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Ethan Allen and The Lost Children

by Daniel P. Thompson


It is often less difficult, perhaps, to awaken the sympathy of the reader by the portraying of fiction, than by the recital of facts. And many a writer, we doubt not, who might have easily produced a very thrilling fancy-sketch, has paused over incidents of actual occurrence calculated to arouse the deepest emotions of the heart, with a painful consciousness of his inability to present them in such a manner, as should ensure the interest and effect, which legitimately belong to them. Such, at all events, are our feelings, as we take up our pen to describe an incident of the early settlement, well known and often rehearsed, among the unwritten stories of the times, by the inhabitants of that section of country where it occurred. And if we can but succeed in writing up to nature, or even exciting in the reader one moiety of the feeling that agitated the bosoms of the actors in the scene as it transpired, we shall not need a single touch from the hand of fancy to add interest or pathos to our description.

In the afternoon of the last day of May, 1780, the wife of a settler might have been seen sitting at her spinning-wheel at the open door of her log cottage, situated in one of the secluded vales of Sunderland, and interior town lying along the western slope of the Green Mountains.—The day being quite warm and pleasant, she had drawn out her wheel thither, that, while pursuing the labors of the distaff, she might inhale the odorous breezes of the season, and enjoy the wild but pleasing prospect presented in the thousand slopes and swells of the far-stretching mountain-wilderness, over which nature had just thrown her gorgeous mantle of living green, brightly relieved and variegated, at intervals, by the pure white of the blossoming shad-wood and the varying hues of other flowering shrubs, which, at that season, beautify the appearance, and make sweet the breath of the forest. For deem not, ye book-made connoisseurs of the beautiful and magnificent,—deem not the pleasures of taste exclusively your own, because you can give learned names to your sensations.— The humblest cottagers of our mountains, though they may not be able to define their emotions in the exact terms of art, yet enjoy the beauties of nature with as lively a relish as yourselves, and are even more inclined, we have often thought, to view them with that higher, holier feeling, which they ever should inspire— that feeling, which causes the soul, as it contemplates, to send up the incense of its silent adorations to Him, who made earth so lovely for creatures who so dully appreciate the boon, constituting as it does, one of the most striking of all his manifold blessings.

The woman we have introduced was not only a wife but a mother; and, while she was seen occasionally to send a glance of affection towards her hardy husband, bending over his hoe in an adjoining field, her eyes, beaming with all a parent's tenderness and pride, even still more often turned upon her children, two sprightly little girls, of the ages of five and seven, who were playing in the yard before her.

"Mother!" exclaimed the elder of the two girls, stopping short in her gambols at the thought that seemed suddenly to have struck her, "Mother, when I went yesterday with father along side of the woods over yonder, I saw—O, such sights; and sights of pretty flowers!—adder-tongues, violets, and all, which he wouldn't let me have time to get—now mayn't we go there and gather some?"

"I don't know about that, my child,"—good naturedly replied the mother. "You are such a little romp, that if you once get into the woods, you will be sure to run till you get lost, I fear, and"—

"O, but we won't go into the woods, only a little, leetle ways, Mother," interrupted the child.

"And then," resumed the anxious mother, without heeding the interruption, "and then it is but a short distance to Roaring Branch, where you might get drowned.—I had rather you would go to your father, children."

"Let us go into the woods and get the flowers first, and then we'll go to father. We wont get lost, certain, certain—so now do, mother?" persisted the litle pleader, looking up beseechingly into the other's face.

The mother still shook her head, but with so kindly a smile that the quick eye of the child saw that her purpose was won, and joyously shouting "O we may!" she bounded away, followed by her little sister, under the repeated but scarcely heard or heeded cautions of the former, till an intervening swell hid them from her sight.

As the eye of the mother rested fondly and proudly on the receding forms of her children, she thought of what they were to her then—her comfort and her care—of what they soon would be to her;—not only a comfort, but an aid in lightening the burdens and toils, so heavily imposed on her and her companion, in their endeavors to subdue the wilderness and create within its bosom a comfortable home. And as she thus turned to the future, imagination began to be busy with her bright pictures of coming prosperity and happiness; for in them, as usual, all the sunshine of life was gathered and all its clouds forgotten. Beneath her glowing pencil, the wilderness fast faded away; and in place of the humble log tenement, a large and commodious mansion rose to view, surrounded by smooth and fertile fields laden with products, and green pastures filled with flocks, or embowered with orchards bending with fruit; while she, the mistress of all, with the companion of her early toils, now beyond the necessity of labor, were reaping the rewards of all their privations and hardships, in the enjoyment of the bounties by which they were surrounded,—of the cheering presence of their children, budding into life and attracting a pleasant social circle around them—the respect of society at large—perhaps the honors of the public, and every thing that could make their lives desirable, or in any manner heighten the picture of the happy domicil thus figured to her mind.

