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THE TAKING OF HENRY
"I'm sorry my foot slipped," whispered Paul.
"Don't you worry, Paul," Henry whispered back. "We're as anxious to meet them as they are to meet us. If they are willing to stay and have the argument out, we're willing to give them something to think about."
"An' I'd like to get a shot at that harelipped villain," interjected Shif'less Sol. "I'd give him somethin' he wouldn't furgit."
"Suppose we move a little to the right," said Henry. "They've noted the direction from which the sound came, and they may send a bullet into the bushes here."
They crept quietly to the right, a distance of perhaps ten yards; and they soon found the precaution to be a wise one, as a crack came from the forest, and a bullet cut the twigs where they had lately been. Shif'less Sol sent a return bullet at the flash of the rifle and they heard a suppressed cry.
"It doesn't do to be too keerless," said the shiftless one in a contented tone as he reloaded his rifle. "Whoever fired that shot ought to hev known that something would come back to him."
Several more bullets came from the forest, and now they cut the bushes close by, but the comrades lay flat upon the ground and all passed over their heads.
After Shif'less Sol's single shot they did not return the fire for the present, but continued to move slowly to the right. Thus a full half hour passed without a sign from either side. Meanwhile a wind, slowly rising, was blowing so steadily that all the trees and bushes were drying fast.
Neither Henry nor his comrades could now tell just where their enemies were, but they believed that the hostile band had also been circling about the open space in which the ruined village stood. They felt sure that the Indians and the three white men would not go away. The Indians were never keener for scalps than they were that year, and with a force of nearly two to one they would not decline a combat, even if it were not the surprise that they had expected.
"We may stay here until daylight," whispered Henry. "They are now sure we're not going to run away, and with the sunrise they may think that they will have a better chance at us."
"If the daylight finds them here, it will find us too," said Shif'less Sol. They shifted around a little further, and presently another shot was fired from a point opposite them in the forest. Henry sent a bullet in return, but there was nothing to indicate whether it had struck a foe. Then ensued another long silence which was broken at last by a shot from the interior of the old Council House. It was sent at random into the bushes, but the bullet cut the leaves within an inch of Henry's face, and they grew exceedingly cautious. Another bullet soon whistled near them, and they recognized the fact that the Indians who had succeeded in creeping into the Council House had secured an advantage.
But they succeeded in keeping themselves covered sufficiently to escape any wounds, and, turning a thought over in his mind, Henry said:
"Sol, don't you think that this wind which has been blowing for hours has dried things out a good deal?"
"It shorely has," answered Sol.
"And you have noticed, too, Sol, that we are now at a point where the old village touches the forest? You can reach out your hand and put it on that ruined wigwam, can't you?"
"I kin shorely do it, Henry."
"You have noticed also, Sol, that the wind, already pretty fair, is rising, and that it is blowing directly from us against the old Council House in which some of the savages are, and across to the forest at the point where we are certain that the rest of the enemy lie."
"Sounds like good and true reasonin' to me, an eddicated man, Henry."
"Then you and I will get to work with our flint and steel and set this old wigwam afire. It's still high enough to shelter ourselves behind it, and I think we ought to do the task in two or three minutes. Tom, you and Paul and Jim cover us with your rifles."
"Henry, you shorely hev a great head," said Sol, "an' this looks to me like payin' back to a man what belongs to him. That harelipped scoundrel and his fellows warmed by our fire in the Council House, and now we'll jest give 'em notice that thar's another warmin'."
Lying almost flat upon their faces they worked hard with the flint and steel, and in a minute or two a little spark of light leaped up. It laid hold of the thin, dry bark at the edge of the old wigwam and blazed up with extraordinary rapidity. Then the flames sprang to the next wigwam. It, too, was quickly enveloped, and the bark cracked as they ate into it. Not even the soaking given by the rain offered any effective resistance.
Henry and Shif'less Sol put away their flint and steel and quickly slipped into the bushes whence they looked with admiration at the work of their hands. The lodges were burning far faster than they had expected. All the old Indian village would soon go, and now they watched attentively the Council House where the sharpshooters lay. Meanwhile several shots were fired from the forest without effect and the five merely lay close, biding their time.
