Read CHAPTER XX - THE TRUMPET’S PEAL 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.

Major George Augustus Braithwaite, scholar of William and Mary College, man of refinement and experience, commissioned officer who had been in the assault at Ticonderoga, and who had stood victoriously with Wolfe on the Plains of Abraham, leaned upon a bastion at Fort Prescott and watched one of the wildest nights that he had ever seen.  He wore his three-cornered military hat, but the rain flowed steadily in a little stream from every corner.  He was wrapped in an old military coat, badge of distinguished service, but the rain, too, ran steadily from every fringe of its hem and gathered in puddles about the military boots that enclosed his feet.

He thought nothing of rain, or hat, or cloak, or boots.  The puddles grew without his notice.  The numerous flashes of lightning disclosed his face, worn and anxious, and with lines that had deepened perceptibly in the last few days.  Beside him stood the second in command at Fort Prescott, Gregory Wilmot, a middle-aged man, and the brave scout, Seth Cole.  They, too, seemed unconscious of the rain, and looked only at the river that flowed beneath them, a dark and troubled stream.

The storm had gone on long and it showed no signs of abating.  It was the fiercest that any of them had ever seen in the Ohio Valley, and the lightning was often so brilliant and so near that they were compelled to shrink back in fear.

“How long has it been since the boy Henry Ware left us?” asked Major Braithwaite.

“A week to-day,” replied the scout.

“And the fleet has not yet come,” said the Major, as much to himself as to the others.  “I’ve always believed until to-night that it would come.  That boy inspired confidence.  I had to believe in him.  I had no choice.”

“Nor I, either,” said Gregory Wilmot.  “I believed in him, and I do now.”

“It’s the lack of news that troubles me so much,” said the Major sadly.  “The leaguer of the fort has grown closer and tighter, and it seems that nothing can get through now.”

“I tried to get out last night,” said the scout, “but a snake would have had to grease himself to slip by.  It’s their great chief, Timmendiquas, who is doing it all, and he doesn’t mean that we shall know a single thing about what is going on outside.”

“He is certainly carrying out his intentions.  I give him all credit for his generalship,” said Major Braithwaite.

The three relapsed again into silence and stared at the river, now a dark, flowing current, and then molten metal in the dazzling glare of the lightning.  The time, the place, and his troubles stirred Major Braithwaite deeply.  To-night the wilderness oppressed him with its immensity and its unknown, but none the less deadly, dangers.  Things that he had read, scraps of old learning at college, floated through his head.

Magna pars fui,” he murmured, looking at the river and the black forest beyond.

“What did you say, sir?” asked the scout.

“I merely meant,” replied the Major, “that we, too, have our part in great events.  This, with distance’s long view, may seem obscure and small to the great world elsewhere, but it is not obscure and small to us.  Could any spectacle be more tremendous than the one we behold to-night?”

“If the fleet does not come it is not likely that we shall behold any more spectacles of any kind,” said Gregory Wilmot.  “The red men hold their cordon, and in time our food must become exhausted.”

“That is so,” said the Major.  “Some of the women have given up already, and look upon themselves as dead.”

“We are not lost,” said the scout.  “He’ll come, that boy, Henry Ware, will.  He’s only a boy, Major, but he’s got a soul like that of the great chief, Timmendiquas.  He’ll come with the fleet.”

Major Braithwaite wished to believe, but it was hard to do it.  How could anything come out of that darkness and storm and through the Indian host?  A soldier, he recognized the mental grasp and energy of Timmendiquas and the thoroughness of the leaguer of both fort and river.  He left the bastion presently and went into one of the log cabins where some of the wounded men lay.  He made it a point to visit them and cheer them whenever he could, and he would not neglect it to-night.  He spent a half hour with them and then he returned to the bastion.

“What have you seen?” he asked.

“Nothing but the river and the woods and much lightning,” replied Gregory Wilmot.

“Nor heard anything?”

“Only the thunder and the wind.”

“I am weary of both.  Surely they cannot last much longer.”

Neither Gregory Wilmot nor the scout replied.  Both were soaked with water, but they had forgotten it, and none of the three spoke again for at least ten minutes.  Then Major Braithwaite, whose eyes had roved from the river, saw the scout lean forward and press himself against the wooden crest of the bastion.  It was as if a sudden quiver had run through him, but his ear was toward the river and he leaned still further forward as if he would get yet nearer to hear.  It was only by a flash of lightning that the Major saw this, but it was enough to arouse his interest.

