Read CHAPTER VI - THE GANTLET of The Riflemen of the Ohio, A Story of the Early Days along "The Beautiful River", free online book, by Joseph A. Altsheler, on ReadCentral.com.

Timmendiquas and Heno left the lodge, but in about ten minutes Heno returned, bringing with him Hainteroh.

“Well, how’s your arm, Raccoon?” said Henry, wishing to be friendly.

Raccoon did not know his English words, but he understood Henry’s glance, and he smiled and touched his arm.  Then he said something in Wyandot.

“He say arm soon be well,” said old Heno.  “Now you come out and see council, great talk, me on one side of you, Hainteroh on the other.”

“Yes, I know you’ve got to guard me,” said Henry, “but I won’t try to run.”

They loosed his bonds, and he stepped out with them, once more to see all the people pouring toward the meadow as they had done at the time of the ball game.  The crowd was greatly increased in numbers, and Henry surmised at once that many warriors had come with the chiefs from the other tribes.  But he noticed, also, that the utmost concord seemed to exist among them.

When they reached the meadow they stopped at the edge, and Heno and Hainteroh stood on either side of him.  The people were gathered all about, four square, and the chiefs stood on the meadow enclosed by the square.

“Now they speak to the Wyandot nation and the visiting warriors,” said Heno.

A chief of ripe years but of tall and erect figure arose and stood gravely regarding the multitude.

“That Kogieschquanohel of the clan of the Minsi of the tribe of the Lenni Lenape,” said Heno, the herald.  “His name long time ago Hopocan, but he change it to Kogieschquanohel, which mean in language of the Yengees Maker of Daylight.  He man you call Captain Pipe.”

“So that is Captain Pipe, is it?” said Henry.

Captain Pipe, as the whites called him, because his later Indian name was too long to be pronounced, was a Delaware chief, greatly celebrated in his day, and Henry regarded him with interest.

“Who is that by the side of Captain Pipe?” he asked, indicating another chief of about the same height and age.

“That Koquethagaaehlon, what you call Captain White Eyes,” replied Heno.  “He great Delaware chief, too, and great friend of Captain Pipe.”

Henry’s eyes roamed on and he saw two other chiefs whom he knew well.  They were Yellow Panther, head chief of the Miamis, and Red Eagle, head chief of the Shawnees.  He had no doubt that Braxton Wyatt would tell them who he was, and he knew that he could expect no mercy of any kind from them.  Timmendiquas stood not far away, and in a group, as usual, were the renegades.

Captain Pipe stretched forth a long arm, and the multitude became silent.  Then he spoke with much strong simile drawn from the phenomena of nature, and Henry, although he knew little of what he said, knew that he was speaking with eloquence.  He learned later that Captain Pipe was urging with zeal and fire the immediate marching of all the tribes against the white people.  They must cut off this fleet on the river, and then go in far greater force than ever against the white settlements in Kain-tuck-ee.

He spoke for half an hour with great vigor, and when he sat down he was applauded just as a white speaker would be, who had said what the listeners wished to hear.

His friend, Captain White Eyes, followed, and the gist of his speech, also, Henry learned somewhat later from Heno.  He was sorry to differ from his friend, Captain Pipe.  He thought they ought to wait a little, to be more cautious, they had already suffered greatly from two expeditions into Kain-tuck-ee, the white men fought well, and the allied tribes, besides losing many good warriors, might fail, also, unless they chose their time when all the conditions were favorable.

The speech of Captain White Eyes was not received with favor.  The Wyandots and nearly all the visiting warriors wanted war.  They were confident, despite their previous failures, that they could succeed and preserve their hunting grounds to themselves forever.  Other speeches, all in the vein of Captain Pipe, followed, and then Girty, the renegade, spoke.  He proclaimed his fealty to the Indians.  He said that he was one of them; their ways were his ways; he had shown it in the council and on the battle field; the whites would surely hang him if they caught him, and hence no red man could doubt his faith.  The tribes should strike now before the enemy grew too strong.

Great applause greeted Girty.  Henry saw that he stood high in the esteem of the warriors.  He told them what they wished to hear, and he was of value to them.  The boy’s teeth pressed down hard on his lips.  How could a white man fight thus against his own people, even to using the torch and the stake upon them?

