The Scouts of the Valley by Joseph A. Altsheler
Chapter XVI. The First Blow
Summer was now waning, the foliage was taking on its autumn hues, and Indian war parties still surged over the hills and mountains, but the five avoided them all. On one or two occasions they would have been willing to stop and fight, but they had bigger work on hand. They had received from others confirmation of the report that Long Jim had heard from the hunters, and they were quite sure that a strong force was advancing to strike the first blow in revenge for Wyoming. Curiously enough, this body was commanded by a fourth Butler, Colonel William Butler, and according to report it was large and its leaders capable.
When the avenging force lay at the Johnstown settlement on the Delaware, it was joined by the five. They were introduced to the colonel by the celebrated scout and hunter, Tini Murphy, whom they had met several times in the woods, and they were received warmly.
"I've heard of you," said Colonel Butler with much warmth," both from hunters and scouts, and also from Adam Colfax. Two of you were to have been tomahawked by Queen Esther at Wyoming."
Henry indicated the two.
"What you saw at Wyoming is not likely to decrease your zeal against the Indians and their white allies," continued Colonel Butler.
"Anyone who was there," said Henry, " would feel all his life, the desire to punish those who did it."
"I think so, too, from all that I have heard," continued Colonel Butler. "It is the business of you young men to keep ahead of our column and warn us of what lies before us. I believe you have volunteered for that duty."
The five looked over Colonel Butler's little army, which numbered only two hundred and fifty men, but they were all strong and brave, and it was the best force that could yet be sent to the harassed border. It might, after all, strike a blow for Wyoming if it marched into no ambush, and Henry and his comrades were resolved to guard it from that greatest of all dangers.
When the little column moved from the Johnstown settlement, the five were far ahead, passing through the woods, up the Susquehanna, toward the Indian villages that lay on its banks, though a great distance above Wyoming. The chief of these was Oghwaga, and, knowing that it was the destination of the little army, they were resolved to visit it, or at least come so near it that they could see what manner of place it was.
"If it's a big village," said Colonel Butler, "it will be too strong to attack, but it may be that most of the warriors are absent on expeditions."
They had obtained before starting very careful descriptions of the approaches to the village, and toward the close of an October evening they knew that they were near Oghwaga, the great base of the Iroquois supplies. They considered it very risky and unwise to approach in the daytime, and accordingly they lay in the woods until the dark should come.
The appearance of the wilderness had changed greatly. in the three months since Wyoming. All the green was now gone, and it was tinted red and yellow and brown. The skies were a mellow blue, and there was a slight haze over the forest, but the air had the wonderful crispness and freshness of the American autumn. It inspired every one of the five with fresh zeal and energy, because they believed the first blow was about to be struck.
About ten o'clock at night they approached Oghwaga, and the reports of its importance were confirmed. They had not before seen an Indian village with so many signs of permanence. They passed two or three orchards of apple and peach trees, and they saw other indications of cultivation like that of the white farmer.
"It ain't a bad-lookin' town," said Long Jim Hart. "But it'll look wuss," said Shif'less Sol, "onless they've laid an ambush somewhar. I don't like to see houses an' sech like go up in fire an' smoke, but after what wuz done at Wyomin' an' all through that valley, burnin' is a light thing."
"We're bound to strike back with all our might," said Paul, who had the softest heart of them all.
"Now, I wonder who's in this here town," said Tom Ross. "Mebbe Timmendiquas an' Brant an' all them renegades."
"It may be so," said Henry. "This is their base and store of supplies. Oh, if Colonel Butler were only here with all his men, what a rush we could make!"
So great was their eagerness that they crept closer to the village, passing among some thick clusters of grapevines. Henry was in the lead, and he heard a sudden snarl. A large cur of the kind that infest Indian villages leaped straight at him.
The very suddenness of the attack saved Henry and his comrades from the consequences of an alarm. He dropped his rifle instinctively, and seized the dog by the throat with both hands. A bark following the snarl had risen to the animal's throat, but it was cut short there. The hands of the great youth pressed tighter and tighter, and the dog was lifted from the earth. The four stood quietly beside their comrade, knowing that no alarm would be made now.
The dog kicked convulsively, then hung without motion or noise. Henry cast the dead body aside, picked up his rifle, and then all five of them sank softly down in the shelter of the grapevines. About fifteen yards away an Indian warrior was walking cautiously along and looking among the vines. Evidently he had heard the snarl of the dog, and was seeking the cause. But it had been only a single sound, and he would not look far. Yet the hearts of the five beat a little faster as he prowled among the vines, and their nerves were tense for action should the need for it come.
