Joseph A. Altsheler.

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

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evidently, too, he recognized Robert, as he lifted his sword in
rejoinder. Then the Indians, bent to their paddles, and the fleet,
hanging together, swept around the island and out of sight. But they
knew that the French and Indian force landed there, as fires soon blazed
upon its heavily-wooded crest, and they saw dusky figures passing and
repassing before the flames.

"The victory has been given to us tonight," said Tayoga gravely to
Robert, "but Manitou has not allowed us to complete it. Few triumph over
St. Luc, and, though his manner may have been gay and careless, his
heart burns to win back what he has lost."

"I take it you're right, Tayoga," said Robert. "His is a soul that will
not rest under defeat, and I fancy St. Luc on the island is a great
danger. He can get at us and we can't get at him."

"It is true, Dagaeoga. If we strike we must strike quickly and then be
off. This, for the time being, is the enemy's country, yet I think our
leaders will not be willing to withdraw. Daganoweda, I know, will want
to push the battle and to attack on the island."

The Onondaga's surmise was correct. The triumph of the rangers and the
Mohawks, although not complete, was large, as at least one-third of St.
Luc's force was slain, and the three leaders alike were eager to make it
yet larger, having in mind that in some way they could yet reach the
French and Indian force on the island. So they built their own fires on
the slope and the Mohawks began to sing songs of triumph, knowing that
they would infuriate the foe, and perhaps tempt him to some deed of
rashness.

"Did you see anything of Tandakora?" asked Robert of Tayoga. "I know
it's no crime to wish that he fell."

"No, it's no crime, Dagaeoga," replied the Onondaga soberly, "and my
wish is the same as yours, but this time we cannot have it. I saw him in
one of the boats as they passed around the island."

The two then sat by one of the fires and ate venison, thankful that they
had escaped with only slight wounds, and as there was no immediate call
for their services they wrapped themselves in their blankets, by and by,
and went to sleep. When Robert awoke, the morning was about half gone
and the day was bright and beautiful beyond compare.

Although the hostile forces still confronted each other there was no
other evidence of war, and Robert's first feelings were less for man and
more for the magnificence of nature. He had never seen Andiatarocte,
the matchless gem of the mountains, more imposing and beautiful. Its
waters, rippling gently under the wind, stretched far away, silver or
gold, as the sunlight fell. The trees and undergrowth on the islands
showed deepest green, and the waving leaves shifted and changed in color
with the changing sky. Far over all was a deep velvet blue arch, tinged
along the edges with red or gold.

Keenly sensitive to nature, it was a full minute before young Lennox
came back to earth, and the struggles of men. Then he found Tayoga
looking at him curiously.

"It is good!" said the Onondaga, flinging out his hand. "In the white
man's Bible it is said that Manitou created the world in six days and
rested on the seventh, but in the unwritten book of the Hodenosaunee it
is said that he created Andiatarocte and Oneadatote, and then reposed a
bit, and enjoyed his work before he went on with his task."

"I can well believe you, Tayoga. If I had created a lake like George and
another like Champlain I should have stopped work, and gloried quite a
while over my achievement. Has the enemy made any movement while we
slept?"

"None, so far as our people can tell. They have brought part of their
fleet around to the side of the island facing us. I count six large
boats and twenty canoes there. I also see five fires, and I have no
doubt that many of the warriors are sleeping before them. Despite
losses, his force is still larger than ours, but I do not think St. Luc,
brave as he is, would come back to the mainland and risk a battle with
us."

"Then we must get at him somehow, Tayoga. We must make our blow so
heavy that it will check Dieskau for a while and give Colonel Johnson's
army time to march."

"Even so, Dagaeoga. Look at the Mountain Wolf. He has a pair of field
glasses and he is studying the island."

Rogers stood on a knoll, and he was making diligent use of his glasses,
excellent for the time. He took them from his eyes presently, and walked
down to Robert and Tayoga.

"Would you care to have a look?" he said to Robert.

"Thank you, I'd like it very much," replied young Lennox eagerly.

