Henry and Ross after their second scouting expedition reported that the great war band of the Shawnees was retreating slowly, in fact would linger by the way, and might destroy one or two smaller stations recently founded farther north. Instantly a new impulse flamed up among the pioneers of Wareville. The feeling of union was strong among all these early settlements, and they believed it their duty to protect their weaker brethren. They would send hastily to Marlowe the nearest and largest settlement for help, follow on the trail of the warriors and destroy them. Such a blow, as they might inflict, would spread terror among all the northwestern tribes and save Kentucky from many another raid. Ross who was present in the council when the eager cry was raised shook his head and looked more than doubtful.
"They outnumber us four or five to one," he said, "an' when we go out in the woods against 'em we give up our advantage, our wooden walls. They can ambush us out there, an' surround us."
Mr. Ware added his cautious words to those of Ross, in whom he had great confidence. He believed it better to let the savage army go. Discouraged by its defeat before the palisades of Wareville it would withdraw beyond the Ohio, and, under any circumstances, a pursuit, with greatly inferior numbers, would be most dangerous.
These were grave words, but they fell on ears that did not wish to listen. They were an impulsive people and a generous chord in their natures was touched, the desire to defend those weaker than themselves. A good-hearted but hot-headed man named Clinton made a fiery speech. He said that now was the time to strike a crushing blow at the Indian power, and he thought all brave men would take advantage of it.
That expression "brave men" settled the question; no one could afford to be considered aught else, and a little army poured forth from Wareville, Mr. Ware nominally in command, and Henry, Paul, Ross, Sol, and all the others there. Henry saw his mother and sister weeping at the palisade, and Lucy Upton standing beside them. His mother's face was the last that he saw when he plunged into the forest. Then he was again the hunter, the trailer and the slayer of men.
While they considered whether or not to pursue, Henry Ware had said nothing; but all the primitive impulses of man handed down from lost ages of ceaseless battle were alive within him; he wished them to go, he would show the way, the savage army would make a trail through the forest as plain to him as a turnpike to the modern dweller in a civilized land, and his heart throbbed with fierce exultation, when the decision to follow was at last given. In the forest now he was again at home, more so than he had been inside the palisade. Around him were all the familiar sights and sounds, the little noises of the wilderness that only the trained ear hears, the fall of a leaf, or the wind in the grass, and the odor of a wild flower or a bruised bough.
Brain and mind alike expanded. Instinctively he took the lead, not from ambition, but because it was natural; he read all the signs and he led on with a certainty to which neither Ross nor Shif'less Sol pretended to aspire. The two guides and hunters were near each other, and a look passed between them.
"I knew it," said Ross; "I knew from the first that he had in him the making of a great woodsman. You an' I Sol, by the side of him, are just beginners."
Shif'less Sol nodded in assent.
"It's so," he said, "It suits me to follow were he leads, an' since we are goin' after them warriors, which I can't think a wise thing, I'm mighty glad he's with us."
Yet to one experienced in the ways of the wilderness the little army though it numbered less than a hundred men would have seemed formidable enough. Many youths were there, mere boys they would have been back in some safer land, but hardened here by exposure into the strength and courage of men. Nearly all were dressed in finely tanned deerskin, hunting shirt, leggings and moccasins, fringes on hunting shirt and leggings, and beads on moccasins. The sun glinted on the long slender, blue steel barrel of the Western rifle, carried in the hand of every man. At the belt swung knife and hatchet, and the eyes of all, now that the pursuit had begun, were intense, eager and fierce.
The sounds made by the little Western army, hid under the leafy boughs of the forest, gradually died away to almost nothing. No one spoke, save at rare intervals. The moccasins were soundless on the soft turf, and there was no rattle of arms, although arms were always ready. In front was Henry Ware, scanning the trail, telling with an infallible eye how old it was, where the enemy had lingered, and where he-hid hastened.
Mr. Pennypacker was there beside Paul Cotter. A man of peace he was, but when war came he never failed to take his part in it.
