Read CHAPTER XIV - HOLDING THE FORD of The Keepers of the Trail A Story of the Great Woods , free online book, by Joseph A. Altsheler, on ReadCentral.com.

The five lay down in the thicket, completely hidden themselves, but commanding a splendid view of the deep, clear stream and the gorge by which the red army must approach.  They were calm in manner, nevertheless their hearts were beating high.  The sunshine was so brilliant that every object was distinct far up the gorge, and Henry felt sure the Indian army would come into sight, while it was yet beyond rifle shot.  Nor were the leaders likely to send forward scouts and skirmishers, as they apprehended no danger in front.  It was on their flank or rear that they expected the five to hang.

The five did not speak and the silence was complete, save for the usual noises of the forest.  Birds chattered overhead.  Little animals rustled now and then in the thickets, fish leaped in the river, but there was no sound to indicate that man was near.  They were not nervous nor restless.  Inured to danger, waiting had become almost a mechanical act, and they were able to lie perfectly still, however long the time might be.

They saw the column of smoke fade, and then go quite away.  There was not a fleck on the sky of blazing blue, and Henry knew that the red army had broken up its camp, and was on the march.  He had a sudden fear that they might send ahead scouts and skirmishers, but reflection brought him back to his original belief that they would not do so, as they would not foresee the transference of the five to their front.

The hours passed and Shif’less Sol, who had been lying flat upon the ground, raised his head.

“I hear wheels,” he said laconically.

Henry put his own ear to the ground.

“So do I,” he said.

“Wheels of cannon and wagons.”

“Beyond a doubt.”

“Them that we’re lookin’ fur.”

“There are no others in the wilderness.  Long Jim, how’s your voice today?”

“Never better, Henry.  I could talk to a man a mile away.  Why?”

“Because I may want you to give out some terrible yells soon, the white man’s yells, understand, and, as you give ’em, you’re to skip about like lightning from place to place.  This is a case in which one man must seem to be a hundred.”

“I understand, Henry,” said Long Jim proudly, tapping his chest.  “I reckon I’m to be the figger in this fight, an’, bein’ ez so much is dependin’ on me, I won’t fail.  My lungs wuz never better.  I’ve had a new leather linin’ put inside ’em, an’ they kin work without stoppin’, day an’ night, fur a week.”

“All right, Jim.  Do your proudest, and the others are to help, but you’re to be the yell leader, and the better you yell the better it will be for all of us.”

“I’ll be right thar Henry.”

“They’ll soon be in sight,” said the shiftless one, who had not taken his ear from the ground.  “I kin hear the wheels a-creakin’ and a-creakin’, louder an’ louder.”

“And they have not sent forward anybody to spy out the country, which is better for us,” said Henry.

“An’ now I kin hear somethin’ else,” said Shif’less Sol.  “They’re singin’ a war song which ain’t usual when so many are on the march, but they reckon they’ve got at least two or three hundred white scalps ez good ez took already.”

Now the ferocious chant, sung in Shawnee, which they understood, came plainly to them.  It was a song of anticipation, and when they translated it to themselves it ran something like this: 

    To the land of Kaintuckee we have come,
    Wielders of the bow and the tomahawk, we,
    Shawnee and Miami, Wyandot and Delaware
    Matchless in march and battle we come,
        Great is Manitou.

    The white man will fall like leaves before us,
    His houses to the fire we will give,
    All shall perish under our mighty blows,
    And the forest will grow over his home,
        Great is Manitou.

It went on in other verses, rising above the creak of the wheels, a fierce, droning chant that drummed upon the nerves and inflamed the brain.  Much of its power came from its persistency upon the same beat and theme, until the great chorus became like the howling of thousands of wolves for their prey.

“Ef I couldn’t feel my scalp on my head right now,” said Shif’less Sol, “I’d be shore that one o’ them demons out thar had it in his hands, whirlin’ it ‘roun’ an’ ’roun’.”

“Guess I won’t need nothin’ more to make me yell my very darndest,” said Long Jim.

