattlesnake that she heard, but she felt no fear. She was too much stunned, too near exhaustion to be alarmed by anything, and she did not look a second time. She merely settled back on the pine boughs, and again looked dully up at the pale, cold stars that cared so little for her or hers.
Henry crept another yard nearer, and then he uttered that low noise, sibilant and warning, which the woman, the product of the border, knew to be made by a human being. She raised herself a little, although it was difficult with her bound hands to sit upright, and saw a dark shadow approaching her. That dark shadow she knew to be the figure of a man. An Indian would not be approaching in such a manner, and she looked again, startled into a sudden acute attention, and into a belief that the incredible, the impossible, was about to happen. A voice came from the figure, and its quality was that of the white voice, not the red.
"Do not move," said that incredible voice out of the unknown. "I have come for your rescue, and others who have come for the same purpose are near. Turn on one side, and I will cut the bonds that hold your arms."
The voice, the white voice, was like the touch of fire to Mary Newton. A sudden fierce desire for life and for the lives of her four children awoke within her just when hope had gone the call to life came. She had never heard before a voice so full of cheer and encouragement. It penetrated her whole being. Exhaustion and despair fled away.
"Turn a little on your side," said the voice.
She turned obediently, and then felt the sharp edge of cold steel as it swept between her wrists and cut the thongs that held them together. Her arms fell apart, and strength permeated every vein of her being.
"We shall attack in a few moments," said the voice, "but at the first shots the Senecas will try to tomahawk you and your children. Hold out your hands."
She held out both hands obediently. The handle of a tomahawk was pressed into one, and the muzzle of a double-barreled pistol into the other. Strength flowed down each hand into her body.
"If the time comes, use them; you are strong, and you know how," said the voice. Then she saw the dark figure creeping away.
CHAPTER XIV. THE PURSUIT ON THE RIVER
The story of the frontier is filled with heroines, from the far days of Hannah Dustin down to the present, and Mary Newton, whom the unknown figure in the dark had just aroused, is one of them. It had seemed to her that God himself had deserted her, but at the last moment he had sent some one. She did not doubt, she could not doubt, because the bonds had been severed, and there she lay with a deadly weapon in either hand. The friendly stranger who had come so silently was gone as he had come, but she was not helpless now. Like many another frontier woman, she was naturally lithe and powerful, and, stirred by a great hope, all her strength had returned for the present.
Nobody who lives in the wilderness can wholly escape superstition, and Mary Newton began to believe that some supernatural creature had intervened in her behalf. She raised herself just a little on one elbow and surveyed the surrounding thicket. She saw only the dead embers of the fire, and the dark forms of the Indians lying upon the bare ground. Had it not been for the knife and pistol in her hand, she could have believed that the voice was only a dream.
There was a slight rustling in the thicket, and a Seneca rose quickly to his knees, grasping his rifle in both hands. The woman's fingers clutched the knife and pistol more tightly, and her whole gaunt figure trembled. The Seneca listened only a moment. Then he gave a sharp cry, and all the other warriors sprang up. But three of them rose only to fall again, as the rifles cracked in the bushes, while two others staggered from wounds.
The triumphant shout of the frontiersmen came from the thicket, and then they rushed upon the camp. Quick as a flash two of the Senecas started toward the woman and children with their tomahawks, but Mary Newton was ready. Her heart had leaped at the shots when the Senecas fell, and she kept her courage. Now she sprang to her full height, and, with the children screaming at her feet, fired one barrel of the pistol directly into the face of the first warrior, and served the second in the same way with the other barrel when he was less than four feet away. Then, tomahawk in hand, she rushed forward. In judging Mary Newton, one must consider time and place.
But happily there was no need for her to use her tomahawk. As the five rushed in, four of them emptied their double-barreled pistols, while Henry swung his clubbed rifle with terrible effect. It was too much for the Senecas. The apparition of the armed woman, whom they had left bound, and the deadly fire from the five figures that sprang upon them, was like a blow from the hand of Aieroski. The unhurt and wounded fled deep into the forest, leaving their dead behind. Mary Newton, her great deed done, collapsed from emotion and weakness. The screams of the children sank in a few moments to frightened whimpers. But the oldest, when they saw the white faces, knew that rescue had come.
