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A HERALD BY WATER
The start from Louisville was made and the great expedition began among the cheers of the women and children of the little place and from the men who were left behind. Most of the army were in boats which also carried great quantities of arms, ammunition and food. All of the little settlements buried in the deep woods of Kentucky, though exposed at any time to sudden and terrible raids, had sent volunteers. They took the risk nevertheless, and dispatched their best to the redoubtable hero, George Rogers Clark. Few people have ever given more supreme examples of dauntless courage and self-sacrifice than these borderers. Tiny outposts only, they never failed to respond to the cry for help. There was scarcely a family which did not lose someone under the Indian tomahawk, but their courage never faltered, though for nearly twenty years no man was safe a single hour from savage ambush. They stood fast and endured everything.
Henry, Paul and their comrades were not in the boats, but were with Daniel Boone who led a party of the best scouts on the southern shore. It was not only their business to find their enemy if he should be there, but to clear him out, unless he were in too great force, and it was a task that required supreme skill and caution. Throughout its whole course dense forests grew along the Ohio, and an ambush might be planted anywhere. The foliage was still thick and heavy on the trees, as it was not yet August, and one seldom saw more than a hundred yards ahead.
The boats, keeping near the southern shore where their flank was protected by Boone's scouts, started, the sunlight streaming down upon them and the water flashing from their oars. The scouts had already gone on ahead, and the five were among the foremost. In a few minutes the last sign of the new settlement disappeared and they were in the wilderness. At Boone's orders the scouts formed in small bodies, covering at least two miles from the river. The five formed one of these little groups, and they began their work with zeal and skill. No enemy in the underbrush could have escaped their notice, but the whole day passed without a sign of a foe. When night came on they saw the boats draw into a cove on the southern bank, and, after a conference with Boone, they spread their blankets again under the trees, the watch not falling to their share until the following night. Having eaten from the food which they carried in knapsacks they looked contentedly at the river.
"Well, this will be twice that we have gone up the Ohio, once on the water, and once on the shore," said Paul. "But as before we have Timmendiquas to face."
"That's so," said Shif'less Sol, "but I'm thinkin' that nothin' much will happen, until we get up toward the mouth of the Lickin'. It's been only two nights since Timmendiquas hisself was spyin' us out, an' afore he strikes he's got to go back to his main force."
"Mebbe so an' mebbe not," said Tom Ross. "My eyes ain't so bad and this bein' a good place to look from I think I see a canoe over thar right under the fur shore uv the Ohio. Jest look along thar, Henry, whar the bank kinder rises up."
The point that Tom indicated was at least a mile away, but Henry agreed with him that a shape resembling a canoe lay close to the bank. Shif'less Sol and the others inclined to the same belief.
"If so, it's a scout boat watching us," said Paul, "and Timmendiquas himself may be in it."
Henry shook his head.
"It isn't likely," he said. "Timmendiquas knows all that he wants to know, and is now going northeastward as fast as he can. But his warriors are there. Look! You can see beyond a doubt now that it is a canoe, and it's going up the river at full speed."
The canoe shot from the shadow of the bank. Apparently it contained three or four Indians, and they had strong arms. So it sped over the water and against the current at a great rate.
"They've seen all they want to see to-night," said Henry, "but that canoe and maybe others will be watching us all the way."
A half hour later a light appeared in the northern woods and then another much further on. Doubtless the chain was continued by more, too far away for them to see. The men in the main camp saw them also, and understood. Every foot of their advance would be watched until the Indian army grew strong enough, when it would be attacked. Yet their zeal and courage rose the higher. They begged Clark to start again at dawn that no time might be lost. Boone joined the five under the tree.
"You saw the lights, didn't you, boys?" he said.
"We saw them," replied Henry, "and we know what they mean. Don't you think, Mr. Boone, that for a while the most dangerous part of the work will fall on you?"
"Upon those with me an' myself," replied Boone in his gentle manner, "but all of us are used to it."
For two successive nights they saw the fiery signals on the northern shore, carrying the news into the deep woods that the Kentucky army was advancing. But they were not molested by any skirmishers. Not a single shot was fired. The fact was contrary to the custom of Indian warfare, and Henry saw in it the wisdom and restraint of Timmendiquas. Indians generally attack on impulse and without system, but now they were wasting nothing in useless skirmishing. Not until all the warriors were gathered, and the time was ripe would Timmendiquas attempt the blow.
It gave the little white army a peculiar feeling. The men knew all the time that they were being watched, yet they saw no human being save themselves. Boone's scouts found the trail of Indians several times, but never an Indian himself. Yet they continued their patient scouting. They did not intend that the army should fall into an ambush through any fault of theirs. Thus they proceeded day after day, slowly up the river, replenishing their supplies with game which was abundant everywhere.
They came to the wide and deep mouth of the Kentucky, a splendid stream flowing from the Alleghany Mountains, and thence across the heart of Kentucky into the Ohio. Henry thought that its passage might be disputed, and the five, Boone, Thomas and some others crossed cautiously in one of the larger boats. They watched to see anything unusual stir in the thickets on the farther shore of the Kentucky, but no warrior was there. Timmendiquas was not yet ready, and now the land portion of the army was also on the further shore, and the march still went on uninterrupted. Paul began to believe that Timmendiquas was not able to bring the warriors to the Ohio; that they would stand on the defensive at their own villages. But Henry was of another opinion, and he soon told it.
"Timmendiquas would never have come down to Louisville to look us over," he said, "if he meant merely to act on the defensive at places two or three hundred miles away. No, Paul, we'll hear from him while we're still on the river, and I think it will be before Logan will join us."
Boone and Thomas took the same view, and now the scouting party doubled its vigilance.
"To-morrow morning," said Boone, "we'll come to the Licking. There are always more Indians along that river than any other in Kentucky and I wish Logan and his men were already with us."
The face of the great frontiersman clouded.
"The Indians have been too peaceful an' easy," he resumed. "Not a shot has been fired since we left Louisville an' now we're nearly to Tuentahahewaghta (the site of Cincinnati, that is, the landing or place where the road leads to the river). It means that Timmendiquas has been massing his warriors for a great stroke."
