When the last soldier had disappeared
among the trees, Henry turned to the others.
“Well, boys,” he asked, “what are
you thinking about?”
“I?” asked Paul.
“I’m thinking about a certain place I know,
a sort of alcove or hole in a cliff above a lake.”
“An’ me?” said Shif’less
Sol. “I’m thinkin’ how fur that
alcove runs back, an’ how it could be fitted
up with furs an’ made warm fur the winter.”
“Me?” said Tom Ross.
“I’m thinkin’ what a snug place that
alcove would be when the snow an’ hail were
drivin’ down the creek in front of you.”
“An’ ez fur me,”
said Long Jim Hart, “I wuz thinkin’ I could
run a sort uv flue from the back part uv that alcove
out through the front an’ let the smoke pass
out. I could cook all right. It wouldn’t
be ez good a place fur cookin’ ez the one we
hed that time we spent the winter on the island in
the lake, but ’twould serve.”
said Henry, “but I’ve been thinking of
all the things that all four of you have been thinking
about, and, since we are agreed, we are bound to go
straight to ‘The Alcove’ and pass the winter
Without another word he led the way,
and the others followed. It was apparent to everyone
that they must soon find a winter base, because the
cold had increased greatly in the last few days.
The last leaves had fallen from the trees, and a searching
wind howled among the bare branches. Better shelter
than blankets would soon be needed.
On their way they passed Oghwaga,
a mass of blackened ruins, among which wolves howled,
the same spectacle that Wyoming now afforded, although
Oghwaga had not been stained by blood.
It was a long journey to “The
Alcove,” but they did not hurry, seeing no need
of it, although they were warned of the wisdom of their
decision by the fact that the cold was increasing.
The country in which the lake was situated lay high,
and, as all of them were quite sure that the cold
was going to be great there, they thought it wise to
make preparations against it, which they discussed
as they walked in, leisurely fashion through the woods.
They spoke, also, of greater things. All felt
that they had been drawn into a mightier current than
any in which they had swam before. They fully
appreciated the importance to the Revolution of this
great rearguard struggle, and at present they did not
have the remotest idea of returning to Kentucky under
“We’ve got to fight it
out with Braxton Wyatt and the Iroquois,” said
Henry. “I’ve heard that Braxton is
organizing a band of Tories of his own, and that he
is likely to be as dangerous as either of the Butlers.”
“Some day we’ll end him
for good an’ all,” said Shif’less
It was four or five days before they
reached their alcove, and now all the forest was bare
and apparently lifeless. They came down the creek,
and found their boat unharmed and untouched still among
the foliage at the base of the cliff.
“That’s one thing safe,”
said Long Jim, “an’ I guess we’ll
find ’The Alcove’ all right, too.”
“Unless a wild animal has taken
up its abode there,” said Paul.
replied Long Jim. “We’ve left the
human smell thar, an’ even after all this time
it’s likely to drive away any prowlin’
bear or panther that pokes his nose in.”
Long Jim was quite right. Their
snug nest, like that of a squirrel in the side of
a tree, had not been disturbed. The skins which
they had rolled up tightly and placed on the higher
shelves of stone were untouched, and several days’
hunting increased the supply. The hunting was
singularly easy, and, although the five did not know
it, the quantity of game was much greater in that
region than it had been for years. It had been
swept of human beings by the Iroquois and Tory hordes,
and deer, bear, and panther seemed to know instinctively
that the woods were once more safe for them.
In their hunting they came upon the
ruins of charred houses, and more than once they saw
something among the coals that caused them to turn
away with a shudder. At every place where man
had made a little opening the wilderness was quickly
reclaiming its own again. Next year the grass
and the foliage would cover up the coals and the hideous
relics that lay among them.
They jerked great quantities of venison
on the trees on the cliff side, and stored it in “The
Alcove.” They also cured some bear meat,
and, having added a further lining of skins, they
felt prepared for winter. They had also added
to the comfort of the place. They had taken the
precaution of bringing with them two axes, and with
the heads of these they smoothed out more of the rough
places on the floor and sides of “The Alcove.”
They thought it likely, too, that they would need the
axes in other ways later on.
