The Scouts of the Valley by Joseph A. Altsheler
Chapter XI. The Melancholy Flight
Paul revived in a few minutes. They were still lying in the bushes, and when he was able to stand up again, they moved at an angle several hundred yards before they stopped. One pistol was thrust into Paul's hand and another into that of Shif'less Sol.
Keep those until we can get rifles for you," said Henry. "You may need 'em to-night."
They crouched down in the thicket and looked back toward the Indian camp. The warriors whom they had repulsed were not returning with help, and, for the moment, they seemed to have no enemy to fear, yet they could still see through the woods the faint lights of the Indian camps, and to Paul, at least, came the echoes of distant cries that told of things not to be written.
"We saw you captured, and we heard Sol's warning cry," said Henry. " There was nothing to do but run. Then we hid and waited a chance for rescue."
"It would never have come if it had not been for Timmendiquas," said Paul.
"Timmendiquas!" exclaimed Henry.
"Yes, Timmendiquas," said Paul, and then be told the story of "The Bloody Rock," and how, in the turmoil and excitement attending the flight of the last four, Timmendiquas had cut the bonds of Shif'less Sol and himself.
"I think the mind o' White Lightnin', Injun ez he is," said Shif'less Sol, "jest naterally turned aginst so much slaughter an' torture o' prisoners."
"I'm sure you're right," said Henry.
"'Pears strange to me," said Long Jim Hart, "that Timmendiquas was made an Injun. He's jest the kind uv man who ought to be white, an' he'd be pow'ful useful, too. I don't jest eggzactly understan' it."
"He has certainly saved the lives of at least three of us," said Henry. "I hope we will get a chance to pay him back in full."
"But he's the only one," said Shif'less Sol, thinking of all that he had seen that night. "The Iroquois an' the white men that's allied with 'em won't ever get any mercy from me, ef any uv 'em happen to come under my thumb. I don't think the like o' this day an' night wuz ever done on this continent afore. I'm for revenge, I am, like that place where the Bible says, 'an eye for an eye, an' a tooth for a tooth,' an' I'm goin' to stay in this part o' the country till we git it!"
It was seldom that Shif'less Sol spoke with so much passion and energy.
"We're all going to stay with you, Sol," said Henry. We're needed here. I think we ought to circle about the fort, slip in if we can, and fight with the defense."
"Yes, we'll do that," said Shif'less Sol, "but the Wyoming fort can't ever hold out. Thar ain't a hundred men left in it fit to fight, an' thar are more than than a thousand howlin' devils outside ready to attack it. Thar may be worse to come than anything we've yet seen."
"Still, we'll go in an' help," said Henry. "Sol, when you an' Paul have rested a little longer we'll make a big loop around in the woods, and come up to the fort on the other side."
They were in full accord, and after an hour in the bushes, where they lay completely hidden, recovering their vitality and energy, they undertook to reach the fort and cabins inclosed by the palisades. Paul was still weak from shock, but Shif'less Sol had fully recovered. Neither bad weapons, but they were sure that the want could be supplied soon. They curved around toward the west, intending to approach the fort from the other side, but they did not wholly lose sight of the fires, and they heard now and then the triumphant war whoop. The victors were still engaged in the pleasant task of burning the prisoners to death. Little did the five, seeing and feeling only their part of it there in the dark woods, dream that the deeds of this day and night would soon shock the whole civilized world, and remain, for generations, a crowning act of infamy. But they certainly felt it deeply enough, and in each heart burned a fierce desire for revenge upon the Iroquois.
It was almost midnight when they secured entrance into the fort, which was filled with grief and wailing. That afternoon more than one hundred and fifty women within those walls had been made widows, and six hundred children had been made orphans. But few men fit to bear arms were left for its defense, and it was certain that the allied British and Indian army would easily take it on the morrow. A demand for its surrender in the name of King George III of England had already been made, and, sitting at a little rough table in the cabin of Thomas Bennett, the room lighted only by a single tallow wick, Colonel Butler and Colonel Dennison were writing an agreement that the fort be surrendered the next day, with what it should contain. But Colonel Butler put his wife on a horse and escaped with her over the mountains.
Stragglers, evading the tomahawk in the darkness, were coming in, only to be surrendered the next day; others were pouring forth in a stream, seeking the shelter of the mountains and the forest, preferring any dangers that might be found there to the mercies of the victors.