Reasoning from the circumstances and his knowledge of Indian nature, Henry believed that Daniel Boone was right, yet he had confidence in the result. Seven hundred trained borderers were not easily beaten, even if Logan and the other three hundred should not come. Yet he and Boone and all the band knew that the watch that night must miss nothing. The boats, as usual, were drawn up on the southern shore, too far away to be reached by rifle shots from the northern banks. The men were camped on a low wooded hill within a ring of at least fifty sentinels. The Licking, a narrow but deep stream, was not more than five miles ahead. Clark would have gone on to its mouth, had he not deemed it unwise to march at night in such a dangerous country. The night itself was black with heavy, low clouds, and the need to lie still in a strong position was obvious.
Boone spread out his scouts in advance. The five, staying together as usual, and now acting independently, advanced through the woods near the Ohio. It was one of the hottest of July nights, and nature was restless and uneasy. The low clouds increased in number, and continually grew larger until they fused into one, and covered the heavens with a black blanket from horizon to horizon. From a point far off in the southwest came the low but menacing mutter of thunder. At distant intervals, lightning would cut the sky in a swift, vivid stroke. The black woods would stand out in every detail for a moment, and they would catch glimpses of the river's surface turned to fiery red. Then the night closed down again, thicker and darker than ever, and any object twenty yards before them would become only a part of the black blur. A light wind moaned among the trees, weirdly and without stopping.
"It's a bad night for Colonel Clark's army," said Shif'less Sol. "Thar ain't any use o' our tryin' to hide the fact from one another, 'cause we all know it."
"That's so, Sol," said Long Jim Hart, "but we've got to watch all the better 'cause of it. I've knowed you a long time, Solomon Hyde, an' you're a lazy, shiftless, ornery, contrary critter, but somehow or other the bigger the danger the better you be, an' I think that's what's happenin' now."
If it had not been so dark Long Jim would have seen Shif'less Sol's pleased grin. Moreover the words of Jim Hart were true. The spirit of the shiftless one, great borderer that he was, rose to the crisis, but he said nothing. The little group continued to advance, keeping a couple of hundred yards or so from the bank of the Ohio, and stopping every ten or twelve minutes to listen. On such a night ears were of more use than eyes.
The forest grew more dense as they advanced. It consisted chiefly of heavy beech and oak, with scattered underbrush of spice wood and pawpaw. It was the underbrush particularly that annoyed, since it offered the best hiding for a foe in ambush. Henry prayed for the moon and the stars, but both moon and stars remained on the other side of impenetrable clouds. It was only by the occasional flashes of lightning that they saw clearly and then it was but a fleeting glimpse. But it was uncommonly vivid lightning. They noticed that it always touched both forest and river with red fire, and the weird moaning of the wind, crying like a dirge, never ceased. It greatly affected the nerves of Paul, the most sensitive of the five, but the others, too, were affected by it.
Henry turned his attention for a while from the forest to the river. He sought to see by the flashes of lightning if anything moved there, and, when they were about half way to the mouth of the Licking, he believed that he caught sight of something in the shape of a canoe, hovering near the farther shore. He asked them all to watch at the point he indicated until the next flash of lightning came. It was a full minute until the electric blade cut the heavens once more, but they were all watching and there was the dark shape. When the five compared opinions they were sure that it was moving slowly northward.
"It's significant," said Henry. "Daniel Boone isn't often mistaken, and the warriors are drawing in. We'll be fighting before dawn, boys."
"An' it's for us to find out when an' whar the attack will come," said Shif'less Sol.
"We're certainly going to try," said Henry. "Hark! What was that?"
"Injuns walkin' an' talkin'," said Tom Ross.
Henry listened, and he felt sure that Ross was right. Under his leadership they darted into a dense clump of pawpaws and lay motionless, thankful that such good shelter was close at hand. The footsteps, light, but now heard distinctly, drew nearer.
Henry had a sure instinct about those who were coming. He saw Braxton Wyatt, Blackstaffe, and at least twenty warriors emerge into view. The night was still as dark as ever, but the band was so near that the hidden five could see the features of every man. Henry knew by their paint that the warriors belonged to different tribes. Wyandots, Miamis, Shawnees, and Delawares were represented. Wyatt and Blackstaffe were talking. Henry gathered from the scattered words he heard that Blackstaffe doubted the wisdom of an attack, but Wyatt was eager for it.
"I was at Wyoming," said the younger renegade with a vicious snap of his teeth, "and it was the rush there that did it. We enveloped them on both front and flank and rushed in with such force that we beat them down in a few minutes. Nor did many have a chance to escape."
"But they were mostly old men and boys," said Blackstaffe, "and they had little experience in fighting the tribes. Clark has a bigger force here, and they are all borderers. You know how these Kentuckians can use the rifle."
Wyatt made a reply, but Henry could not hear it as the two renegades and the warriors passed on in the underbrush. But he did hear the click of a gun lock and he quickly pushed down the hand of Shif'less Sol.
"Not now! not now, Sol!" he whispered. "Wyatt and Blackstaffe deserve death many times over, but if you fire they'd all be on us in a whoop, and then we'd be of no further use."
"You're right, Henry," said the shiftless one, "but my blood was mighty hot for a minute."
The band disappeared, turning off toward the south, and the five, feeling that they had now gone far enough, returned to the camp. On the way they met Boone and the remainder of the scouts. Henry told what they had seen and heard and the great frontiersman agreed with them that the attack was at hand.
"You saw the war paint of four nations," he said, "an' that proves that a great force is here. I tell you I wish I knew about Logan, an' the men that are comin' down the Lickin'."
It was now nearly midnight and they found Colonel Clark sitting under a tree at the eastern edge of the camp. He listened with the greatest attention to every detail that they could give him, and then his jaw seemed to stiffen.
"You have done well, lads," he said. "There is nothing more dangerous than the calling of a scout in the Indian wars, but not one of you has ever shirked it. You have warned us and now we are willing for Timmendiquas and Girty to attack whenever they choose."
Many of the men were asleep, but Clark did not awaken them. He knew fully the value of rest, and they were borderers who would spring to their feet at the first alarm, alive in every sense and muscle. But at least a third of his force was on guard. No attack was feared on the water. Nevertheless many of the men were there with the boats. It was, however, the semicircle through the forest about the camp that was made thick and strong. Throughout its whole course the frontiersmen stood close together and keen eyes and trained ears noted everything that passed in the forest.