In reveries like these, in which many a poor first settler has found his only reward for a life of hardship, hours glided away unperceived by the entranced mother, till the descending sun, beginning to dip behind the lofty mountains bounding the vale to the north and west, caught her abstracted eye and brought her back to the realities of life.

"My children! where are they?" was the first thought that crossed her awakened mind, as she became aware of the lapse of time since their departure. Suddenly stopping her wheel, she rose hastily to her feet, and, after throwing a searching glance over the field where her husband was still at work, she ran to the top of the knoll,behind which they had disappeared. Here she paused and ran her eye eagerly along the borders of the woods, bounding their little opening on the east. But no children greeted her anxious gaze. She then called loudly their names; but no sound responded to her call, excepting a hallo from her husband, who demanded the cause of her outcries.

"The children!" she almost shrieked in reply, "have you seen the children?"

"No—I thought they were with you," he answered, holding his suspended hoe in his hands, while he listened to her brief and hurried recital of the time and manner of their children's disappearance.

As she closed, the hoe dropped suddenly from his hands, and, making his way with rapid strides, he, the next moment, stood before her, when mutely exchanging with her a look of agonizing intelligence, and, bidding her follow, with that almost savage sternness, which startled affection will often force into the manner of the most mild and gentle, they hurried forward to the woods. Here taking different directions, they at first proceeded along the borders of the forest around the whole clearing; and then, penetrating farther within the woods, they repeated their rounds, frequently pausing and calling aloud, but in vain, for their lost children. After hunting an hour in this manner, the now thoroughly alarmed parents met again at the spot where they commenced their search.

"Run and raise the neighbors, wife," said the husband in an agitated voice, "and tell them to come quick—quick," he added, as, with an uneasy glance towards the distant summits, where the fading of the last rays of the setting sun told him how little of daylight remained for the search, he again plunged into the forest.

Although the poor mother was already flushed with heat, and nearly exhausted by her exertions, yet she rather flew than ran to the house of the nearest neighbor, nearly a mile distant, and, as soon as she could get breath to speak, made known her trouble, the simple announcement of which was sufficient to arouse the sympathizing inmates to immediate action in her behalf, by starting off in different directions to spread the alarm through the settlement. The instant she saw the hastily saddled horses mounted by the messengers, and put under whip and spur on their destination, she turned and sped back to her now desolate home, thinking she would there rest till the expected help arrived; when she herself would lead the way to the spot where the children disappeared. But little was the rest which her troubled spirit permitted her to enjoy. She would sit down for this purpose, it is true; but the next moment, she would start up and run to the door to look out, return, sit down, and rise again to repeat the same motion; or, perhaps, she would run to her cupboard and handle over the dishes, but only to replace them, and proceed to something else to be as unconsciously begun and as quickly relinquished.

In this manner did the distressed mother employ herself, till the sudden trampling of horses' feet brought her to the door, where she saw about a dozen men dismounting in the yard, whose presence she greeted with a shout of almost frantic joy. Among the new comers there was, fortunately, one whose well known name was a host in every public gathering, when a united effort was required to accomplish the object in view; for with a full share of the more common qualities of skill and energy, he possessed a remarkable faculty of inspiring in others that faith of success by which, not unfrequently success can only be insured. That man was the celebrated Colonel Ethan Allen, who to recruit a constitution impaired by the fatigues of the camp and his long captivity, had retired to a farm in this town, where he was then an honored resident.

Allen now advanced to the bereaved mother, and, kindly saluting her, enquired the particulars of the disappearance of her little ones. She began to reply but with almost the first word burst into tears: and pointing to her husband, who at that moment was seen approaching from the woods, she dropped on to a bench and covered her face with her hands.

"Be of good cheer, dear madam," said the hero, deeply touched at her grief. "Bear up with fortitude, and confide in us soon to relieve you of your anxiety; for your children shall be found. I pledge you the word of Ethan Allen, that I will return with them or search till I die."

