Joseph A. Altsheler.

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

. (page 13 of 21)
Online LibraryJoseph A. AltshelerThe Rulers of the Lakes A Story of George and Champlain → online text (page 13 of 21)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


through his glasses. Tayoga could see well enough with the naked eye.

"St. Luc is leaning on the stump of a wind-blown tree near the water,"
he said, "and he holds in his hand his small sword with which he will
direct the battle. But there is a canoe almost at his feet, and if need
be he will go into it. De Courcelles is in a large boat on the right,
and Tandakora is in another on the left. On the land, standing behind
St. Luc, is the Canadian, Dubois."

"A very good arrangement to meet us," said Willet. "St. Luc will stay on
the island, but if he finds we're pressing him too hard, he'll have
himself paddled squarely into the center of his fleet, and do or die.
Now, it's a lucky thing for us that our rangers are such fine marksmen,
and that they have the good, long-barreled rifles."

The boats containing the Mohawks were held back under the instructions
of Rogers, despite the eagerness of Daganoweda, who, however, was
compelled to yield to the knowledge that red men were never equal to the
finest white sharpshooters, and it was important to use the advantage
given to them by the long rifles. Willet's boat swung in by the side of
that of Rogers, and several more boats and canoes, containing rangers,
drew level with them. Rogers measured the distance anxiously.

"Do you think you can reach them with your rifle, Dave?" he asked.

"A few yards more and a bullet will count," replied the hunter.

"We'll go ahead, then, and tell me as soon as you think we're near
enough. All our best riflemen are in front, and we should singe them a
bit."

The boats glided slowly on, and, at the island, the enemy was attentive
and waiting, with the advantage wholly on his side, had it not been for
the rifles of great range, surpassing anything the French and Indians
carried. St. Luc did not move from his position, and he was a heroic
figure magnified in the dazzling sunlight.

Willet held up his hand.

"This will do," he said.

At a sign from Rogers the entire fleet stopped, and, at another sign
from Willet, twenty rangers, picked marksmen, raised their rifles and
fired. Several of the French and Indians fell, and their comrades gave
forth a great shout of rage. Those in the canoes and boats fired, but
all their bullets fell short, merely pattering in vain on the water.
Daganoweda and his warriors, when they saw the result, uttered an
exultant war whoop that came back in echoes from the mountains. Rogers
himself rejoiced openly.

"That's the way to do it, Dave!" he cried. "Reload and give 'em another
volley. Unless they come out and attack us we can decimate 'em."

Although it was hard to restrain the rangers, who wished to crowd
closer, Rogers and Willet nevertheless were able to make them keep their
distance, and they maintained a deadly fire that picked off warrior
after warrior and that threatened the enemy with destruction. St. Luc's
Indians uttered shouts of rage and fired many shots, all of which fell
short. Then Robert saw St. Luc leave the stump and enter his waiting
canoe.

"They'll come to meet us now," he said. "We've smoked 'em out."

"Truly they will," said Tayoga. "They must advance or die at the land's
edge."

The portion of his fleet which St. Luc and his men had managed to save
was almost as large as that of the Americans and Mohawks, and seeing
that they must do it, they put out boldly from the land, St. Luc in the
center in his canoe, paddled by a single Indian. As they approached, the
rifles of Daganoweda's men came into action also, and St. Luc's force
replied with a heavy fire. The naval battle was on, and it was fought
with all the fury of a great encounter by fleets on the high seas.
Robert saw St. Luc in his canoe, giving orders both with his voice and
the waving of his sword, while the single Indian in the light craft
paddled him to and fro as he wished, stoically careless of the bullets.

In the heat and fury of the combat the fleet of Rogers came under the
fire of the French and Indians on the island, many being wounded and
some slain. These reserves of St. Luc in their eagerness waded waist
deep into the water, and pulled trigger as fast as they could load and
reload.

A ranger in Willet's boat was killed and two more received hurts, but
the hunter kept his little command in the very thick of the battle, and
despite the great cloud of smoke that covered the fleets of both sides
Robert soon saw that the rangers and Mohawks were winning. One of the
larger boats belonging to St. Luc, riddled with bullets, went down, and
the warriors who had been in it were forced to swim for their lives.
Several canoes were rammed and shattered. Willet and Tayoga meanwhile
were calmly picking their targets through the smoke, and when they
fired they never missed.

