Joseph A. Altsheler.

The Rulers of the Lakes A Story of George and Champlain online

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mingled in horrible conflict. For some strange reason, one that he
wondered at then, he stood among the French, but while he wondered, and
while the combat increased in ferocity the veil slipped down and it was
all gone like a mist. Then came other pictures, vivid in color, but
vague in detail, that might or might not be scenes in his future life,
and he awoke at last to find the dawn had come.

Tayoga was already awake and handed him a piece of venison.

"Eat, Dagaeoga," he said, "and drink at the little spring in the wood on
our right. I have learned what Haace and Black Rifle saw in the night,
and we march in half an hour."

Robert did more than drink at the spring; he also bathed his face, neck
and hands at the little brook that ran away from it, and although
Tarenyawagon had been busy shifting his kaleidoscope before him while he
slept, he was as much refreshed as if he had slumbered without dreams.
The dawn, clear but hot in the great forest, brought with it zeal and
confidence. They would follow on the trail of the French and Indian
leaders, and he believed, as surely as a battle came, that Willet,
Rogers, Daganoweda and their men would be the victors.

As soon as the brief and cold breakfast was finished the hundred
departed silently. The white rangers wore forest dress dyed green that
blended with the foliage, and the Mohawks still wore scarcely anything
at all. It was marvelous the way in which they traveled, and it would
not have been possible to say that white man or red man was the better.
Robert heard now and then only the light brush of a moccasin. A hundred
men flitted through the greenwood and they passed like phantoms.

In a brief hour they struck the trail that Haace had found, and followed
it swiftly, but with alert eyes for ambush. Presently other little
trails flowed into it, some from the east, and some from the west, and
the tributaries included imprints, which obviously were those of white
men. Then the whole broad trail, apparently a force of about one
hundred, curved back toward the west.

"They go to Andiatarocte," said Daganoweda. "Perhaps they meet another
force there."

"It's probably so," said Willet. "Knowing that our army is about to
advance they wouldn't come to the southwest shore of the lake unless
they were in strength. I still feel that St. Luc is leading them, but
other Frenchmen are surely with him. It behooves us to use all the
caution of which white men and red together are capable. In truth, there
must be no ambush for us. Besides the loss which we should suffer it
would be a terrible decrease of prestige for it to be known that the
Mountain Wolf and Daganoweda, the most warlike of all the chiefs of the
Ganeagaono, were trapped by the French and their savage allies."

Willet spoke artfully and the response was instantaneous. The great
chest of Daganoweda swelled, and a spark leaped from his eyes.

"It will never be told of us," he said, "because it cannot happen. There
are not enough of the French and their savage allies in the world to
trap the Great Bear, the Mountain Wolf, Daganoweda, and the lads Tayoga
and Dagaeoga."

Willet smiled. It was the reply that he had expected. Moreover, both his
words and those of the chief were heard by many warriors, and he knew
that they would respond in every fiber to the battle cry of their
leader. His contemptuous allusion to the allies of the French as
"savages" met a ready response in their hearts, since the nations of the
Hodenosaunee considered themselves civilized and enlightened, which, in
truth, they were in many respects.

Robert always remembered the place at which they held their brief
council. They stood in a little grove of oaks and elms, clear of
underbrush. The trees were heavy with foliage, and the leaves were yet
green. The dawn had not yet fully come, and the heavens, save low down
in the east, were still silver, casting a silvery veil which gave an
extraordinary and delicate tint to the green of foliage. In the distance
on the right was the gleam of water, silver like the skies, but it was
one of the beautiful lakelets abundant in that region and not yet
Andiatarocte, which was still far away. The bronze figures of the
Indians, silent and impassive as they listened to their chief, fitted
wonderfully into the wilderness scene, and the white men in forest
green, their faces tanned and fierce, were scarcely less wild in look
and figure. Robert felt once more a great thrill of pride that he had
been chosen a member of such a company.

They talked less than five minutes. Then Black Rifle, alone as usual
because he preferred invariably to be alone, disappeared in the woods to
the right of the great trail. Three young warriors, uncommonly swift of
foot, soon followed him, and three more as nimble of heel as the others,
sank from sight in the forest to the left. Both right and left soon
swallowed up several of the rangers also, who were not inferior as
scouts and trailers to the Mohawks.