The Indian, a Mohawk, came within ten yards of them, but he did not see the five figures among the vines, blending darkly with the dark growth, and presently, satisfied that the sound he had heard was of no importance, he walked in another direction, and passed out of sight.
The five, not daunted at all by this living proof of risk, crept to the very edge of the clusters of grapevines, and looked upon an open space, beyond which stood some houses made of wood; but their attention was centered upon a figure that stood in the open.
Although the distance was too great and the light too poor to disclose the features, every one of the scouts recognized the figure. It could be none other than that of Timmendiquas, the great White Lightning of the Wyandots. He was pacing back and forth, somewhat in the fashion of the white man, and his manner implied thought.
"I could bring him down from here with a bullet," said Shif'less Sol, "but I ain't ever goin' to shoot at the chief, Henry."
"No," said Henry, "nor will I. But look, there's another."
A second figure came out of the dark and joined the first. It was also that of a chief, powerful and tall, though not as tall as Timmendiquas. It was Thayendanegea. Then three white figures appeared. One was that of Braxton Wyatt, and the others they took to be those of "Indian" Butler and his son, Walter Butler. After a talk of a minute or two they entered one of the wooden houses.
"It's to be a conference of some kind," whispered Henry. "I wish I could look in on it."
"And I," said the others together.
"Well, we know this much," continued Henry. "No great force of the Iroquois is present, and if Colonel Butler's men come up quickly, we can take the town."
"It's a chance not to be lost," said Paul.
They crept slowly away from the village, not stopping until they reached the crest of a hill, from which they could see the roofs of two or three of the Indian houses.
"I've a feeling in me," said Paul, "that the place is doomed. We'll strike the first blow for Wyoming."
They neither slept nor rested that night, but retraced their trail with the utmost speed toward the marching American force, going in Indian file through the wilderness. Henry, as usual, led; Shif'less Sol followed, then came Paul, and then Long Jim, while Silent Tom was the rear guard. They traveled at great speed, and, some time after daylight, met the advance of the colonial force under Captain William Gray.
William Gray was a gallant young officer, but he was startled a little when five figures as silent as phantoms appeared. But he uttered an exclamation of delight when he recognized the leader, Henry.
"What have you found?" he asked eagerly.
"We've been to Oghwaga," replied the youth, "and we went all about the town. They do not suspect our coming. At least, they did not know when we left. We saw Brant, Timmendiquas, the Butlers, and Wyatt enter the house for a conference."
"And now is our chance," said eager young William Gray. "What if we should take the town, and with it these men, at one blow."
"We can scarcely hope for as much as that," said Henry, who knew that men like Timmendiquas and Thayendanegea were not likely to allow themselves to be seized by so small a force, "but we can hope for a good victory."
The young captain rode quickly back to his comrades with the news, and, led by the five, the whole force pushed forward with all possible haste. William Gray was still sanguine of a surprise, but the young riflemen did not expect it. Indian sentinels were sure to be in the forest between them and Oghwaga. Yet they said nothing to dash this hope. Henry had already seen enough to know the immense value of enthusiasm, and the little army full of zeal would accomplish much if the chance came. Besides the young captain, William Gray, there was a lieutenant named Taylor, who had been in the battle at Wyoming, but who had escaped the massacre. The five had not met him there, but the common share in so great a tragedy proved a tie between them. Taylor's name was Robert, but all the other officers, and some of the men for that matter, who had known him in childhood called him Bob. He was but little older than Henry, and his earlier youth, before removal to Wyoming, had been passed in Connecticut, a country that was to the colonials thickly populated and containing great towns, such as Hartford and New Haven.
A third close friend whom they soon found was a man unlike any other that they had ever seen. His name was Cornelius Heemskerk. Holland was his birthplace, but America was his nation. He was short and extremely fat, but he had an agility that amazed the five when they first saw it displayed. He talked much, and his words sounded like grumbles, but the unctuous tone and the smile that accompanied them indicated to the contrary. He formed for Shif'less Sol an inexhaustible and entertaining study in character.
"I ain't quite seen his like afore," said the shiftless one to Paul. "First time I run acrost him I thought he would tumble down among the first bushes he met. 'Stead o' that, he sailed right through 'em, makin' never a trip an' no noise at all, same ez Long Jim's teeth sinkin' into a juicy venison steak."