“They’ll be in sight in a minute or two,” said Paul, “and I’m truly thankful that we have ground so favorable.  We wouldn’t have a chance without it.”

“That’s so,” said Henry, “and we must never lose our heads for a minute.  If we do we’re gone.”

“Anyway, surprise will be a help to us,” said Shif’less Sol, “’cause all the signs show that they don’t dream we’re here.  But jest to ourselves, boys, I’m mighty glad that river is between us an’ them.  Did you ever hear sech a war chant?  Why, it freezes me right into the marrer!”

“They’ve gone mad with triumph before they’ve won it,” said Henry.  “They intoxicate themselves with singing and dancing.  Look at those fellows on the outer edges of the line jumping up and down.”

“An’ did you ever see savages more loaded down with war paint?” said Long Jim.  “Why, I think it must be an inch thick on the faces uv them dancers an’ jumpers!”

The forest, in truth, had beheld few sights as sinister as this Indian army advancing, keeping step to its ferocious chant.  Henry saw Yellow Panther come into view, and then Red Eagle, and then the rumbling guns with their gunners, and then Blackstaffe and Wyatt, and then the English Colonel, Alloway, his second, Cartwright, and three or four more officers riding.  After them came the caissons and the other ammunition wagons, and then more warriors, hundreds and hundreds, joining in that ferocious whining chorus.  The red coats of the British officers lent a strange and incongruous touch to this scene of forest and savage warfare.

“I don’t like to shoot a white man from ambush,” said Henry, “but I’d be perfectly willing to send a bullet through the head of that Colonel Alloway.  It would help our people ­save them, perhaps ­because without the British the Indians can’t use the guns.”

“You won’t git a chance, Henry,” said Long Jim.  “He’s too fur back.  The warriors will come into range fust, an’ we’ll hev to open fire on ’em.  I don’t see no signs of flankers turnin’ off from the crossin’.”

“No, they won’t send ’em up such high hills when they don’t think any enemies are near.  Make ready, boys.  The foremost warriors are now in range.  I hate to shoot at red men, even, from ambush, but it has to be done.”

Five muzzles were thrust forward in the bushes, and five pairs of keen eyes looked down the sights, as on came the chanting army, painted and horrible.  The vanguard would soon be at the water.

“Be sure you don’t miss,” said Henry.  “The more deadly our first blow the better chance we have to win.”

Every one of the five concentrated all his faculties upon his target.  He saw or thought of nothing but the painted chest or face upon which he directed his aim.

“Ready,” said Henry.

Five gunlocks clicked.

“Fire!”

Five triggers were pulled, and five streams of flame darted from the bushes.  Never had the five aimed bullets to better purpose, since their targets, broad and close, lay before them.  Five warriors flung up their arms, and uttering the death howl, fell.  A tremendous yell of surprise and rage arose from the Indians, and they crowded back upon one another, appalled, for the moment, by the sudden and deadly messengers of death.

“Now, Jim, now!” exclaimed Henry.  “Yell as if you were a thousand men.  Run up and down in the bushes that your yells may come from point to point!  Shout, man, shout!”

Long Jim needed no command.  His tremendous battle cry burst out, as he rushed back and forth in the thickets.  It was some such shout as the old Vikings must have uttered, and it pealed out like the regular beat of a big drum.  It expressed challenge and defiance, victory and revenge, and, to the ears of the red hearers on the other shores, the thickets seemed fairly to swarm with fighting men.  The four added their efforts to those of Long Jim, but their cries formed merely a chorus, above which swelled the thundering note of the forest Stentor.

The cords in Long Jim’s throat swelled, his cheeks bulged, his eyes stood out, but his voice never broke.  Without failing for an instant, it poured forth its mighty stream of challenge and invective, and the others, as they reloaded in all haste, looked at him with pride.  It was their own Long Jim, he of the long legs and long throat, who had made many a great effort before, but none like this.

The warriors had recoiled still further.  Both Yellow Panther and Red Eagle drew back in the ruck.  The singing of the warriors ceased, and, with it, ceased the creaking wheels of the cannon and ammunition wagons.  Henry saw Alloway and his officers stop, and he looked once more at the colonel, but it was too far for certainty, and they must not send forward any shots that missed.  In front of the recoiling army lay five dark figures on the green, and they must continue with the deadliness of their fire to create the impression of great numbers.