When Girty sat down, Timmendiquas himself stood up.  His was the noblest figure by far that had faced the crowd.  Young, tall, splendid, and obviously a born leader, he drew many looks and murmurs of approval and admiration.  He made a speech of great grace and eloquence, full of fire and conviction.  He, too, favored an immediate renewal of the war, and he showed by physical demonstration how the tribes ought to strike.

He spread a great roll of elm bark upon the ground, extending it by means of four large stones, one of which he laid upon each corner.  Then with his scalping knife he drew upon it a complete map of the white settlements in Kain-tuck-ee and of the rivers, creeks, hills, and trails.  He did this with great knowledge and skill, and when he held it up it was so complete that Henry, who could see it as well as the others, was compelled to admire.  He recognized Wareville and its river perfectly, and Marlowe, too.

“We know where they are and we know how to reach them,” said Timmendiquas in the Wyandot tongue, “and we must fall upon them in the night and slay.  We must send at once to Tahtarara (Chillicothe, the greatest of the Indian towns in the Ohio Valley) for more warriors, and then we must wait for this fleet.  Tuentahahewaghta (the site of Cincinnati, meaning the landing place, where the road leads to the river) would suit well, or if you do not choose to wait that late we might strike them where Ohezuhyeandawa (the Ohio) foams into white and runs down the slope (the site of Louisville).  This fleet must be destroyed first and then the settlements, or the buffalo, the deer and the forest will go.  And when the buffalo, the deer, and the forest go, we go, too.”

Great applause greeted the speech of Timmendiquas, and the question was decided.  Captain White Eyes, who had a melancholy gift of foresight, was in a minority consisting of himself only, and swift runners were dispatched at once to the other tribes, telling the decision.  Meanwhile, a great feast was prepared for the visiting chiefs that they might receive all honor from the Wyandots.

Escorted by Heno and Hainteroh, Henry went back to his prison lodge, sad and apprehensive.  This was, in truth, a formidable league, and it could have no more formidable leader than Timmendiquas.  He had seen, too, the boastful faces of the renegades, and he was not willing that Braxton Wyatt or any of them should have a chance to exult over their own people.

Timmendiquas came to him the next morning and addressed him with gravity, Henry seeing at once that he had words of great importance to utter.

“I was willing for you to see the council yesterday, Ware,” said White Lightning, “because I wished you to know how strong we are, and with what spirit we will go forth against your people.  I have seen, too, that many of our ways are your ways.  You love the forest and the hunt, and you would make a great Wyandot.”

He paused a moment, as if he would wait for Henry to speak, but the boy remained silent.

“You are also a great warrior for one so young,” resumed Timmendiquas.  “The white youth, Wyatt, says that it is so, and the great chiefs, Yellow Panther of the Miamis, and Red Eagle of the Shawnees, tell of your deeds.  They are eager to see you die, but the Wyandots admire a brave young warrior, and they would make you an offer.”

“What is your offer, Chief?” asked Henry, knowing well that, whatever the offer might be, Timmendiquas was the head and front of it ­and despite his question he could surmise its nature.

“It is this.  You are our prisoner.  You are one of our enemies, and we took you in battle.  Your life belongs to us, and by our laws you would surely die in torture.  But you are at the beginning of life.  Manitou has been good to you.  He has given you the eye of the eagle, the courage of the Wyandot, and the strength of the panther.  You could be a hunter and a warrior more moons than I can count, until you are older than Black Hoof, who led the Shawnees before you were born, to the salt water and back again.

“Is death sweet to you, just when you are becoming a great warrior?  There is one way, and one only to escape it.  If a prisoner, strong and brave like you, wishes to join us, shave his head and be a Wyandot, sometimes we take him.  That question was laid before the chiefs last night.  The white men, Girty, Blackstaffe, Wyatt, and the others, were against it, but I, wishing to save your life and see you my brother in arms, favored it, and there were others who helped me.  We have had our wish, and so I say to you:  ‘Be a Wyandot and live, refuse and die.’”

It was put plainly, tersely, but Henry had expected it, and his answer was ready.  His resolution had been taken and could not be altered.