The flames made a great leap and caught the Council House. It burned so fast that it seemed to be enveloped all at once, and three men, two red and one white burst from it, rushing toward the forest. Henry and his comrades could easily have shot down all three, but Silent Tom Ross was the only one who pulled a trigger and he picked the white man. At the crack of his rifle the fugitive fell. By the flare of the flames Henry caught a glimpse of his face and saw that it was Perley. He fell just at the edge of the forest, but where the fire would not reach him.
The village was now a mass of flames. The whole open space was lighted up brilliantly, and the sparks flew in myriads. Ashes and burning fragments carried by the wind fell thickly through the forest. The vivid flare penetrated the forest itself and the five men saw their foes crouching in the bushes. They advanced, using all the skill of those to whom the wilderness is second nature and a battle from tree to tree ensued. The five were more than a match for the eight who were now against them. The man who had passed as Fowler was quickly wounded in the shoulder, the harelipped leader himself had his cap shot from his head, and one of the Indians was slain. Then they took to flight, and, after a pursuit of some distance, the five returned toward the village, where the flames were now dying down.
Paul had been flicked across the hand by a bullet and Jim Hart shook two bullets out of his clothing, but they were practically unhurt and it was their object now to see the man Perley, who had been left at the edge of the forest. By the time they reached the open where the village had stood, the day was fully come. The Council House had fallen in and the poles and fragments of bark smoked on the ground. Nothing was left of the wigwam but ashes which the wind picked up and whirled about. The wounded man lay on his side and it was quite evident that his hurt was mortal, but his look became one of terror when the five came up.
"We do not mean to hurt you," said Henry; "we will make it as easy for you as we can."
"And the others," gasped the man. "You have beaten them in the battle, and they have fled, the Colonel with them."
"Yes," replied Henry, "they are gone, and with them Colonel--?"
The man looked up and smiled faintly. At the edge of death he read Henry's mind. He knew that he wished to obtain the name of the harelipped man and, sincere enemy of his own people though Perley was, he no longer had any objection to telling.
"Prop me up against that tree trunk," he gasped.
Henry did so, and Paul brought some water from the spring in his cap. The man drank and seemed a little stronger.
"You're better to me perhaps than I'd have been to you if it had been the other way round," he said, "an' I might as well tell you that the man with the harelip was Colonel Bird, a British officer, who is most active against your settlements, and who has become a great leader among the Indians. He's arranging now with the people at Detroit to strike you somewhere."
"Then I'm sorry my bullet didn't find him instead of you," said Tom Ross.
"So am I," said the man with a faint attempt at humor.
Paul, who had been trying to remember, suddenly spoke up.
"I heard of that man when we were in the East," he said. "He fell in love with a girl at Oswego or some other of the British posts, and she rejected him because he was so ugly and had a hare lip. Then he seemed to have a sort of madness and ever since he's been leading expeditions of the Indians against our settlements."
"It's true," said Perley, "he's the man that you're talking about and he's mad about shedding blood. He's drumming up the Indian forces everywhere. His--"
Perley stopped suddenly and coughed. His face became ghastly pale, and then his head fell over sideways on his shoulders.
"He's dead," said Shif'less Sol, "an' I'm sorry, too, Tom, that your bullet didn't hit Colonel Bird 'stead o' him."
"Do you think," asked Paul, "that they are likely to come back and attack us?"
"No," replied Henry, "they've had enough. Besides they can't attack us in broad daylight. Look how open the forest is. We'd be sure to see them long before they could get within rifle shot."
"Then," said Paul, "let's bury Perley before we go on. I don't like to think of a white man lying here in the forest to be devoured by wild beasts, even if he did try to kill us."
Shif'less Sol heartily seconded Paul's suggestion, and soon it was done. They had no spades with which to dig a grave for Perley's body, but they built over him a little cairn of fallen timber, sufficient to protect him from the wolves and bears, and then prepared to march anew.