Henry and his four comrades were at the point of the segment nearest to the confluence of the Ohio and the Licking. Here they sat upon the ground in a close group in the underbrush, speaking but rarely, while time passed slowly. The character of the night had not changed. The solemn wind never ceased to moan among the trees, and far off in the west the thunder yet muttered. The strokes of lightning were far between, but as before they cast a blood red tinge over forest and river. The five were some hundreds of yards beyond the camp, and they could see nothing then, although they heard now and then the rattle of arms and a word or two from the officers. Once they heard the sound of heavy wheels, and they knew that the cannon had been wheeled into position. Clark had even been able to secure light artillery for his great expedition.
"Do you think them big guns will be of any use?" asked Shif'less Sol.
"Not at night," replied Henry, "but in the daytime if we come to close quarters they'll certainly say something worth hearing."
It was now nearly half way between midnight and morning when the vitality is lowest. Paul, as he lay among the pawpaws, was growing very sleepy. He had not moved for so long a time and the night was so warm that his eyes had an almost invincible tendency to close, but his will did not permit it. Despite the long silence he had no doubt that the attack would come. So he looked eagerly into the forest every time the lightning flashed, and always he strained his ears that he might hear, if anything was to be heard.
The melancholy wind died, and the air became close, hot and heavy. The leaves ceased to move, and there was no stir in the bushes, but Henry thought that he heard a faint sound. He made a warning gesture to his companions, and they, too, seemed to hear the same noise. All of Paul's sleepiness disappeared. He sat up, every nerve and muscle attuned for the crisis. Henry and he, at almost the same moment, saw the bushes move in front of them. Then they saw the bronze faces with the scalp lock above them, peering forth. The five sat perfectly silent for a few moments and more bronze faces appeared. The gaze of one of the Indians wandered toward the clump of pawpaws, and he saw there one of the five who had now risen a little higher than the rest to look. He knew that it was a white face, and, firing instantly at it, he uttered the long and thrilling war whoop. It was the opening cry of the battle.
The five at once returned the fire and with deadly effect. Two of the warriors fell, and the rest leaped back, still shouting their war cry, which was taken up and repeated in volume at a hundred points. Far above the forest it swelled, a terrible wolfish cry, fiercest of all on its dying note. From river and deep woods came the echo, and the warriors in multitudes rushed forward upon the camp.
Henry and his comrades when they discharged their rifles ran back toward the main force, reloading as they ran. The air was filled with terrible cries and behind them dark forms swarmed forward, running and bounding. From trees and underbrush came a hail of rifle bullets that whistled around the five, but which luckily did nothing save to clip their clothing and to sing an unpleasant song in their ears. Yet they had never run faster, not from fear, but because it was the proper thing to do. They had uncovered the enemy and their work as scouts was over.
They were back on the camp and among the frontiersmen, in less than a minute. Now they wheeled about, and, with rifles loaded freshly, faced the foe who pressed forward in a great horde, yelling and firing. Well it was for the white army that it was composed of veteran borderers. The sight was appalling to the last degree. The defenders were ringed around by flashes of fire, and hundreds of hideous forms leaped as if in the war dance, brandishing their tomahawks. But Colonel Clark was everywhere among his men, shouting to them to stand fast, not to be frightened by the war whoop, and that now was the time to win a victory. Boone, Abe Thomas and the five gave him great help.
The riflemen stood firm in their semicircle, each end of it resting upon the river. Most of them threw themselves upon the ground, and, while the bullets whistled over their heads, poured forth an answering fire that sent many a warrior to explore the great hereafter. Yet the tribes pressed in with uncommon courage, charging like white men, while their great chiefs Timmendiquas, Red Eagle, Black Panther, Moluntha, Captain Pipe and the others led them on. They rushed directly into the faces of the borderers, leaping forward in hundreds, shouting the war whoop and now and then cutting down a foe. The darkness was still heavy and close, but it was lit up by the incessant flashes of the rifles. The smoke from the firing, with no breeze to drive it away, hung low in a dense bank that stung the mouths and nostrils of the combatants.
"Keep low, Paul! Keep low!" cried Henry, dragging his young comrade down among some spicewood bushes. "If you are bound to stick your head up like that it will be stopping a tomahawk soon."
Paul did not have to wait for the truth of Henry's words, as a shining blade whizzed directly where his head had been, and, passing on, imbedded itself in the trunk of a mighty beech. Paul shuddered. It seemed to him that he felt a hot wind from the tomahawk as it flew by. In his zeal and excitement he had forgotten the danger for a moment or two, and once more Henry had saved his life.
"I wish it would grow lighter," muttered Shif'less Sol. "It's hard to tell your friends from your enemies on a black night like this, and we'll be all mixed up soon."
"We five at least must keep close together," said Henry.
A fierce yell of victory came from the southern side of the camp, a yell that was poured from Indian throats, and every one of the five felt apprehension. Could their line be driven in? Driven in it was! Fifty Wyandots and as many Shawnees under Moluntha, the most daring of their war chiefs, crashed suddenly against the weakest part of the half circle. Firing a heavy volley they had rushed in with the tomahawk, and the defenders, meeting them with clubbed rifles, were driven back by the fury of the attack and the weight of numbers. There was a confused and terrible medley of shouts and cries, of thudding tomahawks and rifle butts, of crashing brushwood and falling bodies. It was all in the hot dark, until the lightning suddenly flared with terrifying brightness. Then it disclosed the strained faces of white and red, the sweat standing out on tanned brows, and the bushes torn and trampled in the wild struggle. The red blaze passed and the night shot down in its place as thick and dark as ever. Neither red men nor white were able to drive back the others. In this bank of darkness the cries increased, and the cloud of smoke grew steadily.
It was not only well that these men were tried woodsmen, but it was equally well that they were led by a great wilderness chief. George Rogers Clark saw at once the point of extreme danger, and, summoning his best men, he rushed to the rescue. The five heard the call. Knowing its urgency, they left the spicewood and swept down with the helping band. Another flash of lightning showed where friends and foe fought face to face with tomahawk and clubbed rifle, and then Clark and the new force were upon the warriors. Paul, carried away by excitement, was shouting:
"Give it to 'em! Give it to 'em! Drive 'em back!"
But he did not know that he was uttering a word. He saw the high cheek bones and close-set eyes, and then he felt the shock as they struck the hostile line. Steel and clubbed rifle only were used first. They did not dare fire at such close quarters as friend and foe were mingled closely, but the warriors were pushed back by the new weight hurled upon them, and then the woodsmen, waiting until the next flash of lightning, sent in a volley that drove the Indians to the cover of the forest. The attack at that point had failed, and the white line was yet complete.
