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April was near its end. The hills were turning green, albeit we could see, here and there on the high ledge above us, little patches of snow--the fading footprints of winter. Day and night we could hear the wings of the wild fowl roaring in the upper air as they flew northward. Summer was coming,--the summer of 1812,--and the war with the British. The President had called for a hundred thousand volunteers to go into training for battle. He had also proclaimed there would be no more whipping in the ranks. Then my father told me that, since I could have no peace at home, I should be off to the war and done with it.
We were working near the road that day Thurst Miles came galloping out of the woods, waving his cap at us. We ran to meet him--my father and I and the children. He pulled up a moment, his horse lathered to the ears.
"Injuns!" he shouted. "Git out o' here quick 'n' mek fer the Corners! Ye 'll be all massacreed ef ye don't."
Then he whacked the wet flank of his horse with a worn beech bough, and off he went.
We ran to the house in a great panic. I shall never forget the crying of the children. Indians had long been the favorite bugbear of the border country. Many a winter's evening we had sat in the firelight, fear-faced, as my father told of the slaughter in Cherry Valley; and, with the certainty of war, we all looked for the red hordes of Canada to come, in paint and feathers.
"Ray," my father called to me, as he ran, "ketch the cow quick an' bring 'er 'long."
I caught her by the horn and brought her to the door quickly. Mother was throwing some clothes into a big bundle. Father met me with a feather bed in his arms. He threw it over the back of the cow and bound it on with a bed-cord. That done, he gave me the leading-rope to tie about her horns. The hoofs of the flying horse were hardly out of hearing when we were all in the road. My mother carried the baby, and my father his sword and rifle and one of the little ones. I took the three older children and set them on the feather bed that was bound to the back of the cow. They clung to the bed-cord, their hair flying, as the old cow ran to keep up with us, for at first we were all running. In a moment we could hear the voices of people coming behind. One of the women was weeping loudly as she ran. At the first cross-road we saw Arv Law and his family coming, in as great a hurry as we, Arv had a great pike-pole in his hand. Its upper end rose twenty feet above his head.
"What ye goin' t' dew with thet?" my father asked him.
"Goin' t' run it through the fust Injun I see," said he. "I 've broke the lock o' my gun."
There was a crowd at Jerusalem Four Corners when we got there. Every moment some family was arriving in a panic--the men, like my father, with guns and babies and baskets. The women, with the young, took refuge at once in the tavern, while the men surrounded it. Inside the line were youths, some oddly armed with slings or clubs or cross-guns. I had only the sword my father gave me and a mighty longing to use it. Arv Law rested an end of his pike-pole and stood looking anxiously for "red devils" among the stumps of the farther clearing. An old flint-lock, on the shoulder of a man beside him, had a barrel half as long as the pole. David Church was equipped with axe and gun, that stood at rest on either side of him.
Evening came, and no sign of Indians. While it was growing dusk I borrowed a pail of the innkeeper and milked the cow, and brought the pail, heaped with froth, to my mother, who passed brimming cups of milk among the children. As night fell, we boys, more daring than our fathers, crept to the edge of the timber and set the big brush-heaps afire, and scurried back with the fear of redmen at our heels. The men were now sitting in easy attitudes and had begun to talk.
"Don't b'lieve there's no Injuns comin'," said Bill Foster. "Ef they wus they 'd come."
"'Cordin' t' my observation," said Arv Law, looking up at the sky, "Injuns mos' gen'ally comes when they git ready."
"An' 't ain't when yer ready t' hev 'em, nuther," said Lon Butterfield.
"B'lieve they come up 'n' peeked out o' the bushes 'n' see Arv with thet air pike-pole, 'n' med up their minds they hed n't better run up ag'in' it," said Bill Foster. "Scairt 'em--thet's whut's th' matter."
"Man 'et meks light o' this pole oughter hev t' carry it," said Arv, as he sat impassively resting it upon his knee.
"One things sure," said Foster; "ef Arv sh'u'd cuff an Injun with thet air he 'll squ'sh 'im."
