THE DAUGHTER OF THE CHIEFTAIN
THE STORY OF AN INDIAN GIRL
By Edward S. Ellis.
CHAPTER ONE: OMAS, ALICE, AND LINNA
I don't suppose there is any use in trying to find out when the game of "Jack Stones" was first played. No one can tell. It certainly is a good many hundred years old.
All boys and girls know how to play it. There is the little rubber ball, which you toss in the air, catch up one of the odd iron prongs, without touching another, and while the ball is aloft; then you do the same with another, and again with another, until none is left. After that you seize a couple at a time, until all have been used; then three, and four, and so on, with other variations, to the end of the game.
Doubtless your fathers and mothers, if they watch you during the progress of the play, will think it easy and simple. If they do, persuade them to try it. You will soon laugh at their failure.
Now, when we older folks were young like you, we did not have the regular, scraggly bits of iron and dainty rubber ball. We played with pieces of stones. I suspect more deftness was needed in handling them than in using the new fashioned pieces. Certainly, in trials than I can remember, I never played the game through without a break; but then I was never half so handy as you are at such things: that, no doubt, accounts for it.
Well, a good many years ago, before any of your fathers or mothers were born, a little girl named Alice Ripley sat near her home playing "Jack Stones." It was the first of July, 1778, and although her house was made of logs, had no carpets or stove, but a big fireplace, where all the food was made ready for eating, yet no sweeter or happier girl can be found today, if you spend weeks in searching for her. Nor can you come upon a more lovely spot in which to build a home, for it was the famed Wyoming Valley, in Western Pennsylvania.
Now, since some of my young friends may not be acquainted with this place, you will allow me to tell you that the Wyoming Valley lies between the Blue Ridge and the Alleghany Mountains, and that the beautiful Susquehanna River runs through it.
The valley runs northeast and southwest, and is twenty-one miles long, with an average breadth of three miles. The bottom lands—that is, those in the lowest portion—are sometimes overflowed when there is an unusual quantity of water in the river. In some places the plains are level, and in others, rolling. The soil is very fertile.
Two mountain ranges hem in the valley. The one on the east has an average height of a thousand feet, and the other two hundred feet less. The eastern range is steep, mostly barren, and abounds with caverns, clefts, ravines, and forests. The western is not nearly so wild, and is mostly cultivated.
The meaning of the Indian word for Wyoming is "Large Plains," which, like most of the Indian names, fits very well indeed.
The first white man who visited Wyoming was a good Moravian missionary, Count Zinzendorf—in 1742. He toiled among the Delaware Indians who lived there, and those of his faith who followed him were the means of the conversion of a great many red men.
The fierce warriors became humble Christians, who set the best example to wild brethren, and often to the wicked white men.
More than twenty years before the Revolution settlers began making their way into the Wyoming Valley. You would think their only trouble would be with the Indians, who always look with anger upon intruders of that kind, but really their chief difficulty was with white people.
Most of these pioneers came from Connecticut. The successors of William Penn, who had bought Pennsylvania from his king, and then again from the Indians, did not fancy having settlers from other colonies take possession of one of the garden spots of his grant.
I cannot tell you about the quarrels between the settlers from Connecticut and those that were already living in Pennsylvania. Forty of the invaders, as they may be called, put up a fort, which was named on that account Forty Fort. This was in the winter of 1769, and two hundred more pioneers followed them in the spring. The fort stood on the western bank of the river.
The Pennsylvanians, however, had prepared for them, and the trouble began. During the few years following, the New Englanders were three times driven out of the valley, and the men, women, and children were obliged to tramp for two hundred miles through the unbroken wilderness to their old homes. But they rallied and came back again, and at last were strong enough to hold their ground. About this time the mutterings of the American Revolution began to be heard, and the Pennsylvanians and New Englanders forgot their enmity and became brothers in their struggle for independence.
Among the pioneers from Connecticut who put up their old fashioned log houses in Wyoming were George Ripley and his wife Ruth. They were young, frugal, industrious, and worthy people. They had but one child—a boy named Benjamin; but after awhile Alice was added to the family, and at the date of which I am telling you she was six years and her brother thirteen years old.
Mr. Ripley was absent with the continental army under General Washington, fighting the battles of his country. Benjamin, on this spring day, was visiting some of his friends further down the valley; so that when Alice came forth to play "Jack Stones" alone, no one was in sight, though her next neighbor lived hardly two hundred yards away.
I wish you could have seen her as she looked on that summer afternoon. She had been helping, so far as she was able, her mother in the house, until the parent told her to go outdoors and amuse herself. She was chubby, plump, healthy, with round pink cheeks, yellow hair tied in a coil at the back of her head, and her big eyes were as blue, and clear, and bright as they could be.
She wore a brown homespun dress—that is to say, the materials had been woven by the deft fingers of her mother, with the aid of the old spinning wheel, which in those days formed a part of every household. The dark stockings were knitted by the same busy fingers, with the help of the flashing needles; and the shoes, put together by Peleg Quintin, the humpbacked shoemaker, were heavy and coarse, and did not fit any too well.
The few simple articles of underwear were all homemade, clean, and comfortable, and the same could be said of the clothing of the brother and of the mother herself.
Alice came running out of the open front door, bounding off the big flat stone which served as a step with a single leap, and, running to a spot of green grass a few yards away, where there was not a bit of dirt or a speck of dust, she sat down and began the game of which I told you at the opening of this story.
Alice was left handed. So when she took position, she leaned over to the right, supporting her body with that arm, while with the other hand she tossed the little jagged pieces of stone aloft, snatching up the others, and letting the one that was going up and down in the air drop into her chubby palm.
She had been playing perhaps ten minutes, when she found someone was watching her.
She did not see him at first, but heard a low, deep "Huh!" partly at one side and partly behind her.
Instead of glancing around, she finished the turn of the game on which she was engaged just then. That done, she clasped all the Jack Stones in her hand, assumed the upright posture, and looked behind her.
"I thought it was you, Omas," she said with a merry laugh; "do you want to play Jack Stones with me?"
If you could have seen the person whom she thus addressed, you would have thought it a strange way of speaking.
He was an Indian warrior, belonging to the tribe of Delawares. Those who knew about him said he was one of the fiercest red men that ever went on the warpath. A few years before, there had been a massacre of the settlers, and Omas was foremost among the Indians who swung the tomahawk and fired his rifle at the white people.
He was tall, sinewy, active, and powerful. Three stained eagle feathers were fastened on his crown in the long black hair, and his hunting shirt, leggings, and moccasins were bright with different colored beads and fringes. In the red sash which passed around his waist were thrust a hunting knife and tomahawk, while one hand clasped a cumbersome rifle, which, like all firearms of those times, was used with ramrod and flintlock.
Omas would have had a rather pleasing face had he let it alone; but his people love bright colors, and he was never seen without a lot of paint daubed over it. This was made up of black, white, and yellow circles, lines, and streaks that made him look frightful.
But Alice was not scared at all. She and Omas were old friends. Nearly a year before, he stopped at their cabin one stormy night and asked for something to eat. Mrs. Ripley gave him plenty of coarse brown, well baked bread and cold meat, and allowed him to sleep on the floor until morning.
Benjamin was rather shy of the fierce looking Delaware, but Alice took to him at first. She brought him a basin of water, and asked him to please wash his face.
The startled mother gently reproved her; but Omas did that which an Indian rarely does—smiled. He spoke English unusually well, and knew why the child had proposed to him to use the water.
He told her that he had a little girl that he called Linna, about the same age as Alice. Upon hearing this, what did Alice do, but climb upon the warrior's knee and ask him to tell her all about Linna. Well, the result was, that an affection was formed between this wild warrior and the gentle little girl.
Omas promised to bring his child to see Alice, who, with her mother's permission, said she would return the visit. There can be no doubt that the Delaware often went a long way out of his course, for no other reason than to spend an hour or less with Alice Ripley. The brother and mother always made him feel welcome, and to the good parent the influence of her child upon the savage red man had a peculiar interest which nothing else in the world could possess for her. So you understand why it was that Alice did not start and show any fear when she looked around and saw the warrior standing less than ten feet off, and attentively watching her.
"You can't play Jack Stones as well as I," she said, looking saucily up at him.
"I beat you," was his reply, as he strode forward and sat down cross legged on the grass.
"I'd like to see you do it! You think you're very smart, don't you?"
A shadowy smile played around the stern mouth, and the Delaware, who had studied the simple game long enough to understand it, began the sport under the observant eyes of his little mistress.
While both were intent on the amusement, Mrs. Ripley came to the door and stood wonderingly looking at them.
"It does seem as if Indians are human beings like the rest of us," was her thought; "but who could resist her gentle ways?"
Up went the single stone in the air, and Omas grabbed the batch that were lying on the ground, and then caught the first as it came down.
"That won't do!" called Alice, seizing the brawny hand, which—sad to say—had been stained with blood as innocent as hers; "you didn't do that fair!"
"What de matter?" he asked, looking reproachfully into the round face almost against his own.