The powerful lenses at once brought the island very near, and trees and
bushes became detached from the general mass, until he saw between them
the French and Indian camp. As Tayoga had asserted, many of the warriors
were asleep on the grass. When nothing was to be done, the Indian could
do it with a perfection seldom attained by anybody else. Tandakora was
sitting on a fallen log, looking at the mainland. As usual, he was bare
to the waist, and painted frightfully. Not far away a Frenchman was
sleeping on a cloak, and Robert was quite sure that it was De
Courcelles. St. Luc himself was visible toward the center of the island.
He, too, stood upon a knoll, and he, too, had glasses with which he was
studying his foe.

"The command of the water," said Rogers, "is heavily against us. If we
had only been quick enough to build big boats of our own, the tale to
be told would have been very different."

"And if by any means," said Willet, "we contrive to drive them from the
island, they can easily retreat in their fleet to another, and they
could repeat the process indefinitely. George has many islands."

"Then why not capture their fleet?" said Robert in a moment of
inspiration.

Rogers and Willet looked at each other.

"It's queer we didn't think of that before," said the hunter.

"'Twill be an attempt heavy with danger," said Rogers.

"So it will, my friend, but have we shirked dangers? Don't we live and
sleep with danger?"

"I was merely stating the price, Dave. I was making no excuse for
shirking."

"I know it, old friend. Whoever heard of Robert Rogers shunning danger?
We'll have a talk with Daganoweda, and you, Robert, since you suggested
the plan, and you, Tayoga, since you've a head full of wisdom, shall be
present at the conference."

The Mohawk chieftain came, and, when the scheme was laid before him, he
was full of eagerness for it.

"Every one of my warriors will be glad to go," he said, "and I, as
becomes my place, will lead them. It will be a rare deed, and the news
of it will be heard with wonder and admiration in all our castles."

He spoke in the language of the Ganeagaono, which all the others
understood perfectly, and the two white leaders knew they could rely
upon the courage and enthusiasm of the Mohawks.

"It depends upon the sun whether we shall succeed tonight or not," said
Tayoga, glancing up at the heavens, "and at present he gives no promise
of favoring us. The sun, as you know, Dagaeoga, is with us the Sun God,
also, whom we call Areskoui, or now and then Aieroski, and who is
sometimes almost the same as Manitou."

"I know," said Robert, who had an intimate acquaintance with the complex
Pantheon of the Hodenosaunee, which was yet not so complex after all,
and which also had in its way the elements of the Christian religion in
all their beauty and majesty.

Tayoga gazed out upon Andiatarocte.

Robert's eyes followed the Onondaga's.

"It's true," he said, "that the Sun God, your Areskoui, and mine, too,
for that matter, makes no promise to us. The warriors of the
Hodenosaunee have looked upon Andiatarocte for many centuries, but
doubtless there has never been a day before when any one of them saw it
more beautiful and more gleaming than it is now."

"Yes, Dagaeoga, the waters slide and ripple before the wind, and they
are blue and green, and silver and gold, and all the shades between, as
the sunlight shifts and falls, but it is many hours until night and
Areskoui may be of another mind by then."

"I know it, Tayoga. I remember the two storms on Champlain, and I don't
forget how quickly they can come on either lake. I'm not praying for any
storm, but I do want a dark and cloudy night."

"Dagaeoga should not be too particular," said Tayoga, his eyes
twinkling. "He has told Areskoui exactly what kind of a night he
wishes, but I think he will have to take just the kind of a night that
Areskoui may send."

"I don't dispute it, Tayoga, but when you're praying to the Sun God it's
as well to pray for everything you want."

"We'll watch Areskoui with more than common interest today, you and I,
Dagaeoga, but the warriors of the Ganeagaono, even as the Hurons, the
Abenakis and the Ojibways, will go to sleep. Behold, Daganoweda even now
lies down upon his blanket!"

The Mohawk chief, as if sure that nothing more of importance was going
to happen that day, spread his fine green blanket upon some leaves, and
then settling himself in an easy posture upon it, fell asleep, while
many of his warriors, and some of the rangers too, imitated his example.
But Robert and Tayoga had slept enough, and, though they moved about but
little, they were all eyes and ears.

Scouts had been sent far up and down the shores of the lake, and they
reported that no other band was near, chance leaving the issue wholly to
the two forces that now faced each other. Yet the morning, while
remaining of undimmed beauty, had all the appearance of ease, even of
laziness. Several of the rangers went down to the edge of the lake, and,
removing their clothing, bathed in the cool waters. Then they lay on the
slope until their bodies dried, dressed themselves, and waited patiently
for the night.

