Seeing that all was lost, the five drew farther away into the woods. They were not wounded, yet their faces were white despite the tan. They had never before looked upon so terrible a scene. The Indians, wild with the excitement of a great triumph and thirsting for blood, were running over the field scalping the dead, killing some of the wounded, and saving others for the worst of tortures. Nor were their white allies one whit behind them. They bore a full part in the merciless war upon the conquered. Timmendiquas, the great Wyandot, was the only one to show nobility. Several of the wounded he saved from immediate death, and he tried to hold back the frenzied swarm of old squaws who rushed forward and began to practice cruelties at which even the most veteran warrior might shudder. But Queen Esther urged them on, and "Indian" Butler himself and the chiefs were afraid of her.
Henry, despite himself, despite all his experience and powers of self-control, shuddered from head to foot at the cries that came from the lost field, and he was sure that the others were doing the same. The sun was setting, but its dying light, brilliant and intense, tinged the field as if with blood, showing all the yelling horde as the warriors rushed about for scalps, or danced in triumph, whirling their hideous trophies about their heads. Others were firing at men who were escaping to the far bank of the Susquehanna, and others were already seeking the fugitives in their vain hiding places on the little islet.
The five moved farther into the forest, retreating slowly, and sending in a shot now and then to protect the retreat of some fugitive who was seeking the shelter of the woods. The retreat had become a rout and then a massacre. The savages raged up and down in the greatest killing they had known since Braddock's defeat. The lodges of the Iroquois would be full of the scalps of white men.
All the five felt the full horror of the scene, but it made its deepest impress, perhaps, upon Paul. He had taken part in border battles before, but this was the first great defeat. He was not blind to the valor and good qualities of the Indian and his claim upon the wilderness, but he saw the incredible cruelties that he could commit, and he felt a horror of those who used him as an ally, a horror that he could never dismiss from his mind as long as he lived.
"Look!" he exclaimed, "look at that!"
A man of seventy and a boy of fourteen were running for the forest. They might have been grandfather and grandson. Undoubtedly they had fought in the Battalion of the Very Old and the Very Young, and now, when everything else was lost, they were seeking to save their lives in the friendly shelter of the woods. But they were pursued by two groups of Iroquois, four warriors in one, and three in the other, and the Indians were gaining fast.
"I reckon we ought to save them," said Shif'less Sol.
"No doubt of it," said Henry. "Paul, you and Sol move off to the right a little, and take the three, while the rest of us will look out for the four."
The little band separated according to the directions, Paul and Sol having the lighter task, as the others were to meet the group of four Indians at closer range. Paul and Sol were behind some trees, and, turning at an angle, they ran forward to intercept the three Indians. It would have seemed to anyone who was not aware of the presence of friends in the forest that the old man and the boy would surely be overtaken and be tomahawked, but three rifles suddenly flashed among the foliage. Two of the warriors in the group of four fell, and a third uttered a yell of pain. Paul and Shif'less Sol fired at the same time at the group of three. One fell before the deadly rifle of Shif'less Sol, but Paul only grazed his man. Nevertheless, the whole pursuit stopped, and the boy and the old man escaped to the forest, and subsequently to safety at the Moravian towns.
Paul, watching the happy effect of the shots, was about to say something to Shif'less Sol, when an immense force was hurled upon him, and he was thrown to the ground. His comrade was served in the same way, but the shiftless one was uncommonly strong and agile. He managed to writhe half way to his knees, and he shouted in a tremendous voice:
"Run, Henry, run! You can't do anything for us now!"
Braxton Wyatt struck him fiercely across the mouth. The blood came, but the shiftless one merely spat it out, and looked curiously at the renegade.
"I've often wondered about you, Braxton," he said calmly. " I used to think that anybody, no matter how bad, had some good in him, but I reckon you ain't got none."