"Squ'sh 'im!" said Arv, with a look of disgust. "'T ain't med t' squ'sh with, I cal'late t' p'int it at 'em 'n' jab."
And so, as the evening wore away and sleep hushed the timid, a better feeling came over us. I sat by Rose Merriman on the steps, and we had no thought of Indians. I was looking into her big hazel eyes, shining in the firelight, and thinking how beautiful she was. And she, too, was looking into my eyes, while we whispered together, and the sly minx read my thoughts, I know, by the look of her.
Great flames were now leaping high as the timber-tops at the edge of the clearing. A dead spruce caught fire as we were looking. The flames threw over it a lacy, shimmering, crackling net of gold. Then suddenly it burst into a red, leaping tower. A few moments, and the cavern of the woods, along the timber side, was choked with fire. The little hamlet had become a spring of light in the darkness. We could see the stumps and houses far afield, as if it had been noonday. Suddenly we all jumped to our feet. A wild yell came echoing through the woods.
"There they be!" said Asher Eastman, as he cocked his gun. "I tol' ye so."
As a matter of fact, he had told us nothing of the kind. He was the one man who had said nothing.
Arv Law stood erect, his pike-pole poised in both hands, and we were all ready for action. We could hear the rattle of many hoofs on the road. As soon as the column showed in the firelight, Bill Foster up with his musket and pulled the trigger. I could hear the shot scatter on stump and stone. Every man had his gun to his eye.
"Wait till they come nearer," said Asher Eastman.
The Indians had halted. Far behind them we could hear the wild hallooing of many voices. In a moment we could see those on horseback go galloping off in the direction whence they had come. Back in the house a number of the women were praying. My mother came out, her face whiter than I had ever seen it before, and walked to my father, and kissed him without ever saying a word. Then she went back into the house.
"Scairt?" I inquired, turning to Rose, who now stood beside me.
"I should think I was," she whispered. "I 'm all of a tremble."
"If anything happens, I 'd like something to remember you by."
"What?" she whispered.
I looked at her beautiful red lips. She had never let me kiss them.
"A kiss, if nothing more," I answered.
She gave me a kiss then that told me something of what was in her heart, and went away into the house.
"Goin' t' surround us," said Arv Law--"thet 's whut 's th' matter."
"Mus' be ready t' rassle 'em any minute," said Asher Eastman, as he sidled over to a little group.
A young man came out of the house and took his place in line with a big squirt-gun and a pail of steaming-hot water.
The night wore on; our fires burned low. As the approaching day began to light the clearing, we heard a sound that brought us all to our feet. A burst of bugle notes went chasing over the timber-land to the tune of "Yankee Doodle." We looked at one another in surprise. Then there came a thunder of hoofs in the distance, the ragged outline of a troop of cavalry.
"Soldiers!" said Arv, as he raised his pike.
"The British?" somebody asked.
"Dunno," said he. "Ain' no Injuns, I don't b'lieve."
A troop of cavalry was approaching at a gallop. They pulled up a few rods away and jammed into a big crescent of rearing, trampling horses. We could see they were American soldiers. We all lowered our guns.
"Who are you?" one of them shouted.
"Citizens," my father answered.
"Why are you armed?"
"To fight Injuns."
A chorus of laughter came from the cavalry.
They loosed rein, letting their horses advance.
"My dear man," said one of them, a big shako on his head, "there ain't an Indian 'tween here an' St. Regis. We thought you were British, an' it's lucky we did n't charge in the dark; we 'd have cut you all to pieces before we knew who you were,"
A body of infantry was marching down the pike. They were the volunteers of Captain Darius Hawkins, on their way to Ogdensburg, with an escort of cavalry from Sackett's Harbor. The scare was over. Women came out, laughing and chattering. In a few moments they were all in the road, going home--men, women, and children.
I enlisted with Captain Hawkins, and hurried to the house, and packed my things, and bade them all good-by.
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