The Hidden Children
Chapter 13. The Hidden Children
So silently, suddenly, and with such incredible swiftness had this happened, and so
utterly unprepared were we for this devilish audacity, that the Erie had shoved his trade-
rifle against my ribs and fired before anybody comprehended what he was about.
But he had driven the muzzle so violently against me that the blow knocked me
breathless and flat on my face, and his rifle, slipping along with the running swivel of my
pouch buckle, was discharged, blowing the pouch-flap to fragments, and setting fire to
my thrums without even scorching my body.
As, partly stunned, I lay on the moss, choking in the powder smoke, my head still ringing
with the crash of the old smooth-bore, man after man leaped over me like frantic deer,
racing at full speed toward the river. And I swayed to my knees, to my feet, and staggered
after them, beating out the fire on my smoking fringes as I ran.
The Erie took the bank at one bound, struck the river sand like a ball, and bounded on.
Both Oneidas shot at him, and I tried to wing him in mid-stream, but my hands were
unsteady from the shock, and he went under like a diver-duck, drifted to the surface
under the willows far below, and was out and among them before we could fire again.
The sight of him tore a yell of fury from the Oneidas' throats; but the Mohican, rifle a-
trail, was speeding low and swiftly, and we sprang forward in his tracks.
A few moments later the Sagamore gave tongue to the fierce, hysterical view-halloo of
his Wolf Clan; the Oneidas answered till the forest rang with the dreadful tumult of the
pack-cry. Then, as I ran up breathless to where they were crouching, a more terrible
whoop burst from them. The quarry was at bay.
It was where the river turned south, making a vast and glassy bay. A smooth cliff hung
over it, wet and shining with the water from hidden springs, and sheering down into
profound and limpid depths.
High on the face of the cliff, squatted on a narrow shelf, and hidden by the rocky
formation, our quarry had taken cover. The twisted strands of a wild grapevine, severed
by his knife, hung dangling below his eyrie, betraying his mode of ascent. He had gone
up hand over hand, aided by his powerful shoulder muscles and by his feet, which must
have stuck like the feet of flies to the perpendicular wall of rock.
To follow him, even with the aid of the vine he had severed, had been hopeless in the
face of his rifle fire. A thousand men could not have taken him that way, while his
powder and lead held out, for they would have been obliged to ascend one by one in slow
and painful file, and he had but to shove his gun-muzzle in their faces as they appeared.