Only once during these arrangements
did they pass the trail of Indians, and that was made
by a party of about twenty, at least ten miles from
“The Alcove.” They seemed to be traveling
north, and the five made no investigations. Somewhat
later they met a white runner in the forest, and he
told them of the terrible massacre of Cherry Valley.
Walter Butler, emulating his father’s exploit
at Wyoming, had come down with a mixed horde of Iroquois,
Tories, British, and Canadians. He had not been
wholly successful, but he had slaughtered half a hundred
women and children, and was now returning northward
with prisoners. Some said, according to the runner,
that Thayendanegea had led the Indians on this occasion,
but, as the five learned later, he had not come up
until the massacre was over. The runner added
another piece of information that interested them
deeply. Butler had been accompanied to Cherry
Valley by a young Tory or renegade named Wyatt, who
had distinguished himself by cunning and cruelty.
It was said that Wyatt had built up for himself a
semi-independent command, and was becoming a great
“That’s our Braxton,”
said Henry. “He is rising to his opportunities.
He is likely to become fully the equal of Walter Butler.”
But they could do nothing at present
to find Wyatt, and they went somewhat sadly back to
“The Alcove.” They had learned also
from the runner that Wyatt had a lieutenant, a Tory
named Coleman, and this fact increased their belief
that Wyatt was undertaking to operate on a large scale.
“We may get a chance at him
anyhow,” said Henry. “He and his band
may go too far away from the main body of the Indians
and Tories, and in that case we can strike a blow
if we are watchful.”
Every one of the five, although none
of them knew it, received an additional impulse from
this news about Braxton Wyatt. He had grown up
with them. Loyalty to the king had nothing to
do with his becoming a renegade or a Tory; he could
not plead lost lands or exile for taking part in such
massacres as Wyoming or Cherry Valley, but, long since
an ally of the Indians, he was now at the head of
a Tory band that murdered and burned from sheer pleasure.
“Some day we’ll get him,
as shore as the sun rises an’ sets,” said
Shif’less Sol, repeating Henry’s prediction.
But for the present they “holed
up,” and now their foresight was justified.
To such as they, used to the hardships of forest life,
“The Alcove” was a cheery nest. From
its door they watched the wild fowl streaming south,
pigeons, ducks, and others outlined against the dark,
wintry skies. So numerous were these flocks that
there was scarcely a time when they did not see one
passing toward the warm South.
Shif’less Sol and Paul sat together
watching a great flock of wild geese, arrow shaped,
and flying at almost incredible speed. A few
faint honks came to them, and then the geese grew misty
on the horizon. Shif’less Sol followed
them with serious eyes.
“Do you ever think, Paul,”
he said, “that we human bein’s ain’t
so mighty pow’ful ez we think we are. We
kin walk on the groun’, an’ by hard learnin’
an’ hard work we kin paddle through the water
a little. But jest look at them geese flyin’
a mile high, right over everything, rivers, forests
any mountains, makin’ a hundred miles an hour,
almost without flappin’ a wing. Then they
kin come down on the water an’ float fur hours
without bein’ tired, an’ they kin waddle
along on the groun’, too. Did you ever
hear of any men who had so many ’complishments?
Why, Paul, s’pose you an’ me could grow
wings all at once, an’ go through the air a
mile a minute fur a month an’ never git tired.”
“We’d certainly see some
great sights,” said Paul, “but do you know,
Sol, what would be the first thing I’d do if
I had the gift of tireless wings?”
“Fly off to them other continents
I’ve heard you tell about.”
“No, I’d swoop along over
the forests up here until I picked out all the camps
of the Indians and Tories. I’d pick out
the Butlers and Braxton Wyatt and Coleman, and see
what mischief they were planning. Then I’d
fly away to the East and look down at all the armies,
ours in buff and blue, and the British redcoats.
I’d look into the face of our great commander-in-chief.
Then I’d fly away back into the West and South,
and I’d hover over Wareville. I’d
see our own people, every last little one of them.
They might take a shot at me, not knowing who I was,
but I’d be so high up in the air no bullet could
reach me. Then I’d come soaring back here
to you fellows.”
“That would shorely be a grand
trip, Paul,” said Shif’less Sol, “an’
I wouldn’t mind takin’ it in myself.
