Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

alarm shot unmasked them. Whooping like discov. ered fiends, they flew from their covert upon the unarmed laborers, shot and tomahawked those within reach, and sent the others in panic flight to the fort. Captain Little and his band flew to the rescue, and checked the pursuit of the savages by hasty volleys, but soon found themselves so pressed by superior numbers that the whole party was in danger of being surrounded and slain.

In this extremity Captain Little sent a messenger to General Lyman, imploring instant aid. He failed to obtain it. The over-cautious commander, filled with the idea that the whole French and Indian army was at hand, drew in his outposts with nervous haste, shut the gates of the fort, and left the little band to its fate.

Fortunately, the volleys of musketry had reached the ears of Major Putnam, on his island outpost. Immediately afterwards his scouts brought him word that Captain Little was surrounded by Indians, and in imminent danger of destruction. Without an instant's hesitation the brave Putnam plunged into the water, shouting to his men to follow him, and waded to the shore. This reached, they dashed hastily towards the scene of the contest. Their route led them past the walls of the fort, on whose parapets stood the alarmed commander.

“Halt!" cried General Lyman. “Come into the fort. The enemy is in overwhelming force. We can spare no more men.”

To these words, or similar ones, spoken by Gen eral Lyman, Putnam returned a vague reply, in. tended for an apology, but having more the tone of a defiance. Discipline and military authority must stand aside when brave men were struggling with ruthless savages. Without waiting to hear the general's response to his apology, the gallant partisan dashed on, and in a minute or two more had joined the party of regulars, who were holding their ground with difficulty.

« On them l” cried Putnam. “They will shoot us down here! Forward .. We must rout them out from their ambush !”

His words found a responsive echo in every heart, With loud shouts the whole party charged impetuously into the morass, and in a minute were face to face with the concealed savages. This sudden onslaught threw the Indians into a panic. They broke and fled in every direction, hotly pursued by their revengeful foes, numbers of them being killed in the flight. The chase was not given up until it had extended miles into the forest.

Triumphantly then the victors returned to the fort, Putnam alone among them expecting reprimand. He had never before disobeyed the orders of his superior. He well knew the rigidity of military discipline and its necessity. Possibly General Lyman might not be content with a simple reprimand, but might order a court-martial. Putnam entered the fort, not fully at ease in his mind.

As it proved, he had no occasion for anxiety. The general recognized that alarm had led him too far. He welcomed the whole party with hearty commendation, and chose quite to forget the fact that Major 1.-h

10*

Putnam was guilty of a flagrant disregard of orders, in view of the fact, of more immediate importance to himself, that his daring subaltern had saved him from public reprobation for exposing a brave party to destruction.

It was not long after this scene that Putnam took the leading part in another memorable affair, in which his promptitude, energy, and decision have become historical. The barracks within the fort took fire. Twelve feet from them stood the magazine, containing three hundred barrels of powder. The fort and its defenders were in imminent danger of being blown to atoms. Putnam, who still occupied his island outpost, saw the smoke and flames rising, and hastened with all speed to the fort. When he reached there the barracks appeared to be doomed, and the flames were rapidly approaching the magazine. As for the garrison, it was almost in a state of panic, and next to nothing was being done to avert the danger.

A glance was sufficient for the prompt and energetic mind of the daring ranger. In a minute's time he had organized a line of soldiers, leading through a postern-gate to the river, and each one bearing a bucket. The energetic major mounted a ladder, received the water as it came, and poured it into the flaming building. The heat was in. tense, the smoke suffocating; so near were the flames that a pair of thick mittens were quickly burned from his hands. Calling for another pair, he dipped them into the water and continued his work.

“ Come down !" cried Colonel Haviland. “It is too dangerous there. We must try other means."

“There are no means but to fight the enemy inch by inch,” replied Putnam. “A moment's yielding on our part may prove fatal.”

Eis cool intrepidity gave new courage to the colonel, who exclaimed, as he urged the others to renewed exertions,

“If we must be blown up, we will all go together.”

Despite Putnam's heroic efforts, the flames spread. Soon the whole barracks were enveloped, and lurid tongues of fire began to shoot out alarmingly towards the magazine. Putnam now descended, took his station between the two buildings, and continued his active service, his energy and audacity giving new life and activity to officers and men. The outside planks of the magazine caught. They were consumed. Only a thin timber partition remained between the flames and fifteen tons of powder. This, too, was charred and smoking. Destruction seemed inevitable. The consternation was extreme.

But there, in the scorching heat of the flames, covered with falling cinders, threatened with instant death, stood the undaunted Putnam, still pouring water on the smoking timbers, still calling to the men to keep steadily to their work. And thus he continued till the rafters of the barracks fell in, the heat decreased, and the safety of the magazine was insured.

For an hour and a half he had fought the flames. His hands, face, almost his whole body, were scorched and blistered. When he pulled off his second pair

of mittens the skin came with them. Several weeks passed before he recovered from the effects of his hard battle with fire. But he had the reward of success, and the earnest thanks and kind attentions of officers and men alike, who felt that to him alone they owed the safety of the fort, and the escape of many, if not all, of the garrison from destruction.

Among Putnam's many adventures, there are two others which have often been told, but are worthy of repetition. On one occasion he was surprised by a large party of Indians, when with a few men in a boat at the head of the rapids of the Hudson, at Fort Miller. It was a frightfully perilous situation. To stay where he was, was to be slaughtered; to attempt crossing the stream would bring him under the Indian fire; to go down the falls promised instant death. Which expedient should he adopt? He chose the latter, preferring to risk death from water rather than from tomahawk or bullet.

The boat was pushed from the shore and exposed to the full force of the current. In a minute or two it had swept beyond the range of the Indian weapons. But death seemed inevitable. The water rushed on in foaming torrents, whirling round rocks, sweeping over shelves, pouring down in abrupt falls, shooting onward with the wildest fury. It seemed as if only a miracle could save the voyagers.

Yet with unyielding coolness Putnam grasped the helm; while his keen eye scanned the peril ahead, his quick hand met every danger as it came. : Incessantly the course of the boat was changed, to avoid the protruding rocks. Here it was tossed on the

« AnteriorContinuar »