The Scouts of the Valley by Joseph A. Altsheler
Chapter XXIII. The Final Fight
Shif'less Sol and Tom Ross were also looking under the mats, and the three would have recognized those figures anywhere. The taller was Timmendiquas, the other Thayendanegea. The thin light from the window fell upon their faces, and Henry saw that both were sad. Haughty and proud they were still, but each bore the look that comes only from continued defeat and great disappointment. It is truth to say that the concealed three watched them with a curiosity so intense that all thought of their own risk was forgotten. To Henry, as well as his comrades, these two were the greatest of all Indian chiefs.
The White Lightning of the Wyandots and the Joseph Brant of the Mohawks stood for a space side by side, gazing out of the window, taking a last look at the great Seneca Castle. It was Thayendanegea who spoke first, using Wyandot, which Henry understood.
"Farewell, my brother, great chief of the Wyandots," he said. "You have come far with your warriors, and you have been by our side in battle. The Six Nations owe you much. You have helped us in victory, and you have not deserted us in defeat. You are the greatest of warriors, the boldest in battle, and the most skillful."
Timmendiquas made a deprecatory gesture, but Thayendanegea went on:
"I speak but the truth, great chief of the Wyandots. We owe you much, and some day we may repay. Here the Bostonians crowd us hard, and the Mohawks may yet fight by your side to save your own hunting grounds."
"It is true," said Timmendiquas. "There, too, we' must fight the Americans."
"Victory was long with us here," said Thayendanegea, "but the rebels have at last brought an army against us, and the king who persuaded us to make war upon the Americans adds nothing to the help that he has given us already. Our white allies were the first to run at the Chemung, and now the Iroquois country, so large and so beautiful, is at the mercy of the invader. We perish. In all the valleys our towns lie in ashes. The American army will come to-morrow, and this, the great Seneca Castle, the last of our strongholds, will also sink under the flames. I know not how our people will live through the Winter that is yet to come. Aieroski has turned his face from us."
But Timmendiquas spoke words of courage and hope.
"The Six Nations will regain their country," he said. "The great League of the Ho-de-no-sau-nee, which has been victorious for so many generations, cannot be destroyed. All the tribes from here to the Mississippi will help, and will press down upon the settlements. I will return to stir them anew, and the British posts will give us arms and ammunition."
The light of defiance shone once more in the eyes of Thayendanegea.
"You raise my spirits again," he said. "We flee now, but we shall come back again. The Ho-de-no-saunee can never submit. We will ravage all their settlements, and burn and destroy. We will make a wilderness where they have been. The king and his men will yet give us more help."
Part of his words came true, and the name of the raiding Thayendanegea was long a terror, but the Iroquois, who had refused the requested neutrality, had lost their Country forever, save such portions as the victor in the end chose to offer to them.
"And now, as you and your Wyandots depart within the half hour, I give you a last farewell," said Thayendanegea.
The hands of the two great chiefs met in a clasp like that of the white man, and then Timmendiquas abruptly left the Council House, shutting the door behind him. Thayendanegea lingered a while at the window, and the look of sadness returned to his face. Henry could read many of the thoughts that were passing through the Mohawk's proud mind.
Thayendanegea was thinking of his great journey to London, of the power and magnificence that he had seen, of the pride and glory of the Iroquois, of the strong and numerous Tory faction led by Sir John Johnson, the half brother of the children of Molly Brant, Thayendanegea's own sister, of the Butlers and all the others who had said that the rebels would be easy to conquer. He knew better now, he had long known better, ever since that dreadful battle in the dark defile of the Oriskany, when the Palatine Germans, with old Herkimer at their head, beat the Tories, the English, and the Iroquois, and made the taking of Burgoyne possible. The Indian chieftain was a statesman, and it may be that from this moment he saw that the cause of both the Iroquois and their white allies was doomed. Presently Thayendanegea left the window, walking slowly toward the door. He paused there a moment or two, and then went out, closing it behind him, as Timmendiquas had done. The three did not speak until several minutes after he had gone.
