The Scouts of the Valley by Joseph A. Altsheler
Chapter VII. Catharine Montour
The five lay deep in the swamp, reunited once more, and full of content. The great storm in which Long Jim, with the aid of his comrades, had disappeared, was whirling off to the eastward. The lightning was flaring its last on the distant horizon, but the rain still pattered in the great woods.
It was a small hut, but the five could squeeze in it. They were dry, warm, and well armed, and they had no fear of the storm and the wilderness. The four after their imprisonment and privations were recovering their weight and color. Paul, who had suffered the most, had, on the other hand, made the quickest recovery, and their present situation, so fortunate in contrast with their threatened fate a few days before, made a great appeal to his imagination. The door was allowed to stand open six inches , and through the crevice he watched the rain pattering on the dark earth. He felt an immense sense of security and comfort. Paul was hopeful by nature and full of courage, but when he lay bound and alone in a hut in the Iroquois camp it seemed to him that no chance was left. The comrades had been kept separate, and he had supposed the others to be dead. But here he was snatched from the very pit of death, and all the others had been saved from a like fate.
"If I'd known that you were alive and uncaptured, Henry," he said, " I'd never have given up hope. It was a wonderful thing you did to start the chain that drew us all away."
"It's no more than Sol or Tom or any of you would have done," said Henry.
"We might have tried it," said Long Jim Hart, "but I ain't sure that we'd have done it. Likely ez not, ef it had been left to me my scalp would be dryin' somewhat in the breeze that fans a Mohawk village. Say, Sol, how wuz it that you talked Onondaga when you played the part uv that Onondaga runner. Didn't know you knowed that kind uv Injun lingo."
Shif'less Sol drew himself up proudly, and then passed a thoughtful hand once or twice across his forehead.
"Jim," he said, "I've told you often that Paul an' me hez the instincts uv the eddicated. Learnin' always takes a mighty strong hold on me. Ef I'd had the chance, I might be a purfessor, or mebbe I'd be writin' poetry. I ain't told you about it, but when I wuz a young boy, afore I moved with the settlers, I wuz up in these parts an' I learned to talk Iroquois a heap. I never thought it would be the use to me it hez been now. Ain't it funny that sometimes when you put a thing away an' it gits all covered with rust and mold, the time comes when that same forgot little thing is the most vallyble article in the world to you."
"Weren't you scared, Sol," persisted Paul, "to face a man like Brant, an' pass yourself off as an Onondaga?"
"No, I wuzn't," replied the shiftless one thoughtfully, "I've been wuss scared over little things. I guess that when your life depends on jest a motion o' your hand or the turnin' o' a word, Natur' somehow comes to your help an' holds you up. I didn't get good an' skeered till it wuz all over, an' then I had one fit right after another."
"I've been skeered fur a week without stoppin'," said Tom Ross; "jest beginnin' to git over it. I tell you, Henry, it wuz pow'ful lucky fur us you found them steppin' stones, an' this solid little place in the middle uv all that black mud."
"Makes me think uv the time we spent the winter on that island in the lake," said Long Jim. "That waz shorely a nice place an' pow'ful comf'table we wuz thar. But we're a long way from it now. That island uv ours must be seven or eight hundred miles from here, an' I reckon it's nigh to fifteen hundred to New Orleans, whar we wuz once."
"Shet up," said Tom Ross suddenly. "Time fur all uv you to go to sleep, an' I'm goin' to watch."
"I'll watch," said Henry.
"I'm the oldest, an' I'm goin' to have my way this time," said Tom.
"Needn't quarrel with me about it," said Shif'less Sol. "A lazy man like me is always willin' to go to sleep. You kin hev my watch, Tom, every night fur the next five years."
He ranged himself against the wall, and in three minutes was sound asleep. Henry and Paul found room in the line, and they, too, soon slept. Tom sat at the door, one of the captured rifles across his knees, and watched the forest and the swamp. He saw the last flare of the distant lightning, and he listened to the falling of the rain drops until they vanished with the vanishing wind, leaving the forest still and without noise.
Tom was several years older than any of the others, and, although powerful in action, be was singularly chary of speech. Henry was the leader, but somehow Tom looked upon himself as a watcher over the other four, a sort of elder brother. As the moon came out a little in the wake of the retreating clouds, he regarded them affectionately.
"One, two, three, four, five," he murmured to himself. "We're all here, an' Henry come fur us. That is shorely the greatest boy the world hez ever seed. Them fellers Alexander an' Hannibal that Paul talks about couldn't hev been knee high to Henry. Besides, ef them old Greeks an' Romans hed hed to fight Wyandots an' Shawnees an' Iroquois ez we've done, whar'd they hev been?"
