TRUE TO THE OLD FLAG
A TALE OF THE AMERICAN WAR OF INDEPENDENCE
By G. A. HENTY
Author Of "With Clive In India," "The Dragon And The Raven," "With Lee In Virginia," "By England's Aid," "In The Reign Of Terror," "With Wolfe In Canada," "Captain Bayley's Heir," Etc.
I. A FRONTIER FARM
II. AN INDIAN RAID
III. THE REDSKIN ATTACK
IV. THE FIGHT AT LEXINGTON
V. BUNKER'S HILL
VII. IN THE FOREST
IX. THE SURPRISE OF TRENTON
X. A TREACHEROUS PLANTER
XI. THE CAPTURE OF PHILADELPHIA
XII. THE SETTLER'S HUT
XV. THE ISLAND REFUGE
XVI. THE GREAT STORM
XVII. THE SCOUT'S STORY
XVIII. THE SIEGE OF SAVANNAH
XIX. IN AN AMERICAN PRISON
XX. THE WAR IN SOUTH CAROLINA
XXI. THE END OF THE STRUGGLE
MY DEAR LADS:
You have probably been accustomed to regard the war between England and her colonies in America as one in which we were not only beaten but, to some extent, humiliated. Owing to the war having been an unsuccessful one for our arms, British writers have avoided the subject, and it has been left for American historians to describe. These, writing for their own countrymen, and drawing for their facts upon gazettes, letters, and other documents emanating from one side only, have, naturally, and no doubt insensibly, given a very strong color to their own views of the events, and English writers have been too much inclined to accept their account implicitly. There is, however, another and very different side to the story, and this I have endeavored to show you. The whole of the facts and details connected with the war can be relied upon as accurate. They are drawn from the valuable account of the struggle written by Major Steadman, who served under Howe, Clinton, and Cornwallis, and from other authentic contemporary sources. You will see that, although unsuccessful,—and success was, under the circumstances, a sheer impossibility,—the British troops fought with a bravery which was never exceeded, and that their victories in actual conflict vastly outnumbered their defeats. Indeed, it may be doubted whether in any war in which this country has been engaged have our soldiers exhibited the qualities of endurance and courage to a higher degree.
Yours very sincerely,
G. A. HENTY.
TRUE TO THE OLD FLAG.
A FRONTIER FARM.
"Concord, March 1, 1774.
"MY DEAR COUSIN: I am leaving next week with my husband for England, where we intend to pass some time visiting his friends. John and I have determined to accept the invitation you gave us last summer for Harold to come and spend a few months with you. His father thinks that a great future will, ere many years, open in the West, and that it is therefore well the boy should learn something of frontier life. For myself, I would rather that he stayed quietly at home, for he is at present over-fond of adventure; but as my husband is meditating selling his estate here and moving West, it is perhaps better for him.
"Massachusetts is in a ferment, as indeed are all the Eastern States, and the people talk openly of armed resistance against the Government. My husband, being of English birth and having served in the king's army, cannot brook what he calls the rebellious talk which is common among his neighbors, and is already on bad terms with many around us. I myself am, as it were, a neutral. As an American woman, it seems to me that the colonists have been dealt with somewhat hardly by the English Parliament, and that the measures of the latter have been high-handed and arbitrary. Upon the other hand, I naturally incline toward my husband's views. He maintains that, as the king's army has driven out the French, and gives protection to the colony, it is only fair that the colonists should contribute to its expenses. The English ask for no contributions toward the expense of their own country, but demand that, at least, the expenses of the protection of the colony shall not be charged upon the heavily taxed people at home. As to the law that the colony shall trade only with the mother country, my husband says that this is the rule in the colonies of Spain, France, Portugal, and the Netherlands, and that the people here, who can obtain what land they choose and till it without rent, should not grumble at paying this small tax to the mother country. However it be, I fear that troubles will come, and, this place being the head and focus of the party hostile to England, my husband, feeling himself out of accord with all his neighbors, saying a few loyal gentlemen like himself, is thinking much and seriously of selling our estate here and of moving away into the new countries of the West, where he will be free from all the disputation and contentious talk which occupies men's time here.
"Indeed, cousin, times have sadly changed since you were staying here with us five years ago. Then our life was a peaceful and quiet one; now there is nothing but wrangling and strife. The dissenting clergy are, as my husband says was the case in England before the great civil war, the fomenters of this discontent. There are many busybodies who pass their time in stirring up the people by violent harangues and seditious writings; therefore everyone takes one side or the other, and there is neither peace nor comfort in life.
"Accustomed as I have always been to living in ease and affluence, I dread, somewhat, the thought of a life on the Indian frontier. One has heard so many dreadful stories of Indian fights and massacres that I tremble a little at the prospect; but I do not mention this to John, for as other women are, like yourself, brave enough to support these dangers, I would not appear a coward in his eyes. You will see, cousin, that, as this prospect is before us, it is well that Harold should learn the ways of a frontier life. Moreover, John does not like the thought of leaving him here while we are in England; for, as he says, the boy might learn to become a rebel in his absence; therefore, my dear cousin, we have resolved to send him to you. An opportunity offers, in the fact that a gentleman of our acquaintance is, with his family, going this week West, with the intention of settling there, and he will, he tells us, go first to Detroit, whence he will be able to send Harold forward to your farm. The boy himself is delighted at the thought, and promises to return an accomplished backwoodsman. John joins me in kind love to yourself and your husband, and believe me to remain,
"Your Affectionate Cousin,
Four months after the date of the above letter a lad some fifteen years old was walking with a man of middle age on the shores of Lake Huron. Behind them was a large clearing of about a hundred acres in extent; a comfortable house, with buildings for cattle, stood at a distance of some three hundred yards from the lake; broad fields of yellow corn waved brightly in the sun; and from the edge of the clearing came the sound of a woodsman's ax, showing that the proprietor was still enlarging the limits of his farm. Surrounding the house, at a distance of twenty yards, was a strong stockade some seven feet in height, formed of young trees, pointed at the upper end, squared, and fixed firmly in the ground. The house itself, although far more spacious and comfortable than the majority of backwood farmhouses, was built in the usual fashion, of solid logs, and was evidently designed to resist attack.
William Welch had settled ten years before on this spot, which was then far removed from the nearest habitation. It would have been a very imprudent act, under ordinary circumstances, to have established himself in so lonely a position, so far removed from the possibility of assistance in case of attack. He settled there, however, just after Pontiac, who was at the head of an alliance of all the Indian tribes of those parts, had, after the long and desperate siege of Fort Pitt, made peace with us upon finding that his friends, the French, had given up all thought of further resistance to the English, and had entirely abandoned the country. Mr. Welch thought, therefore, that a permanent peace was likely to reign on the frontier, and that he might safely establish himself in the charming location he had pitched upon, far removed from the confines of civilization.
The spot was a natural clearing of some forty acres in extent, sloping down to the water's edge, and a more charming site could hardly have been chosen. Mr. Welch had brought with him three farm laborers from the East, and, as time went on, he extended the clearing by cutting down the forest giants which bordered it.
But in spite of the beauty of the position, the fertility of the soil, the abundance of his crops, and the advantages afforded by the lake, both from its plentiful supply of fish and as a highway by which he could convey his produce to market, he had more than once regretted his choice of location. It was true that there had been no Indian wars on a large scale, but the Indians had several times broken out in sudden incursions. Three times he had been attacked, but, fortunately, only by small parties, which he had been enabled to beat off. Once, when a more serious danger threatened him, he had been obliged to embark, with his wife and child and his more valuable chattels, in the great scow in which he carried his produce to market, and had to take refuge in the settlements, to find, on his return, his buildings destroyed and his farm wasted. At that time he had serious thoughts of abandoning his location altogether, but the settlements were extending rapidly toward him, and, with the prospect of having neighbors before long and the natural reluctance to give up a place upon which he had expended so much toil, he decided to hold on; hoping that more quiet times would prevail, until other settlers would take up land around him.
The house had been rebuilt more strongly than before. He now employed four men, and had been unmolested since his return to his farm, three years before the date of this story. Already two or three locations had been taken up on the shores of the lake beyond him, a village had grown up thirty-five miles away, and several settlers had established themselves between that place and his home.
"So you are going out fishing this morning, Harold?" Mr. Welch said. "I hope you will bring back a good supply, for the larder is low. I was looking at you yesterday, and I see that you are becoming a first-rate hand at the management of a canoe."
"So I ought to be," the boy said, "considering that for nearly three months I have done nothing but shoot and fish."
"You have a sharp eye, Harold, and will make a good backwoodsman one of these days. You can shoot nearly as well as I can now. It is lucky that I had a good stock of powder and lead on hand; firing away by the hour together, as you do, consumes a large amount of ammunition. See, there is a canoe on the lake; it is coming this way, too. There is but one man in it; he is a white, by his clothes."
For a minute or two they stood watching the boat, and then, seeing that its course was directed toward the shore, they walked down to the edge of the lake to meet it.
"Ah, Pearson! is that you?" Mr. Welch asked. "I thought I knew your long, sweeping stroke at a distance. You have been hunting, I see; that is a fine stag you have got there. What is the news?"