The rangers, too, were showing their superiority as sharpshooters to the
French and Indians, and were doing deadly execution with their long
rifles. St. Luc, in spite of the great courage shown by his men, was
compelled to sound the recall, and, hurriedly taking on board all the
French and Indians who were on land, he fled eastward across the lake
with the remnant of his force. Rogers pursued, but St. Luc was still
able to send back such a deadly fire and his French and Indians worked
so desperately with the paddles that they reached the eastern rim,
abandoned the fragments of their fleet, climbed the lofty shore and
disappeared in the forest, leaving Rogers, Willet, Daganoweda and their
men in triumphant command of Andiatarocte, for a little while, at least.

But the victors bore many scars. More men had been lost, and their force
suffered a sharp reduction in numbers. The three leaders, still in their
boats, conferred. Daganoweda was in favor of landing and of pushing the
pursuit to the utmost, even to the walls of Crown Point on Champlain,
where the fugitives would probably go.

"There's much in favor of it," said Willet. "There's nothing like
following a beaten enemy and destroying him, and there is also much to
be said against it. We might run into an ambush and be destroyed
ourselves. Although we've paid a price for it, we've a fine victory and
we hold command of the lake for the time being. By pushing on we risk
all we've won in order to obtain more."

But Daganoweda was still eager to advance, and urged it in a spirited
Mohawk speech. Rogers himself favored it. The famous leader of rangers
had a bold and adventurous mind. No risk was too great for him, and
dangers, instead of repelling, invited him.

Robert, as became him, listened to them in silence. Prudence told him
that they ought to stay on the lake, but his was the soul of youth, and
the fiery eloquence of Daganoweda found an answer in his heart. It was
decided at last to leave a small guard with the fleet, while rangers and
Mohawks to the number of fifty should pursue toward Oneadatote. All
three of the leaders, with Black Rifle, Tayoga and Robert, were to share
in the pursuit, while a trusty man named White was left in command of
the guard over the boats.

The fifty - the force had been so much reduced by the fighting that no
more could be mustered - climbed the lofty shore, making their way up a
ravine, thick with brush, until they came out on a crest more than a
thousand feet above the lake. Nor did they forget, as they climbed, to
exercise the utmost caution, looking everywhere for an ambush. They knew
that St. Luc, while defeated, would never be dismayed, and it would be
like him to turn on the rangers and Mohawks in the very moment of their
victory and snatch it from them. But there was no sign of a foe's
presence, although Daganoweda's men soon struck the trail of the fleeing
enemy.

They paused at the summit a minute or two for breath, and Robert looked
back with mixed emotions at Andiatarocte, a vast sheet of blue, then of
green under the changing sky, the scene of a naval victory of which he
had not dreamed a few days ago. But the lake bore no sign of strife now.
The islands were all in peaceful green and the warlike boats were gone,
save at the foot of the cliff they had just climbed. There they, too,
looked peaceful enough, as if they were the boats of fishermen, and the
guards, some of whom were aboard the fleet and some of whom lay at ease
near the edge of the water, seemed to be men engaged in pursuits that
had nothing to do with violence and war.

Tayoga's eyes followed Robert's.

"Andiatarocte is worth fighting for," he said. "It is well for us to be
the rulers of it, even for a day. Where will you find a more splendid
lake, a lake set deep in high green mountains, a lake whose waters may
take on a dozen colors within a day, and every color beautiful?"

"I don't believe the world can show its superior, Tayoga," replied
Robert, "and I, like you, am full of pride, because we are lords of it
for a day. I hope the time will soon come when we shall be permanent
rulers of both lakes, Andiatarocte and Oneadatote."

"We shall have to be mighty warriors before that hour arrives," said
Tayoga, gravely. "Even if we gain Andiatarocte we have yet to secure a
footing on the shores of Oneadatote. The French and their allies are not
only in great force at Crown Point, but we hear that they mean to
fortify also at the place called Ticonderoga by the Hodenosaunee and
Carillon by the French."

The order to resume the march came, and they pressed forward on the
trail through the deep woods. Usually at this time of the year it was
hot in the forest, but after the great storm and rain of the night
before a brisk, cool wind moved in waves among the trees, shaking the
leaves and sending lingering raindrops down on the heads of the
pursuers.