But fur the present we’d better busy our minds
with the warnin’s the wild fowl are givin’
us, though we’re well fixed fur a house already.
It’s cu’rus what good homes a handy man
kin find in the wilderness.”
The predictions of the wild fowl were
true. A few days later heavy clouds rolled up
in the southwest, and the five watched them, knowing
what they would bring them. They spread to the
zenith and then to the other horizon, clothing the
whole circle of the earth. The great flakes began
to drop down, slowly at first, then faster. Soon
all the trees were covered with white, and everything
else, too, except the dark surface of the lake, which
received the flakes into its bosom as they fell.
It snowed all that day and most of
the next, until it lay about two feet on the ground.
After that it turned intensely cold, the surface of
the snow froze, and ice, nearly a foot thick, covered
the lake. It was not possible to travel under
such circumstances without artificial help, and now
Tom Ross, who had once hunted in the far North, came
to their help. He showed them how to make snowshoes,
and, although all learned to use them, Henry, with
his great strength and peculiar skill, became by far
the most expert.
As the snow with its frozen surface
lay on the ground for weeks, Henry took many long
journeys on the snowshoes. Sometimes be hunted,
but oftener his rôle was that of scout. He cautioned
his friends that he might be out-three or four days
at a time, and that they need take no alarm about
him unless his absence became extremely long.
The winter deepened, the snow melted, and another
and greater storm came, freezing the surface, again
making the snowshoes necessary. Henry decided
now to take a scout alone to the northward, and, as
the others bad long since grown into the habit of
accepting his decisions almost without question, he
started at once. He was well equipped with his
rifle, double barreled pistol, hatchet, and knife,
and he carried in addition a heavy blanket and some
jerked venison. He put on his snowshoes at the
foot of the cliff, waved a farewell to the four heads
thrust from “The Alcove” above, and struck
out on the smooth, icy surface of the creek. From
this he presently passed into the woods, and for a
long time pursued a course almost due north.
It was no vague theory that had drawn
Henry forth. In one of his journeyings be had
met a hunter who told him of a band of Tories and
Indians encamped toward the north, and he had an idea
that it was the party led by Braxton Wyatt. Now
he meant to see.
His information was very indefinite,
and he began to discover signs much earlier than he
had expected. Before the end of the first day
he saw the traces of other snowshoe runners on the
icy snow, and once he came to a place where a deer
had been slain and dressed. Then he came to another
where the snow had been hollowed out under some pines
to make a sleeping place for several men. Clearly
he was in the land of the enemy again, and a large
and hostile camp might be somewhere near.
Henry felt a thrill of joy when he
saw these indications. All the primitive instincts
leaped up within him. A child of the forest and
of elemental conditions, the warlike instinct was
strong within him. He was tired of hunting wild
animals, and now there was promise of a’ more
dangerous foe. For the purposes that he had in
view he was glad that he was alone. The wintry
forest, with its two feet of snow covered with ice,
contained no terrors for him. He moved on his
snowshoes almost like a skater, and with all the dexterity
of an Indian of the far North, who is practically
born on such shoes.
As he stood upon the brow of a little
hill, elevated upon his snowshoes, he was, indeed,
a wonderful figure. The added height and the white
glare from the ice made him tower like a great giant.
He was clad completely in soft, warm deerskin, his
hands were gloved in the same material, and the fur
cap was drawn tightly about his head and ears.
The slender-barreled rifle lay across his shoulder,
and the blanket and deer meat made a light package
on his back. Only his face was uncovered, and
that was rosy with the sharp but bracing cold.
But the resolute blue eyes seemed to have grown more
resolute in the last six months, and the firm jaw
was firmer than ever.
It was a steely blue sky, clear, hard,
and cold, fitted to the earth of snow and ice that
it inclosed. His eyes traveled the circle of the
horizon three times, and at the end of the third circle
he made out a dim, dark thread against that sheet
of blue steel. It was the light of a camp fire,
and that camp fire must belong to an enemy. It
was not likely that anybody else would be sending
forth such a signal in this wintry wilderness.
Henry judged that the fire was several
miles away, and apparently in a small valley hemmed
in by hills of moderate height. He made up his
mind that the band of Braxton Wyatt was there, and
he intended to make a thorough scout about it.
