Betty Zane/Chapter 13
MORNING found the settlers, with the exception of Col. Zane, his brother Jonathan, the negro Sam, and Martin Wetzel, all within the Fort. Col. Zane had determined, long before, that in the event of another siege, he would use his house as an outpost. Twice it had been destroyed by fire at the hands of the Indians. Therefore, surrounding himself by these men, who were all expert marksmen, Col. Zane resolved to protect his property and at the same time render valuable aid to the Fort.
Early that morning a pirogue loaded with cannon balls, from Ft. Pitt and bound for Louisville, had arrived and Captain Sullivan, with his crew of three men, had demanded admittance. In the absence of Capt. Boggs and Major McColloch, both of whom had been dispatched for reinforcements, Col. Zane had placed his brother Silas in command of the Fort. Sullivan informed Silas that he and his men had been fired on by Indians and that they sought the protection of the Fort. The services of himself and men, which he volunteered, were gratefully accepted.
All told, the little force in the block-house did not exceed forty-two, and that counting the boys and the women who could handle rifles. The few preparations had been completed and now the settlers were awaiting the appearance of the enemy. Few words were spoken. The children were secured where they would be out of the way of flying bullets. They were huddled together silent and frightened; pale-faced but resolute women passed up and down the length of the block-house; some carried buckets of water and baskets of food; others were tearing bandages; grim-faced men peered from the portholes; all were listening for the war-cry.
They had not long to wait. Before noon the well-known whoop came from the wooded shore of the river, and it was soon followed by the appearance of hundreds of Indians. The river, which was low, at once became a scene of great animation. From a placid, smoothly flowing stream it was turned into a muddy, splashing, turbulent torrent. The mounted warriors urged their steeds down the bank and into the water; the unmounted improvised rafts and placed their weapons and ammunition upon them; then they swam and pushed, kicked and yelled their way across; other Indians swam, holding the bridles of the pack-horses. A detachment of British soldiers followed the Indians. In an hour the entire army appeared on the river bluff not three hundred yards from the Fort. They were in no hurry to begin the attack. Especially did the Indians seem to enjoy the lull before the storm, and as they stalked to and fro in plain sight of the garrison, or stood in groups watching the Fort, they were seen in all their hideous war-paint and formidable battle-array. They were exultant. Their plumes and eagle feathers waved proudly in the morning breeze. Now and then the long, peculiarly broken yell of the Shawnees rang out clear and strong. The soldiers were drawn off to one side and well out of range of the settlers' guns. Their red coats and flashing bayonets were new to most of the little band of men in the block-house.
"Ho, the Fort!"
It was a strong, authoritative voice and came from a man mounted on a black horse.
"Well, Girty, what is it?" shouted Silas Zane.
"We demand unconditional surrender," was the answer.
"You will never get it," replied Silas.
"Take more time to think it over. You see we have a force here large enough to take the Fort in an hour."
"That remains to be seen," shouted some one through porthole.
An hour passed. The soldiers and the Indians lounged around on the grass and walked to and fro on the bluff. At intervals a taunting Indian yell, horrible in its suggestiveness came floating on the air. When the hour was up three mounted men rode out in advance of the waiting Indians. One was clad in buckskin, another in the uniform of a British officer, and the third was an Indian chief whose powerful form was naked except for his buckskin belt and legging.
"Will you surrender?" came in the harsh and arrogant voice of the renegade.
"Never! Go back to your squaws!" yelled Sullivan.
"I am Capt. Pratt of the Queen's Rangers. If you surrender I will give you the best protection King George affords," shouted the officer.
"To hell with lying George! Go back to your hair-buying Hamilton and tell him the whole British army could not make us surrender," roared Hugh Bennet.
"If you do not give up, the Fort will be attacked and burned. Your men will be massacred and your women given to the Indians," said Girty.
"You will never take a man, woman or child alive," yelled Silas. "We remember Crawford, you white traitor, and we are not going to give up to be butchered. Come on with your red-jackets and your red-devils. We are ready."