But they took a last look at the large open space in which the abandoned Indian village had stood. Nothing was left there but ashes and dying coals. Not a fragment of the place was standing. But they felt that it was better for it to be so. If man had left, then the forest should resume its complete sway. The grass and the bushes would now cover it up all the more quickly. Then they shouldered their rifles and went ahead, never looking back once.
The morning was quite cool. It was only the second week in April, the spring having come out early bringing the buds and the foliage with it, but in the variable climate of the great valley they might yet have freezing and snow. They had left Pittsburg in the winter, but they were long on the way, making stops at two or three settlements on the southern shore of the Ohio, and also going on long hunts. At another time they had been stopped two weeks by the great cold which froze the surface of the river from bank to bank. Thus it was the edge of spring and the forests were green, when they turned up the tributary river, and followed in the trail of Timmendiquas.
Now they noticed this morning as they advanced that it was growing quite cold again. They had also come so much further North that the spring was less advanced than on the Ohio. Before noon a little snow was flying, but they did not mind it. It merely whipped their blood and seemed to give them new strength for their dangerous venture. But Henry was troubled. He was sorry that they had not seen an enemy in the man Bird whose name was to become an evil one on the border. But how were they to know? It is true that he could now, with the aid of the dead man's story recall something about Bird and his love affair, his disappointment which seemed to have given him a perfect mania for bloodshed. But again how were they to know?
They pressed on with increased speed, as they knew that Timmendiquas, owing to their delay at the abandoned village must now be far ahead. The broad trail was found easily, and they also kept a sharp watch for that of Bird and his band which they felt sure would join it soon. But when night came there was no sign of Bird and his men. Doubtless they had taken another course, with another object in view. Henry was greatly perplexed. He feared that Bird meant deep mischief, and he should have liked to have followed him, but the main task was to follow Timmendiquas, and they could not turn aside from it.
They would have traveled all that night, but the loss of sleep the night before, and the strain of the combat compelled them to take rest about the twilight hour. The night winds were sharp with chill, and they missed the bark shelter that the ruined Council House had given them. As they crouched in the bushes with their blankets about them and ate cold venison, they were bound to regret what they had lost.
"Still I like this country," said Jim Hart. "It looks kinder firm an' strong ez ef you could rely on it. Then I want to see the big lakes. We come pretty nigh to one uv them that time we went up the Genesee Valley an' burned the Iroquois towns, but we didn't quite git thar. Cur'us so much fresh water should be put here in a string uv big lakes on our continent."
"And the Canadian voyageurs say there are big lakes, too, away up in Canada that no white man has ever seen, but of which they hear from the Indians," said Paul.
"I reckon it's true," said Jim Hart, "'cause this is an almighty big continent, an' an almighty fine one. I ain't s'prised at nothin' now. I didn't believe thar wuz any river ez big ez the Missip, until I saw it, an' thar ain't no tellin' what thar is out beyond the Missip, all the thousands uv miles to the Pacific. I'd shorely like to live a thousand years with you fellers an' tramp 'roun' and see it all. It would be almighty fine."
"But I wouldn't like to be spendin' all that thousan' years tryin' to keep my scalp on top o' my head," said Shif'less Sol. "It would be pow'ful wearin' on a lazy man like me."
Thus they talked as the twilight deepened into the night. The feel of the North was in them all. Their minds kindled at the thought of the vast lakes that lay beyond and of the great forest, stretching, for all they knew, thousands of miles to the great ocean. The bushes and their blankets protected them from the cold winds, and it was so dark that no enemy could trail them to their lair. Moreover the five were there, intact, and they had the company of one another to cheer.
"I imagine," said Paul, "that Timmendiquas and the officers at Detroit will make this the biggest raid that they have ever yet planned against Kentucky."
"By surprise an' numbers they may win victories here an' thar," said Shif'less Sol, "but they'll never beat us. When people git rooted in the ground you jest can't drive 'em away or kill 'em out. Our people will take root here, too, an' everywhar the Injuns, the British an' the Tories will have to go."
"An' as our people ain't come up here yet, we've got to look out for our scalps before the rootin' season comes," said Tom Ross.
"An' that's as true as Gospel," said Shif'less Sol, thoughtfully.