Tom Ross uttered a contemptuous little sniff, and on the edge of that sniff Alexander and Hannibal were wafted into oblivion. Then he went outside and walked about the islet, appreciating for the tenth time what a wonderful little refuge it was. He was about to return to the hut when he saw a dozen dark blots along the high bough of a tree. He knew them. They were welcome blots. They were wild turkeys that had found what had seemed to be a secure roosting place in the swamp.
Tom knew that the meat of the little bear was nearly exhausted, and here was more food come to their hand. "We're five pow'ful feeders, an' we'll need you," he murmured, looking up at the turkeys, " but you kin rest thar till nearly mornin'."
He knew that the turkeys would not stir, and he went back to the hut to resume his watch. just before the first dawn he awoke Henry.
"Henry," he said, "a lot uv foolish wild turkeys hev gone to rest on the limb of a tree not twenty yards from this grand manshun uv ourn. 'Pears to me that wild turkeys wuz made fur hungry fellers like us to eat. Kin we risk a shot or two at 'em, or is it too dangerous?"
"I think we can risk the shots," said Henry, rising and taking his rifle. " We're bound to risk something, and it's not likely that Indians are anywhere near."
They slipped from the cabin, leaving the other three still sound asleep, and stepped noiselessly among the trees. The first pale gray bar that heralded the dawn was just showing in the cast.
"Thar they are," said Tom Ross, pointing at the dozen dark blots on the high bough.
"We'll take good aim, and when I say 'fire!' we'll both pull trigger," said Henry.
He picked out a huge bird near the end of the line, but be noticed when be drew the bead that a second turkey just behind the first was directly in his line of fire. The fact aroused his ambition to kill both with one bullet. It was not a mere desire to slaughter or to display marksmanship, but they needed the extra turkey for food.
"Are you ready, Tom?" he asked. " Then fire."
They pulled triggers, there were two sharp reports terribly loud to both under the circumstances, and three of the biggest and fattest of the turkeys fell heavily to the ground, while the rest flapped their wings, and with frightened gobbles flew away.
Henry was about to rush forward, but Silent Tom held him back.
"Don't show yourself, Henry! Don't show yourself!" he cried in tense tones.
"Why, what's the matter?" asked the boy in surprise.
"Don't you see that three turkeys fell, and we are only two to shoot? An Injun is layin' 'roun' here some whar, an' he drawed a bead on one uv them turkeys at the same time we did."
Henry laughed and put away Tom's detaining hand.
"There's no Indian about," he said. "I killed two turkeys with one shot, and I'm mighty proud of it, too. I saw that they were directly in the line of the bullet, and it went through both."
Silent Tom heaved a mighty sigh of relief, drawn up from great depths.
"I'm tre-men-jeous-ly glad uv that, Henry," he said. "Now when I saw that third turkey come tumblin' down I wuz shore that one Injun or mebbe more had got on this snug little place uv ourn in the swamp, an' that we'd hev to go to fightin' ag'in. Thar come times, Henry, when my mind just natchally rises up an' rebels ag'in fightin', 'specially when I want to eat or sleep. Ain't thar anythin' else but fight, fight, fight, 'though I 'low a feller hez got to expect a lot uv it out here in the woods?"
They picked up the three turkeys, two gobblers and a hen, and found them large and fat as butter. More than once the wild turkey had come to their relief, and, in fact, this bird played a great part in the life of the frontier, wherever that frontier might be, as it shifted steadily westward. As they walked back toward the hut they faced three figures, all three with leveled rifles.
"All right, boys," sang out Henry. "It's nobody but Tom and myself, bringing in our breakfast."
The three dropped their rifles.
"That's good," said Shif'less Sol. "When them shots roused us out o' our beauty sleep we thought the whole Iroquois nation, horse, foot, artillery an' baggage wagons, wuz comin' down upon us. So we reckoned we'd better go out an' lick 'em afore it wuz too late.
"But it's you, an' you've got turkeys, nothin' but turkeys. Sho' I reckoned from the peart way Long Jim spoke up that you wuz loaded down with hummin' birds' tongues, ortylans, an' all them other Roman and Rooshian delicacies Paul talks about in a way to make your mouth water. But turkeys! jest turkeys! Nothin' but turkeys!"
"You jest wait till you see me cookin' 'em, Sol Hyde," said Long Jim. "Then your mouth'll water, an' it'll take Henry and Tom both to hold you back."
But Shif'less Sol's mouth was watering already, and his eyes were glued on the turkeys.
"I'm a pow'ful lazy man, ez you know, Saplin'," he said, "but I'm goin' to help you pick them turkeys an' get 'em ready for the coals. The quicker they are cooked the better it'll suit me."