Black Rifle curved off to the right as a flanker against ambush, and two
of Daganoweda's best scouts were sent to the left, while the main force
went on directly, feeling now that the danger from a hidden force had
been diminished greatly, their zeal increasing as the trail grew warmer.
Daganoweda believed that they could overtake St. Luc in three or four
hours, and he and his Mohawks, flushed with victory on the lake, were
now all for speed, the rangers being scarcely less eager.

The country through which they were passing was wooded heavily, wild,
picturesque and full of game. But it was well known to Mohawks and
rangers, and the two lads had also been through it. They started up many
deer that fled through the forest, and the small streams and ponds were
covered with wild fowl.

"I don't wonder that the settlers fail to come in here on this strip of
land between George and Champlain," said Robert to Tayoga. "It's a No
Man's land, roamed over only by warriors, and even the most daring
frontiersman must have some regard for the scalp on his head."

"I could wish it to be kept a No Man's land," said Tayoga earnestly.

"Maybe it will - for a long time, anyway. But, Tayoga, you're as good a
trailer as Black Rifle or any Mohawk. Judging from the traces they
leave, how many men would you say St. Luc now has with him?"

"As many as we have, or more, perhaps seventy, though their quality is
not as good. The great footprint in the center of the trail is made by
Tandakora. He, at least, has not fallen, and the prints that turn out
are those of St. Luc, De Courcelles and doubtless of the officer
Jumonville. The French leaders walked together, and here they stopped
and talked a minute or two. St. Luc was troubled, and it was hard for
him to make up his mind what to do."

"How do you know that, Tayoga?"

"Because, as he stood by the side of this bush, he broke three of its
little stems between his thumb and forefinger. See, here are the stumps.
A man like St. Luc would not have had a nervous hand if he had not been
perplexed greatly."

"But how do you know it was St. Luc who stood by the bush, and not De
Courcelles or Jumonville?"

"Because I have been trained from infancy, as an Onondaga and Iroquois,
to notice everything. We have to see to live, and I observed long ago
that the feet of St. Luc were smaller than those of De Courcelles or
Jumonville. You will behold the larger imprints that turn out just here,
and they face St. Luc, who stood by the bush. Once they not only thought
of turning back to meet us, but actually prepared to do so."

"What proof have you?"

"O Dageaoga, you would not have asked me that question if you had used
your eyes, and had thought a little. The print is so simple that a
little child may read. The toes of their moccasins at a point just
beyond the bush turn about, that is, back on the trail. And here the
huge moccasins of Tandakora have taken two steps back. Perhaps they
intended to meet us in full face or to lay an ambush, but at last they
continued in their old course and increased their speed."

"How do you know they went faster, Tayoga?"

"O Dagaeoga, is your mind wandering today that your wits are so dull?
See, how the distance between the imprints lengthens! When you run
faster you leap farther. Everybody does."

"I apologize, Tayoga. It was a foolish question to be asked by one who
has lived in the forest as long as I have. Why do you think they
increased their speed, and how does St. Luc know that they are
followed?"

"It may be that they know a good place of ambush farther ahead, and St.
Luc is sure that he is pursued, because he knows the minds of Willet,
Rogers and Daganoweda. He knows they are the kind of minds that always
follow and push a victory to the utmost. Here the warriors knelt and
drank. They had a right to be thirsty after such a battle and such a
retreat."

He pointed to numerous imprints by the bank of a clear brook, and
rangers and Mohawks, imitating the example of those whom they pursued,
drank thirstily. Then they resumed the advance, and they soon saw that
the steps of St. Luc's men were shortening.

"They are thinking again of battle or ambush," said Tayoga, "and when
they think of it a second time they are likely to try it. It becomes us
now to go most warily."

Daganoweda and Willet also had noticed St. Luc's change of pace, and
stopping, they took counsel with themselves. About two miles ahead the
country was exceedingly rough, cut by rocky ravines, and covered heavily
with forest and thickets.

"If St. Luc elects to make a stand," said Willet, "that is the place he
will choose. What say you, Daganoweda?"

"I think as the Great Bear thinks," replied the Mohawk chieftain.

"And you, Rogers?"

"Seems likely to me, too. At any rate, we must reckon on it."

"And so reckoning on it, we'd better stop and throw out more scouts."

