The Scouts of the Valley by Joseph A. Altsheler
Chapter XV. "The Alcove"
They arrived at the fort as evening was coming on, and as soon as food was served to them the five sought sleep. The frontiersmen usually slept soundly and for a long time after prodigious exertions, and Henry and his comrades were too wise to make an exception. They secured a single room inside the fort, one given to them gladly, because Mary Newton had already spread the fame of their exploits, and, laying aside their hunting shirts and leggins, prepared for rest.
"Jim," said Shif'less Sol, pointing to a low piece of furniture, flat and broad, in one corner of the room, "that's a bed. Mebbe you don't think it, but people lay on top o' that an' sleep thar."
Long Jim grinned.
"Mebbe you're right, Sol," he said. "I hev seen sech things ez that, an' mebbe I've slep' on 'em, but in all them gran' old tales Paul tells us about I never heard uv no big heroes sleepin' in beds. I guess the ground wuz good 'nough for A-killus, Hector, Richard-Kur-de-Leong, an' all the rest uv that fightin' crowd, an' ez I'm that sort uv a man myself I'll jest roll down here on the floor. Bein' as you're tender, Sol Hyde, an' not used to hard life in the woods, you kin take that bed yourself, an' in the mornin' your wally will be here with hot water in a silver mug an' a razor to shave you, an' he'll dress you in a ruffled red silk shirt an' a blue satin waistcoat, an' green satin breeches jest comin' to the knee, where they meet yellow silk stockin's risin' out uv purple satin slippers, an' then he'll clap on your head a big wig uv snow-white hair, fallin' all about your shoulders an' he'll buckle a silver sword to your side, an' he'll say: "Gentlemen, him that hez long been known ez Shif'less Sol, an' desarvin' the name, but who in reality is the King o' France, is now before you. Down on your knees an' say your prayers!"
Shif'less Sol stared in astonishment.
"You say a wally will do all that fur me, Jim? Now, what under the sun is a wally ?"
"I heard all about 'em from Paul," replied Long Jim in a tone of intense satisfaction. "A wally is a man what does fur you what you ought to do fur yourself."
"Then I want one," said Shif'less Sol emphatically. "He'd jest suit a lazy man like me. An' ez fur your makin' me the King o' France, mebbe you're more'n half right about that without knowin' it. I hev all the instincts uv a king. I like to be waited on, I like to eat when I'm hungry, I like to drink when I'm thirsty, I like to rest when I'm tired, an' I like to sleep when I'm sleepy. You've heard o' children changed at birth by fairies an' sech like. Mebbe I'm the real King o' France, after all, an' my instincts are handed down to me from a thousand royal ancestors."
"Mebbe it's so," rejoined Long Jim. "I've heard that thar hev been a pow'ful lot uv foolish kings."
With that he put his two blankets upon the floor, lay down upon them, and was sound asleep in five minutes. But Shif'less Sol beat him to slumberland by at least a minute, and the others were not more than two minutes behind Sol.
Henry was the first up the next morning. A strong voice shouted in his ear: "Henry Ware, by all that's glorious," and a hand pressed his fingers together in an iron grasp. Henry beheld the tall, thin figure and smiling brown face of Adam Colfax, with whom he had made that adventurous journey up the Mississippi and Ohio.
"And the others?" was the first question of Adam Colfax.
"They're all here asleep inside. We've been through a lot of things, but we're as sound as ever."
"That's always a safe prediction to make," said Adam Colfax, smiling. "I never saw five other human beings with such a capacity for getting out of danger."
"We were all at Wyoming, and we all still live."
The face of the New Englander darkened.
"Wyoming!" he exclaimed. "I cannot hear of it without every vein growing hot within me."
"We saw things done there," said Henry gravely, the telling of which few men can bear to hear."
"I know! I know!" exclaimed Adam Colfax. "The news of it has spread everywhere!"