Wyatt did not answer, but rushed forward in search of the others. But Henry, Silent Tom, and Long Jim had vanished. A powerful party of warriors had stolen upon Shif'less Sol and Paul, while they were absorbed in the chase of the old man and the boy, and now they were prisoners, bound securely. Braxton Wyatt came back from the fruitless search for the three, but his face was full of savage joy as he looked down at the captured two.
"We could have killed you just as easily," he said, "but we didn't want to do that. Our friends here are going to have their fun with you first."
Paul's cheeks whitened a little at the horrible suggestion, but Shif'less Sol faced them boldly. Several white men in uniform had come up, and among them was an elderly one, short and squat, and with a great flame colored handkerchief tied around his bead.
"You may burn us alive, or you may do other things jest ez bad to us, all under the English flag," said Shif'less Sol, " but I'm thinkin' that a lot o' people in England will be ashamed uv it when they hear the news."
"Indian" Butler and his uniformed soldiers turned away, leaving Shif'less Sol and Paul in the hands of the renegade and the Iroquois. The two prisoners were jerked to their feet and told to march.
"Come on, Paul," said Shif'less Sol. "'Tain't wuth while fur us to resist. But don't you quit hopin', Paul. We've escaped from many a tight corner, an' mebbe we're goin' to do it ag'in."
"Shut up!" said Braxton Wyatt savagely. "If you say another word I'll gag you in a way that will make you squirm."
Shif'less Sol looked him squarely in the eye. Solomon Hyde, who was not shiftless at all, had a dauntless soul, and he was not afraid now in the face of death preceded by long torture.
"I had a dog once, Braxton Wyatt," he said, "an' I reckon he wuz the meanest, ornierest cur that ever lived. He liked to live on dirt, the dirtier the place he could find the better; he'd rather steal his food than get it honestly; he wuz sech a coward that he wuz afeard o' a rabbit, but ef your back wuz turned to him he'd nip you in the ankle. But bad ez that dog wuz, Braxton, he wuz a gentleman 'longside o' you."
Some of the Indians understood English, and Wyatt knew it. He snatched a pistol from his belt, and was about to strike Sol with the butt of it, but a tall figure suddenly appeared before him, and made a commanding gesture. The gesture said plainly: "Do not strike; put that pistol back!" Braxton Wyatt, whose soul was afraid within him, did not strike, and he put the pistol back.
It was Timmendiquas, the great White Lightning of the Wyandots, who with his little detachment had proved that day how mighty the Wyandot warriors were, full equals of Thayendanegea's Mohawks, the Keepers of the Western Gate. He was bare to the waist. One shoulder was streaked with blood from a slight wound, but his countenance was not on fire with passion for torture and slaughter like those of the others.
"There is no need to strike prisoners," he said in English. "Their fate will be decided later."
Paul thought that he caught a look of pity from the eyes of the great Wyandot, and Shif'less Sol said:
"I'm sorry, Timmendiquas, since I had to be captured, that you didn't capture me yourself. I'm glad to say that you're a great warrior."
Wyatt growled under his breath, but he was still afraid to speak out, although he knew that Timmendiquas was merely a distant and casual ally, and had little authority in that army. Yet he was overawed, and so were the Indians with him.
"We were merely taking the prisoners to Colonel Butler," he said. "That is all."
Timmendiquas stared at him, and the renegade's face fell. But he and the Indians went on with the prisoners, and Timmendiquas looked after them until they were out of sight.
"I believe White Lightning was sorry that we'd been captured," whispered Shif'less Sol.
"I think so, too," Paul whispered back.
They had no chance for further conversation, as they were driven rapidly now to that point of the battlefield which lay nearest to the fort, and here they were thrust into the midst of a gloomy company, fellow captives, all bound tightly, and many wounded. No help, no treatment of any kind was offered for hurts. The Indians and renegades stood about and yelled with delight when the agony of some man's wound wrung from him a groan. The scene was hideous in every respect. The setting sun shone blood red over forest, field, and river. Far off burning houses still smoked like torches. But the mountain wall in the east, was growing dusky with the coming twilight. From the island, where they were massacring the fugitives in their vain hiding places, came the sound of shots and cries, but elsewhere the firing had ceased. All who could escape had done so already, and of the others, those who were dead were fortunate.