While they were cooking the turkeys, Henry, a little anxious lest the sound of the shots had been heard, crossed on the stepping stones and scouted a bit in the woods. But there was no sign of Indian presence, and, relieved, he returned to the islet just as breakfast was ready.
Long Jim had exerted all his surpassing skill, and it was a contented five that worked on one of the turkeys - the other two being saved for further needs.
"What's goin' to be the next thing in the line of our duty, Henry?" asked Long Jim as they ate.
"We'll have plenty to do, from all that Sol tells us," replied the boy. "It seems that they felt so sure of you, while you were prisoners, that they often talked about their plans where you could hear them. Sol has told me of two or three talks between Timmendiquas and Thayendanegea, and from the last one he gathered that they're intending a raid with a big army against a place called Wyoming, in the valley of a river named the Susquehanna. It's a big settlement, scattered all along the river, and they expect to take a lot of scalps. They're going to be helped by British from Canada and Tories. Boys, we're a long way from home, but shall we go and tell them in Wyoming what's coming?"
"Of course," said the four together.
"Our bein' a long way from home don't make any difference " said Shif'less Sol. "We're generally a long way from home, an' you know we sent word back from Pittsburgh to Wareville that we wuz stayin' a while here in the east on mighty important business."
"Then we go to the Wyoming Valley as straight and as fast as we can," said Henry. "That's settled. What else did you bear about their plans, Sol?"
"They're to break up the village here soon and then they'll march to a place called Tioga. The white men an' I hear that's to be a lot uv 'em-will join 'em thar or sooner. They've sent chiefs all the way to our Congress at Philydelphy, pretendin' peace, an' then, when they git our people to thinkin' peace, they'll jump on our settlements, the whole ragin' army uv 'em, with tomahawk an' knife. A white man named John Butler is to command 'em."
"I've heard of him," he said. "They called him 'Indian' Butler at Pittsburgh. He helped lead the Indians in that terrible battle of the Oriskany last year. And they say he's got a son, Walter Butler, who is as bad as he is, and there are other white leaders of the Indians, the Johnsons and Claus."
"'Pears ez ef we would be needed," said Tom Ross.
"I don't think we ought to hurry," said Henry. The more we know about the Indian plans the better it will be for the Wyoming people. We've a safe and comfortable hiding place here, and we can stay and watch the Indian movements."
"Suits me," drawled Shif'less Sol. "My legs an' arms are still stiff from them deerskin thongs an' ez Long Jim is here now to wait on me I guess I'll take a rest from travelin."
"You'll do all your own waitin' on yourself," rejoined Long Jim; 'an I'm afraid you won't be waited on so Pow'ful well, either, but a good deal better than you deserve."
They lay on the islet several days, meanwhile keeping a close watch on the Indian camp. They really had little to fear except from hunting parties, as the region was far from any settled portion of the country, and the Indians were not likely to suspect their continued presence. But the hunters were numerous, and all the squaws in the camp were busy jerking meat. It was obvious that the Indians were preparing for a great campaign, but that they would take their own time. Most of the scouting was done by Henry and Sol, and several times they lay in the thick brushwood and watched, by the light of the fires, what was passing in the Indian camp.
On the fifth night after the rescue of Long Jim, Henry and Shif'less Sol lay in the covert. It was nearly midnight, but the fires still burned in the Indian camp, warriors were polishing their weapons, and the women were cutting up or jerking meat. While they were watching they heard from a point to the north the sound of a voice rising and failing in a kind of chant.
"Another war party comin'," whispered Shif'less Sol, "an' singin' about the victories that they're goin' to win."
"But did you notice that voice?" Henry whispered back. " It's not a man's, it's a woman's."
"Now that you speak of it, you're right," said Shif'less Sol. "It's funny to hear an Injun woman chantin' about battles as she comes into camp. That's the business o' warriors."
"Then this is no ordinary woman," said Henry.
"They'll pass along that trail there within twenty yards of us, Sol, and we want to see her."
"So we do," said Sol, "but I ain't breathin' while they pass."
They flattened themselves against the earth until the keenest eye could not see them in the darkness. All the time the singing was growing louder, and both remained, quite sure that it was the voice of a woman. The trail was but a short distance away, and the moon was bright. The fierce Indian chant swelled, and presently the most .singular figure that either had ever seen came into view.
The figure was that of an Indian woman, but lighter in color than most of her kind. She was middle-aged, tall, heavily built, and arrayed in a strange mixture of civilized and barbaric finery, deerskin leggins and moccasins gorgeously ornamented with heads, a red dress of European cloth with a red shawl over it, and her head bare except for bright feathers, thrust in her long black hair, which hung loosely down her back. She held in one hand a large sharp tomahawk, which she swung fiercely in time to her song. Her face had the rapt, terrible expression of one who had taken some fiery and powerful drug, and she looked neither to right nor to left as she strode on, chanting a song of blood, and swinging the keen blade.