"We have captured and killed the messenger you sent out, and now all hope of succor must be abandoned. Your doom is sealed."
"What kind of a man was he?" shouted Sullivan.
"A fine, active young fellow," answered the outlaw.
"That's a lie," snapped Sullivan, "he was an old, gray-haired man."
As the officer and the outlaw chief turned, apparently to consult their companion, a small puff of white smoke shot forth from one of the portholes of the block-house. It was followed by the ringing report of a rifle. The Indian chief clutched wildly at his breast, fell forward on his horse, and after vainly trying to keep his seat, slipped to the ground. He raised himself once, then fell backward and lay still. Full two hundred yards was not proof against Wetzel's deadly smallbore, and Red Fox, the foremost war chieftain of the Shawnees, lay dead, a victim to the hunter's vengeance. It was characteristic of Wetzel that he picked the chief, for he could have shot either the British officer or the renegade. They retreated out of range, leaving the body of the chief where it had fallen, while the horse, giving a frightened snort, galloped toward the woods. Wetzel's yell coming quickly after his shot, excited the Indians to a very frenzy, and they started on a run for the Fort, discharging their rifles and screeching like so many demons.
In the cloud of smoke which at once enveloped the scene the Indians spread out and surrounded the Fort. A tremendous rush by a large party of Indians was made for the gate of the Fort. They attacked it fiercely with their tomahawks, and a log which they used as a battering-ram. But the stout gate withstood their united efforts, and the galling fire from the portholes soon forced them to fall back and seek cover behind the trees and the rocks. From these points of vantage they kept up an uninterrupted fire.
The soldiers had made a dash at the stockade-fence, yelling derision at the small French cannon which was mounted on top of the block-house. They thought it a "dummy" because they had learned that in the 1777 siege the garrison had no real cannon, but had tried to utilize a wooden one. They yelled and hooted and mocked at this piece and dared the garrison to fire it. Sullivan, who was in charge of the cannon, bided his time. When the soldiers were massed closely together and making another rush for the stockade-fence Sullivan turned loose the little "bulldog," spreading consternation and destruction in the British ranks.
"Stand back! Stand back!" Capt. Pratt was heard to yell. "By God! there's no wood about that gun."
After this the besiegers withdrew for a breathing spell. At this early stage of the siege the Indians were seen to board Sullivan's pirogue, and it was soon discovered they were carrying the cannon balls from the boat to the top of the bluff. In their simple minds they had conceived a happy thought. They procured a white-oak log probably a foot in diameter, split it through the middle and hollowed out the inside with their tomahawks. Then with iron chains and bars, which they took from Reihart's blacksmith shop, they bound and securely fastened the sides together. They dragged the improvised cannon nearer to the Fort, placed it on two logs and weighted it down with stones. A heavy charge of powder and ball was then rammed into the wooden gun. The soldiers, though much interested in the manœuvre, moved back to a safe distance, while many of the Indians crowded round the new weapon. The torch was applied; there was a red flash—boom! The hillside was shaken by the tremendous explosion, and when the smoke lifted from the scene the naked forms of the Indians could be seen writhing in agony on the ground. Not a vestige of the wooden gun remained. The iron chains had proved terrible death-dealing missiles to the Indians near the gun. The Indians now took to their natural methods of warfare. They hid in the long grass, in the deserted cabins, behind the trees and up in the branches. Not an Indian was visible, but the rain of bullets pattered steadily against the block-house. Every bush and every tree spouted little puffs of white smoke, and the leaden messengers of Death whistled through the air.
After another unsuccessful effort to destroy a section of the stockade-fence the soldiers had retired. Their red jackets made them a conspicuous mark for the sharp-eyed settlers. Capt. Pratt had been shot through the thigh. He suffered great pain, and was deeply chagrined by the surprising and formidable defense of the garrison which he had been led to believe would fall an easy prey to the King's soldiers. He had lost one-third of his men. Those who were left refused to run straight in the face of certain death. They had not been drilled to fight an unseen enemy. Capt. Pratt was compelled to order a retreat to the river bluff, where he conferred with Girty.