"Do you know him?" he asked of Paul, nodding toward Henry.
"No," he replied, "I do not. He used to be my old partner, Henry Ware, but he's another now."
"Yes, he's changed," said the master, "but I am not surprised. I foresaw it long ago, if the circumstances came right."
On the second morning they were joined by the men from Marlowe who had been traveling up one side of a triangle, while the men of Wareville had been traveling up the other side, until they met at the point. Their members were now raised to a hundred and fifty, and, uttering one shout of joy, the united forces plunged forward on the trail with renewed zeal.
They were in dense forest, in a region scarcely known even to the hunters, full of little valleys and narrow deep streams. The Indian force had suddenly taken a sharp turn to the westward, and the knowledge of it filled the minds of Ross and Sol with misgivings.
"Maybe they know we're following 'em," said Ross; "an' for that reason they're turnin' into this rough country, which is just full of ambushes. If it wasn 't for bein' called a coward by them hot-heads I'd say it was time for us to wheel right about on our own tracks, an' go home."
"You can't do nothin' with 'em," said Sol, "they wouldn't stand without hitchin', an' we ain't got any way to hitch 'em. There's goin' to be a scrimmage that people'll talk about for twenty years, an' the best you an' me can do, Tom, is to be sure to keep steady and to aim true."
Ross nodded sadly and said no more. He looked down at the trail, which was growing fresher and fresher.
"They're slowin' up, Sol," he said at last, "I think they're waitin' for us. You spread out to the right and I'll go to the left to watch ag'in ambush. That boy, Henry Ware'll see everything in front."
In view of the freshening trail Mr. Ware ordered the little army to stop for a few moments and consider, and all, except the scouts on the flanks and in front, gathered in council. Before them and all around them lay the hills, steep and rocky but clothed from base to crest with dense forest and undergrowth. Farther on were other and higher hills, and in the distance the forests looked blue. Nothing about them stirred. They had sighted no game as they passed; the deer had already fled before the Indian army.
The skies, bright and blue in the morning, were now overcast, a dull, somber, threatening gray.
"Men," said Mr. Ware, and there was a deep gravity in his tone, as became a general on the eve of conflict, "I think we shall be on the enemy soon or he will be on us. There were many among us who did not approve of this pursuit, but here we are. It is not necessary to say that we should bear ourselves bravely. If we fail and fall, our women and children are back there, and nothing will stand between them and savages who know no mercy. That is all you have to remember."
And then a little silence fell upon everyone, suddenly the hot-heads realized what they had done. They had gone away from their wooden walls, deep into the unknown wilderness, to meet an enemy four or five times their numbers, and skilled in all the wiles and tricks of the forest. Every face was grave, but the knowledge of danger only strengthened them for the conflict. Hot blood became cool and cautious, and wary eyes searched the thickets everywhere. Rash and impetuous they may have been; but they were ready now to redeem themselves, with the valor, without which the border could not have been won.
Henry Ware had suddenly gone forward from the others, and the green forest swallowed him up, but every nerve and muscle of him was now ready and alert. He felt, rather than saw, that the enemy was at hand; and in his green buckskin he blended so completely with the forest that only the keenest sight could have picked him from the mass of foliage. His general's eye told him, too, that the place before them was made for a conflict which would favor the superior numbers. They had been coming up a gorge, and if beaten they would be crowded back in it upon each other, hindering the escape of one another, until they were cut to pieces.
The wild youth smiled; he knew the bravery of the men with him, and now their dire necessity and the thought of those left behind in the two villages would nerve them to fight. In his daring mind the battle was not yet lost.
A faint, indefinable odor met his nostrils, and he knew it to be the oil and paint of Indian braves. A deep red flushed through the brown of either cheek. Returning now to his own kind he was its more ardent partisan because of the revulsion, and the Indian scent offended him. He looked down and saw a bit of feather, dropped no' doubt from some defiant scalp lock. He picked it up, held it to his nose a moment, and then, when the offensive odor assailed him again, he cast it away.