"I don't believe," said Henry, "that either of them thinks, despite their brave words, that the Iroquois can ever win back again."
"Serves 'em right," said Tom Ross. "I remember what I saw at Wyoming."
"Whether they kin do it or not," said the practical Sol, "it's time for us to git out o' here, an' go back to our men."
"True words, Sol," said Henry, "and we'll go."
Examining first at the window and then through the door, opened slightly, they saw that the Iroquois village bad become quiet. The preparations for departure had probably ceased until morning. Forth stole the three, passing swiftly among the houses, going, with silent foot toward the orchard. An old squaw, carrying a bundle from a house, saw them, looked sharply into their faces, and knew them to be white. She threw down her bundle with a fierce, shrill scream, and ran, repeating the scream as she ran.
Indians rushed out, and with them Braxton Wyatt and his band. Wyatt caught a glimpse of a tall figure, with two others, one on each side, running toward the orchard, and he knew it. Hate and the hope to capture or kill swelled afresh. He put a whistle to his lip and blew shrilly. It was a signal to his band, and they came from every point, leading the pursuit.
Henry heard the whistle, and he was quite sure that it was Wyatt who had made the sound. A single glance backward confirmed him. He knew Wyatt's figure as well as Wyatt knew his, and the dark mass with him was certainly composed of his own men. The other Indians and Tories, in all likelihood, would turn back soon, and that fact would give him the chance he wished.
They were clear of the town now, running lightly through the orchard, and Shif'less Sol suggested that they enter the woods at once.
"We can soon dodge 'em thar in the dark," he said.
"We don't want to dodge 'em," said Henry.
The shiftless one was surprised, but when he glanced at Henry's face he understood.
"You want to lead 'em on an' to a fight?" he said.
"Glad you thought uv it," said Shif'less Sol.
They crossed the very corn field through which they had come, Braxton Wyatt and his band in full cry after them. Several shots were fired, but the three kept too far ahead for any sort of marksmanship, and they were not touched. When they finally entered the woods they curved a little, and then, keeping just far enough ahead to be within sight, but not close enough for the bullets, Henry led them straight toward the camp of the riflemen. As he approached, he fired his own rifle, and uttered the long shout of the forest runner. He shouted a second time, and now Shif'less Sol and Tom Ross joined in the chorus, their great cry penetrating far through the woods.
Whether Braxton Wyatt or any of his mixed band of Indians and Tories suspected the meaning of those great shouts Henry never knew, but the pursuit came on with undiminished speed. There was a good silver moon now, shedding much light, and he saw Wyatt still in the van, with his Tory lieutenant close behind, and after them red men and white, spreading out like a fan to inclose the fugitives in a trap. The blood leaped in his veins. It was a tide of fierce joy. He had achieved both of the purposes for which he had come. He had thoroughly scouted the Seneca Castle, and he was about to come to close quarters with Braxton Wyatt and the band which he had made such a terror through the valleys.
Shif'less Sol saw the face of his young comrade, and he was startled. He had never before beheld it so stern, so resolute, and so pitiless. He seemed to remember as one single, fearful picture all the ruthless and terrible scenes of the last year. Henry uttered again that cry which was at once a defiance and a signal, and from the forest ahead of him it was answered, signal for signal. The riflemen were coming, Paul, Long Jim, and Heemskerk at their head. They uttered a mighty cheer as they saw the flying three, and their ranks opened to receive them. From the Indians and Tories came the long whoop of challenge, and every one in either band knew that the issue was now about to be settled by battle, and by battle alone. They used all the tactics of the forest. Both sides instantly dropped down among the trees and undergrowth, three or four hundred yards apart, and for a few moments there was no sound save heavy breathing, heard only by those who lay close by. Not a single human being would have been visible to an ordinary eye there in the moonlight, which tipped boughs and bushes with ghostly silver. Yet no area so small ever held a greater store of resolution and deadly animosity. On one side were the riflemen, nearly every one of whom had slaughtered kin to mourn, often wives and little children, and on the other the Tories and Iroquois, about to lose their country, and swayed by the utmost passions of hate and revenge.
