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To Have and To Hold

XXXVII.
In Which I Go Upon A Quest
THROUGH a loophole in the gate of the palisade I looked, and saw the sandy
neck joining the town to the main, and the deep and dark woods beyond, the fairy
mantle giving invisibility to a host. Between us and that refuge dead men lay here
and there, stiff and stark, with the black paint upon them, and the colored
feathers of their headdresses red or blue against the sand. One warrior, shot
through the back, crawled like a wounded beetle to the forest. We let him go, for
we cared not to waste ammunition upon him.
I drew back from my loophole, and held out my hand to the women for a freshly
loaded musket. A quick murmur like the drawing of a breath came from our line.
The Governor, standing near me, cast an anxious glance along the stretch of
wooden stakes that were neither so high nor so thick as they should have been.
"I am new to this warfare, Captain Percy," he said. "Do they think to use those
logs that they carry as battering rams?"
"As scaling ladders, your Honor," I replied. "It is on the cards that we may have
some sword play, after all."
"We'll take your advice, the next time we build a palisade, Ralph Percy," muttered
West on my other side. Mounting the breastwork that we had thrown up to shelter
the women who were to load the muskets, he coolly looked over the pales at the
oncoming savages. "Wait until they pass the blasted pine, men!" he cried. "Then
give them a hail of lead that will beat them back to the Pamunkey!"
An arrow whistled by his ear; a second struck him on the shoulder, but pierced
not his coat of mail. He came down from his dangerous post with a laugh.
"If the leader could be picked off" - I said. "It's a long shot, but there's no harm in
trying."
As I spoke I raised my gun to my shoulder; but he leaned across Rolfe, who
stood between us, and plucked me by the sleeve. "You've not looked at him
closely. Look again."
I did as he told me, and lowered my musket. It was not for me to send that Indian
leader to his account. Rolfe's lips tightened and a sudden pallor overspread his
face. "Nantauquas?" he muttered in my ear, and I nodded yes.
The volley that we fired full into the ranks of our foe was deadly, and we looked
to see them turn and flee, as they had fled before. But this time they were led by
one who had been trained in English steadfastness. Broken for the moment, they
rallied and came on yelling, bearing logs, thick branches of trees, oars tied
together, - anything by whose help they could hope to surmount the palisade. We
fired again, but they had planted their ladders. Before we could snatch the loaded
muskets from the women a dozen painted figures appeared above the
sharpened stakes. A moment, and they and a score behind them had leaped
down upon us.
It was no time now to skulk behind a palisade. At all hazards, that tide from the
forest must be stemmed. Those that were amongst us we might kill, but more
were swarming after them, and from the neck came the exultant yelling of madly
hurrying reinforcements.
 
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