Another dozen steps forward, and he sank down in a clump of grass, blending perfectly with the green, and absolutely motionless. Thirty yards away two Shawnee warriors in all the savage glory of their war paint, naked save for breechcloths, were passing, examining the woods with careful eye. Yet they did not see Henry Ware, and, when they turned and went back, he followed noiselessly after them, his figure still hidden in the green wood.
The two Shawnees, walking lightly, went on up the valley which broadened out as they advanced, but which was still thickly clothed in forest and undergrowth. Skilled as they were in the forest, they probably never dreamed of the enemy who hung on their trail with a skill surpassing their own.
Henry followed them for a full two miles, and then he saw them join a group of Indians under the trees, whom he knew by their dress and bearing to be chiefs. They were tall, middle-aged, and they wore blankets of green or dark blue, probably bought at the British outposts. Behind them, almost hidden in the forest, Henry saw many other dark faces, eager, intense, waiting to be let loose on the foe, whom they regarded as already in the trap.
Henry waited, while the two scouts whom he had followed so well delivered to the chief their message. He saw them beckon to the warriors behind them, speak a few words to them, and then he saw two savage forces slip off in the forest, one to the right and one to the left. On the instant he divined their purpose. They were to flank the little white army, while another division stood ready to attack in front. Then the ambush would be complete, and Henry saw the skill of the savage general whoever he might be.
The plan must be frustrated at once, and Henry Ware never hesitated. He must bring on the battle, before his own people were surrounded, and raising his rifle he fired with deadly aim at one of the chiefs who fell on the grass. Then the youth raised the wild and thrilling cry, which he had learned from the savages themselves, and sped back toward the white force.
The death cry of the Shawnee and the hostile war whoop rang together filling the forest and telling that the end of stealth and cunning, and the beginning of open battle were at hand.
Henry Ware was hidden in an instant by the green foliage from the sight of the Shawnees. Keen as were their eyes, trained as they were to noticing everything that moved in the forest, he had vanished from them like a ghost. But they knew that the enemy whom they had sought to draw into their snare had slipped his head out of it before the snare could be sprung. Their long piercing yell rose again and then died away in a frightful quaver. As the last terrible note sank the whole savage army rushed forward to destroy its foe.
As Henry Ware ran swiftly back to his friends he met both Ross and Sol, drawn by the shot and the shouts.
"It was you who fired?" asked Ross.
"Yes," replied Henry," they meant to lay an ambush, but they will not have time for it now."
The three stood for a few moments under the boughs of a tree, three types of the daring men who guided and protected the van of the white movement into the wilderness. They were eager, intent, listening, bent slightly forward, their rifles lying in the hollow of their arms, ready for instant use.
After the second long cry the savage army gave voice no more. In all the dense thickets a deadly silence reigned, save for the trained car. But to the acute hearing of the three under the tree came sounds that they knew; sounds as light as the patter of falling nuts, no more, perhaps, than the rustle of dead leaves driven against each other by a wind; but they knew.
"They are coming, and coming fast," said Henry. "We must join the main force now."
"They ought to be ready. That warning of yours was enough," said Ross.
Without another word they turned again, darted among the trees, and in a few moments reached the little white force. Mr. Ware, the nominal leader, taking alarm from the shot and cries, was already disposing his men in a long, scattering line behind hillocks, tree trunks, brushwood and every protection that the ground offered.
"Good!" exclaimed Ross, when he saw, "but we must make our line longer and thinner, we must never let them get around us, an' it's lucky now we've got steep hills on either side."
To be flanked in Indian battle by superior numbers was the most terrible thing that could happen to the pioneers, and Mr. Ware stretched out his line longer and longer, and thinner and thinner. Paul Cotter was full of excitement; he had been in deadly conflict once before, but his was a most sensitive temperament, terribly stirred by a foe whom he could yet neither see nor hear. Almost unconsciously, he placed himself by the side of Henry Ware, his old partner, to whom he now looked up as a son of battle and the very personification of forest skill.