After learning the desired particulars of the father, who now came up, Allen held a brief consultation with those present, respecting the manner of conducting the proposed search. And it was soon settled, that every man should provide himself with a pine knot torch for the night.—Such as could readily procure horns or conk-shells were to take them to blow at intervals, for the purpose of keeping the company in a line, or near together; and, as nearly all came with guns, it was concluded to take them along also; but no man was to discharge his piece, till the children should be found, when two guns in quick succession, were to be fired as the signal.

These brief arrangements being made, the company, now every moment fast increasing by fresh arrivals, was put in motion by Allen, who was unanimously chosen leader, and marched forward to the border of the woods. Here they halted and lighted their torches, it being by this time quite dark; when each man, having taken his appointed station in a line, formed by placing the men about a dozen yards apart, the whole, at the word of command from their leader, entered the forest and began the anxious search.

Man happily seems endued with the privilege and power of deadening the sharpest stings of grief and anxiety by action; but no such privilege—perhaps no such power, remains for woman. The father of the lost ones, as deep as was his anguish, could yet endure it in silence, while mingling in the active exertions of the search. But O, what pen can describe the feelings of that agonized mother, during the lingering hours of that dreadful night? Though surrounded by female neighbors, who had come in to assist, and who would have gladly encouraged and comforted her, yet she would listen to no words of comfort. But restlessly moving about the room, and wringing her hands in tearless wo, she ceased not to bewail her children, whom she sometimes fancied in watery graves, and sometimes torn to pieces and devoured by wild beasts. Hope, indeed, might occasionally come to her relief, and her mind for a moment, be diverted from its engrossing sorrow, as the sounds of horns, or the voices of the men, shouting to their fellows in the woods, struck her ear, or the gleaming of their torches caught her eye. But the embittering thought would quickly return, and drive her to resume her ceaseless rounds about her room, till compelled by utter exhaustion, she would throw herself on to her bed, and perhaps fall into a disturbed slumber, but only to start again the next moment, with an exclamation of anguish at some fearful image, which dreaming fancy had called up from the depth of her troubled spirit.

Thus, with the poor mother passed this seemingly interminable night,and the morning light so anxiously looked for by her,at length made its appearance, but only to disclose the scattering groups of the company returning from the woods, with slow and weary steps, and the thoughtful and downcast manner, which plainly told that their exertions had been unsuccessful. They returned not, however, with the thought of relinquishing their object, but only to refresh, and recruit themselves by a short respite for a renewal of the search. And, after as many as the house could supply had been furnished with food, and the messengers, despatched to other houses for the purpose, had returned with supplies for the rest, the company were again led back by their persevering leader to recommence, in other, and yet unexplored parts of the forest, the search for the lost ones, of whom not a single trace had yet been discovered.

Another day of fruitless researches succeeded—another day of torturing anxiety and suspense to the pitiable parents, now giving away to despair, and now clinging to hope, but to a hope continually growing weaker and weaker from the consciousness that every hour lessened the probability that their children would be found, or if found, that they would be found living. Although the country for more than twenty miles around had been alarmed, and over six hundred men had by this time assembled and joined in the search,—although miles of the dark and tangled forest had been carefully explored by the company, proceeding, now that their numbers were so increased, in a line at arms length from each other, or always so near as to preclude the possibility that the lost could be passed over unseen; yet no traces of them had been seen—no clue discovered, which could lead to any thing but the merest conjecture of their fate or present situation. And so deeply impressed were a large proportion of the company, before the close of this day, of the uselessness of any further search for the children, who, as they generally believed, must have been seized by the wolves or panthers, and borne off to distant dens to be devoured, that they would have relinquished the search and gone home, but for the constant and untiring efforts of their indefatigable leader, who, passing continually from one end of the line to the other,encouraged,exhorted,and implored them to persevere, and entertain no thought of yielding, till the children, whether living or dead should be found. And such were his powers of controlling the multitude, and infusing into them his own burning and confiding spirit, that their hesitation gave way under his appeals, and in spite of fatigues, and the faintness consequent on the scantiness of the supplies of food, which, only could be brought to so many in the woods, they cheerfully continued their unpromising toils, not only through the dreary night that followed, but the greater part of the succeeding day; though with no other result, than that of keeping alive, in the meantime, in the bosoms of the distracted parents, the forlorn hope, which arose from the knowledge that the search was not yet relinquished. Perseverance, however, with a lessening prospect of success, could not always be expected in a body of men brought thus promiscuously together, and acting only from feelings of sympathy, or the dictates of a common duty. And towards night, on this, the third day of the search, small parties began to steal away. And the example operating on the rest, faint, weary, and despairing of success, the whole soon broke from a line, and retiring from the woods, followed in silence by their now sad and grieved leader, assembled at the house of the disconsolate parents.