Henry and Shif'less Sol shuddered. They had looked upon terrible human figures, but nothing so frightful as this, a woman with the strength of a man and twice his rage and cruelty. There was something weird and awful in the look of that set, savage face, and the tone of that Indian chant. Brave as they were, Henry and the shiftless one felt fear, as perhaps they had never felt it before in their lives. Well they might! They were destined to behold this woman again, under conditions the most awful of which the human mind can conceive, and to witness savagery almost unbelievable in either man or woman. The two did not yet know it, but they were looking upon Catharine Montour, daughter of a French Governor General of Canada and an Indian woman, a chieftainess of the Iroquois, and of a memory infamous forever on the border, where she was known as "Queen Esther."
Shif'less Sol shuddered again, and whispered to Henry:
"I didn't think such women ever lived, even among the Indians."
A dozen warriors followed Queen Esther, stepping in single file, and their manner showed that they acknowledged her their leader in every sense. She was truly an extraordinary woman. Not even the great Thayendanegea himself wielded a stronger influence among the Iroquois. In her youth she had been treated as a white woman, educated and dressed as a white woman, and she had played a part in colonial society at Albany, New York, and Philadelphia. But of her own accord she had turned toward the savage half of herself, had become wholly a savage, had married a savage chief, bad been the mother of savage children, and here she was, at midnight, striding into an Iroquois camp in the wilderness, her head aflame with visions of blood, death, and scalps.
The procession passed with the terrifying female figure still leading, still singing her chant, and the curiosity of Henry and Shif'less Sol was so intense that, taking all risks, they slipped along in the rear to see her entry.
Queen Esther strode into the lighted area of the camp, ceased her chant, and looked around, as if a queen had truly come and was waiting to be welcomed by her subjects. Thayendanegea, who evidently expected her, stepped forward and gave her the Indian salute. It may be that he received her with mild enthusiasm. Timmendiquas, a Wyandot and a guest, though an ally, would not dispute with him his place as real head of the Six Nations, but this terrible woman was his match ' and could inflame the Iroquois to almost anything that she wished.
After the arrival of Queen Esther the lights in the Iroquois village died down. It was evident to both Henry and the shiftless one that they had been kept burning solely in the expectation of the coming of this formidable woman and her escort. It was obvious that nothing more was to be seen that night, and they withdrew swiftly through the forest toward their islet. They stopped once in an oak opening, and Shif'less Sol shivered slightly.
"Henry," he said, "I feel all through me that somethin' terrible is comin'. That woman back thar has clean give me the shivers. I'm more afraid of her than I am of Timmendiquas or Thayendanegea. Do you think she is a witch?"
"There are no such things as witches, but she was uncanny. I'm afraid, Sol, that your feeling about something terrible going to happen is right."
It was about two o'clock in the morning when they reached the islet. Tom Ross was awake, but the other two slumbered peacefully on. They told Tom what they had seen, and he told them the identity of the terrible woman.
"I heard about her at Pittsburgh, an' I've heard tell, too, about her afore I went to Kentucky to live. She's got a tre-men-jeous power over the Iroquois. They think she ken throw spells, an' all that sort of thing-an' mebbe she kin."
Two nights later it was Henry and Tom who lay in the thickets, and then they saw other formidable arrivals in the Indian camp. Now they were white men, an entire company in green uniforms, Sir John Johnson's Royal Greens, as Henry afterward learned; and with them was the infamous John Butler, or " Indian" Butler, as he was generally known on the New York and Pennsylvania frontier, middle-aged, short and fat, and insignificant of appearance, but energetic, savage and cruel in nature. He was a descendant of the Duke of Ormond, and had commanded the Indians at the terrible battle of the Oriskany, preceding Burgoyne's capture the year before.
Henry and Tom were distant spectators at an extraordinary council around one of the fires. In this group were Timmendiquas, Thayendanegea, Queen Esther, high chiefs of the distant nations, and the white men, John Butler, Moses Blackstaffe, and the boy, Braxton Wyatt. It seemed to Henry that Timmendiquas, King of the Wyandots, was superior to all the other chiefs present, even to Thayendanegea. His expression was nobler than that of the great Mohawk, and it had less of the Indian cruelty.
Henry and Tom could not hear 'anything that was said, but they felt sure the Iroquois were about to break up their village and march on the great campaign they had planned. The two and their comrades could render no greater service than to watch their march, and then warn those upon whom the blow was to fall.
The five left their hut on the islet early the next morning, well equipped with provisions, and that day they saw the Iroquois dismantle their village, all except the Long House and two or three other of the more solid structures, and begin the march. Henry and his comrades went parallel with them, watching their movements as closely as possible.