"I'll show you how. Now, I lay those three on the ground like that. Then I toss up this, pick up one without touching any of the others, keep it in my hand and pick up the next—see?"
She illustrated her instruction by her work, while her pupil listened and stared.
"I know—I know," he said quickly. "I show you." Then the wag of a Delaware tossed the first stone fully twenty feet aloft, caught up the others, and took that on the fly.
"I never saw anybody as dumb as you," was the comment. "What is the use of your trying? You couldn't learn to play Jack Stones in ever so long."
She was about to try him again, when, childlike, she darted off upon a widely different subject, for it had just come into her little head.
"Omas, when you were here the other day, you promised that the next time you came to see me you would bring Linna."
"Dat so—Omas promise."
"Then why haven't you done as you said?"
"Omas never speak with double tongue; he bring Linna with him."
"You did?—where is she?" asked Alice, springing to her feet, clasping her hands, and looking expectantly around.
The Delaware emitted a shrill, tremulous whistle, and immediately from the wood several rods behind them came running the oddest looking little girl anyone could have met in a long time.
Her face was as round as that of Alice, her long, black hair hung loosely over her shoulders, her small eyes were as black as jet, her nose a pug, her teeth as white and regular as were ever seen, while her dress was a rude imitation of her father's except the skirt came below her knees. Her feet were as small as a doll's, and encased in the beaded little moccasins, were as pretty as they could be.
"That is Linna," said the proud father as she came obediently forward.
CHAPTER TWO: DANGER IN THE AIR
Little Linna, daughter of Omas, the Delaware warrior, was of the same age as Alice Ripley. The weather was warm although she wore tiny moccasins to protect her feet, she scorned the superfluous stockings and undergarments that formed a part of the other's apparel.
Her hair was as black, abundant, and almost as long as her father's; but her face was clean, and, perhaps in honor of the occasion, she, too, sported a gaudy eagle feather in her hair.
She bounded out of the green wood like a fawn, but as she drew near her parent and Alice, her footsteps became slower, and she halted a few paces away, hung her head, with her forefinger between her pretty white teeth—for all the world like any white girl of her years.
But Alice did not allow her to remain embarrassed. She had been begging for this visit, and now, when she saw her friend, she ran forward, took her little plump hand and said—"Linna, I am real glad you have come!"
Omas had risen to his feet, and watched the girls with an affection and interest which found no expression on his painted face. His child looked timidly up to him and walked slowly forward, her hand clasped in that of Alice. She did not speak, but when her escort sat down on the grass, she did the same.
"Linna, do you know how to play Jack Stones?" asked Alice, picking up the pebbles.
Linna shook her head quickly several times, but her lips remained mute.
"Your father thought he knew how, but he don't; he doesn't play fair, either. Let me show you, so you can beat him when you go home."
Alice set to work, while the bright black eyes watched every movement.
"Now do you want to try it?" she asked, after going through the game several times.
Linna nodded her head with the same birdlike quickness, and reached out her chubby hand.
Her father and Alice watched her closely. She made several failures at first, all of which were patiently explained by her tutor; by and by she went through the performance from beginning to end without a break.
Alice clapped her hands with delight, and Omas—certain that no grownup person saw him—smiled with pleasure.
"Doesn't she know how to talk?" asked Alice, looking up at the warrior. Omas spoke somewhat sharply to his child in the Delaware tongue. She startled, and looking at Alice, asked—
"Do—yoo think me play well?"
Alice was delighted to find she could make herself understood so easily. It was wonderful how she had learned to speak English so early in life.
"I guess you can," was the ready reply of Alice; "your father can't begin to play as well. When you go home you can show your mamma how to play Jack Stones. Have you any brothers and sisters?"
"No; me have no brother—no sister."
"That's too bad! I've got a big brother Ben. He isn't home now, but he will be here to supper. He's a nice boy, and you will like him. Let's go in the house now to see mamma, and you can teach me how to talk Indian."
Both girls bounded to their feet, and hand in hand, walked to the door, with Omas gravely stalking after them.
Mrs. Ripley had learned of the visitor, and stood on the threshold to welcome her. She took her by the hand and led her inside. Omas paused, as if in doubt whether he should follow; but her invitation to him was so cordial, that he stepped within and seated himself on a chair.
That afternoon and night could never be forgotten by Alice Ripley. In a very little while she and her visitor were on the best of terms; laughing, romping, and chasing each other in and out of doors, just as if they were twin sisters that had never been separated from each other.
When Mrs. Ripley asked Omas for how long a time he could leave his child with them, he said he must take her back that evening. His wigwam was a good many miles away in the woods, and he would have to travel all night to reach the village of his tribe.
Mrs. Ripley, however, pleaded so hard, that he consented to let his child stay until he came back the next day or soon thereafter for her.
When he rose to go, the long summer day was drawing to a close. He spoke to Linna in their native tongue. She was sitting on the floor just then, playing with a wonderful rag baby, but was up in a flash, and followed him outside.
"Wait a moment and she will come back," said Mrs. Ripley to her own child. She knew what the movement meant: Omas did not wish anyone to see him and Linna.
On the outside he moved to the left, and glanced around to make sure that no person was looking that way. Then he lifted the little one from the ground; she threw her arms around his neck, and he pressed her to his breast and kissed her several times with great warmth. Then he set her down, and she ran laughing into the house, while he strode off to the woods.
But at the moment of entering them he stopped abruptly, wheeled about, and walked slowly back toward the cabin.
Upon the return of Linna, Mrs. Ripley stepped to the front door to look for her son. He was not in sight, but Omas had stopped again hardly a rod distant. He stood a moment, looking fixedly at her, and then beckoned with his free hand for her to approach.
Without hesitation she stepped off the broad flat stone and went to him.
"What is it, Omas?" she asked in an undertone, pausing in front of him, and gazing up into the grim, painted countenance.
The Delaware returned the look for a few seconds, as if studying how to say what was in his mind. Then in a voice lower even than hers, he said—"You—little girl—big boy—go way soon—must not stay here."
"Why do you say that, Omas?"
"Iroquois like leaves on trees—white men, call Tories—soon come down here—kill all white people—kill you—kill little girl, big boy—if you stay here."
The pioneer's wife had heard the same rumors for days past. She knew there was cause for fear, for nearly all the able bodied men in Wyoming were absent with the patriot army, fighting for independence. The inhabitants in the valley had begged Congress to send some soldiers to protect them, and the relatives of the women and children had asked again and again that they might go home to save their loved ones from the Tories and Indians; but the prayer was refused. The soldiers in the army were too few to be spared, and no one away from Wyoming believed the danger as great as it was.
But the people themselves knew the peril, and did their best to prepare for it. But who should know more about the Indians and Tories than Omas, the great Delaware warrior?
When, therefore, he said these words to Mrs. Ripley, that woman's heart beat faster. She heard the laughter and prattle of the children in the house, and she thought of that bright boy, playing with his young friends not far away.
"Where can we go?" she asked, in the same guarded voice.
"With Omas," was the prompt reply; "hide in wigwam of Omas. Nobody hurt palefaced friend of Omas."
It was a trying situation. The brave woman, who had passed through many dangers with her husband, knew what a visit from the Tories and Indians meant; but she shrank from leaving Wyoming, and all her friends and neighbors.
"When will they come?" she asked; "will it be in a few weeks or in a few days?"
"Getting ready now; Brandt with Iroquois—Butler with Tory—soon be here."
"But do you mean that we shall all go with you tonight?"
The Delaware was silent for a few seconds. His active brain was busy, reviewing the situation.
"No," he finally said; "stay here till Omas come back; then go with him—all go—den no one be hurt."
"Very well; we will wait till you come to us again. We will take good care of Linna."
And without another word the Delaware turned once more, strode to the forest, which was then in fullest leaf, and vanished among the trees.
Mrs. Ripley walked slowly back to the door. On the threshold she halted, and looked around again for her absent boy. It was growing dark, and she began to feel a vague alarm for him.
A whistle fell on her ear. It was the sweetest music she had ever heard, for it came from the lips of her boy.
He was in sight, coming along the well worn path that led in front of the other dwellings and to her own door. When he saw her, he waved his hand in salutation, but could not afford to break in on the vigorous melody which kept his lips puckered.
She saw he was carrying something on his shoulder. A second glance showed that it was one of the heavy rifles used by the pioneers a hundred years ago. The sight—taken with what Omas had just said—filled her heart with forebodings.
She waited until the lad came up. He kissed her affectionately, and then in the offhand manner of a big boy, let the butt of the gun drop on the ground, leaned the top away from him, and glancing from it to his mother, asked—"What do you think of it?"
"It seems to be a good gun. Whose is it?"
"Mine," was the proud response. "Colonel Butler ordered that it be given to me, and I'm to use it, too, mother."
"For what purpose?"
"The other Colonel Butler—you know he is a cousin to ours—has got a whole lot of Tories" (who, you know, were Americans fighting against their countrymen) "and Indians, and they're coming down to wipe out Wyoming; but I guess they will find it a harder job than they think."
And to show his contempt for the danger, the muscular lad lifted his weighty weapon to a level, and pretended to sight it at a tree.