Paul brought water from the brook in his cap, and Mary Newton was revived; Jim was reassuring the children, and the other three were in the thickets, watching lest the surviving Senecas return for attack.
"I don't know who you are, but I think the good God himself must have sent you to our rescue," said Mary Newton reverently.
"We don't know," said Paul, "but we are doing the best we can. Do you think you can walk now?"
"Away from the savages? Yes!" she said passionately. She looked down at the dead figures of the Senecas, and she did not feel a single trace of pity for them. Again it is necessary to consider time and place.
"Some of my strength came back while I was lying here," she said, "and much more of it when you drove away the Indians."
"Very well," said Henry, who had returned to the dead camp fire with his comrades, "we must start on the back trail at once. The surviving Senecas, joined by other Iroquois, will certainly pursue, and we need all the start that we can get."
Long Jim picked up one of the two younger children and flung him over his shoulder; Tom Ross did as much for the other, but the older two scorned help. They were full of admiration for the great woodsmen, mighty heroes who had suddenly appeared out of the air, as it were, and who had swept like a tornado over the Seneca band. It did not seem possible now that they, could be retaken.
But Mary Newton, with her strength and courage, had also recovered her forethought.
"Maybe it will not be better to go on the back trail," she said. "One of the Senecas told me to-day that six or seven miles farther on was a river flowing into the Susquehanna, and that they would cross this river on a boat now concealed among bushes on the bank. The crossing was at a sudden drop between high banks. Might not we go on, find the boat, and come back in it down the river and into the Susquehanna?"
"That sounds mighty close to wisdom to me," said Shif'less Sol. "Besides, it's likely to have the advantage o' throwin' the Iroquois off our track. They'll think, o' course, that we've gone straight back, an' we'll pass 'em ez we're going forward."
"It's certainly the best plan," said Henry, "and it's worth our while to try for that hidden boat of the Iroquois. Do you know the general direction?"
"Almost due north."
"Then we'll make a curve to the right, in order to avoid any Iroquois who may be returning to this camp, and push for it."
Henry led the way over hilly, rough ground, and the others followed in a silent file, Long Jim and Tom still carrying the two smallest children, who soon fell asleep on their shoulders. Henry did not believe that the returning Iroquois could follow their trail on such a dark night, and the others agreed with him.
After a while they saw the gleam of water. Henry knew that it must be very near, or it would have been wholly invisible on such a dark night.
"I think, Mrs. Newton," he said, "that this is the river of which you spoke, and the cliffs seem to drop down just as you said they would."
The woman smiled.
"Yes," she said, "you've done well with my poor guess, and the boat must be hidden somewhere near here."
Then she sank down with exhaustion, and the two older children, unable to walk farther, sank down beside her. But the two who slept soundly on the shoulders of Long Jim and Tom Ross did not awaken. Henry motioned to Jim and Tom to remain there, and Shif'less Sol bent upon them a quizzical and approving look.
"Didn't think it was in you, Jim Hart, you old horny-handed galoot," he said, "carryin' a baby that tender. Knew Jim could sling a little black bar 'roun' by the tail, but I didn't think you'd take to nussin' so easy."
"I'd luv you to know, Sol Hyde," said Jim Hart in a tone of high condescension, "that Tom Ross an' me are civilized human bein's. In face uv danger we are ez brave ez forty thousand lions, but with the little an' the weak we're as easy an' kind an' soft ez human bein's are ever made to be."
"You're right, old hoss," said Tom Ross.
"Well," said the shiftless one, "I can't argify with you now, ez the general hez called on his colonel, which is me, an' his major, which is Paul, to find him a nice new boat like one o' them barges o' Clepatry that Paul tells about, all solid silver, with red silk sails an' gold oars, an' we're meanin' to do it."
Fortune was with them, and in a quarter of an hour they discovered, deep among bushes growing in the shallow water, a large, well-made boat with two pairs of oars and with small supplies of parched corn and venison hidden in it.
"Good luck an' bad luck come mixed," said the shift-less one, "an' this is shorely one o' our pieces o' good luck. The woman an' the children are clean tuckered out, an' without this boat we could never hev got them back. Now it's jest a question o' rowin' an' fightin'."
"Paul and I will pull her out to the edge of the clear water," said Henry, "while you can go back and tell the others, Sol."