"I've heard tell," said Long Jim, who also contemplated the prodigy," that big, chunky, awkward-lookin' things are sometimes ez spry ez you. They say that the Hipperpotamus kin outrun the giraffe across the sands uv Afriky, an' I know from pussonal experience that the bigger an' clumsier a b'ar is the faster he kin make you scoot fur your life. But he's the real Dutch, ain't he, Paul, one uv them fellers that licked the Spanish under the Duke uv Alivy an' Belisarry?"
"Undoubtedly," replied Paul, who did not consider it necessary to correct Long Jim's history, "and I'm willing to predict to you, Jim Hart, that Heemskerk will be a mighty good man in any fight that we may have."
Heemskerk rolled up to them. He seemed to have a sort of circular motion like that of a revolving tube, but he kept pace with the others, nevertheless, and he showed no signs of exertion.
"Don't you think it a funny thing that I, Cornelius Heemskerk, am here?" he said to Paul.
"Why so, Mr. Heemskerk?" replied Paul politely. "Because I am a Dutchman. I have the soul of an artist and the gentleness of a baby. I, Cornelius Heemskerk, should be in the goot leetle country of Holland in a goot leetle house, by the side of a goot leetle canal, painting beautiful blue china, dishes, plates, cups, saucers, all most beautiful, and here I am running through the woods of this vast America, carrying on my shoulder a rifle that is longer than I am, hunting the red Indian and hunted by him. Is it not most rediculous, Mynheer Paul?"
"I think you are here because you are a brave man, Mr. Heemskerk," replied Paul, "and wish to see punishment inflicted upon those who have committed great crimes."
"Not so! Not so! replied the Dutchman with energy. "It is because I am one big fool. I am not really a big enough man to be as big a fool as I am, but so it is! so it is!" Shif'less Sol regarded him critically, and then spoke gravely and with deliberation: " It ain't that, Mr. Heemskerk, an' Paul ain't told quite all the truth, either. I've heard that the Dutch was the most powerfullest fightin' leetle nation on the globe; that all you had to do wuz to step on the toe uv a Dutchman's wooden shoe, an' all the men, women, an' children in Holland would jump right on top o' you all at once. Lookin' you up an' lookin' you down, an' sizin' you up, an' sizin you down, all purty careful, an' examinin' the corners O' your eyes oncommon close, an' also lookin' at the way you set your feet when you walk, I'm concludin' that you just natcherally love a fight, an' that you are lookin' fur one."
But Cornelius Heemskerk sighed, and shook his head.
"It is flattery that you give me, and you are trying to make me brave when I am not," he said. "I only say once more that I ought to be in Holland painting blue plates, and not here in the great woods holding on to my scalp, first with one hand and then with the other."
He sighed deeply, but Solomon Hyde, reader of the hearts of men, only laughed.
Colonel Butler's force stopped about three o'clock for food and a little rest, and the five, who had not slept since the night before, caught a few winks. But in less than an hour they were up and away again. The five riflemen were once more well in advance, and with them were Taylor and Heemskerk, the Dutchman, grumbling over their speed, but revolving along, nevertheless, with astonishing ease and without any sign of fatigue. They discovered no indications of Indian scouts or trails, and as the village now was not many miles away, it confirmed Henry in his belief that the Iroquois, with their friends, the Wyandots, would not stay to give battle. If Thayendanegea and Timmendiquas were prepared for a strong resistance, the bullets of the skirmishers would already be whistling through the woods.
The waning evening grew colder, twilight came, and the autumn leaves fell fast before the rising wind. The promise of the night was dark, which was not bad for their design, and once more the five-now the seven approached Oghwaga. From the crest of the very same hill they looked down once more upon the Indian houses.
"It is a great base for the Iroquois," said Henry to Heemskerk," and whether the Indians have laid an ambush or not, Colonel Butler must attack."
"Ah," said Heemskerk, silently moving his round body to a little higher point for a better view, "now I feel in all its fullness the truth that I should be back in Holland, painting blue plates."
Nevertheless, Cornelius Heemskerk made a very accurate survey of the Iroquois village, considering the distance and the brevity of the time, and when the party went back to Colonel Butler to tell him the way was open, he revolved along as swiftly as any of them. There were also many serious thoughts in the back of his head.