Once more the five threw themselves down gasping among the bushes, reloaded their rifles and waited. In front of them was silence. The enemy there had melted away without a sound, and he too lay hidden, but from left and right the firing and the shouting came with undiminished violence. Henry, also, at the same time heard in all the terrible uproar the distant and low muttering of the thunder, like a menacing under-note, more awful than the firing itself. The smoke reached them where they lay. It was floating now all through the forest, and not only stung the nostrils of the defenders, but heated their brains and made them more anxious for the combat.
"We were just in time," said Shif'less Sol. "Ef Colonel Clark hadn't led a hundred or so o' us on the run to this place the warriors would hev been right in the middle o' the camp, smashin' us to pieces. How they fight!"
"Their chiefs think this army must be destroyed and they're risking everything," said Henry. "Girty must be here, too, urging them on, although he's not likely to expose his own body much."
"But he's a real gen'ral an' a pow'ful help to the Injuns," said Tom Ross.
Clark's summons came again. The sound on the flank indicated that the line was being driven in at another point to the eastward, and the "chosen hundred," as the shiftless one called them, were hurled against the assailants, who were here mostly Miamis and Delawares. The Indians were driven back in turn, and the circle again curved over the ground that the defenders had held in the beginning. Jim Hart and Tom Ross were wounded slightly, but they hid their scratches from the rest, and went on with their part. A third attack in force at a third point was repulsed in the same manner, but only after the most desperate fighting. Each side suffered a heavy loss, but the Indians, nevertheless, were repulsed and the defenders once again lay down among the bushes, their pulses beating fast.
Then ensued the fiery ring. The white circle was complete, but the Indians formed another and greater one facing it. The warriors no longer tried to rush the camp, but flat on their stomachs among the bushes they crept silently forward, and fired at every white man who exposed a head or an arm or a hand.
They seemed to have eyes that pierced the dark, and, knowing where the target lay, they had an advantage over the defenders who could not tell from what point the next shot would come.
It was a sort of warfare, annoying and dangerous in the extreme, and Clark became alarmed. It got upon the nerves of the men. They were compelled to lie there and await this foe who stung and stung. He sought eagerly by the flashes of lightning to discover where they clustered in the greatest numbers, but they hugged the earth so close that he saw nothing, even when the lightning was so vivid that it cast a blood red tinge over both trees and bushes. He called Boone, Henry, Thomas and others, the best of the scouts, to him.
"We must clear those Indians out of the woods," he said, "or they will pick away at us until nothing is left to pick at. A charge with our best men will drive them off. What do you say, Mr. Boone?"
Daniel Boone shook his head, and his face expressed strong disapproval.
"We'd lose too many men, Colonel," he replied. "They're in greater numbers than we are, an' we drove them back when they charged. Now if we charged they'd shoot us to pieces before we got where we wanted to go."
"I suppose you're right," said Clark. "In fact, I know you are. Yes, we have to wait, but it's hard. Many of our men have been hit, and they can't stand this sort of thing forever."
"Suppose you send forward a hundred of the best woodsmen and sharpshooters," said Boone. "They can creep among the bushes an' maybe they can worry the Indians as much as the Indians are worrying us."
Colonel Clark considered. They were standing then near the center of the camp, and, from that point they could see through the foliage the dusky surface of the water, and when they looked in the other direction they saw puffs of fire as the rifles were discharged in the undergrowth.
"It's risky," he said at last, "but I don't see anything else for us to do. Be sure that you choose the best men, Mr. Boone."
Daniel Boone rapidly told off a hundred, all great marksmen and cautious woodsmen. Henry, Paul, Shif'less Sol, Long Jim and Tom Ross were among the first whom he chose. Then while the defenders increased their fire on the eastern side, he and his hundred, hugging the ground, began to creep toward the south. It was slow work for so large a body, and they had to be exceedingly careful. Boone wished to effect a surprise and to strike the foe so hard that he would be thrown into a panic. But Henry and Paul were glad to be moving. They had something now to which they could look forward. The two kept side by side, paying little attention to the firing which went on in unbroken volume on their left.
Boone moved toward a slight elevation about a hundred yards away. He believed that it was occupied by a small Indian force which his gallant hundred could easily brush aside, if they ever came into close contact. Amid so much confusion and darkness he could reach the desired place unless they were revealed by the lightning. There was not another flash until they were more than half way and then the hundred lay so low among the bushes that they remained hidden.
"We're beatin' the savages at their own game," said Shif'less Sol. "They are always bent on stalkin' us, but they don't 'pear to know now that we're stalkin' them. Keep your eye skinned, Henry; we don't want to run into 'em afore we expect it."
"I'm watching," replied Henry in the same tone, "but I don't think I'll have to watch much longer. In two or three minutes more they'll see us or we'll see them."
Fifty yards more and another red flash of lightning came. Henry saw a feathered head projecting over a log. At the same time the owner of the feathered head saw him, fired and leaped to his feet. Henry fired in return, and the next instant he and his comrades were upon the skirmishers, clearing them out of the bushes and sending them in headlong flight. They had been so long in the darkness now that their eyes had grown used to it, and they could see the fleeing forms. They sent a decimating volley after them, and then dropped down on the ridge that they had won. They meant to hold it, and they were fortunate enough to find there many fallen trees swept down by a tornado.
"We've cut their line," said Boone, "an' we must keep it cut. I've sent a messenger to tell Colonel Clark that we've taken the place, an' since we've broke their front they'll be mighty good men, Indians and renegades, if they're ever able to join it together again."
The warriors returned in great force to the attack. They appreciated the value of the position, but the sharpshooters fired from the shelter of the logs.
The five, following their long custom, kept close together, and when they threw themselves down behind the logs they took a rapid accounting. Paul was the only one who had escaped unhurt. A tomahawk, thrown at short range, had struck Henry on the side of the head, but only with the flat of the blade. His fur cap and thick hair saved him, but the force of the blow had made him reel for a minute, and a whole constellation of stars had danced before his eyes. Now his head still rung a little, but the pain was passing, and all his faculties were perfectly clear and keen. A bullet had nicked Tom Ross's wrist, but, cutting a piece of buckskin from his shirt, he tied it up well and gave it no further attention. Jim Hart and Shif'less Sol had received new scratches, but they were not advertising them.