He advanced until the smoke line became much thicker
and broader, and then he stopped in the densest clump
of bushes that he could find. He meant to remain
there until darkness came, because, with all foliage
gone from the forest, it would be impossible to examine
the hostile camp by day. The bushes, despite the
lack of leaves, were so dense that they hid him well,
and, breaking through the crust of ice, he dug a hole.
Then, having taken off his snowshoes and wrapped his
blanket about his body, he thrust himself into the
hole exactly like a rabbit in its burrow. He
laid his shoes on the crust of ice beside him.
Of course, if found there by a large party of warriors
on snowshoes he would have no chance to flee, but he
was willing to take what seemed to him a small risk.
The dark would not be long in coming, and it was snug
and warm in the hole. As he sat, his head rose
just above the surrounding ice, but his rifle barrel
rose much higher. He ate a little venison for
supper, and the weariness in the ankles that comes
from long traveling on snowshoes disappeared.
He could not see outside the bushes,
but he listened with those uncommonly keen ears of
his. No sound at all came. There was not
even a wind to rustle the bare boughs. The sun
hung a huge red globe in the west, and all that side
of the earth was tinged with a red glare, wintry and
cold despite its redness. Then, as the earth turned,
the sun was lost behind it, and the cold dark came.
Henry found it so comfortable in his
burrow that all his muscles were soothed, and he grew
sleepy. It would have been very pleasant to doze
there, but he brought himself round with an effort
of the will, and became as wide awake as ever.
He was eager to be off on his expedition, but he knew
how much depended on waiting, and he waited. One
hour, two hours, three hours, four hours, still and
dark, passed in the forest before he roused himself
from his covert. Then, warm, strong, and tempered
like steel for his purpose, he put on his snowshoes,
and advanced toward the point from which the column
of smoke had risen.
He had never been more cautious and
wary than he was now. He was a formidable figure
in the darkness, crouched forward, and moving like
some spirit of the wilderness, half walking, half gliding.
Although the night had come out rather
clear, with many cold stars twinkling in the blue,
the line of smoke was no longer visible. But
Henry did not expect it to be, nor did he need it.
He had marked its base too clearly in his mind to
make any mistake, and he advanced with certainty.
He came presently into an open space, and he stopped
with amazement. Around him were the stumps of
a clearing made recently, and near him were some yards
of rough rail fence.
He crouched against the fence, and
saw on the far side of the clearing the dim outlines
of several buildings, from the chimneys of two of
which smoke was rising. It was his first thought
that he had come upon a little settlement still held
by daring borderers, but second thought told him that
it was impossible. Another and more comprehensive
look showed many signs of ruin. He saw remains
of several burned houses, but clothing all was the
atmosphere of desolation and decay that tells when
a place is abandoned. The two threads of smoke
did not alter this impression.
Henry divined it all. The builders
of this tiny village in the wilderness bad been massacred
or driven away. A part of the houses had been
destroyed, some were left standing, and now there were
visitors. He advanced without noise, keeping
behind the rail fence, and approaching one of the
houses from the chimneys of which the smoke came.
Here be crouched a long time, looking and listening
attentively; but it seemed that the visitors had no
fears. Why should they, when there was nothing
that they need fear in this frozen wilderness?
Henry stole a little nearer.
It had been a snug, trim little settlement. Perhaps
twenty-five or thirty people had lived there, literally
hewing a home out of the forest. His heart throbbed
with a fierce hatred and, anger against those who
had spoiled all this, and his gloved finger crept
to the hammer of his rifle.
The night was intensely cold.
The mercury was far below zero, and a wind that had
begun to rise cut like the edge of a knife. Even
the wariest of Indians in such desolate weather might
fail to keep a watch. But Henry did not suffer.
The fur cap was drawn farther over chin and ears, and
the buckskin gloves kept his fingers warm and flexible.
Besides, his blood was uncommonly hot in his veins.
His comprehensive eye told him that,
while some of the buildings had not been destroyed,
they were so ravaged and damaged that they could never
be used again, save as a passing shelter, just as they
were being used now. He slid cautiously about
the desolate place. He crossed a brook, frozen
almost solidly in its bed, and he saw two or three
large mounds that had been haystacks, now covered
Then he slid without noise back to
the nearest of the houses from which the smoke came.