When Shif'less Sol learned that the fort was to be given up, be said:
"It looks ez ef we had escaped from the Iroquois jest in time to beg 'em to take us back."
"I reckon I ain't goin' to stay 'roun' here while things are bein' surrendered," said Long Jim Hart.
"I'll do my surrenderin' to Iroquois when they've got my hands an' feet tied, an' six or seven uv 'em are settin' on my back," said Tom Ross.
"We'll leave as soon as we can get arms for Sol and Paul," said Henry. "Of course it would be foolish of us to stay here and be captured again. Besides, we'll be needed badly enough by the women and children that are going."
Good weapons were easily obtained in the fort. It was far better to let Sol and Paul have them than to leave them for the Indians. They were able to select two fine rifles of the Kentucky pattern, long and slender barreled, a tomahawk and knife for each, and also excellent double-barreled pistols. The other three now had double-barreled pistols, too. In addition they resupplied themselves with as much ammunition as scouts and hunters could conveniently carry, and toward morning left the fort.
Sunrise found them some distance from the palisades, and upon the flank of a frightened crowd of fugitives. It was composed of one hundred women and children and a single man, James Carpenter, who was doing his best to guide and protect them. They were intending to flee through the wilderness to the Delaware and Lehigh settlements, chiefly Fort Penn, built by Jacob Stroud, where Stroudsburg now is.
When the five, darkened by weather and looking almost like Indians themselves, approached, Carpenter stepped forward and raised his rifle. A cry of dismay rose from the melancholy line, a cry so intensely bitter that it cut Henry to the very heart. He threw up his hand, and exclaimed in a loud voice:
"We are friends, not Indians or Tories! We fought with you yesterday, and we are ready to fight for you now!"
Carpenter dropped the muzzle of the rifle. He had fought in the battle, too, and he recognized the great youth and his comrades who had been there with him.
"What do you want of us?" asked he.
"Nothing," replied Henry, "except to help you."
Carpenter looked at them with a kind of sad pathos.
"You don't belong here in Wyoming," he said, "and there's nothing to make you stick to us. What are you meaning to do?"
"We will go with you wherever you intend to go," replied Henry; "do fighting for you if you need it, and hunt game for you, which you are certain to need."
The weather-beaten face of the farmer worked.
"I thought God had clean deserted us," he said, "but I'm ready to take it back. I reckon that he has sent you five to help me with all these women and little ones."
It occurred to Henry that perhaps God, indeed, had sent them for this very purpose, but he replied simply:
"You lead on, and we'll stay in the rear and on the sides to watch for the Indians. Draw into the woods, where we'll be hidden."
Carpenter, obscure hero, shouldered his rifle again, and led on toward the woods. The long line of women and children followed. Some of the women carried in their arms children too small to walk. Yet they were more hopeful now when they saw that the five were friends. These lithe, active frontiersmen, so quick, so skillful, and so helpful, raised their courage. Yet it was a most doleful flight. Most of these women had been made widows the day before, some of them had been made widows and childless at the same time, and wondered why they should seek to live longer. But the very mental stupor of many of them was an aid. They ceased to cry out, and some even ceased to be afraid.
Henry, Shif'less Sol, and Tom dropped to the rear. Paul and Long Jim were on either flank, while Carpenter led slowly on toward the mountains.
"'Pears to me," said Tom, "that the thing fur us to do is to hurry 'em up ez much ez possible."
"So the Indians won't see 'em crossing the plain," said Henry. "We couldn't defend them against a large force, and it would merely be a massacre. We must persuade them to walk faster."
Shif'less Sol was invaluable in this crisis. He could talk forever in his-placid way, and, with his gentle encouragement, mild sarcasm, and anecdotes of great feminine walkers that he had known, he soon had them moving faster.
Henry and Tom dropped farther to the rear. They could see ahead of them the long dark line, coiling farther into the woods, but they could also see to right and left towers of smoke rising in the clear morning sunlight. These, they knew, came from burning houses, and they knew, also, that the valley would be ravaged from end to end and from side to side. After the surrender of the fort the Indians would divide into small bands, going everywhere, and nothing could escape them.
The sun rose higher, gilding the earth with glowing light, as if the black tragedy had never happened, but the frontiersmen recognized their greatest danger in this brilliant morning. Objects could be seen at a great distance, and they could be seen vividly.