The French and Indians, seeing them engaged in a pleasant task, found it
well to do likewise. The waters close to the island were filled with
Frenchmen, Canadians and Indians, wading, swimming and splashing water,
the effect in the distance being that of boys on a picnic and enjoying
it to the utmost.

Robert took a little swim himself, though he kept close to the shore,
and felt much refreshed by it. When he had been dried by the sun and was
bade in his clothes, he stretched himself luxuriously near the rangers
on the slope, taking an occasional glance at the sun from under his
sheltering hand.

"There is a little mist in the southwest," he said, after a long time,
to Tayoga. "Do you think it possible that Areskoui will change his mind
and cease to flood the world with beams?"

"I see the vapor," replied Tayoga, looking keenly. "It is just a wisp,
no larger than a feather from the wing of an eagle, but it seems to
grow. Areskoui changes his mind as he pleases. Who are we to question
the purposes of the Sun God? Yet I take it, Dagaeoga, that the chance of
a night favorable to our purpose has increased."

"I begin to think, Tayoga, that Areskoui does, in truth, favor us,
through no merit of ours, but perhaps because of a lack of merit in
Tandakora and De Courcelles. Yet, as I live, you're right when you say
the cloud of mist or vapor is growing. Far in the southwest, so it seems
to me, the air becomes dim. I know it, because I can't see the forests
there as distinctly as I did a half hour ago, and I hold that the change
in Areskoui's heart is propitious to our plan."

"A long speech, but your tongue always moves easily, Dagaeoga, and what
you say is true. The mist increases fast, and before he goes down on the
other side of the world the Sun God will be veiled in it. Then the
night will come full of clouds, and dark. Look at Andiatarocte, and you
will see that it is so."

The far shores of the lake were almost lost in the vapors, only spots of
forest green appearing now and then, a veil of silver being over the
eastern waters. The island on which St. Luc lay encamped was growing
indistinct, and the fires there shone through a white mist.

Tayoga stood up and gazed intently at the sun, before which a veil had
been drawn, permitting his eyes to dwell on its splendors, now coming in
a softened and subdued light.

"All the omens are favorable," he said. "The heart of Areskoui has
softened toward us, knowing that we are about to go on a great and
perilous venture. Tonight Tododaho on his star will also look down
kindly on us. He will be beyond the curtain of the clouds, and we will
not see him, but I know that it will be so, because I feel in my heart
that it must be so. You and I, Dagaeoga, are only two, and among the
many on this earth two can count for little, but the air is full of
spirits, and it may be that they have heard our prayers. With the unseen
powers the prayers of the humble and the lowly avail as much as those of
the great and mighty."

His eyes bore the rapt and distant expression of the seer, as he
continued to gaze steadily at the great silver robe that hung before the
face of Areskoui's golden home. Splendid young warrior that he was,
always valiant and skillful in battle, there was a spiritual quality in
Tayoga that often showed. The Onondagas were the priestly nation of the
Hodenosaunee and upon him had descended a mantle that was, in a way, the
mantle of a prophet. Robert, so strongly permeated by Indian lore and
faith, really believed, for a moment, that his comrade saw into the
future.

But not the white youth and the red youth alone bore witness to the
great change, the phenomenon even, that Areskoui was creating. Both
Rogers and Willet had looked curiously at the sun, and then had looked
again. Daganoweda, awaking, stood up and gazed in the intent and
reverential manner that Tayoga had shown. The soul of the Mohawk
chieftain was fierce. He existed for the chase and war, and had no love
beyond them. There was nothing spiritual in his nature, but none the
less he was imbued with the religion of his race, and believed that the
whole world, the air, the forests, the mountains, and the lakes were
peopled with spirits, good or bad. Now he saw one of the greatest of
them all, Areskoui, the Sun God himself, in action and working a
miracle.

The untamable soul of Daganoweda was filled with wonder and admiration.
Not spiritual, he was nevertheless imaginative to a high degree. Through
the silver veil which softened the light of the sun more and more,
permitting his eyes to remain fixed upon it, he saw a mighty figure in
the very center of that vast globe of light, a figure that grew and grew
until he knew it was Areskoui, the Sun God himself.