"About as bad as can be, Master Welch," the hunter said. "The Iroquois have dug up the tomahawk again and are out on the war-path. They have massacred John Brent and his family. I heard a talk of it among some hunters I met ten days since in the woods. They said that the Iroquois were restless and that their chief, War Eagle, one of the most troublesome varmints on the whole frontier, had been stirring 'em up to war. He told 'em, I heard, that the pale-faces were pushing further and further into the Injun woods, and that, unless they drove 'em back, the redskin hunting grounds would be gone. I hoped that nothing would come of it, but I might have known better. When the redskins begin to stir there's sure to be mischief before they're quiet again."
The color had somewhat left Mr. Welch's cheeks as the hunter spoke.
"This is bad news, indeed, Pearson," he said gravely. "Are you sure about the attack on the Brents?"
"Sartin sure," the hunter said. "I met their herder; he had been down to Johnson's to fetch a barrel of pork. Just when he got back he heard the Injun yells and saw smoke rising in the clearing, so he dropped the barrel and made tracks. I met him at Johnson's, where he had just arrived. Johnson was packing up with all haste and was going to leave, and so I said I would take my canoe and come down the lake, giving you all warning on the way. I stopped at Burns' and Hooper's. Burns said he should clear out at once, but Hooper talked about seeing it through. He's got no wife to be skeary about, and reckoned that, with his two hands, he could defend his log hut. I told him I reckoned he would get his har raised if the Injuns came that way; but, in course, that's his business."
"What do you advise, Pearson? I do not like abandoning this farm to the mercy of the redskins."
"It would be a pity, Master Welch, that's as true as Gospel. It's the likeliest clearing within fifty miles round, and you've fixed the place up as snug and comfortable as if it were a farm in the old provinces. In course the question is what this War Eagle intends to do. His section of the tribe is pretty considerable strong, and although at present I aint heard that any others have joined, these Injuns are like barrels of gunpowder: when the spark is once struck there's no saying how far the explosion may spread. When one band of 'em sees as how another is taking scalps and getting plunder and honor, they all want to be at the same work. I reckon War Eagle has got some two hundred braves who will follow him; but when the news spreads that he has begun his work, all the Iroquois, to say nothing of the Shawnees, Delawares, and other varmint, may dig up the hatchet. The question is what War Eagle's intentions are. He may make a clean sweep down, attacking all the outlying farms and waiting till he is joined by a lot more of the red reptiles before attacking the settlements. Then, on the other hand, he may think himself strong enough to strike a blow at Gloucester and some other border villages at once. In that case he might leave the outlying farms alone, as the news of the burning of these would reach the settlements and put 'em on their guard, and he knows, in course, that if he succeeds there he can eat you all up at his leisure."
"The attack upon Brent's place looks as if he meant to make a clean sweep down," Mr. Welch said.
"Well," the hunter continued thoughtfully, "I don't know as I sees it in that light. Brent's place was a long way from any other. He might have wished to give his band a taste of blood, and so raise their spirits, and he might reasonably conclude that naught would be known about it for days, perhaps weeks to come. Then, again, the attack might have been made by some straggling party without orders. It's a dubious question. You've got four hands here, I think, and yourself. I have seen your wife shoot pretty straight with a rifle, so she can count as one, and as this young un, here, has a good idea, too, with his shooting-iron, that makes six guns. Your place is a strong one, and you could beat off any straggling party. My idea is that War Eagle, who knows pretty well that the place would make a stout fight, won't waste his time by making a regular attack upon it. You might hold out for twenty-four hours; the clearing is open and there aint no shelter to be had. He would be safe to lose a sight of men, and this would be a bad beginning, and would discourage his warriors greatly. No, I reckon War Eagle will leave you alone for the present. Maybe he will send a scout to see whether you are prepared; it's as likely as not that one is spying at us somewhere among the trees now. I should lose no time in driving in the animals and getting well in shelter. When they see you are prepared they will leave you alone; at least, for the present. Afterward there's no saying—that will depend on how they get on at the settlements. If they succeed there and get lots of booty and plenty of scalps, they may march back without touching you; they will be in a hurry to get to their villages and have their feasts and dancing. If they are beaten off at the settlements I reckon they will pay you a visit for sure; they won't go back without scalps. They will be savage like, and won't mind losing some men for the sake of having something to brag about when they get back. And now, Master Welch, I must be going on, for I want to take the news down to the settlements before War Eagle gets there, and he may be ahead of me now, for aught I know. I don't give you no advice as to what you had best do; you can judge the circumstances as well as I can. When I have been to the settlements and put them on their guard, maybe I shall be coming back again, and, in that case, you know Jack Pearson's rifle is at your disposal. You may as well tote this stag up to the house. You won't be doing much hunting just for the present, and the meat may come in handy."
The stag was landed, and a minute later the canoe shot away from shore under the steady stroke of the hunter's powerful arms. Mr. Welch at once threw the stag over his shoulders and, accompanied by Harold, strode away toward the house. On reaching it he threw down the stag at the door, seized a rope which hung against the wall, and the sounds of a large bell, rung in quick, sharp strokes, summoned the hands from the fields. The sound of the woodman's ax ceased at once, and the shouts of the men, as they drove the cattle toward the house, rose on the still air.
"What is the matter, William?" Mrs. Welch asked as she ran from the house.
"I have bad news, my dear. The Indians are out again, and I fear we may have trouble before us. We must hope that they will not come in this direction, but must be prepared for the worst. Wait till I see all the hands and beasts in the stockade, and then we can talk the matter over quietly."
In a few minutes the hands arrived, driving before them the horses and cattle.
"What is it, boss?" they asked. "Was that the alarm bell sure enough?"
"The Indians are out again," Mr. Welch said, "and in force. They have massacred the Brents and are making toward the settlements. They may come this way or they may not; at any rate, we must be prepared for them. Get the beasts into the sheds, and then do you all take scythes and set to work to cut down that patch of corn, which is high enough to give them shelter; there's nothing else which will cover them within a hundred yards of the house. Of course you will take your rifles with you and keep a sharp lookout; but they will have heard the bell, if they are in the neighborhood, and will guess that we are on the alert, so they are not likely to attempt a surprise. Shut one of the gates and leave the other ajar, with the bar handy to put up in case you have to make a run for it. Harold will go up to the lookout while you are at work."
Having seen that all was attended to, Mr. Welch went into the house, where his wife was going about her work as usual, pale, but quiet and resolute.
"Now, Jane," he said, "sit down, and I will tell you exactly how matters stand, as far as Pearson, who brought the news, has told me. Then you shall decide as to the course we had better take."
After he had told her all that Pearson had said, and the reasons for and against expecting an early attack, he went on:
"Now, it remains for you, my dear, to decide whether we shall stay and defend the place till the last against any attack that may be made, or whether we shall at once embark in the scow and make our way down to the settlements."
"What do you think, William?" his wife asked.
"I scarcely know, myself," he answered; "but, if I had quite my own way, I should send you and Nelly down to the settlements in the scow and fight it out here with the hands."
"You certainly will not have your own way in that," his wife said. "If you go of course I go; if you stay I stay. I would a thousand times rather go through a siege here, and risk the worst, than go down to Gloucester and have the frightful anxiety of not knowing what was happening here. Besides, it is very possible, as you say, that the Indians may attack the settlement itself. Many of the people there have had no experience in Indian war, and the redskins are likely to be far more successful in their surprise there than they would be here. If we go we should have to leave our house, our barns, our stacks, and our animals to the mercy of the savages. Your capital is pretty nearly all embarked here now, and the loss of all this would be ruin to us. At any rate, William, I am ready to stay here and to risk what may come if you are. A life on the frontier is necessarily a life of danger, and if we are to abandon everything and to have to commence life afresh every time the Indians go on the war-path, we had better give it up at once and return to Massachusetts."
"Very well, my dear," her husband said gravely. "You are a true frontiersman's wife; you have chosen as I should have done. It is a choice of evils; but God has blessed and protected us since we came out into the wilderness—we will trust and confide in him now. At any rate," he went on more cheerfully, "there is no fear of the enemy starving us out. We got in our store of provisions only a fortnight since, and have enough of everything for a three-months' siege. There is no fear of our well failing us; and as for ammunition, we have abundance. Seeing how Harold was using powder and ball, I had an extra supply when the stores came in the other day. There is plenty of corn in the barn for the animals for months, and I will have the corn which the men are cutting brought in as a supply of food for the cows. It will be useful for another purpose, too; we will keep a heap of it soaked with water and will cover the shingles with it in case of attack. It will effectually quench their fire arrows."
The day passed off without the slightest alarm, and by nightfall the patch of corn was cleared away and an uninterrupted view of the ground for the distance of a hundred yards from the house was afforded. When night fell two out of the four dogs belonging to the farm were fastened out in the open, at a distance of from seventy to eighty yards of the house, the others being retained within the stockade. The garrison was divided into three watches, two men being on the alert at a time, relieving each other every three hours. Mr. Welch took Harold as his companion on the watch. The boy was greatly excited at the prospect of a struggle. He had often read of the desperate fights between the frontier settlers and the Indians, and had longed to take a share in the adventurous work. He could scarcely believe that the time had come and that he was really a sharer in what might be a desperate struggle.