“I choose death,” he said, adopting the Wyandot’s epigrammatic manner.

A shade of sadness appeared for a moment on the face of Timmendiquas.

“You cannot change?” he asked.

“No,” replied Henry.  “I belong to my own people.  I cannot desert them and go against them even to escape death.  Such a temptation was placed in my way once before, Timmendiquas, but I had to refuse it.”

“I would save your life,” said the chief.

“I know it, and I thank you.  I tell you, too, that I have no fancy for fire and the stake, but the price that you ask is too much.”

“I cannot ask any other.”

“I know it, but I have made my choice and I hope, Timmendiquas, that if I must go to the happy hunting grounds I shall meet you there some day, and that we shall hunt together.”

The eyes of the chief gleamed for a moment, and, turning abruptly, he left the lodge.

There was joy among the renegades when the decision of Henry was made known, and now he was guarded more closely than ever.  Meanwhile, all the boys about to become warriors were being initiated, and the customs of the Ohio Valley Indians in this particular were very different from the ways of those who inhabited the Great Plains.

Every boy, when he attained the age of eight, was left alone in the forest for half a day with his face blackened.  He was compelled to fast throughout the time, and he must behave like a brave man, showing no fear of the loneliness and silence.  As he grew older these periods of solitary fasting were increased in length, and now, at eighteen, several boys in the Wyandot village had reached the last blackening and fasting.  The black paint was spread over the neophyte’s face, and he was led by his father far from the village to a solitary cabin or tent, where he was left without weapons or food.  It was known from his previous fasting about how long he could stand it, and now the utmost test would be applied.

The father, in some cases, would not return for three days, and then the exhausted boy was taken back to the village, where his face was washed, his head shaved, excepting the scalp lock, and plentiful food was put before him.  A small looking-glass, a bag of paint, and the rifle, tomahawk, and knife of a warrior were given to him.

While these ceremonies were going on Henry lay in the prison lodge, and he could not see the remotest chance of escape.  He listened at night for the friendly voice among the leaves, but he did not hear it.  Timmendiquas did not come again, and two old squaws, in place of Heno, brought him his food and drink.  He had no hope that the Wyandots would spare him after his refusal to leave his own people and become an Indian.  He knew that their chivalry made no such demand upon them.  The hardest part of it all was to lie there and wait.  He was like a man condemned, but with no date set for the execution.  He did not know when they would come for him.  But he believed that it would be soon, because the Wyandots must leave presently to march on the great foray.

The fourth morning after the visit of Timmendiquas the young chief returned.  He was accompanied by Heno and Hainteroh, and the three regarded the youth with great gravity.  Henry, keen of intuition and a reader of faces, knew that his time had come.  What they had prepared for him he did not know, but it must be something terrible.  A shiver that was of the spirit, but not of the muscles, ran through him.  Torture and death were no pleasant prospect to him who was so young and so strong, and who felt so keenly every hour of his life the delight of living, but he would face them with all the pride of race and wilderness training.

“Well, Timmendiquas,” he said, “I suppose that you have come for me!”

“It is true,” replied Timmendiquas steadily, “but we would first prepare you.  It shall not be said of the Wyandots that they brought to the ordeal a broken prisoner, one whose blood did not flow freely in his veins.”

Henry’s bonds were loosened, and he stood up.  Although he had been bound securely, his thongs had always allowed him a little movement, and he had sought in the days of his captivity to keep his physical condition perfect.  He would stretch his limbs and tense his muscles for an hour at a time.  It was not much, it was not like the freedom of the forest, but pursued by one as tenacious and forethoughtful as he, it kept his muscles hard, his lungs strong, and his blood sparkling.  Now, as he stood up, he had all his strength, and his body was flexible and alert.

But Heno and Hainteroh seized him by each hand and pulled strongly.  He understood.  They were acting in a wholly friendly manner for the time being, and would give him exercise.  He tried to guess from it the nature of the first ordeal that awaited him, but he could not.  He pulled back and felt his muscles harden and tighten.  So strong was he that both warriors were dragged to his side of the wigwam.

