Joseph A. Altsheler.

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

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Robert felt the lake lift him up on a wave and then drop him down into a
hollow, but he was an expert swimmer, and he easily kept his head on the
surface. The thunder rumbled again. There was no crash, it was more like
a deep groan coming up out of the far south. The waters of Andiatarocte
lifted themselves anew, and wave after wave pursued one another
northward. A wind began to blow, straight and strong, but heavy floating
clouds came in its train, and the darkness grew so intense that Robert
could not see the face of Tayoga beside him.

Daganoweda called from the north end of the swimming line, and the word
was passed from Mohawk and ranger until Willet at the south end replied.
All were there. Not a man, white or red, had dropped out, and not one
would.

"In a minute or two the lightning will show the way," said Tayoga.

As the last word left his lips a flaming sword blazed across the lake,
and disclosed the island, wooded and black, not more than two hundred
yards distant, and the dim shadows of canoes and boats huddled against
the bank. Then it was gone and the blackness, thicker and heavier than
ever, settled down over island, lake and mountain. But Robert, Tayoga
and all the others had seen the prize they were seeking, and their
course lay plain before them now.

Robert's emotion was so intense and his mind was concentrated so
powerfully upon the object ahead that he was scarcely conscious of the
fact that he was swimming. An expert in the water, he kept afloat
without apparent effort, and the fact that he was one of fifty all doing
the same thing gave him additional strength and skill. The lightning
flashed again, blue now, almost a bar of violet across the sky, tinting
the waters of the lake with the same hue, and he caught another glimpse
of the Indian fleet drawn up against the shore, and of the Indian
sentinels, some sitting in the boats, and others standing on the land.

Then the wind strengthened, and he felt the rain upon his face. It was a
curious result, but he sank a little deeper in the water to shelter
himself from the storm. Light waves ran upon the surface of the lake,
and his body lifted with them. The fleet could not be more than a
hundred yards away now, and his heart began to throb hard with the
thought of imminent action. Yet he knew that he was in a mystic and
unreal world. His singular position, the night, the coming of the storm
with its swift alternations of light and blackness, heated his blood and
imagination until he saw many things that were not, and did not see
some that were. He saw a triumph and the capture of the Indian fleet,
and in his eager anticipation he failed to see the dangers just ahead.

The air grew much colder and the rain beat upon his face like hail. The
thunder which had rumbled almost incessantly, like a mighty groaning,
now ceased entirely, and the last flash of lightning burned across the
lake. It showed the fleet of the foe not more than fifty yards away now,
and, so far as Robert could tell, the Indian sentinels had yet taken no
alarm. Three were crouched in the boats with their blankets drawn about
their shoulders to protect them from the cold rain, and the four who had
been standing on the land were huddled under the trees with their
blankets wrapped about their bodies also.

"Do you think we'll really reach the fleet unobstructed?" whispered
Robert to Tayoga.

"It does not seem possible," the Onondaga whispered back. "The favor of
Areskoui is great to us, but the miracle he works in our behalf could
hardly go so far. Now the word comes from both Daganoweda and the Great
Bear, and we swim faster. The rain, too, grows and it drives in sheets,
but it is well for us that it does so. Rifles and muskets cannot be used
much in the storm, but our knives and tomahawks can. Perhaps this rain
is only one more help that Areskoui has sent to us."

The swimming line was approaching fast, and a few more strokes would
bring them to the canoes, when one of the warriors on the land suddenly
came from the shelter of his tree, leaned forward a little and peered
intently from under his shading hand. He had seen at last the dark
heads on the dark water, and springing back he uttered a fierce whoop.

"Now we swim for our lives and victory!" said Tayoga.

Willet and Daganoweda, attempting no farther concealment, cried to their
men to hurry. In a moment more the boarders were among the boats. Robert
shut his eyes as the knives flashed in the dusk, and the dead bodies of
the sentinels were thrown into the water. He seized the side of a long
canoe, which he gladly found to be empty, pulled himself in, to discover
Tayoga sitting just in front of him, paddle in hand also. All around him
men, red and white, were laying hold of canoes and boats and at the edge
of the water the sentinels were attacking.