"Are they really there, Henry?" he asked. "I see nothing and hear nothing."
"Yes," replied Henry, "they are in front of us scarcely a rifle shot away, five to our one."
Paul strained his eyes, but still he could see nothing, only the green waving forest, the patches of undergrowth, the rocks on the steep hills to right and left, and the placid blue sky overhead. It did not seem possible to him that they were about to enter into a struggle for life and for those dearer than life.
"Don't shoot wild, Paul," said Henry. "Don't pull the trigger, until you can look down the sights at a vital spot."
A few feet away from them, peering over a log and with his rifle ever thrust forward was Mr. Pennypacker, a schoolmaster, a graduate of a college, an educated and refined man, but bearing his part in the dark and terrible wilderness conflict that often left no wounded.
The stillness was now so deep that even the scouts could hear no sound in front. The savage army seemed to have melted away, into the air itself, and for full five minutes they lay, waiting, waiting, always waiting for something that they knew would come. Then rose the fierce quavering war cry poured from hundreds of throats, and the savage horde, springing out of the forests and thickets, rushed upon them.
Dark faces showed in the sunlight, brown figures, naked save for the breechcloth, horribly painted, muscles tense, flashed through the undergrowth. The wild yell that rose and fell without ceasing ran off in distant echoes among the hills. The riflemen of Kentucky, lying behind trees and hillocks, began to fire, not in volleys, not by order, but each man according to his judgment and his aim, and many a bullet flew true.
A sharp crackling sound, ominous and deadly, ran back and forth in the forest. Little spurts of fire burned for a moment against the green, and then went out, to give place to others. Jets of white smoke rose languidly and floated up among the trees, gathering by and by into a cloud, shot through with blue and yellow tints from sky and sun.
Henry Ware fired with deadly aim and reloaded with astonishing speed. Paul Cotter, by his side, was is steady as a rock, now that the suspense was over, and the battle upon them. The schoolmaster resting on one elbow was firing across his log. But it is not Indian tactics to charge home, unless the enemy is frightened into flight by the war whoop and the first rush. The men of Wareville and Marlowe did not run, but stood fast, sending the bullets straight to the mark; and suddenly the Shawnees dropped down among the trees and undergrowth, their bodies hidden, and began to creep forward, firing like sharpshooters. It was now a test of skill, of eyesight, of hearing and of aim.
The forest on either side was filled with creeping forms, white or red, men with burning eyes seeking to slay each other, meeting in strife more terrible than that of foes who encounter each other in open conflict.
There was something snakelike in their deadly creeping, only the moving grass to tell where they passed and sometimes where both white and red died, locked fast in the grip of one another. Everywhere it was a combat, confused, dreadful, man to man, and with no shouting now, only the crack of the rifle shot, the whiz of the tomahawk, the thud of the knife, and choked cries.
Like breeds like, and the white men came down to the level of the red. Knowing that they would receive no quarter they gave none. The white face expressed all the cunning, and all the deadly animosity of the red. Led by Henry Ware, Ross and Sol they practiced every device of forest warfare known to the Shawnees, and their line, which extended across the valley from hill to hill, spurted death from tree, bush, and rock.
To Paul Cotter it was all a nightmare, a foul dream, unreal. He obeyed his comrade's injunctions, he lay close to the earth, and he did not fire until he could draw a bead on a bare breast, but the work became mechanical with him. He was a high-strung lad of delicate sensibilities. There was in his temperament something of the poet and the artist, and nothing of the soldier who fights for the sake of mere fighting. The wilderness appealed to him, because of its glory, but the savage appealed to him not at all.
In Henry's bosom there was respect for his red foes from whom he had learned so many useful lessons, and his heart beat faster with the thrill of strenuous conflict, but Paul was anxious for the end of it all. The sight of dead faces near him, not the lack of courage, more than once made him faint and dizzy.