The first watch was set at nine, and at twelve Mr. Welch and Harold came on duty. The men they relieved reported that all was silent in the woods, and that they had heard no suspicious cries of any kind. When the men had returned to their room Mr. Welch told Harold that he should take a turn round the stockade and visit the dogs. Harold was to keep watch at the gate, to close it after he went out, to put up the bar, and to stand beside it ready to open it instantly if called upon.
Then the farmer stepped out into the darkness and, treading noiselessly, at once disappeared from Harold's sight. The latter closed the gate, replaced the heavy bar, and stood with one hand on this and the other holding his rifle, listening intently. Once he thought he heard a low growling from one of the dogs, but this presently ceased, and all was quiet again. The gate was a solid one, formed of strong timbers placed at a few inches apart and bolted to horizontal bars.
Presently he felt the gate upon which his hand rested quiver, as if pressure was applied from without. His first impulse was to say, "Is that you?" but Mr. Welch had told him that he would give a low whistle as he approached the gate; he therefore stood quiet, with his whole attention absorbed in listening. Without making the least stir he peered through the bars and made out two dark figures behind them. After once or twice shaking the gate, one took his place against it and the other sprang upon his shoulders.
Harold looked up and saw a man's head appear against the sky. Dim as was the light, he could see that it was no European head-gear, a long feather or two projecting from it. In an instant he leveled his rifle and fired. There was a heavy fall and then all was silent. Harold again peered through the bars. The second figure had disappeared, and a black mass lay at the foot of the gate.
In an instant the men came running from the house, rifles in hand.
"What is it?" they exclaimed. "Where is Mr. Welch?"
"He went out to scout round the house, leaving me at the gate," Harold said. "Two men, I think Indians, came up; one was getting over the gate when I shot him. I think he is lying outside—the other has disappeared."
"We must get the master in," one of the men said. "He is probably keeping away, not knowing what has happened. Mr. Welch," he shouted, "it is all safe here, so far as we know; we are all on the lookout to cover you as you come up."
Immediately a whistle was heard close to the gate. This was cautiously opened a few inches, and was closed and barred directly Mr. Welch entered.
Harold told him what had happened.
"I thought it was something of the sort. I heard Wolf growl and felt sure that it was not at me. I threw myself down and crept up to him and found him shot through the heart with an Indian arrow. I was crawling back to the house when I heard Harold's shot. Then I waited to see if it was followed by the war-whoop, which the redskins would have raised at once, on finding that they were discovered, had they been about to attack in force. Seeing that all was quiet, I conjectured that it was probably an attempt on the part of a spy to discover if we were upon the alert. Then I heard your call and at once came on. I do not expect any attack to-night now, as these fellows must have been alone; but we will all keep watch till the morning. You have done very well, Harold, and have shown yourself a keen watchman. It is fortunate that you had the presence of mind neither to stir nor to call out when you first heard them; for, had you done so, you would probably have got an arrow between your ribs, as poor Wolf has done."
When it was daylight, and the gate was opened, the body of an Indian was seen lying without; a small mark on his forehead showed where Harold's bullet had entered; death being instantaneous. His war-paint and the embroidery of his leggings showed him at once to be an Iroquois. Beside him lay his bow, with an arrow which had evidently been fitted to the string for instant work. Harold shuddered when he saw it and congratulated himself on having stood perfectly quiet. A grave was dug a short distance away, the Indian was buried, and the household proceeded about their work.
The day, as was usual in households in America, was begun with prayer, and the supplications of Mr. Welch for the protection of God over the household were warm and earnest. The men proceeded to feed the animals; these were then turned out of the inclosure, one of the party being always on watch in the little tower which they had erected for that purpose some ten or twelve feet above the roof of the house. From this spot a view was obtainable right over the clearing to the forest which surrounded it on three sides. The other hands proceeded to cut down more of the corn, so as to extend the level space around the house.
AN INDIAN RAID.
That day and the next passed quietly. The first night the man who was on watch up to midnight remarked to Mr. Welch, when he relieved him, that it seemed to him that there were noises in the air.
"What sort of noises, Jackson—calls of night-birds or animals? If so, the Indians are probably around us."
"No," the man said; "all is still round here, but I seem to feel the noise rather than hear it. I should say that it was firing, very many miles off."
"The night is perfectly still, and the sound of a gun would be heard a long way."
"I cannot say that I have heard a gun; it is rather a tremble in the air than a sound."
When the man they had relieved had gone down and all was still again, Mr. Welch and Harold stood listening intently.
"Jackson was right," the farmer said; "there is something in the air. I can feel it rather than hear it. It is a sort of murmur no louder than a whisper. Do you hear it, Harold?"
"I seem to hear something," Harold said. "It might be the sound of the sea a very long way off, just as one can hear it many miles from the coast, on a still night at home. What do you think it is?"
"If it is not fancy," Mr. Welch replied, "and I do not think that we should all be deceived, it is an attack upon Gloucester."
"But Gloucester is thirty-five miles away," Harold answered.
"It is," Mr. Welch replied; "but on so still a night as this sounds can be heard from an immense distance. If it is not this, I cannot say what it is."
Upon the following night, just as Mr. Welch's watch was at an end, a low whistle was heard near the gate.
"Who is there?" Mr. Welch at once challenged.
"Jack Pearson, and the sooner you open the gate the better. There's no saying where these red devils may be lying round."
Harold and the farmer instantly ran down and opened the gate.
"I should advise you to stop down here," the hunter said as they replaced the bars. "If you did not hear me you certainly would not hear the redskins, and they'd all be over the palisade before you had time to fire a shot. I'm glad to see you safe, for I was badly skeared lest I should find nothing but a heap of ashes here."
The next two men now turned out, and Mr. Welch led his visitor into the house and struck a light.
"Halloo, Pearson! you must have been in a skirmish," he said, seeing that the hunter's head was bound up with a bloodstained bandage.
"It was all that," Pearson said, "and wuss. I went down to Gloucester and told 'em what I had heard, but the darned fools tuk it as quiet as if all King George's troops with fixed bayonets had been camped round 'em. The council got together and palavered for an hour, and concluded that there was no chance whatever of the Iroquois venturing to attack such a powerful place as Gloucester. I told 'em that the redskins would go over their stockade at a squirrel's jump, and that as War Eagle alone had at least 150 braves, while there warn't more than 50 able-bodied men in Gloucester and all the farms around it, things would go bad with 'em if they didn't mind. But bless yer, they knew more than I did about it. Most of 'em had moved from the East and had never seen an Injun in his war-paint. Gloucester had never been attacked since it was founded nigh ten years ago, and they didn't see no reason why it should be attacked now. There was a few old frontiersmen like myself among 'em who did their best to stir 'em up, but it was no manner of good. When the council was over we put our heads together, and just went through the township a-talking to the women, and we hadn't much difficulty in getting up such a skear among 'em that before nightfall every one of 'em in the farms around made their husbands move into the stockade of the village.
"When the night passed off quietly most of the men were just as savage with us as if it had been a false alarm altogether. I p'inted out that it was not because War Eagle had left 'em alone that night that he was bound to do so the next night or any night after. But in spite of the women they would have started out to their farms the fust thing in the morning, if a man hadn't come in with the news that Carter's farm had been burned and the whole of the people killed and scalped. As Carter's farm lay only about fifteen miles off this gave 'em a skear, and they were as ready now to believe in the Injuns as I had tried to make 'em the night before. Then they asked us old hands to take the lead and promised to do what we told 'em, but when it came to it their promises were not worth the breath they had spent upon 'em. There were eight or ten houses outside the stockade, and in course we wanted these pulled down; but they wouldn't hear of it. Howsomever, we got 'em to work to strengthen the stockades, to make loop-holes in the houses near 'em, to put up barricades from house to house, and to prepare generally for a fight. We divided into three watches.
"Well, just as I expected, about eleven o'clock at night the Injuns attacked. Our watch might just as well have been asleep for any good they did, for it was not till the redskins had crept up to the stockade all round and opened fire between the timbers on 'em that they knew that they were near. I'll do 'em justice to say that they fought stiff enough then, and for four hours they held the line of houses; every redskin who climbed the stockade fell dead inside it. Four fires had been lighted directly they attacked to enable us to keep 'em from scaling the stockade, but they showed us to the enemy, of course.
"The redskins took possession of the houses which we had wanted to pull down, and precious hot they made it for us. Then they shot such showers of burning arrows into the village that half of the houses were soon alight. We tried to get our men to sally out and to hold the line of stockade, when we might have beaten 'em off if all the village had been burned down; but it were no manner of good; each man wanted to stick to his wife and family till the last. As the flames went up every man who showed himself was shot down, and when at last more than half our number had gone under the redskins brought up fagots, piled 'em against the stockade outside, and then the hull tribe came bounding over. Our rifles were emptied, for we couldn't get the men to hold their fire, but some of us chaps as knew what was coming gave the redskins a volley as they poured in.