They lay panting for a few minutes among the fallen trees, and all around them they heard the low words of the gallant hundred; though there were not really a hundred now. Boone was so near that Henry could see the outline of the great forest-fighter's figure.
"Well, we succeeded, did we not, Colonel Boone?" he said, giving him a title that had been conferred upon him a year or two before.
"We have so far," replied Boone, guardedly, "and this is a strong position. We couldn't have taken it if we hadn't been helped by surprise. I believe they'll make an effort to drive us out of this place. Timmendiquas and Girty know the need of it. Come with me, Mr. Ware, and see that all our men are ready."
Henry, very proud to serve as the lieutenant of such a man, rose from his log and the two went among the men. Everyone was ready with loaded weapons. Many had wounds, but they had tied them up, and, rejoicing now in their log fortifications, they waited with impatience the Indian onset. Henry returned to his place. A red flare of lightning showed his eager comrades all about him, their tanned faces, set and lean, every man watching the forest. But after the lightning, the night, heavy with clouds, swept down again, and it seemed to Henry that it was darker than ever. He longed for the dawn. With the daylight disclosing the enemy, and helping their own aim, their log fortress would be impregnable. Elsewhere the battle seemed to be dying. The shots came in irregular clusters, and the war whoop was heard only at intervals. Directly in front of them the silence was absolute and Henry's rapid mind divined the reason for all these things. Girty and Timmendiquas were assembling their main force there and they, too, would rely upon surprise and the irresistible rush of a great mass. He crawled over to Boone and told him his belief. Boone nodded.
"I think you are right," he said, "an' right now I'll send a messenger back to Colonel Clark to be ready with help. The attack will come soon, because inside of an hour you'll see dawn peeping over the eastern trees."
Henry crawled back to his comrades and lay down with them, waiting through that terrible period of suspense. Strain their ears as they would, they could hear nothing in front. If Timmendiquas and Girty were gathering their men there, they were doing it with the utmost skill and secrecy. Yet the watch was never relaxed for an instant. Every finger remained on the trigger and every figure was taut for instant action.
A half hour had passed. In another half hour the day would come, and they must fight when eyes could see. The lightning had ceased, but the wind was moaning its dirge among the leaves, and then to Henry's ears came the sound of a soft tread, of moccasined feet touching the earth ever so lightly.
"They are coming! They are coming!" he cried in a sharp, intense whisper, and the next instant the terrible war whoop, the fiercest of all human sounds, was poured from the hundreds of throats, and dusky figures seemed to rise from the earth directly in front of them, rushing upon them, seeking to close with the tomahawk before they could take aim with their rifles in the darkness. But these were chosen men, ready and wonderfully quick. Their rifles leaped to their shoulders and then they flashed all together, so close that few could miss. The front of the Indian mass was blown away, but the others were carried on by the impetus of their charge, and a confused, deadly struggle took place once more, now among the logs. Henry, wielding his clubbed rifle again, was sure that he heard the powerful voice of Timmendiquas urging on the warriors, but he was not able to see the tall figure of the great Wyandot chieftain.
"Why don't the help from Colonel Clark come?" panted Shif'less Sol. "If you don't get help when you want it, it needn't come at all."
But help was near. With a great shout more than two hundred men rushed to the rescue. Yet it was hard in the darkness to tell friend from enemy, and, taking advantage of it, the warriors yet held a place among the fallen trees. Now, as if by mutual consent, there was a lull in the battle, and there occurred something that both had forgotten in the fierce passions of the struggle. The dawn came. The sharp rays of the sun pierced the clouds of darkness and smoke, and disclosed the face of the combatants to one another.
Then the battle swelled afresh, and as the light swung higher and higher, showing all the forest, the Indian horde was driven back, giving ground at first slowly. Suddenly a powerful voice shouted a command and all the warriors who yet stood, disappeared among the trees, melting away as if they had been ghosts. They sent back no war cry, not another shot was fired, and the rising sun looked down upon a battlefield that was still, absolutely still. The wounded, stoics, both red and white, suppressed their groans, and Henry, looking from the shelter of the fallen tree, was awed as he had never been before by Indian combat.
The day was of uncommon splendor. The sun shot down sheaves of red gold, and lighted up all the forest, disclosing the dead, lying often in singular positions, and the wounded, seeking in silence to bind their wounds. The smoke, drifting about in coils and eddies, rose slowly above the trees and over everything was that menacing silence.
"If it were not for those men out there," said Paul, "it would all be like a dream, a nightmare, driven away by the day."
"It's no dream," said Henry; "we've repulsed the Indians twice, but they're going to try to hold us here. They'll surround us with hundreds of sharpshooters, and every man who tries to go a hundred yards from the rest of us will get a bullet. I wish I knew where Logan's force is or what has become of it."
"That's a mighty important thing to us," said Boone, "an' it'll grow more important every hour. I guess Logan has been attacked too, but he and Clark have got to unite or this campaign can't go on."
Henry said nothing but he was very thoughtful. A plan was forming already in his mind. Yet it was one that compelled waiting. The day deepened and the Indian force was silent and invisible. The inexperienced would have thought that it was gone, but these borderers knew well enough that it was lying there in the deep woods not a quarter of a mile away, and as eager as ever for their destruction. Colonel Clark reŽnforced the detachment among the fallen trees, recognizing the great strength of the position, and he spoke many words of praise.
"I'll send food to you," he said, "and meat and drink in plenty. After a night such as we have had refresh yourselves as much as you can."
They had an abundance of stores in the boats, and the men were not stinted. Nor did they confine themselves to cold food. Fires were lighted in the woods nearest to the river, and they cooked beef, venison, pork and buffalo meat. Coffee was boiled in great cans of sheet iron, and breakfast was served first to the gallant hundred.
Shif'less Sol, as he lay behind his tree, murmured words of great content. "It's a black night that don't end," he said, "an' I like fur mine to end jest this way. Provided I don't get hurt bad I'm willin' to fight my way to hot coffee an' rich buff'ler steak. This coffee makes me feel good right down to my toes, though I will say that there is a long-legged ornery creatur that kin make it even better than this. Hey, thar, Saplin'!"