"Spread out," whispered Henry. "Don't give them a chance to flank us. You, Sol, take ten men and go to the right, and you, Heemskerk, take ten and go to the left."
"It is well," whispered Heemskerk. "You have a great head, Mynheer Henry."
Each promptly obeyed, but the larger number of the riflemen remained in the center, where Henry knelt, with Paul and Long Jim on one side of him, and Silent Tom on the other. When he thought that the two flanking parties had reached the right position, he uttered a low whistle, and back came two low whistles, signals that all was ready. Then the line began its slow advance, creeping forward from tree to tree and from bush to bush. Henry raised himself up a little, but he could not yet see anything where the hostile force lay hidden. They went a little farther, and then all lay down again to look.
Tom Ross had not spoken a word, but none was more eager than he. He was almost flat upon the ground, and he had been pulling himself along by a sort of muscular action of his whole body. Now he was so still that he did not seem to breathe. Yet his eyes, uncommonly eager now, were searching the thickets ahead. They rested at last on a spot of brown showing through some bushes, and, raising his rifle, he fired with sure aim. The Iroquois uttered his death cry, sprang up convulsively, and then fell back prone. Shots were fired in return, and a dozen riflemen replied to them. The battle was joined.
They heard Braxton Wyatt's whistle, the challenging war cry of the Iroquois, and then they fought in silence, save for the crack of the rifles. The riflemen continued to advance in slow, creeping fashion, always pressing the enemy. Every time they caught sight of a hostile face or body they sent a bullet at it, and Wyatt's men did the same. The two lines came closer, and all along each there were many sharp little jets of fire and smoke. Some of the riflemen were wounded, and two were slain, dying quietly and without interrupting their comrades, who continued to press the combat, Henry always leading in the center, and Shif'less Sol and Heemskerk on the flanks.
This battle so strange, in which faces were seen only for a moment, and which was now without the sound of voices, continued without a moment's cessation in the dark forest. The fury of the combatants increased as the time went on, and neither side was yet victorious. Closer and closer came the lines. Meanwhile dark clouds were piling in a bank in the southwest. Slow thunder rumbled far away, and the sky was cut at intervals by lightning. But the combatants did not notice the heralds of storm. Their attention was only for each other.
It seemed to Henry that emotions and impulses in him had culminated. Before him were the worst of all their foes, and his pitiless resolve was not relaxed a particle. The thunder and the lightning, although he did not notice them, seemed to act upon him as an incitement, and with low words he continually urged those about him to push the battle.
Drops of rain fell, showing in the moonshine like beads of silver on boughs and twigs, but by and by the smoke from the rifle fire, pressed down by the heavy atmosphere, gathered among the trees, and the moon was partly hidden. But file combat did not relax because of the obscurity. Wandering Indians, hearing the firing, came to Wyatt's relief, but, despite their aid, he was compelled to give ground. His were the most desperate and hardened men, red and white, in all the allied forces, but they were faced by sharpshooters better than themselves. Many of them were already killed, others were wounded, and, although Wyatt and Coleman raged and strove to hold them, they began to give back, and so hard pressed were they that the Iroquois could not perform the sacred duty of carrying off their dead. No one sought to carry away the Tories, who lay with the rain, that had now begun to fall, beating upon them.
So much had the riflemen advanced that they came to the point where bodies of their enemies lay. Again that fierce joy surged up in Henry's heart. His friends and he were winning. But he wished to do more than win. This band, if left alone, would merely flee from the Seneca Castle before the advance of the army, and would still exist to ravage and slay elsewhere.
"Keep on, Tom! Keep on!" he cried to Ross and the others. "Never let them rest!"
"We won't! We ain't dreamin' o' doin' sech a thing," replied the redoubtable one as he loaded and fired. "Thar, I got another!"