On the island a terrific turmoil arose. Despite the rain a great fire
flared up as the forces of St. Luc kindled some bonfire anew, and they
heard him shouting in French and more than one Indian language to his
men. They heard also heavy splashes, as the warriors leaped into the
water to defend their fleet. A dark figure rose up by the side of the
boat in which young Lennox and his comrade sat. The knife of Tayoga
flashed and Robert involuntarily shut his eyes. When he opened them
again the dark figure was gone, and the knife was back in the Onondaga's
belt.

St. Luc, although surprised again, was rallying his men fast. The French
were shouting their battle cries, the Indians were uttering the war
whoop, as they poured down to the edge of the island, leaping into the
lake to save their fleet. The water was filled with dusky forms, Mohawk
and Huron met in the death grasp, and sometimes they found their fate
beneath the waters, held tight in the arms of each other. Confused and
terrible struggles for the boats ensued, and in the darkness and rain it
was knife and hatchet and then paddles, which many snatched up and used
as clubs.

Above the tumult Robert heard the trumpet tones of St. Luc cheering his
men and directing them. Once he caught a glimpse of him standing up to
his knees in the water, waving the small gold-hilted sword that he
carried so often, and he might have brought him down with a bullet had
he carried a rifle, but he would have had no thought of drawing trigger
upon him. Then he was gone in the mist, and the gigantic painted figure
of Tandakora appeared in his place for a moment. Then the mists closed
in for a second time, and he saw through it only fleeting forms and
flashes of fire, when rifles and muskets were fired by the enemy.

His feeling of unreality increased. The elements themselves had
conspired to lend to everything a tinge weird and sinister to the last
degree. There was a lull for a little in the wind and rain, but
Andiatarocte was heaving, and great waves were chasing one another over
the surface of the water, after threatening to overturn the canoes and
boats for which both sides fought so fiercely. The thunder began to
mutter again, furnishing a low and menacing under note like the growling
of cannon in battle. Occasional streaks of lightning flashed anew across
the lake, revealing the strained faces of the combatants and tinging the
surface of the waters with red. Then both thunder and lightning ceased
again, and wind and rain came with a renewed sweep and roar.

Robert and Tayoga still occupied their captured long boat alone, and
they hovered near the edge of the battle, not ready to withdraw with the
prize until their entire force, whether victor or vanquished, turned
back from the island. Now and then Robert struck with his tomahawk at
some foe who came swimming to the attack, but, as the violence of the
storm grew, both he and Tayoga were compelled to take up their paddles,
and use all their skill to keep the boat from being capsized. The
shouting and the shots and the crash of the storm made a turmoil from
which he could detach little, but he knew that the keen eyes of the
Onondaga, dusk or no dusk, confusion or no confusion, would pierce to
the heart of things.

"What do you see, Tayoga?" he exclaimed. "How goes the battle?"

"I cannot see as much as I wish, Dagaeoga, but it turns in our favor. I
saw the Great Bear just then in a boat, and when the lightning flared
last I saw Daganoweda in another. Beware, Dagaeoga! Beware!"

His shout of warning was just in time. A figure rose out of the water
beside their boat, and aimed a frightful blow at him with a tomahawk. It
was an impulse coming chiefly from the words of Tayoga, but Robert threw
himself flat in the boat and the keen weapon whistled through the empty
air. He sprang up almost instantly, and, not having time to draw either
hatchet or knife, struck with his clenched fist at the dark face
glaring over the side of the boat. It was a convulsive effort, and the
fist was driven home with more than natural power. The figure
disappeared like a stone dropped into the water.

Despite the dusk, Robert had seen the countenance, and he recognized the
sinister features of the French spy whom they had tried to catch in
Albany, the man whose name he had no doubt was Achille Garay. He had
felt a fierce joy when his fist came into contact with his face, but he
was quite sure the spy had not perished. Hardy men of the wilderness did
not die from a blow with the naked hand. The water would revive him, and
he would quickly come up again to fight elsewhere.

Tayoga leaned over suddenly and pulled in a dusky figure dripping with
wounds, a Mohawk warrior, hurt badly and sure to have been lost without
quick help. There was no time to bind up his hurts, as the combat was
growing thicker and fiercer, and they drove their boat into the middle
of it, striking out with hatchet and knife whenever an enemy came within
reach.

A shrill whistle presently rose over all the noise of battle, and it
seemed to have a meaning in it.

"What is it, Tayoga?" shouted Robert.