Long Jim Hart's mouth opened in a chasm of a grin.
"I confess," he said, "I'm a purty good cook, ef I do tell it myself. But what are we goin' to do now, Henry?"
"That's for Colonel Clark to say, and I don't think he'll say anything just yet."
"Nice day," said Tom Ross, looking about approvingly.
All the others laughed, yet Tom told the truth. The clouds were gone and the air had turned cooler. The forest looked splendid in its foliage, and off to the south they could see wild flowers.
"Nothin' goin' to happen for some time," said Shif'less Sol, "an' me bein' a lazy man an' proud o' the fact, I think I'll go to sleep."
Nobody said anything against it, and stretching himself out among the bushes which shaded his face, he was sleeping peacefully in a few minutes. Paul looked at him, and the impression which the slumbering man made upon him was so strong that his own eyelids drooped.
"You go to sleep, too," said Henry. "You'll have nothing to do for hours, and sleep will bring back your strength."
Paul had eaten a heavy breakfast, and he needed nothing more than Henry's words. He lay down by the side of his comrade, and soon he too was slumbering as soundly as Shif'less Sol. Several hours passed. The sun moved on in its regular course toward the zenith. Paul and the shiftless one still slept. Toward the eastern end of the camp someone ventured a little distance from the others, and received a bullet in his shoulder. A scout fired at the figure of an Indian that he saw for a moment leaping from one tree to another, but he could not tell whether he hit anything. At the other end of the camp there were occasional shots, but Paul and the shiftless one slept on.
Henry glanced at the sleepers now and then and was pleased to see that they rested so well. He suggested to Jim Hart that he join them, and Jim promptly traveled to the same blissful country. Henry himself did not care to go to sleep. He was still meditating. All this sharpshooting by the two sides meant nothing. It was more an expression of restlessness than of any serious purpose, and he paid it no attention. Silent Tom noticed the corrugation of his brow, and he said:
"Thinkin' hard, Henry?"
"Yes; that is, I'm trying," replied Henry.
Tom, his curiosity satisfied, relapsed into silence. He, too, cared little for the casual shots, but he was convinced that Henry had a plan which he would reveal in good time.
The sniping went on all day long. Not a great deal of damage was done but it was sufficient to show to Colonel Clark that his men must lie close in camp. If the white army assumed the offensive, the great Indian force from the shelter of trees and bushes would annihilate it. And throughout the day he was tormented by fears about Logan. That leader was coming up the Licking with only three or four hundred men, and already they might have been destroyed. If so, he must forego the expedition against Chillicothe and the other Indian towns. It was a terrible dilemma, and the heart of the stout leader sank. Now and then he went along the semicircle, but he found that the Indians were always on watch. If a head were exposed, somebody sent a bullet at it. More than once he considered the need of a charge, but the deep woods forbade it. He was a man of great courage and many resources, but as he sat under the beech tree he could think of nothing to do.
The day--one of many alarms and scattered firing--drew to its close. The setting sun tinted river and woods with red, and Colonel Clark, still sitting under his tree and ransacking every corner of his brain, could not yet see a way. While he sat there, Henry Ware came to him, and taking off his hat, announced that he wished to make a proposition.
"Well, Henry, my lad," said the Colonel, kindly, "what is it that you have to say? As for me, I confess I don't know what to do."
"Somebody must go down the Licking and communicate with Colonel Logan," replied the youth. "I feel sure that he has not come up yet, and that he has not been in contact with the Indians. If his force could break through and join us, we could drive the Indians out of our path."
"Your argument is good as far as it goes," said Colonel Clark somewhat sadly, "but how are we to communicate with Logan? We are surrounded by a ring of fire. Not a man of ours dare go a hundred yards from camp. What way is there to reach Logan?"
"By water? What do you mean?"
"Down the Ohio and up the Licking."
Colonel Clark stared at Henry.
"That's an easy thing to talk about," he said, "but who's going down the Ohio and then up the Licking for Logan?"
"I--with your permission."
Colonel Clark stared still harder, and his eyes widened a little with appreciation, but he shook his head.
"It's a patriotic and daring thing for you to propose, my boy," he said, "but it is impossible. You could never reach the mouth of the Licking even, and yours is too valuable a life to be thrown away in a wild attempt."
But Henry was not daunted. He had thought over his plan long and well, and he believed that he could succeed.
"I have been along the Ohio before, and I have also been down the Licking," he said. "The night promises to be cloudy and dark like last night and I feel sure that I can get through. I have thought out everything, and I wish to try. Say that you are willing for me to go, Colonel."
Colonel Clark hesitated. He had formed a strong liking for the tall youth before him, and he did not wish to see his life wasted, but the great earnestness of Henry's manner impressed him. The youth's quiet tone expressed conviction, and expressed it so strongly that Colonel Clark, in his turn, felt it.
"What is your plan?" he asked.
"When the night reaches its darkest I will start with a little raft, only four or five planks fastened together. I do not want a canoe. I want something that blends with the surface of the water. I'll swim, pushing it before me until I am tired, and then I'll rest upon it. Then I'll swim again."
"Do you really think you can get through?" asked the Colonel.
"I'm sure of it."
Colonel Clark paced back and forth for a minute or two.
"It looks terribly dangerous," he said at last, "but from all I have heard you've done some wonderful things, and if you can reach Logan in time, it will relieve us from this coil."
"I can do it! I can do it!" said Henry eagerly.
Colonel Clark looked at him long and scrutinizingly. He noted his height, his powerful figure, the wonderful elasticity that showed with every step he took, and his firm and resourceful gaze.
"Well, go," he said, "and God be with you."
"I shall start the moment full darkness comes," said Henry.
"But we must arrange a signal in case you get through to Logan," said Colonel Clark. "He has a twelve pound bronze gun. I know positively that he left Lexington with it. Now if he approaches, have him fire a shot. We will reply with two shots from our guns, you answer with another from yours, and the signal will be complete. Then Logan is to attack the Indian ring from the outside with all his might, and, at the same moment and at the same point, we will attack from the inside with all of ours. Then, in truth, it will be strange if we do not win the victory."
Henry returned to his comrades and told them the plan. They were loth to see him go, but they knew that attempts to dissuade him would be useless. Nevertheless, Shif'less Sol had an amendment.
"Let me go with you, Henry," he said. "Two are better than one."
