Joseph A. Altsheler.

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

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laziness or relaxation disappeared instantly. He was attentive, alert,
keyed to immediate action.

"Can you see anything, Tayoga?" he whispered.

"No, but I think I hear the sound of footsteps approaching. I am not yet
sure, because the footfall, if footfall it be, is almost as light as the
dropping of a feather."

Both remained absolutely still, not moving a leaf in their covert, and
presently a huge and sinister figure walked into the open. It seemed to
Robert that Tandakora was larger than ever, and that he was more
evil-looking. His face was that of the warrior who would show no mercy,
and his body, save for a waistcloth, was livid with all the hideous
devices of war paint. Behind him came a Frenchman whom Robert promptly
recognized as Achille Garay, and a half dozen warriors, all of whom
turned questing eyes toward the earth.

"They look for a trail," whispered Tayoga. "It is well, Dagaeoga, that
we took the precaution to walk on rocks when we came into this covert,
or Tandakora, who is so eager for our blood, would find the traces."

"Tandakora costs me great pain," Robert whispered back. "It's my
misfortune always to be seeing him just when I can't shoot at him. I'm
tempted to try it, anyhow. That's a big, broad chest of his, and I
couldn't find a finer target."

"No, Dagaeoga, on your life, no! Our scalps would be the price, and some
day we shall take the life of Tandakora and yet keep our own. I know it,
because Tododaho has whispered it to me in the half world that lies
between waking and sleeping."

"You're right, of course, Tayoga, but it's a tremendous temptation."

The Onondaga put his hand on his lips to indicate that even a whisper
now was dangerous, and the two sank once more into an utter silence. The
chest of Tandakora still presented a great and painted target, and
Robert's hand lay on the trigger, but his will kept him from pressing
it. Yet he did not watch the Ojibway chief with more eagerness than he
bestowed upon the Frenchman, Achille Garay.

Garay's face was far from prepossessing. In its way it was as evil as
that of Tandakora. He had sought Robert's life more than once. In the
naval battle he had seen the Frenchman pull trigger upon him. Why? Why
had he singled him out from the others in the endeavor to make a victim
of him? There must be some motive, much more powerful than that of
natural hostility, and he believed now if they were discovered that not
Tayoga but he would be the first object of Garay's attack.

But Tandakora and his men passed on, bearing to the right and from the
main force. Robert and Tayoga saw their figures vanish among the bushes
and heard the fall of their moccasins a little longer, and then the
question of their own course presented itself to them. Should they go
back to Rogers with a warning of the hostile flankers, or should they
follow Tandakora and see what he meant? They decided finally in favor of
the latter course, and passing quietly from their covert, began to trail
those who were seeking to trail a foe. The traces led toward the west,
and it was not hard to follow them, as Tandakora and his men had taken
but little care, evidently not thinking any scouting rangers or Mohawks
might be near.

Robert and Tayoga followed carefully for several hundred yards; then
they were surprised to see the trail curve sharply about, and go back
toward the main force.

"We must have passed them," said Robert, "although we were too far away
to see each other."

"It would seem so," said the Onondaga. "Tandakora may have come to the
conclusion that no enemy is on his extreme flank, and so has gone back
to see if any has appeared nearer the center."

"Then we must follow him in his new course."

"If we do what we are sent to do we will follow."

"Lead on, Tayoga."

The Onondaga stooped that the underbrush might hide him, advanced over
the trail, and Robert was close behind. The thickets were very still.
All the small wild creatures, usually so numerous in them, had
disappeared, and there was no wind. Tayoga saw that the imprints of the
moccasins were growing firmer and clearer, and he knew that Tandakora
and his men were but a short distance ahead. Then he stopped suddenly
and he and Robert crouched low in the thicket.

They had heard the faint report of rifles directly in front, and they
believed that Tandakora had come into contact with a party of rangers or
Mohawks. As they listened, the sound of a second volley came, and then
the echo of a faint war whoop. Tayoga rose a little higher, perhaps
expecting to see something in the underbrush, and a rifle flashed less
than forty yards away.