"I don't know much as happened after that. Jack Robins and Bill Shuter, who were old pals of mine, and me made up our minds what to do, and we made a rush for a small gate that there was in the stockade, just opposite where the Injuns came in. We got through safe enough, but they had left men all round. Jack Robins he was shot dead. Bill and I kept straight on. We had a grapple with some of the redskins; two or three on 'em went down, and Bill and I got through and had a race for it till we got fairly into the forest. Bill had a ball in the shoulder, and I had a clip across the head with a tomahawk. We had a council, and Bill went off to warn some of the other settlements and I concluded to take to the water and paddle back to you, not knowing whether I should find that the redskins had been before me. I thought anyway that I might stop your going down to Gloucester, and that if there was a fight you would be none the worse for an extra rifle."
Mr. Welch told the hunter of the visit of the two Indian spies two nights before.
"Waal," the hunter said, "I reckon for the present you are not likely to be disturbed. The Injuns have taken a pile of booty and something like two hundred scalps, counting the women and children, and they moved off at daybreak this morning in the direction of Tottenham, which I reckon they'll attack tonight. Howsomever, Bill has gone on there to warn 'em, and after the sack of Gloucester the people of Tottenham won't be caught napping, and there are two or three old frontiersmen who have settled down there, and War Eagle will get a hot reception if he tries it. As far as his band is concerned, you're safe for some days. The only fear is that some others of the tribe, hurrying up at hearing of his success, may take this place as they go past. And now I guess I'll take a few hours' sleep. I haven't closed an eye for the last two nights."
A week passed quietly. Pearson, after remaining two days, again went down the lake to gather news, and returned a day later with the intelligence that almost all the settlements had been deserted by their inhabitants. The Indians were out in great strength and had attacked the settlers at many points along the frontier, committing frightful devastations.
Still another week passed, and Mr. Welch began to hope that his little clearing had been overlooked and forgotten by the Indians. The hands now went about their work as usual, but always carried arms with them, while one was constantly stationed on the watch-tower. Harold resumed his fishing; never, however, going out of sight of the house. Sometimes he took with him little Nelly Welch; it being considered that she was as safe in the canoe as she was in the house, especially as the boat was always in sight, and the way up from the landing to the house was under cover of the rifles of the defenders; so that, even in case of an attack, they would probably be able to make their way back.
One afternoon they had been out together for two or three hours; everything looked as quiet and peaceable as usual; the hands were in the fields near the house, a few of the cows grazing close to the gate. Harold had been successful in his fishing and had obtained as many fish as he could carry. He stepped out from the canoe, helped Nelly to land, slung his rifle across his back, and picked up the fish, which were strung on a withe passed through their gills.
He had made but a few steps when a yell arose, so loud and terrible that for a moment his heart seemed to stop beating. Then from the cornfields leaped up a hundred dark figures; then came the sharp crack of rifles, and two of the hands dashed down at full speed toward the house. One had fallen. The fourth man was in the watch-tower. The surprise had been complete. The Indians had made their way like snakes through the long corn, whose waving had been unperceived by the sentinel, who was dozing at his post, half-asleep in the heat of the sun. Harold saw in a moment that it was too late for him to regain the house; the redskins were already nearer to it than he was.
"Now, Nelly! into the boat again—quick!" he said. "We must keep out of the way till it's all over."
Nelly was about twelve years old, and her life in the woods had given her a courage and quickness beyond her years. Without wasting a moment on cries or lamentations, she sprang back into the canoe. Harold took his place beside her, and the light craft darted rapidly out into the lake. Not until he was some three or four hundred yards from the shore did Harold pause to look round. Then, when he felt he was out of gunshot distance, he ceased paddling. The fight was raging now around the house; from loop-holes and turret the white puffs of smoke darted angrily out. The fire had not been ineffectual, for several dark forms could be seen lying round the stockade, and the bulk of the Indians, foiled in their attempt to carry the place at a rush, had taken shelter in the corn and kept up a scattering fire round the house, broken only on the side facing the lake, where there was no growing crop to afford them shelter.
"They are all right now," Harold said cheerfully.
"Do not be anxious, Nelly; they will beat them off, Pearson is a host in himself. I expect he must have been lying down when the attack was made. I know he was scouting round the house all night. If he had been on the watch, those fellows would never have succeeded in creeping up so close unobserved."
"I wish we were inside," Nelly said, speaking for the first time. "If I were only with them, I should not mind."
"I am sure I wish we were," Harold agreed. "It is too hard being useless out here when such a splendid fight is going on. Ah! they have their eyes on us!" he exclaimed as a puff of smoke burst out from some bushes near the shore and a ball came skipping along on the surface of the water, sinking, however, before it reached it.
"Those Indian muskets are no good," Harold said contemptuously, "and the trade powder the Indians get is very poor stuff; but I think that they are well within range of my rifle."
The weapon which Harold carried was an English rifle of very perfect make and finish, which his father had given him on parting.
"Now," he said, "do you paddle the canoe a few strokes nearer the shore, Nelly. We shall still be beyond the range of that fellow. He will fire again and I shall see exactly where he is lying."
Nelly, who was efficient in the management of a canoe, took the paddle, and dipping it in the water the boat moved slowly toward the shore. Harold sat with his rifle across his knees, looking intently over the bows of the boat toward the bush from which the shot had come.
"That's near enough, Nelly," he said.
The girl stopped paddling, and the hidden foe, seeing that they did not mean to come nearer the shore, again fired. Harold's rifle was in an instant against his shoulder; he sat immovable for a moment and then fired.
Instantly a dark figure sprang from the bush, staggered a few steps up the slope, and then fell headlong.
"That was a pretty good shot," Harold said. "Your father told me, when I saw a stag's horns above a bush, to fire about two feet behind them and eighteen inches lower. I fired a foot below the flash, and I expect I hit him through the body. I had the sight at three hundred yards and fired a little above it. Now, Nelly, paddle out again. See!" he said, "there is a shawl waving from the top of the tower. Put your hat on the paddle and wave it."
"What are you thinking of doing, Harold?" the girl asked presently.
"That is just what I have been asking myself for the last ten minutes," Harold replied. "It is quite clear that as long as the siege is kept up we cannot get back again, and there is no saying how long it may last. The first thing is, what chance is there of their pursuing us? Are there any other canoes on the lake within a short distance?"
"They have one at Braithwaite's," the girl said, "four miles off; but look, there is Pearson's canoe lying by the shore."
"So there is!" Harold exclaimed. "I never thought of that. I expect the Indians have not noticed it. The bank is rather high where it is lying. They are sure to find it, sooner or later. I think, Nelly, the best plan would be to paddle back again so as to be within the range of my rifle while still beyond the reach of theirs. I think I can keep them from using the boat until it is dark."
"But after it is dark, Harold?"
"Well, then, we must paddle out into the lake so as to be well out of sight. When it gets quite dark we can paddle in again and sleep safely anywhere a mile or two from the house."
An hour passed without change. Then Nelly said: "There is a movement in the bushes near the canoe." Presently an arm was extended and proceeded to haul the canoe toward the shore by its head-rope. As it touched the bank an Indian rose from the bushes and was about to step in, while a number of puffs of smoke burst out along the shore and the bullets skipped over the water toward the canoe, one of them striking it with sufficient force to penetrate the thin bark a few inches above the water's edge. Harold had not moved, but as the savage stepped into the canoe he fired, and the Indian fell heavily into the water, upsetting the canoe as he did so.
A yell of rage broke from his comrades.
"I don't think they will try that game again as long as it is daylight," Harold said. "Paddle a little further out again, Nelly. If that bullet had hit you it would have given you a nasty blow, though I don't think it would have penetrated; still we may as well avoid accidents."
After another hour passed the fire round the house ceased.
"Do you think the Indians have gone away?" Nelly asked.
"I am afraid there is no chance of that," Harold said. "I expect they are going to wait till night and then try again. They are not fond of losing men, and Pearson and your father are not likely to miss anything that comes within their range as long as daylight lasts."
"But after dark, Harold?"
"Oh, they will try all sorts of tricks; but Pearson is up to them all. Don't you worry about them, dear."
The hours passed slowly away until at last the sun sank and the darkness came on rapidly. So long as he could see the canoe, which just floated above the water's edge, Harold maintained his position; then taking one paddle, while Nelly handled the other, he sent the boat flying away from the shore out into the lake. For a quarter of an hour they paddled straight out. By this time the outline of the shore could be but dimly perceived. Harold doubted whether it would be possible to see the boat from shore, but in order to throw the Indians off the scent, should this be the case, he turned the boat's head to the south and paddled swiftly until it was perfectly dark.
"I expect they saw us turn south," he said to Nelly. "The redskins have wonderful eyes; so, if they pursue at all, they will do it in that direction. No human being, unless he borrowed the eyes of an owl, could see us now, so we will turn and paddle the other way."
For two hours they rowed in this direction.
"We can go in to shore now," Harold said at last. "We must be seven or eight miles beyond the house."
The distance to the shore was longer than they expected, for they had only the light of the stars to guide them and neither had any experience in night traveling. They had made much further out into the lake than they had intended. At length the dark line of trees rose in front of them, and in a few minutes the canoe lay alongside the bank and its late occupants were stretched on a soft layer of moss and fallen leaves.
"What are we going to do to-morrow about eating?" Nelly asked.
"There are four or five good-sized fish in the bottom of the canoe," Harold replied. "Fortunately we caught more than I could carry, and I intended to make a second trip from the house for these. I am afraid we shall not be able to cook them, for the Indians can see smoke any distance. If the worst comes to the worst we must eat them raw, but we are sure to find some berries in the wood to-morrow. Now, dear, you had better go to sleep as fast as you can; but first let us kneel down and pray God to protect us and your father and mother."