At nine o'clock the little colonial force was within half a mile of Oghwaga, and nothing had yet occurred to disclose whether the Iroquois knew of their advance. Henry and his comrades, well in front, looked down upon the town, but saw nothing. No light came from an Indian chimney, nor did any dog howl. just behind them were the troops in loose order, Colonel Butler impatiently striking his booted leg with a switch, and William Gray seeking to restrain his ardor, that he might set a good example to the men.
"What do you think, Mr. Ware?" asked Colonel Butler.
"I think we ought to rush the town at once."
"It is so!" exclaimed Heemskerk, forgetting all about painting blue plates.
"The signal is the trumpet; you blow it, Captain Gray, and then we'll charge."
William Gray took the trumpet from one of the men and blew a long, thrilling note. Before its last echo was ended, the little army rushed upon the town. Three or four shots came from the houses, and the soldiers fired a few at random in return, but that was all. Indian scouts had brought warning of the white advance, and the great chiefs, gathering up all the people who were in the village, had fled. A retreating warrior or two had fired the shots, but when the white men entered this important Iroquois stronghold they did not find a single human being. Timmendiquas, the White Lightning of the Wyandots, was gone; Thayendanegea, the real head of the Six Nations, had slipped away; and with them had vanished the renegades. But they had gone in haste. All around them were the evidences. The houses, built of wood, were scores in number, and many of them contained furniture such as a prosperous white man of the border would buy for himself. There were gardens and shade trees about these, and back of them, barns, many of them filled with Indian corn. Farther on were clusters of bark lodges, which had been inhabited by the less progressive of the Iroquois.
Henry stood in the center of the town and looked at the houses misty in the moonlight. The army had not yet made much noise, but he was beginning to hear behind him the ominous word,"Wyoming," repeated more than once. Cornelius Heemskerk had stopped revolving, and, standing beside Henry, wiped his perspiring, red face.
"Now that I am here, I think again of the blue plates of Holland, Mr. Ware," he said. "It is a dark and sanguinary time. The men whose brethren were scalped or burned alive at Wyoming will not now spare the town of those who did it. In this wilderness they give blow for blow, or perish."
Henry knew that it was true, but he felt a certain sadness. His heart had been inflamed against the Iroquois, he could never forget Wyoming or its horrors; but in the destruction of an ancient town the long labor of man perished, and it seemed waste. Doubtless a dozen generations of Iroquois children had played here on the grass. He walked toward the northern end of the village, and saw fields there from which recent corn had been taken, but behind him the cry, "Wyoming!" was repeated louder and oftener now. Then he saw men running here and there with torches, and presently smoke and flame burst from the houses. He examined the fields and forest for a little distance to see if any ambushed foe might still lie among them, but all the while the flame and smoke behind him were rising higher.
Henry turned back and joined his comrades. Oghwaga was perishing. The flames leaped from house to house, and then from lodge to lodge. There was no need to use torches any more. The whole village was wrapped in a mass of fire that grew and swelled until the flames rose above the forest, and were visible in the clear night miles away.
So great was the heat that Colonel Butler and the soldiers and scouts were compelled to withdraw to the edge of the forest. The wind rose and the flames soared. Sparks flew in myriads, and ashes fell dustily on the dry leaves of the trees. Bob Taylor, with his hands clenched tightly, muttered under his breath, "Wyoming! Wyoming!"
"It is the Iroquois who suffer now," said Heemskerk, as he revolved slowly away from a heated point.
Crashes came presently as the houses fell in, and then the sparks would leap higher and the flames roar louder. The barns, too, were falling down, and the grain was destroyed. The grapevines were trampled under foot, and the gardens were ruined. Oghwaga, a great central base of the Six Nations, was vanishing forever. For four hundred years, ever since the days of Hiawatha, the Iroquois had waxed in power. They had ruled over lands larger than great empires. They had built up political and social systems that are the wonder of students. They were invincible in war, because every man had been trained from birth to be a warrior, and now they were receiving their first great blow.
From a point far in the forest, miles away, Thayendanegea, Timmendiquas, Hiokatoo, Sangerachte, "Indian" Butler, Walter Butler, Braxton Wyatt, a low, heavybrowed Tory named Coleman, with whom Wyatt had become very friendly, and about sixty Iroquois and twenty Tories were watching a tower of light to the south that had just appeared above the trees. It was of an intense, fiery color, and every Indian in that gloomy band knew that it was Oghwaga, the great, the inviolate, the sacred, that was burning, and that the men who were doing it were the white frontiersmen, who, his red-coated allies had told him, would soon be swept forever from these woods. And they were forced to stand and see it, not daring to attack so strong and alert a force.