All seemed deeply impressed by the painful circumstances under which they were now, for the last time, as they supposed, assembled at this abode of unmitigated sorrow. Though no one had announced that the search had been given up, yet all seemed to understand that such was the fact. Even the beraved parents seemed perfectly aware of the melancholy truth; for, differently from what they had yet done, they now came out and took a seat together, after the manner of mourners at the last rites of the dead, on a bench near the door, in full view of the company, and there sat drooping with that air of hopeless grief, which is only assumed under the sad consciousness that all is over. The silence of a funeral pervaded the whole assembled multitude, who, seated on logs, and other objects, or lying in groups on the grass about the yard, seemed silently mingling their sympathies for the bereaved. And for nearly half of an hour, no movement was made, and no loud word was spoken; when the singularly gifted, and, to this day, even but imperfectly understood man, who had acted as leader, and had now been standing aloof, with a sad and troubled look, slowly mounted a large stump on one side of the yard, and raising his towering form, and glancing mournfully round over the assemblage, commanded attention:—

"Men," he impressively began, "fellow-men, neighbors, parents, all, hear me, for I can keep silent no longer; and, if I should, it seems to me, to use the words of the good book, that the very stones would cry out! I have been in battles, where the dying and the dead lay thick around me. I have spent months in the earthly hell of a British prison-ship, where despair and death, in their most appalling forms, were daily before me; but they all furnished no scene to wring the bosom with commisseration like this. Look at that bereaved, heart-stricken pair!" he continued, while the big tears began to roll down his cheeks, "why are their bosoms thus heaving with convulsive sobs; and why is dark despair settling on their countenances, which, till now, have not been without the light of hope? Is it because their children are dead? No! for they, as well as ourselves, must know that it is yet quite too soon to settle down in that melancholy presumption. No, it is not this! But is it not because they see, that we have come here to tell them,—as we should, if we could find in our hearts to make the announcement, to tell them, that we can search no longer for their children,— that we are tired, and must go home to our business now, leaving their unfortunate little ones to perish miserably in the woods! Young men, who have often found strength to keep the woods a week to hunt down some paltry wolf or bear, are you satisfied to give up after a search of forty-eight hours, when two human lives are at stake?—Men, who have been with me in the war, and cheerfully undergone fatigues and hunger, a hundred fold greater than those we have here experienced, are you also, willing that your acts should tell the same story to this broken-hearted pair, and to the world? And lastly, parents, O parents, can you take this case home to your own bosoms,—can you look on this distracted father and mother, and make their case your own, and picture to yourselves, your own little ones lost in the woods, worn out, weary and famishing, with no human face to cheer and encourage them,—no human hand to minister to them,—trembling with fear through the night, as the wild beasts howl around them, and wailing out their little lives in grief and hunger. Can you do this, and then coldly talk of relinquishing the search, and going home? If you can," he went on, with the tears now falling in streams from his eyes, "go, go! and may the God of humanity forgive you, and be merciful to you, when your own children in turn, are lost and perishing in the wilderness! As for myself, I am now about to return to the forest there, as I pledged myself to these poor parents, at the outset, there to continue the search till the lost are found, or life be worn out in the effort. But can it be, friends and neighbors, to whom this is my last appeal, can it be, that I am to go alone?

"No! never!" shouted a dozen voices from different parts of the crowd.

"No! no, I will go! I shall go! we will all go with you, even to the end of your vow, noble colonel!" responded one and all, rushing forward with excited looks, and new resolution beaming through the manly tears, which had bedewed every cheek of that large assemblage, during the touching appeal of their idolized leader.

"God bless you for this, my friends!"—exclaimed Allen with emotion, "Depend on't there's a Providence in this new born faith and resolution. Those children are yet to be found; and ah!" he continued, exultingly pointing to an ox-team, containing several large baskets of provisions, which, driven by a boy, was was seen turning into the yard. "Ah, here is already an omen of our success, in these supplies so timely forwarded by our thoughtful wives and daughters. Come, men, gather round it. Let each furnish himself with a good ration, and we will be off again to the woods; for we must bear in mind that an hour lost now may be death to the objects of our search."