"The wings of our force are protected amply now," said Tayoga, in his
precise school English. "When such eyes as those of our flankers are
looking and watching, no ambush against us is possible. Now our main
force will advance with certainty."

Twenty men had been sent out as scouts and the remaining eighty, eager
for combat, white and red, advanced on the main trail, not fast but
steadily. Now and then the cries of bird or beast, signals from the
flankers, came from right or left, and the warriors with Daganoweda
responded.

"They are telling us," said Tayoga to Robert, "that they have not yet
found a hostile presence. The enemy has left behind him no skirmishers
or rear guard. It may be that we shall not overtake them until we
approach the lake or reach it."

"How do you know that we will overtake them at all, Tayoga? They may go
so fast that we can't come up."

"I know it, Dagaeoga, because if they are led by St. Luc, and I think
they are, they will not try to get away. If they believe we are not
about to overtake them they will wait for us at some place they consider
good."

"You're probably right, Tayoga, and it's likely that we'll be in battle
before night. One would think there is enough country here on this
continent for the whole world without having the nations making war over
any part of it. As I have said before, here we are fighting to secure
for an English king or a French king mountains and lakes and rivers and
forests which neither of them will ever see, and of the existence of
which, perhaps, they don't know."

"And as I have told you before, Dagaeoga, the mountains and lakes and
rivers and forests for which the English and French kings have their
people fight, belong to neither, but to the great League of the
Hodenosaunee and other red nations."

"That's true, Tayoga. Sometimes I'm apt to forget it, but you know I'm a
friend of the Hodenosaunee. If I had the power I'd see that never an
acre of their country was filched from them by the white men."

"I know it well, Dagaeoga."

The pursuit continued all the morning, and the great trail left by the
French and Indians broadened steadily. Other trails flowed into and
merged with it, and it became apparent that the force pursued was larger
than the force pursuing. Yet Willet, Rogers and Daganoweda did not
flinch, clinging to the trail, which now led straight toward
Andiatarocte.




CHAPTER VIII

ARESKOUI'S FAVOR


In the dusk of the evening the whole force came to the crest of a hill
from which through a cleft they caught a glimpse of the shimmering
waters of the lake, called by the Iroquois Andiatarocte, by the French,
St. Sacrement, and by the English, George. It was not Robert's first
view of it, but he always thrilled at the prospect.

"Both Andiatarocte and Oneadatote must be ours," he said to Tayoga.
"They're too fine and beautiful to pass into possession of the French."

"What about the Hodenosaunee? Do you too forget, Dagaeoga?"

"I don't forget, Tayoga. When I said 'ours' I meant American,
Hodenosaunee and English combined. You've good eyes, and so tell me if
I'm not right when I say I see a moving black dot on the lake."

"You do see it, my friend, and also a second and a third. The segment of
the lake that we can see from here is very narrow. At this distance it
does not appear to be more than a few inches across, but I know as
surely as Tododaho sits on his star watching over us, that those are
canoes, or perhaps long boats, and that they belong to our enemies."

"A force on the water coöperating with that on land?"

"It seems so, Dagaeoga."

"And they mean to become the rulers of the lakes! With their army
powerfully established at Crown Point, and their boats on both
Andiatarocte and Oneadatote, it looks as if they were getting a great
start in that direction."

"Aye, Dagaeoga. The French move faster than we. They seize what we both
wish, and then it will be for us to put them out, they being in
possession and intrenched. Look, Black Rifle comes out of the forest!
And Haace is with him! They have something to tell!"

It was the honor and pleasure of young Lennox and the Onondaga to be
present at the councils, and though they said nothing to their elders
unless asked for an opinion, they always listened with eagerness to
everything. Now Willet, Rogers and Daganoweda drew together, and Black
Rifle and Haace, their dark eyes gleaming, made report to them.

"A strong force, at least one hundred and fifty men, lies about five
miles to the north, on the shore of the lake," said Black Rifle. "About
twenty Frenchmen are with it, and it is commanded by St. Luc. I saw him
from the bushes. He has with him the Canadian, Dubois. De Courcelles and
Jumonville are there also. At least a hundred warriors and Frenchmen are
on the lake, in canoes and long boats. I saw Tandakora too."

"A formidable force," said Willet. "Do you wish to turn back,
Daganoweda?"