After that they spoke little more, but they drew and matted the thick bushes over their heads in such manner that the chill winds were turned aside. Beneath were the dry leaves of last year which they had raked up into couches, and thus, every man with a blanket beneath and another above him, they did not care how the wind blew. They were as snug as bears in their lairs, but despite the darkness of the night and the exceeding improbability of anyone finding them both Henry and Tom Ross lay awake and watched. The others slept peacefully, and the two sentinels could hear their easy breathing only a few feet away.
In the night Henry began to grow uneasy. Once or twice he thought he heard cries like the hoot of the owl or the howl of the wolf, but they were so far away that he was uncertain. Both hoot and howl might be a product of the imagination. He was so alive to the wilderness, it was so full of meaning to him that his mind could create sounds when none existed. He whispered to Tom, but Ross, listening as hard as he could, heard nothing but the rustling of the leaves and twigs before the wind.
Henry was sure now that what he had heard was the product of a too vivid fancy, but a little later he was not so sure. It must be the faint cry of a wolf that he now heard or its echo. He had the keenest ear of them all, and that Tom Ross did not hear the sound, was no proof. A vivid imagination often means a prompt and powerful man of action, and Henry acted at once.
"Tom," he whispered, "I'm going to scout in the distance from which I thought the sounds came. Don't wake the boys; I'll be back before morning."
Tom Ross nodded. He did not believe that Henry had really heard anything, and he would have remonstrated with him, but he knew that it was useless. He merely drew his blanket a little closer, and resolved that one pair of eyes should watch as well as two had watched before.
Henry folded his blankets, put them in his little pack, and in a minute was gone. It was dark, but not so dark that one used to the night could not see. The sounds that he had seemed to hear came from the southwest, and the road in the direction was easy, grown up with forest but comparatively free from undergrowth. He walked swiftly about a mile, then he heard the cry of the wolf again. Now, the last doubt was gone from his mind. It was a real sound, and it was made by Indian calling to Indian.
He corrected his course a little, and went swiftly on. He heard the cry once more, now much nearer, and, in another mile, he saw a glow among the trees. He went nearer and saw detached cones of light. Then he knew that it was a camp fire, and a camp fire built there boldly in that region, so dangerous to the Kentuckian, indicated that it was surely the Indians themselves and their allies. He did not believe that it was the force of Timmendiquas which could only have reached this spot by turning from its course, but he intended to solve the doubt.
The camp was in one of the little prairies so numerous in the old Northwest, and evidently had been pitched there in order to secure room for the fires. Henry concluded at once that it must be a large force, and his eagerness to know increased. As he crept nearer and nearer, he was amazed by the number of the fires. This was a much larger band than the one led by Timmendiquas. He also heard the sound of many voices and of footsteps. From his place among the trees he saw dark figures passing and repassing. He also caught now and then a metallic glitter from something not a rifle or a tomahawk, but which he could not clearly make out in the dark.
This was a formidable force bent upon some great errand, and his curiosity was intense. The instinct that had sent him upon the journey through the woods was not wrong, and he did not mean to go away until he knew for what purpose this army was gathered. He lay upon the ground in the thickest shadow of the woods, and crept forward a little closer. Then he saw that the camp contained at least five hundred warriors. As nearly as he could make out they were mostly Shawnees, probably from the most easterly villages, but there seemed to be a sprinkling of Delawares and Miamis. White men, Tories, Canadians and English, fifty or sixty in number were present also and a few of them were in red uniform.
All the Indians were in war paint, and they sat in great groups around the fires feasting. Evidently the hunters had brought in plenty of game and they were atoning for a fast. They ate prodigiously of buffalo, deer, bear and wild turkey, throwing the bones behind them when they had gnawed them clean. Meanwhile they sang in the Shawnee tongue a wild chant:
To the South we, the great warriors, go To the far, fair land of Kaintuckee; We carry death for the Yengees, Our hands are strong, our hearts are fierce; None of the white face can escape us.
We cross the river and steal through the woods; In the night's dark hour the tomahawk falls, The burning houses send flames to the sky, The scalps of the Yengees hang at our belts; None of the white face can escape us.