The Iroquois, yielding slowly at first, began now to give way faster. Some sought to dart away to right or left, and bury themselves in the forest, but they were caught by the flanking parties of Shif'less Sol and Heemskerk, and driven back on the center. They could not retreat except straight on the town, and the riflemen followed them step for step. The moan of the distant thunder went on, and the soft rain fell, but the deadly crackle of the rifles formed a sharper, insistent note that claimed the whole attention of both combatants.
It was now the turn of the riflemen to receive help. Twenty or more scouts and others abroad in the forest were called by the rifle fire, and went at once into the battle. Then Wyatt was helped a second time by a band of Senecas and Mohawks, but, despite all the aid, they could not withstand the riflemen. Wyatt, black with fury and despair, shouted to them and sometimes cursed or even struck at them, but the retreat could not be stopped. Men fell fast. Every one of the riflemen was a sharpshooter, and few bullets missed.
Wyatt was driven out of the forest and into the very corn field through which Henry had passed. Here the retreat became faster, and, with shouts of triumph, the riflemen followed after. Wyatt lost some men in the flight through the field, but when he came to the orchard, having the advantage of cover, he made another desperate stand.
But Shif'less Sol and Heemskerk took the band on the flanks, pouring in a destructive fire, and Wyatt, Coleman, and a fourth of his band, all that survived, broke into a run for the town.
The riflemen uttered shout after shout of triumph, and it was impossible to restrain their pursuit. Henry would have stopped here, knowing the danger of following into the town, especially when the army was near at band with an irresistible force, but he could not stay them. He decided then that if they would charge it must be done with the utmost fire and spirit.
"On, men! On!" he cried. "Give them no chance to take cover."
Shif'less Sol and Heemskerk wheeled in with the flanking parties, and the riflemen, a solid mass now, increased the speed of pursuit. Wyatt and his men had no chance to turn and fire, or even to reload. Bullets beat upon them as they fled, and here perished nearly all of that savage band. Wyatt, Coleman, and only a half dozen made good the town, where a portion of the Iroquois who had not yet fled received them. But the exultant riflemen did not stop even there. They were hot on the heels of Wyatt and the fugitives, and attacked at once the Iroquois who came to their relief. So fierce was their rush that these new forces were driven back at once. Braxton Wyatt, Coleman, and a dozen more, seeing no other escape, fled to a large log house used as a granary, threw themselves into it, barred the doors heavily, and began to fire from the upper windows, small openings usually closed with boards. Other Indians from the covert of house, tepee, or tree, fired upon the assailants, and a fresh battle began in the town.
The riflemen, directed by their leaders, met the new situation promptly. Fired upon from all sides, at least twenty rushed into a house some forty yards from that of Braxton Wyatt. Others seized another house, while the rest remained outside, sheltered by little outhouses, trees, or inequalities of the earth, and maintained rapid sharpshooting in reply to the Iroquois in the town or to Braxton Wyatt's men in the house. Now the combat became fiercer than ever. The warriors uttered yells, and Wyatt's men in the house sent forth defiant shouts. From another part of the town came shrill cries of old squaws, urging on their fighting men.
It was now about four o'clock in the morning. The thunder and lightning had ceased, but the soft rain was still falling. The Indians had lighted fires some distance away. Several carried torches. Helped by these, and, used so long to the night, the combatants saw distinctly. The five lay behind a low embankment, and they paid their whole attention to the big house that sheltered Wyatt and his men. On the sides and behind they were protected by Heemskerk and others, who faced a coming swarm.
"Keep low, Paul," said Henry, restraining his eager comrade. "Those fellows in the house can shoot, and we don't want to lose you. There, didn't I tell you!"