“What is it?  Do you hear anything?” he asked.

The lightning flashed again, and the scout raised his hand.

“I don’t know yet whether I’ve heard anything but the thunder an’ the wind,” he replied, “but I seemed to hear somethin’.  It wuz fur away, an’ it growled low and threatenin’ like thunder.  An’ it wuzn’t eggzackly like thunder, either.  I don’t quite seem to make it out.  Hark! thar she goes ag’in!”

Major Braithwaite and Gregory Wilmot also leaned forward eagerly, but they could hear only the fiendish shrieking of the wind and the sullen mutter of certain thunder.

“You believe you heard a sound that was neither the thunder nor the wind?” said the Major.

“Yes,” replied the scout, “an’ I’ve heard it twice.  Ef it wuzn’t fur the second time I wouldn’t be so shore.  Listen, thar she goes ag’in, like thunder, but not thunder eggzackly.”

“Can you make out what it is?”

“I wuz in the big French an’ Injun War, too, when I wuz jest a mite uv a boy,” replied the scout, “and when I wuz layin’ in the woods one day an’ one uv them battles wuz goin’ on I heard a sound that’s like the one I’ve been hearin’ now.”

“What was it?” exclaimed the Major eagerly.

“It wuz the fust time I ever heard it.  I wuz layin’ close in the thicket, a’ it wuz at least five miles away.  But I’ve never forgot that sound.  It wuz a cur’us thing.  It wuz like a voice talkin’.  It kep’ a-sayin’ somethin’ like this, ‘Look out fur me!  Look out fur me!’ It wuz a cannon shot, Major, an’ it’s a cannon shot that I’ve been hearin’ now, once, twice, an’ now three times, an’ it’s sayin’ jest ez it did years an’ years ago, ‘Look out fur me!  Look out fur me!  Look out!  Look out!’ an’ it’s a-sayin’ to me at the same time that the fleet’s a-comin’.”

“Do you really think so?” exclaimed the Major joyfully.

“I shorely do, an’ I do more than think, I know.  The cannon that them Injuns an’ renegades had hez been sunk.  Thar ain’t any others in all the west except them on the fleet, an’ it’s them that’s been talkin’.  Ez shore ez we live, Major, the fleet’s buttin’ its way through the darkness and the wind an’ the thunder an’ the lightnin’ and the rain an’ the Injuns an’ the renegades, an’ is comin’ straight to Fort Prescott.”

The scout stood up, and Major Braithwaite saw by the lightning that his face was transfigured.  Hope and certainty had replaced fear and uncertainty.

“Thar!” he exclaimed.  “The fourth time.  Don’t you hear it, louder than before?”

A low, deep note which certainly differed from that of the thunder now came to the ears of Major Braithwaite, and his own experience of battle fields told him its nature.

“It is cannon! it is surely cannon!” he exclaimed joyously.  “And you are right!  It is the fleet coming to our relief!  The boy got through!”

Major Braithwaite’s face glowed, and so did that of Gregory Wilmot, who was also now sure that they had heard the sound of the white man’s great guns.  But they kept it to themselves for the present.  There must be no false hope, no raising of the garrison into joy merely to let it fall back deeper into gloom.  So they waited, and the far note of the cannon did not come again, although they pressed themselves against the wooden bastion and strained ears to hear.

The heart of Major Braithwaite gradually sank again.  It might have been an illusion.  A heart so eager to hear might have deceived the ear into hearing.  The darkness seemed to have closed in thicker and heavier than ever.  The flashes of lightning, although as vivid as before, were not so frequent, but the wind rose, and its shrieking got upon the ears of the three.

“I wish it would stop!” said the Major angrily.  “I want to hear something else!  Was it imagination about the cannon?  Could we have deceived ourselves into hearing what we wanted to hear?  Is such a thing possible?”

The scout shook his head.

“It wuzn’t no deception,” he said.  “I shorely heard cannon.  Mebbe they’ve quit firin’ ’em, an’ are comin’ on now with the rifles an’ the pistols.  It must be that.  I’m like you, Major, I believe in that boy, Henry Ware, an’ he’s comin’ right now with the fleet to save all them women an’ children behind us.”