Henry's heart began to pump heavily. Little specks danced before his eyes. Here was a great war party, one that he had not foreseen, one that was going to march against Kentucky. Evidently this enterprise was distinct from that of Timmendiquas. In his eagerness to see, Henry crept nearer and nearer to the utmost verge of the danger line, lying in a clump of bushes where the warriors were passing, not twenty feet away. Suddenly he started a little, as a new figure came into the light, thrown into distinct relief by the blazing background of the fires.
He recognized at once the harelipped man, Bird, now in the uniform of a Colonel in the King's army. His ugliness was in no whit redeemed by his military attire. But Henry saw that deference was paid him by white men and red men alike, and he had the walk and manner of one who commanded. The youth was sorry now that they had not hunted down this man and slain him. He felt instinctively that he would do great harm to those struggling settlers south of the Ohio.
While Henry waited three loud shouts were heard, uttered at the far end of the camp. Instantly the eating ceased, and all the warriors rose to their feet. Then they moved with one accord toward the point from which the shouts proceeded. Henry knew that someone of importance was coming, and he crept along the edge of the forest to see.
Colonel Bird, several subordinate officers, and some chiefs gathered in front of the mass of warriors and stood expectant. Forth from the forest came a figure more magnificent than any in that group, a great savage, naked to the waist, brilliantly painted, head erect and with the air of a king of men. It was Timmendiquas, and Henry realized, the moment he appeared, that he was not surprised to see him there. Behind him came Red Eagle and Yellow Panther, Simon Girty, Braxton Wyatt and Blackstaffe. Bird went forward, eager to meet them, and held out his hand in white man's fashion to Timmendiquas. The great Wyandot took it, held it only a moment, and then dropped it, as if the touch were hateful to him. Henry had noticed before that Timmendiquas never seemed to care for the white allies of the Indians, whether English, Canadian or Tory. He used them, but he preferred, if victory were won, that it should be won by men of his own race. The manner of the chief seemed to him to indicate repulsion, but Wyatt, Girty and the others greeted the Colonel with great warmth. They were birds of a feather, and it pleased them to flock together there in the great forest.
Timmendiquas and his chiefs walked toward the larger and central fire, whither Bird and his men showed the way. Then pipes were lighted and smoked by all who were high enough in rank to sit in the Council, while the mass of the warriors gathered at a respectful distance. But the fires were replenished, and they blazed up, filling all the camp with ruddy light. Then Henry found the meaning of the metallic gleam that he had seen from the forest. Near the center of the camp and standing in a row were six cannon, fine, bronze guns of large caliber, their dark muzzles, as if by some sinister chance, pointing toward the South. Then full knowledge came in all its gloomy truth. This was an expedition against Kentucky more formidable than any of the many that had yet gone. It carried a battery of large cannon, and plenty of white gunners to man them. The wooden palisades of the new settlements could not stand five minutes before great guns.
In his eagerness to see more of these hateful cannon, Henry, for the first time in years, forgot his customary caution. He made a bush rustle and he did not notice it. A scouting Indian passed near, and he did not hear him. But the scouting Indian, a Shawnee, alert and suspicious, heard the rustling of the bush. He dropped down, crept near and saw the long figure among the bushes. Then he crept away and signaled to his comrades.
Henry was straining forward for a better view of the cannon, when there was a sudden sound behind him. He drew his body quickly together like a powerful animal about to spring, but before he could reach his feet a half dozen warriors hurled themselves upon him.
He fell under the impact of so great a weight and the rifle which he could not use at close quarters was torn from his hands. The warriors uttered a triumphant shout which caused all those sitting by the fire to spring to their feet.
