Read CHAPTER V of Rodney‚ the Ranger With Daniel Morgan on Trail and Battlefield , free online book, by John V. Lane, on ReadCentral.com.

A PLUNGE INTO THE FOREST

March fifteenth, 1773, Rodney Allison set out with a party of five men who were leaving to join Clark’s party on the Ohio.

The task would be somewhat like finding the needle in the haystack, perhaps, but all were confident and went away in high spirits.

Mrs. Allison smiled bravely and Naomi called after him, “You bring back a little bear for me to play with,” whereat they all laughed, but the laughter was very near tears. Indeed Mam threw her apron over her head and fled to the cook-house.

“You don’t want ter look so blue, Rod,” cried Angus, coming into the yard. “I only wish I was goin’ along. Alec Stephens’ father says thar’s prairies out thar where buffalo hev wallered great traces through the grass, thet’s higher’n yer head, an’ the deer an’ elk are thicker’n skeeters in the swamp. He ’lows as how them as gits the land will sure beat the tide-water gentry on ther home stretch.”

Thus encouraged the boy turned his face westward. There were two pack horses in the party and they were heavily laden. The journey to the river was without special incident. Many were going over the trail, and scarcely a day passed that they did not fall in with others. On arrival at the river the horses were left and the goods were loaded into canoes.

It was April and the great stream was filled to its banks. At the start Rodney felt as though he were paddling their frail craft out to sea toward an unknown shore. There was something sullen and irresistible in the might of that dark, swollen river, and the craft was swept along like a twig on the great waters.

The red buds were showing on the trees, a sign of hope, thought the boy. On his calling attention to them one of the men remarked: “They ain’t the only red thing that’s out. We want to be on the lookout, fer the word from the posts is thet the redskins are gittin’ sassy.”

The third day Dominick Ferguson was Rodney’s partner in the canoe. He was a vigilant and powerful man, speaking a rich brogue, and when he laughed all who heard him laughed with him. He had lived in this country for twenty years, coming here as a soldier, and had passed much of that time on the frontier. It appeared that he was a man of some education as well as valuable experience.

“I’m of the opeenion,” he remarked, “that there’ll be doin’s out i’ this country ere long. Virginny’ll not yield her claims to the country wi’out speerin’ the why, an’ Pennsylvania Dutchmen will cling to what they ha’ like dogs to a root. I’ve noticed aboot half the parties we’ve met are from that colony.”

“Do you think there will be fighting?”

“Will there be fightin’ at Donnybrook fair, do ye ask? Sure there will be fightin’, an’ while the two white clans are tryin’ to eat each the ither, the red devils will be lookin’ for a mouthful, I’m thinkin’.”

“You talk as though ’twould have been better for us never to have left Virginia.”

“I’m not sure but ‘twould ha’ been, but nothin’ venture nothin’ have is a sayin’ as true now as iver. You don’t want to turn back?”

“I surely do not.”

“That’s the Scotch in ye; an’ ‘twould ha’ been the like if ’twere Irish. Now I ha’ the advantage o’ gittin’ it both sides. Me mother’s eyes were as blue as any colleen’s in all Leinster, while the father o’ me was from Argyll, which is sayin’ muckle. The one was papist an’ the father a Presbyterian. When they tell ye oil an’ water’ll not mix, look at me.”

“I’ve heard they don’t ask a man about his religion out in this country.”

“Right, lad, but a mon ha’ need o’ all his religion, I’m thinkin’.”

“Well, as for me, mother is of the established church an’ father is a Dissenter.”

“Either’ll do an’ the both ought. It’ll be no fault of our forebears if we ha’ not religion in plenty, an’ some o’ the gude as should gang wi’ it.”

Rodney thought of the morning prayers at home, his father kneeling by the old splint-bottomed chair. Tears came to his eyes, he knew not why, for was he not soon to see his father and were they not to prosper and go back in the fall for his mother and sister? Yet he looked out on the swirling water as through a mist.

“One of the men said you had seen long service as a soldier in the king’s army, Mr. Ferguson.”

“That’s how I came to this country, an’ when I laid by me red coat I thought this a bonny place to bide in. I got me a good team an’ was makin’ a tidy bit cartin’ supplies ower the mountains when the war broke oot. I drove me team with Braddock’s army an’ afterward joined the militia.”

“Father was a soldier under Braddock. I’ve heard him tell how brave some of the teamsters were in the midst of the panic and how cowardly were some of the others.”