"No," replied Henry, "I must go alone, Sol. In this case the smaller the party the less likely it is to be seen. I'll try, and then if I fail, it will be your time."
The night, as Henry had foreseen, was cloudy and dark. The moon and stars were hidden again, and two hundred yards from shore the surface of the river blended into the general blur. His little raft was made all ready. Four broad planks from the wagons had been nailed securely together with cross-strips. Upon them he laid his rifle and pistols--all in holsters--ammunition secured from the wet, and food and his clothing in tight bundles. He himself was bare, save for a waist cloth and belt, but in the belt he carried a hatchet and his long hunting knife.
Only his four comrades, Colonel Clark and Boone were present when he started. Every one of the six in turn, wrung his hand. But the four who had known him longest and best were the most confident that he would reach Logan and achieve his task.
Henry slipped silently into the water, and, pushing his raft before him, was gone like a wraith. He did not look back, knowing that for the present he must watch in front if he made the perilous passage. The boats belonging to the army were ranged toward the shore, but he was soon beyond them. Then he turned toward the bank, intending to keep deep in its shadows, and also in the shade of the overhanging boughs.
The Indians had no fleet, but beyond a doubt they were well provided with canoes which would cruise on both rivers beyond the range of rifle shot, and keep a vigilant watch for messengers from either Clark or Logan. Hence Henry moved very slowly for a while, eagerly searching the darkness for any sign of his vigilant foe. He rested one arm upon his little raft, and with the other he wielded a small paddle which sent him along easily.
As it nears Cincinnati the Ohio narrows and deepens, and the banks rise more abruptly. Henry kept close to the southern shore, his body often touching the soft earth. Fortunately the bushes grew thickly, even on the steep cliff, to the water's edge. When he had gone three or four hundred yards he pulled in among them and lay still awhile. He heard the sound of distant shots and he knew that the Indians were still sniping the camp. The curve of the Ohio hid the boats of his friends, and before him the river seemed to be deserted. Yet he was sure that the Indian canoes were on watch. They might be hovering within fifty yards of him.
He listened for the noise of paddles, but no such sound came, and pushing his tiny craft from the coil of bushes, he set out once more upon the Ohio. Still hearing and seeing nothing, he went a little faster. Henry was a powerful swimmer, and the raft, small as it was, gave him ample support. Meanwhile, he sought sedulously to avoid any noise, knowing that only an incautious splash made by his paddle would almost certainly be heard by an Indian ear.
Presently he saw on the northern bank a light, and then another light farther up the stream. Probably the Indians were signaling to one another, but it did not matter to him, and he swam on towards the mouth of the Licking, now about a half mile away. Another hundred yards and he quickly and silently drew in to the bank again, pushing the raft far back, until it, as well as himself, was hidden wholly. He had heard the distant sounds of paddles coming in his direction, and soon two Indian canoes in file came in sight. Each canoe contained two warriors. Henry inferred from the way in which they scrutinized the river and the bank, that they were sentinels. Well for him that the bushes grew thick and high. The penetrating Indian eyes passed unsuspecting over his hiding place, and went on, dropping slowly down the river to a point where they could watch the white boats. A hundred yards in that darkness was sufficient to put them out of sight, and Henry again pushed boldly into the stream.
The young blockade runner now had a theory that the sentinel boats of the Indians would keep close in to the shore. That would be their natural procedure, and to avoid them he swam boldly far out into the river. Near the middle of the current he paddled once more up stream. Only his head showed above the surface and the raft was so low that no one was likely to notice it. The wisdom of his movement soon showed as he made out three more canoes near the Kentucky shore, obviously on watch. Toward the north, at a point not more than seventy or eighty yards away he saw another canoe containing three warriors and apparently stationary. Others might be further ahead, but the darkness was too great for him to tell. Clearly, there was no passage except in the middle of the stream, the very point that he had chosen.
Many a stout heart would have turned back, but pride commanded Henry to go on. Fortunately, the water lying long under the summer heat was very warm, and one could stay in it indefinitely, without fear of chill. While he deliberated a little, he sank down until he could breathe only through his nostrils, keeping one hand upon the raft. Then he began to swim slowly with his feet and the other hand and all the while he kept his eyes upon the stationary boat containing the three warriors. By dint of staring at them so long they began to appear clear and sharp in the darkness. Two were middle-aged, and one young. He judged them to be Wyandots, and they had an anchor as they did not use the paddles to offset the current. Undoubtedly they were sentinels, as their gaze made a continuous circle about them. Henry knew, too, that they were using ears as well as eyes and that nobody could hear better than the Wyandots.
He decreased his pace, merely creeping through the water, and at the same time he swung back a little toward the southern shore and away from the Wyandots in the canoe. But the movement was a brief one. To the right of him he saw two more canoes and he knew that they formed a part of the chain of sentinels stretched by Timmendiquas across the river. It was obvious to Henry that the Wyandot leader was fully aware of the advance of Logan, and was resolved to prevent the passage of any messenger between him and Clark.
Henry paused again, still clinging to his little raft, and holding his place in the current with a slight motion of his feet. Then he advanced more slowly than ever, choosing a point which he thought was exactly half way between the Wyandots and the other canoes, but he feared the Wyandots most. Twenty yards, and he stopped. One of the Wyandot warriors seemed to have seen something. He was looking fixedly in Henry's direction. Boughs and stumps of every sort often floated down the Ohio. He might have caught a glimpse of Henry's head. He would take it for a small stump, but he would not stop to surmise.
Holding the planks with but one hand, Henry dived about two feet beneath the surface and swam silently but powerfully up the stream. He swam until his head seemed to swell and the water roared in his ears. He swam until his heart pounded from exhaustion and then he rose slowly to the surface, not knowing whether or not he would rise among his enemies.
No one greeted him with a shot or blow as he came up, and, when his eyes cleared themselves of water, he saw the Wyandot canoe cruising about sixty or seventy yards down the stream, obviously looking for the dark spot that one of them had seen upon the surface of the river. They might look in his direction, but he believed that he was too far away to be noticed. Still, he could not tell, and one with less command of himself would have swam desperately away. Henry, instead, remained perfectly still, sunk in the water up to his nostrils, one hand only yet clinging to the raft. The Wyandots turned southward, joined their brethren from the Kentucky shore and talked earnestly with them. Henry used the opportunity to swim about a hundred yards further up the stream, and then, when the canoes separated, he remained perfectly still again. In the foggy darkness he feared most the Indian ear which could detect at once any sound out of the common. But the Wyandot canoe returned to its old place and remained stationary there. Evidently the warriors were convinced that they had seen only a stump.