They sat there in the darkness among the trees, and watched the column of fire grow and grow until it seemed to pierce the skies. Timmendiquas never said a word. In his heart, Indian though he was, he felt that the Iroquois had gone too far. In him was the spirit of the farseeing Hiawatha. He could perceive that great cruelty always brought retaliation; but it was not for him, almost an alien, to say these things to Thayendanegea, the mighty war chief of the Mohawks and the living spirit of the Iroquois nation.
Thayendanegea sat on the stump of a tree blown down by winter storms. His arms were folded across his breast, and he looked steadily toward that red threatening light off there in the south. Some such idea as that in the mind of Timmendiquas may have been passing in his own. He was an uncommon Indian, and he had had uncommon advantages. He had not believed that the colonists could make head against so great a kingdom as England, aided by the allied tribes, the Canadians, and the large body of Tories among their own people. But he saw with his own eyes the famous Oghwaga of the Iroquois going down under their torch.
"Tell me, Colonel John Butler," he said bitterly, where is your great king now? Is his arm long enough to reach from London to save our town of Oghwaga, which is perhaps as much to us as his great city of London is to him?"
The thickset figure of "Indian" Butler moved, and his swart face flushed as much as it could.
"You know as much about the king as I do, Joe Brant," he replied. "We are fighting here for your country as well as his, and you cannot say that Johnson's Greens and Butler's Rangers and the British and Canadians have not done their part."
"It is true," said Thayendanegea, "but it is true, also, that one must fight with wisdom. Perhaps there was too much burning of living men at Wyoming. The pain of the wounded bear makes him fight the harder, and it, is because of Wyoming that Oghwaga yonder burns. Say, is it not so, Colonel John Butler ?"
"Indian" Butler made no reply, but sat, sullen and lowering. The Tory, Coleman, whispered to Braxton Wyatt, but Timmendiquas was the only one who spoke aloud.
"Thayendanegea," he said, "I, and the Wyandots who are with me, have come far. We expected to return long ago to the lands on the Ohio, but we were with you in your village, and now, when Manitou has turned his face from you for the time, we will not leave you. We stay and fight by your side."
Thayendanegea stood up, and Timmendiquas stood up, also.
"You are a great chief, White Lightning of the Wyandots " he said, " and you and I are brothers. I shall be proud and happy to have such a mighty leader fighting with me. We will have vengeance for this. The power of the Iroquois is as great as ever."
He raised himself to his full height, pointing to the fire, and the flames of hate and resolve burned in his eyes. Old Hiokatoo, the most savage of all the chiefs, shook his tomahawk, and a murmur passed through the group of Indians.
Braxton Wyatt still talked in whispers to his new friend, Coleman, the Tory, who was more to his liking than the morose and savage Walter Butler, whom he somewhat feared. Wyatt was perhaps the least troubled of all those present. Caring for himself only, the burning of Oghwaga caused him no grief. He suffered neither from the misfortune of friend nor foe. He was able to contemplate the glowing tower of light with curiosity only. Braxton Wyatt knew that the Iroquois and their allies would attempt revenge for the burning of Oghwaga, and he saw profit for himself in such adventures. His horizon had broadened somewhat of late. The renegade, Blackstaffe, had returned to rejoin Simon Girty, but be had found a new friend in Coleman. He was coming now more into touch with the larger forces in the East, nearer to the seat of the great war, and he hoped to profit by it.
"This is a terrible blow to Brant," Coleman whispered to him. "The Iroquois have been able to ravage the whole frontier, while the rebels, occupied with the king's troops, have not been able to send help to their own. But they have managed to strike at last, as you see."
"I do see," said Wyatt, "and on the whole, Coleman, I'm not sorry. Perhaps these chiefs won't be so haughty now, and they'll soon realize that they need likely chaps such as you and me, eh, Coleman."
"You're not far from the truth," said Coleman, laughing a little, and pleased at the penetration of his new friend. They did not talk further, although the agreement between them was well established. Neither did the Indian chiefs or the Tory leaders say any more. They watched the tower of fire a long time, past midnight, until it reached its zenith and then began to sink. They saw its crest go down behind the trees, and they saw the luminous cloud in the south fade and go out entirely, leaving there only the darkness that reined everywhere else.