Inside the block-house was great activity, but no confusion. That little band of fighters might have been drilled for a king's bodyguard. Kneeling before each porthole on the river side of the Fort was a man who would fight while there was breath left in him. He did not discharge his weapon aimlessly as the Indians did, but waited until he saw the outline of an Indian form, or a red coat, or a puff of white smoke; then he would thrust the rifle-barrel forward, take a quick aim and fire. By the side of every man stood a heroic woman whose face was blanched, but who spoke never a word as she put the muzzle of the hot rifle into a bucket of water, cooled the barrel, wiped it dry and passed it back to the man beside her.
Silas Zane had been wounded at the first fire. A glancing ball had struck him on the head, inflicting a painful scalp wound. It was now being dressed by Col. Zane's wife, whose skilled fingers were already tired with the washing and the bandaging of the injuries received by the defenders. In all that horrible din of battle, the shrill yells of the savages, the hoarse shouts of the settlers, the boom of the cannon overhead, the cracking of rifles and the whistling of bullets; in all that din of appalling noise, and amid the stifling smoke, the smell of burned powder, the sickening sight of the desperately wounded and the already dead, the Colonel's brave wife had never faltered. She was here and there; binding the wounds, helping Lydia and Betty mould bullets, encouraging the men, and by her example, enabling those women to whom border war was new to bear up under the awful strain.
Sullivan, who had been on top of the block-house, came down the ladder almost without touching it. Blood was running down his bare arm and dripping from the ends of his fingers.
"Zane, Martin has been shot," he said hoarsely. "The same Indian who shot away these fingers did it. The bullets seem to come from some elevation. Send some scout up there and find out where that damned Indian is hiding."
"Martin shot? God, his poor wife! Is he dead?" said Silas.
"Not yet. Bennet is bringing him down. Here, I want this hand tied up, so that my gun won't be so slippery."
Wetzel was seen stalking from one porthole to another. His fearful yell sounded above all the others. He seemed to bear a charmed life, for not a bullet had so much as scratched him. Silas communicated to him what Sullivan had said. The hunter mounted the ladder and went up on the roof. Soon he reappeared, descended into the room and ran into the west end of the block-house. He kneeled before a porthole through which he pushed the long black barrel of his rifle. Silas and Sullivan followed him and looked in the direction indicated by his weapon. It pointed toward the bushy top of a tall poplar tree which stood on the hill west of the Fort. Presently a little cloud of white smoke issued from the leafy branches, and it was no sooner seen than Wetzel's rifle was discharged. There was a great commotion among the leaves, the branches swayed and thrashed, and then a dark body plunged downward to strike on the rocky slope of the bluff and roll swiftly out of sight. The hunter's unnatural yell pealed out.
"Great God! The man's crazy," cried Sullivan, staring at Wetzel's demon-like face.
"No, no. It's his way," answered Silas.
At that moment the huge frame of Bennet filled up the opening in the roof and started down the ladder. In one arm he carried the limp body of a young man. When he reached the floor he laid the body down and beckoned to Mrs. Zane. Those watching saw that the young man was Will Martin, and that he was still alive. But it was evident that he had not long to live. His face had a leaden hue and his eyes were bright and glassy. Alice, his wife, flung herself on her knees beside him and tenderly raised the drooping head. No words could express the agony in her face as she raised it to Mrs. Zane. In it was a mute appeal, an unutterable prayer for hope. Mrs. Zane turned sorrowfully to her task. There was no need of her skill here. Alfred Clarke, who had been ordered to take Martin's place on top of the block-house, paused a moment in silent sympathy. When he saw that little hole in the bared chest, from which the blood welled up in an awful stream, he shuddered and passed on. Betty looked up from her work and then turned away sick and faint. Her mute lips moved as if in prayer.
Alice was left alone with her dying husband. She tenderly supported his head on her bosom, leaned her face against his and kissed the cold, numb lips. She murmured into his already deaf ear the old tender names. He knew her, for he made a feeble effort to pass his arm round her neck. A smile illumined his face. Then death claimed him. With wild, distended eyes and with hands pressed tightly to her temples Alice rose slowly to her feet.