Keen of sight and trained to know what it was they saw, Henry, Sol, and Tom searched the country with their eyes, on all sides. They caught a distant glimpse of the Susquehanna, a silver spot among some trees, and they saw the sunlight glancing off the opposite mountains, but for the present they saw nothing that seemed hostile.
They allowed the distance between them and the retreating file to grow until it was five or six hundred yards, and they might have let it grow farther, but Henry made a signal, and the three lay down in the grass.
"You see 'em, don't you!" the youth whispered to his comrade.
"Yes, down thar at the foot o' that hillock," replied Shif'less Sol; " two o' em, an' Senecas, I take it."
"They've seen that crowd of women and children," said Henry.
It was obvious that the flying column was discovered. The two Indians stepped upon the hillock and gazed under their hands. It was too far away for the three to see their faces, but they knew the joy that would be shown there. The two could return with a few warriors and massacre them all.
"They must never get back to the other Indians with their news," whispered Henry. "I hate to shoot men from ambush, but it's got to be done. Wait, they're coming a little closer."
The two Senecas advanced about thirty yards, and stopped again.
"S'pose you fire at the one on the right, Henry," said Tom, " an' me an' Sol will take the one to the left." " All right," said Henry. "Fire!"
They wasted no time, but pulled trigger. The one at whom Henry had aimed fell, but the other, uttering a cry, made off, wounded, but evidently with plenty of strength left.
"We mustn't let him escape! We mustn't let him carry a warning!" cried Henry.
But Shif'less Sol and Tom Ross were already in pursuit, covering the ground with long strides, and reloading as they ran. Under ordinary circumstances no one of the three would have fired at a man running for his life, but here the necessity was vital. If he lived, carrying the tale that he had to tell, a hundred innocent ones might perish. Henry followed his comrades, reloading his own rifle, also, but he stayed behind. The Indian had a good lead, and he was gaining, as the others were compelled to check speed somewhat as they put the powder and bullets in their rifles. But Henry was near enough to Shif'less Sol and Silent Tom to hear them exchange a few words.
"How far away is that savage?" asked Shif'less Sol.
"Hundred and eighty yards," said Tom Ross.
"Well, you take him in the head, and I'll take him in the body."
Henry saw the two rifle barrels go up and two flashes of flame leap from the muzzles. The Indian fell forward and lay still. They went up to him, and found that he was shot through the head and also through the body.
"We may miss once, but we don't twice," said Tom Ross.
The human mind can be influenced so powerfully by events that the three felt no compunction at all at the shooting of this fleeing Indian. It was but a trifle compared with what they had seen the day and night before.
"We'd better take the weapons an' ammunition o' both uv 'em," said Sol. "They may be needed, an' some o ' the women in that crowd kin shoot."
They gathered up the arms, powder, and ball, and waited a little to see whether the shots had been heard by any other Indians, but there was no indication of the presence of more warriors, and the rejoined the fugitives. Long Jim had dropped back to the end of the line, and when he saw that his comrades carried two extra rifles, he understood.
"They didn't give no alarm, did they?" he asked in a tone so low that none of the fugitives could hear.
"They didn't have any chance," replied Henry. "We've brought away all their weapons and ammunition, but just say to the women that we found them in an abandoned house."
The rifles and the other arms were given to the boldest and most stalwart of the women, and they promised to use them if the need came. Meanwhile the flight went on, and the farther it went the sadder it became. Children became exhausted, and had to be carried by people so tired that they could scarcely walk themselves. There was nobody in the line who had not lost some beloved one on that fatal river bank, killed in battle, or tortured to death. As they slowly ascended the green slope of the mountain that inclosed a side of the valley, they looked back upon ruin and desolation. The whole black tragedy was being consummated. They could see the houses in flames, and they knew that the Indian war parties were killing and scalping everywhere. They knew, too, that other bodies of fugitives, as stricken as their own, were fleeing into the mountains, they scarcely knew whither.
As they paused a few moments and looked back, a great cry burst from the weakest of the women and children. Then it became a sad and terrible wail, and it was a long time before it ceased. It was an awful sound, so compounded of despair and woe and of longing for what they had lost that Henry choked, and the tears stood in Paul's eyes. But neither the five nor Carpenter made any attempt to check the wailing. They thought it best for them to weep it out, but they hurried the column as much as they could, often carrying some of the smaller children themselves. Paul and Long Jim were the best as comforters. The two knew how, each in his own way, to soothe and encourage. Carpenter, who knew the way to Fort Penn, led doggedly on, scarcely saying a word. Henry, Shif'less Sol, and Tom were the rear guard, which was, in this case, the one of greatest danger and responsibility.