Twice and thrice the Shawnees tried to scale the steep hillsides, and with their superior numbers swing around behind the enemy, but the lines of the borderers were always extended to meet them, and the bullets from the long-barreled rifles cut down everyone who tried to pass. It was always Henry Ware who was first to see a new movement, his eyes read every new motion in the grass, and foliage swaying in a new direction would always tell him what it meant. More than one of his comrades muttered to himself that he was worth a dozen men that day.
So fierce were the combatants, so eager were they for each other's blood that they did not notice that the sky, gray in the morning, then blue at the opening of battle, had now grown leaden and somber again. The leaves above them were motionless and then began to rustle dully in a raw wet wind out of the north. The sun was quite gone behind the clouds and drops of cold rain began to fall, falling on the upturned faces of the dead, red and white alike with just impartiality, the wind rose, whistled, and drove the cold drops before it like hail. But the combat still swayed back and forth in the leaden forest, and neither side took notice.
Mr. Ware remained near the center of the white line, and retained command, although he gave but few orders, every man fighting for himself and giving his own orders. But from time to time Ross and Sol or Henry brought him news of the conflict, perhaps how they had been driven back a little at one point, and perhaps how they gained a little at another point. He, too, a man of fifty and the head of a community, shared the emotions of those around him, and was filled with a furious zeal for the conflict.
The clouds thickened and darkened, and the cold drops were driven upon them by the wind, the rifle smoke, held down by the rain, made sodden banks of vapor among the trees; but through all the clouds of vapor burst flashes of fire, and the occasional triumphant shout or death cry of the white man or the savage.
Henry Ware looked up and he became conscious that not only clouds above were bringing the darkness, but that the day was waning. In the west a faint tint of red and yellow, barely discernible through the grayness, marked the sinking sun, and in the east the blackness of night was still advancing. Yet the conflict, as important to those engaged in it, as a great battle between civilized foes a hundred thousand on a side, and far more fierce, yet hung on an even chance. The white men still stood where they had stood when the forest battle began, and the red men who had not been able to advance would not retreat.
Henry's heart sank a little at the signs that night was coming; it would be harder in the darkness to keep their forces in touch, and the superior numbers of the Shawnees would swarm all about them. It seemed to him that it would be best to withdraw a little to more open ground; but he waited a while, because he did not wish any of their movements to have the color of retreat. Moreover, the activity of the Shawnees rose just then to a higher pitch.
Figures were now invisible in the chill, wet dusk, fifty or sixty yards away, and the two lines came closer. The keenest eye could see nothing save flitting forms like phantoms, but the riflemen, trained to quickness, fired at them and more than once sent a fatal bullet. There were two lines of fire facing each other in the dark wood. The flashes showed red or yellow in the twilight or the falling rain, and the Indian yell of triumph whenever it arose, echoed, weird and terrible, through the dripping forest. Henry stole to the side of his father.
"We must fall back," he said, "or in the darkness of the night, they will be sure to surround us and crush us."
Ross was an able second to this advice, and reluctantly Mr. Ware passed alone the word to retreat.
"Be sure to bring off all the wounded," was the order. "The dead, alas must be abandoned to nameless indignities!"
The little white army left thirty dead in the dripping forest, and, as many more carried wounds, the most of which were curable, but it was as full of fight as ever. It merely drew back to protect itself against being flanked in the forest, and the faces of the borderers, sullen and determined, were still turned to the enemy.
Yet the line of fire was visibly retreating, and, when the Shawnee forces saw it, a triumphant yell was poured from hundreds of throats. They rushed forward, only to be driven back again by the hail of bullets, and Ross said to Mr. Ware: "I guess we burned their faces then."
"Look to the wounded! Look to the wounded!" repeated Mr. Ware. "See that no man too weak is left to help himself."
They had gone half a mile when Henry glanced around for Paul. His eyes, trained to the darkness, ran over the dim forms about him. Many were limping and others already had arms in slings made from their hunting shirts, but Henry nowhere saw the figure of his old comrade. A fever of fear assailed him. One of two things had happened. Paul was either killed or too badly wounded to walk, and somehow in the darkness they had missed him. The schoolmaster's face blanched at the news. Paul had been his favorite pupil.