"Oh, God! Oh, God!" she cried.
Her prayer was answered. In a momentary lull in the battle was heard the deadly hiss of a bullet as it sped through one of the portholes. It ended with a slight sickening spat as the lead struck the flesh. Then Alice, without a cry, fell on the husband's breast. Silas Zane found her lying dead with the body of her husband clasped closely in her arms. He threw a blanket over them and went on his wearying round of the bastions.
The besiegers had been greatly harassed and hampered by the continual fire from Col. Zane's house. It was exceedingly difficult for the Indians, and impossible for the British, to approach near enough to the Colonel's house to get an effective shot. Col. Zane and his men had the advantage of being on higher ground. Also they had four rifles to a man, and they used every spare moment for reloading. Thus they were enabled to pour a deadly fire into the ranks of the enemy, and to give the impression of being much stronger in force than they really were.
About dusk the firing ceased and the Indians repaired to the river bluff. Shortly afterward their camp-fires were extinguished and all became dark and quiet. Two hours passed. Fortunately the clouds, which had at first obscured the moon, cleared away somewhat and enough light was shed on the scene to enable the watchers to discern objects near by.
Col. Zane had just called together his men for a conference. He suspected some cunning deviltry on part of the Indians.
"Sam, take what stuff to eat you can lay your hands on and go up to the loft. Keep a sharp lookout and report anything to Jonathan or me," said the Colonel.
All afternoon Jonathan Zane had loaded and fired his rifles in sullen and dogged determination. He had burst one rifle and disabled another. The other men were fine marksmen, but it was undoubtedly Jonathan's unerring aim that made the house so unapproachable. He used an extremely heavy, large bore rifle. In the hands of a man strong enough to stand its fierce recoil it was a veritable cannon. The Indians had soon learned to respect the range of that rifle, and they gave the cabin a wide berth.
But now that darkness had enveloped the valley the advantage lay with the savages. Col. Zane glanced apprehensively at the blackened face of his brother.
"Do you think the Fort can hold out?" he asked in a husky voice. He was a bold man, but he thought now of his wife and children.
"I don't know," answered Jonathan. "I saw that big Shawnee chief today. His name is Fire. He is well named. He is a fiend. Girty has a picked band."
"The Fort has held out surprisingly well against such combined and fierce attacks. The Indians are desperate. You can easily see that in the way in which they almost threw their lives away. The green square is covered with dead Indians."
"If help does not come in twenty-four hours not one man will escape alive. Even Wetzel could not break through that line of Indians. But if we can hold the Indians off a day longer they will get tired and discouraged. Girty will not be able to hold them much longer. The British don't count. It's not their kind of war. They can't shoot, and so far as I can see they haven't done much damage."
"To your posts, men, and every man think of the women and children in the block-house."
For a long time, which seemed hours to the waiting and watching settlers, not a sound could be heard, nor any sign of the enemy seen. Thin clouds had again drifted over the moon, allowing only a pale, wan light to shine down on the valley. Time dragged on and the clouds grew thicker and denser until the moon and the stars were totally obscured. Still no sign or sound of the savages.
"What was that?" suddenly whispered Col. Zane.
"It was a low whistle from Sam. We'd better go up," said Jonathan.
They went up the stairs to the second floor from which they ascended to the loft by means of a ladder. The loft was as black as pitch. In that Egyptian darkness it was no use to look for anything, so they crawled on their hands and knees over the piles of hides and leather which lay on the floor. When they reached the small window they made out the form of the negro.
"What is it, Sam?" whispered Jonathan.
"Look, see thar, Massa Zane," came the answer in a hoarse whisper from the negro and at the same time he pointed down toward the ground.
Col. Zane put his head alongside Jonathan's and all three men peered out into the darkness.
"Jack, can you see anything?" said Col. Zane.
"No, but wait a minute until the moon throws a light."
