The point, at last, had been reached where it was useless to struggle any longer. The little party of fugitives, after safely crossing the Susquehanna on the day of the battle, and penetrating more than a score of miles on their way eastward to the Delaware, were overtaken, and made captive by three Indians.
Warning Ben against any resistance, the mother bowed her head in submission, and awaited her fate. Only once, when she clasped her arm around the awed and silent Alice, laying the other affectionately upon the shoulder of her brave son, did she speak – "Murmur not at the will of Heaven."
The Seneca was surprised at the action, or, rather, want of action, on the part of the captives. Receiving no response to his salutation, he stood a moment in silence, and then emitted a tremulous whoop. It was a signal for Red Wolf and the other Seneca. They understood it, and hurried to the spot, with Linna close behind them.
It would have been expected that she would indulge in some outburst when she saw how ill everything had gone; but, with one grieved look, she went up to the sorrowing, weeping mother and buried her head between her knees.
And then she did what no one of that party had ever before seen her do – she sobbed with a breaking heart. The mother soothed her as best she could, uttering words which she heard not.
Ben Ripley when the blow came, stood erect, and folded his arms. His face was pale, but his lips were mute. Not even by look did he ask for mercy from their captors.
In the midst of the impressive tableau, Linna suddenly raised her head from the lap of the mother, her action and attitude showing she had caught some sound which she recognized.
But everyone else in the party also noted it. It was a shrill, penetrating whistle, ringing among the forest arches – a call which she had heard many a time, and she could never mistake its meaning.
Her eyes sparkled through her tears, which wet her cheeks; but she forgot everything but that signal.
"Dat Omas! – dat Omas – dat fader!" she exclaimed, springing to her feet, trembling and aglow with excitement.
There was one among the three who, had his painted complexion permitted, would have turned ashy pale. Red Wolf was afraid that when the fearful Delaware warrior thundered down on them, he would not give his brother time to explain matters before sinking his tomahawk into his brain. Manifestly, therefore, but one course was open for him, and he took it without a second's delay.
He fled for his life.
The Senecas, however, stood their ground. The signal of Omas sounded again, and Linna answered it. Her father was near at hand, and quickly came to view.
But, lo! he had a companion. It was To-wika, his faithful wife.
The reunion of the Delaware family was an extraordinary one. Had no others been present, Linna would have bounded into the arms of her mother, been pressed impulsively to her breast, and then received the same fervent welcome from her father.
But never could anything like that take place before witnesses.
When the child saw her parents she walked gravely up to them, having first done her utmost to remove the traces of tears, and took her place by their side. The mother said something in her native tongue, but it could not have been of much account, for the child gave no reply.
Omas did not speak. One quick glance was bestowed upon his child, and then he addressed himself to the work before him.
Omas was as cunning as a serpent. He would not have hesitated to assail these two Senecas, for, truth to tell, he could never feel much love for the conquerors of his people. He did not fear them; but he saw the way to win his point without such tempestuous violence.
His words, therefore, were calculated to soothe rather than irritate. He asked them to explain how it was they were in charge of his friends, and listened attentively while one of them answered his inquiry.
Then, as is natural with his race, he recounted in somewhat extravagant language his own deeds of the last few days. There is reason to believe he gave himself credit for a number of exploits against the palefaces of which he was innocent.
Then he said the only ones he loved among the palefaces were the three there present – he had entrusted his only child to them, and they had saved her from the anger of their people. He had slept under their roof, and eaten of their bread. They were his best friends; and they his brave Seneca brothers, when they knew of this, would be glad. He had set out to conduct them to the settlements, and his brothers would wish all a safe arrival there.
This speech, delivered with far more address than I am able to give it, worked as a charm. Not the slightest reference was made to the cowardly Red Wolf, though Omas knew all about him.
The Senecas were won by the words of the wily Delaware. They indulged in the fiction of saying that they had no thought of how matters stood between him and these palefaces, and their hearts were glad to hear the words fall from his lips. They would not harm his friends, and hoped they would reach in safety the settlement for which they were looking.
Not only that, but they offered to go with them all the way.
This was too kind, and the offer was gratefully declined. Then the Senecas withdrew, first returning Ben's rifle to him. Whether they ever succeeded in overtaking Red Wolf cannot be known, and it is of no moment.
The peril had burst over the heads of the little party like a thundercloud; and now it had cleared, and all was sunshine again.
It was some minutes before the Ripleys could fully understand the great good fortune that had come to them. Then their hearts overflowed with thankfulness.
With her arms clasping her children Mrs. Ripley looked devoutly upward, and murmured:
"I thank Thee, Heavenly Father, for Thy great mercy to me and mine. Bless Omas and To-wika and Linna, and hold them for ever in Thy precious keeping."
The events which had taken place were strange; but Mrs. Ripley maintained, to the end of her life, that those which followed were tenfold more remarkable.