Henry now swam boldly and swiftly, still remaining in the middle of the stream. He saw several lights in the woods on the southern shore, not those of signals, but probably the luminous glow from camp fires as they burned with a steady blaze. The Indians were on watch, and the faint sound of two or three rifle shots showed that the night did not keep them from buzzing and stinging about Colonel Clark's force. Yet Henry's pulse leaped in throat and temple. He had passed one formidable obstacle and it was a good omen. The stars in their courses were fighting for him, and he would triumph over the others as they came.
But he checked his speed, thinking that the Indian canoes would be thick around the mouth of the Licking, and presently he became conscious of a great weariness. He had been in the water a long time and one could not dive and swim forever. His arms and legs ached and he felt a soreness in his chest. It was too dangerous to pull in to the bank at that point, and he tried a delicate experiment. He sought to crawl upon his little raft and lie there flat upon his back, a task demanding the skill of an acrobat.
Three or four times Henry was within an inch of overturning his frail craft with the precious freight, but he persisted, and by skillfully balancing himself and the raft too he succeeded at last. Then he was compelled to lie perfectly still, with his arms outstretched and his feet in the water. He was flat upon his back and he could look at only the heavens, which offered to his view nothing--no bright stars and shining moon, only lowering clouds. If an enemy appeared, he must depend upon his ear to give warning. But the physical difficulty of his position did not keep him from feeling a delightful sense of rest. The soreness left his chest, the ache disappeared from his arms and legs, and he drew the fresh air into his lungs in deep and easy breaths. An occasional kick of his feet kept the raft from floating down stream, and, for a while, he lay there, studying the clouds, and wondering how long it would be until the twinkle of a star would break through them. He heard the sound of both paddles and oars, the first to the north and the other to the south. But his experienced ear told him that each was at least two hundred yards away, which was too far for anyone to see him stretched out upon his boards. So he rested on and waited for his ears to tell him whether the sounds were coming any nearer. The boat with the oars passed out of hearing and the sound of the oars became fainter and fainter. Henry's heart ticked a note of thankfulness. He would not be disturbed for the present, and he continued his study of the low clouds, while the strength flowed back into every part of his body.
It occurred to him presently that he could steer as well as propel his float with his feet. So he set to work, threshing the water very slowly and carefully, and turning his head towards the mouth of the Licking. Occasionally he heard the sounds of both oars and paddles, but he judged very accurately that those who wielded them were not near enough to see him. He was thankful that the night was not broken like the one before with flashes of lightning which would infallibly have disclosed him to the enemy.
After a half hour of this work, he felt a strange current of water against his feet, and at first he was puzzled, but the solution came in a few minutes. He was opposite the mouth of the Licking, and he had come into contact with the stream before it was fully merged into the Ohio. What should he do next? The cordon across the Licking, a much narrower river, would be harder to pass than that on the Ohio.
But he was rested fully now, and, sliding off his boards into the water, he took a long survey of his situation. No break had yet occurred in the clouds, and this was a supreme good fortune. To the east, he dimly saw two boats, and to the south, the high black bank. No lights were visible there, but he saw them further down the shore, where it was likely that the majority of the warriors were gathered. Henry resolved to make directly for the angle of land between the mouth of the Licking and the Ohio, and he swam toward it with swift, powerful strokes, pushing his raft before him.
He calculated that at this angle of land he would be between the two Indian cordons, and there, if anywhere, he could find the way to Logan. He reached the point, found it well covered with bushes, and drew the little raft into concealment. Then he climbed cautiously to the top and looked long in every direction, seeking to trace the precise alignment of the Indian force. He saw lights in the woods directly to the south and along the shore of the Licking. The way there was closed and he knew that the watch would be all the more vigilant in order to intercept the coming of Logan. He could not pass on land. Hence, he must pass on water.
There were yet many long hours before daylight, and he did not hasten. Although the water was warm he had been in it a long time and he took every precaution to maintain his physical powers. He did not dress, but he rubbed thoroughly every part of his body that he could reach. Then he flexed and tensed his muscles until he had thrown off every chance of chill, after which he lowered himself into the water, and pushed out with his raft once more.
He turned the angle of land and entered the Licking, a narrow, deep, and muddy stream, lined there, like all the other rivers of that region, with high and thick forests. Ahead of him, he saw in the stream a half dozen boats with warriors, yet he continued his course towards the cordon, keeping his float very close to the western banks. It is said that fortune favors the daring, and Henry had often proved the truth of it. Once more the saying held good. Clouds heavier and thicker than any of the others floated up and plunged river and shores into deeper obscurity. Henry believed that if he could avoid all noise, he might, by hugging the bank, get by.
He went in so close to the shore that he could wade, but finding that he was likely to become tangled among bushes and vines, thus making sounds which the warriors would not fail to hear, he returned to deeper water. Now the most critical moment of the river gauntlet was approaching. He saw about one hundred yards before him, and directly across his course, a boat containing two warriors. The space between this boat and the western shore was not more than thirty yards. Could he pass them, unseen? The chances were against it, but he resolved to try.
Swimming silently, he approached the opening. He had sunk deep in the water again, with only one hand on the float, and there was yet nothing from the boat to indicate that the two warriors had either seen or heard him. Despite all his experience, his heart beat very fast, and his hand on the float trembled. But he had no thought of going back. Now he was almost parallel with the boat. Now, he was parallel, and the watchful eye of one of the warriors caught a glimpse of the darker object on the surface of the dark water. He stared a moment in surprise, and then with a yell of warning to his comrade, raised his rifle and fired at the swimming head.
Henry had seen the upraised rifle, and diving instantly, he swam with all his might up stream. As he went down, he heard the bullet go zip upon the water. Knowing that he could not save his little craft, he had loosed his hold upon it and swam under water as long as he could. Yet those boards and the packages upon them saved his life. They were the only things that the warriors now saw, and all rowed straight towards the raft. Meanwhile, Henry rose in the bushes at the edge of the bank and took long and deep breaths, while they examined his rifle and clothing. Before they had finished, he dived into the deep water once more, and was again swimming swiftly against the current of the Licking.
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