The boy and girl knelt in the darkness and said their simple prayers. Then they lay down, and Harold was pleased to hear in a few minutes the steady breathing which told him that his cousin was asleep. It was a long time before he followed her example. During the day he had kept up a brave front and had endeavored to make the best of their position, but now that he was alone he felt the full weight of the responsibility of guiding his companion through the extreme danger which threatened them both. He felt sure that the Indians would prolong the siege for some time, as they would be sure that no re-enforcements could possibly arrive in aid of the garrison. Moreover, he by no means felt so sure as he had pretended to his companion of the power of the defenders of the house to maintain a successful resistance to so large a number of their savage foes. In the daylight he felt certain they could beat them off, but darkness neutralizes the effect both of superior arms and better marksmanship. It was nearly midnight before he lay down with the determination to sleep, but scarcely had he done so when he was aroused by an outburst of distant firing. Although six or seven miles from the scene of the encounter, the sound of each discharge came distinct to the ear along the smooth surface of the lake, and he could even hear, mingled with the musketry fire, the faint yells of the Indians. For hours, as it seemed to him, he sat listening to the distant contest, and then he, unconsciously to himself, dozed off to sleep, and awoke with a start, to find Nelly sitting up beside him and the sun streaming down through the boughs. He started to his feet.
"Bless me!" he exclaimed, "I did not know that I had been asleep. It seems but an instant ago that I was listening"—and here he checked himself—"that is, that I was wide awake, and here we are in broad daylight."
Harold's first care was to examine the position of the canoe, and he found that fortunately it had touched the shore at a spot where the boughs of the trees overhead drooped into the water beyond it, so that it could not be seen by anyone passing along the lake. This was the more fortunate as he saw, some three miles away, a canoe with three figures on board. For a long distance on either side the boughs of the trees drooped into the water, with only an opening here and there such as that through which the boat had passed the night before.
"We must be moving, Nelly. Here are the marks where we scrambled up the bank last night. If the Indians take it into their heads to search the shore both ways, as likely enough they may do, they will be sure to see them. In the first place let us gather a stock of berries, and then we will get into the boat again and paddle along under this arcade of boughs till we get to some place where we can land without leaving marks of our feet. If the Indians find the place where we landed here, they will suppose that we went off again before daylight."
For some time they rambled in the woods and succeeded in gathering a store of berries and wild fruit. Upon these Nelly made her breakfast, but Harold's appetite was sufficiently ravenous to enable him to fall to upon the fish, which, he declared, were not so bad, after all. Then they took their places in the canoe again and paddled on for nearly a mile.
"See, Harold!" Nelly exclaimed as she got a glimpse through the boughs into the lake, "there is another canoe. They must have got the Braithwaite boat. We passed their place coming here, you know. I wonder what has happened there."
"What do you think is best to do, Nelly?" Harold asked. "Your opinion is just as good as mine about it. Shall we leave our canoe behind, land, and take to the woods, or shall we stop quietly in the canoe in shelter here, or shall we take to the lake and trust to our speed to get away? in which case, you know, if they should come up I could pick them off with my gun before they got within reach.
"I don't think that would do," the girl said, shaking her head. "You shoot very well, but it is not an easy thing to hit a moving object if you are not accustomed to it, and they paddle so fast that if you miss them once they would be close alongside—at any rate we should be within reach of their guns—before you could load again. They would be sure to catch us, for although we might paddle nearly as fast for a time, they would certainly tire us out. Then, as to waiting here in the canoe, if they came along on foot looking for us we should be in their power. It is dreadful to think of taking to the woods with Indians all about, but I really think that would be our safest plan."
"I think so too, Nelly, if we can manage to do it without leaving a track. We must not go much further, for the trees are getting thinner ahead and we should be seen by the canoes."
Fifty yards further Harold stopped paddling.
"Here is just the place, Nelly."
At this point a little stream of three or four feet wide emerged into the lake; Harold directed the boat's head toward it. The water in the stream was but a few inches deep.
"Now, Nelly," he said, "we must step out into the water and walk up it as far as we can go—it will puzzle even the sharpest redskin to find our track then."
They stepped into the water, Harold taking the head-rope of the canoe and towing the light boat—which, when empty, did not draw more than two inches of water—behind him. He directed Nelly to be most careful as she walked not to touch any of the bushes, which at times nearly met across the stream.
"A broken twig or withered leaf would be quite enough to tell the Indians that we came along this way," he said. "Where the bushes are thick you must manage to crawl under them. Never mind about getting wet—you will soon dry again."
Slowly and cautiously they made their way up the stream for nearly a mile. It had for some distance been narrowing rapidly, being only fed by little rills from the surrounding swamp land. Harold had so far looked in vain for some spot where they could land without leaving marks of their feet. Presently they came to a place where a great tree had fallen across the stream.
"This will do, Nelly," Harold said. "Now, above all things you must be careful not to break off any of the moss or bark. You had better take your shoes off; then I will lift you on to the trunk and you can walk along it without leaving a mark."
It was hard work for Nelly to take off her drenched boots, but she managed at last. Harold lifted her on to the trunk and said:
"Walk along as far as you can and get down as lightly as possible on to a firm piece of ground. It rises rapidly here and is, I expect, a dry soil where the upper end of the tree lies."
"How are you going to get out, Harold?"
"I can swing myself up by that projecting root."
Before proceeding to do so Harold raised one end of the canoe and placed it on the trunk of the tree; then, having previously taken off his shoes, he swung himself on to the trunk; hauling up the light bark canoe and taking especial pains that it did not grate upon the trunk, he placed it on his head and followed Nelly along the tree. He found, as he had expected, that the ground upon which the upper end lay was firm and dry. He stepped down with great care, and was pleased to see, as he walked forward, that no trace of a footmark was left.
"Be careful, Nelly," he exclaimed when he joined her, "not to tread on a stick or disturb a fallen leaf with your feet, and above all to avoid breaking the smallest twig as you pass. Choose the most open ground, as that is the hardest."
In about a hundred yards they came upon a large clump of bushes.
"Now, Nelly, raise those lower boughs as gently and as carefully as you can. I will push the canoe under. I don't think the sharpest Indian will be able to take up our track now."
Very carefully the canoe was stowed away, and when the boughs were allowed to fall in their natural position it was completely hidden from sight to every passer-by. Harold took up the fish, Nelly had filled her apron with the berries, and carrying their shoes—for they agreed that it would be safer not to put them on—they started on their journey through the deep forest.
THE REDSKIN ATTACK.
Mr. Welch was with the men, two or three hundred yards away from the house, when the Indians suddenly sprang out and opened fire. One of the men fell beside him; the farmer stooped to lift him, but saw that he was shot through the head. Then he ran with full speed toward the house, shouting to the hands to make straight for the gate, disregarding the cattle. Several of these, however, alarmed at the sudden outburst of fire and the yells of the Indians, made of their own accord for the stables as their master rushed up at full speed. The Indians were but fifty or sixty yards behind when Mr. Welch reached his gate. They had all emptied their pieces, and after the first volley no shots had been fired save one by the watchman on the lookout. Then came the crack of Pearson's rifle just as Mr. Welch shut the gate and laid the bar in its place. Several spare guns had been placed in the upper chambers, and three reports rang out together, for Mrs. Welch had run upstairs at the first alarm to take her part in the defense.
In another minute the whole party, now six in all, were gathered in the upper room.
"Where are Nelly and Harold?" Mr. Welch exclaimed. "I saw the canoe close to the shore just before the Indians opened fire," the watchman answered.
"You must have been asleep," Pearson said savagely. "Where were your eyes to let them redskins crawl up through the corn without seeing 'em? With such a crowd of 'em the corn must have been a-waving as if it was blowing a gale. You ought to have a bullet in yer ugly carkidge, instead of its being in yer mate's out there."
While this conversation was going on no one had been idle. Each took up his station at a loop-hole, and several shots were fired whenever the movement of a blade of corn showed the lurking place of an Indian.
The instant the gate had been closed War Eagle had called his men back to shelter, for he saw that all chance of a surprise was now over, and it was contrary to all redskin strategy to remain for one moment unnecessarily exposed to the rifles of the whites. The farmer and his wife had rushed at once up into the lookout as the Indians drew off and, to their joy, saw the canoe darting away from shore.
"They are safe for the present, thank God!" Mr. Welch said. "It is providential indeed that they had not come a little further from the shore when the redskins broke out. Nothing could have saved them, had they fairly started for the house."
"What will they do, William?" asked his wife anxiously.
"I cannot tell you, my dear. I do not know what I should do myself under the circumstances. However, the boy has got a cool head on his shoulders, and you need not be anxious for the present. Now let us join the others. Our first duty is to take our share in the defense of the house. The young ones are in the hands of God. We can do nothing for them." "Well?" Pearson asked, looking round from his loop-hole as the farmer and his wife descended into the room, which was a low garret extending over the whole of the house. "Do you see the canoe?"
"Yes, it has got safely away," William Welch said; "but what the lad will do now is more than I can say."