"I wish that was a Tory or one of those Six Nation Indians—wouldn't I drop him!"
The mother could not share the buoyancy of her son. She stepped outside, so as to be beyond the hearing of the little ones.
"Omas has been here; that is his little girl that you hear laughing with Alice. He has told me the same as you—the Tories and Indians are coming, and he wants us to flee with him."
"What does he mean by that?" asked the half indignant boy.
"He says they will put us all to death, and if we do not go with him, we will be killed too."
The handsome face of Benjamin Ripley took on an expression of scorn, and as he straightened up, he seemed to become several inches taller.
"He forgets that I am with you! Omas is very kind; but he and his Tory friends had better look out for themselves. Why, with the men at the fort, Colonel Butler will have several hundred."
"But they are mostly old men and boys."
"Well," said the high spirited lad, with a twinkle of his fine hazel eyes, "add up a lot of old men and boys, and the average is the same number of middle aged men, isn't it? Don't you worry, mother—things are all right. If Omas comes back, give him our thanks, and tell him we are not going to sneak off when we are needed at home."
It was hard to resist the contagion of Ben's hopefulness. The mother not only loved but respected him as much as she could have done had he been several years older. He had been her mainstay for the two years past, during which the father was absent with the patriot army; and she came to lean upon him more and more, though her heart sank when Ben began to talk of following his father into the ranks, to help in the struggle for independence.
She found herself looking upon the situation as Ben did. If so great danger threatened Wyoming, it would be cowardly for them to leave their friends to their fate. It was clear all could not find safety by going, and she would feel she was doing wrong if she gave no heed to the others.
Ben was tall and strong for his years, and the fact that he had taken the gun from Colonel Butler to be used in taking care of the settlement bound the youth in honor to do so.
"It shall be as you say," said the mother; "I cannot be as hopeful as you, but it is our duty to stay. We will not talk about it before the children."
"I want to see how a little Indian girl looks," muttered Ben with a laugh, following his mother into the house.
Alice caught sight of him, and was in his arms the next instant, while Linna rose to her feet, and stood with her forefinger between her teeth, shyly studying the newcomer.
"Helloa, Linna! how are you?" he called, setting down his young sister and catching up the little Indian. Not only that, but he gave her a resounding smack on her dusky cheek.
"I always like pretty little girls, and I'm going to be your beau: what do you say? Is it a bargain?"
It is not to be supposed that the Delaware miss caught the whole meaning of this momentous question. She was a little overwhelmed by the rush of the big boy's manner, and nodded her head about a dozen times.
"There, Alice; do you understand that?" he asked, making the room ring with his merry laughter; "I'm to be Linna's beau. How do you like it?"
"I'm glad for you, but I—guess—I oughter be sorry for Linna."
CHAPTER THREE: JULY THIRD, 1778
While Ben Ripley was frolicking with little Alice and her Indian friend Linna, the mother prepared the evening meal.
The candles were lighted, and they took their places at the table.
All this was new and strange to Linna. In her own home, she was accustomed to sit on the ground, and use only her fingers for knife and fork when taking food; but she was observant and quick, and knowing how it had been with her, her friends soon did away with her embarrassment. The mother cut her meat into small pieces, spread butter—which the visitor looked at askance—on the brown bread, and she had but to do as the rest, and all went well.
A few minutes after supper both girls became drowsy, and Mrs. Ripley, candle in hand, conducted them upstairs to the small room set apart for their use.
This was another novel experience for the visitor. She insisted at first upon lying on the hard floor, for never in her life had she touched a bed; but after awhile, she became willing to share the couch with her playmate.
Alice knelt down by the side of the little trundle bed and said her prayers, as she always did; but Linna could not understand what it meant. She wonderingly watched her until she was through, and then with some misgiving, clambered among the clothes, and the mother tucked her up, though the night was so warm they needed little covering.
Mrs. Ripley felt that she ought to tell the dusky child about her heavenly Father, and to teach her to pray. She therefore sat down on the edge of the bed, and in simple words began the wonderful story of the Saviour, who gave His life to save her as well as all others.
Alice dropped asleep right away, but Linna lay motionless, with her round black eyes fixed on the face of the lady, drinking in every word she said. By and by, however, the eyelids began to droop, and the good woman ceased. Who shall tell what precious seed was thus sown in that cabin in Wyoming, more than a hundred years ago?
While Mrs. Ripley was talking upstairs, she heard voices below; so that she knew Ben had a visitor. As she descended, she recognized a neighbor who lived on the other side of the river.
"I called," said he, "to tell you that you must lose no time in moving into Forty Fort with your little girl."
"You do not mean right away?"
"Not tonight, but the first thing in the morning."
"Is the danger so close as that?"
"Our scouts report the Tory Colonel Butler with a large force of whites and Indians marching down the valley."
"But do you not expect to repel them?"
"We are sure of that," was the confident reply; "but it won't do for any of the women and children to be exposed. The Indians will scatter, and cut off all they can. Others of our friends are out warning the people, and we must have them all in a safe place."
"Will you wait for your enemies to attack the fort?"
"I believe our Colonel Butler favors that; but others, and among them myself and Ben, favor marching out and meeting them."
"That's it," added the lad, shaking his head. "I believe in showing them we are not scared. Colonel Butler got leave of absence to come to Wyoming; he has some regulars with him, and with all our men and boys we'll teach the other Colonel Butler a lesson he won't forget as long as he lives."
"Well, if you think it best, we will move into the fort with the other people until the danger is past."
"Yes, mother; I will fight better knowing that you and Alice are safe. There's Linna! What about her?"
"Who's Linna?" asked the visitor.
"She is the little child of Omas, the Delaware warrior. He brought her here this afternoon to make Alice a visit, and promised to call tomorrow for her. Will it be safe to wait until he comes?"
The neighbor shook his head.
"You mustn't take any chances. Why don't you turn her loose to take care of herself? She can do it."
"I couldn't," the mother hastened to say; "Omas left her in our care, and I must not neglect her. She will go with us."
"I don't think it will be safe for her father to come after her, when the flurry is over."
"He will be with the Iroquois, even though his tribe doesn't like them any too well; for the Iroquois are the conquerors of the Delawares, and drove them off their hunting grounds."
"Well," said Mrs. Ripley, with a sigh; "even if he never comes for her, she will always have a home with us."
The dwelling of the Ripleys was on the eastern shore of the Susquehanna. On the other side stood Fort Wintermoot and Forty Fort, the former being at the upper end of the valley. That would be the first one reached by the invaders, and the expectation was that it would give up whenever ordered to do so, for nearly all in it were friends of the Tories.
It was evident that when Omas left his child with her friends, and spoke of returning the next day, or soon thereafter, he did not know how near the invasion was. Mrs. Ripley expected that when he did learn it, he would hasten back for her.
The night, however, passed without his appearance, and the hot July sun came up over the forests on the eastern bank of the river, and still he remained away. It looked as if he had decided to let her take her chances while he joined the invaders in their work of destruction and woe.
Mrs. Ripley would have been willing to wait longer, but she was urged not to lose another hour. The frightened settlers were not allowed to take anything but their actual necessaries with them, for the cramped quarters in Forty Fort, where a number of cabins were erected, would be crowded to the utmost to make room for the hundreds who might clamor for admission. The quarters, indeed, were so scant that many camped outside, holding themselves ready to rush within should it become necessary.
Little Linna was filled with wonder when she saw her friends preparing to move and knew she was going with them. But she helped in her way as much as she could and asked no questions. There was no need, in fact, for Alice asked enough for both.
And just here I must relate to you a little history.
On the last days of June, 1778, Colonel John Butler, with about four hundred soldiers—partly made up of Tories—and six or seven hundred Indians, entered the head of Wyoming Valley. As I have said, he was a cousin of Colonel Zebulon Butler, who commanded the patriots and did all he could to check the invaders. Reaching Fort Wintermoot, the British officer sent in a demand for its surrender. The submission was made, and the invaders then came down the valley and ordered the Connecticut people to surrender Forty Fort and the settlements. Colonel Zebulon Butler had under him, to quote the historical account, "two hundred and thirty enrolled men, and seventy old people, boys, civil magistrates, and other volunteers." They formed six companies, which were mustered at Forty Fort, where the families of the settlers on the east side of the river had taken refuge.
Colonel Zebulon Butler, upon receiving the summons, called a council of war. This was on the 3rd of July. The officers believed that a little delay would be best, in the hope of the arrival of reinforcements; but nearly all the men were so clamorous to march out and give the invaders battle, that it was decided to do so.
"You are going into great danger," remarked the leader, as he mounted his horse and placed himself at the head of the patriots, "but I will go as far as any of you."
At three o'clock in the afternoon the column, numbering about three hundred, marched from the fort with drums beating and colors flying. They moved up the valley, with the river on the right and a marsh on the left, until they arrived at Fort Wintermoot, which had been set on fire by the enemy to give the impression they were withdrawing from the neighborhood.