The eyes of the Mohawk chieftain glittered and he seemed to swell both
in size and stature.

"We are a hundred," he replied proudly. "What does it matter how many
they are? I am astonished that the Great Bear should ask me such a
question."

Willet laughed softly.

"I asked it," he said, "because I knew what the answer would be. None
other could come from a Mohawk chieftain."

Again the eyes of Daganoweda glittered, but this time with pride.

"Shall we advance and attack St. Luc's force tonight?" said Willet,
turning to Rogers.

"I think it would be best," replied the Mountain Wolf. "A surprise is
possible tonight only. Tomorrow his scouts are sure to find that we are
near. What say you, Daganoweda?"

"Tonight," replied the Mohawk chief, sententiously.

There was no further discussion, and the whole force, throwing out
skirmishers, moved cautiously northward through the great, green
wilderness. It was a fair night for a march, not enough moonlight to
disclose them at a distance, and yet enough to show the way. Robert kept
close to Tayoga, who was just behind Willet, and they bore in toward the
lake, until they were continually catching glimpses of its waters
through the vast curtain of the forest.

Robert's brain once more formed pictures, swift, succeeding one another
like changes of light, but in high colors. The great lake set in the
mountains and glimmering under the moon had a wonderful effect upon his
imagination. It became for the time the core of all the mighty struggle
that was destined to rage so long in North America. The belief became a
conviction that whoever possessed Andiatarocte and Oneadatote was
destined to possess the continent.

The woods themselves, like the lake, were mystic and brooding. Their
heavy foliage was ruffled by no wind, and no birds sang. The wild
animals, knowing that man, fiercer than they, would soon join in mortal
combat, had all fled away. Robert heard only the faint crush of
moccasins as the hundred, white and red, sped onward.

An hour, and a dim light showed on a slope gentler than the rest,
leading down to the lake. It was a spark so faint and vague that it
might have passed to the ordinary eye as a firefly, but rangers and
Mohawks knew well that it came from some portion of St. Luc's camp and
that the enemy was close at hand. Then the band stopped and the three
leaders talked together again for a few moments.

"I think," said Willet, "that the force on land is in touch with the one
in the boats, though a close union has not been effected. In my opinion
we must rush St. Luc."

"There is no other way," said Rogers.

"It is what I like best," said Daganoweda.

They promptly spread out, the entire hundred in a half circle, covering
a length of several hundred yards, and the whole force advanced swiftly.
Robert and Tayoga were in the center, and as they rushed forward with
the others, their moccasined feet making scarcely any sound, Robert saw
the fireflies in the forest increase, multiply and become fixed. If he
had felt any doubt that the camp of St. Luc was just ahead it
disappeared now. The brilliant French leader too, despite all his craft,
and lore of the forest, was about to be surprised.

Then he heard the sharp reports of rifles both to right and left. The
horns of the advancing crescent were coming into contact with St. Luc's
sentinels. Then Daganoweda, knowing that the full alarm had been given,
uttered a fierce and thrilling cry and all the Mohawks took it up. It
was a tremendous shout, making the blood leap and inciting to battle.

Robert, by nature kindly and merciful, felt the love of combat rising in
him, and when a bullet whistled past his ear a fury against the enemy
began to burn in his veins. More bullets came pattering upon the leaves,
and one found its target in a ranger who was struck through the heart.
Other rangers and Mohawks received wounds, but under the compelling
orders of their leaders they held their fire until they were near the
camp, when nearly a hundred rifles spoke together in one fierce and
tremendous report.

St. Luc's sentinels and skirmishers were driven back in a minute or two,
many of them falling, but his main force lay along a low ridge, timbered
well, and from its shelter his men, French and Indians, sent in a rapid
fire. Although taken by surprise and suffering severely in the first
rush, they were able to stem the onset of the rangers and Mohawks, and
soon they were uttering fierce and defiant cries, while their bullets
came in showers. The rangers and Mohawks also took to cover, and the
battle of the night and the wilderness was on.

Robert pulled Tayoga down, and the two lay behind a fallen log, where
they listened to the whining of an occasional bullet over their heads.

"We may win," said the Onondaga gravely, "but we will not win so easily.
One cannot surprise Sharp Sword (St. Luc) wholly. You may attack when he
is not expecting it, but even then he will make ready for you."