"That just suits a lazy man," said Sol, and he walked away jauntily. Under his apparent frivolity he concealed his joy at the find, which he knew to be of such vast importance. He approached the dusky group, and his really tender heart was stirred with pity for the rescued captives. Long Jim and Silent Tom held the smaller two on their shoulders, but the older ones and the woman, also, had fallen asleep. Sol, in order to conceal his emotion, strode up rather roughly. Mary Newton awoke.
"Did you find anything?" she asked.
"Find anything?" repeated Shif'less Sol. "Well, Long Jim an' Tom here might never hev found anything, but Henry an' Paul an' me, three eddicated men, scholars, I might say, wuz jest natcherally bound to find it whether it wuz thar or not. Yes, we've unearthed what Paul would call an argosy, the grandest craft that ever floated on this here creek, that I never saw before, an' that I don't know the name uv. She's bein' floated out now, an' I, the Gran' Hidalgo an' Majordomo, hev come to tell the princes and princesses, an' the dukes and dukesses, an' all the other gran' an' mighty passengers, that the barge o' the Dog o' Venice is in the stream, an' the Dog, which is Henry Ware, is waitin', settin' on the Pup to welcome ye."
"Sol," said Long Jim, "you do talk a power uv foolishness, with your Dogs an' Pups."
"It ain't foolishness," rejoined the shiftless one. "I heard Paul read it out o' a book oncet, plain ez day. They've been ruled by Dogs at Venice for more than a thousand years, an' on big 'casions the Dog comes down a canal in a golden barge, settin' on the Pup. I'll admit it 'pears strange to me, too, but who are you an' me, Jim Hart, to question the ways of foreign countries, thousands o' miles on the other side o' the sea?"
"They've found the boat," said Tom Ross, "an' that's enough!"
"Is it really true?" asked Mrs. Newton.
"It is," replied Shif'less Sol, "an' Henry an' Paul are in it, waitin' fur us. We're thinkin', Mrs. Newton, that the roughest part of your trip is over."
In another five minutes all were in the boat, which was a really fine one, and they were delighted. Mary Newton for the first time broke down and wept, and no one disturbed her. The five spread the blankets on the bottom of the boat, where the children soon went to sleep once more, and Tom Ross and Shif'less Sol took the oars.
"Back in a boat ag'in," said the shiftless one exultantly. "Makes me feel like old times. My fav'rite mode o' travelin' when Jim Hart, 'stead o' me, is at the oars."
"Which is most o' the time," said Long Jim.
It was indeed a wonderful change to these people worn by the wilderness. They lay at ease now, while two pairs of powerful arms, with scarcely an effort, propelled the boat along the stream. The woman herself lay down on the blankets and fell asleep with the children. Henry at the prow, Tom Ross at the stern, and Paul amidships watched in silence, but with their rifles across their knees. They knew that the danger was far from over. Other Indians were likely to use this stream, unknown to them, as a highway, and those who survived of their original captors could pick up their trail by daylight. And the Senecas, being mad for revenge, would surely get help and follow. Henry believed that the theory of returning toward the Wyoming Valley was sound. That region had been so thoroughly ravaged now that all the Indians would be going northward. If they could float down a day or so without molestation, they would probably be safe. The creek, or, rather, little river, broadened, flowing with a smooth, fairly swift current. The forest on either side was dense with oak, hickory, maple, and other splendid trees, often with a growth of underbrush. The three riflemen never ceased to watch intently. Henry always looked ahead. It would have been difficult for any ambushed marksman to have escaped his notice. But nothing occurred to disturb them. Once a deer came down to drink, and fled away at sight of the phantom boat gliding almost without noise on the still waters. Once the far scream of a panther came from the woods, but Mary Newton and her children, sleeping soundly, did not hear it. The five themselves knew the nature of the sound, and paid no attention. The boat went steadily on, the three riflemen never changing their position, and soon the day began to come. Little arrows of golden light pierced through the foliage of the trees, and sparkled on the surface of the water. In the cast the red sun was coming from his nightly trip. Henry looked down at the sleepers. They were overpowered by exhaustion, and would not awake of their own accord for a long time.
Shif'less Sol caught his look.
"Why not let 'em sleep on?" he said.