You will remember that when Omas, after conducting the little company some distance from Wyoming, showed a wish to leave them, the good woman had no doubt what his purpose was: he wanted to take part in further cruelties against the hapless settlers.
Omas had fought hard in the battle of July 3rd, 1778, and his friendship for the Ripleys drew him away before the dreadful doings were half completed. He yearned to go back and give rein to his ferocity. Mrs. Ripley tried to restrain him, but in vain.
Such were her views; but she was in error. She did not read the heart of the terrible warrior aright.
For weeks Omas had been sorely troubled in mind. He had visited the Christian brethren of his own tribe at the Moravian settlement of Gnadenhutten. He had listened to the talk of the missionaries, and heard of One who, when He was reviled, reviled not again; who, when He was smitten and spat upon, bore it meekly; and who finally died on the cross, that the red men as well as the white children might be saved.
All this was a great mystery to the Delaware. He could not grasp the simple but sublime truths which lie at the foundation of Christianity. But he longed to do so. At midnight he lay trying to sleep in the silent woods, looking up at the stars and meditating on the wonderful Being who had done all this. In the simplicity of his nature, he talked to that awful and dimly comprehended Father of all races and peoples, and asked Him to tell Omas what he should say, and do, and think.
Unknown to him, To-wika his wife had listened to the teachings of the missionaries, and she had traversed further along the path of light than he.
When, therefore, he told her of his longings, his questionings, his distress, his wretchedness, and his groping in the dark, she was able to say a great deal that helped to clear away the fogs and mists from his clouded brain.
But Omas was in the very depth of darkness, and almost despair, when the fearful episode of Wyoming came. It was in desperation he went into that conflict, as a man will sometimes do to escape, as it were, from himself.
He fought like a demon, but he could not hush the still small voice within his breast. He felt that he must have relief, or he would do that which a wild Indian never does – make away with himself.
It was on his tongue more than once, while threading his way through the wilderness with his friends, to appeal to Mrs. Ripley; but with a natural shrinking he held back, fearing that with his broken words he could not make her understand his misery.
The only recourse was to go to To-wika, his wife. He had asked her to talk further with the missionaries, and then to repeat their words to him.
So it was that when he stole from the camp fire like a thief in the night, it was not to return and take part in the scenes of violence in which he had already been so prominent an actor, but to do the very opposite.
It was a long tramp through the forest to his own wigwam, and his people were aflame with excitement because of Wyoming; but the warrior hardly paused night and day until he flung himself at the feet of To-wika and begged that he might die.
From this remarkable woman Linna had inherited more mental strength than from her iron hearted father. To-wika talked soothingly to him, and for the first time in his blind groping he caught a glimmer of light. The blessed Word which had brought comfort and happiness to her is for all people and conditions, no matter how rude, how ignorant, and how fallen.
But To-wika felt the need of human help. She had never met Mrs. Ripley, but her husband had told of his welcome beneath that roof, and of what she said to him about the Saviour and God, who was so different from the Great Spirit of the red men. She knew this woman was a Christian, and she asked her husband to lead her to her.
He set out with her to overtake the little party who, with never a thought of what was going on, were struggling through the gloomy wilderness, beset by perils on every hand.
Since they were following no beaten path, except for a little way, the most perfect woodcraft was necessary to find them. Omas knew the direction they had taken, and calculated the time needed to reach the Delaware. It was easy, too, to locate the camp where he had parted from them, after which his wonderful skill enabled him to keep the trail, along which he and his wife strode with double the speed of the fugitives.
When he discovered that three warriors were doing the same, all the old fire and wrath flamed up in his nature. The couple increased the ardor of their pursuit. And yet, but for the favoring aid of Heaven, they hardly could have come up at the crisis which brought them all together.
Under the blest instruction of Mrs. Ripley, the doubts of Omas finally vanished, never to return. The once mighty warrior, foremost in battle and ferocity and courage, became the meek, humble follower of the Saviour – triumphant in life, and doubly triumphant in death.
On the third day after the meeting in the woods, the party arrived at the little town of Stroudsburg, on the Upper Delaware, none having suffered the least harm. The skill of Omas kept them supplied with food, and his familiarity with the route did much to lessen the hardships which otherwise they would have suffered.
Omas stayed several weeks at this place with his friends, and then he and his wife and little one joined the Christian settlement of Gnadenhutten, where the couple finished their days.
After a time, when it became safe for the Ripleys to return to Wyoming Valley, they took up their residence there once more, and remained until the husband and father came back at the close of the Revolution; and the happy family were reunited, thankful that God had been so merciful to them and brought independence to their beloved country.
Omas and To-wika and Linna were welcome visitors as long as the lived. In truth, Linna survived them all. She married a chieftain among her own people, and when she at last was gathered to her final rest, she had almost reached the great age of a hundred years.