"That's true," said Robert, and he felt a curious and contradictory
thrill of pleasure as he listened to Tayoga. "It's not possible to take
the Chevalier in a trap."

"No, Dagaeoga, it is not. I wish, for the sake of our success, that some
other than he was the leader of the enemy, but Manitou has willed that
my wish should not come true. Do you not think the dark shadow passing
just then on the ridge was Tandakora?"

"The size indicated to me the Ojibway, and I was about to seize my rifle
and fire, but it's too far for a shot with any certainty. I think our
men on the horns of the crescent are driving them in somewhat."

"The shifting of the firing would prove that it is so, Dagaeoga. Our
sharpshooting is much better than theirs, and in time we will push them
down to the lake. But look at Black Rifle! See how he craves the
battle!"

The swart ranger, lying almost flat on the ground, was creeping forward,
inch by inch, and as Robert glanced at him he fired, a savage in the
opposing force uttering his death yell. The ranger uttered a shout of
triumph, and, shifting his position, sought another shot, his dark body
drawn among the leaves and grass like that of some fierce wild animal.
He fired a second time, repeated his triumphant shout and then his
sliding body passed out of sight among the bushes.

Both Rogers and Willet soon joined Robert and Tayoga behind the logs
where they had a good position from which to direct the battle, but
Daganoweda on the right, with all of his Mohawks, was pushing forward
steadily and would soon be able to pour a flanking fire into St. Luc's
little army. The forest resounded now with the sharp reports of the
rifles and the shouts and yells of the combatants. Bullets cut leaves
and twigs, but the rangers and the Mohawks were advancing.

"Do you know how many men we have lost, Rogers?" asked Willet.

"Three of the white men and four of the Mohawks have been slain, Dave,
but we're winning a success, and it's not too high a price to pay in
war. If Daganoweda can get far enough around on their left flank we'll
drive 'em into the lake, sure. Ah, there go the rifles of the Mohawks
and they're farther forward than ever. That Mohawk chief is a bold
fighter, crafty and full of fire."

"None better than he. I think they're well around the flank, Rogers.
Listen to their shouts. Now, we'll make a fresh rush of our own."

They sprang from the shelter of the log, and, leading their men, rushed
in a hundred yards until they dropped down behind another one. Robert
and Tayoga went with them, firing as they ran, borne on by the thrill of
combat, but Robert felt relief nevertheless when he settled again in the
shelter of the second log and for the time being was secure from
bullets.

"I think," said Willet to Rogers, "that I'll go around toward the left,
where the flanking force is composed mostly of rangers, and press in
there with all our might. If the two horns of the crescent are able to
enclose St. Luc, and you charge at the center, we should win the victory
soon."

"It's the right idea, Dave," said Rogers. "When we hear your shots and a
shout or two we'll drive our hardest."

"I'd like to take Tayoga and Robert with me."

"They're yours. They're good and brave lads, and I'll need 'em, but
you'll need 'em too. How many more of the men here will you want?"

"About ten."

"Then take them too."

Willet, with Robert, Tayoga and the ten, began a cautious circuit in the
darkness toward the western horn of the crescent, and for a few minutes
left the battle in the distance. As they crept through the bushes,
Robert heard the shouts and shots of both sides and saw the pink flashes
of flame as the rifles were fired. In the darkness it seemed confused
and vague, but he knew that it was guided by order and precision. Now
and then a spent bullet pattered upon the leaves, and one touched him
upon the wrist, stinging for a moment or two, but doing no harm.

But as they passed farther and farther to the west the noise of the
battle behind them gradually sank, while that on the left horn of the
crescent grew.

In a few more minutes they would be with the rangers who were pressing
forward so strenuously at that point, and as Robert saw dusky figures
rise from the bushes in front of them he believed they were already in
touch. Instead a dozen rifles flashed in their faces. One of the rangers
went down, shot through the head, dead before he touched the ground,
three more sustained slight wounds, including Robert who was grazed on
the shoulder, and all of them gave back in surprise and consternation.
But Willet, shrewd veteran of the forest, recovered himself quickly.

"Down, men! Down and give it back to 'em!" he cried. "They've sent out a
flanking force of their own! It was clever of St. Luc!"