Pearson placed his rifle against the wall. "Now keep your eyes skinned," he said to the three farm hands.
"One of yer's done mischief enough this morning already, and you'll get your har raised, as sure as you're born, unless you look out sharp. Now," he went on, turning to the Welches, "let us go down and talk this matter over. The Injuns may keep on firing, but I don't think they'll show in the open again as long as it's light enough for us to draw bead on 'em. Yes," he went on, as he looked through a loop-hole in the lower story over the lake, "there they are, just out of range."
"What do you think they will do?" Mrs. Welch asked.
The hunter was silent for a minute.
"It aint a easy thing to say what they ought to do, much less what they will do; it aint a good outlook anyway, and I don't know what I should do myself. The whole of the woods on this side of the lake are full of the darned red critters. There's a hundred eyes on that canoe now, and, go where they will, they'll be watched."
"But why should they not cross the lake and land on the other side?" Mr. Welch said.
"If you and I were in that canoe," the hunter answered, "that's about what we should do; but, not to say that it's a long row for 'em, they two young uns would never get across; the Injuns would have 'em before they had been gone an hour. There's my canoe lying under the bushes; she'd carry four, and would go three feet to their two."
"I had forgotten about that," William Welch said, and then added, after a pause: "The Indians may not find it."
"You needn't hope that," the hunter answered; "they have found it long before this. I don't want to put you out of heart; but I tell ye ye'll see them on the water before many minutes have passed."
"Then they are lost," Mrs. Welch said, sinking down in her chair and bursting into tears.
"They air in God's hands, ma'am," the hunter said, "and it's no use trying to deceive you."
"Would it be of any use," William Welch asked, after a pause, "for me to offer the redskins that my wife and I will go out and put ourselves in their hands if they will let the canoe go off without pursuit?"
"Not it," the hunter replied decidedly. "You would be throwing away your own lives without saving theirs, not to mention, although that doesn't matter a straw, the lives of the rest of us here. It will be as much as we can do, when they attack us in earnest, to hold this place with six guns, and with only four the chance would be worth nothing. But that's neither here nor there. You wouldn't save the young ones if you gave yourselves up. You can't trust the word of an Injun on the war-path, and if they went so far as not to kill 'em they would carry 'em off; and, after all, I aint sure as death aint better for 'em than to be brought up as Injuns. There," he said, stopping suddenly as a report of a musket sounded at some little distance off, "the Injuns are trying their range against 'em. Let's go up to the lookout."
The little tower had a thick parapet of logs some three feet high, and, crouching behind this, they watched the canoe. "He's coming nearer in shore, and the girl has got the paddle," Pearson muttered. "What's he doing now?" A puff of smoke was seen to rise near the border of the lake; then came the sharp crack of Harold's rifle. They saw an Indian spring from the bushes and fall dead.
"Well done, young un!" Pearson exclaimed. "I told yer he'd got his head screwed on the right way. He's keeping just out of range of their guns, and that piece of his can carry twice as far as theirs. I reckon he's thought of the canoe, and means to keep 'em from using it. I begins to think, Mr. Welch, that there's a chance for 'em yet. Now let's talk a little to these red devils in the corn."
For some little time Pearson and William Welch turned their attention to the Indians, while the mother sat with her eyes fixed upon the canoe.
"He is coming closer again," she exclaimed presently.
"He's watching the canoe, sure enough," Pearson said. Then came the volley along the bushes on the shore, and they saw an Indian rise to his feet.
"That's just where she lies!" Pearson exclaimed; "he's getting into it. There! well done, young un."
The sudden disappearance of the Indian and the vengeful yell of the hidden foe told of the failure of the attempt.
"I think they're safe, now, till nightfall. The Injuns won't care about putting themselves within range of that 'ere rifle again."
Gradually the fire of the Indians ceased, and the defenders were able to leave the loop-holes. Two of the men went down and fastened up the cattle, which were still standing loose in the yard inside the stockade; the other set to to prepare a meal, for Mrs. Welch could not take her eyes off the canoe.
The afternoon seemed of interminable length. Not a shot was fired. The men, after taking their dinner, were occupied in bringing some great tubs on to the upper story and filling them to the brim with water from the well. This story projected two feet beyond the one below it, having been so built in order that, in case of attack, the defenders might be able to fire down upon any foe who might cross the stockade and attack the house itself; the floor boards over the projecting portion were all removable. The men also brought a quantity of the newly cut corn to the top of the house, first drenching it with water.
The sun sank, and as dusk was coming on the anxious watchers saw the canoe paddle out far into the lake.
"An old frontiersman couldn't do better," Pearson exclaimed. "He's kept them out of the canoe as long as daylight lasted; now he has determined to paddle away and is making down the lake," he went on presently. "It's a pity he turned so soon, as they can see the course he's taking."
They watched until it was completely dark; but, before the light quite faded, they saw another canoe put out from shore and start in the direction taken by the fugitives.
"Will they catch them, do you think?" Mrs. Welch asked.
"No, ma'am," Pearson said confidently. "The boy's got sense enough to have changed his course after it gets dark, though whether he'll make for shore or go out toward the other side is more than I can say. You see, they'll know that the Injuns are all along this side of the lake; but then, on the other hand, they'll be anxious about us and 'll want to keep close at hand. Besides, the lad knows nothing of the other side; there may be Injuns there, for aught he knows, and it's a skeary thing for a young un to take to the forest, especially with a gal in his charge. There aint no saying what he'll do. And now we've got to look after ourselves; don't let us think about 'em at present. The best thing as we can do for them, as well as for ourselves, is to hold this here place. If they live they'll come back to it sooner or later, and it 'll be better for 'em to find it standing, and you here to welcome 'em, than to get back to a heap of ruins and some dead bodies."
"When will the redskins attack, do you think?" the farmer asked.
"We may expect 'em any time, now," the hunter answered. "The Injuns' time of attack is generally just before dawn, but they know well enough they aint likely to ketch us asleep any time, and, as they know exactly what they have got to do they'll gain nothing by waiting. I wish we had a moon; if we had, we might keep 'em out of the stockade. But there—it's just as well it's dark, after all; for, if the moon was up, the young ones would have no chance of getting away."
The garrison now all took their places at the loop-holes, having first carried the wet fodder to the roof and spread it over the shingles. There was nothing to do now but to wait. The night was so dark that they could not see the outline of the stockade. Presently a little spark shot through the air, followed by a score of others. Mr. Welch had taken his post on the tower, and he saw the arrows whizzing through the air, many of them falling on the roof. The dry grass dipped in resin, which was tied round the arrow-heads, was instantly extinguished as the arrows fell upon the wet corn, and a yell arose from the Indians.
The farmer descended and told the others of the failure of the Indians' first attempt.
"That 'ere dodge is a first-rate un," Pearson said. "We're safe from fire, and that's the only thing we've got to be afeared on. You'll see 'em up here in a few minutes."
Everything was perfectly quiet. Once or twice the watchers thought that they could hear faint sounds, but could not distinguish their direction. After half an hour's anxious waiting a terrible yell was heard from below, and at the doors and windows of the lower rooms came the crashing blows of tomahawks.
The boards had already been removed from the flooring above, and the defenders opened a steady fire into the dark mass that they could faintly make out clustered round the windows and doors. At Pearson's suggestion the bullets had been removed from the guns and heavy charges of buckshot had been substituted for them, and yells of pain and surprise rose as they fired. A few shots were fired up from below, but a second discharge from the spare guns completed the effect from the first volley. The dark mass broke up and, in a few seconds, all was as quiet as before.
Two hours passed, and then slight sounds were heard. "They've got the gate opened, I expect," Pearson said. "Fire occasionally at that; if we don't hit 'em the flashes may show us what they're doing."
It was as he had expected. The first discharge was followed by a cry, and by the momentary light they saw a number of dark figures pouring in through the gate. Seeing that concealment was no longer possible, the Indians opened a heavy fire round the house; then came a crashing sound near the door.
"Just as I thought," Pearson said. "They're going to try to burn us out."
For some time the noise continued, as bundle after bundle of dried wood was thrown down by the door. The garrison were silent; for, as Pearson said, they could see nothing, and a stray bullet might enter at the loop-holes if they placed themselves there, and the flashes of the guns would serve as marks for the Indians.
Presently two or three faint lights were seen approaching.
"Now," Pearson said, "pick 'em off as they come up. You and I'll take the first man, Welch. You fire just to the right of the light, I will fire to the left; he may be carrying the brand in either hand."
They fired together, and the brand was seen to drop to the ground. The same thing happened as the other two sparks of light approached; then it was again quiet. Now a score of little lights flashed through the air.
"They're going to light the pile with their flaming arrows," Pearson said. "War Eagle is a good leader."
Three or four of the arrows fell on the pile of dry wood. A moment later the flames crept up and the smoke of burning wood rolled up into the room above. A yell of triumph burst from the Indians, but this changed into one of wrath as those above emptied the contents of one of the great tubs of water on to the pile of wood below them. The flames were instantly extinguished.
"What will they do next?" Mrs. Welch asked.