"What we want," said Henry, "is revenge. It is a case in which we must strike back, and strike hard. If this thing goes on, not a white life will be safe on the whole border from the St. Lawrence to the Mississippi."
"It is true," said Adam Colfax, "and we would send an army now against the Iroquois and their allies, but, Henry, my lad, our fortunes are at their lowest there in the East, where the big armies are fighting. That is the reason why nobody has been sent to protect our rear guard, which has suffered so terribly. You may be sure, too, that the Iroquois will strike in this region again as often and as hard as they can. I make more than half a guess that you and your comrades are here because you know this."
He looked shrewdly at the boy.
"Yes," said Henry, "that is so. Somehow we were drawn into it, but being here we are glad to stay. Timmendiquas, the great chief who fought us so fiercely on the Ohio, is with the Iroquois, with a detachment of his Wyandots, and while he, as I know, frowns on the Wyoming massacre, he means to help Thayendanegea to the end."
Adam Colfax looked graver than ever.
"That is bad," he said. "Timmendiquas is a mighty warrior and leader, but there is also another way of looking at it. His presence here will relieve somewhat the pressure on Kentucky. I ought to tell you, Henry, that we got through safely with our supplies to the Continental army, and they could not possibly have been more welcome. They arrived just in time."
The others came forth presently and were greeted with the same warmth by Adam Colfax.
"It is shore mighty good for the eyes to see you, Mr. Colfax," said Shif'less Sol, "an' it's a good sign. Our people won when you were on the Mississippi an' the Ohio' - an' now that you're here, they're goin' to win again."
"I think we are going to win here and everywhere," said Adam Colfax, "but it is not because there is any omen in my presence. It is because our people will not give up, and because our quarrel is just."
The stanch New Englander left on the following day for points farther east, planning and carrying out some new scheme to aid the patriot cause, and the five, on the day after that, received a message written on a piece of paper which was found fastened to a tree on the outskirts of the settlement. It was addressed to "Henry Ware and Those with Him," and it read:
Henry regarded the letter with contempt.
"A renegade catches something of the Indian nature," he said, "and always likes to threaten and boast."
But Shif'less Sol was highly indignant.
"Sometimes I think," he said, "that the invention o' writin' wuz a mistake. You kin send a man a letter an' call him names an' talk mighty big when he's a hundred miles away, but when you've got to stan' up to him face to face an' say it, wa'al, you change your tune an' sing a pow'ful sight milder. You ain't gen'ally any roarin' lion then."
"I think I'll keep this letter," said Henry, "an' we five will give an answer to it later on."
He tapped the muzzle of his rifle, and every one of the four gravely tapped the muzzle of his own rifle after him. It was a significant action. Nothing more was needed.
The next morning they bade farewell to the grateful Mary Newton and her children, and with fresh supplies of food and ammunition, chiefly ammunition, left the fort, plunging once more into the deep forest. It was their intention to do as much damage as they could to the Iroquois, until some great force, capable of dealing with the whole Six Nations, was assembled. Meanwhile, five redoubtable and determined borderers could achieve something.
It was about the first of August, and they were in the midst of the great heats. But it was a period favoring Indian activity, which was now at its highest pitch. Since Wyoming, loaded with scalps, flushed with victory, and aided by the king's men, they felt equal to anything. Only the strongest of the border settlements could hold them back. The colonists here were so much reduced, and so little help could be sent them from the East, that the Iroquois were able to divide into innumerable small parties and rake the country as with a fine tooth comb. They never missed a lone farmhouse, and rarely was any fugitive in the woods able to evade them. And they were constantly fed from the North with arms, ammunition, rewards for scalps, bounties, and great promises.
But toward the close of August the Iroquois began to hear of a silent and invisible foe, an evil spirit that struck them, and that struck hard. There were battles of small forces in which sometimes not a single Iroquois escaped. Captives were retaken in a half-dozen instances, and the warriors who escaped reported that their assailants were of uncommon size and power. They had all the cunning of the Indian and more, and they carried rifles that slew at a range double that of those served to them at the British posts. It was a certainty that they were guided by the evil spirit, because every attempt to capture them failed miserably. No one could find where they slept, unless it was those who never came back again.