“Good!” said Timmendiquas.  “Prison has not made you soft.  You shall prove to all who see you that you are already a great warrior.”

Then they rubbed his ankles and wrists with bear’s oil that any possible stiffness from the bonds might be removed, and directed him to walk briskly on the inside circuit of the lodge for about fifteen minutes.  He did readily as they suggested.  He knew that whatever their motives ­and after all they were Indians with all the traits of Indians ­they wished him to be as strong as possible for the fate that awaited him outside.  The hardier and braver the victim, the better the Indians always liked it.  Over a half hour was passed in these preparations, and then White Lightning said tersely and without emotion: 

“Come!”

He led the way, and Henry, following him, stepped from the lodge into the sunlight with Hainteroh and Heno close behind.  The boy coming from the half darkness was dazzled at first by the brilliant rays, but in a few moments his eyes strengthened to meet them, and he saw everything.  A great crowd was gathered for a third time at the meadow, and a heavy murmur of anticipation and excitement came to his ears.

Henry felt that everybody in the Wyandot village was looking at him.  It gave him a singular feeling to be thus the center of a thousand eyes, and the little mental shiver came again, because the eyes were now wholly those of savages.  He felt a cool breath on his face.  The wind was blowing, and from the forest came the faint rustle of the leaves.  He listened a moment that he might hear that hopeful note, the almost human voice that had spoken to him, but it was not there.  It was just an ordinary wind blowing in the wilderness, and he ceased to listen because now his crisis was at hand.

Timmendiquas led toward the meadow, and Heno and Hainteroh came close behind.  Now Henry saw what they had prepared for him as the first stage of his ordeal.  He was to run the gantlet.

Two parallel lines had already been formed, running the longest way of the meadow and far down into an opening of the forest, and all were armed with switches or sticks, some of the latter so heavy, that, wielded by a strong hand, they would knock a man senseless.  No sympathy, no kindliness showed in the faces of any of these people.  The spirit of the ball and the dance was gone.  The white youth was their enemy, he had chosen to remain so, and they knew no law but an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.  Children and women were as eager as men for the sport.  It was a part of their teaching and belief.

Henry looked again down the line, and there he saw the renegades, three on one side and three on the other.  It seemed to him that theirs were the most cruel faces of all.  He saw Braxton Wyatt swinging a heavy stick, and he resolved that it should never touch him.  He could bear a blow from an Indian, but not from Braxton Wyatt.

Then he looked from the cruel face of the renegade to the forest, so green, so fresh, and so beautiful.  What a glorious place it was and how he longed to be there.  The deep masses of green leaves, solid in the distance, waved gently in the wind.  Over this great green wilderness bent the brilliant blue sky, golden at the dome from the high sun.  It was but a fleeting glance, and his eyes came back to earth, to the Wyandots, and to his fate.

“I was able to make it the gantlet first,” Timmendiquas was saying in his ear.  “Others wished to begin at once with the fire.”

“Thank you, White Lightning,” said Henry.

He looked for the third time at the line, and he saw that no human being, no matter how great his strength and dexterity, could reach the end of it.  It was at least a quarter of a mile in length, and long before he was half way he would be beaten to the earth, limbs broken.  They had not intended that he should have the remotest chance of escape.  Nor, look as he would, could he see any.

Hark!  What was that?  It was a sound from the forest, a low, sweet note, but clear and penetrating, the wind among the leaves, the voice, almost human, that told him to be of good faith, that even yet in the face of imminent death he would escape.  It was no longer an ordinary wind blowing through the wilderness; it was some voice out of space, speaking to him.  White Lightning saw the face of his prisoner suddenly illumined, and he wondered.

Henry looked down the line for the fourth time, and then the way came to him.  He knew what to do, and he drew himself together, a compact mass of muscles, and tense like steel wire.  Then, while the clear song from the forest still sang in his ear, he glanced up once more at the beneficent heavens, and uttered his wordless prayer: 

“O Lord, Thou who art the God of the white man and the Manitou of the red man, give me this day a strength such as I have never known before!  Give me an eye quick to see and a hand ready to do!  I would live.  I love life, but it is not for myself alone that I ask the gift!  There are others who need me, and I would go to them!  Now, O Lord, abide with me!”