The Onondaga fell without a cry before the horrified eyes of his
comrade, and then, as Robert heard a shout of triumph, he saw an Indian,
horribly painted, rush forward to seize what he believed to be a Mohawk
scalp.

Young Lennox, filled with grief and rage, stood straight up, and a
stream of fire fairly poured from the muzzle of his rifle as his bullet
met the exultant warrior squarely in the heart. The savage fell like a
log, having no time to utter his death cry, and paying no further
attention to him, feeling that he must be merely a stray warrior from
the main band, Robert turned to his fallen comrade.

Tayoga was unconscious, and was bleeding profusely from a wound in the
right shoulder. Robert seized his wrist and felt his pulse. He was not
dead, because he detected a faint beat, but it was quite evident that
the wound from a big musket bullet had come near to cutting the thread
of life.

For a moment or two Lennox was in despair, while his heart continued to
swell with grief and rage. It was unthinkable that the noblest young
Onondaga of them all, one fit to be in his time the greatest of
sachems, the very head and heart of the League, should be cut down by a
mere skulker. And yet it had happened. Tayoga lay, still wholly
unconscious, and the sounds of firing to the eastward were increasing. A
battle had begun there. Perhaps the full forces of both sides were now
in conflict.

The combat called to Robert, he knew that he might bear a great part in
it, but he never hesitated. Such a thought as deserting his stricken
comrade could not enter his mind. He listened a moment longer to the
sounds of the conflict now growing more fierce, and then, fastening
Tayoga's rifle on his back with his own, he lifted his wounded comrade
in his arms and walked westward, away from the battle.




CHAPTER XI

THE COMRADES


Robert settled the inert form of the Onondaga against his left shoulder,
and, being naturally very strong, with a strength greatly increased by a
long life in the woods, he was able to carry the weight easily. He had
no plan yet in his mind, merely a vague resolve to carry Tayoga outside
the fighting zone and then do what he could to resuscitate him. It was
an unfortunate chance that the hostile flankers had cut in between him
and the main force of Rogers, but it could not be helped, and the
farther he was from his own people the safer would he and Tayoga be.

Two hundred yards more and putting his comrade on the ground he cut away
the deerskin, disclosing the wound. The bullet had gone almost through
the shoulder, and as he felt of its path he knew with joy that it had
touched no bone. Then, unless the loss of blood became great, it could
not prove mortal. But the bullet was of heavy type, fired from the old
smoothbore musket and the shock had been severe. Although it had not
gone quite through the shoulder he could feel it near the surface, and
he decided at once upon rude but effective surgery.

Laying Tayoga upon his face, he drew his keen hunting knife and cut
boldly into the flesh of the shoulder until he reached the bullet. Then
he pried it out with the point of the knife, and threw it away in the
bushes. A rush of blood followed and Tayoga groaned, but Robert, rapidly
cutting the Onondaga's deerskin tunic into suitable strips, bound
tightly and with skill both the entrance and the exit of the wound. The
flow of blood was stopped, and he breathed a fervent prayer of
thankfulness to the white man's God and the red man's Manitou. Tayoga
would live, and he knew that he had saved the life of his comrade, as
that comrade had more than once saved his.

Yet both were still surrounded by appalling dangers. At any moment St.
Luc's savages might burst through the woods and be upon them. As he
finished tying the bandage and stood erect the flare of the fighting
came from a point much nearer, though between them and the ranger band,
forbidding any possible attempt to rejoin Rogers and Willet. Tayoga
opened his eyes, though he saw darkly, through a veil, and said in
feeble tones:

"They have closed again with the forces of St. Luc. You would be there,
Dagaeoga, to help in the fighting. Go, I am useless. It is not a time to
cumber yourself with me."

"If I lay there as you are, and you stood here as I am would you leave
me?" asked Robert.