As you may well believe, the movements of the patriots were watched with deep interest by those left behind. The women and children clustered along the river bank and strained their eyes in the direction of Fort Wintermoot, the black smoke from which rolled down the valley and helped to shut out their view.
There was hardly one among the spectators that had not a loved relative with the defenders. It might be a tottering grandfather, a sturdy son, who, though a boy, was inspired with the deepest fervor, and eager to risk his life for the sake of his mother or sister, whose hearts almost stopped beating in the painful suspense which must continue until the battle was decided.
Alice was too young fully to understand the peril in which Ben was placed. She had kissed him goodbye when he ran to take his place with the others, and, with a light jest on his lips about her and Linna, he had snatched a kiss from the little Delaware's swarthy cheek.
The mother added a few cheering words to the children, and it was a striking sight when they and a number of others, about their age or under, began playing with all the merriment of children who never dream that the world contains such afflictions as sorrow, woe, and death.
It was easy to follow the course of the patriots for a time after they were beyond sight, by the sound of their drums and the shrill whistling of several fifes.
In those days it was much more common than now for people to drink intoxicating liquors. Just before the patriots started up the valley, I am sorry to say, a few of the men drank more than they should. It has been claimed by some that but for this things would have gone differently on that day, which will live for ever as one of the saddest in American history.
By and by the anxious people near the fort noticed that the sound of drums and fifes had ceased, and the reports of firearms were heard.
They knew from this that the opposing forces were making ready for the conflict, and the suspense became painful indeed.
Then amid the rattle of musketry sounded the whoops of the Iroquois. The battle was on. Fighting began about four o'clock in the afternoon. Colonel Zebulon Butler ordered his men to fire, and at each discharge to advance a step. The fire was regular and steady, and the Americans continued to gain ground, having the advantage where it was open. Despite the exertions of the invaders, their line gave way, and but for the help of the Indians they would have been routed.
The flanking party of red men kept up a galling fire on the right, and the patriots dropped fast. The Indians on the Tory left were divided into six bands who kept up a continuous yelling which did much to inspirit each other, while the deadly aim told sadly upon the Americans.
The most powerful body of Indians was in a swamp on the left of the patriots, and by and by they outflanked them. The Americans tried to manoeuvre so as to face the new danger, but some of them mistook the order for one to retreat. Everything was thrown into confusion.
Colonel Zebulon Butler, seeing how things were going, galloped up and down between the opposing lines, calling out—"Don't leave me, my children. Stand by me and the victory is ours!"
But it was too late. The patriots could not be rallied. They were far outnumbered, and once thrown into a panic, with the captain of every company slain, the day was lost.
You cannot picture the distress of the women, children, and feeble old men waiting at Forty Fort the issue of the battle.
The sorrowful groups on the bank of the river listened to the sounds of conflict, and read the meaning as they came to their ears.
The steady, regular firing raised their hopes at first. They knew their sons and friends were fighting well, despite the shouts of the Indians borne down the valley on the sultry afternoon.
By and by the firing grew more scattering, and instead of being so far up the river as at first, it was coming closer.
This could mean but one thing; the patriots were retreating before the Tories and Indians.
One old man, nearly four score years of age, who pleaded to go into the battle, but was too feeble, could not restrain his feelings. He walked back and forth, inspired with new strength and full of hope, until the scattered firing and its approach left no doubt of its meaning.
He paused in his nervous, hobbling pace, and said to the white faced women standing breathlessly near—"Our boys are retreating: they have been beaten—all hope is gone!"
The next moment two horsemen galloped into sight. "Colonel Butler and Colonel Denison!" said the old man, recognizing them; "they bring sad news."
It was true. They rode their horses on a dead run, and reining up at the fort, where the people crowded around them, they leaped to the ground, and Colonel Butler said—"Our boys have been driven from the field, and the Tories and Indians are at their heels!"
CHAPTER FOUR: THE EASTERN SHORE
Young Ben Ripley made a good record on that eventful 3rd of July. He loaded and fired as steadily as a veteran. The smoke of the guns, the wild whooping of the Iroquois Indians, the sight of his friends and neighbors continually dropping to the ground, some of them at his elbow, the deafening discharge of the rifles—all these and the dreadful swirl and rush of events dazed him at times; but he kept at it with a steadiness which caused more than one expression of praise from the officers nearest him.
All at once he found himself mixed up in the confusion caused by the attempt to wheel a part of the line to face the flanking assailants, and the mistake of many that it was an order to retreat.
He did not know what it meant, for it seemed to him that a dozen officers were shouting conflicting orders at the same moment. A number of men threw down their guns and made a wild rush to get away, several falling over each other in the frantic scramble; others bumped together, and above the din of the conflict sounded the voices of Colonel Butler, as he rode back and forth through the smoke, begging his troops not to leave him, and victory would be theirs.
Seeing the hopeless tangle, the Indians swarmed out of the swamp, and by their savage attack and renewed shouts made the hubbub and confusion tenfold worse.
Somebody ran so violently against Ben that he was thrown to the ground. He was on his feet in an instant and turned to see who did it. It was a soldier fleeing for life from an Iroquois warrior.
Ben raised his gun, took quick aim and pulled the trigger, but no report followed. He had forgotten his weapon was unloaded.
Other forms obtruded between him and the couple, and he could not see the result of the pursuit and attack. Despite all he could do, he was forced back by the panic stricken rush around and against him.
Suddenly a wild cry reached him. An Iroquois with painted face rushed upon him with uplifted tomahawk, but he was yet several paces away, when another warrior seized his arm and wrenched him to one side.
"Run—go fast—don't stay!" commanded the Indian that had saved the youth, furiously motioning to him.
"If my gun were loaded," replied Ben, though his voice was unheard in the din, "I wouldn't go till I did something more. Helloa! is that you, Omas?"
It was the Delaware that had turned the assault aside.
A couple of bounds placed him beside he lad, and he caught his arm with a grip of iron.
It was of no use trying to hold back. Omas half running, half leaping, drove his way like a wedge through the surging swarm. His left hand closed around the upper arm of Ben, while his right grasped his tomahawk, he having thrown aside his rifle.
The boy was repeatedly jerked almost off his feet. He could run fast, but was not equal to this warrior, who forged along with resistless might. Twice did an Iroquois make for the young prisoner, as he supposed the lad to be, but a warning motion of the tomahawk upheld by Omas repelled him.
The Delaware was prudent, and instead of keeping in the midst of the surging mass, worked to one side, so that they were soon comparatively free from the tumultuous throng.
There was no attempt at conversation between the Delaware and Ben. The boy knew what was meant by this rough kindness. The day was lost, and his thoughts went out to the loved ones waiting down the valley to learn the result of the battle. He wanted to get to them as quickly as he could.
The rush carried them beyond the main body of fugitives, though not out of danger, for the Iroquois were pursuing hard; but soon Omas loosened his grip and dropped the arm of the lad. They were far enough removed from the swirl to exchange words.
"Where moder—where Alice?", asked the Delaware, as if he had no concern for his own child.
"At Forty Fort."
"Linna with them?"
"Yes; they are together with the other folks."
"Go dere—tell cross riber—make haste to Del'mware."
This command meant that the little party should hurry to the eastern side of the Susquehanna, and start for the settlements on the Upper Delaware. The nearest town was Stroudsburg, sixty miles distant, and the way led through a dismal forest.
The words of Omas showed, too, that he knew what was coming. Though the British Colonel Butler might accept the surrender and strive to give fair treatment to the prisoners, he would find it hard to restrain the Tories and Indians.
All that could be done was for the fugitives to flee, without an hour's delay. They were already flocking to the river in the effort to reach the other side. A good many hid among the grass and undergrowth on Monacacy Island, where the Tories and Indians followed, and hunted them out without mercy.
Those who were wise enough to set out in time had a chance of arriving at the settlements on the Upper Delaware, though much suffering was sure to follow, since there was no time to prepare food to take with them.
The remark of Omas prompted Ben's words—"How can I get mother, and Alice and Linna, to the other side? They cannot swim the river."
"Linna swim," was the somewhat proud answer; "she take care of Alice you take care of moder."
"I might at any other time, but with the people crowding around us, and the Indians at our heels and shooting down all they can, what chance have we? Why can't you come with me and help them?"
No doubt the Delaware had asked himself the question, for he answered it not by words, but by breaking into a loping trot for Forty Fort, with Ben running at his side. He halted before reaching the refuge, and turned aside among the bushes overhanging the edge of the river, his actions showing he was searching for something.
He speedily found a canoe, probably his own. It had been so skillfully hidden among the dense undergrowth that one might have passed within a couple of paces without seeing it.
He picked it up as if it were a toy boat and set it down in the water.
"Go bring moder—bring Alice—bring Linna."
Ben was off like a shot, for he knew there was not a minute to throw away. It was the season when the days were longest, and two or three hours must pass before it would be fully night.
It would not do for Omas to go with Ben. His appearance at the fort would add to the panic, and be almost certain to bring about a conflict with some of the whites. It was his province to guard the precious canoe from being taken by other fugitives.