They were his thoughts, not his words, but he was the child of religious parents, who had given him a religious training, and in the crisis he remembered.

It was the duty of Timmendiquas to give the word, but he waited, fascinated by the singular look on the face of the prisoner.  He saw confidence, exaltation there, and he still wondered.  But the crowd was growing impatient for its sport.  They were bedecked in their gayest for this holiday scene, and the size and obvious strength of the captive indicated that it would be continued longer than common.

Timmendiquas glanced at the prisoner again, and for an instant the eyes of the two met.  The chief saw purpose written deep in the mind of the other, and Henry caught the fleeting glimpse of sympathy that he had noticed more than once before.

“Are you ready?” asked Timmendiquas in tones so low that no one else could hear.

“Ready!” replied Henry as low.

“Go!” called Timmendiquas.  His voice was so sharp that it cracked like a pistol.

Henry made a mighty leap forward, and shot down between the lines so swiftly that the first blows aimed at him fell after he had passed.  Then a switch cut him across the shoulders, a stick grazed his head, another glanced off his back as he fled, but he was so quick that the sticks and switches invariably fell too late.  This was what he had hoped for; if he could keep ahead of the shower of blows for forty or fifty yards all might go well.  It would go well!  It must go well!  Hope flamed high in him, and he seemed to grow stronger at every leap.  The Indians were shouting with delight at the sport, but so intent was he upon his purpose that he did not hear them.

Henry looked up for a moment, and he saw near him the face of Timmendiquas, who had followed him down the line, seeking, it seemed, to give a blow on his account.  Beside him, a warrior held a heavy club poised to strike.  Henry saw that he could not escape it, and his heart sank, like a plummet in a pool.  But the great chief, so sure of foot, stumbled and fell against the warrior with the poised club.  The blow went wide, and Henry was untouched.  He ran on, but he understood.

He had marked a spot in the line, fifty yards on, perhaps, where it seemed weakest.  With the exception of the leader of the renegades, Girty, it was mostly women and children who stood there.  Now he was nearing them.  He saw Girty’s cruel, grinning face, and the heavy stick in his hand poised for a blow.

He could not run in a perfectly straight line, because he was compelled to dodge right or left to escape the clubs, and he was not always successful.  One, a glancing blow, made his head ring, but in a moment his will threw off the effect, and the sting of it merely incited him to greater effort.  Now the face of Girty was just before him, and the shouting of the Indians was so loud that he could not but hear.

He saw Girty raise his club, and, quick as lightning, Henry, turning off at a right angle, hurled himself directly at Girty, passed within the circle of the falling club, seized the renegade’s arm, and wrenched his weapon from his grasp.

It was done in a second, but the Indian warriors near instantly sprang for the pair.  The impact of Henry’s body knocked Girty to his knees and, as he fell, the youth made a sweeping blow at him with the captured club.  Had Henry been left time to balance himself for the stroke, the evil deeds of Simon Girty would have stopped there, and terrible suffering would have been spared to the border.  But he struck as he ran, and, although Girty was knocked senseless, his skull was not fractured.

Henry darted away at a right angle from the line toward the forest.  He had done what was achieved a few times by prisoners of uncommon strength and agility.  Instead of continuing between the rows he had broken out at one side, and now was straining every effort to reach the forest, with the whole Wyandot village yelling at his heels.

Timmendiquas had seen the deed in every detail.  He had marked the sudden turn of the fugitive and the extraordinary quickness and strength with which he had overthrown Girty, at the same time taking from him his weapon, and his eyes flashed approval.  But he was a Wyandot chief, and he could not let such a captive escape.  After a few moments of hesitation he joined in the pursuit, and directed it with voice and gesture.

Henry’s soul sang a song of triumph to him.  He would escape!  There was nobody between him and the forest, and they would not fire just yet for fear of hurting their own people.  His strength redoubled.  The forest came nearer.  It seemed to reach out great green branches and invite him to its shelter.