A shiver swept over the powerful frame of Daganoweda. The Mohawk
chieftain, whose nerves never quivered before the enemy, felt as a
little child in the presence of the mighty Sun God. But his confidence
returned. Although the figure of Areskoui continued to grow, his face
became benevolent. He looked down from his hundred million miles in the
void, beheld the tiny figure of Daganoweda standing upon the earth, and
smiled. Daganoweda knew that it was so, because he saw the smile with
his own eyes, and, however perilous the venture might be, he knew then
it could not fail, because Areskoui himself had smiled upon it.

The great veil of mist deepened and thickened and was drawn slowly
across all the heavens. Robert felt a strange thrill of awe. It was, in
very truth, to him a phenomenon, more than an eclipse, not a mere
passage of the moon before the sun for which science gave a natural
account, but a sudden combination of light and air that had in it a
tinge of the supernatural.

All the Mohawks were awake now, everybody was awake and everybody
watched the sun, but perhaps it was Daganoweda who saw most. No tincture
of the white man's religion had ever entered his mind to question any of
his Iroquois beliefs. There was Areskoui, in the very center of the sun,
mighty and shining beyond belief, and still smiling across his hundred
million miles at the earth upon which Daganoweda stood. But, all the
while he was drawing his silver robe, fold on fold, thicker and tighter
about himself, and his figure grew dim.

One after another the distant islands in the lake sank out of sight, and
the fires were merely a faint red glow on the one occupied by St. Luc.
Over the waters the vapors swept in great billows and columns.
Daganoweda drew a great breath. The sun itself was fading. Areskoui had
shown his face long enough and now he meant to make the veil between
himself and man impenetrable. He became a mere shadow, the mists and
vapors rolled up wave on wave, and he was gone entirely. Then night came
down over mountains, forest and Andiatarocte. The last fire on St Luc's
island had been permitted to die out, and it, too, sank into the mists
and vapors with the others, and was invisible to the watchers on the
mainland slope.

But little could be seen of Andiatarocte itself, save occasional
glimmers of silver under the floating clouds. Not a star was able to
come out, and all the lake and country about it were wrapped in a heavy
grayish mist which seemed to Robert to be surcharged with some kind of
exciting solution. But the three leaders, Rogers, Willet and Daganoweda,
gathered in a close council, did not yet give any order save that plenty
of food be served to rangers and Mohawks alike.

Thus a long time was permitted to pass and the mists and vapors over
Andiatarocte deepened steadily. No sound came from St. Luc's island, nor
was any fire lighted there. For all the darkness showed, it had sunk
from sight forever. It was an hour till midnight when the three leaders
gave their orders and the chosen band began to prepare. Robert had
begged to be of the perilous number. He could never endure it if Tayoga
went and not he, and Willet, though reluctant, was compelled to consent.
Willet himself was going also, and so was Daganoweda, of course, and
Black Rifle, but Rogers was to remain behind, in command of the force on
the slope.

Thirty rangers and thirty Mohawks, all powerful swimmers, were chosen,
and every man stripped to the skin. Firearms, of necessity, were left
behind with the clothes, but everyone buckled a belt around his bare
body, and put in it his hatchet and hunting knife. The plan was to swim
silently for the island and then trust to courage, skill and fortune.
Buoyed up by the favor of Areskoui, who had worked a miracle for them,
the sixty dropped into the water, and began their night of extreme
hazard.




CHAPTER IX

ON ANDIATAROCTE


Robert, as was natural, swam by the side of Tayoga, his comrade in so
many hardships and dangers, and, after the long period of tense and
anxious waiting, he felt a certain relief that the start was made, even
though it was a start into the very thick of peril.

Willet was on the right wing of the swimming column and Daganoweda was
on the left, the white leader and the red understanding each other
thoroughly, and ready to act in perfect unison. Beneath the hovering
mists and above the surface of the water, the bronze faces of the
Mohawks and the brown faces of the rangers showed, eager and fierce.
There was not one among them whose heart did not leap, because he was
chosen for such a task.

Robert felt at first a chill from the water, as Andiatarocte, set among
its northern mountains, is usually cold, but after a few vigorous
strokes the blood flowed warm in his veins again, and the singular
exciting quality with which the mists and vapors seemed to be surcharged
entered his mind also. The great pulse in his throat leaped, and the
pulses in his temples beat hard. His sensitive and imaginative mind,
that always went far ahead of the present, had foreseen all the
dangers, and, physically at least, he had felt keen apprehension when he
stepped into the lake. But now it was gone. Youth and the strong
comrades around him gave imagination another slant, allowing it to paint
wonderful deeds achieved, and victory made complete.