The Iroquois raged, and so did the Butlers and the Johnsons and Braxton Wyatt. This was a flaw in their triumph, and the British and Tories saw, also, that it was beginning to affect the superstitions of their red allies. Braxton Wyatt made a shrewd guess as to the identity of the raiders, but he kept quiet. It is likely, also, that Timmendiquas knew, but be, too, said nothing. So the influence of the raiders grew. While their acts were great, superstition exaggerated them and their powers manifold. And it is true that their deeds were extraordinary. They were heard of on the Susquehanna, then on the Delaware and its branches, on the Chemung and the Chenango, as far south as Lackawaxen Creek, and as far north as Oneida Lake. It is likely that nobody ever accomplished more for a defense than did those five in the waning months of the summer. Late in September the most significant of all these events occurred. A party of eight Tories, who had borne a terrible part in the Wyoming affair, was attacked on the shores of Otsego Lake with such deadly fierceness that only two escaped alive to the camp of Sir John Johnson. Brant sent out six war parties, composed of not less than twenty warriors apiece, to seek revenge, but they found nothing.
Henry and his comrades had found a remarkable camp at the edge of one of the beautiful small lakes in which the region abounds. The cliff at that point was high, but a creek entered into it through a ravine. At the entrance of the creek into the river they found a deep alcove, or, rather, cave in the rock. It ran so far back that it afforded ample shelter from the rain, and that was all they wanted. It was about halfway between the top and bottom of the cliff, and was difficult of approach both from below and above. Unless completely surprised-a very unlikely thing with them-the five could hold it against any force as long as their provisions lasted. They also built a boat large enough for five, which they hid among the bushes at the lake's edge. They were thus provided with a possible means of escape across the water in case of the last emergency.
Jim and Paul, who, as usual, filled the role of housekeepers, took great delight in fitting up this forest home, which the fittingly called " The Alcove." The floor of solid stone was almost smooth, and with the aid of other heavy stones they broke off all projections, until one could walk over it in the dark in perfect comfort. They hung the walls with skins of deer which they killed in the adjacent woods, and these walls furnished many nooks and crannies for the storing of necessities. They also, with much hard effort, brought many loads of firewood, which Long Jim was to use for his cooking. He built his little fireplace of stones so near the mouth of "The Alcove" that the smoke would pass out and be lost in the thick forest all about. If the wind happened to be blowing toward the inside of the cave, the smoke, of course, would come in on them all, but Jim would not be cooking then.
Nor did their operations cease until they had supplied "The Alcove" plentifully with food, chiefly jerked deer meat, although there was no way in which they could store water, and for that they had to take their chances. But their success, the product of skill and everlasting caution, was really remarkable. Three times they were trapped within a few miles of "The Alcove," but the pursuers invariably went astray on the hard, rocky ground, and the pursued would also take the precaution to swim down the creek before climbing up to "The Alcove." Nobody could follow a trail in the face of such difficulties.
It was Henry and Shif'less Sol who were followed the second time, but they easily shook off their pursuers as the twilight was coming, half waded, half swam down the creek, and climbed up to "The Alcove," where the others were waiting for them with cooked food and clear cold water. When they had eaten and were refreshed, Shif'less Sol sat at the mouth of "The Alcove," where a pleasant breeze entered, despite the foliage that hid the entrance. The shiftless one was in an especially happy mood.