The clouds of doubt and despondency having been thus dispelled, and a complete revulsion of feeling effected by the tact and rough eloquence of Allen, men forgot their fatigues, and everything now proceeded with spirit and animation. The fresh arrivals of provisions was hastily distributed; and all other preparations being as speedily made, the lengthened column, headed by the now exulting leader, was seen deploying along the borders of the woods. Here they halted; and a brief consultation was held among the most prominent of the company, which resulted in the determination to push eastwardly, directly on to the mountains beyond the limits of their previous explorations. A party of four men, however, consisting of active and experienced woodsmen, were detached to the left to proceed up Roaring Branch, and follow it up to its sources in the ponds in the gorges of the mountains, the upper part of the stream having been hitherto left unexplored in the search, on accouut of the supposed impossibility of the children having been able to penetrate so far through the rocky steeps, and tangled passages which there environed its banks.

This being done the company moved rapidly forward to the foot of the mountains, beyond which the search had not, in this direction, been extended. Here contracting their line so as to bring each man in view of his fellow, they began slowly to ascend the toilsome steeps, carefully searching every covert, and peering under every log, or tree-top, in their way, which might possibly conceal the lost ones.

In this manner about an hour had been spent, and nearly a mile searched over without discovery, when the word was passed by the leader, who had taken station and marched on the extreme right, to "halt, dress the line, and rest." And thankfully indeed, was the order by this time received; for the men, now the excitement recently kindled by their ardent leader had died away, began to feel the effects of these superadded exertions; and most of them immediately dropped down on to the nearest rock, or moss banks, to catch what little rest their brief respite might allow; while they amused themselves in looking off from their elevated situation over the forest clad hills and dales, which, broken only, by the apparenly small and thinly scattered openings of the settlers, lay stretching in tranquil beauty beneath and before them, till the scene was closed on the north and west by the lofty mountains of Manchester, and the less elevated ridges of Arlington, whose empurpled sides now met the eye in striking contrast with the splendor which the setting sun was throwing over their burnished summits. But though thus beguiled a short time by the beauty and the novelty of the view here presented, as they looked on the scenes behind; yet as they turned to the rough steeps and deep abysses of the route before them and thought of the toils of the coming night, many a heart again desponded; and they wondered how they could have been induced to re-commence the search with such spirit and hopeful courage. Their sad anticipations, however, were fortunately not to be realized; for while they were gloomily awaiting the expected order to move forward, the whole line were suddenly roused by the loud and startling report of one or more muskets, bursting heavily from the gorge about a mile to the left, and in the direction taken by the detached party, before mentioned. In an instant every man was on his feet, with the unspoken question on his lips,—"was that the first gun of the appointed signal?" And the sharply whispered "hush! hark! list!" were the only sounds that, for the next moment, could be heard along the line, as with brightening eyes, and ears eagerly attent, all stood breathlessly awaiting what they scarcely dared hope for, the completion of the signal. But the next instant it came in another report from the same spot, that sent its reverberating echoes down the gorges towards them more distinctly than before.

"Found!" shouted the first man on the left; and "found!" "found!" "found!" rang joyously swellling along the line from man to man, till it ended in the stentorian shout of Ethan Allen, who, leaping high from the ground, sent onward the exulting announcement, "found! hallellujah to almighty God, the children are found!"—in a voice that was heard, with a thrill of joy, even to the distant abode of the hitherto despairing parents. The next moment the wilderness shook with the answering discharge of every gun in the company.

The children were now found it was evident; but how found? Whether living or dead no one of the company here knew; and few were willing to utter a loud conjecture, as, with common consent, they all broke from their stations and hurried towards that point in the woods, from which the signal had proceeded. But leaving this exciting scene, we will now follow the small detached party in the still more exciting adventures, which resulted in the discovery just announced to the main company in the manner we have described.

After passing rapidly over that part of their route which had been previously examined in the search, this little party continued to toil on through the tangled thickets and windfalls, or up the wet and slippery declivities, which they every few yards encountered, in following up the stream, till the increasing difficulties of the way at length caused the leader of the party to doubt the use or expediency of attempting to penetrate any further;— and he proposed a halt, for the purpose of consulting his companions.