The Onondaga was silent.

"You know you wouldn't," continued Robert, "and you know I won't.
Listen, the battle comes nearer. St. Luc must have received a
re├źnforcement."

He leaned forward a little, cupping his ear with his right hand, and he
heard distinctly all the sounds of a fierce and terrible conflict, rifle
shots, yells of the savages, shouts of the rangers, and once or twice he
thought he saw faintly the flashes of rifles as they were fired in the
thickets.

"Go," said Tayoga again. "I can see that your spirit turns to the
battle. They may not find me, and, perhaps in a day, I shall be able to
walk and take care of myself."

Robert made no reply in words, but once more he lifted the Onondaga in
his sinewy arms, settled his weight against his left shoulder and
resumed his walk away from the battle. Tayoga did not speak, and Robert
soon saw that he had relapsed again into unconsciousness. He went at
least three hundred yards before resting, and all the while the battle
called to him, the shots, the yells and the shouts still coming clearly
through the thin mountain air.

He rested perhaps fifteen minutes, and he saw that, while Tayoga was
unconscious, the flow of blood was still held in check by the bandages.
Resuming his burden, he went on through the forest, a full quarter of a
mile now, and the last sound of the battle sank into nothingness behind
him. He was consumed with anxiety to know who had won, but there was not
a sign to tell.

He came to a brook, and putting Tayoga down once more, he bathed his
face freely, until the Onondaga opened his eyes and looked about, not
with a veil before his eyes now, but clearly.

"Where are we, Dagaeoga?" he asked.

"I'd tell you if I could, but I can't," replied Robert, cheerfully,
rejoiced at the sight of his comrade's returning strength.

"You have left the battle behind you?"

"Yes. I can state in general terms that we're somewhere between
Andiatarocte and Oneadatote, which is quite enough for you to know at
the present time. I'm the forest doctor, and as this is the first chance
I've ever had to exert authority over you, I mean to make the most of
it."

Tayoga smiled wanly.

"I see that you have bound up my wound," he said. "That was well. But
since I cannot see the wound itself I do not know what kind of a bullet
made it."

"It wasn't a bullet at all, Tayoga. It was a cannon ball, though it came
out of a wide-mouthed musket, and I'm happy to tell you that it somehow
got through your shoulder without touching bone."

"The bullet is out?"

"Yes, I cut it out with this good old hunting knife of mine."

Again Tayoga smiled wanly.

"You have done well, Dagaeoga," he said. "Did I not say to others in
your defense that you had intelligence and, in time, might learn? You
have saved my life, a poor thing perhaps, but the only life I have, and
I thank you."

Robert laughed, and his laugh was full of heartiness. He saw the old
Tayoga coming back.

"You'll be a new man tomorrow," he said. "With flesh and blood as
healthy as yours a hole through your shoulder that I could put my fist
in would soon heal."

"What does Dagaeoga purpose to do next?"

"You'll find out in good time. I'm master now, and I don't intend to
tell my plans. If I did you'd be trying to change 'em. While I'm ruler I
mean to be ruler."

"It is a haughty spirit you show. You take advantage of my being
wounded."

"Of course I do. As I said, it's the only chance I've had. Stop that!
Don't try to sit up! You're not strong enough yet. I'll carry you
awhile."

Tayoga sank back, and, in a few more minutes, Robert picked him up and
went on once more. But he noticed that the Onondaga did not now lie a
dead weight upon his shoulder. Instead, there was in him again the vital
quality that made him lighter and easier to carry. He knew that Tayoga
would revive rapidly, but it would be days before he was fit to take
care of himself. He must find not only a place of security, but one of
shelter from the fierce midsummer storms that sometimes broke over those
mountain slopes. Among the rocks and ravines and dense woods he might
discover some such covert. Food was contained in his knapsack and the
one still fastened to the back of Tayoga, food enough to last several
days, and if the time should be longer his rifle must find more.