“God grant that you may be right,” said Major Braithwaite devoutly.

The three still leaned against the crest of the wooden wall, and the rain yet drove upon them, unnoticed.  They listened, with every nerve taut, for a sound that did not come, and whenever the lightning flashed they strained their eyes down the dark reaches of the river to see something that they did not see.  Over an hour passed, and they scarcely moved.  Then the scout straightened up.

“Now I hear ’em,” he said, “Listen!  It’s not the cannon that’s talkin’.  It’s the rifles.  I tell you that fleet, with the boy on it, is comin’.  It’s shoved its way right through all them nests uv hornets an’ wasps.  Hear that.  Ef that ain’t the crack uv rifles, then I’m no livin’ man.”

Sounds, faint but with a clear distinct note, came to them, and again Major Braithwaite knew that he could not be mistaken.  It was like the distant fire of the skirmishers when the Anglo-American army advanced through the woods upon Ticonderoga, and he had heard the same sound in their front when they first stood upon the Plains of Abraham.  It was rifle fire, the lashing whip-like crack of the western rifles, and it was a rifle fire that was advancing.

“Glory to God!” he exclaimed in immense exultation and relief.  “It’s the fleet!  The fleet’s at hand!  There cannot be any doubt now!  Take the men to the walls, Wilmot, because it’s likely that the Indians will renew the attack upon us when they see that the fleet is coming to our relief.”

The face of Major George Augustus Braithwaite, scholar and soldier, was transformed.  Both the scout and Gregory Wilmot saw it when the lightning flickered across the sky, but the same joy was pounding at their own hearts.  Wilmot, obeying the Major’s order, hurried away to see that the walls were manned by riflemen ready to repel any attack, but the scout remained.

“They’re comin’, they’re comin’, shore, Major,” he said, “but they’ve had to make a mighty fight uv it.  You kin be certain that Timmendiquas did everything to keep them from gittin’ by.  Listen, thar go the rifles ag’in, an’ they’re nearer now!”

Good news spreads as fast as bad, and in ten minutes it was known throughout the beleaguered houses of Fort Prescott that a great and glorious event had occurred.  They would not be taken by the Indians, they would not be slaughtered or carried into captivity.  Relief, many boats and canoes filled with their own warlike country-men, an irresistible force, were at hand, because Major Braithwaite and Gregory Wilmot had heard the welcome sound of their rifles and cannon.

Out into the rain and darkness poured men, women, and children, and they cared for neither rain nor darkness, because the rescue from imminent death was coming, and they would see it.

People gathered around Major Braithwaite and the scout and they did not order them back, because this was a time when all would wish to know, and in the night and darkness they waited patiently and hopefully to see what the fitful flashes of lightning might let them see.

The sound of random shots came from the dripping forest, and the men of Gregory Wilmot at the barrier replied, but Major Braithwaite paid little attention to such a diversion as this.  The Indians would not undertake now to storm the fort ­they had failed already in several such attempts ­and their renewed fire was merely proof that they, too, knew that the fleet had forced the watery passage.

“Thar she goes ag’in!” said the scout.  “Ez shore ez I’m a livin’ sinner that’s the crack uv Kentucky rifles, fifty uv ’em at least!”

“You’re right,” said Major Braithwaite, “and it cannot come from anything but the fleet.  Hark, there’s a new sound, and it removes the last doubt!”

Clear above all the other clamor of the night, the wind, the firing, and the rain, rose a long, mellow note, low but distinct, sweet and clear.  It was a haunting note, full of music, light, and joy, the peal of a silver trumpet carried by the herald of Adam Colfax.  Mellow and clear its echo came back, sweeping over forest and river, and its breath was life and hope.

“The battle trumpet!” exclaimed Major Braithwaite.  “The vanguard of the fleet!  It is speaking to us!  It tells us that friends are near.  Here, you men, build up a bonfire!  Let them know just where we are and that we are on watch!”

Twenty willing hands brought dry wood, and, despite the rain, a great blaze leaped up within the palisade.  It grew and grew.  The flames, yellow and red, roared and sprang higher, casting a bright light over the wooden walls, the forest, the cliffs, and the river.  Bullets whistled from the forest, but they passed over the heads of the people in the fort, and they let them go by unnoticed.