Ben Ripley now thought only of his loved ones. He knew the anguish his mother would suffer until she learned he was safe, and he forced his way to the spot where he had parted from her.
It was a sad experience. Old men, women and children, with white faces, were rushing to and fro, wringing their hands and wailing, searching for those whom they never again would see in this life; crowding into the little fort, as if they knew a minute's delay would be fatal; some making for the river, into which they plunged in a wild effort to reach the eastern shore, while among the frantic masses appeared here and there a fugitive from the scene of battle, perhaps wounded and telling his dreadful story of the defeat, with all the woeful consequences that were certain to follow.
With much difficulty and some rough work the lad reached the spot where he had bidden his mother and the children goodbye, but none of the three was in sight. They had been swept aside by the rush of the terrified people.
A cry sounded above the tumult, and before he could learn where it came from, the arms of his mother were about his neck.
"Thank Heaven! my boy is safe! You do not know what I have suffered. I could learn nothing about you. Are you hurt?"
"Not a scratch—which is more than many other poor fellows can say. Where are the children?"
A tiny hand was slipped into his own, and looking down, there stood Linna, with her forefinger between her teeth, looking shyly up at him. There could be no doubt she felt fully acquainted.
Alice came forward on the other side. Neither understood the cause of the turmoil about them. They were not scared, but were awed into silence.
"I saw Omas," explained Ben to his mother; "he saved me from the fate of many others."
"Where is he?"
"A little way off, under the bank, waiting with his canoe, to take us across the river.
"He says we must hurry through the woods for the settlements on the Upper Delaware. Every hour that we stay increases our danger."
"Let me take Alice; lead the way."
Clasping tight the hand of Linna, with his mother at his heels, Ben pushed for the point where he had left the Delaware a few minutes before.
Strange that though the distance was not far, and the confusion seemed to be increasing every minute, the little party had not gone half way when they were checked by one of the men that had been in the battle. He was slightly wounded, and under the influence of liquor.
"Who's that you've got with you?" he demanded, looking down at Linna, who saw no danger in the act.
"A friend of Alice and me."
"She looks like an Injin," added the soldier, scowling threateningly at her; "if she is, I want her."
"I told you she is a friend of ours—get out of my way!"
The soldier's condition enabled Ben to tumble him over on his back by means of a vigorous shove. Before he could steady himself and get upon his feet again, the others were beyond reach.
I am sure he would not have acted that way, had he been in the possession of his senses.
When Ben parted from Omas, he was without a rifle, but on joining him again, the warrior had a fine weapon in his hand. It was not the one with which he appeared at the house. The lad might have guessed how he got it, but he did not ask any questions, nor seem to notice it.
As the party came up, Omas merely glanced at Mrs. Ripley and her child, but did not speak. As for his own little girl, he gave her no notice. Young as she was, she understood him, and did not claim any attention from him. If they had been alone, she would have been in his arms with their cheeks together.
"Go 'cross," said he, pointing toward the other shore.
"Ben has told me what you said: we are ready," replied Mrs. Ripley.
He held the canoe steady and motioned her to take her place in it. She did so, and Alice nestled at her feet, being careful not to stir, for such frail craft are easily upset.
The canoe was small, and the weight of the mother and child sank it quite low, though it would hold another adult.
"Get in," added Omas to the lad.
Ben obeyed. He knew all about such boats, and could have paddled it across had there been a paddle to use, but there was none.
When the Delaware laid his rifle inside with Ben's, it was evident he intended to swim, towing or shoving the boat.
"Come, Linna, there's just room for you," added the youth, reaching out his hand for the dusky little girl.
Instead of obeying, she looked up at her father and said something to which he made answer brusquely, as it sounded to the others.
Retreating several paces from shore, she ran nimbly to the edge of the bank, and with a leap splashed away beyond the bow of the canoe, and began swimming like a fish for the eastern shore.
It was a real treat for her, even though she did not remove any of her clothing. The weather was sultry, and the bath refreshingly cool. Not comprehending the sad scenes around her, she dived, and splashed, and frolicked, easily keeping in advance of the boat.
Truth to tell, the canoe had all it could hold, and Omas, who swam at the stern, handled it with care to prevent it overturning. The water rose almost to the gunwales, and a little jolt or carelessness would have capsized it.
The Delaware swam high out of water. He knew the boat would attract the attention of some of his own people on the bank, who, if they thought the occupants were escaping, would either pursue or fire on them.
The sight of the Indian, however, at the stern would make it appear that they were already prisoners, and the other warriors would give their attention elsewhere.
Omas kept clear of Monacacy Island, and by and by his feet touched ground. Before that, the dripping Linna had run out on land, and so the whole party safely reached the eastern shore.
CHAPTER FIVE: IN THE WOODS
You have not forgotten what I told you about the mountain range, which shuts in Wyoming Valley on the east. It is a thousand feet in height, abounding with ravines, clefts, rocks, boulders and the most rugged kind of places.
The fugitives who fled from the Susquehanna to escape the Indians had to make their way over these mountains, and then find their way through sixty miles of trackless woods to the Delaware River. A great many succeeded in doing so, but the deaths and sufferings in the vast stretch of forest gave it the dreadful name of "The Shades of Death," by which it is often referred to even to this day.
Omas swam at the rear of the small canoe, as I told you, with Mrs. Ripley and her two children seated inside and balancing themselves with great care to prevent the heavily loaded craft from sinking or overturning.
More than one Seneca or Oneida Indian, or perhaps a Tory, that had chased some terrified fugitives to the edge of the river, halted and made ready to fire upon the canoe, whose occupants were seen to be three white persons.
When they looked again, however, they observed the head and shoulders of an Indian warrior, who was plainly propelling the craft in front of him. That was enough to satisfy them.
On the way over, Linna, the little Indian girl, amused herself by diving under the canoe, sometimes appearing on one side and then on the other, sometimes in front and then at the rear. She even ventured to impose upon her father by splashing water in his painted face. She did little of that, and he paid no attention to it.
The sun had not yet set when the grim warrior and his child emerged on the eastern shore, their garments dripping, but caring nothing for that. The boat was drawn far enough up the bank to prevent its being swept away by the current, and then all stood side by side, and as if by a common impulse, looked back at the shore they had left.
The smoke from the burning Fort Wintermoot still rested on the calm surface of the river, and filtered among the green vegetation near the scene of the battle. Other buildings had been fired, and mingled their vapor with it.
Here and there, every minute or two, sounded the sharp crack of a rifle. This too often meant that some fugitive had been run down by his cruel pursuer, who listened to no pleadings for mercy. A good many had taken refuge on Monacacy Island, from which the reports of guns continually came.
I have not the space here to tell you of the wonderful escapes at Wyoming, the particulars of which I have given in another work.
One boy, who was with several men near Fort Jenkins before the battle, saw all the men shot down or captured; but he hid himself among some willows and was not noticed.
If you ever visit the scene of the battle, you will notice a broad, flat stone, called Queen Esther's Rock, a half dozen miles below Wilkesbarre. Queen Esther was an old, cruel, half breed woman who came with the Indians. She is sometimes known as Katharine Montour. A son of hers was killed in the conflict, and she was so angered that she had sixteen captives placed around the rock, and meant to slay them all, while the warriors prevented them from escaping.
Nevertheless two of the young men jumped up and started on a run for the river. The guards dashed after them. One caught his toe, and rolled headlong down the bank into some bushes. Instead of springing up again, as he first started to do, he lay still, and though the Indians almost stepped upon him, he was not discovered, and got off without harm.
The other reached the river, took a running leap and dived, and swam under water as far as he could. When he came up to breathe, the waiting red men fired at him again and again. He was wounded, but not badly, and, reaching the other side, caught a stray horse, made a bridle from a hickory withe, and soon joined his friend.
Another fugitive, after running until he was so tired out he could hardly stand, and hearing the Indians near, backed into a hollow log and awaited his fate. He had been in the hollow but a few minutes when a spider spun its web across the entrance. A few minutes later, two warriors sat down on the log. They noticed how good a hiding place it would be for the white man, and one of them leaned over to peep in. As he did so, he saw the spider web. He was sure that it would not be there if the man was inside, and did not search further. When the warriors left, the man crawled out and got safely away.
You know that the home of the Ripleys was on the eastern shore, which they left that same morning. They had crossed over in a large flatboat with a number of other families, so that now they were near their own home again. Omas had guided the canoe, too, so they landed not far from the little structure.
"Omas," said the mother, "I understand you wish us to go to the Delaware."
"Yes," he replied, "Iroquois won't hurt you there—must go."
"We haven't a particle of food with us; Ben has his gun and may have a chance to shoot some game on the way—more than likely, he will have no chance at all; it will take us several days to reach Stroudsburg, which, I believe, is the nearest point. Don't you think it best that we should stop at the house and get what food we can?"
"Yes, we do dat; come 'long; not great time."
There could be no safer guide than the Delaware, when his race were such complete masters of the situation; though there was risk that a patriot hiding somewhere in the neighborhood might take a shot at him, under the belief that he meant harm to the captives.