Then the Indian and Tory leaders rose and silently marched northward. It was nearly dawn when Henry and his comrades lay down for the rest that they needed badly. They spread their blankets at the edge of the open, but well back from the burned area, which was now one great mass of coals and charred timbers, sending up little flame but much smoke. Many of the troops were already asleep, but Henry, before lying down, begged William Gray to keep a strict watch lest the Iroquois attack from ambush. He knew that the rashness and confidence of the borderers, especially when drawn together in masses, had often caused them great losses, and he was resolved to prevent a recurrence at the present time if he could. He had made these urgent requests of Gray, instead of Colonel Butler, because of the latter's youth and willingness to take advice.
"I'll have the forest beat up continually all about the town," he said. "We must not have our triumph spoiled by any afterclap."
Henry and his comrades, wrapped in their blankets, lay in a row almost at the edge of the forest. The heat from the fire was still great, but it would die down after a while, and the October air was nipping. Henry usually fell asleep in a very few minutes, but this time, despite his long exertions and lack of rest, he remained awake when his comrades were sound asleep. Then he fell into a drowsy state, in which be saw the fire rising in great black coils that united far above. It seemed to Henry, half dreaming and forecasting the future, that the Indian spirit was passing in the smoke.
When he fell asleep it was nearly daylight, and in three or four hours be was up again, as the little army intended to march at once upon another Indian town. The hours while he slept had passed in silence, and no Indians had come near. William Gray had seen to that, and his best scout had been one Cornelius Heemskerk, a short, stout man of Dutch birth.
"It was one long, long tramp for me, Mynheer Henry," said Heemskerk, as he revolved slowly up to the camp fire where Henry was eating his breakfast," and I am now very tired. It was like walking four or five times around Holland, which is such a fine little country, with the canals and the flowers along them, and no great, dark woods filled with the fierce Iroquois."
"Still, I've a notion, Mynheer Heemskerk, that you'd rather be here, and perhaps before the day is over you will get some fighting hot enough to please even you."
Mynheer Heemskerk threw up his hands in dismay, but a half hour later he was eagerly discussing with Henry the possibility of overtaking some large band of retreating Iroquois.
Urged on by all the scouts and by those who had suffered at Wyoming, Colonel Butler gathered his forces and marched swiftly that very morning up the river against another Indian town, Cunahunta. Fortunately for him, a band of riflemen and scouts unsurpassed in skill led the way, and saw to it that the road was safe. In this band were the five, of course, and after them Heemskerk, young Taylor, and several others.
"If the Iroquois do not get in our way, we'll strike Cunahunta before night," said Heemskerk, who knew the way.
"It seems to me that they will certainly try to save their towns," said Henry. "Surely Brant and the Tories will not let us strike so great a blow without a fight."
"Most of their warriors are elsewhere, Mynheer Henry," said Heemskerk, " or they would certainly give us a big battle. We've been lucky in the time of our advance. As it is, I think we'll have something to do."
It was now about noon, the noon of a beautiful October day of the North, the air like life itself, the foliage burning red on the hills, the leaves falling softly from the trees as the wind blew, but bringing with them no hint of decay. None of the vanguard felt fatigue, but when they crossed a low range of hills and saw before them a creek flowing down to the Susquehanna, Henry, who was in the lead, stopped suddenly and dropped down in the grass. The others, knowing without question the significance of the action, also sank down.
"What is it, Henry ?" asked Shif'less Sol.
"You see how thick the trees are on the other side of that bank. Look a little to the left of a big oak, and you will see the feathers in the headdress of an Iroquois. Farther on I think I can catch a glimpse of a green coat, and if I am right that coat is worn by one of Johnson's Royal Greens. It's an ambush, Sol, an ambush meant for us."
"But it's not an ambush intended for our main force, Mynheer Henry," said Heemskerk, whose red face began to grow redder with the desire for action. "I, too, see the feather of the Iroquois."
"As good scouts and skirmishers it's our duty, then, to clear this force out of the way, and not wait for the main body to come up, is it not?" asked Henry, with a suggestive look at the Dutchman.
"What a goot head you have, Mynheer Henry!" exclaimed Heemskerk. "Of course we will fight, and fight now!"
"How about them blue plates?" said Shif'less Sol softly. But Heemskerk did not hear him.
They swiftly developed their plan of action. There could be no earthly doubt of the fact that the Iroquois and some Tories were ambushed on the far side of the creek. Possibly Thayendanegea himself, stung by the burning of Oghwaga and the advance on Cunahunta, was there. But they were sure that it was not a large band.