The sun sank like a red ball behind the mountains, and darkness swept down over the earth. Fires began to blaze up here and there, some for terrible purpose. The victorious Iroquois; stripped to the waist and painted in glaring colors, joined in a savage dance that would remain forever photographed on the eye of Paul Cotter. As they jumped to and fro, hundreds of them, waving aloft tomahawks and scalping knives, both of which dripped red, they sang their wild chant of war and triumph. White men, too, as savage as they, joined them. Paul shuddered again and again from head to foot at this sight of an orgy such as the mass of mankind escapes, even in dreams.
The darkness thickened, the dance grew wilder. It was like a carnival of demons, but it was to be incited to a yet wilder pitch. A singular figure, one of extraordinary ferocity, was suddenly projected into the midst of the whirling crowd, and a chant, shriller and fiercer, rose above all the others. The figure was that of Queen Esther, like some monstrous creature out of a dim past, her great tomahawk stained with blood, her eyes bloodshot, and stains upon her shoulders. Paul would have covered his eyes had his hands not been tied instead, he turned his head away. He could not bear to see more. But the horrible chant came to his ears, nevertheless, and it was reinforced presently by other sounds still more terrible. Fires sprang up in the forest, and cries came from these fires. The victorious army of "Indian" Butler was beginning to burn the prisoners alive. But at this point we must stop. The details of what happened around those fires that night are not for the ordinary reader. It suffices to say that the darkest deed ever done on the soil of what is now the United States was being enacted.
Shif'less Sol himself, iron of body and soul, was shaken. He could not close his ears, if he would, to the cries that came from the fires, but he shut his eyes to keep out the demon dance. Nevertheless, he opened them again in a moment. The horrible fascination was too great. He saw Queen Esther still shaking her tomahawk, but as he looked she suddenly darted through the circle, warriors willingly giving way before her, and disappeared in the darkness. The scalp dance went on, but it had lost some of its fire and vigor.
Shif'less Sol felt relieved.
"She's gone," he whispered to Paul, and the boy, too, then opened his eyes. The rest of it, the mad whirlings and jumpings of the warriors, was becoming a blur before him, confused and without meaning.
Neither he nor Shif'less Sol knew how long they had been sitting there on the ground, although it had grown yet darker, when Braxton Wyatt thrust a violent foot against the shiftless one and cried:
"Get up! You're wanted!"
A half dozen Seneca warriors were with him, and there was no chance of resistance. The two rose slowly to their feet, and walked where Braxton Wyatt led. The Senecas came on either side, and close behind them, tomahawks in their hands. Paul, the sensitive, who so often felt the impression of coming events from the conditions around him, was sure that they were marching to their fate. Death he did not fear so greatly, although he did not want to die, but when a shriek came to him from one of the fires that convulsive shudder shook him again from head to foot. Unconsciously he strained at his bound arms, not for freedom, but that he might thrust his fingers in his ears and shut out the awful sounds. Shif'less Sol, because he could not use his hands, touched his shoulder gently against Paul's.
"Paul," he whispered, "I ain't sure that we're goin' to die, leastways, I still have hope; but ef we do, remember that we don't have to die but oncet."
"I'll remember, Sol," Paul whispered back.
"Silence, there!" exclaimed Braxton Wyatt. But the two had said all they wanted to say, and fortunately their senses were somewhat dulled. They had passed through so much that they were like those who are under the influence of opiates. The path was now dark, although both torches and fires burned in the distance. Presently they heard that chant with which they had become familiar, the dreadful notes of the hyena woman, and they knew that they were being taken into her presence, for what purpose they could not tell, although they were sure that it was a bitter one. As they approached, the woman's chant rose to an uncommon pitch of frenzy, and Paul felt the blood slowly chilling within him.