“Now boys!” exclaimed Henry.  “Again!  Steady and true!”

Five rifles cracked together and Long Jim, who had ceased only long enough to aim and pull the trigger resumed his terrific chant.  This time three of the warriors were slain and two wounded.  Henry, a true general, quickly changed the position of his army, Long Jim still shouting, and no missile from the fire poured out now by the Indians, touching them.  A few of the bullets entered the portion of the thicket where they had crouched, but the rest fell short.  A great flight of arrows was sent forth, but the distance was too great for them, and with most of the bullets they fell splashing into the water.

“Now, boys,” said Henry, “creep back and forth, and pick your warriors!  There’s plenty for all of us, and nobody need be jealous!  If you can get any of the white gunners so much the better!”

And they responded with all the fire and skill and courage belonging to such forest knights, knights as brave and true and unselfish as any that ever trod the earth.  Five against a thousand!  Young forest runners against an army!  Rifles against cannon they yet held the ford and flung terror into the hearts of their foes!  Before that rain of death, and that thundering chorus of mighty voices, coming from many points, the warriors recoiled yet farther, and were stricken with superstitious dread by the sudden and mortal attack from an invisible foe.  Even the face of Alloway, and he was brave enough, blanched.  This was something beyond his reckoning, something of which no man would have dreamed, he was not used to the vast and sinister forest ­sinister to him ­and the invisible stroke appalled him.  His courage soon came back, but he cursed fiercely under his breath, when he saw one of his gunners go down, shot through the heart, and a moment later another fall with a bullet through his head.  Like the Indians, he saw a numerous and powerful foe on the opposite bank, and the ford was narrow and steep.

“They’re drawing back for a conference,” said Henry.  “I believe we’ve made ’em think we’re not a hundred only, but two hundred.  Long Jim, your title as king of yellers is yours without dispute as long as you live.  You’ve done magnificent work.”

“I think I did shout a little,” said Long Jim triumphantly, “but Henry, I’m just plum’ empty uv air.  Every bit uv it hez been drawed up from my lungs, an’ even from the end uv ev’ry toe an’ finger.”

“Well, sit down there, Jim, and refill yourself, because we may have need of your lungs again.  There’s no better air than that we find in the forest here, and you’ll have plenty of time, as they won’t be through with that conference yet for at least five minutes.”

Henry saw the savages gathered in a great mass, well out of rifle shot, and, on a little hill back of them, the British officers, the renegades and the chiefs were talking earnestly.  Beyond all possible doubt they had agreed that they were confronted by a formidable force.  The proof of it lay before them.  Valiant warriors had fallen and the two slain gunners could not be replaced.  Henry knew that it was a bitter surprise to them, and they must think that the settlers, hearing of the advance against them, had sent forward all the men they could raise to form the ambush at the ford.

He was full of elation, and so were his comrades.  Five against an army! and the five had stopped the army!  Rifles against cannon.  And the rifles had stopped the cannon!  The two slain gunners were proof of an idea already in his mind, and now that idea enlarged automatically.  They would continue to pick off the gunners.  What were a few warriors slain out of a mass of a thousand!  But there were only seven or eight gunners, no, five or six, because two were gone already!  He whispered to his comrades to shoot a gunner whenever there was a chance, and they nodded in approval.

The conferences lasted some time, and the gorge in front of them was filled with savages, a great mass of men with tufted scalp locks, some bare to the waist, others wrapped in gaudy blue or red or yellow blankets, a restless, shifting mass, upon which the sun poured brilliant rays, lighting up the savage faces as if they were shot with fire.  It was a strange scene, buried in the green wood, one of the unknown battles that marked the march of the republic from sea to sea.  As the five stared from their covert at the savage army the vivid colors were like those of shifting glass in a kaleidoscope.  The whole began to seem unreal and fantastic, the stuff of dreams.  To Paul, in particular, whose head held so much of the past, it was like some old tale out of the Odyssey, with Ulysses and his comrades confronting a new danger in barbaric lands.