All the rangers dropped on their faces instantly, but as they went down
they gave back the fire of the flanking party. Robert caught a glimpse
of De Courcelles, who evidently was leading it, and pulled trigger on
him, but the Frenchman turned aside at that instant, and his bullet
struck a St. Regis Indian who was just behind him. Now the return volley
of the rangers was very deadly. Two Frenchmen were slain here and four
warriors, and De Courcelles, who had not expected on his circling
movement to meet with a new force, was compelled to give back. He and
his warriors quickly disappeared in the forest, leaving their dead
behind them, and Willet with his own little force moved on triumphantly,
soon joining his strength to that of the rangers on the left.

The combined force hurled itself upon St. Luc's flank and crumpled it
up, at the same time uttering triumphant shouts which were answered from
the right and center, rangers and Mohawks on all fronts now pressing
forward, and sending in their bullets from every covert. So fierce was
their attack that they created the effect of double or triple their
numbers, and St. Luc's French and Indians were driven down the slope to
the edge of the lake, where the survivors were saved by the second band
in the canoes and great boats.

The defeated men embarked quickly, but not so quickly that several more
did not fall in the water. At this moment Robert saw St. Luc, and he
never admired him more. He, too, was in forest green, but it was of the
finest cloth, trimmed with green yet darker. A cap of silky fur was on
his head, and his hair was clubbed in a queue behind. March and forest
battle had not dimmed the cleanliness and neatness of his attire, and,
even in defeat, he looked the gallant chevalier, without fear and
without reproach.

St. Luc was in the act of stepping into one of the long boats when a
ranger beside Robert raised his rifle and took aim squarely at the
Frenchman's heart. It was not a long shot and the ranger would not have
missed, but young Lennox at that moment stumbled and fell against him,
causing the muzzle of his weapon to be deflected so much that his bullet
struck the uncomplaining water. Robert's heart leaped up as he saw the
chevalier spring into the boat, which the stalwart Indians paddled
swiftly away.

The entire Indian fleet now drew together, and it was obviously making
for one of the little islands, so numerous in Andiatarocte, where it
would be safe until the English and Americans built or brought boats of
their own and disputed the rulership of the lake. But the rangers and
the Mohawks, eager to push the victory, rushed down to the water's edge
and sent after the flying fleet bullets which merely dropped vainly in
the water. Then they ceased, and, standing there, uttered long thrilling
shouts of triumph.

Robert had never beheld a more ferocious scene but he felt in it, too, a
sort of fierce and shuddering attraction. His veins were still warm with
the fire of battle, and his head throbbed wildly. Everything took on
strange and fantastic shapes, and colors became glaring and violent. The
moonlight, pouring down on the lake, made it a vast sea of crumbling
silver, the mountains on the farther shores rose to twice or thrice
their height, and the forests on the slopes and crests were an immense
and unbroken curtain, black against the sky.

Five or six hundred yards away hovered the Indian fleet, the canoes and
boats dark splotches upon the silver surface of the water. The island
upon which they intended to land was just beyond them, but knowing that
they were out of rifle range they had paused to look at the victorious
force, or as much of it as showed itself, and to send back the defiant
yells of a defeated, but undaunted band.

Robert clearly saw St. Luc again, standing up in his boat, and
apparently giving orders to the fleet, using his small sword, as a
conductor wields a baton, though the moonlight seemed to flash in fire
along the blade as he pointed it here and there. He beheld something
fierce and unconquerable in the man's attitude and manner. He even
imagined that he could see his face, and he knew that the eye was calm,
despite defeat and loss. St Luc, driven from the field, would be none
the less dangerous than if he had been victor upon it.

The whole Indian fleet formed in a half circle and the Chevalier ceased
to wave orders with his sword. Then he drew himself up, stood rigidly
erect, despite his unstable footing, faced the land, and, using the
sword once more, gave a soldier's salute to the foe. The act was so
gallant, so redolent of knightly romance that despite themselves the
rangers burst into a mighty cheer, and the Mohawks, having the Indian
heart that always honored a brave foe, uttered a long and thrilling
whoop of approval.

Robert, carried away by an impulse, sprang upon a rock and whirled his
rifle around his head in an answering salute. St. Luc evidently saw, and


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Online LibraryJoseph A. AltshelerThe Rulers of the Lakes A Story of George and Champlain → online text (page 10 of 21)