An old woman suddenly sprang up from the grass and seized him by the knees.  He made a mighty effort, threw her off, and leaped clear of her clawing hands.  But he had lost time, and the warriors had gained.  One was very near, and if he should lay hands upon him Henry knew that he could not escape.  Even if the warrior were able to hold him only a half minute the others then would be at hand.  But he was still keyed up to the great tension with which he had started down the line.  His effort, instead of reaching the zenith, was still increasing, and, turning sideways as he ran, he hurled the stick back into the face of the warrior who was so near.  The Wyandot endeavored to dodge it, but he was not quick enough.  It struck him on the side of the head and he fell, knocked senseless as Girty, the renegade, had been.

Then the fleeing youth made another supreme effort, and he drew clear of his pursuers by some yards.  The forest was very much nearer now.  How cool, how green, and how friendly it looked!  One could surely find shade and protection among all those endless rows of mighty trunks!  He heard a report behind him and a bullet sang in his ear.  The Wyandots, now that he had become a clear target in front of them, began to fire.

Henry, remembering an old trick in such cases, curved a little from side to side as he ran.  He lost distance by it, but it was necessary in order to confuse the marksmen.  More shots were fired, and the Wyandots, shouting their war cries, began to spread out like a fan in order that they might profit by any divergence of the fugitive from a straight line.  Henry felt a pain in his shoulder much like the sting of a bee, but he knew that the bullet had merely nipped him as it passed.  Another grazed his arm, but the God of the white man and the Manitou of the red to whom he had prayed held him in His keeping.  The Wyandots crowded one another, and as they ran at full speed they were compelled to fire hastily at a zig-zagging fugitive.

He made one more leap, longer and stronger than all the rest, and gained the edge of the forest.  At that moment he felt a tap on his side as if he had been struck by a pebble, but he knew it to be a bullet that had gone deeper than the others.  It might weaken him later, but not now; it merely gave a new impulse to his speed, and he darted among the trees, spurning the ground like a racing deer.

The bullets continued to fly, but luck made the forest dense, the great trees growing close to one another, and now the advantage was his.  Only at times was his body exposed to their aim, and then he ran so fast that mere chance directed the shots.  None touched him now, and with a deep exulting thrill, so mighty that it made him quiver from head to foot, he felt that he would make good his flight.  Only ten minutes of safety from the bullets, and he could leave them all behind.

Henry’s joy was intense, penetrating all his being, and it remained.  Yes, life here in this green wilderness was beautiful!  He had felt the truth of it with all its force when they brought him forth to die, passing from one torture to another worse, and he felt it with equal poignancy now that he had turned the impossible into the possible, now that the coming gift to him was life, not death.  His spirit swelled and communicated itself to his body.  Fire ran through his veins.

He took a single fleeting look backward, and saw many brown figures speeding through the forest.  He knew their tactics.  The fan would develop into a half curve, and pursue with all the fleetness and tenacity with which the Indian ­above all the Wyandot ­was capable.  If he varied but a single yard from the direct line of his flight some one in the half curve would gain by it.  He must not lose the single yard!  He glanced up through the green veil of foliage at the sun, and noticed that he was running toward the southeast, the way that he wanted to go.  Other such glances from time to time would serve to keep him straight, and again he felt the mighty and exultant swell that was in the nature of spiritual exaltation.

The war cries ceased.  The Wyandots now pursued in silence, and it would be a pursuit long and tenacious.  It was their nature not to give up, and they were filled with chagrin that so notable a prisoner had slipped from them, breaking through their lines and gaining the forest in the face of the impossible.  Henry knew all these things, too, and he had no intention of relaxing his speed until he was beyond the range of their rifles.  It was well for him that his muscles and sinews were like woven wire, and that he had striven so hard to keep himself in physical trim while he lay a prisoner in the lodge.  His breathing was still long and free, and his stride did not decline in either length or quickness.

The ground rolled slightly, and was free from undergrowth for the first half mile.  Then he came to clumps of bushes, but they did not decrease his speed, and when he looked back again he saw no Wyandot.  The fleetest among them had not been able to equal him, and before long he heard them calling signal cries to one another.  The chiefs were giving directions, seeking to place the fugitive, who was now lost to sight, but Henry only ran the faster.  He did not delude himself with any such foolish belief that they would quit the pursuit because they could no longer see him.