It was rather more pretentious than the others, built
of planks instead of logs, and with shingles for a
roof. The remains of a small portico formed the
approach to the front door. Henry supposed that
the house had been set on fire and that perhaps a heavy
rain had saved a part of it.
A bar of light falling across the
snow attracted his attention. He knew that it
was the glow of a fire within coming through a window.
A faint sound of voices reached his ears, and he moved
forward slowly to the window. It was an oaken
shutter originally fastened with a leather strap,
but the strap was gone, and now some one had tied it,
though not tightly, with a deer tendon. The crack
between shutter and wall was at least three inches,
and Henry could see within very well.
He pressed his side tightly to the
wall and put his eyes to the crevice. What he
saw within did not still any of those primitive feelings
that had risen so strongly in his breast.
A great fire had been built in the
log fireplace, but it was burning somewhat low now,
having reached that mellow period of least crackling
and greatest heat. The huge bed of coals threw
a mass of varied and glowing colors across the floor.
Large holes had been burned in the side of the room
by the original fire, but Indian blankets had been
fastened tightly over them.
In front of the fire sat Braxton Wyatt
in a Loyalist uniform, a three-cornered hat cocked
proudly on his head, and a small sword by his side.
He had grown heavier, and Henry saw that the face had
increased much in coarseness and cruelty. It
had also increased in satisfaction. He was a
great man now, as he saw great men, and both face and
figure radiated gratification and pride as he lolled
before the fire. At the other corner, sitting
upon the floor and also in a Loyalist uniform, was
his lieutenant, Levi Coleman, older, heavier, and with
a short, uncommonly muscular figure. His face
was dark and cruel, with small eyes set close together.
A half dozen other white men and more than a dozen
Indians were in the room. All these lay upon their
blankets on the floor, because all the furniture had
been destroyed. Yet they had eaten, and they
lay there content in the soothing glow of the fire,
like animals that had fed well. Henry was so
near that he could hear every word anyone spoke.
“It was well that the Indians
led us to this place, eh, Levi?” said Wyatt.
“I’m glad the fire spared
a part of it,” said Coleman. “Looks
as if it was done just for us, to give us a shelter
some cold winter night when we come along. I
guess the Iroquois Aieroski is watching over us.”
“You’re a man that I like,
Levi,” he said. “You can see to the
inside of things. It would be a good idea to
use this place as a base and shelter, and make a raid
on some of the settlements east of the hills, eh, Levi?”
“It could be done,” said
Coleman. “But just listen to that wind,
will you! On a night like this it must cut like
a saber’s edge. Even our Iroquois are glad
to be under a roof.”
Henry still gazed in at the crack
with eyes that were lighted up by an angry fire.
So here was more talk of destruction and slaughter!
His gaze alighted upon an Indian who sat in a corner
engaged upon a task. Henry looked more closely,
and saw that he was stretching a blonde-haired scalp
over a small hoop. A shudder shook his whole frame.
Only those who lived amid such scenes could understand
the intensity of his feelings. He felt, too,
a bitter sense of injustice. The doers of these
deeds were here in warmth and comfort, while the innocent
were dead or fugitives. He turned away from the
window, stepping gently upon the snowshoes. He
inferred that the remainder of Wyatt’s band were
quartered in the other house from which he had seen
the smoke rising. It was about twenty rods away,
but he did not examine it, because a great idea had
been born suddenly in his brain. The attempt
to fulfill the idea would be accompanied by extreme
danger, but he did not hesitate a moment. He
stole gently to one of the half-fallen outhouses and
went inside. Here he found what he wanted, a
large pine shelf that had been sheltered from rain
and that was perfectly dry. He scraped off a large
quantity of the dry pine until it formed almost a
dust, and he did not cease until he had filled his
cap with it. Then he cut off large splinters,
until he had accumulated a great number, and after
that he gathered smaller pieces of half-burned pine.
He was fully two hours doing this
work, and the night advanced far, but he never faltered.