Then he and Jim Hart took the oars, and the shiftless one and Tom Ross resumed their rifles. The day was coming fast, and the whole forest was soon transfused with light.
No one of the five had slept during the night. They did not feel the need of sleep, and they were upborne, too, by a great exaltation. They had saved the prisoners thus far from a horrible fate, and they were firmly resolved to reach, with them, some strong settlement and safety. They felt, too, a sense of exultation over Brant, Sangerachte, Hiokatoo, the Butlers, the Johnsons, Wyatt, and all the crew that had committed such terrible devastation in the Wyoming Valley and elsewhere.
The full day clothed the earth in a light that turned from silver to gold, and the woman and the children still slept. The five chewed some strips of venison, and looked rather lugubriously at the pieces they were saving for Mary Newton and the children.
"We ought to hev more'n that," said Shif'less Sol. "Ef the worst comes to the worst, we've got to land somewhar an' shoot a deer."
"But not yet," said Henry in a whisper, lest he wake the sleepers. "I think we'll come into the Susquehanna pretty soon, and its width will be a good thing for us. I wish we were there now. I don't like this narrow stream. Its narrowness affords too good an ambush."
"Anyway, the creek is broadenin' out fast," said the shiftless one, "an' that is a good sign. What's that you see ahead, Henry—ain't it a river?"
"It surely is," replied Henry, who caught sight of a broad expanse of water, "and it's the Susquehanna. Pull hard, Sol! In five more minutes we'll be in the river."
It was less than five when they turned into the current of the Susquehanna, and less than five more when they heard a shout behind them, and saw at least a dozen canoes following. The canoes were filled with Indians and Tories, and they had spied the fugitives.
"Keep the women and the children down, Paul," cried Henry.
All knew that Henry and Shif'less Sol were the best shots, and, without a word, Long Jim and Tom, both powerful and skilled watermen, swung heavily on the oars, while Henry and Shif'less Sol sat in the rear with their rifles ready. Mary Newton awoke with a cry at the sound of the shots, and started to rise, but Paul pushed her down.
"We're on the Susquehanna now, Mrs. Newton," he said, "and we are pursued. The Indians and Tories have just seen us, but don't be afraid. The two who are watching there are the best shots in the world."
He looked significantly at Henry and Shif'less Sol, crouching in the stern of the boat like great warriors from some mighty past, kings of the forest whom no one could overcome, and her courage came back. The children, too, had awakened with frightened cries, but she and Paul quickly soothed them, and, obedient to commands, the four, and Mary Newton with them, lay flat upon the bottom of the boat, which was now being sent forward rapidly by Jim Hart and Tom. Paul took up his rifle and sat in a waiting attitude, either to relieve one of the men at the oars or to shoot if necessary.
The clear sun made forest and river vivid in its light. The Indians, after their first cry, made no sound, but so powerful were Long Jim and Tom that they were gaining but little, although some of the boats contained six or eight rowers.
As the light grew more intense Henry made out the two white faces in the first boat. One was that of Braxton Wyatt, and the other, he was quite sure, belonged to the infamous Walter Butler. Hot anger swept through all his veins, and the little pulses in his temples began to beat like trip hammers. Now the picture of Wyoming, the battle, the massacre, the torture, and Queen Esther wielding her great tomahawk on the bound captives, grew astonishingly vivid, and it was printed blood red on his brain. The spirit of anger and defiance, of a desire to taunt those who had done such things, leaped up in his heart.
"Are you there, Braxton Wyatt?" he called clearly across the intervening water. "Yes, I see that it is you, murderer of women and children, champion of the fire and stake, as savage as any of the savages. And it is you, too, Walter Butler, wickeder son of a wicked father. Come a little closer, won't you? We've messengers here for both of you!"
He tapped lightly the barrel of his own rifle and that of Shif'less Sol, and repeated his request that they come a little closer.
They understood his words, and they understood, also, the significant gesture when he patted the barrel of the rifles. The hearts of both Butler and Wyatt were for the moment afraid, and their boat dropped back to third place. Henry laughed aloud when he saw. The Viking rage was still upon him. This was the primeval wilderness, and these were no common foes.
"I see that you don't want to receive our little messengers," he cried. "Why have you dropped back to third place in the line, Braxton Wyatt and Walter Butler, when you were first only a moment ago? Are you cowards as well as murderers of women and children?"