"Get up there!" exclaimed Braxton Wyatt, and the Senecas gave them both a push. Other warriors who were standing at the edge of an open space seized them and threw them forward with much violence. When they struggled into a sitting position, they saw Queen Esther standing upon a broad flat rock and whirling in a ghastly dance that had in it something Oriental. She still swung the great war hatchet that seemed always to be in her hand. Her long black hair flew wildly about her head, and her red dress gleamed in the dusk. Surely no more terrible image ever appeared in the American wilderness! In front of her, lying upon the ground, were twenty bound Americans, and back of them were Iroquois in dozens, with a sprinkling of their white allies.
What it all meant, what was about to come to pass, nether Paul nor Shif'less Sol could guess, but Queen Esther sang:
We have found them, the Yengees Who built their houses in the valley, They came forth to meet us in battle, Our rifles and tomahawks cut them down, As the Yengees lay low the forest. Victory and glory Aieroski gives to his children, The Mighty Six Nations, greatest of men. There will be feasting in the lodges of the Iroquois, And scalps will hang on the high ridge pole, But wolves will roam where the Yengees dwelt And will gnaw the bones of them all, Of the man, the woman, and the child. Victory and glory Aieroski gives to his children, The Mighty Six Nations, greatest of men.
Such it sounded to Shif'less Sol, who knew the tongue of the Iroquois, and so it went on, verse after verse, and at the end of each verse came the refrain, in which the warriors joined:
"Victory and glory Aieroski gives to his children. The mighty Six Nations, greatest of men."
"What under the sun is she about?" whispered Shif'less Sol.
"It is a fearful face," was Paul's only reply.
Suddenly the woman, without stopping her chant, made a gesture to the warriors. Two powerful Senecas seized one of the bound prisoners, dragged him to his feet, and held him up before her. She uttered a shout, whirled the great tomahawk about her head, its blade glittering in the moonlight, and struck with all her might. The skull of the prisoner was cleft to the chin, and without a cry he fell at the feet of the woman who had killed him. Paul uttered a shout of horror, but it was lost in the joyful yells of the Iroquois, who, at the command of the woman, offered a second victim. Again the tomahawk descended, and again a man fell dead without a sound.
Shif'less Sol and Paul wrenched at their thongs, but they could not move them. Braxton Wyatt laughed aloud. It was strange to see how fast one with a bad nature could fall when the opportunities were spread before him. Now he was as cruel as the Indians themselves. Wilder and shriller grew the chant of the savage queen. She was intoxicated with blood. She saw it everywhere. Her tomahawk clove a third skull, a fourth, a fifth, a sixth, a seventh, and eighth. As fast as they fell the warriors at her command brought up new victims for her weapon. Paul shut his eyes, but he knew by the sounds what was passing. Suddenly a stern voice cried:
"Hold, woman! Enough of this! Will your tomahawk never be satisfied?"
Paul understood it , the meaning, but not the words. He opened his eyes and saw the great figure of Timmendiquas striding forward, his hand upraised in protest.
The woman turned her fierce gaze upon the young chief. "Timmendiquas," she said, "we are the Iroquois, and we are the masters. You are far from your own land, a guest in our lodges, and you cannot tell those who have won the victory how they shall use it. Stand back!"
A loud laugh came from the Iroquois. The fierce old chiefs, Hiokatoo and Sangerachte, and a dozen warriors thrust themselves before Timmendiquas. The woman resumed her chant, and a hundred throats pealed out with her the chorus:
Victory and glory Aieroski gives to his children The mighty Six Nations, greatest of men.