“They’re about to do somethin’,” whispered the shiftless one.

“So I think,” said Henry.

The British officers, the renegades and the chiefs walked down from the mound.  Among the savages arose a low hum which quickly swelled into a chant, and Henry interpreted it as a sign that they now expected victory.  How!  He wondered, but he did not wonder long.

“They’re goin’ to use the cannon,” said the shiftless one.

It seemed strange to Henry that he had not thought of this before, but now that the danger was imminent his mind met it with ready resource.

“We must crawl into a hole, boys,” he said, “and stay there while the cannon balls pass over us.”

“Here’s a gully,” said the shiftless one, “and it will hold us all.”

“The rest of you go into it,” said Henry.  “I’ve changed my mind about myself.”

“What are you thinking of?” asked Paul.

“Do you see that big tree growing further down the slope, a little closer to the river.  It’s hidden to the boughs, by the bushes growing thick all around it, and above them the foliage of the tree is so heavy that nobody twenty yards away could see into it.  I mean to climb up there and make it hot for those gunners.  This rifle of mine will reach pretty far.”

Henry had a beautiful long-barreled weapon, and the others, although knowing the danger, could say nothing in opposition.

“Suppose we let them fire two or three shots first,” said Henry.  “Then, as we make no reply, they may bring the cannon up closer.”

Again four heads nodded in approval, and Henry, creeping forward through the bushes, climbed rapidly up the tree.  Here, hidden as if by walls, he nevertheless saw well.  The gunners, helped by the Indians, were bringing forward both of the cannon.  They were fine bronze guns, glistening in the sun, and their wide mouths looked threatening.  Spongers, rammers and the real gunners all stood by.

Henry saw a twelve pound ball hoisted into each bronze throat, and then, as the gunners did their work, each mass of metal crashed through the thickets, the savages yelling in delight at the thunderous reports that came back, in echo after echo.  There was no reply from the thickets, and they began to reload for the second discharge.  Then Henry marked the gunner at the cannon on his right, and slowly the long muzzle of the beautiful blue steel barrel rose until it bore directly upon the man.  Paul, from his position, could see Henry in the tree, and he was sorry for the gunner who was about to die there in the forest, four thousand miles from his native land, a good-natured soldier, perhaps, but sent by his superiors on an errand, the full character of which he did not understand.

The sponger and rammer did their work.  The shot was fired and the gunner leaned forward, looking eagerly at the dense woods and thickets to see what damage his shot had done.  No reply came save a rifle shot, and the gunner fell dead upon his gun.  Paul in the thickets shivered a little, but he knew that it must be done.

The allied tribes again gave forth a whoop of rage and chagrin, and Henry from his place in the tree clearly saw Alloway, waving his sword and encouraging them.  “If he would only come a little nearer,” grimly thought the young forest runner, as he reloaded rapidly, “he might by the loss of his own life save the lives of many others.”  But Alloway kept back.

They were now making ready the second cannon, but as the rammer stepped forward the deadly marksman in the tree reached him with his bullet, and, falling beside his gun, he lay quite still.  Once more the thousand voices of the warriors joined in a terrible cry of wrath and menace, but the young forester reloaded calmly, and the sponger, smitten down, fell beside his comrade.

Long Jim and the shiftless one, who lay side by side, gazed at the tree in silent admiration.  They knew the ability of their comrade as a sharpshooter, but never before had he been so deadly at such long range.

“They’ll hev to draw them cannon back,” whispered Shif’less Sol, “or he’ll pick off every one o’ the white men that manage ’em.”

“Then I hope they won’t draw ’em back,” said Long Jim.

But Alloway and the chiefs saw the necessity of taking the gun beyond rifle range, and they withdrew them quickly, although not quickly enough to keep another of the white men from receiving a painful wound.  The savages discharged a volley from their rifles and muskets, and flights of arrows were sent into the thickets, but arrows and bullets alike fell short.  Many of the arrows merely reached the river, and Paul found a curious pleasure in watching these feathered messengers fly through the air, and then shoot downward into the water, leaving bubbles to tell for a moment where they had gone.