His eyes, which in his condition of superheated fancy enlarged or
intensified everything manifold, saw a flash of light near him. It was
merely Tayoga drawing his knife from his belt and putting the blade
between his teeth, where the whitish mist that served for illumination
had thrown back a reflection. He glanced farther down the swimming line
and saw that many others had drawn their hunting knives and had clasped
them between their teeth, where they would be ready for instant use.
Mechanically he did likewise, and he felt something flow from the cold
steel into his body, heating his blood and inciting him to battle. He
knew at the time that it was only imagination, but the knowledge itself
took nothing from the power of the sensation. He became every instant
more eager for combat.

It seemed that Tayoga caught glimpses of his comrade's face and with his
Onondaga insight read his mind.

"Dagaeoga, who wishes harm to nobody, now craves the battle,
nevertheless," he said, taking the knife from between his teeth for a
moment or two.

"I'm eager to be in it as soon as I can in order to have it over as soon
as we can," said Robert, imitating him.

"You may think the answer wholly true, though it is only partly so.
There come times when the most peaceful feel the incitement of war."

"I believe it's the strangeness of the night, the quality of the air we
breathe and that singular veiling of the sun just when we wished it, and
as if in answer to our prayers."

"That is one of the reasons, Dagaeoga. We cannot see Areskoui, because
he is on the other side of the world now, but he turned his face toward
us and bade us go and win. Nor can we see Tododaho on his star, because
of the mighty veil that has been drawn between, but the great Onondaga
chief who went away to eternal life more than four hundred centuries ago
still watches over his own, and I know that his spirit is with us."

"Can you see the island yet, Tayoga? My eyes make out a shadow in the
mist, but whether it's land, or merely a darker stream of vapor, I can't
tell."

"I am not sure either, but I do not think it is land. The island is four
hundred yards away, and the mist is so thick that neither the earth
itself nor the trees and bushes would yet appear through it."

"You must be right, and we're swimming slowly, too, to avoid any
splashing of the water that would alarm St. Luc's sentinels. At what
point do you think we'll approach the island, Tayoga?"

"From the north, because if they are expecting us at all they will look
for us from the west. See, Daganoweda already leads in the curve toward
the north."

"It's so, Tayoga. I can barely make out his figure, but he has certainly
changed our course. I don't know whether it's my fancy or not, but I
seem to feel a change, too, in the quality of the air about us. A stream
of new and stronger air is striking upon the right side of my face, that
is, the side toward the south."

"It is reality and not your fancy, Dagaeoga. A wind has begun to blow
out of the south and west. But it does not blow away the vapors. It
merely sends the columns and waves of mist upon one another, fusing them
together and then separating them again. It is the work of Areskoui.
Though there is now a world between us and him he still watches over us
and speeds us on to a great deed. So, Dagaeoga, the miracle of the sky
is continued into the night, and for us. Areskoui will clothe us in a
mighty blanket of mist and water and fire."

The Onondaga's face was again the rapt face of a seer, and his words
were heavy with import like those of a prophet of old.

"Listen!" he said. "It is Areskoui himself who speaks!"

Robert shivered, but it was not from the cold of the water. It was
because a mighty belief that Tayoga spoke the truth had entered his
soul, and what the Onondaga believed he, too, believed with an equal
faith.

"I hear," he replied.

A low sound, deep and full of menace, came out of the south, and rumbled
over Andiatarocte and all the mountains about it. It was the voice of
thunder, but Tayoga and Robert felt that its menace was not for them.

"One of the sudden storms of the lake comes," said the Onondaga. "The
mists will be driven away now, but the clouds in their place will be yet
darker, Areskoui still holds his shrouding blanket before us."

"But the lightning which will come soon, Tayoga, and which you meant,
when you spoke of fire, will not that unveil us to the sentinels of St.
Luc?"

"No, because only our heads are above the water and at a little distance
they are blended with it. Yet the same flashes of fire will disclose to
us their fleet and show us our way to it. Andiatarocte has already felt
the wind in the south and is beginning to heave and surge."


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Online LibraryJoseph A. AltshelerThe Rulers of the Lakes A Story of George and Champlain → online text (page 11 of 21)