"My God!" he groaned, "to think of the poor lad in the hands of those devils!"
Henry Ware stood beside the master, when he uttered these words, wrenched by despair from the very bottom of his chest. Pain shot through his own heart, as if it had been touched by a knife. Paul, the well beloved comrade of his youth, captured and subjected to the torture! His blood turned to ice in his veins. How could they ever have missed the boy? Paul now seemed to Henry at least ten years younger than himself. It was not merely the fault of a single man, it was the fault of them all. He stared back into the thickening darkness, where the flashes of flame burst now and then, and, in an instant, he had taken his resolve.
"I do not know where Paul is," he said, "but I shall find him."
"Henry! Henry! What are you going to do?" cried his father in alarm.
"I'm going back after him," replied his son.
"But you can do nothing! It is sure death! Have we just found you to lose you again?"
Henry touched his father's hand. It was an act of tenderness, coming from his stoical nature, and the next instant he was gone, amid the smoke and the vapors and the darkness, toward the Indian army. Mr. Ware put his face in his hands and groaned, but the hand of Ross fell upon his shoulder.
"The boy will come back, Mr. Ware," said the guide, "an' will bring the other with him, too. God has given him a woods cunnin' that none of us can match."
Mr. Ware let his hands fall, and became the man again. The retreating force still fell back slowly, firing steadily by the flashes at the pursuing foe.
Henry Ware had not gone more than fifty yards before he was completely hidden from his friends. Then he turned to a savage, at least in appearance. He threw off the raccoon-skin cap and hunting shirt, drew up his hair in the scalp lock, tying it there with a piece of fringe from his discarded hunting shirt, and then turned off at an angle into the woods. Presently he beheld the dark figures of the Shawnees, springing from tree to tree or bent low in the undergrowth, but all following eagerly. When he saw them he too bent over and fired toward his own comrades, then he whirled again to the right, and sprang about as if he were seeking another target. To all appearances, he was, in the darkness and driving rain, a true Shawnee, and the manner and gesture of an Indian were second nature to him.
But he had little fear of being discovered at such a time. His sole thought was to find his comrade. All the old days of boyish companionship rushed upon him, with their memories. The tenderness in his nature was the stronger, because of its long repression. He would find him and if he were alive, he would save him; moreover he had what he thought was a clew. He had remembered seeing Paul crouched behind a log, firing at the enemy, and no one had seen him afterwards. He believed that the boy was lying there yet, slain, or, if fate were kinder, too badly wounded to move. The line of retreat had slanted somewhat from the spot, and the savages might well have passed, in the dark, without noticing the boy's fallen body.
His own sense of direction was perfect, and he edged swiftly away toward the fallen log, behind which Paul had lain. Many dark forms passed him, but none sought to stop him; the counterfeit was too good; all thought him one of themselves.
Presently Henry passed no more of the flitting warriors. The battle was moving on toward the south and was now behind him. He looked back and saw the flashes growing fainter and heard the scattering rifle shots, deadened somewhat by the distance. Around him was the beat of the rain on the leaves and the sodden earth, and he looked up at a sky, wholly hidden by black clouds.
He would need all his forest lore, and all the primitive instincts, handed down from far-off ancestors. But never were they more keenly alive than on this night.
The boy did not veer from the way, but merely by the sense of direction took a straight path toward the fallen log that he remembered. The din of battle still rolled slowly off toward the south, and, for the moment, he forgot it. He came to the log, bent down and touched a cold face. It was Paul. Instinctively his hand moved toward the boy's head and when it touched the thick brown hair and nothing else, he uttered a little shuddering sigh of relief. Dead or alive, the hideous Indian trophy had not been taken. Then he found the boy's wrist and his pulse, which was still beating faintly. The deft hands moved on, and touched the wound, made by a bullet that had passed entirely through his shoulder. Paul had fainted from loss of blood, and without the coming of help would surely have been dead in another hour.