“They’re goin’ to shoot them cannon ag’in,” said Shif’less Sol, “but they’re puttin’ a different kind o’ ammunition in ’em.”

“It’s grape,” said Paul.

“What’s grape?” asked Long Jim.

“All kinds of metal, slugs and suchlike, that scatter.”

“Like a handful uv buckshot, only bigger an’ more uv it.”

“That describes it.”

“Then it ‘pears to me that we’d better back water a lot, an’ give all them grape a chance to bust an’ fly whar we ain’t.”

“Words of wisdom, Jim,” said Henry, “and we’d better get behind trees, too.”

“An’ good big ones,” said Shif’less Sol.  “Ef I’ve got an oak seven feet through in front o’ me they kin go on with thar fireworks.”

They retreated hastily and lay down behind the great trunks, none too soon either, as the cannon roared and the grapeshot whistled all about them, cutting off twigs and leaves and ploughing the earth.

“That shorely is dang’rous business ­fur us,” said Shif’less Sol.  “I’m glad they didn’t start with it.  It’s like a swarm o’ iron bees flyin’ at you, an’ ef you ain’t holed up some o’ ’em is bound to hit you.”

“Back there!” exclaimed Henry to the shiftless one, who was peeping behind his oak, “they’re about to fire the second gun!”

The discharge of grapeshot again fell in the thicket, but it hurt no one, and the five did not reply.  Two more shots were fired, doing great damage to the forest at that spot, but none of the five.  Then came a pause.

“The white men and the chiefs have gone into consultation again,” announced Henry.

“Why haven’t they sent out flankers to cross the river?” said Paul.  “I haven’t seen a single warrior leave the main band.”

“They’ve been confident that the cannon would do the work,” replied Henry, “and besides, the warriors don’t like those high banks.  Now you mustn’t forget, either, that they think we’re a big force here.”

“But they’ll come to that,” said the shiftless one.  “They don’t dare charge down that narrow gorge, on through the river, an’ up the hill ag’inst us.  Sooner or later, warriors will cross the stream out o’ our sight, both above an’ below us, an’ that’s just what we’ve got to look out fur.”

“Right you are, Sol,” said Henry, “but I don’t think they will do it for a while.  They’d like to force the passage without waste of time and go right ahead with their march.”

Several more charges of grape were fired into the thickets, and leaves and twigs again rained down, but the five, sheltered well, remained untouched by the fragments of hissing metal.  Then the guns relapsed into silence.

“Likely the redcoat colonel has ordered ’em to stop shooting,” said Paul.  “He won’t want ’em to waste their ammunition here, but to save it for the palisades of our settlements.”

“Sounds most probable,” said Henry.  “They can’t get any new supply of gunpowder and cannon balls and grapeshot, in these woods.”

“What’ll they do now?” asked Tom Ross.

“I don’t know,” replied Henry.

“I wish I had one uv them spyglasses I saw back east, when I wuz a boy,” said Long Jim.

“What’s a spyglass?” asked Shif’less Sol.

“It’s two magnifyin’ glasses in short tubes fastened side by side, what you put to your eye an’ then you bring things near to you an’ see ’em big.”

“Then I wish I had one too, Jim.  I’d like to see the face o’ that British colonel.  I know that the blood hez all run to his head an’ that he’s hoppin’ mad.  Them reg’lar army orficers ain’t never much good in the woods.  I’ve heard how Braddock had all his forces cut plum’ to pieces by a heap smaller number o’ warriors, ’cause he wouldn’t use our forest ways.  An’ I’d like through them glasses to see the face o’ Braxton Wyatt too, ‘cause I know he’s turned blue with rage, an’ I’d like to hear him grindin’ his teeth, ‘cause I know he’s grindin’ ’em hard, and Blackstaffe must be grindin’ in time with him too.  An’ I’d like to see them two chiefs, Yellow Panther an’ Red Eagle so mad that they’re pullin’ away at their scalp locks, fit to pull them clean out o’ their heads.”