A breeze had sprung up. The clouds were passing rapidly over the moon, and at long intervals a rift between the clouds let enough light through to brighten the square for an instant.
"Now, Massa Zane, thar!" exclaimed the slave.
"I can't see a thing. Can you, Jack?"
"I am not sure yet. I can see something, but whether it is a log or not I don't know."
Just then there was a faint light like the brightening of a firefly, or like the blowing of a tiny spark from a stick of burning wood. Jonathan uttered a low curse.
"D——n 'em! At their old tricks with fire. I thought all this quiet meant something. The grass out there is full of Indians, and they are carrying lighted arrows under them so as to cover the light. But we'll fool the red devils this time"
"I can see 'em, Massa Zane."
"Sh-h-h! no more talk," whispered Col. Zane.
The men waited with cocked rifles. Another spark rose seemingly out of the earth. This time it was nearer the house. No sooner had its feeble light disappeared than the report of the negro's rifle awoke the sleeping echoes. It was succeeded by a yell which seemed to come from under the window. Several dark forms rose so suddenly that they appeared to spring out of the ground. Then came the peculiar twang of Indian bows. There were showers of sparks and little streaks of fire with long tails like comets winged their parabolic flight toward the cabin. Falling short they hissed and sputtered in the grass. Jonathan's rifle spoke and one of the fleeing forms tumbled to the earth. A series of long yells from all around the Fort greeted this last shot, but not an Indian fired a rifle.
Fire-tipped arrows were now shot at the block-house, but not one took effect, although a few struck the stockade-fence. Col. Zane had taken the precaution to have the high grass and the clusters of goldenrod cut down all round the Fort. The wisdom of this course now became evident, for the wily savages could not crawl near enough to send their fiery arrows on the roof of the block-house. This attempt failing, the Indians drew back to hatch up some other plot to burn the Fort.
"Look!" suddenly exclaimed Jonathan.
Far down the road, perhaps five hundred yards from the Fort, a point of light had appeared. At first it was still, and then it took an odd jerky motion, to this side and to that, up and down like a jack-o-lantern.
"What the hell?" muttered Col. Zane, sorely puzzled. "Jack, by all that's strange it's getting bigger."
Sure enough the spark of fire, or whatever it was, grew larger and larger. Col. Zane thought it might be a light carried by a man on horseback. But if this were true where was the clatter of the horse's hoofs? On that rocky blur no horse could run noiselessly. It could not be a horse. Fascinated and troubled by this new mystery which seemed to presage evil to them the watchers waited with that patience known only to those accustomed to danger. They knew that whatever it was, it was some satanic stratagem of the savages, and that it would come all too soon.
The light was now zigzagging back and forth across the road, and approaching the Fort with marvelous rapidity. Now its motion was like the wide swinging of a lighted lantern on a dark night. A moment more of breathless suspense and the lithe form of an Indian brave could be seen behind the light. He was running with almost incredible swiftness down the road in the direction of the Fort. Passing at full speed within seventy-five yards of the stockade-fence the Indian shot his arrow. Like a fiery serpent flying through the air the missile sped onward in its graceful flight, going clear over the block-house, and striking with a spiteful thud the roof of one of the cabins beyond. Unhurt by the volley that was fired at him, the daring brave passed swiftly out of sight.
Deeds like this were dear to the hearts of the savages. They were deeds which made a warrior of a brave, and for which honor any Indian would risk his life over and over again. The exultant yells which greeted this performance proclaimed its success.
The breeze had already fanned the smouldering arrow into a blaze and the dry roof of the cabin had caught fire and was burning fiercely.
"That infernal redskin is going to do that again," ejaculated Jonathan.
It was indeed true. That same small bright light could be seen coming down the road gathering headway with every second. No doubt the same Indian, emboldened by his success, and maddened with that thirst for glory so often fatal to his kind, was again making the effort to fire the block-house.
