Young Ben Ripley made a good record on that eventful 3rd of July. He loaded and fired as steadily as a veteran. The smoke of the guns, the wild whooping of the Iroquois Indians, the sight of his friends and neighbors continually dropping to the ground, some of them at his elbow, the deafening discharge of the rifles – all these and the dreadful swirl and rush of events dazed him at times; but he kept at it with a steadiness which caused more than one expression of praise from the officers nearest him.
All at once he found himself mixed up in the confusion caused by the attempt to wheel a part of the line to face the flanking assailants, and the mistake of many that it was an order to retreat.
He did not know what it meant, for it seemed to him that a dozen officers were shouting conflicting orders at the same moment. A number of men threw down their guns and made a wild rush to get away, several falling over each other in the frantic scramble; others bumped together, and above the din of the conflict sounded the voices of Colonel Butler, as he rode back and forth through the smoke, begging his troops not to leave him, and victory would be theirs.
Seeing the hopeless tangle, the Indians swarmed out of the swamp, and by their savage attack and renewed shouts made the hubbub and confusion tenfold worse.
Somebody ran so violently against Ben that he was thrown to the ground. He was on his feet in an instant and turned to see who did it. It was a soldier fleeing for life from an Iroquois warrior.
Ben raised his gun, took quick aim and pulled the trigger, but no report followed. He had forgotten his weapon was unloaded.
Other forms obtruded between him and the couple, and he could not see the result of the pursuit and attack. Despite all he could do, he was forced back by the panic stricken rush around and against him.
Suddenly a wild cry reached him. An Iroquois with painted face rushed upon him with uplifted tomahawk, but he was yet several paces away, when another warrior seized his arm and wrenched him to one side.
"Run – go fast – don't stay!" commanded the Indian that had saved the youth, furiously motioning to him.
"If my gun were loaded," replied Ben, though his voice was unheard in the din, "I wouldn't go till I did something more. Helloa! is that you, Omas?"
It was the Delaware that had turned the assault aside.
A couple of bounds placed him beside he lad, and he caught his arm with a grip of iron.
It was of no use trying to hold back. Omas half running, half leaping, drove his way like a wedge through the surging swarm. His left hand closed around the upper arm of Ben, while his right grasped his tomahawk, he having thrown aside his rifle.
The boy was repeatedly jerked almost off his feet. He could run fast, but was not equal to this warrior, who forged along with resistless might. Twice did an Iroquois make for the young prisoner, as he supposed the lad to be, but a warning motion of the tomahawk upheld by Omas repelled him.
The Delaware was prudent, and instead of keeping in the midst of the surging mass, worked to one side, so that they were soon comparatively free from the tumultuous throng.
There was no attempt at conversation between the Delaware and Ben. The boy knew what was meant by this rough kindness. The day was lost, and his thoughts went out to the loved ones waiting down the valley to learn the result of the battle. He wanted to get to them as quickly as he could.
The rush carried them beyond the main body of fugitives, though not out of danger, for the Iroquois were pursuing hard; but soon Omas loosened his grip and dropped the arm of the lad. They were far enough removed from the swirl to exchange words.
"Where moder – where Alice?", asked the Delaware, as if he had no concern for his own child.
"At Forty Fort."
"Linna with them?"
"Yes; they are together with the other folks."
"Go dere – tell cross riber – make haste to Del'mware."
This command meant that the little party should hurry to the eastern side of the Susquehanna, and start for the settlements on the Upper Delaware. The nearest town was Stroudsburg, sixty miles distant, and the way led through a dismal forest.
The words of Omas showed, too, that he knew what was coming. Though the British Colonel Butler might accept the surrender and strive to give fair treatment to the prisoners, he would find it hard to restrain the Tories and Indians.
All that could be done was for the fugitives to flee, without an hour's delay. They were already flocking to the river in the effort to reach the other side. A good many hid among the grass and undergrowth on Monacacy Island, where the Tories and Indians followed, and hunted them out without mercy.
Those who were wise enough to set out in time had a chance of arriving at the settlements on the Upper Delaware, though much suffering was sure to follow, since there was no time to prepare food to take with them.
The remark of Omas prompted Ben's words – "How can I get mother, and Alice and Linna, to the other side? They cannot swim the river."
"Linna swim," was the somewhat proud answer; "she take care of Alice you take care of moder."
"I might at any other time, but with the people crowding around us, and the Indians at our heels and shooting down all they can, what chance have we? Why can't you come with me and help them?"
No doubt the Delaware had asked himself the question, for he answered it not by words, but by breaking into a loping trot for Forty Fort, with Ben running at his side. He halted before reaching the refuge, and turned aside among the bushes overhanging the edge of the river, his actions showing he was searching for something.
He speedily found a canoe, probably his own. It had been so skillfully hidden among the dense undergrowth that one might have passed within a couple of paces without seeing it.
He picked it up as if it were a toy boat and set it down in the water.
"Go bring moder – bring Alice – bring Linna."