"It is the whistle of the Great Bear himself, and I have no doubt it is
a signal to retire. Reason tells me, too, that it is so. We have
captured as much of the enemy's fleet as we may at this time, and we
must make off with it lest we be destroyed ourselves."

The whistle still rose shrill, penetrating and insistent, and at the
other end of the line Daganoweda began to shout commands to the
Ganeagaono. Robert and Tayoga paddled away from the island, and on
either side of them they saw canoes and boats going in the same
direction. Flashes of fire came from the land, where the French and
Indians, raging up and down, sought to destroy those who had captured
most of their fleet. But the darkness made their aim uncertain, almost
worthless, and only two or three of the invaders were struck, none
mortally. Twenty canoes and boats were captured, and the venture was a
brilliant success. Areskoui had not worked his miracles in vain, and a
triumphant shout, very bitter for the enemy, burst from rangers and
Mohawks. Willet, alone in a captured canoe, paddled swiftly up and down
the line, seeing like a good commander what the losses and gains might
be, and also for personal reasons peering anxiously through the dusk for
something that he hoped to see. Suddenly he uttered a low cry of
pleasure.

"Ah, it is you, Robert!" he exclaimed. "And you, Tayoga! And both
unhurt!"

"Yes, except for scratches," replied Robert. "I think that Tayoga's
Areskoui was, in very truth, watching over us, and watching well. In the
darkness and confusion all the bullets passed us by, but I was attacked
at the boat's edge by a Frenchman, the one whom I saw in Albany, the one
who I am quite sure is Achille Garay. Luck saved me."

"Some day we'll deal with that Achille Garay," said the hunter, "but now
we must draw off in order, and see to our wounded."

He passed on in his canoe, and met Daganoweda in another. The young
Mohawk chieftain was dripping from seven wounds, but they were all in
the shoulders and forearms and were slight, and they were a source of
pride to him rather than inconvenience.

"'Twas well done, Daganoweda," said Willet.

"It is a deed of which the Ganeagaono in their castles will hear with
pride," said the Mohawk. "The fleet of Onontio and his warriors, or most
of it, is ours, and we dispute with them the rulership of the lake."

"Great results, worthy of such a risk. I'm sorry we didn't take every
boat and canoe, because then we might have cooped up St. Luc on his
island, and have destroyed his entire force."

"It is given to no man, Great Bear, to achieve his whole wish. We have
done as much as we hoped, and more than we expected."

"True, Daganoweda! True! What are your losses?"

"Nine of my men have been slain, but they fell as warriors of the
Ganeagaono would wish to fall. Two more will die and others are hurt,
but they need not be counted, since they will be in any other battle
that may come. And what have you suffered, Great Bear?"

"Five of the rangers have gone into the hereafter, another will go, and
as for the hurt, like your Mohawks they'll be good for the next fight,
no matter how soon it comes. We'd better go along the line, Daganoweda,
and caution them all to be steady. The wind and rain are driving hard
and Andiatarocte is heaving mightily. We don't want to lose a man or a
canoe."

"No, Great Bear, after taking the fleet in battle we must not give it
up to the waters of the lake. See, the flare of a great fire on the
mainland! The Mountain Wolf and the rest of the men await us with joy."

Then Daganoweda achieved a feat which Willet himself would have said a
moment before was impossible. He stood suddenly upright in his rocking
canoe, whirled his paddle around his head, and uttered a tremendous
shout, long and thrilling, that pierced far above the roar of wind and
rain. Then Mohawks and rangers took it up in a tremendous chorus, and
the force of Rogers on land joined in, too, adding to the mighty volume.
When it sank into the crash and thunder of the storm, a shrill whoop of
defiance came from the island.

"Are they trying pursuit?" asked Robert.

"They would not dare," replied Tayoga. "They do not know, of course,
that we have only the edges of our tomahawks and hunting knives with
which to meet them, and even in the darkness they dread our rifles."

Robert glanced back, catching only the dark outline of the island
through the rain and fog, and that, too, for but a moment, as then the
unbroken dark closed in, and wind and rain roared in his ears. He
realized for the first time, since their departure on the great
adventure, that he was without clothes, and as the fierce tension of
mind and body began to relax he felt cold. The rain was driving upon him
in sheets and he began to paddle with renewed vigor in order to keep up
his circulation.