The eyes of Col. Zane and his companions were fastened on the light as it came nearer and nearer with its changing motion. The burning cabin brightened the square before the Fort. The slender, shadowy figure of the Indian could be plainly seen emerging from the gloom. So swiftly did he run that he seemed to have wings. Now he was in the full glare of the light. What a magnificent nerve, what a terrible assurance there was in his action! It seemed to paralyze all. The red arrow emitted a shower of sparks as it was discharged. This time it winged its way straight and true and imbedded itself in the roof of the block-house.
Almost at the same instant a solitary rifle shot rang out and the daring warrior plunged headlong, sliding face downward in the dust of the road, while from the Fort came that demoniac yell now grown so familiar.
"Wetzel's compliments," muttered Jonathan. "But the mischief is done. Look at that damned burning arrow. If it doesn't blow out the Fort will go."
The arrow was visible, but it seemed a mere spark. It alternately paled and glowed. One moment it almost went out, and the next it gleamed brightly. To the men, compelled to look on and powerless to prevent the burning of the now apparently doomed block-house, that spark was like the eye of Hell.
"Ho, the Fort," yelled Col. Zane with all the power of his strong lungs. "Ho, Silas, the roof is on fire!"
Pandemonium had now broken out among the Indians. They could be plainly seen in the red glare thrown by the burning cabin. It had been a very dry season, the rough shingles were like tinder, and the inflammable material burst quickly into great flames, lighting up the valley as far as the edge of the forest. It was an awe-inspiring and a horrible spectacle. Columns of yellow and black smoke rolled heavenward; every object seemed dyed a deep crimson; the trees assumed fantastic shapes; the river veiled itself under a red glow. Above the roaring and crackling of the flames rose the inhuman yelling of the savages. Like demons of the inferno they ran to and fro, their naked painted bodies shining in the glare. One group of savages formed a circle and danced hands-around a stump as gayly as a band of school-girls at a May party. They wrestled with and hugged one another; they hopped, skipped and jumped, and in every possible way manifested their fiendish joy.
The British took no part in this revelry. To their credit it must be said they kept in the background as though ashamed of this horrible fire-war on people of their own blood.
"Why don't they fire the cannon?" impatiently said Col. Zane. "Why don't they do something?"
"Perhaps it is disabled, or maybe they are short of ammunition," suggested Jonathan.
"The block-house will burn down before our eyes. Look! The hell-hounds have set fire to the fence. I see men running and throwing water."
"I see something on the roof of the block-house," cried Jonathan. "There, down towards the east end of the roof and in the shadow of the chimney. And as I'm a living sinner it's a man crawling towards that blazing arrow. The Indians have not discovered him yet. He is still in the shadow. But they'll see him. God! What a nervy thing to do in the face of all those redskins. It is almost certain death!"
"Yes, and they see him," said the Colonel.
With shrill yells the Indians bounded forward and aimed and fired their rifles at the crouching figure of the man. Some hid behind the logs they had rolled toward the Fort; others boldly faced the steady fire now pouring from the portholes. The savages saw in the movement of that man an attempt to defeat their long-cherished hope of burning the Fort. Seeing he was discovered, the man did not hesitate, nor did he lose a second. Swiftly he jumped and ran toward the end of the roof where the burning arrow, now surrounded by blazing shingles, was sticking in the roof. How he ever ran along that slanting roof and with a pail in his hand was incomprehensible. In moments like that men become superhuman. It all happened in an instant. He reached the arrow, kicked it over the wall, and then dashed the bucket of water on the blazing shingles. In that single instant, wherein his tall form was outlined against the bright light behind him, he presented the fairest kind of a mark for the Indians. Scores of rifles were levelled and discharged at him. The bullets pattered like hail on the roof of the block-house, but apparently none found their mark, for the man ran back and disappeared.
"It was Clarke!" exclaimed Col. Zane. "No one but Clarke has such light hair. Wasn't that a plucky thing?"
"It has saved the block-house for to-night," answered Jonathan. "See, the Indians are falling back. They can't stand in the face of that shooting. Hurrah! Look at them fall! It could not have happened better. The light from the cabin will prevent any more close attacks for an hour and daylight is near."