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True to the Old Flag: A Tale of the American War of Independence, a novel by George Alfred Henty

Chapter 2. An Indian Raid

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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. _

Read next: Chapter 3. The Redskin Attack

Read previous: Chapter 1. A Frontier Farm

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