“Same old story; all kinds o’ folks to make a world. I mind well the grit o’ one o’ them, Daniel Morgan was his name. We drove our teams ower Braddock’s grave in the road so’s to hide it from the redskins. Morgan’s a mon as belongs at the head o’ the column. He fears naught on the face o’ the earth, an’ such men lead oot in this country where courage an’ skill at war are more account than any ither place i’ all the world. Morgan an’ I were teaming supplies to Fort Chiswell i’ the summer of 1756. One o’ the British officers got mad at him an’ struck him wi’ the flat o’ his sword when Morgan he oop-ended the officer’s person wi’ a smart crack o’ his feest. That was fat i’ the fire you may be sure. Insubordination don’t go i’ the army an’ they tied Morgan to his cart wheel an’ laid five hundred lashes on his bare back. ’Twas a wicked sight, the flesh o’ him hung i’ strips, an’ he as cool as a cowcumber an’ countin’ every stroke. He always declared they missed a stroke. A braw lad be that same Dan Morgan.”

“I should have thought it would have killed him.”

“Keel him! Lad, ye don’t know the stuff o’ which such men are made. Why, after he’d gone into the service he was ambushed by the savages an’ was shot i’ the neck, the bullet comin’ oot the mouth an’ takin’ the teeth o’ one side along wi’ it.”

“What became of him?”

“He settled doon i’ Winchester, which was then weel nigh the jumpin’ off place, licked every mon in town as wanted a fight, an’ then married a fine woman an’ bided there as respectable as ye please. I sure thought, tho’, he would go to the dogs. I’m o’ the opeenion that wife will be the makin’ o’ him. What the boats ahead doin’, lad?”

“They are landing at the mouth of the little creek, there.”

“I have it; ‘tis nigh sundown an’ I reckon they hope to shoot something fer supper,” saying which he began to sing in a rollicking voice the following, which may be presumed to be of his own composition:

“Swate Widdy Hogan’s married rich Flannagan
To provide for Hogan’s heirs;
All tin twins o’ thim great at shenannegan,
An all o’ thim born i’ pairs.

“Pat an’ Terry, Tom an’ Tim,
Peter, Mary Ann,
Dinnis, Nora, Shaughn an’ Fin,
Wid Kathleen an’ Dan,”

“Never mind the rest o’ the family, Ferguson, come ashore an’ help with the work.”

“Help wi’ the work, is it, Joseph, me boy? Joseph wore a coat o’ many colours, ye know, but he was the same old Joe all the time. You’ll niver improve, I’m thinkin’.”

Rodney was left to build a fire and told to keep his eye “peeled,” for a prowling savage might happen along any minute.

When he had a good blaze started, he sat down to wait. After a few minutes, hearing nothing, he decided to take his rifle and go up the creek a short distance in the hope of seeing game.

That those returning and finding him gone need not be alarmed, he cut a piece of bark from a young tree and with the point of his knife wrote on the inside: “Up creek, back soon.”

The boy had not gone far when he came upon a path made by animals passing to and from the creek. He noticed no fresh tracks but concluded this as good a place as any where one might lie in wait for a sight of game.

He selected the trunk of a fallen tree which commanded a view of the path and where he would be screened from the observation of any animal passing.

It was near sunset and the rosy light shone through thin places in the foliage overhead. Not a sound could be heard save the murmur of the water in the creek. Rodney had paddled all day and was tired. He began to feel drowsy. That would not do and he shook his head vigorously, resolving to keep awake. He was fond of hunting and thought it would be very gratifying if he might return to the fire with something to show for his efforts.

Back in the woods a fine buck came walking along the narrow path. When fully six rods from the creek he suddenly stopped, and lifting his delicate muzzle snuffed the air inquiringly. The next instant his tail was lifted, showing the white of the under side, the “white flag,” as the hunters term it, and with a bound he was off in the forest.

A few minutes later a dark form cautiously came along, careful not to break a twig beneath his moccasined feet. He was naked except for a breech-clout. The tuft of feathers fastened to his “top-knot” and the paint on his face indicated that he was on the warpath.

Turning, the Indian followed the narrow trail in the direction of the creek for a short distance and then, leaving the path, made a detour on the side where Rodney had taken his station.

The boy slept! The sun had gone down and only twilight remained. He dreamed that a huge bear appeared on the path, its shambling feet softly treading. He tried to raise his rifle but his arms were powerless, seemed paralyzed! The bear came on, now faster. Stopping before him it rose on its hind legs and hugged him with its fore paws, and he struggled to scream but could not utter a sound. He opened his eyes. A brawny hand was over his mouth, a powerful arm about his arms pinioned them to his side. The hand was red, and on the wrist was a copper bracelet!