The humble log structure was found just as it was left that morning. If any of the marauding bands of Indians paid it a visit, they did not linger after seeing it was tenantless.
There was a whole loaf of bread and part of another left beside some cooked chicken, and a number of live ones were scratching the ground outside, as if they had no concern in what was going on.
"The weather is warm now," remarked the prudent housewife, "but a cold storm may set in before we reach shelter."
With which she folded a blanket from her bed and laid it over her arm.
"It will come handy to sleep on," added Ben, who did the same with a second, despite the weight of his rifle, which (as they were made in those days) was a good load of itself for a strong boy.
Omas showed some impatience, though his companions did not understand the cause. His actions, indeed, were curious. They supposed he meant to conduct them all or a greater part of the way to Stroudsburg, though at times he appeared to be hesitating over it, or over some other scheme he had in mind.
Ben Ripley had rambled among the rugged scenery, on the eastern shore of the river, having gone with his father many times when he was on hunting excursions; but he was not as familiar with the ins and outs of the mountains as the Delaware, whose village was a good many miles away.
None of the party had eaten anything of account since the early morning meal, before they crossed the Susquehanna. The dangers, excitement, and suspense of the hours drove away the thought of food. Young as was Linna, she had already learned not to ask for it when either of her parents chose not to offer it to her. Doubtless she was hungry, but if so, no one else knew it. Alice had been given bread when at Forty Fort, and she now suggested that some more would not come amiss.
"We all need it," said Ben; "why not take our last meal in our old home? You have no objection Omas?"
"Eat here," was his reply.
The guns were leaned against the walls, the blankets put aside and all gathered round the board. The Delaware had done the same before when visiting the family, and acquired the civilized form of eating, while Linna picked it up during the brief time spent with her friends.
The meal lasted but a few minutes, when they once more gathered up their luggage, as it may be called, left the house, and with Omas in the lead, struck into the mountains on the long tramp to the Delaware.
The sun went down while they were picking their way through the rough section. The Ripleys expected to do much hard travelling, but their guide's knowledge of every turn enabled him to pick out paths which none ever suspected. Sometimes the climbing was abrupt, but all, even to Alice, were accustomed to that kind of work, and they kept up a steady gait, which must have placed many miles to the rear if continued long.
Omas continued at the head. Directly behind him walked his child, the path most of the time being so narrow that they were obliged to travel in Indian file. Then came Alice and her mother, while Ben considered himself the rearguard. When the space allowed, Alice took the hand of her parent, but Linna never presumed to speak to or interfere with her grim, silent parent.
Darkness closed around them before they had gone a couple of miles. During all this time the tramp continued in silence, probably not a dozen words being spoken. Each of the three elder was using eyes and ears to the utmost.
The sharp crack of a rifle broke the silence, not more than a hundred yards to the right of them. Everyone started except Omas, who acted as if he did not hear the report. He made no change in his pace, and so far as the others could see in the gloom, did not turn his head. They concluded, therefore, that no cause for alarm existed.
Fairly through the mountain spur and among the deep woods, the journey was pushed until the night was well along. Suddenly, Omas made a short turn to the right and stopping in a hollow, where there were several large boulders, he said—"We stay here all night."
The words were a surprise, for it was expected he would travel for a long time. He, Mrs. Ripley and Linna could have done so without inconvenience, but Alice was tired out. Her relatives were pretty well burdened already, though either would have carried her had it been necessary; but the party had gained so good a start that there seemed little risk in making a long stop.
Omas reached down one hand and laid it on the bare head of Alice, saying in a voice of strange gentleness—"Little girl tired—she can rest."
And then all knew he had ceased walking because of her. Had she not been a member of the party, he would have kept the rest on their feet until the sun appeared above the forest.
"Yes, I'm tired, Omas," said the little one wearily, holding the hand of the Delaware in both her own; "I'm glad you stopped."
The gloom was so deep, for there was no moon until very late (and if there had been, its rays could not have pierced the dense foliage), that they could hardly see each other's figures. Omas hastily gathered some leaves and dead twigs, which were heaped together against one of the boulders. Then he produced his flint and steel—for he had learned the trick long before of the whites—and by and by a shower of sparks was flying from the swift, sharp blows of the metal against the hard stone. A minute later one of the sparks "caught," and under his nursing a fire was speedily under way.
While he was thus engaged, Mrs. Ripley spread the blankets on the ground and Alice stretched her tired little body upon one of them.
"Mamma, I guess God will excuse me for not saying my prayers," she murmured, as she closed her eyes and sank into slumber.
Linna was tired, too, but she kept her feet and looked at her father for his permission, before presuming to lie down.
"Come, Linna, here is your place beside Alice," said the mother kindly.
Again she turned to her father, who was standing by the fire, looking off in the gloom, as if he suspected something wrong.
He gave the permission in their native tongue and she cuddled down beside her friend without further waiting.
"Mother," said Ben, "you had better lie down with them."
"Not yet," she replied, with a significant look at he Delaware, whose back was toward them.
"What about him?" asked the surprised lad in a low voice.
"He is meditating something evil: he wants to leave us.
"What evil is there in that, if he thinks we have gone far enough to be safe?"
"You have forgotten that he fought with the Iroquois today; he wants to go back to Wyoming and join them in their work."
"If that is so, how can we hinder him?"
"I don't know that we can; but I shall try it."
Ben busied himself gathering more wood, so that the fire cast a glow several yards from where it burned against the boulder.
When he had collected enough to last a long while, he came back and sat down by his mother. All this time the Delaware remained motionless, with his face away from them. He was debating some troublous question in his mind. They watched him closely.
He turned about abruptly, and said—"Omas must go—he say 'goodnight' to his friends."
CHAPTER SIX: PUSHING EASTWARD
No person in all the world is so quick to detect deception as a mother. It is simply wonderful the way she will sometimes read one's thoughts. I am sure you boys who have lagged on the road when sent on an errand, had a scrimmage with some other boy, or done any one of the numerous acts in which a mother persists in asking annoying questions, will agree with me.
While Omas, the Delaware warrior, stood with his face turned away from the camp fire and looking off in the gloom, as if he was trying to discover something in the darkness, Mrs. Ripley was sure she knew what the trouble was: he was trying to decide whether he should stay longer with the little party or leave them to make the rest of their way through the woods without him.
He might well say they were now so far from Wyoming that they were in little danger. They had but to keep on tramping for several days and nights, and they would reach the little town of Stroudsburg, which, you may know, is near Delaware Water Gap. There they need have no fear of the red men.
Mrs. Ripley knew all this as well as Omas himself, but she did not wish him to go back and join the hostile Iroquois, as he wanted to do. She felt it would be far better if he would stay with them, for then he would do no further harm to the white people.
When, therefore, he turned about and bade them goodbye, all doubt was gone. Ben did not reply, but his mother rose from the other blanket on which she had been sitting, walked quietly to where the Delaware was standing, and laid her hand kindly on his arm.
"Omas, I do not wish you to leave us," she said.
He looked at her, for both stood where the firelight fell upon their faces, and replied—"No danger—walk towards the rising sun—need not walk fast—Iroquois won't hurt—soon be safe."
The lady was too wise to let her real objection appear.
"A while ago we heard the noise of a gun; our people are fleeing through the woods, and the red men are following them. Alice is tired, and we have stopped to rest. When we start again tomorrow, some of the red men will be ahead of us. What shall we do without our friend Omas?"
"He have gun." he replied, indicating Ben.
"So have the red men, and there are more of them."
Now, if Mrs. Ripley was skilful in reading the thoughts of the Delaware, it may be that he, too, suspected the real cause for her objections. Be that as it may, it was plain he was not satisfied. He held the Ripley family in too high regard to offend them openly; but Omas was set in his ways.
He made no reply to the last remark, but stepped a little nearer the fire and sat down, moody and silent.
"You have said enough, mother," remarked Ben in a low voice; "it will anger him to say more. I will sit with my head against the rock; do you lie down on the blanket and let your head rest in my lap. I think it will be safe for us all."
With some hesitation the mother complied, the Delaware apparently paying no heed to them. He kept his seat on the ground, looking gloomily into the fire and in deep thought. A struggle was going on in his mind, and no one could say whether the good or evil would win.
Ben Ripley was anxious that his mother should sleep. She had undergone the severest of trials since early morning, and none had wrought harder than she. The morrow would make further demands on her strength. As for himself, he was young, sturdy, and could stand more and rally sooner than she.
When, therefore, she said something in a low tone, he placed his hand softly over her mouth and whispered—"S—h! go to sleep, baby."
He smoothed the silky hair away from the forehead so gently and so soothingly that she could not resist the effect. She meant to keep awake until Omas made his final decision; but no person can resist the approach of slumber, except by active movement.
Before long, and while Ben's hand was still gliding like down over the forehead, the faint, regular breathing showed she was asleep.
The son smiled.
"Good! The best mother that ever lived! Heavenly Father, watch over her and spare her for many years. Watch over us all."
He looked across at Omas, on the other side of the camp fire, and saw the Delaware gazing fixedly at him.
He arose as silently as a shadow and stepped nearer, peering down on the pale, handsome face with its closed eyes.