Both Rogers and Daganoweda agreed, and flankers were sent off in each
direction. Tayoga asked earnestly for this service, and Robert insisted
on going with him. As the great skill of the Onondaga was known to the
three leaders, he was obviously the proper selection for the errand, and
it was fitting that Robert, his comrade in so many dangers and
hardships, should accompany him. Daganoweda and Rogers said yes at once,
and Willet was not able to say no. They were the best choice for such an
errand, and although the hunter was reluctant for the youth, who was
almost a son to him, to go on such a perilous duty, he knew that he must
yield to the necessity.

The two lads went off to the left or northern flank, and in less than a
minute the deep forest hid them completely from the main force. They
were buried in the wilderness, and, for all the evidence that came to
them, the band of rangers and Mohawks had ceased to exist.

They passed about a half mile to the north of the main force, and then
they began to look everywhere for traces of trails, or evidence that an
ambush was being prepared.

"Do you think St. Luc will make a new stand at the ridges?" asked
Robert.

"All the chances favor it," replied the Onondaga. "We know that Sharp
Sword, besides being a great leader, is full of pride. He will not like
to go to Crown Point, and report that he has not only lost his fleet and
the temporary command of Andiatarocte, but a large part of his force as
well. If he can strike a heavy and deadly blow at his pursuers he will
feel much better."

"Your reasoning seems good to me, and, therefore, it behooves us to be
mighty careful. What do you take this imprint to be, Tayoga? Is it that
of a human foot?"

"It is so very faint one can tell little of it. Your eye was keen,
Dagaeoga, to have seen it at all, though I think the hoof of a buck and
not the foot of a man trod here on the fallen leaves, but the tread was
so light that it left only a partial impression."

"I can find no other trace like it farther on."

"No, the ground grows very hard and rocky, and it leaves no impression.
We will advance for a little while toward the ridge, and then it will be
well for us to lie down in some cover and watch, because I think St. Luc
will send out skirmishers."

"And naturally he will send them to both right and left as we do."

"Of course, Dagaeoga."

"And then, if we keep moving on, we're sure to meet them?"

"It would appear so, Dagaeoga."

"And for that reason, Tayoga, I'm in favor of the greatest care. I hope
we'll come soon to a covert so deep and thick that when we hide in it we
can't be seen five yards away."

"So do I, Dagaeoga. It is no shame to us to wish to save our lives.
Lost, they would be of no use either to ourselves or to those whom we
are here to serve. I think I see now the place that is waiting for us."

He pointed to a dense clump of scrub cedars growing on hard and rocky
ground.

"I see," said Robert. "We can approach it without leaving any trail, and
in that mass of green no foe will notice us unless his eyes are almost
against us."

"Dagaeoga, at times, shows understanding and wisdom. The day may come
when he will be a great scout and trailer - if he lives long enough."

"Go ahead, Tayoga, if it amuses you to make game of me. If humor can be
produced at such a time I'm glad to be the occasion of it."

"It's best for us, Dagaeoga, to await all things with a light heart. Our
fates are in the hands of Manitou."

"That's good philosophy, Tayoga, though I'm bound to say I can't look
upon my life as a thing mapped out for me in every detail, though I live
to be a hundred. Manitou knows what's going to happen, but I don't, and
so my heart will jump anyhow when the danger comes. Now, you're sure
we've left no trail among those rocks?"

"Not a trace, Dagaeoga. If Tododaho himself were to come back to earth
he could not find our path."

"And you're sure that we're thoroughly hidden among these little
cedars?"

"Quite sure of it. I doubt whether the bird singing over our heads sees
us, and Manitou has given to the bird a very good eye that he may see
his food, which is so small. It may be that the birds and animals which
have given us warning of the enemy's approach before may do it again."

"At any rate, we can hope so. Are we as deserving now as we were then?"

"Yes, we can hope, Dagaeoga. Hope is never forbidden to anybody."

"I see that you're a philosopher, Tayoga."

"I try to be one," said the Onondaga, his eyes twinkling.

"Do you think that bird singing with so much power and beauty overhead
sees us at last?"

"No, because he would certainly have stopped long enough to gratify his
curiosity. Even a bird would want to know why strange creatures come
into his thicket."

"Then as long as he sings I shall know that danger is not near. We have
been watched over by birds before."

"Again you talk like a little child, Dagaeoga. I teach you the wisdom of
the woods, and you forget. The bird may see a worm or a moth or
something else that is good to eat, and then he will stop singing to
dart for his food. A bird must eat, and his love of music often gives
way to his love of food."

"You speak as if you were talking from a book."

