While Ben Ripley was frolicking with little Alice and her Indian friend Linna, the mother prepared the evening meal.
The candles were lighted, and they took their places at the table.
All this was new and strange to Linna. In her own home, she was accustomed to sit on the ground, and use only her fingers for knife and fork when taking food; but she was observant and quick, and knowing how it had been with her, her friends soon did away with her embarrassment. The mother cut her meat into small pieces, spread butter – which the visitor looked at askance – on the brown bread, and she had but to do as the rest, and all went well.
A few minutes after supper both girls became drowsy, and Mrs. Ripley, candle in hand, conducted them upstairs to the small room set apart for their use.
This was another novel experience for the visitor. She insisted at first upon lying on the hard floor, for never in her life had she touched a bed; but after awhile, she became willing to share the couch with her playmate.
Alice knelt down by the side of the little trundle bed and said her prayers, as she always did; but Linna could not understand what it meant. She wonderingly watched her until she was through, and then with some misgiving, clambered among the clothes, and the mother tucked her up, though the night was so warm they needed little covering.
Mrs. Ripley felt that she ought to tell the dusky child about her heavenly Father, and to teach her to pray. She therefore sat down on the edge of the bed, and in simple words began the wonderful story of the Saviour, who gave His life to save her as well as all others.
Alice dropped asleep right away, but Linna lay motionless, with her round black eyes fixed on the face of the lady, drinking in every word she said. By and by, however, the eyelids began to droop, and the good woman ceased. Who shall tell what precious seed was thus sown in that cabin in Wyoming, more than a hundred years ago?
While Mrs. Ripley was talking upstairs, she heard voices below; so that she knew Ben had a visitor. As she descended, she recognized a neighbor who lived on the other side of the river.
"I called," said he, "to tell you that you must lose no time in moving into Forty Fort with your little girl."
"You do not mean right away?"
"Not tonight, but the first thing in the morning."
"Is the danger so close as that?"
"Our scouts report the Tory Colonel Butler with a large force of whites and Indians marching down the valley."
"But do you not expect to repel them?"
"We are sure of that," was the confident reply; "but it won't do for any of the women and children to be exposed. The Indians will scatter, and cut off all they can. Others of our friends are out warning the people, and we must have them all in a safe place."
"Will you wait for your enemies to attack the fort?"
"I believe our Colonel Butler favors that; but others, and among them myself and Ben, favor marching out and meeting them."
"That's it," added the lad, shaking his head. "I believe in showing them we are not scared. Colonel Butler got leave of absence to come to Wyoming; he has some regulars with him, and with all our men and boys we'll teach the other Colonel Butler a lesson he won't forget as long as he lives."
"Well, if you think it best, we will move into the fort with the other people until the danger is past."
"Yes, mother; I will fight better knowing that you and Alice are safe. There's Linna! What about her?"
"Who's Linna?" asked the visitor.
"She is the little child of Omas, the Delaware warrior. He brought her here this afternoon to make Alice a visit, and promised to call tomorrow for her. Will it be safe to wait until he comes?"
The neighbor shook his head.
"You mustn't take any chances. Why don't you turn her loose to take care of herself? She can do it."
"I couldn't," the mother hastened to say; "Omas left her in our care, and I must not neglect her. She will go with us."
"I don't think it will be safe for her father to come after her, when the flurry is over."
"He will be with the Iroquois, even though his tribe doesn't like them any too well; for the Iroquois are the conquerors of the Delawares, and drove them off their hunting grounds."
"Well," said Mrs. Ripley, with a sigh; "even if he never comes for her, she will always have a home with us."
The dwelling of the Ripleys was on the eastern shore of the Susquehanna. On the other side stood Fort Wintermoot and Forty Fort, the former being at the upper end of the valley. That would be the first one reached by the invaders, and the expectation was that it would give up whenever ordered to do so, for nearly all in it were friends of the Tories.
It was evident that when Omas left his child with her friends, and spoke of returning the next day, or soon thereafter, he did not know how near the invasion was. Mrs. Ripley expected that when he did learn it, he would hasten back for her.
The night, however, passed without his appearance, and the hot July sun came up over the forests on the eastern bank of the river, and still he remained away. It looked as if he had decided to let her take her chances while he joined the invaders in their work of destruction and woe.
Mrs. Ripley would have been willing to wait longer, but she was urged not to lose another hour. The frightened settlers were not allowed to take anything but their actual necessaries with them, for the cramped quarters in Forty Fort, where a number of cabins were erected, would be crowded to the utmost to make room for the hundreds who might clamor for admission. The quarters, indeed, were so scant that many camped outside, holding themselves ready to rush within should it become necessary.
Little Linna was filled with wonder when she saw her friends preparing to move and knew she was going with them. But she helped in her way as much as she could and asked no questions. There was no need, in fact, for Alice asked enough for both.
And just here I must relate to you a little history.