"Is there any possibility, Barlett," he said, addressing the man nearest to him, "that those children can have made their way through such a place any further than this, or even so far, I might as well have said?"

"I should think not, Captain Ball," responded the person addressed, "but we will have Underwood and Bingham's opinions," he added, turning to the two remaining ones of the party.

"Why, I don't think it impossible," replied Underwood, "that they should get through these wind-falls; for children will creep through smaller holes than we can; but the only question with me has been, whether they would naturally have kept on far in a course, where the ground is so ascending, even as this ravine— much less up the steeps where the main party have gone."

"Well, now, that is no great question with me," remarked Bingham, who was an old and observing hunter,—"I've always noted, that all the brute creatures in the woods, when frightened and confused by pursuit, invariably take up hill courses, and why not frightened and confused children, who, in such case, could have nothing but instinct and natural impulses to guide or govern them. If you can tell me why lost and frightened brutes do this, or why lost and frightened children shouldn't, when brutes do, I should like to hear you?"

This odd theory led to some further discussion among the rest of the party, during which the hunter walked on a short distance to a large hemlock tree, standing near the stream, where some appearance had attracted his attention; and having carefully examined the spot, he called to his companions to approach.

"Here," said he, pointing down between the branching roots of the tree, as the others came up, "here I am quite sure something bedded last night, which I hardly think could have been a four-footed animal, as I can find no hairs in the place. The impression, besure, is slight; for the leaves, at this time, are so dry that nothing will leave one, not even foot-steps, else the children could have been traced before this. But the appearance of this spot, taken in connection with that freshly broken twig, hanging there by the bark between here and the stream, as you see, inclines me to think the children staid here last night.

"I am willing you should have faith, Bingham," remarked Captain Ball, after examining the appearances to which the other had thus invited attention; "but if it is grounded only on these uncertain circumstances, I fear it will avail us but little in our object. However, we will examine the place to some distance around, and if the children have really been here, we shall probably discover indications of it, of a less doubtful character."

The adjoining woods were searched over to a considerable extent; but no additional indications were discovered. And the party, all but the hunter, again began to talk of turning their steps towards home; when the latter, who stood musing a little aloof from the rest, suddenly called on them to be silent and listen."

"What did you think you heard, Bingham?" asked Ball, in a lowered tone.

"I can hardly tell," replied the hunter, in the same tone, as he stood with an ear turned in the direction of the supposed sound, "but if you were not so determined to beat me out of the belief of all my own senses, should say something that sounded like the faintish kind of a yelp, with which a wolf generally begins a call for help,—if it was, it will soon be repeated, now hark!"

All listened in silence, and, in a moment, the long, savage howl, peculiar to the animal just named, was indeed heard rising distinctly on the breeze, from some spot up the ravine, perhaps three quarters of a mile distant.

"A wolf, sure enough," said Bartlett.

"Yes, and if the children have gone this way, it is as I feared," added the less experienced Underwood, with a sigh, "the wolves have devoured them."

"Not so fast, Mister," interposed the hunter, "that howl may mean something a little more encouraging. But be quiet, and listen. I am expecting a chorus to that tune in a minute or so."

They all again stood mute, and listened with increasing interest and anxiety;—when the same wild howl, louder and more earnest than before, resounded through the forest. And the next instant another howl was faintly heard, responding from a distant part of the mountain. And another, and another, soon followed from different directions and distances, till the whole wilderness seemed vocal with their terrific music.

"The thing is settled," said the hunter, hastily repriming his gun. "The children are near that wolf which howled first,— alive, too, or he would not have called for help. The pack that have answered him, are most of them a mile or two off; but they will come like the wind. And we must be there before them, or the poor little ones are gone forever. Follow me and keep up who can," he added, striking off like an arrow, in his projected course.

"There is something in this, and in God's name, let us on," exclaimed the now thoroughly aroused Captain Ball, as followed by his two remaining associates, he sprang forward after the hunter.