Henry was thankful that it was only early summer the Fourth of July, the second anniversary of the Declaration of Independence-and that the foliage was heavy and green on the slopes of the mountain. In this mass of greenery the desolate column was now completely hidden from any observer in the valley, and he believed that other crowds of fugitives would be hidden in the same manner. He felt sure that no living human being would be left in the valley, that it would be ravaged from end to end and then left to desolation, until new people, protected by American bayonets, should come in and settle it again.
At last they passed the crest of the ridge, and the fires in the valley, those emblems of destruction, were hidden. Between them and Fort Penn, sixty miles away, stretched a wilderness of mountain, forest, and swamp. But the five welcomed the forest. A foe might lie there in ambush, but they could not see the fugitives at a distance. What the latter needed now was obscurity, the green blanket of the forest to hide them. Carpenter led on over a narrow trail; the others followed almost in single file now, while the five scouted in the woods on either flank and at the rear. Henry and Shif'less Sol generally kept together, and they fully realized the overwhelming danger should an Indian band, even as small as ten or a dozen warriors, appear. Should the latter scatter, it would be impossible to protect all the women and children from their tomahawks.
The day was warm, but the forest gave them coolness as well as shelter. Henry and Sol were seldom so far back that they could not see the end of the melancholy line, now moving slowly, overborne by weariness. The shiftless one shook his head sadly.
"No matter what happens, some uv 'em will never get out o' these woods."
His words came true all too soon. Before the afternoon closed, two women, ill before the flight, died of terror and exhaustion, and were buried in shallow graves under the trees. Before dark a halt was made at the suggestion of Henry, and all except Carpenter and the scouts sat in a close, drooping group. Many of the children cried, though the women had all ceased to weep. They had some food with them, taken in the hurried flight, and now the men asked them to eat. Few could do it, and others insisted on saving what little they had for the children. Long Jim found a spring near by, and all drank at it.
The six men decided that, although night had not yet come, it would be best to remain there until the morning. Evidently the fugitives were in no condition, either mental or physical, to go farther that day, and the rest was worth more than the risk.
When this decision was announced to them, most of the women took it apathetically. Soon they lay down upon a blanket, if one was to be had; otherwise, on leaves and branches. Again Henry thanked God that it was summer, and that these were people of the frontier, who could sleep in the open. No fire was needed, and, outside of human enemies, only rain was to be dreaded.
And yet this band, desperate though its case, was more fortunate than some of the others that fled from the Wyoming Valley. It had now to protect it six men Henry and Paul, though boys in years, were men in strength and ability - five of whom were the equals of any frontiersmen on the whole border. Another crowd of women was escorted by a single man throughout its entire flight.
Henry and his comrades distributed themselves in a circle about the group. At times they helped gather whortleberries as food for the others, but they looked for Indians or game, intending to shoot in either case. When Paul and Henry were together they once heard a light sound in a thicket, which at first they were afraid was made by an Indian scout, but it was a deer, and it bounded away too soon for either to get a shot. They could not find other game of any kind, and they came back toward the camp-if a mere stop in the woods, without shelter of any kind, could be called a camp.
The sun was now setting, blood red. It tinged the forest with a fiery mist, reminding the unhappy group of all that they had seen. But the mist was gone in a few moments, and then the blackness of night came with a weird moaning wind that told of desolation. Most of the children, having passed through every phase of exhaustion and terror, had fallen asleep. Some of the women slept, also, and others wept. But the terrible wailing note, which the nerves of no man could stand, was heard no longer.
The five gathered again at a point near by, and Carpenter came to them.
"Men," he said simply, "don't know much about you, though I know you fought well in the battle that we lost, but for what you're doin' now nobody can ever repay you. I knew that I never could get across the mountains with all these weak ones."
The five merely said that any man who was a man would help at such a time. Then they resumed their march in a perpetual circle about the camp.