On the last days of June, 1778, Colonel John Butler, with about four hundred soldiers – partly made up of Tories – and six or seven hundred Indians, entered the head of Wyoming Valley. As I have said, he was a cousin of Colonel Zebulon Butler, who commanded the patriots and did all he could to check the invaders. Reaching Fort Wintermoot, the British officer sent in a demand for its surrender. The submission was made, and the invaders then came down the valley and ordered the Connecticut people to surrender Forty Fort and the settlements. Colonel Zebulon Butler had under him, to quote the historical account, "two hundred and thirty enrolled men, and seventy old people, boys, civil magistrates, and other volunteers." They formed six companies, which were mustered at Forty Fort, where the families of the settlers on the east side of the river had taken refuge.
Colonel Zebulon Butler, upon receiving the summons, called a council of war. This was on the 3rd of July. The officers believed that a little delay would be best, in the hope of the arrival of reinforcements; but nearly all the men were so clamorous to march out and give the invaders battle, that it was decided to do so.
"You are going into great danger," remarked the leader, as he mounted his horse and placed himself at the head of the patriots, "but I will go as far as any of you."
At three o'clock in the afternoon the column, numbering about three hundred, marched from the fort with drums beating and colors flying. They moved up the valley, with the river on the right and a marsh on the left, until they arrived at Fort Wintermoot, which had been set on fire by the enemy to give the impression they were withdrawing from the neighborhood.
As you may well believe, the movements of the patriots were watched with deep interest by those left behind. The women and children clustered along the river bank and strained their eyes in the direction of Fort Wintermoot, the black smoke from which rolled down the valley and helped to shut out their view.
There was hardly one among the spectators that had not a loved relative with the defenders. It might be a tottering grandfather, a sturdy son, who, though a boy, was inspired with the deepest fervor, and eager to risk his life for the sake of his mother or sister, whose hearts almost stopped beating in the painful suspense which must continue until the battle was decided.
Alice was too young fully to understand the peril in which Ben was placed. She had kissed him goodbye when he ran to take his place with the others, and, with a light jest on his lips about her and Linna, he had snatched a kiss from the little Delaware's swarthy cheek.
The mother added a few cheering words to the children, and it was a striking sight when they and a number of others, about their age or under, began playing with all the merriment of children who never dream that the world contains such afflictions as sorrow, woe, and death.
It was easy to follow the course of the patriots for a time after they were beyond sight, by the sound of their drums and the shrill whistling of several fifes.
In those days it was much more common than now for people to drink intoxicating liquors. Just before the patriots started up the valley, I am sorry to say, a few of the men drank more than they should. It has been claimed by some that but for this things would have gone differently on that day, which will live for ever as one of the saddest in American history.
By and by the anxious people near the fort noticed that the sound of drums and fifes had ceased, and the reports of firearms were heard.
They knew from this that the opposing forces were making ready for the conflict, and the suspense became painful indeed.
Then amid the rattle of musketry sounded the whoops of the Iroquois. The battle was on. Fighting began about four o'clock in the afternoon. Colonel Zebulon Butler ordered his men to fire, and at each discharge to advance a step. The fire was regular and steady, and the Americans continued to gain ground, having the advantage where it was open. Despite the exertions of the invaders, their line gave way, and but for the help of the Indians they would have been routed.
The flanking party of red men kept up a galling fire on the right, and the patriots dropped fast. The Indians on the Tory left were divided into six bands who kept up a continuous yelling which did much to inspirit each other, while the deadly aim told sadly upon the Americans.
The most powerful body of Indians was in a swamp on the left of the patriots, and by and by they outflanked them. The Americans tried to manoeuvre so as to face the new danger, but some of them mistook the order for one to retreat. Everything was thrown into confusion.
Colonel Zebulon Butler, seeing how things were going, galloped up and down between the opposing lines, calling out – "Don't leave me, my children. Stand by me and the victory is ours!"
But it was too late. The patriots could not be rallied. They were far outnumbered, and once thrown into a panic, with the captain of every company slain, the day was lost.
You cannot picture the distress of the women, children, and feeble old men waiting at Forty Fort the issue of the battle.
The sorrowful groups on the bank of the river listened to the sounds of conflict, and read the meaning as they came to their ears.
The steady, regular firing raised their hopes at first. They knew their sons and friends were fighting well, despite the shouts of the Indians borne down the valley on the sultry afternoon.
By and by the firing grew more scattering, and instead of being so far up the river as at first, it was coming closer.
This could mean but one thing; the patriots were retreating before the Tories and Indians.
One old man, nearly four score years of age, who pleaded to go into the battle, but was too feeble, could not restrain his feelings. He walked back and forth, inspired with new strength and full of hope, until the scattered firing and its approach left no doubt of its meaning.
He paused in his nervous, hobbling pace, and said to the white faced women standing breathlessly near – "Our boys are retreating: they have been beaten – all hope is gone!"
The next moment two horsemen galloped into sight. "Colonel Butler and Colonel Denison!" said the old man, recognizing them; "they bring sad news."
It was true. They rode their horses on a dead run, and reining up at the fort, where the people crowded around them, they leaped to the ground, and Colonel Butler said – "Our boys have been driven from the field, and the Tories and Indians are at their heels!"