The boy lay on his side, and, in some convulsion as he lost consciousness, he had drawn his arm about his head. Henry turned him over until the cold reviving rain fell full upon his face, and then, raising himself again, he listened intently. The battle was still moving on to the southward, but very slowly, and stray warriors might yet pass and see them. The tie of friendship is strong, and as he had come to save Paul and as he had found him too, he did not mean to be stopped now.
He stooped down and chafed the wounded youth's wrists and temples, while the rain with its vivifying touch still drove upon his face. Paul stirred and his pulse grew stronger. He opened his eyes catching one vague glimpse of the anxious face above him, but he was so feeble that the lids closed down again. But Henry was cheered. Paul was not only alive, he was growing stronger, and, bending down, he lifted him in his powerful arms. Then he strode away in the darkness, intending to pass in a curve around the hostile army. Despite Paul's weight he was able also to keep his rifle ready, because none knew better than he that all the chances favored his meeting with one warrior or more before the curve was made. But he was instinct with strength both mental and physical, he was the true type of the borderer, the men who faced with sturdy heart the vast dangers of the wilderness, the known and the unknown. At that moment he was at his highest pitch of courage and skill, alone in the darkness and storm, surrounded by the danger of death and worse, yet ready to risk everything for the sake of the boy with whom he had played.
He heard nothing but the patter of the distant firing, and all around him was the gloom, of a night, dark to intensity. The rain poured steadily out of a sky that did not contain a single star. Paul stirred occasionally on his shoulder, as he advanced, swiftly, picking his way through the forest and the undergrowth. A half mile forward and his ears caught a light footstep. In an instant he sank down with his burden, and as he did so he caught sight of an Indian warrior, not twenty feet away. The Shawnee saw him at the same time, and he, too, dropped down in the undergrowth.
Henry did not then feel the lust of blood. He would have been willing to pass on, and leave the Shawnee to himself; but he knew that the Shawnee would not leave him. He laid Paul upon his back, in order that the rain might beat upon his face, and then crouched beside him, absolutely motionless, but missing nothing that the keenest eye or ear might detect. It was a contest of patience, and the white youth brought to bear upon it both the red man's training and his own.
A half hour passed, and within that small area there was no sound but the beat of the rain on the warrior leaves and the sticky earth. Perhaps, he thought, he had been deceived; it was merely an illusion of the night that he thought he saw; or if he had seen anyone the man was now gone, creeping away through the undergrowth. He stirred among his own bushes, raised up a little to see, and gave his enemy a passing glimpse of his face. But it was enough; a rifle bullet struck him between the eyes and the wilderness fighter lay dead in the forest.
Henry bestowed not a thought on the slain warrior, but, lifting up Paul once more, continued on his wide curve, as if nothing had happened. No one interrupted him again, and after a while he was parallel with the line of fire. Then he passed around it and came to rocky ground, where he laid Paul down and chafed his hands and face. The wounded boy opened his eyes again, and, with returning strength, was now able to keep them open.
"Henry!" he said in a vague whisper.
"Yes, Paul, it is I," Henry replied quietly.
Paul lay still and struggled with memory. The in was now ceasing, and a few shafts of moonlight, piercing through the clouds, threw silver rays on the forest.
"The battle!" said Paul at last. "I was firing and something struck me. That was the last I remember."
He paused and his face suddenly brightened. He cast a look of gratitude at his comrade.
"You came for me?" he said.
"Yes," replied Henry, "I came for you, and I brought you here."
Paul closed his eyes, lay still, and then at a ghastly thought, opened his eyes again.
"Are only we two left?" he asked. "Are all the others killed? Is that why we are hiding here in the forest?"
"No," replied Henry, "we are holding them off, but we decided that it was wiser to retreat. We shall join our own people in the morning."
Paul said no more, and Henry sheltered him as best he could under the trees. The wet clothing he could not replace, and that would have to be endured. But he rubbed his body to keep him warm and to induce circulation. The night was now far advanced, and the distant firing became spasmodic and faint. After a while it ceased, and the weary combatants lay on their arms in the thickets.