Henry was at the very summit of his youthful strength. There was no one in the forest who matched him in either height or muscular strength, save, possibly Timmendiquas, and with a tremendous effort he rose to his feet, the whole yelling pack clinging to him, one on each arm, one at each leg, and two at his shoulders and waist. He hurled loose the one on his right arm and snatched at a pistol in his belt, but quick as a flash, two others loosing their hold elsewhere, seized the arm. Then they pressed all their weight upon him again, seeking to throw him. Evidently they wished to take him a captive. But Henry remained erect despite the immense weight pulling at him. He was bent slightly forward, and, for a few moments, his efforts exactly balanced the strength of the six who sought to pull him down. In that brief space they remained immovable. The sweat broke out on his forehead in great beads. Then with an effort, convulsive and gigantic, he threw them all from him, standing clear for one brief instant. His hand was on the pistol butt, but the yelling pack were back too quick, leaping at him like wolves. He was dragged to his knees, but once more he struggled to his feet, drenched in perspiration, his heart beating loudly as he made his mighty efforts.
In their struggle they came free of the woods, and out into the open where the light from the fires cast a red glow over the tall figure of the white youth, and the six naked and sinewy brown forms that tore at him. The chief and the white men in the camp rushed forward.
Braxton Wyatt cried exultingly: "It is Ware!" and drew his pistol, but Timmendiquas struck down his arm.
"It is not for you to shoot," he said; "let him be taken alive."
Bird was commander in that camp, and the Wyandot was only a visitor there, but the tone of Timmendiquas was so strong and masterful that Bird himself recognized his predominance, and did not resist it.
And there were others among the Indians who looked with admiration upon the tall youth as he made his magnificent struggle for life and liberty. A deep hum ran through the great circle that had formed about the fighters. Excitement, the joy of a supreme sport, showed upon their savage faces. One or two started forward to help the six, but Timmendiquas waved them back. Then the circle pressed a little closer, and other rows of dark faces behind peered over brown shoulders. Henry was scarcely conscious that hundreds looked on. The pulses in temples and throat were beating heavily, and there was a mist before his eyes. Nobody was present for him, save the six who strove to pull him down. His soul swelled with fierce anger and he hurled off one after another to find them springing back like the rebound of a rubber ball.
His anger increased. These men annoyed him terribly. He was bathed in perspiration and nearly all the clothing was torn from his body, but he still fought against his opponents. The ring had come in closer and closer, and now the savages uttered low cries of admiration as he sent some one of his antagonists spinning. They admired, too, his massive figure, the powerful neck, the white shoulders now bare and the great muscles which bunched up as he put forth supreme efforts.
"Verily, this is a man," said the old chief, Yellow Panther.
Timmendiquas nodded, but he never took his absorbed eyes from the contest. He, too, uttered a low cry as Henry suddenly caught one of the warriors with his fist and sent him like a shot to the earth. But this warrior, a Wyandot, was tough. He sprang up again, the dark blood flowing from his face, but was caught and sent down a second time, to lay where he had fallen, until some of the watchers took him by the legs and dragged him out of the way of the struggle. Henry was rid of one of his opponents for the time, and the five who were left did not dare use their weapons in face of the command from Timmendiquas to take him alive. Yet they rushed in as full of zeal as ever. It may be that they enjoyed the struggle in their savage way, particularly when the prize to be won was so splendid.
Henry's successful blow with his fist reminded him that he might use it again. In the fury of the sudden struggle he had not thought before to fight by this method. A savage had him by the left shoulder. He struck the up-turned face with his right fist and the warrior went down unconscious.
Only four now! The hands of another were seeking his throat. He tore the hands loose, seized the warrior in his arms, and hurled him ten feet away, where he fell with a sprained ankle. A deep cry, and following it, a long-drawn sigh of admiration, came from the crowd.
Only three now! He tripped and threw one so heavily that he could not renew the combat, and the terrible fist sent down the fifth. Once more came that cry and long-drawn sigh from the multitude! A single opponent was left, but he was a powerful fellow, a Wyandot, with long thick arms and a mighty chest. His comrades had been much in his way in the struggle, and, now comparatively fresh and full of confidence, he closed with his white antagonist.
Henry had time to draw a breath or two, and he summoned his last reserve of will and strength. He grasped the Wyandot as he ran in, pinned his arms to his sides, tripped his feet from under him, and, seizing him by shoulders and waist, lifted him high above his head. He held him poised there for a moment while the multitude gazed, tense and awed. Then, hurling him far out, he turned, faced the Wyandot chief, and said:
"To you, Timmendiquas, I surrender myself."
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