"It's like enough," Pearson replied, "that they'll give the job up altogether. They've got plenty of plunder and scalps at the settlements, and their attacking us here in such force looks as if the hull of 'em were on their way back to their villages. If they could have tuk our scalps easy they would have done it; but War Eagle aint likely to risk losing a lot of men when he aint sartin of winning, after all. He has done good work as it is, and has quite enough to boast about when he gets back. If he were to lose a heap of his braves here it would spoil the success of his expedition. No, I think as he will give it up now."
"He will be all the more anxious to catch the children," Mrs. Welch said despondently.
"It can't be denied, ma'am, as he will do his best that way," Pearson answered. "It all depends, though, on the boy. I wish I was with him in that canoe. Howsomever, I can't help thinking as he will sarcumvent 'em somehow."
The night passed without any further attack. By turns half the garrison watched while the other lay down, but there was little sleep taken by any. With the first gleam of daylight Mrs. Welch and her husband were on the lookout.
"There's two canoes out on the lake," Pearson said. "They're paddling quietly; which is which I can't say."
As the light became brighter Pearson pronounced, positively, that there were three men in one canoe and four in the other.
"I think they're all Injuns," he said. "They must have got another canoe somewhere along the lake. Waal, they've not caught the young uns yet."
"The boats are closing up to each other," Mrs. Welch said. "They're going to have a talk, I reckon. Yes, one of 'em's turning and going down the lake, while the other's going up. I'd give a heap to know where the young uns have got to."
The day passed quietly. An occasional shot toward the house showed that the Indians remained in the vicinity and, indeed, dark forms could be seen moving about in the distant parts of the clearing.
"Will it be possible," the farmer asked Pearson, when night again fell, "to go out and see if we can discover any traces of them?"
"Worse than no use," Pearson said positively. "We should just lose our har without doing no good whatever. If the Injuns in these woods—and I reckon altogether there's a good many hundred of 'em—can't find 'em, ye may swear that we can't. That's just what they're hoping, that we'll be fools enough to put ourselves outside the stockade. They'll lie close round all night, and a weasel wouldn't creep through 'em. Ef I thought there was jest a shadow of chance of finding them young uns I'd risk it; but there's no chance—not a bit of it."
A vigilant watch was again kept up all night, but all was still and quiet. The next morning the Indians were still round them.
"Don't ye fret, ma'am!" Pearson said, as he saw how pale and wan Mrs. Welch looked in the morning light. "You may bet your last shilling that they're not caught 'em."
"Why are you so sure?" Mrs. Welch asked. "They may be dead by this time."
"Not they, ma'am! I'm as sartin as they're living and free as I am that I'm standing here. I know these Injuns' ways. Ef they had caught 'em they'd jest have brought 'em here and would have fixed up two posts, jest out of rifle range, and would have tied them there and offered you the choice of giving up this place and your scalps or of seeing them tortured and burned under your eyes. That's their way. No, they aint caught 'em alive, nor they aint caught 'em dead neither; for, ef they had they'd have brought their scalps to have shown yer. No, they've got away, though it beats me to say how. I've only got one fear, and that is that they might come back before the Injuns have gone. Now I tell ye what we had better do—we better keep up a dropping fire all night and all day to-morrow, and so on, until the redskins have gone. Ef the young uns come back across the lake at night, and all is quiet, they'll think the Injuns have taken themselves off; but, if they hear firing still going on, they'll know well enough that they're still around the house."
William Welch at once agreed to this plan, and every quarter of an hour or so all through the night a few shots were fired. The next morning no Indians could be seen, and there was a cessation of the dropping shots which had before been kept up at the house.
"They may be in hiding," Pearson said in the afternoon, "trying to tempt us out; but I'm more inclined to think as how they've gone. I don't see a blade of that corn move; I've had my eyes fixed on it for the last two hours. It are possible, of course, that they're there, but I reckon not. I expect they've been waiting, ever since they gave up the attack, in hopes that the young uns would come back; but now, as they see that we're keeping up a fire to tell them as how they're still round us, they've given it up and gone. When it gets dark to-night I'll go out and scout round."
At ten o'clock at night Pearson dropped lightly from the stockade on the side opposite to the gate, as he knew that, if the Indians were there, this would be the point that they would be watching; then, crawling upon his stomach, he made his way slowly down to the lake. Entering the water and stooping low, he waded along the edge of the bushes for a distance of a mile; then he left the water and struck into the forest. Every few minutes he could hear the discharge of the rifles at the house; but, as before, no answering shots were heard. Treading very cautiously, he made a wide detour and then came down again on the clearing at the end furthest from the lake, where the Indians had been last seen moving about. All was still. Keeping among the trees and moving with great caution, he made his way, for a considerable distance, along the edge of the clearing; then he dropped on his hands and knees and entered the cornfield, and for two hours he crawled about, quartering the ground like a dog in search of game. Everywhere he found lines where the Indians had crawled along to the edge nearest to the house, but nowhere did he discover a sign of life. Then, still taking great care, he moved down toward the house and made a circuit of it a short distance outside the stockade; then he rose to his feet.
"Yer may stop shooting," he shouted. "The pesky rascals are gone." Then he walked openly up to the gate; it was opened at once by William Welch.
"Are you sure they have gone?" he asked.
"Sure as gospel," he answered, "and they've been gone twenty-four hours at least."
"How do you know that?"
"Easy enough. I found several of their cooking places in the woods; the brands were out, and even under the ashes the ground was cold, so they must have been out for a long time. I could have walked straight on to the house, then, but I thought it safer to make quite sure by searching everywhere, for they might have moved deeper into the forest, and left a few men on guard here, in case the young uns should come back. But it aint so; they've gone, and there aint a living soul anywhere nigh the clearing. The young uns can come back now, if they will, safely enough."
Before doing anything else the farmer assembled the party together in the living room, and there solemnly offered up thanks to God for their deliverance from danger, and implored his protection for the absent ones. When this was over he said to his wife:
"Now, Jane; you had better lie down and get a few hours' sleep. It is already two o'clock, and there is no chance whatever of their returning tonight, but I shall go down to the lake and wait till morning. Place candles in two of the upper windows. Should they be out on the lake they will see them and know that the Indians have not taken the house."
Morning came, without any signs of the absent ones. At daybreak Pearson went out to scout in the woods, and returned late in the afternoon with the news that the Indians had all departed, and that, for a distance of ten miles at least, the woods were entirely free.
When it became dark the farmer again went down to the lake and watched until two, when Pearson took his place. Mr. Welch was turning to go back to the house when Pearson placed his hand on his shoulder.
"Listen!" he said; and for a minute the men stood immovable.
"What was it?" the farmer asked.
"I thought I heard the stroke of a paddle," Pearson said; "it might have been the jump of a fish. There! there it is again!" He lay down and put his ear close to the water. "There's a canoe in the lake to the north'ard. I can hear the strokes of the paddle plainly."
Mr. Welch could hear nothing. Some minutes passed, then Pearson exclaimed:
"There! I saw a break in the water over there! There it is!" he said, straining his eyes in the darkness. "That's a canoe, sure enough, although they have ceased paddling. It's not a mile away."
Then he rose to his feet and shouted "Halloo!" at the top of his voice. An answering shout faintly came back across the water. He again hailed loudly, and this time the answer came in a female voice.
"It's them, sure enough. I can swear to Nelly's voice."
William Welch uncovered his head and, putting his hand before his face, returned fervent thanks to God for the recovery of his child. Then he dashed off at full speed toward the house. Before he reached it however, he met his wife running down to meet him, the shouts having informed her that something was seen. Hand in hand they ran down to the water's edge. The canoe was now swiftly approaching. The mother screamed:
"Nelly! is that you?"
"Mamma! mamma!" came back in the girl's clear tones.
With a low cry of gladness Mrs. Welch fell senseless to the ground. The strain which she had for four days endured had been terrible, and even the assurances of Pearson had failed to awaken any strong feeling of hope in her heart. She had kept up bravely and had gone about her work in the house with a pale, set face, but the unexpected relief was too much for her. Two minutes later the bow of the canoe grated on the shore, and Nelly leaped into her father's arms.
"Where is mamma?" she exclaimed. "She is here, my dear, but she has fainted. The joy of your return has been too much for her."
Nelly knelt beside her mother and raised her head, and the farmer grasped Harold's hand.
"My brave boy," he said, "I have to thank you for saving my child's life. God bless you!"
He dipped his hat in the lake and sprinkled water in his wife's face. She soon recovered and, a few minutes afterward, the happy party walked up to the house, Mrs. Welch being assisted by her husband and Pearson. The two young ones were soon seated at a table, ravenously devouring food, and, when their hunger was satisfied, they related the story of their adventures, the whole of the garrison being gathered round to listen. After relating what had taken place up to the time of their hiding the canoe, Harold went on:
"We walked about a quarter of a mile until we came to a large clump of underwood. We crept in there, taking great pains not to break a twig or disturb a leaf. The ground was, fortunately, very dry, and I could see that our footprints had not left the smallest marks. There we have lain hid ever since. We had the fish and the berries, and, fortunately, the fruit was ripe and juicy and quenched our thirst well enough, and we could, sometimes, hear the firing by day, and always at night. On the day we took refuge we heard the voices of the Indians down toward the lake quite plainly, but we have heard nothing of them since. Last night we heard the firing up to the middle of the night, and then it suddenly stopped. To-day I crept out and went down to the lake to listen; but it seemed that everything was still. Nelly was in a terrible way, and was afraid that the house had been taken by the Indians, but I told her that could not be, for that there would certainly have been a tremendous lot of firing at last, whereas it stopped, after a few shots, just as it had been going on so long. Our provisions were all gone and Nelly was getting very bad for want of water. I, of course, got a drink at the lake this morning. So we agreed that, if everything was still again to-night, we would go back to the place where we had hidden the canoe, launch it, and paddle here. Everything was quiet, so we came along as we had arranged. When I saw the lights in the windows I made sure all was right: still it was a great relief when I heard the shout from the shore. I knew, of course, that it wasn't a redskin's shout. Besides, Indians would have kept quiet till we came alongside."