"She sleep?" asked the Indian.
"Yes," replied Ben, softly, with a nod of his head.
He looked at her a moment and then across to the other blanket, where the round, chubby cheeks of the little girls reflected the firelight. He waited a moment, and then the gentler side of his nature triumphed. He bent over the forms, kissed each in turn, straightened up, and pointing to the eastward, said to Ben—"Go dat way—you safe—goodbye."
"Goodbye," replied the lad, knowing it was useless to protest.
Like the gliding of the shadow of a cloud, the Delaware passed beyond the circle of light thrown out by the fire into the deep gloom of the wood. The moccasins pressed the dry leaves without giving back any sound, and he vanished.
"That makes a change of situation," was the conclusion of Ben Ripley; "he's gone, and I become the general of this army; there's no telling what danger may be abroad tonight, so I will keep my eyes open till sunrise, to make sure that no harm comes to these folks."
And ten minutes after this decision the lad was as sound asleep as his mother and the two little ones.
But there was One who did not slumber while all were unconscious. He ever watches over His children, and,—though there were many perils abroad that night, none of them came near our friends.
The camp fire which had been burning so brightly grew dimmer and lower until the figures could hardly be seen. They gradually became more indistinct, and finally the gloom was as deep as anywhere in the dense woods. Only a few smouldering embers were left, and they gave out no glow.
Ben was still sleeping, when something tickled his nose. He rubbed it vigorously with his forefinger and opened his eyes, confused and bewildered.
An odd, chuckling laugh at his elbow drew his gaze hither. There stood Linna, with the sprig of oak which she had been passing back and forth under the base of his nose, making it feel for all the world like a fly titillating his nostrils.
Ben made an attempt to catch the mischievous girl, but she deftly eluded him, and laughed so heartily that the others awoke and looked wonderingly to learn what it all meant.
"I'll pay you for that!" exclaimed the lad, as his mother raised her head from his lap. Bounding to his feet, he darted after Linna, but she was so nimble, and dodged back and forth and from right to left so fast, that it took much effort to run her down.
Like all little girls, she was very "ticklish," and when he dallied with his fingers about her plump neck, she dropped to the ground and kicked and rolled over to get away from him. He let her up, and said with pretended gravity that he never allowed any trifling with him without punishing the person therefore.
Linna did not seem to notice the absence of her father, and asked no questions. Ben told his mother how he went off after she fell asleep, and the good woman saddened, for she was sure she understood it all.
The first thing done, after a few minutes' talk, was to kneel in prayer, Mrs. Ripley leading in a petition to Heaven that all might be preserved from harm and reach the distant settlement safely. She did not forget the absent Omas, or the hundreds of hapless people whom they had left behind, who were still in great danger.
It was Mrs. Ripley's custom always to offer prayer in the little household at the beginning of each day. Linna, who had gained a dim idea of what the touching act meant, bent on her knees beside Alice; and who shall say the petition which went up from her heart was not heard and remembered by Him who notices the fall of every sparrow.
And now came the serious business of the day. Many long miles of trackless forest lay before them and the delay caused all to feel the need of hurry.
Mrs. Ripley gave to each a moderate portion of the food brought with them, carefully preserving what was left, for they were sure to need that and much more before reaching the end of their journey. The day promised to be sultry like the preceding one, and each sadly missed the water with which to quench their thirst and splash upon their faces and hands.
"We shall come across some before long," said Ben hopefully when he and his mother had divided the luggage between them and set out toward the rising sun; "we are a great deal better off than the poor folks of Wyoming."
The mother pinched the clothing of Linna, and found it dried of the moisture gained by her swim in the Susquehanna.
It is a curious practice among not only the Indians, but with many white people, not to change wet stockings or garments for dry ones. I knew a fisherman's boy whose father once punished him for removing his saturated stockings and shoes for others.
"Always let 'em dry on you, and you won't catch cold," was his doctrine. "Keep moving if you can, but don't change 'em."
I don't believe in the practice; but be that as it may, the little Delaware girl showed no ill effects from sleeping in the clothing that had been wet. As for her father, he would have been insulted at the mention of such a thing to him.
Ben's belief about finding water proved true. They had gone hardly a half mile from camp when they came upon a sparkling brook, cold and clear, and abundant enough to serve all. Having no vessels with them, they lay down and quaffed their fill. Then they bathed their faces and hands in the delicious fluid, and were much refreshed.
The expectation was that they would travel a good many miles before night again overtook them. The way, while rough and broken in many places, was not hard, and all, even to the smaller children, were used to being on their feet. There was little fear indeed that Linna would not do her part as well as the older ones. Young as she was in years, she had been trained to hardship from the time she could walk. Not only that, but, like all her race, she had learned to bear suffering in silence and without sign of pain.
She would have to become very tired before her companions would know it.
By and by the ground was found to be rising, and in the course of an hour they gained an elevation which, having few trees, gave them an extended view of the surrounding country.
Looking back in the direction of Wyoming, the sky was seen to be soiled by the heavy smoke not only from the burned Fort Wintermoot, but from other buildings that had been fired by the Tories and Indians. The sight was a sorrowful one, and caused the mother and son some uneasiness. They seemed nearer to the scene of the conflict than they had supposed, and—since the people had been continually swimming the river, and taking flight in the woods for the same point that was the destination of the Ripleys—it was quite certain that some of the pursuers were not far off.
"We must make as little noise as we can," said Ben, when the party were about to start forward again: "for there can be no telling how close we are to Indians that are looking for us.'
"I think it better for you to walk a little way in front," suggested the mother, "so as to warn us in time."
"The plan is a good one. I will keep in sight of you, and the minute I see anything amiss, will make a sign, so you can stop at once."
This course was adopted. Ben carried one of the blankets flung over his left arm as if it were an extra garment, and steadied the heavy rifle on his shoulder with the other. As you remember, he was tall for his years, strong, and with rugged health.
Had the weather been cooler he could have Kept up this method of traveling for hours without fatigue; but the heat made it trying. True, at that season of the year the foliage was dense on the trees and shut out the sun's rays, except in the open spaces and natural clearings which they now and then crossed; but the vegetation also stopped whatever breeze was stirring, and obliged the members of the party to halt many times to rest and cool themselves.
Mrs. Ripley had but few extra things to carry, and showed less fatigue than anyone, excepting the Delaware child. The latter and Alice walked most of the time side by side, and generally with clasped hands. There was no use of their trying to keep their tongues still, but they were wise enough to speak in whispers and such soft undertones that no one else could tell what they said, and therefore nothing was to be feared on that account from any enemies in the neighborhood.
"Why not he make sign?" was the startling question of Linna, pointing at Ben, before the party had gone far after their brief rest.
"What do you mean?" asked the puzzled Mrs. Ripley; "he isn't to make any sign to us till he sees or hears something wrong."
"People off dere!" replied Linna, pointing ahead and to the right of their course. "Me hear dem speak."
It was true. The keen ears of the child had discovered a peril that no one else suspected. She alone had caught the sound of voices that escaped all other ears.
CHAPTER SEVEN: JABEZ ZITNER
At this moment Ben Ripley was about a hundred feet in advance of the party and ascending a ridge in the woods, which were so open that he was in plain sight of the others.
Mrs. Ripley, on hearing the alarming words of the little Delaware girl, came to a stop. It seemed strange that Linna should have caught the sounds noticed by no one else, and that, too, while she was whispering to her companion, Alice; but even at that tender age the inherited sharpness of hearing had been trained to a wonderfully fine degree.
Mrs. Ripley was too prudent to argue with her. It was not wise to take any chances. Above all, it was important that Ben should know the truth, for he was still walking away from them with no knowledge of their discovery.
"S—h!" The sibilant noise made by the mother's lips crossed the space and the listening lad halted and looked round. She did not speak, but beckoned him to come back. He obeyed at once.
"Linna says she heard voices a minute ago, over yonder," whispered Mrs. Ripley, as her son joined them.
"So me did," added Linna, in answer to the inquiring look of the lad.
"You have sharp ears, little one; but are you sure?"
"Me am," was the confident reply.
"Where were they?"
She again pointed out the direction.
"That must be looked into: wait till I come back, and—"
"S—h!" interrupted the mother.
All caught an indistinct murmur, which proved Linna was right.
"Me tell you—eh?" she said in a proud undertone, her black eyes sparkling with triumph.
"You are right: wait till I learn whether they are friends or enemies. I will not be gone long."
Leaving the anxious group clustered together, Ben faced in the direction of the sounds, which had stopped, and were so faint when heard that he could not tell whether they belonged to friends or foes.
As nearly as he could find out, the parties were just beyond the crest of the ridge, and, but for the warning of Linna, he would have run into the danger before knowing it.
With the utmost care he went up the slope. He leaned forward and stepped more slowly, avoiding, so far as he could, making any noise on the leaves or against the bushes and limbs which he had to push aside to allow him to advance.
At the instant of reaching the highest point he heard the voices again, so close that he knew they were made by white people, who were in a clump of dense undergrowth. A faint wreath of smoke filtering through the branches overhead showed they had started a small fire, beside which they were probably sitting or reclining on the ground.