All, by this time, seemed impressed with the conviction, tha the issue of life or death to the children might now depend upon their speed. And on they bounded from log to log, and hillock to hillock, here gliding round an impassable jungle, and there leaping over a fallen tree, or diving under it, with a celerity and progress, which, in such a place, would have seemed incredible to any but the trained woodsman. But as great as was their speed, the hunter, who more than maintained his distance in advance, soon began, by his beckoning gestures, to urge them to greater exertions. Nor were they long at loss to perceive the force of the silent but significant appeals thus made to them; for the rapidly nearing sounds of the gathering wolves, and their short, eager, yells, that told their close approach to the scented prey, all made it evident that they were fast converging to the point of this fearful rivalry between them and the woodsmen, who thus incited, strained every nerve, and inwardly prayed for new powers of speed, to reach the spot in season, but trembled as they prayed, lest they should be one moment too late. A happier return for their exertions, however, was now at hand:— For suddenly the hunter stopped short, and, after peering a moment through an intervening tree-top, down into a valley beyond, he turned to his companions, and motioned them to come on in silence. The next moment they were at his side, gazing down on a scene that caused their hearts to jump into their mouths, and tears to start in their eyes.

In an open space, about fifty yards in front of them, sat a large wolf on his haunches headed from them, and towards his companions, that were now plainly heard, making their way through the surrounding thickets towards him;—while on a flat rock, near the stream, a short distance to the left, stood the lost children, amidst an imperfect bower, which they had constructed from the gathered branches of the hemlock. The youngest was clinging timidly to the oldest, who was menacingly brandishing a small stick towards the unheeding wolf, and with a look of mingled fear and defiance, exclaiming:

"Shoo! shoo! go away, you great ugly dog! we are afraid of you."

With one glance over this exciting scene, every man instinctively brought his cocked gun to his shoulder.

"Stay," whispered the hunter, "more of the pack will be there in a minute; and when they appear, I will give the word and we will let drive together. It will then answer for the signal to our friends, while we have the chance of giving to more of the cowardly imps a different supper from what they are thinking of."

The next moment five or six gaunt, hungry looking wolves, one after another, came galloping in to the open space occupied by the one before described, which now rose, shook himself slightly, and turned to lead the others to the promised repast.

"Here!" said the hunter, catch a quick aim—fire!"

With a single report, the four pieces sent their missiles of death upon the devoted pack. And the sudden sounds of floundering in the leaves, the sharp yelps, and the quickly retreating footsteps, which instantly followed, told the death of one, the wounding of others, and the rapid dispersion of the whole hideous gang of these brute demons of the forest.

"Now for the children," said Captain Ball, hurrying out from behind the screening tree-top. "I will show myself to them first, and alone, lest they be frightened; while the rest of you see to the wolves, if any remain that want finishing,—and then fire another gun to complete the signal."

While this last injunction was being obeyed, as it almost instantly was by the hunter, by discharging his quickly loaded piece at a limping wolf, of which he caught a glimpse retreating in the distance, the Captain advanced about half-way towards the covert of the poor, terrified little girls, who, at the discharge of the guns, had nestled down in one corner of their rude bower, and there lay clasped together, and trembling in fear and dreadful apprehensions,—less, however, of being devoured by the wolves, which they took, it seemed, to be large grey dogs, than of being seized by those who had fired the guns, and who were imagined by them to be Indians, of whom they had heard so many tales of terror. But on being quietly called by their approaching friend, the eldest girl rose, and, after peering out at him a moment, with a startled and doubtful air, timidly asked,

"Who be you all?"

"We are all friends, so don't be afraid, my little girl," soothingly answered Ball.

"Not Indians, certain?" persisted the former in a smarter tone.

"O, no, we are your friends, as I said, and come to carry you to your father and Mother,—will you go with us?"

"Yes, we will go with you, if you'll carry us to father and mother, if you be Indians," bravely replied she.

While the hunter was stripping off the skin of the slain wolf, which, with a hunter's pride, he claimed as the victim of his own shot, the others employed themselves in gaining the confidence of the recovered children, and refreshing them by feeding them with small portions of buscuits, first soaked in the stream. And the former were so successful in winning upon the confiding hearts of the latter, as soon to draw from them the childish, but affecting little story of their sorrows and adventures, while lost and wandering in the dark and dreary woods. How, when they perceived they were lost, they cried and ran the way which they thought was towards home, till it was quite dark;—when tired with running and crying, they sunk down under a large tree, and slept all night; how, the next day, they kept on in the same way, sometimes finding juniper and patridge berries to eat, till they reached about dark the second day, this place; when, making a bed and covert of leaves and hemlock boughs on the rock, they staid all night, during which the youngest was so sick and thirsty, that they got up and taking hold of hands, crept down to the water, drank and returned; and, finally, how they had been here ever since, making their house better, and fearing to go away, lest they should not find so good a place as this, where they could find berries, and where they had seen nothing to scare them, till the big dog came and lapped his mouth at them, and would have bit them, if then had not thrown sticks at him, and kept him off till the guns killed him, and scared away the others that began to come.