Very hearty were the commendations bestowed on the boy for his courage and thoughtfulness.
"You behaved like an old frontiersman," Pearson said. "I couldn't have done better myself. You only made one blunder from the time you set out from shore."
"What was that?" Harold asked.
"You were wrong to pick the berries. The redskins, of course, would find where you had landed, they'd see the marks where you lay down, and would know that you had paddled away again. Had it not been for their seeing the tracks you made in picking the berries they might have, supposed you had started before daybreak, and had gone out of sight across the lake; but them marks would have shown 'em that you did not take to your canoe until long after the sun was up, and therefore that you couldn't have made across the lake without their seeing you, but must either have landed or be in your canoe under shelter of the trees somewhere along the shore. It's a marvel to me that they didn't find your traces, however careful you were to conceal 'em. But that's the only error you made, and I tell you, young un, you have a right to be proud of having outwitted a hull tribe of redskins."
THE FIGHT AT LEXINGTON.
Harold remained for four months longer with his cousin. The Indians had made several attacks upon settlements at other points of the frontier, but they had not repeated their incursion in the neighborhood of the lake. The farming operations had gone on regularly, but the men always worked with their rifles ready to their hand. Pearson had predicted that the Indians were not likely to return to that neighborhood. Mr. Welch's farm was the only one along the lake that had escaped, and the loss the Indians had sustained in attacking it had been so heavy that they were not likely to make an expedition in that quarter, where the chances of booty were so small and the certainty of a desperate resistance so great.
Other matters occurred which rendered the renewal of the attack improbable. The news was brought by a wandering hunter that a quarrel had arisen between the Shawnees and the Iroquois, and that the latter had recalled their braves from the frontier to defend their own villages in case of hostilities breaking out between them and the rival tribe.
There was no occasion for Harold to wait for news from home, for his father had, before starting, definitely fixed the day for his return, and when that time approached Harold started on his eastward journey, in order to be at home about the date of their arrival. Pearson took him in his canoe to the end of the lake and accompanied him to the settlement, whence he was able to obtain a conveyance to Detroit. Here he took a passage in a trading boat and made his way by water to Montreal, thence down through Lake Champlain and the Hudson River to New York, and thence to Boston.
The journey had occupied him longer than he expected, and Mr. and Mrs. Wilson were already in their home at Concord when he arrived. The meeting was a joyful one. His parents had upon their return home found letters from Mr. Welch and his wife describing the events which had happened at the farm, speaking in the highest terms of the courage and coolness in danger which Harold had displayed, and giving him full credit for the saving of their daughter's life.
Upon the day after Harold's return two gentlemen called upon Captain Wilson and asked him to sign the agreement which a number of colonists had entered into to resist the mother country to the last. This Captain Wilson positively refused to do.
"I am an Englishman," he said, "and my sympathies are wholly with my country. I do not say that the whole of the demands of England are justifiable. I think that Parliament has been deceived as to the spirit existing here. But I consider that it has done nothing whatever to justify the attitude of the colonists. The soldiers of England have fought for you against French and Indians and are still stationed here to protect you. The colonists pay nothing for their land; they pay nothing toward the expenses of the government of the mother country; and it appears to me to be perfectly just that people here, free as they are from all the burdens that bear so heavily on those at home, should at least bear the expense of the army stationed here. I grant that it would have been far better had the colonists taxed themselves to pay the extra amount, instead of the mother country taxing them; but this they would not do. Some of the colonists paid their quota, others refused to do so, and this being the case, it appears to me that England is perfectly justified in laying on a tax. Nothing could have been fairer than the tax that she proposed. The stamp-tax would in no way have affected the poorer classes in the colonies. It would have been borne only by the rich and by those engaged in such business transactions as required stamped documents. I regard the present rebellion as the work of a clique of ambitious men who have stirred up the people by incendiary addresses and writings. There are, of course, among them a large number of men—among them, gentlemen, I place you—who conscientiously believe that they are justified in doing nothing whatever for the land which gave them or their ancestors birth; who would enjoy all the great natural wealth of this vast country without contributing toward the expense of the troops to whom it is due that they enjoy peace and tranquility. Such, gentlemen, are not my sentiments. You consider it a gross hardship that the colonists are compelled to trade only with the mother country. I grant that it would be more profitable and better for us had we an open trade with the whole world; but in this England only acts as do all other countries toward their colonies. France, Spain, Portugal, and the Netherlands all monopolize the trade of their colonies; all, far more than does England, regard their colonies as sources of revenue. I repeat, I do not think that the course that England has pursued toward us has been always wise, but I am sure that nothing that she has done justifies the spirit of disaffection and rebellion which is ripe throughout these colonies."
"The time will come, sir," one of the gentlemen said, "when you will have reason to regret the line which you have now taken."
"No, sir," Captain Wilson said haughtily. "The time may come when the line that I have taken may cost me my fortune, and even my life, but it will never cause me one moment's regret that I have chosen the part of a loyal English gentleman."
When the deputation had departed Harold, who had been a wondering listener to the conversation, asked his father to explain to him the exact position in which matters stood.
It was indeed a serious one. The success of England, in her struggle with France for the supremacy of North America had cost her a great deal of money. At home the burdens of the people were extremely heavy. The expense of the army and navy was great, and the ministry, in striving to lighten the burdens of the people, turned their eyes to the colonies. They saw in America a population of over two million people, subjects of the king, like themselves, living free from rent and taxes on their own land and paying nothing whatever to the expenses of the country. They were, it is true, forced to trade with England, but this obligation was set wholly at naught. A gigantic system of smuggling was carried on. The custom-house officials had no force at their disposal which would have enabled them to check these operations, and the law enforcing a trade with England was virtually a dead letter.
Their first step was to strengthen the naval force on the American coast and by additional vigilance to put some sort of check on the wholesale smuggling which prevailed. This step caused extreme discontent among the trading classes of America, and these set to work vigorously to stir up a strong feeling of disaffection against England. The revenue officers were prevented, sometimes by force, from carrying out their duties.
After great consideration the English government came to the conclusion that a revenue sufficient to pay a considerable proportion of the cost of the army in America might be raised by means of a stamp-tax imposed upon all legal documents, receipts, agreements, and licenses—a tax, in fact, resembling that on stamps now in use in England. The colonists were furious at the imposition of this tax. A Congress, composed of deputies from each State, met, and it was unanimously resolved that the stamp-tax should not be paid. Meetings were everywhere held, at which the strongest and most treasonable language was uttered, and such violent threats were used against the persons employed as stamp-collectors that these, in fear of their lives, resigned their posts.
The stamp-tax remained uncollected and was treated by the colonists as if it were not in existence.
The whole of the States now began to prepare for war. The Congress was made permanent, the militia drilled and prepared for fighting, and everywhere the position grew more and more strained. Massachusetts was the headquarters of disaffection, and here a total break with the mother country was openly spoken of. At times the more moderate spirits attempted to bring about a reconciliation between the two parties. Petitions were sent to the Houses of Parliament, and even at this time had any spirit of wisdom prevailed in England the final consequences might have been prevented. Unfortunately the majority in Parliament were unable to recognize that the colonists had any rights upon their side. Taxation was so heavy at home that men felt indignant that they should be called upon to pay for the keeping up of the army in America, to which the untaxed colonists, with their free farms and houses, would contribute nothing. The plea of the colonists that they were taxed by a chamber in which they were unrepresented was answered by the statement that such was also the case with Manchester, Leeds, and many other large towns which were unrepresented in Parliament.
In England neither the spirit nor the strength of the colonists was understood. Men could not bring themselves to believe that these would fight rather than submit, still less that if they did fight it would be successfully. They ignored the fact that the population of the States was one-fourth as large as that of England; that by far the greater proportion of that population were men trained, either in border warfare or in the chase, to the use of the rifle; that the enormous extent of country offered almost insuperable obstacles to the most able army composed of regular troops, and that the vast forests and thinly populated country were all in favor of a population fighting as guerrillas against trained troops. Had they perceived these things the English people would have hesitated before embarking upon such a struggle, even if convinced, as assuredly the great majority were convinced, of the fairness of their demands. It is true that even had England at this point abandoned altogether her determination to raise taxes in America the result would probably have been the same. The spirit of disaffection in the colony had gone so far that a retreat would have been considered as a confession of weakness, and separation of the colonists from the mother country would have happened ere many years had elapsed. As it was, Parliament agreed to let the stamp-tax drop, and in its place established some import duties on goods entering the American ports.