“Since we ain’t got any spyglass,” said Long Jim, with a sigh, “we’ve got to imagine a lot uv it, but I’ve got a fine an’ pow’ful imagination, an’ so hev you, Sol Hyde.”

“Yes, I’m seein’ the things I want to see.  It’s cur’us how you kin do that sometimes, ef you want to hard enough.”

“I think,” said Henry, “that they’re going to try the flankers now.  I can see the leaders talking to warriors whom they’ve called to ’em.”

“And does that mean that it’s time fur us to light out?” asked Shif’less Sol.

“Not yet.  The banks on both sides are high and steep for a long distance, and we can see anyone who tries to pass.  We must spread out.  Long Jim, our great yeller, the prize yeller of the world, we must leave here, and, if any of us bring down any warrior who tries to cross, he must yell even better than he did before.  Stretch those leather lungs of yours, Long Jim, as if you were a pair of bellows.”

“You kin depend on me,” replied Long Jim complacently.  “I’m one that’s always tryin’ to do better than he did before.  Ef I’ve yelled so I could be heard a mile then I want to yell the next time so I kin be heard a mile an’ a half.”

Henry and Paul went upstream and Shif’less Sol and Silent Tom down stream, taking good care to keep hidden from the very best eyes in the savage army.  It was not merely the youthful general’s object to make a delay at the ford ­that in itself was of secondary importance ­but he must turn into a cloud the veil of fear and superstition that he knew already enveloped the savage army.  They must be smitten by unknown and mysterious terrors.  The five must make the medicine men who were surely with them believe that all the omens were bad.  Henry, although the word “psychology” was strange to him, knew the power of fear, and he meant to concentrate all the skill of the five upon its increase.  He felt that already many doubters must be in the ranks of the red and superstitious army.

“Paul,” he said, when they had gone three or four hundred yards, “you stay here, and if you see any warriors trying to cross the stream take your best aim.  I’m going a little farther, and I’ll do the same.  With our great advantages in position we should be able to drive back an attack, unless they go a very long distance to make the crossing.”

“I’ll do my best,” said Paul, and Henry went about three hundred yards farther, lying close in a clump of laurel, where he could command a perfect view of the opposite shore, noticeable there because of a considerable dip.  It was just such a place as the flanking warriors would naturally seek, because the crossing would be easier, and he intended to repel them himself.

He lay quite still for a quarter of an hour.  Nothing stirred in the forest on the other shore, but he had expected to wait.  The Indians, believing that a formidable force opposed them, would be slow and cautious in their advance.  So he contained himself in patience, as he lay with the slender muzzle of his rifle thrust forward.

Finally, he saw the bushes on the opposite shore move, and a face, painted and ghastly, was thrust out.  Others followed, a half-dozen altogether, and Henry saw them surveying the river and examining his own shore.  The muzzle of his rifle moved forward a few inches more, but he knew that it would be an easy shot.

The leader of the warriors presently began to climb down the bank.  He was a stalwart fellow and Henry knew by his paint that he was a Miami.  Again the great youth was loath to fire from ambush, but a desperate need drives scruples away, and the rifle muzzle, thrusting forward yet an inch or two more, bore directly upon the Indian’s heart.

The man was halfway down the bank, about thirty feet high at that point, when Henry pulled the trigger.  Then the Indian uttered his death yell, plunged forward and fell head foremost into the stream.  His body shot from sight in the water, came up, floated a moment or two with the current and then sank back again.  The other warriors, appalled, climbed back hastily, while from the bushes that fronted the ford below came a series of triumphant and tremendous shouts, as Long Jim, hearing the shot, poured forth all the glory of his voice.

Truly he surpassed himself.  His earlier performance was dimmed by his later.  The thickets, where he ranged back and forth, shouting his triumphant calls, seemed to be full of armed men.  His voice sank a moment and then came the report of a shot down the stream, followed by the death cry.  Long Jim knew that it was Shif’less Sol or Silent Tom who had pulled the fatal trigger and he began to sing of that triumph also.  Clear and full his voice came once more, moving rapidly from point to point, and Henry in his covert laughed to himself, and with satisfaction, at the long man’s energy and success.