Ben was off like a shot, for he knew there was not a minute to throw away. It was the season when the days were longest, and two or three hours must pass before it would be fully night.
It would not do for Omas to go with Ben. His appearance at the fort would add to the panic, and be almost certain to bring about a conflict with some of the whites. It was his province to guard the precious canoe from being taken by other fugitives.
Ben Ripley now thought only of his loved ones. He knew the anguish his mother would suffer until she learned he was safe, and he forced his way to the spot where he had parted from her.
It was a sad experience. Old men, women and children, with white faces, were rushing to and fro, wringing their hands and wailing, searching for those whom they never again would see in this life; crowding into the little fort, as if they knew a minute's delay would be fatal; some making for the river, into which they plunged in a wild effort to reach the eastern shore, while among the frantic masses appeared here and there a fugitive from the scene of battle, perhaps wounded and telling his dreadful story of the defeat, with all the woeful consequences that were certain to follow.
With much difficulty and some rough work the lad reached the spot where he had bidden his mother and the children goodbye, but none of the three was in sight. They had been swept aside by the rush of the terrified people.
A cry sounded above the tumult, and before he could learn where it came from, the arms of his mother were about his neck.
"Thank Heaven! my boy is safe! You do not know what I have suffered. I could learn nothing about you. Are you hurt?"
"Not a scratch – which is more than many other poor fellows can say. Where are the children?"
A tiny hand was slipped into his own, and looking down, there stood Linna, with her forefinger between her teeth, looking shyly up at him. There could be no doubt she felt fully acquainted.
Alice came forward on the other side. Neither understood the cause of the turmoil about them. They were not scared, but were awed into silence.
"I saw Omas," explained Ben to his mother; "he saved me from the fate of many others."
"Where is he?"
"A little way off, under the bank, waiting with his canoe, to take us across the river.
"He says we must hurry through the woods for the settlements on the Upper Delaware. Every hour that we stay increases our danger."
"Let me take Alice; lead the way."
Clasping tight the hand of Linna, with his mother at his heels, Ben pushed for the point where he had left the Delaware a few minutes before.
Strange that though the distance was not far, and the confusion seemed to be increasing every minute, the little party had not gone half way when they were checked by one of the men that had been in the battle. He was slightly wounded, and under the influence of liquor.
"Who's that you've got with you?" he demanded, looking down at Linna, who saw no danger in the act.
"A friend of Alice and me."
"She looks like an Injin," added the soldier, scowling threateningly at her; "if she is, I want her."
"I told you she is a friend of ours – get out of my way!"
The soldier's condition enabled Ben to tumble him over on his back by means of a vigorous shove. Before he could steady himself and get upon his feet again, the others were beyond reach.
I am sure he would not have acted that way, had he been in the possession of his senses.
When Ben parted from Omas, he was without a rifle, but on joining him again, the warrior had a fine weapon in his hand. It was not the one with which he appeared at the house. The lad might have guessed how he got it, but he did not ask any questions, nor seem to notice it.
As the party came up, Omas merely glanced at Mrs. Ripley and her child, but did not speak. As for his own little girl, he gave her no notice. Young as she was, she understood him, and did not claim any attention from him. If they had been alone, she would have been in his arms with their cheeks together.
"Go 'cross," said he, pointing toward the other shore.
"Ben has told me what you said: we are ready," replied Mrs. Ripley.
He held the canoe steady and motioned her to take her place in it. She did so, and Alice nestled at her feet, being careful not to stir, for such frail craft are easily upset.
The canoe was small, and the weight of the mother and child sank it quite low, though it would hold another adult.
"Get in," added Omas to the lad.
Ben obeyed. He knew all about such boats, and could have paddled it across had there been a paddle to use, but there was none.
When the Delaware laid his rifle inside with Ben's, it was evident he intended to swim, towing or shoving the boat.
"Come, Linna, there's just room for you," added the youth, reaching out his hand for the dusky little girl.
Instead of obeying, she looked up at her father and said something to which he made answer brusquely, as it sounded to the others.
Retreating several paces from shore, she ran nimbly to the edge of the bank, and with a leap splashed away beyond the bow of the canoe, and began swimming like a fish for the eastern shore.
It was a real treat for her, even though she did not remove any of her clothing. The weather was sultry, and the bath refreshingly cool. Not comprehending the sad scenes around her, she dived, and splashed, and frolicked, easily keeping in advance of the boat.
Truth to tell, the canoe had all it could hold, and Omas, who swam at the stern, handled it with care to prevent it overturning. The water rose almost to the gunwales, and a little jolt or carelessness would have capsized it.
The Delaware swam high out of water. He knew the boat would attract the attention of some of his own people on the bank, who, if they thought the occupants were escaping, would either pursue or fire on them.
The sight of the Indian, however, at the stern would make it appear that they were already prisoners, and the other warriors would give their attention elsewhere.
Omas kept clear of Monacacy Island, and by and by his feet touched ground. Before that, the dripping Linna had run out on land, and so the whole party safely reached the eastern shore.