His head was bare, but he was protected from the wind
by a fragment of the outhouse wall. Every two
or three minutes he stopped and listened for the sound
of a creaking, sliding footstep on the snow, but,
never hearing any, he always resumed his work with
the same concentration. All the while the wind
rose and moaned through the ruins of the little village.
When Henry chanced to raise his head above the sheltering
wall, it was like the slash of a knife across his cheek.
Finally he took half of the pine dust
in his cap and a lot of the splinters under his arm,
and stole back to the house from which the light had
shone. He looked again through the crevice at
the window. The light had died down much more,
and both Wyatt and Coleman were asleep on the floor.
But several of the Iroquois were awake, although they
sat as silent and motionless as stones against the
Henry moved from the window and selected
a sheltered spot beside the plank wall. There
he put the pine dust in a little heap on the snow
and covered it over with pine splinters, on top of
which he put larger pieces of pine. Then he went
back for the remainder of the pine dust, and built
a similar pyramid against a sheltered side of the second
The most delicate part of his task
had now come, one that good fortune only could aid
him in achieving, but the brave youth, his heart aflame
with righteous anger against those inside, still pursued
the work. His heart throbbed, but hand and eye
Now came the kindly stroke of fortune
for which he had hoped. The wind rose much higher
and roared harder against the house. It would
prevent the Iroquois within, keen of ear as they were,
from hearing a light sound without. Then he drew
forth his flint and steel and struck them together
with a hand so strong and swift that sparks quickly
leaped forth and set fire to the pine tinder.
Henry paused only long enough to see the flame spread
to the splinters, and then he ran rapidly to the other
house, where the task was repeated-he intended that
his job should be thorough.
Pursuing this resolve to make his
task complete, he came back to the first house and
looked at his fire. It had already spread to the
larger pieces of pine, and it could not go out now.
The sound made by the flames blended exactly with
the roaring of the wind, and another minute or two
might pass before the Iroquois detected it.
Now his heart throbbed again, and
exultation was mingled with his anger. By the
time the Iroquois were aroused to the danger the flames
would be so high that the wind would reach them.
Then no one could put them out.
It might have been safer for him to
flee deep into the forest at once, but that lingering
desire to make his task complete and, also, the wish
to see the result kept him from doing it. He merely
walked across the open space and stood behind a tree
at the edge of the forest.
Braxton Wyatt and his Tories and Iroquois
were very warm, very snug, in the shelter of the old
house with the great bed of coals before them.
They may even have been dreaming peaceful and beautiful
dreams, when suddenly an Iroquois sprang to his feet
and uttered a cry that awoke all the rest.
“I smell smoke!” he exclaimed
in his tongue, “and there is fire, too!
I hear it crackle outside!”
Braxton Wyatt ran to the window and
jerked it open. Flame and smoke blew in his face.
He uttered an angry cry, and snatched at the pistol
in his belt.
“The whole side of the house
is on fire!” he exclaimed. “Whose
neglect has done this?”
Coleman, shrewd and observing, was at his elbow.
“The fire was set on the outside,”
he said. “It was no carelessness of our
men. Some enemy has done this!”
“It is true!” exclaimed
Wyatt furiously. “Out, everybody! The
house burns fast!”
There was a rush for the door.
Already ashes and cinders were falling about their
heads. Flames leaped high, were caught by the
roaring winds, and roared with them. The shell
of the house would soon be gone, and when Tories and
Iroquois were outside they saw the remainder of their
band pouring forth from the other house, which was
also in flames.
No means of theirs could stop so great
a fire, and they stood in a sort of stupefaction,
watching it as it was fanned to greatest heights by
All the remaining outbuildings caught,
also, and in a few moments nothing whatever would
be left of the tiny village. Braxton Wyatt and
his band must lie in the icy wilderness, and they could
never use this place as a basis for attack upon settlements.
“How under the sun could it
have happened?” exclaimed Wyatt.
“It didn’t happen.
It was done,” said Coleman. “Somebody
set these houses on fire while we slept within.
Hark to that!”
An Iroquois some distance from the
houses was bending over the snow where it was not
yet melted by the heat. He saw there the track
of snowshoes, and suddenly, looking toward the forest,
whither they led, he saw a dark figure flit away among