The great youth did not fail to watch the opposite shore, quite sure that the party would not retire with the loss of a single warrior, but would make an attempt elsewhere.  His eyes continually searched the thickets, but they were so dense that they disclosed nothing.  Then he moved slowly up the stream, believing that they would go farther for the second trial, and he was rewarded by the glimpse of a feather among the trees.  That feather, he knew was interwoven with a scalp lock, and, as the slope of the bank there was gradual, he was sure that they were coming.

It seemed to Henry that verily the fates fought for him.  He knew that they were going to try the crossing there, and they would be easy prey to the concealed marksman.  Even as he knelt he heard Long Jim’s voice raised again in his mighty song of triumph, and although he could not hear the shot now, he was certain that the rifle of Silent Tom or Shif’less Sol had found another victim.  So they, too, were guarding the ford well, and he smiled to himself at the courage and skill of the invincible pair.

He saw another scalp lock appear, then another and another, until they were eight in all.  The warriors remained for several minutes partly hidden, scanning the opposite shore, and then one only emerged into full view, as if he were feeling the way for the others.  Henry changed his tactics, and, instead of waiting for the man to begin the descent of the cliff, fired at once.  The warrior fell back in the bushes, where his body lay hidden, but the others set up the death cry, and Henry was so sure that they would not try the crossing again soon ­at least not yet ­that he went back to Paul’s covert, and the two returned to Long Jim.  Shif’less Sol and Silent Tom were called in and the leader said: 

“I think we’ve done all we can here.  We’ve created the impression of a great force to hold the ford.  We’ve also made them think it can stretch far enough to watch its wings.  Four warriors just fallen prove that.  They’ll probably send scouts miles up and down the stream to cross, and then hunt us out, but that’ll take time, until night at least, and maybe they won’t know positively until morning, because scouting in the thickets in the face of an enemy is a dangerous business.  So, I propose that we use the advantage we’ve gained.”

“In what way?” asked Paul.

“We’ll go now.  We don’t want ’em to find out how few we are, and we don’t want ’em to learn, either, that we’re we.”

“That is, they must continue to think that we’re behind ’em or on their flanks, and that this is another and larger force in their front.”

“That’s the idea.  What say you?”

“I’m for it,” said Paul.

“Votin’ ez a high private I say too, let’s leg it from here,” said Long Jim.

“The jedgment o’ our leader is so sound that thar ain’t nothin’ more to say,” quoth the shiftless one.

“Let’s go,” said Silent Tom.

Then the little band, five against a thousand, rifles against cannon, that had victoriously held the ford, stole away with soundless tread through the greenwood.  But they did not travel southward long.  When darkness came they turned toward the east, and traveling many miles, made camp as they had done once before on a little island in a swamp, which they reached by walking on the dead and fallen trees of many years.  There when they sat down under the trees they could not refrain from a few words of triumph and mutual congratulation, because another and most important link in the chain had been forged with brilliant success.

“Although it’s dark and it’s seven or eight miles away,” said Shif’less Sol, “I kin see that Indian army now, a-settin’ before the ford, an’ wonderin’ how it’s goin’ to git across.”

“An’ I kin hear that savage army now, movin’ up an’ down, restless like,” said Long Jim.  “I kin hear them redcoat officers, an’ them renegades, an’ them Injun chiefs, grindin’ thar upper teeth an’ thar lower teeth together so hard with anger that they won’t be able to eat in the mornin’.”

“And I can see their wrath and chagrin tomorrow, when their scouts tell them no enemy is there,” said Paul.  “I can tell now how the white leaders and the red leaders will rage, and how they will wonder who the men were that held them.”

“And I can read their minds ahead,” said Henry.  “The five of us will become not a hundred, but two hundred, and every pair of our hands will carry forty rifles.”

“We’ve fooled ’em well,” said Silent Tom, tersely.

“And now to sleep,” said Henry, “because we must begin again in the morning.”

Soon the five slept the deep sleep that comes after success.