"I'll welcome the fire, Tayoga," he said.

"And I, too," said the Onondaga in his precise fashion. "The collapse
is coming after our mighty efforts of mind and body. We will not reach
shore too soon. The Mountain Wolf and his men build the fire high, so
high that it can defy the rain, because they know we will need it."

A shout welcomed them as they drew in to the mainland, and the spectacle
of the huge fire, sputtering and blazing in the storm, was grateful to
Robert. All the captured boats and canoes were drawn out of the water,
well upon the shore, and then, imitating a favorite device of the
Indians, they inverted the long boats, resting the ends on logs before
the fires, and sat or stood under them, sheltered from the rain, while
they warmed white or brown bodies in the heat of the flames.

"'Twas a great achievement, Dave," said Rogers to Willet, "and improves
our position wonderfully, but 'twas one of the hardest things I've ever
had to do to stand here, just waiting and listening to the roar of the
battle."

"Tayoga says we were helped by Areskoui, and we must have been helped by
some power greater than our own. We paid a price for our victory, though
it wasn't too high, and tomorrow we'll see what St. Luc will do. 'Tis
altogether possible that we may have a naval fight."

"It's so, Dave, but this is a fine deed you and Daganoweda and your men
have done."

"Nothing more than you would have done, Rogers, if you had been in our
place."

They spoke in ordinary tones, being men too much hardened to danger and
mighty tasks to show emotion. Robert stood under the same inverted boat
that sheltered them, and he heard their words in a kind of daze, his
brain still benumbed after the long and terrible test. But it was a
pleasant numbing, a provision of nature, a sort of rest that was akin to
sleep.

The storm had not abated a particle. Wind and rain roared across
Andiatarocte and along the slopes and over the mountains. The waters of
the lake whenever they were disclosed were black and seething, and all
the islands were invisible.

Robert looked mostly at the great fire that crackled and blazed so near.
It was fed continually by Indians and rangers, who did not care for the
rain, and it alone defied the storm. The sheets of rain, poured upon it,
seemed to have no effect. The coals merely hissed as if it were oil
instead of water, and the flames leaped higher, deep red at the heart
and often blue at the edges.

Robert had never seen a more beautiful fire, a vast core of warmth and
light that challenged alike darkness, wind and rain. There had been a
time, so he had heard, in the remote, dim ages when man knew nothing of
fire. It might have been true, but he did not see how man could have
existed, and certainly no cheer ever came into his life. He turned
himself around, as if he were broiling on a spit, and heated first one
side and then the other, until the blood in his veins sparkled with new
life and vigor. Then he dressed, still pervaded by that enormous feeling
of comfort and content, and ate of the food that Rogers ordered to be
served to the returned and refreshed men. He also resumed his rifle and
pistol, but kept his seat under the inverted boat, where the rain could
not reach him.

He would have slept, but the ground was too wet, and he waited with the
others for the approach of day and the initiative of St. Luc. The
rangers and Mohawks had made the first move, and it was now for the
French leader to match it. Robert wondered what St. Luc would attempt,
but that he would try something he never doubted for a moment.

A log was rolled beneath the long boat under which the leaders stood,
and, spreading their blankets over it, they sat down on it. There was
room at the end for Robert and Tayoga, too, and Robert found that his
comfort increased greatly. He was in a kind of daze, that was very
soothing, and yet he saw everything that went on around him. But he
still looked mostly at the great fire which zealous hands fed and which
stood up a pillar of light in the darkness and cold. He reflected dimly
that it was a beautiful fire, a magnificent, a most magnificent fire.
How the first man who saw the first fire must have rejoiced in it!

Toward morning the wind sank, and the sheets of rain grew thinner. Once
or twice thunder moaned in the southwest, and there were occasional
streaks of lightning, but they were faint, and merely disclosed fleeting
strips of a black lake and a black forest.

"Before the sun rises the storm will be gone," said Tayoga. "The miracle
that Areskoui worked in our behalf is finished, and the rest must be
done by our own courage and skill. Who are we to ask more for ourselves
than the Sun God has done?"

"We've been splendidly favored," said Robert, "and if he does not help
us with another miracle he'll at least shine for us before long. After
such a night as this, I'll be mighty glad to see the day, the green
mountains, and the bright waters of Andiatarocte again."