"It's a pow'ful comf'table feelin',"he said,"to set up in a nice safe place like this, an' feel that the woods is full o' ragin' heathen, seekin' to devour you, and wonderin' whar you've gone to. Thar's a heap in knowin' how to pick your home. I've thought more than once 'bout that old town, Troy, that Paul tells us 'bout, an' I've 'bout made up my mind that it wuzn't destroyed 'cause Helen eat too many golden apples. but 'cause old King Prime, or whoever built the place, put it down in a plain. That wuz shore a pow'ful foolish thing. Now, ef he'd built it on a mountain, with a steep fall-off on every side, thar wouldn't hev been enough Greeks in all the earth to take it, considerin' the miserable weepins they used in them times. Why, Hector could hev set tight on the walls, laughin' at 'em, 'stead o' goin' out in the plain an' gittin' killed by A-killus, fur which I've always been sorry."
"It's 'cause people nowadays have more sense than they did in them ancient times that Paul tells about," said Long Jim. "Now, thar wuz 'Lyssus, ten or twelve years gittin' home from Troy. Allus runnin' his ship on the rocks, hoppin' into trouble with four-legged giants, one-eyed women, an' sech like. Why didn't he walk home through the woods, killin' game on the way, an' hevin' the best time he ever knowed? Then thar wuz the keerlessness of A-killus' ma, dippin' him in that river so no arrow could enter him, but holdin' him by the heel an' keepin' it out o' the water, which caused his death the very first time Paris shot it off with his little bow an' arrer. Why didn't she hev sense enough to let the heel go under, too. She could hev dragged it out in two seconds an' no harm done 'ceptin', perhaps, a little more yellin' on the part of A-killus."
"I've always thought Paul hez got mixed 'bout that Paris story," said Tom Ross. "I used to think Paris was the name uv a town, not a man, an' I'm beginnin' to think so ag'in, sence I've been in the East, 'cause I know now that's whar the French come from."
"But Paris was the name of a man," persisted Paul. "Maybe the French named their capital after the Paris of the Trojan wars."
"Then they showed mighty poor jedgment," said Shif'less Sol. "Ef I'd named my capital after any them old fellers, I'd have called it Hector."
"You can have danger enough ,when you're on the tops of hills," said Henry, who was sitting near the mouth of the cave. "Come here, you fellows, and see what's passing down the lake."
They looked out, and in the moonlight saw six large war canoes being rowed slowly down the lake, which, though narrow, was quite long. Each canoe held about a dozen warriors, and Henry believed that one of them contained two white faces, evidently those of Braxton Wyatt and Walter Butler.
"Like ez not they've been lookin' fur us," said Tom Ross.
"Quite likely," said Henry, "and at the same time they may be engaged in some general movement. See, they will pass within fifty feet of the base of the cliff."
The five lay on the cave floor, looking through the vines and foliage, and they felt quite sure that they were in absolute security. The six long war canoes moved slowly. The moonlight came out more brightly, and flooded all the bronze faces of the Iroquois. Henry now saw that he was not mistaken, and that Braxton Wyatt and Walter Butler were really in the first boat. From the cover of the cliff he could have picked off either with a rifle bullet, and the temptation was powerful. But he knew that it would lead to an immediate siege, from which they might not escape, and which at least would check their activities and plans for a long time. Similar impulses flitted through the minds of the other four, but all kept still, although fingers flitted noiselessly along rifle stocks until they touched triggers.
The Iroquois war fleet moved slowly on, the two renegades never dreaming of the danger that had threatened them. An unusually bright ray of moonshine fell full upon Braxton Wyatt's face as he paused, and Henry's finger played with the trigger of his rifle. It was hard, very hard, to let such an opportunity go by, but it must be done.
The fleet moved steadily down the lake, the canoes keeping close together. They turned into mere dots upon the water, became smaller and smaller still, until they vanished in the darkness.
"I'm thinkin'," said Shif'less Sol, "that thar's some kind uv a movement on foot. While they may hev been lookin' fur us, it ain't likely that they'd send sixty warriors or so fur sech a purpose. I heard something three or four days ago from a hunter about an attack upon the Iroquois town of Oghwaga."
"It's most likely true," said Henry, "and it seems to me that it's our business to join that expedition. What do you fellows think?"
"Just as you do," they replied with unanimity.
"Then we leave this place and start in the morning," said Henry.