The party of Henry and Heemskerk numbered fourteen, but every one was a veteran, full of courage, tenacity, and all the skill of the woods. They had supreme confidence in their ability to beat the best of the Iroquois, man for man, and they carried the very finest arms known to the time.
It was decided that four of the men should remain on the hill. The others, including the five, Heemskerk, and Taylor, would make a circuit, cross the creek a full mile above, and come down on the flank of the ambushing party. Theirs would be the main attack, but it would be preceded by sharpshooting from the four, intended to absorb the attention of the Iroquois. The chosen ten slipped back down the hill, and as soon as they were sheltered from any possible glimpse by the warriors, they rose and ran rapidly westward. Before they had gone far they heard the crack of a rifle shot, then another, then several from another point, as if in reply.
"It's our sharpshooters," said Henry. " They've begun to disturb the Iroquois, and they'll keep them busy."
"Until we break in on their sport and keep them still busier," exclaimed Heemskerk, revolving swiftly through the bushes, his face blazing red.
It did not take long for such as they to go the mile or so that they intended, and then they crossed the creek, wading in the water breast high, but careful to keep their ammunition dry. Then they turned and rapidly descended the stream on its northern bank. In a few minutes they heard the sound of a rifle shot, and then of another as if replying.
"The Iroquois have been fooled," exclaimed Heemskerk. "Our four good riflemen have made them think that a great force is there, and they have not dared to cross the creek themselves and make an attack."
In a few minutes more, as they ran noiselessly through the forest, they saw a little drifting smoke, and now and then the faint flash of rifles. They were coming somewhere near to the Iroquois band, and they practiced exceeding caution. Presently they caught sight of Indian faces, and now and then one of Johnson's Greens or Butler's Rangers. They stopped and held a council that lasted scarcely more than half a minute. They all agreed there was but one thing to do, and that was to attack in the Indian's own way-that is, by ambush and sharpshooting.
Henry fired the first shot, and an Iroquois, aiming at a foe on the other side of the creek, fell. Heemskerk quickly followed with a shot as good, and the surprised Iroquois turned to face this new foe. But they and the Tories were a strong band, and they retreated only a little. Then they stood firm, and the forest battle began. The Indians numbered not less than thirty, and both Braxton Wyatt and Coleman were with them, but the value of skill was here shown by the smaller party, the one that attacked. The frontiersmen, trained to every trick and wile of the forest, and marksmen such as the Indians were never able to become, continually pressed in and drove the Iroquois from tree to tree. Once or twice the warriors started a rush, but they were quickly driven back by sharpshooting such as they had never faced before. They soon realized that this was no band of border farmers, armed hastily for an emergency, but a foe who knew everything that they knew, and more.
Braxton Wyatt and his friend Coleman fought with the Iroquois, and Wyatt in particular was hot with rage. He suspected that the five who had defeated him so often were among these marksmen, and there might be a chance now to destroy them all. He crept to the side of the fierce old Seneca chief, Hiokatoo, and suggested that a part of their band slip around and enfold the enemy.
Old Hiokatoo, in the thick of battle now, presented his most terrifying aspect. He was naked save the waist cloth, his great body was covered with scars, and, as he bent a little forward, he held cocked and ready in his hands a fine rifle that had been presented to him by his good friend, the king. The Senecas, it may be repeated, had suffered terribly at the Battle of the Oriskany in the preceding year, and throughout these years of border were the most cruel of all the Iroquois. In this respect Hiokatoo led all the Senecas, and now Braxton Wyatt used as he was to savage scenes, was compelled to admit to himself that this was the most terrifying human being whom he had ever beheld. He was old, but age in him seemed merely to add to his strength and ferocity. The path of a deep cut, healed long since, but which the paint even did not hide, lay across his forehead. Others almost as deep adorned his right cheek, his chin, and his neck. He was crouched much like a panther, with his rifle in his hands and the ready tomahawk at his belt. But it was the extraordinary expression of his eyes that made Braxton Wyatt shudder. He read there no mercy for anything, not even for himself, Braxton Wyatt, if he should stand in the way, and it was this last fact that brought the shudder.