"That's pow'ful good talk," said Shif'less Sol admiringly. "Henry, you're a real orator. Give it to 'em, an' mebbe I'll get a chance at one o' them renegades."
It seemed that Henry's words had an effect, because the boat of the renegades pulled up somewhat, although it did not regain first place. Thus the chase proceeded down the Susquehanna.
The Indian fleet was gaining a little, and Shif'less Sol called Henry's attention to it.
"Don't you think I'd better take a shot at one o' them rowers in the first boat?" he said to Henry. "Wyatt an' Butler are a leetle too fur away."
"I think it would give them a good hint, Sol!" said Henry. "Take that fellow on the right who is pulling so hard."
The shiftless one raised his rifle, lingered but a little over his aim, and pulled the trigger. The rower whom Henry had pointed out fell back in the boat, his hands slipping from the handles of his oars. The boat was thrown into confusion, and dropped back in the race. Scattering shots were fired in return, but all fell short, the water spurting up in little jets where they struck.
Henry, who had caught something of the Indian nature in his long stay among them in the northwest, laughed in loud irony.
"That was one of our little messengers, and it found a listener!" he shouted. "And I see that you are afraid, Braxton Wyatt and Walter Butler, murderers of women and children! Why don't you keep your proper places in the front?"
"That's the way to talk to 'em," whispered Shif'less Sol, as he reloaded. "Keep it up, an' mebbe we kin git a chance at Braxton Wyatt hisself. Since Wyoming I'd never think o' missin' sech a chance."
"Nor I, either," said Henry, and he resumed in his powerful tones: "The place of a leader is in front, isn't it? Then why don't you come up?"
Braxton Wyatt and Walter Butler did not come up. They were not lacking in courage, but Wyatt knew what deadly marksmen the fugitive boat contained, and he had also told Butler. So they still hung back, although they raged at Henry Ware's taunts, and permitted the Mohawks and Senecas to take the lead in the chase.
"They're not going to give us a chance," said Henry. "I'm satisfied of that. They'll let redskins receive our bullets, though just now I'd rather it were the two white ones. What do you think, Sol, of that leading boat? Shouldn't we give another hint?"
"I agree with you, Henry," said the shiftless one. "They're comin' much too close fur people that ain't properly interduced to us. This promiskus way o' meetin' up with strangers an' lettin' 'em talk to you jest ez ef they'd knowed you all their lives hez got to be stopped. It's your time, Henry, to give 'em a polite hint, an' I jest suggest that you take the big fellow in the front o' the boat who looks like a Mohawk."
Henry raised his rifle, fired, and the Mohawk would row no more. Again confusion prevailed in the pursuing fleet, and there was a decline of enthusiasm. Braxton Wyatt and Walter Butler raged and swore, but, as they showed no great zeal for the lead themselves, the Iroquois did not gain on the fugitive boat. They, too, were fast learning that the two who crouched there with their rifles ready were among the deadliest marksmen in existence. They fired a dozen shots, perhaps, but their rifles did not have the long range of the Kentucky weapons, and again the bullets fell short, causing little jets of water to spring up.
"They won't come any nearer, at least not for the present," said Henry, "but will hang back just out of rifle range, waiting for some chance to help them."
Shif'less Sol looked the other way, down the Susquehanna, and announced that he could see no danger. There was probably no Indian fleet farther down the river than the one now pursuing them, and the danger was behind them, not before.
Throughout the firing, Silent Tom Ross and Long Jim Hart had not said a word, but they rowed with a steadiness and power that would have carried oarsmen of our day to many a victory. Moreover, they had the inducement not merely of a prize, but of life itself, to row and to row hard. They had rolled up their sleeves, and the mighty muscles on those arms of woven steel rose and fell as they sent the boat swiftly with the silver current of the Susquehanna.
Mary Newton still lay on the bottom of the boat. The children had cried out in fright once or twice at the sound of the firing, but she and Paul bad soothed them and kept them down. Somehow Mary Newton had become possessed of a great faith. She noticed the skill, speed, and success with which the five always worked, and, so long given up to despair, she now went to the other extreme. With such friends as these coming suddenly out of the void, everything must succeed. She had no doubt of it, but lay peacefully on the bottom of the boat, not at all disturbed by the sound of the shots.