Having thus spent a short time in calming, and restoring, with as much food as was deemed prudent, the frightened and famishing children, the party was called together to depart; when two of the men taking each a child in his arms, and the others carrying the guns, and the hunter's wolf skin, the whole set forward with quick, and animated steps, to retrace their way down the gorge to the settlement, where they well knew, minutes would now seem hours till they arrived.

If ever men felt proud and happy at success, it was this little band of honest-hearted woodsmen. And as they strode homewards through woods, with their living trophies, all unharmed and gaily chatting in their arms, their bosoms, at the thought of what they had achieved, together with the anticipated pleasure of restoring the little ones to the arms of their parents,—their grateful bosoms swelled with emotions of happiness more pure, more elevated, more exquisite, than they would have experienced had half the treasures of the earth been unexpectedly won by them.

When about half way out to the clearing, they suddenly encountered the ardent Ethan Allen, hurrying on, at the head of the main body, to meet them. "Ah, ha!" exclaimed the hero, throwing up his hand in joyful surprise, "here they are, alive and well. Glory to God, it is indeed at last accomplished! And now, my merry men," he continued, turning to his followers, "gather up, gather up here, and let every one give voice to his feelings, by joining in a round of cheers which shall make these hills skip like those described by the brave old David of the scriptures,— there, halt, ready now!" he added, himself leading off in the "three times three," of such thundering cheers, as never before rose from the wild glens of the Green Mountains!

The company, having thus given vent to their overflowing feelings, were now formed into a sort of triumphal procession, with the recovered children and their deliverers in front; when the whole, headed by their exulting leader, moved briskly on through the remaining part of the woods, till they reached the clearing; when as the long column began to emerge into the open grounds, they were met by the anxious parents, who, having heard the cheering we have described, and, for the first time, found courage to leave the house with any expectation of meeting their children alive, were now, with a company of sympathising females, hastening on to receive them. But who can hope adequately to describe that meeting, where tongues were mute, and overcharged hearts only spoke in the dumb tokens of quivering lips, and streaming eyes? The men who had found the lost ones, and still bore them in their arms, had framed gallant speeches for this occasion, but they were all forgotten now, and the children were hurriedly passed to the eagerly extended arms of the parents, and by them convulsively clasped to their bosoms in silence. Even the iron nerved Allen, usually so free and bold of speech, stood by and looked on without daring to trust his voice in words. And, for some moments, not a single articulate sound was heard among that touched and tearful group, till the spell was broken by the simple exclamation of one of the wondering children.

"Why, father and mother, what makes you cry so?"

"True, true, my little one," said Allen, dashing away his tears, and now finding the use of his tongue,—"here we are sure enough, all crying like a pack of great boobies; when if any company on earth had reason to rejoice and be merry, it is we. Come, come, let us try to get our joy into a more natural channel, and then move on to the house." The head of the column was again brought to order, and, passing on through the field, soon entered the yard of that house whose recent sorrows were now to give place to rejoicing and thankfulness. Here the company were formed into two extended lines, a few feet apart, and facing each other;—when the grateful and overjoyed parents, each leading a child, that they might be seen by all, passed through them, followed by Allen, alternately awakening, by his lively sallies, and timely remarks, the mirth and good feeling of all those around him, and declaring for himself that this was the happiest hour of all his life. After this gratifying ceremony was over, he once more mounted the stump, the rostrum of his former successful appeal, and in behalf of the parents of the recovered children, poured forth the warmest expressions of gratitude to the company for their kindness, and long continued exertions, and ended by an ejaculation of thanks to God for his mercy and goodness in permitting those exertions to be rewarded with such signal success.

The assembly then quietly dispersing, returned to their respective homes, each proud of his own share in the achievement, but prouder still of that of the distinguished leader, without whose presence all felt conscious the affair must have terminated in sorrow instead of rejoicing. And who shall say, great as the fame of Ethan Allen is, for deeds of noble daring and brilliant exploit, as a warrior,—who shall say, that his brightest laurel was not won, after all, in that noble, though little known act of his life, which resulted in the recovery of the "lost children" in the wilds of Sunderland?