"I learned your language mostly out of books, and so I speak as they are
written. Ah, the song of the bird has stopped and he has gone away! But
we do not know whether he has been alarmed by the coming of our enemy or
has seen food that he pursues."

"It's food, Tayoga; I can hear him, faintly, singing in another tree,
some distance to our right. Probably having captured the worm or the
moth or whatever it was he was pursuing, and having devoured it, he is
now patting his stomach in his pleasure and singing in his joy."

"And as a sentinel he is no longer of any use to us. Then we will watch
for the little animals that run on the ground. They cannot fly over the
heads of Ojibway and Caughnawaga warriors, and so, if our enemies come,
they, too, are likely to come our way."

"Then I'll rest awhile, Tayoga, and it may be that I'll doze. If a
rabbit runs in our direction wake me up."

"You may pretend to sleep, Dagaeoga, but you will not. You may close
your eyes, but you cannot close your ears, nor can you still your
nerves. One waits not with eyes and ears alone, but with all the fiber
of the body."

"True, Tayoga. I was but jesting. I couldn't sleep if I tried. But I can
rest."

He stretched himself in an easy position, a position, also, that allowed
him to go into instant action if hostile warriors came, and he awaited
the event with a calmness that surprised himself. Tayoga was crouched by
his side, intent and also waiting.

A full half hour passed, and Robert heard nothing stirring in the
undergrowth, save the wandering but gentle winds that rustled the leaves
and whispered in the grass. Had he been left to himself he would have
grown impatient, and he would have continued the scouting curve on which
he had been sent. But he had supreme confidence in Tayoga. If the
Onondaga said it was best for them to stay there in the bush, then it
was best, and he would remain until his comrade gave the word to move
on.

So sure was he of Tayoga that he did close his eyes for a while,
although his ears and all the nerves of his body watched. But it was
very peaceful and restful, and, while he lay in a half-dreamy state, he
accumulated new strength for the crisis that might come.

"Any little animals running away yet, Tayoga?" he asked, partly in jest.

"No, Dagaeoga, but I am watching. Two rabbits not twenty feet from us
are nibbling the leaves on a tiny weed, that is, they nibble part of the
time, and part of the time they play."

"They don't sing like the bird, because they can't, but I take it from
what you say they're just as happy."

"Happy and harmless, Dagaeoga. We Iroquois would not disturb them. We
kill only to eat."

"Well, I've learned your way. You can't say, Tayoga, that I'm not, in
spirit and soul at least, half an Iroquois, and spirit and soul mean
more than body and manners or the tint of the skin."

"Dagaeoga has learned much. But then he has had the advantage of
associating with one who could teach him much."

"Tayoga, if it were not for that odd little chord in your voice, I'd
think you were conceited. But though you jest, it is true I've had a
splendid chance to discover that the nations of the Hodenosaunee know
some things better than we do, and do some things better than we do.
I've found that the wisdom of the world isn't crystallized in any one
race. How about the rabbits, Tayoga? Do they still eat and play, as if
nobody anywhere near them was thinking of wounds and death?"

"The rabbits neither see nor hear anything strange, and the strange
would be to them the dangerous. They nibble at the leaves a little, then
play a little, then nibble again."

"I trust they'll keep up their combination of pleasure and sustenance
some time, because it's very nice to lie here, rest one's overstrained
system, and feel that one is watched over by a faithful friend, one who
can do your work as well as his. You're not only a faithful friend,
Tayoga, you're a most useful one also."

"Dagaeoga is lazy. He would not have as a friend one who is lazy like
himself. He needs a comrade to take care of him. Perhaps it is better
so. Dagaeoga is an orator; an orator has privileges, and one of his
privileges is a claim to be watched over by others. One cannot speak
forever and work, too."

Robert opened his eyes and smiled. The friendship between him and
Tayoga, begun in school days, had been tested by countless hardships and
dangers, and though each made the other an object of jest, it was as
firm as that of Orestes and Pylades or that of Damon and Pythias.

"What are the rabbits doing now?" asked young Lennox, who had closed
his eyes again.

"They eat less and play less," replied the Onondaga. "Ah, their attitude
is that of suspicion! It may be that the enemy comes! Now they run away,
and the enemy surely comes!"

Robert sat up, and laid his rifle across his knee. All appearance of


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 13 15 16 17 18 19 20 21

Online LibraryJoseph A. AltshelerThe Rulers of the Lakes A Story of George and Champlain → online text (page 13 of 21)