Some women did not sleep at all that night. It is not easy to conceive what the frontier women of America endured so many thousands of times. They had seen their husbands, brothers, and sons killed in the battle, and they knew that the worst of torture had been practiced in the Indian camp. Many of them really did not want to live any longer. They merely struggled automatically for life. The darkness settled down thicker and thicker; the blackness in the forest was intense, and they could see the faces of one another only at a little distance. The desolate moan of the wind came through the leaves, and, although it was July, the night grew cold. The women crept closer together, trying to cover up and protect the children. The wind, with its inexpressibly mournful note, was exactly fitted to their feelings. Many of them wondered why a Supreme Being had permitted such things. But they ceased to talk. No sound at all came from the group, and any one fifty yards away, not forewarned, could not have told that they were there.
Henry and Paul met again about midnight, and sat a long time on a little hillock. Theirs had been the most dangerous of lives on the most dangerous of frontiers, but they had never been stirred as they were tonight. Even Paul, the mildest of the five, felt something burning within him, a fire that only one thing could quench.
"Henry," said he, "we're trying to get these people to Fort Penn, and we may get some of them there, but I don't think our work will be ended them. I don't think I could ever be happy again if we went straight from Fort Penn to Kentucky."
Henry understood him perfectly.
"No, Paul," he said, "I don't want to go, either, and I know the others don't. Maybe you are not willing to tell why we want to stay, but it is vengeance. I know it's Christian to forgive your enemies, but I can't see what I have seen, and hear what I have heard, and do it."
"When the news of these things spreads," said Paul, "they'll send an army from the east. Sooner or later they'll just have to do it to punish the Iroquois and their white allies, and we've got to be here to join that army."
"I feel that way, too, Paul," said Henry.
They were joined later by the other three, who stayed a little while, and they were in accord with Henry and Paul.
Then they began their circles about the camp again, always looking and always listening. About two o'clock in the morning they heard a scream, but it was only the cry of a panther. Before day there were clouds, a low rumble of distant thunder, and faint far flashes of lightning. Henry was in dread of rain, but the lightning and thunder ceased, and the clouds went away. Then dawn came, rosy and bright, and all but three rose from the earth. The three-one woman and two children-had died in silence in the night, and they were buried, like the others, in shallow graves in the woods. But there was little weeping or external mourning over them. All were now heavy and apathetic, capable of but little more emotion.
Carpenter resumed his position at the head of the column, which now moved slowly over the mountain through a thick forest matted with vines and bushes and without a path. The march was now so painful and difficult that they did not make more than two miles an hour. The stronger of them helped the men to gather more whortleberries, as it was easy to see that the food they had with them would never last until they reached Fort Penn, should they ever reach it.
The condition of the country into which they had entered steadily grew worse. They were well into the mountains, a region exceedingly wild and rough, but little known to the settlers, who had gone around it to build homes in the fertile and beautiful valley of Wyoming. The heavy forest was made all the more difficult by the presence everywhere of almost impassable undergrowth. Now and then a woman lay down under the bushes, and in two cases they died there because the power to live was no longer in them. They grew weaker and weaker. The food that they had brought from the Wyoming fort was almost exhausted, and the wild whortleberries were far from sustaining. Fortunately there was plenty of water flowing tinder the dark woods and along the mountainside. But they were compelled to stop at intervals of an hour or two to rest, and the more timid continually expected Indian ambush.
The five met shortly after noon and took another reckoning of the situation. They still realized to the full the dangers of Indian pursuit, which in this case might be a mere matter of accident. Anybody could follow the broad trail left by the fugitives, but the Iroquois, busy with destruction in the valley, might not follow, even if they saw it. No one could tell. The danger of starvation or of death from exhaustion was more imminent, more pressing, and the five resolved to let scouting alone for the rest of the day and seek game.
"There's bound to be a lot of it in these woods," said Shif'less Sol, "though it's frightened out of the path by our big crowd, but we ought to find it."
Henry and Shif'less Sol went in one direction, and Paul, Tom, and Long Jim in another. But with all their hunting they succeeded in finding only one little deer, which fell to the rifle of Silent Tom. It made small enough portions for the supper and breakfast of nearly a hundred people, but it helped wonderfully, and so did the fires which Henry and his comrades would now have built, even had they not been needed for the cooking. They saw that light and warmth, the light and warmth of glowing coals, would alone rouse life in this desolate band.
They slept the second night on the ground among the trees, and the next morning they entered that gloomy region of terrible memory, the Great Dismal Swamp of the North, known sometimes, to this day, as "The Shades of Death."