Higher rose the fires in the face of the rain, and the great yellow light over the river deepened.  When the lightning flared it was a mixture of gold and silver, and it was so intense that they could see the very crinkling of the water on its surface.

Again came the mellow note of the silver trumpet, a clear, far cry that died away in little curves and undulations of sound.  But it was nearer, undeniably nearer, and once more it breathed life anew into the listeners.

There was a sudden blaze of lightning, more vivid than all that had gone before.  The whole surface of the river leaped into the light, and upon that surface, just where the stream curved before flowing into the narrowest passage between the hills, appeared a black dot.

It was more than a black dot, it was a boat, and, despite the distance, the astonishing vividness of the lightning made them see in it five figures, five human figures, clad in the deerskin of the border.

“Tis the boy, Henry Ware and his comrades, ez shore ez I’m a livin’ sinner,” muttered the scout.  He could not see the faces, but he was quite sure that the one who knelt in the prow was Henry Ware.

“It is they!  It must be they!” exclaimed Major Braithwaite.  “And look, there are other boats behind them turning the curve ­one, two, three, four, and more ­and look, how their rifles flash to right and left!  They beat back the red savages!  Nothing can stop them!  Build up the fires, my lads, that they may see!”

The trumpet pealed for the third time, and it came from the prow of the Independence.  A mighty shout rose from the fort in reply, and then from the forest and the cliffs came the long, defiant yell of the red men, who were not yet beaten.  The light was now sufficient to show them swarming along the edge of the water, and even venturing far from the bank in canoes.  The tide of battle swelled anew.  Timmendiquas the Great, Red Eagle, Yellow Panther, and the renegades, Girty, Blackstaffe, Braxton Wyatt and the others, urged them on.  But always it was Timmendiquas, the great White Lightning of the Wyandots, who directed.

Major Braithwaite watched with fascinated eyes.  The heavens were growing somewhat lighter, and that fact, allied with his bonfire, was now sufficient to disclose much.  He saw the fleet, despite all the attempts to hold it, moving steadily forward in two parallel lines; he heard again the mellow notes of the silver trumpet, calling alike to the men of Adam Colfax and to those in the fort.  He looked, too, for the boat that he had first seen, the one that had contained the five figures, and he found it, as before, in the very front.  The five were still there, and he thought he could see their rifles flashing.  The good Major felt a singular throb of relief.  Then, as the battle thickened, his courage and military energy leaped up.

“We cannot stand here idle when so great an event, one that means so much to us, is going on,” he said to Seth Cole.  “If I mistake not, the savages are about to make their supreme effort, and it becomes us to help repel it.”

“I reckon you’re right, Major,” said the scout.  “The next ten minutes will say how this thing is goin’ to end, an’ we ought to be in at the sayin’.”

“How many men have we on foot, and fit to fight?”

“’Bout sixty, I reckon, Major.”

“Then we’ll take thirty, leave the other thirty under Wilmot to hold the fort, and go forth to help our friends who wish to help us.”

Action was as prompt as decision.  In five minutes the brave borderers were ready, one of the gates was thrown open, to be closed immediately behind them, and with the Major and the scout at their head, they rushed toward the bank.

It was the purpose of Major Braithwaite to lead his men down the stream a little, and as soon as a position of vantage could be reached, open a covering fire that would protect the boats.  They crossed the cleared space around the fort unharmed, but directly after they reached the woods beyond, bullets began to whistle about them, and the Indian war whoop rang through the dripping forest.  The Major knew that he was attacked in force, and so far from helping the fleet his men must now defend themselves.  But he would be an aid, nevertheless, since the attack upon his own party must draw off warriors from the leaguer of the fleet.

His men fell back to the shelter of the tree trunks, and began to fire, every one like a sharpshooter choosing his target.  The Major’s back was now to the river, and he could hear the rattle of the rifles behind him as well as before him.  Two or three minutes of this, and a shout reached his ear.  It was not the shrill, high-pitched yell of the Indian, but the deep, full-throated cry of the white man, and the Major knew it.  A sudden burst of firing came from a new point, and then the attack seemed to melt away before him.

Meanwhile, the fleet, with the savages hanging on either flank, crept on up the river.