The clouds began to float off to the eastward. By and by all went down under the horizon, and the sky sprang out, a solid dome of calm, untroubled blue, in which the stars in myriads twinkled and shone. A moon of unusual splendor bathed the wet forest in a silver dew.
Henry sat in the moonlight, watching beside Paul, who dozed or fell into a stupor. The moonlight passed, the darkest hours came and then up shot the dawn, bathing a green world in the mingled glory of red and gold. Henry raised Paul again, and started with him toward the thickets, where he knew the little white army lay.
John Ware had borne himself that night like a man, else he would not have been in the place that he held. But his heart had followed his son, when he turned back toward the savage army, and, despite the reassuring words of Ross, he already mourned him as one dead. Yet he was faithful to his greater duty, remembering the little force that he led and the women and children back there, of whom they were the chief and almost the sole defenders. But if he reached Wareville again how could he tell the tale of his loss? There was one to whom no excuse would seem good. Often Mr. Pennypacker was by his side, and when the darkness began to thin away before the moonlight these two men exchanged sad glances. Each understood what was in the heart of the other, but neither spoke.
The hours of night and combat dragged heavily. When the waning fire of the savages ceased they let their own cease also, and then sought ground upon which they might resist any new attack, made in the daylight. They found it at last in a rocky region that doubled the powers of the defense. Ross was openly exultant.
"We scorched 'em good yesterday an' to-night," he said, "an' if they come again in the day we'll just bum their faces away."
Most of the men, worn to the bone, sank down to sleep on the wet ground in their wet clothes, while the others watched, and the few hours, left before the morning, passed peacefully away.
At the first sunlight the men were awakened, and all ate cold food which they carried in their knapsacks. Mr. Ware and the schoolmaster sat apart. Mr. Ware looked steadily at the ground and the schoolmaster, whose heart was wrenched both with his own grief and his friend's, knew not what to say. Neither did Ross nor Sol disturb them for the moment, but busied themselves with preparations for the new defense.
Mr. Pennypacker was gazing toward the southwest and suddenly on the crest of a low ridge a black and formless object appeared between him and the sun. At first he thought it was a mote in his eye, and he rubbed the pupils but the mote grew larger, and then he looked with a new and stronger interest. It was a man; no, two men, one carrying the other, and the motion of the man who bore the other seemed familiar. The master's heart sprang up in his throat, and the blood swelled in a new tide in his veins. His hand fell heavily, but with joy, on the shoulder of Mr. Ware.
"Look up! Look up!. " he cried, "and see who is coming!"
Mr. Ware looked up and saw his son, with the wounded Paul Cotter on his shoulder, walking into camp. Then-the borderers were a pious people-he fell upon his knees and gave thanks. Two hours later the Shawnees in full force made a last and desperate attack upon the little white army. They ventured into the open, as venture they must to reach the defenders, and they were met by the terrible fire that never missed. At no time could they pass the deadly hail of bullets, and at last, leaving the ground strewed with their dead, they fell back into the forest, and then, breaking into a panic, did not cease fleeing until they had crossed the Ohio. Throughout the morning Henry Ware was one of the deadliest sharpshooters of them all, while Paul Cotter lay safely in the rear, and fretted because his wound would not let him do his part.
The great victory won, it was agreed that Henry Ware had done the best of them all, but they spent little time in congratulations. They preferred the sacred duty of burying the dead, even seeking those who had fallen in the forest the night before; and then they began their march southward, the more severely wounded carried on rude litters at first, but as they gained strength after a while walking, though lamely. Paul recovered fast, and when he heard the story, he looked upon Henry as a knight, the equal of any who ever rode down the pages of chivalry.
But all alike carried in their hearts the consciousness that they had struck a mighty blow that would grant life to the growing settlements, and, despite their sadly thinned ranks, they were full of a pride that needed no words. The men of Wareville and the men of Marlowe parted at the appointed place, and then each force went home with the news of victory.
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