A bullet fired from the window passed through the top of Paul's cap, but clipped only his hair. Before the flash from the window passed, Long Jim fired in return, and something fell back inside. Bullets came from other windows. Shif'less Sol fired, and a Seneca fell forward banging half out of the window, his naked body a glistening brown in the firelight. But he hung only a few seconds. Then he fell to the ground and lay still. The five crouched low again, waiting a new opportunity. Behind them, and on either side, they heard the crash of the new battle and challenging cries.
Braxton Wyatt, Coleman, four more Tories, and six Indians were still alive in the strong log house. Two or three were wounded, but they scarcely noticed it in the passion of conflict. The house was a veritable fortress, and the renegade's hopes rose high as he heard the rifle fire from different parts of the town. His own band had been annihilated by the riflemen, led by Henry Ware, but he had a sanguine hope now that his enemies had rushed into a trap. The Iroquois would turn back and destroy them.
Wyatt and his comrades presented a repellent sight as they crouched in the room and fired from the two little windows. His clothes and those of the white men had been torn by bushes and briars in their flight, and their faces had been raked, too, until they bled, but they had paid no attention to such wounds, and the blood was mingled with sweat and powder smoke. The Indians, naked to the waist, daubed with vermilion, and streaked, too, with blood, crouched upon the floor, with the muz'zles of their rifles at the windows, seeking something human to kill. One and all, red and white, they were now raging savages, There was not one among them who did not have some foul murder of woman or child to his credit.
Wyatt himself was mad for revenge. Every evil passion in him was up and leaping. His eyes, more like those of a wild animal than a human being, blazed out of a face, a mottled red and black. By the side of him the dark Tory, Coleman, was driven by impulses fully as fierce.
"To think of it!" exclaimed Wyatt. "He led us directly into a trap, that Ware! And here our band is destroyed! All the good men that we gathered together, except these few, are killed!"
"But we may pay them back," said Coleman. "We were in their trap, but now they are in ours! Listen to that firing and the war whoop! There are enough Iroquois yet in the town to kill every one of those rebels!"
"I hope so! I believe so!" exclaimed Wyatt. "Look out, Coleman! Ah, he's pinked you! That's the one they call Shif'less Sol, and he's the best sharpshooter of them all except Ware!"
Coleman had leaned forward a little in his anxiety to secure a good aim at something. He had disclosed only a little of his face, but in an instant a bullet had seared his forehead like the flaming stroke of a sword, passing on and burying itself in the wall. Fresh blood dripped down over his face. He tore a strip from the inside of his coat, bound it about his head, and went on with the defense.
A Mohawk, frightfully painted, fired from the other window. Like a flash came the return shot, and the Indian fell back in the room, stone dead, with a bullet through his bead.
"That was Ware himself," said Wyatt. "I told you he was the best shot of them all. I give him that credit. But they're all good. Look out! There goes another of our men! It was Ross who did that! I tell you, be careful! Be careful!"
It was an Onondaga who fell this time, and he lay with his head on the window sill until another Indian pulled him inside. A minute later a Tory, who peeped guardedly for a shot, received a bullet through his head, and sank down on the floor. A sort of terror spread among the others. What could they do in the face of such terrible sharpshooting? It was uncanny, almost superhuman, and they looked stupidly at one another. Smoke from their own firing had gathered in the room, and it formed a ghastly veil about their faces. They heard the crash of the rifles outside from every point, but no help came to them.
"We're bound to do something!" exclaimed Wyatt. "Here you, Jones, stick up the edge of your cap, and when they fire at it I'll put a bullet in the man who pulls the trigger."
Jones thrust up his cap, but they knew too much out there to be taken in by an old trick. The cap remained unhurt, but when Jones in his eagerness thrust it higher until he exposed his arm, his wrist was smashed in an instant by a bullet, and he fell back with a howl of pain. Wyatt swore and bit his lips savagely. He and all of them began to fear that they were in another and tighter trap, one from which there was no escape unless the Iroquois outside drove off the riflemen, and of that they could as yet see no sign. The sharpshooters held their place behind the embankment and the little outhouse, and so little as a finger, even, at the windows became a sure mark for their terrible bullets. A Seneca, seeking a new trial for a shot, received a bullet through the shoulder, and a Tory who followed him in the effort was slain outright.