Now that he was certain they belonged to his own race, he had less fear. Still, they might prove unpleasant neighbors when they came to know one of the party was a daughter of Omas. Turning toward his friends, who were watching him, Ben made a sign for them to stay where they were while he went forward.
He moved with the same care as before, but an unexpected accident spoiled everything. His foot caught in a wire-like vine, and he almost fell on his hands and knees. Aware that he had betrayed himself, he threw aside further caution, hurried down the slope, and called out in a guarded undertone—
"Helloa there, friends!"
"Who are you?" was the demand that instantly followed, and from the undergrowth, beside a small fire, two men suddenly rose upright, each with rifle in hand.
Ben recognized them. One was Jabez Zitner and the other Horace Burwink—both middle aged, sturdy, and strong. They were neighbors, and had taken part in the engagement the day before, but, escaping without harm, were now on their way to the settlements of the Upper Delaware.
A meeting of this kind would have been pleasing in the highest degree, for it added great strength to the party; but a misgiving came to the lad when he recognized Zitner. He was the man who, when partially intoxicated the previous afternoon, had tried to take Linna from him and was vigorously shoved aside by her friend.
"Helloa, Ben! where did you come from?" asked Zitner, who was now entirely himself.
"Glad to see you," added Burwink, and the two extended their hands. "You gave us a great scare, for the woods are full of redskins."
"You startled me, too," replied Ben. "I am travelling with my mother and sister to Stroudsburg. I suppose you are aiming for the same place?"
"Yes—if we ever get there. What become of that little sarpent you had with you yesterday?"
It was Zitner who asked the question. Ben's face flushed, for he did not like to hear Linna spoken of in that way.
"She is with us," he quietly replied.
"What are you going to do with her?"
"She is in our care, and goes wherever we go."
"You seem mighty fond of the people who played the mischief with us yesterday."
"Jabez Zitner, I fought just as hard as you, and did all I could to drive back the Iroquois and Tories, but I don't fight little children six years old."
"Who's talking about fighting 'em?" demanded Zitner angrily. "Their people didn't spare our women and children."
"They are savages, but you and I claim to be civilized."
"That's all well enough, but my motto is—fight fire with fire." Burwink was listening to this sharp interchange of words, the meaning of which he caught. Wishing to make a friend of him, for Ben foresaw trouble, he asked—"Am I not right, Mr. Burwink?"
"I should say—on general principles you are; but, after yesterday, I don't feel much love for any of the varmints. Who is this Injin gal that you are talking about?"
Ben was too wise to give the name of Linna's father, knowing he would be instantly recognized as one of the fiercest warriors that had taken part in the invasion and battle. He therefore replied—
"She is a girl named Linna; she is of the same age as our Alice, and was visiting her when we crossed the river to Forty Fort yesterday morning. We could do nothing but take her with us, and I will defend her with my life."
"You are talking big," remarked Zitner, with a scornful look at the sturdy lad. "Who is the gal's father?"
"That makes no difference; but I will say he belongs to the Delaware tribe, most of whom are friends to our people."
"There were plenty of them with the Senecas and Oneidas yesterday, and they fought like wild cats, too. But why don't you bring your folks forward?" added Zitner, looking inquiringly around.
"I will do so. Wait a few minutes."
He strode back and over the top of the ridge, until he caught sight of the frightened group.
"Come on!" he called, beckoning to them. "Mr. Zitner and Burwink are here, and want to see you."
With an expression of thankfulness, Mrs. Ripley, clasping a hand of each of the children, walked up the slope, and passed over to where the couple awaited their approach by the camp fire. She shook hands with each, and expressed her pleasure at meeting them. They did the same toward her, and then all, with the exception of the children, seated themselves on the fallen tree beside which the small fire was burning.
Mrs. Ripley had observed the little incident the preceding afternoon, when Zitner tried to stop Linna. She was ill at ease, for she noticed how sharply he looked at the child. She hoped, however, that now he was fully himself, he would be ashamed of his action, or at least make no reference to it.
No fear of her doing so. She showed her tact by leading the conversation in another direction.
"When did you leave Wyoming?"
"Burwink and I didn't get a chance to swim over until nearly midnight, and then we had a rough time of it. There were plenty of others that tried to do the same and never got to this side."
"When did you leave?" asked Burwink of the lady.
"We crossed before it was dark."
"How did you manage it? Swim?"
"No; we came over in a canoe. A Delaware Indian, the father of Linna, swam behind the boat and pushed it across. But for him, we never could have gotten away."
Mrs. Ripley, like her son, meant to keep the name of their friend from these men. There was no danger of either her or Ben telling it; but neither thought of another means they had of learning it.
At this point, Alice went to her mother and leaned against her knees, with her gaze on the faces of the men. She had been standing beside Linna, whose eyes were never once removed from the displeasing countenance of Zitner.
She must have noticed the incident referred to, for the expression on her round face was of dislike and distrust. She stood further off from the men than anyone else—silent, watchful, and suspicious.
Zitner now looked at her.
"Come here," he said coaxingly, extending his hand.
"No; me won't. Me don't like you," she replied, with an angry flirt and backward step.
"Jingo!" exclaimed the surprised Zitner; "I didn't think she could talk our lingo. Say, Miss Spitfire, what is your father's name?"
Before either Mrs. Ripley or her son could interpose, Linna answered defiantly—"He Omas—great warrior—kill good many white people—kill you!"
The reply caused consternation on the part of Mrs. Ripley and Ben, but the boy shut his lips tight. He could not but admire the bravery of the child, and he was determined to stand by her to the end.
The mother was in despair, but she relied mainly on persuasion and prayer.
With no idea of what all this meant, Alice looked in the face of each person in turn while speaking.
"She's a chip off the old block," said Burwink, with a laugh. "She doesn't seem to have much fear of you, Jabez."
"I am hopeful she will feel different when she grows older," soothingly remarked Mrs. Ripley.
"I'd like to know what you build your hope on," replied Zitner, still curiously watching the child.
"I expect to have her a good deal under my care, and I shall do all I can to instruct her aright. This morning she knelt with us in prayer. You must remember she is very young, and has heard little, if anything, of Christianity."
Zitner shook his head.
"It's born in 'em, and you can't get it out."
"But, Mr. Zitner, you will not deny that we have a good many Christian Indians. There are plenty of them at Gnadenhutten, and the Moravian missionaries have been the means of turning hundreds from darkness to light. If they can do that with full grown warriors and women, may we not hope for the best from those of tender years?"
"I don't know about that," was the dogged reply. "I never believed in this conversion business."
"What can you mean by such a remark?" asked the shocked lady.
"I mean, religion is good enough for white people, but don't work with Injins. They will pretend they're good, but are only waiting for a chance to do mischief."
"The converted Delawares have never taken part in the wars against us. You know that as well as I."
"How about Omas?"
"He makes no pretence of Christianity."
"And therefore has no claim on our indulgence."
"No one has said he has," observed Ben, coming to his mother's help; "he will never ask quarter from you or any white man."
"Where is he now? He brought you over the river, but seems to have deserted you."
"He left because he didn't think we had further need of his aid; we can get along without him."
"Now, see here," added Zitner, straightening up on the log and slapping his knee; "I'll tell you what I've made up my mind to do. I am willing to give in to Mrs. Ripley that far, that I won't harm that youngster—that is, I will leave it to her father whether I shall or shan't."
Neither mother nor son could understand the meaning of this strange remark. They waited for the man to explain.
"I'm going to take her with us as a hostage. We're not clear of the varmints yet. I believe Omas himself ain't far off, and the rest will be on our heels all the way to Stroudsburg. If they get us in a tight place, I'll let 'em know we've got the gal of Omas with us, and if they harm a hair of our heads it'll be all up with her. We'll take her clean to Stroudsburg, and then turn her loose, for we won't have any further need of her; but she must go with us."
"Jabez Zitner," said Ben Ripley—"the moment you lay your hand on that child I will shoot you!"
CHAPTER EIGHT: LINNA'S WOODCRAFT
No one could have looked into the face of Ben Ripley without seeing he meant just what he said.
Jabez Zitner supposed, when he made known that he intended to take the little Delaware girl with him as a hostage, that though it might be displeasing to the Ripleys, they would not dare object; but he was mistaken.
The lad was sitting furthest away on the fallen tree, with his rifle resting across his knees, when he warned the man that if he laid a hand on Linna he would shoot him.
Ben spoke low, but mingling with his words were two faint clicking sounds. They were made by the hammer of his rifle, as with his thumb he drew it back ready for use. His face was slightly pale, but his eyes glittered, and he rose to his feet and looked at the startled man.
Mrs. Ripley gave a gasp of fright and clasped her hands, while the children mutely stared.
Even Zitner was silent. He knew Ben's pluck, but did not believe it would take him thus far, for it looked as if there were two adults against a single boy.
Burwink however, was more of a man than his companion. He looked smilingly at Ben and said—"Jabez, I reckon this has gone far enough."