"I feel the dawn already, Dagaeoga. The rain, as you see, has almost
stopped, and the troubled wind will now be still. The storm will pass
away, and it will leave not a mark, save a fallen tree here and there."

Tayoga's words came true. In a half hour both wind and rain died
utterly, and they breathed an air clean and sweet, as if the world had
been washed anew. A touch of silver appeared on the eastern mountains,
and then up came the dawn, crisp and cool after the storm, and the world
was more splendid and beautiful than ever. The green on slopes and
ridges had been deepened and the lake was all silver in the morning
light.

The islands stood up, sharp and clear, and there were the forces of St.
Luc still on his island, and Rogers, through his powerful glasses, was
able to make out the French leader himself walking about, while white
men and Indians were lighting the fires on which they expected to cook
their breakfasts.

Several boats and canoes were visible drawn upon the shore, showing that
St. Luc had saved a portion of his fleet, and it appeared that he and
his men did not fear another attack, or perhaps they wanted it.
Meanwhile rangers and Mohawks prepared their own breakfasts and awaited
with patience the word of their leaders. Apparently there was nothing
but peace. It was a camping party on the island and another on the
mainland, and the waters of the lake danced in the sunshine, reflecting
one brilliant color after another.

"Re├źnforcements are coming for St. Luc," said Robert, who saw black
specks on the lake to the eastward of the island. "I think that's a
fleet of Indian canoes."

"It's what I expected," said Tayoga. "The French and their allies had
complete control of Andiatarocte until we appeared, and it is likely,
when the storm began to die, Sharp Sword sent for the aid that is now
coming."

The canoes soon showed clear outlines in the intense sunlight, and, as
well as Rogers could judge through his glasses, they brought about fifty
men, ten of whom were Frenchmen. But there were no long boats, a fact at
which they all rejoiced, as in a naval battle the canoes would be at a
great disadvantage opposed to the heavier craft.

"When do you think it best to make the attack?" Willet asked the leader
of the rangers.

"Within an hour," replied Rogers. "If we had been in condition we might
have gone at them before their help came, but it was wise to let the men
rest a little after last night's struggle."

"And it will be better for our purpose to beat two forces instead of
one."

"So it will, and that's the right spirit, Dave. You can always be
depended upon to take the cheerful view of things. It's good, old
friend, for us to be together again, doing our best."

"So it is, and it's a time that demands one's best. The world's afire,
and our part of it is burning with the rest. What do your glasses tell
you now?"

"The re├źnforcements are landing on the island. St. Luc himself has gone
forward to meet them. He's a fine leader. He impresses red men and white
men alike, and he'll make the new force feel that it's the most
important and timely in the world. Have you found anything in the woods,
Black Rifle?"

"No," replied the swart forester, who had been circling about the camp.
"Nobody is there. It's just ourselves and the fellows out there on the
island."

"Do you see any more canoes, Rogers, coming to the help of St. Luc?"
asked Willet.

The ranger searched long and carefully over the surface of the lake with
his strong glasses and then replied:

"Not a canoe. If they have any more force afloat it's too far in the
north to reach here in time. We've all of our immediate enemy before us,
and we'll attack at once."

The boats and canoes were lifted into the water and the little force
made ready for the naval battle.




CHAPTER X

THE NAVAL COMBAT


Robert and Tayoga went into a long boat with Willet, a boat that held
eight men, all carrying paddles, while their rifles were laid on the
bottom, ready to be substituted for the paddles when the time came.
Daganoweda was in another of the large boats, and Rogers commanded a
third, the whole fleet advancing slowly and in almost a straight line
toward St. Luc's stronghold.

Doubtless many a combat between Indians had taken place on Andiatarocte
in the forgotten ages, but Robert believed the coming encounter would be
the first in which white men had a part, and, for the moment, he forgot
his danger in the thrilling spectacle that opened before him.

St. Luc, when he saw the enemy approaching, quickly launched his own
fleet, and filled it with men, although he kept it well in the lee of
the land, and behind it posted a formidable row of marksmen, French,
Canadians and Indians. Rogers, who had the general command, paddled his
boat a little in front of the others and examined the defense cautiously


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Online LibraryJoseph A. AltshelerThe Rulers of the Lakes A Story of George and Champlain → online text (page 12 of 21)