The light hitherto had been from the fires, but now the dawn was coming. Pale gray beams fell over the town, and then deepened into red and yellow. The beams reached the room where the beleaguered remains of Wyatt's band fought, but, mingling with the smoke, they gave a new and more ghastly tint to the desperate faces.
"We've got to fight!" exclaimed Wyatt. "We can't sit here and be taken like beasts in a trap! Suppose we unbar the doors below and make a rush for it?"
Coleman shook his head. "Every one of us would be killed within twenty yards," he said.
"Then the Iroquois must come back," cried Wyatt. "Where is Joe Brant? Where is Timmendiquas, and where is that coward, Sir John Johnson? Will they come?"
"They won't come," said Coleman.
They lay still awhile, listening to the firing in the town, which swayed hither and thither. The smoke in the room thinned somewhat, and the daylight broadened and deepened. As a desperate resort they resumed fire from the windows, but three more of their number were slain, and, bitter with chagrin, they crouched once more on the floor out of range. Wyatt looked at the figures of the living and the dead. Savage despair tore at his heart again, and his hatred of those who bad done this increased. It was being served out to him and his band as they had served it out to many a defenseless family in the beautiful valleys of the border. Despite the sharpshooters, he took another look at the window, but kept so far back that there was no chance for a shot.
"Two of them are slipping away," he exclaimed. "They are Ross and the one they call Long Jim! I wish I dared a shot! Now they're gone!"
They lay again in silence for a time. There was still firing in the town, and now and then they heard shouts. Wyatt looked at his lieutenant, and his lieutenant looked at him.
"Yours is the ugliest face I ever saw," said Wyatt.
"I can say the same of yours-as I can't see mine," said Coleman.
The two gazed once more at the hideous, streaked, and grimed faces of each other, and then laughed wildly. A wounded Seneca sitting with his back against the wall began to chant a low, wailing death song.
"Shut up! Stop that infernal noise!" exclaimed Wyatt savagely.
The Seneca stared at him with fixed, glassy eyes and continued his chant. Wyatt turned away, but that song was upon his nerves. He knew that everything was lost. The main force of the Iroquois would not come back to his help, and Henry Ware would triumph. He sat down on the floor, and muttered fierce words under his breath.
"Hark!" suddenly exclaimed Coleman. "What is that?"
A low crackling sound came to their ears, and both recognized it instantly. It was the sound of flames eating rapidly into wood, and of that wood was built the house they now held. Even as they listened they could hear the flames leap and roar into new and larger life.
"This is, what those two, Ross and Hart, were up to!" exclaimed Wyatt. "We're not only trapped, but we're to be burned alive in our trap!"
"Not I," said Coleman, "I'm goin' to make a rush for it."
"It's the only thing to be done," said Wyatt. "Come, all of you that are left!"
The scanty survivors gathered around him, all but the wounded Seneca, who sat unmoved against the wall and continued to chant his death chant. Wyatt glanced at him, but said nothing. Then he and the others rushed down the stairs.
The lower room was filled with smoke, and outside the flames were roaring. They unbarred the door and sprang into the open air. A shower of bullets met them. The Tory, Coleman, uttered a choking cry, threw up his arms, and fell back in the doorway. Braxton Wyatt seized one of the smaller men, and, holding him a moment or two before him to receive the fire of his foe, dashed for the corner of the blazing building. The man whom he held was slain, and his own shoulder was grazed twice, but he made the corner. In an instant he put the burning building between him and his pursuers, and ran as he had never run before in all his life, deadly fear putting wings on his heels. As he ran he heard the dull boom of a cannon, and he knew that tile American army was entering the Seneca Castle. Ahead of him he saw the last of the Indians fleeing for the woods, and behind him the burning house crashed and fell in amid leaping flames and sparks in myriads. He alone had escaped from the house.