The way became rougher, the rocks growing more numerous, the slopes
increasing in steepness, and the thickets becoming almost impenetrable.

"Put me down," said Tayoga. "We are safe from the enemy, for a while at
least. All the warriors have been drawn by the battle, and, whether it
goes on now or not, they have not yet had time to scatter and seek
through the wilderness."

"I said I was going to be absolute master, but it looks, Tayoga, as if
you meant to give advice anyhow. And as your advice seems good, and I
confess I'm a trifle weary, I'll let you see if you can sit up a little
on this heap of dead leaves, with your back against this old fallen
trunk. Here we go! Gently now! Oh, you'll soon be a warrior again, if
you follow my instructions!"

Tayoga heaved a little sigh of relief as he leaned back against the
trunk. His eyes were growing clearer and Robert knew that the beat of
his pulse was fuller. All the amazing vitality that came from a powerful
constitution, hard training and clean living was showing itself.
Already, and his wound scarcely two hours old, his strength was coming
back.

"You look for a wigwam, Dagaeoga?" he said.

"Well, scarcely that," replied Robert. "I'm not expecting an inn in this
wilderness, but I'm seeking some sort of shelter, preferably high up
among the rocks, where we might find protection from storms."

"Two or three hundred yards farther on and we'll find it."

"Come, Tayoga, you're just guessing. You can't know such a thing."

"I am not guessing at all, Dagaeoga, and I do know. Your position as
absolute ruler was brief. It expired between the first and second hour,
and now you have an adviser who may become a director."

"Then proceed with your advice and direction. How do you know there is
shelter only two or three hundred yards farther on?"

"I look ahead, and I see a narrow path leading up among the rocks. Such
paths are countless in the wilderness, and many of them are untrodden,
but the one before my eyes has sustained footsteps many times."

"Come down to earth, Tayoga, and tell me what you see."

"I see on the rocks on either side of this path long, coarse hairs. They
were left by a wild animal going back and forth to its den. It was a
large wild animal, else it would not have scraped against the rocks on
either side. It was probably a bear, and if you will hand me the two or
three twisted hairs in the crevice at your elbow I will tell you."

Robert brought them to him and Tayoga nodded assent.

"Aye, it was a bear," he said, "and a big one."

"But how do you know his den is only two or three hundred yards away?"

"That is a matter of looking as far as the eyes can reach. If you will
only lift yours and gaze over the tops of those bushes you will see that
the path ends against a high stone face or wall, too steep for climbing.
So the den must be there, and let us hope, Dagaeoga, that it is large
enough for us both. The bear is likely to be away, as this is summer.
Now, lift me up. I have talked all the talk that is in me and as much as
I have strength to utter."

Robert carried him again, and it was hard traveling up the steep and
rocky path, but Tayoga's words were quickly proved to be true. In the
crumbling face of the stone cliff they found not only an opening but
several, the bear having preferred one of the smaller to the largest,
which ran back eight or ten feet and which was roomy enough to house a
dozen men. It bore no animal odor, and there was before it an abundance
of dead leaves that could be taken in for shelter.

"Now Manitou is kind," said Tayoga, "or it may be that Areskoui and
Tododaho are still keeping their personal watch over us. Lay me in the
cave, Dagaeoga. Thou hast acquitted thyself as a true friend. No sachem
of the Onondagas, however great, could have been greater in fidelity and
courage."

Robert made two beds of leaves. On one he spread the blanket that was
strapped to Tayoga's back. Then he built his own place and felt that
they were sheltered and secure for the time, and in truth they were
housed as well as millions of cave men for untold centuries had been. It
was a good cave, sweet-smelling, with pure, clean air, and Robert saw
that if it rained the water would not come in at the door, but would run
past it down the slope, which in itself was one of the luckiest strokes
of fortune.