She gave the signal anew. The ninth victim stood before her, and then fell, cloven to the chin; then the tenth, and the eleventh, and the twelfth, and the thirteenth, and the fourteenth, and the fifteenth, and the sixteenth-sixteen bound men killed by one woman in less than fifteen minutes. The four in that group who were left had all the while been straining fearfully at their bonds. Now they bad slipped or broken them, and, springing to their feet, driven on by the mightiest of human impulses, they dashed through the ring of Iroquois and into the forest. Two were hunted down by the warriors and killed, but the other two, Joseph Elliott and Lebbeus Hammond, escaped and lived to be old men, feeling that life could never again hold for them anything so dreadful as that scene at "The Bloody Rock."
A great turmoil and confusion arose as the prisoners fled and the Indians pursued. Paul and Shif'less Sol; full of sympathy and pity for the fugitives and having felt all the time that their turn, too, would come under that dreadful tomahawk, struggled to their feet. They did not see a form slip noiselessly behind them, but a sharp knife descended once, then twice, and the bands of both fell free.
"Run! run!" exclaimed the voice of Timmendiquas, low but penetrating. "I would save you from this!"
Amid the darkness and confusion the act of the great Wyandot was not seen by the other Indians and the renegades. Paul flashed him one look of gratitude, and then he and Shif'less Sol darted away, choosing a course that led them from the crowd in pursuit of the other flying fugitives.
At such a time they might have secured a long lead without being noticed, had it not been for the fierce swarm of old squaws who were first in cruelty that night. A shrill wild howl arose, and the pointing fingers of the old women showed to the warriors the two in flight. At the same time several of the squaws darted forward to intercept the fugitives.
"I hate to hit a woman," breathed Shif'less Sol to Paul, "but I'm goin' to do it now."
A hideous figure sprang before them. Sol struck her face with his open hand, and with a shriek she went down. He leaped over her, although she clawed at his feet as he passed, and ran on, with Paul at his side. Shots were now fired at him, but they went wild, but Paul, casting a look backward out of the corner of his eye, saw that a real pursuit, silent and deadly, had begun. Five Mohawk warriors, running swiftly, were only a few hundred yards away. They carried rifle, tomahawk, and knife, and Paul and Shif'less Sol were unarmed. Moreover, they were coming fast, spreading out slightly, and the shiftless one, able even at such a time to weigh the case coolly, saw that the odds were against them. Yet he would not despair. Anything might happen. It was night. There was little organization in the army of the Indians and of their white allies, which was giving itself up to the enjoyment of scalps and torture. Moreover, he and Paul were, animated by the love of life, which is always stronger than the desire to give death.
Their flight led them in a diagonal line toward the mountains. Only once did the pursuers give tongue. Paul tripped over a root, and a triumphant yell came from the Mohawks. But it merely gave him new life. He recovered himself in an instant and ran faster. But it was terribly hard work. He could hear Shif'less Sol's sobbing breath by his side, and he was sure that his own must have the same sound for his comrade.
"At any rate one uv 'em is beat," gasped Shif'less Sol. "Only four are ban-in' on now."
The ground rose a little and became rougher. The lights from the Indian fires had sunk almost out of sight behind them, and a dense thicket lay before them. Something stirred in the thicket, and the eyes of Shif'less Sol caught a glimpse of a human shoulder. His heart sank like a plummet in a pool. The Indians were ahead of them. They would be caught, and would be carried back to become the victims of the terrible tomahawk.
The figure in the bushes rose a little higher, the muzzle of a rifle was projected, and flame leaped from the steel tube.
But it was neither Shif'less Sol nor Paul who fell. They heard a cry behind them, and when Shif'less Sol took a hasty glance backward he saw one of the Mohawks fall. The three who were left hesitated and stopped. When a second shot was fired from the bushes and another Mohawk went down, the remaining two fled.
Shif'less Sol understood now, and he rushed into the bushes, dragging Paul after him. Henry, Tom, and Long Jim rose up to receive them.
"So you wuz watchin' over us! "exclaimed the shiftless one joyously. "It wuz you that clipped off the first Mohawk, an' we didn't even notice the shot."
"Thank God, you were here!" exclaimed Paul. "You don't know what Sol and I have seen!"
Overwrought, he fell forward, but his comrades caught him.