Hiokatoo thought it a good plan. Twenty warriors, mostly Senecas and Cayugas, were detailed to execute it at once, and they stole off toward the right. Henry had suspected some such diversion, and, as he had been joined now by the four men from the other side of the creek, he disposed his little force to meet it. Both Shif'less Sol and Heemskerk had caught sight of figures slipping away among the trees, and Henry craftily drew back a little. While two or three men maintained the sharpshooting in the front, he waited for the attack. It came in half an hour, the flanking force making a savage and open rush, but the fire of the white riflemen was so swift and deadly that they were driven back again. But they had come very near, and a Tory rushed directly at young Taylor. The Tory, like Taylor, had come from Wyoming, and he had been one of the most ruthless on that terrible day. When they were less than a dozen feet apart they recognized each other. Henry saw the look that passed between them, and, although he held a loaded rifle in his hand, for some reason he did not use it. The Tory fired a pistol at Taylor, but the bullet missed, and the Wyoming youth, leaping forth, swung his unloaded rifle and brought the stock down with all his force upon the head of his enemy. The man, uttering a single sound, a sort of gasp, fell dead, and Taylor stood over him, still trembling with rage. In an instant Henry seized him and dragged him down, and then a Seneca bullet whistled where he had been.
"He was one of the worst at Wyoming-I saw him!" exclaimed young Taylor, still trembling all over with passion.
"He'll never massacre anybody else. You've seen to that," said Henry, and in a minute or two Taylor was quiet. The sharpshooting continued, but here as elsewhere, the Iroquois had the worst of it. Despite their numbers, they could not pass nor flank that line of deadly marksmen who lay behind trees almost in security, and who never missed. Another Tory and a chief, also, were killed, and Braxton Wyatt was daunted. Nor did he feel any better when old Hiokatoo crept to his side.
"We have failed here," he said. "They shoot too well for us to rush them. We have lost good men." Hiokatoo frowned, and the scars on his face stood out in livid red lines.
"It is so," he said. " These who fight us now are of their best, and while we fight, the army that destroyed Oghwaga is coming up. Come, we will go."
The little white band soon saw that the Indians were gone from their front. They scouted some distance, and, finding no enemy, hurried back to Colonel Butler. The troops were pushed forward, and before night they reached Cunahunta, which they burned also. Some farther advance was made into the Indian country, and more destruction was done, but now the winter was approaching, and many of the men insisted upon returning home to protect their families. Others were to rejoin the main Revolutionary army, and the Iroquois campaign was to stop for the time. The first blow had been struck, and it was a hard one, but the second blow and third and fourth and more, which the five knew were so badly needed, must wait.
Henry and his comrades were deeply disappointed. They had hoped to go far into the Iroquois country, to break the power of the Six Nations, to hunt down the Butlers and the Johnsons and Brant himself, but they could not wholly blame their commander. The rear guard, or, rather, the forest guard of the Revolution, was a slender and small force indeed.
Henry and his comrades said farewell to Colonel Butler with much personal regret, and also to the gallant troops, some of whom were Morgan's riflemen from Virginia. The farewells to William Gray, Bob Taylor, and Cornelius Heemskerk were more intimate.
"I think we'll see more of one another in other campaigns," said Gray.
"We'll be on the battle line, side by side, once more," said Taylor, "and we'll strike another blow for Wyoming."
"I foresee," said Cornelius Heemskerk, "that I, a peaceful man, who ought to be painting blue plates in Holland, will be drawn into danger in the great, dark wilderness again, and that you will be there with me, Mynheer Henry, Mynheer Paul, Mynheer the Wise Solomon, Mynheer the Silent Tom, and Mynheer the Very Long James. I see it clearly. I, a man of peace, am always being pushed in to war."
"We hope it will come true," said the five together.
"Do you go back to Kentucky?" asked William Gray.
"No," replied Henry, speaking for them all, " we have entered upon this task here, and we are going to stay in it until it is finished."
"It is dangerous, the most dangerous thing in the world," said Heemskerk. "I still have my foreknowledge that I shall stand by your side in some great battle to come, but the first thing I shall do when I see you again, my friends, is to look around at you, one, two, three, four, five, and see if you have upon your heads the hair which is now so rich, thick, and flowing."
"Never fear, my friend," said Henry, "we have fought with the warriors all the way from the Susquehanna to New Orleans and not one of us has lost a single lock of hair."
"It is one Dutchman's hope that it will always be so," said Heemskerk, and then he revolved rapidly away lest they see his face express emotion.
The five received great supplies of powder and bullets from Colonel Butler, and then they parted in the forest. Many of the soldiers looked back and saw the five tall figures in a line, leaning upon the muzzles of their long-barreled Kentucky rifles, and regarding them in silence. It seemed to the soldiers that they had left behind them the true sons of the wilderness, who, in spite of all dangers, would be there to welcome them when they returned.