A guttural voice spoke low but harshly in his ear: “Um no speak. Die!”

Then the boy felt his arms being bound with leather thongs and he looked into the face of the savage, saw the hideous paint on it, the bright, beady eyes, the whites of which looked yellow; noted the high cheekbones, the nose like an eagle’s beak, the cruel mouth like a thin slit in the face, and fear was upon him, such, as he never had known.

“Halloo.”

Surely that was Ferguson’s voice, and must be calling him.

“Halloo!”

The last call was from the other side and it was not Ferguson’s voice.

The Indian lifted his tomahawk and the lad expected it to be buried in his head. Instead came the low-spoken word: “March!”

Guided by the savage from behind and stepping cautiously, as he believed should he break a twig or make other noise he would be struck down on the instant, Rodney went on into the forest.

They had thus advanced less than twenty rods when, through the trees and standing back to them, they saw a man. He appeared unconscious of their presence. Yes, that must be Ferguson! The thought flashed through the boy’s mind and, unconscious of his own safety, his lips opened to cry the alarm, which would have sounded his own death knell, when he saw a tomahawk hurtle through the air and bury itself in the man’s brain. He fell to his knees without a moan. The Indian, leaping to his side, had scalped him before Rodney realized what had happened. Then, seizing the lad by the shoulder, he ordered him to “Run.”

When they stopped the boy was breathless, but the savage was as cool and snakelike in his movements as at the first. Soon they were joined by other Indians. The boy was bound to a tree and they left him.

“They’ve gone to ambush our party,” thought the boy. What would become of him should the savages be driven off and he left tied to a tree in that wilderness?

A squirrel running behind him startled him so the perspiration stood in beads on his forehead. He tried to comfort himself with the reflection that it would be better to starve to death tied to a tree than to be burned to death tied to a stake.

He tugged at his bonds until the blood started on his wrists. A rattling fire of musketry was heard in the direction of the river. After a lull there were more shots followed by yells, which indicated that the savages had been successful in driving off the whites.

All was still for many minutes. Then he felt, rather than saw, that he was not alone. A heavy hand was laid on his wrists, untying the thongs, and his captor’s voice again ordered him to “March.”

The moon had risen and its light filtered through the tree-tops. Stumbling forward, and guided as before, he went on till they came up with the main party of Indians.

He looked to see if there were other scalps, shuddering as he did so; but, save that one at the belt of his captor, he saw none which had been freshly taken. He therefore concluded the others of his party had escaped in the boats, leaving him to his fate. There were other scalps, but they were not from white people. Evidently the Indians had been South and had battled with their hereditary enemies, the Cherokees.

For several miles the Indians continued their march. Rodney was faint from hunger and thirst when finally they camped for the night. Dried venison was eaten, the boy receiving his share with the others, also an opportunity to drink his fill at a cool spring. He then was stretched upon the ground and each wrist and ankle was tied to a separate sapling. The red men prepared for sleep and no one was assigned to guard. Little sleep came to him. Thoughts of home, of his father in the great wilderness, flitted through his mind all night and he rose unrefreshed and sore in every muscle.

The next day they continued their journey, from sunrise to sunset, stopping at noon for a hasty lunch. The second night he was treated as on the first, but slept soundly because of sheer exhaustion. The following day the party killed a deer. The Indians, as was their custom, gorged themselves on the meat, eating it half raw. They cut up some of the best of it to carry along with them.

That night, their heavy eating made the savages sleep soundly. Rodney, bound as on the previous nights, lay looking up through the trees at the moon, occasional glimpses of which it was possible to get through the branches.

For a time his thoughts were far away from his surroundings. Suddenly he became conscious of something cold and metallic under his right hand.

It was a knife!

Evidently one of the Indians, when cutting up the meat, had accidentally dropped it.

Somewhat awkwardly, for his hand was tightly bound, he managed to clutch the blade in such a manner that after persistent effort he succeeded in cutting his bonds.

His joy at the sense of freedom almost made him faint when he found himself clear. Quietly and slowly, it seemed as if the beating of his heart must waken the savages, he got possession of one of the rifles. He knew that a snapping twig would probably mean his destruction. He had heard of captives, who, in such straits as his, had slain their captors while they slept. The thought was revolting to him. Cautiously creeping away into the outer darkness, it seemed hours before he dared press forward without fear of making a noise.