Tayoga lay on his blanket on his bed of leaves, and, looking up at the
rough and rocky roof, smiled. He had begged Robert to leave him and go
to the battle, and he knew that if his comrade had gone, he, wounded as
he was, would surely have perished. If a hostile skirmisher did not find
him, which was more than likely, he would have been overcome by the
fever of his wound, and, lying unconscious while some rainstorm swept
over him, his last chance would be gone. He could feel the fever
creeping into his veins now, and he knew that they had found the refuge
just in time. Yet he was grateful and cheerful, and in his heart he said
silent thanks to Tododaho, Areskoui and Manitou. Then he called to
Robert.

"See if you can find water," he said. "There should be more than one
stream among these rocky hollows. Bring the water here in your cap and
wash my wound."

Iroquois therapeutics were very simple, but wonderfully effective, and,
as Robert had seen both Onondagas and Mohawks practice their healing
art, he understood. He discovered a good stream not many yards away, and
carefully removing Tayoga's bandages, and bringing his cap filled to the
brim with water, he cleansed the wound thoroughly. Then the bandages
were put on again firmly and securely. This in most cases constituted
the whole of the Iroquois treatment, so far as the physical body was
concerned. The wound must be kept absolutely clean and away from the
air, nature doing the rest. Now and then the juices of powerful herbs
were used, but they were not needed for one so young and so wholesome in
blood as Tayoga.

When the operation was finished the Onondaga lay back on his bed and
smiled once more at the rough and rocky roof.

"Again you show signs of intelligence, Dagaeoga," he said. "As you have
learned to be a warrior, perhaps you can learn to be a medicine man
also, not the medicine man who deals with spirits, but one who heals.
Now, as you have done your part, I shall do mine."

"What do you mean, Tayoga?"

"I will resolve to be well. You know that among my people the healers
held in highest honor are those who do not acknowledge the existence of
any disease at all. The patient is sick because he has not willed that
he should be well. So the medicine man exerts a will for him and by
reciting to himself prayers or charms drives away the complaint which
the sick man fancies that he has. Now, I do not accept all their belief.
A bullet has gone through my shoulder, and I know it. Nothing can alter
the fact. Yet I do know that the will has great control over the nerves,
which direct the body, and I shall strengthen my will as much as I can,
and make it order my body to get well."

Robert knew that what he said was true. Already the Iroquois were, and
long had been, practicing what came to be known much later among the
white people as Christian Science.

"Try to sleep, Tayoga," he said. "I know the power of your will. If you
order yourself to sleep, sleep you will. I have your rifle and mine, and
if the enemy should come I think I can hold 'em off."

"They will not come," said Tayoga, "at least, not today nor in the night
that will follow. They are so busy with the Great Bear and the Mountain
Wolf and Daganoweda that they will not have time to hunt among the hills
for the two who have sought refuge here. What of the skies, Dagaeoga?
What do they promise?"

Robert, standing in the entrance, took a long look at the heavens.

"Rain," he replied at last; "I can see clouds gathering in the west, and
a storm is likely to come with the night. I think I hear distant
thunder, but it is so low I'm not sure."

"Areskoui is good to us once more. The kindness of his heart is never
exhausted. Truly, O Dagaeoga, he has been a shield between us and our
enemies. Now the rain will come, it will pour hard, it will sweep along
the slopes, and wash away any faint trace of a trail that we may have
left, thus hiding our flight from the eyes of wandering warriors."

"All that's true, and now that you've explained it to your satisfaction,
you obey me, exercise your will and go to sleep. I've recovered my
rulership, and I mean to exercise it to the full for the little time
that it may last."

Tayoga obeyed, composing himself in the easiest attitude on his blanket
and bed of leaves, and he exerted his will to the utmost. He wished
sleep, and sleep must come, yet he knew that the fever was still rising
in his veins. The shock and loss of blood from the great musket ball
could not be dismissed by a mere effort of the mind, but the mind
nevertheless could fight against their effects and neutralize them.

As the fever rose steadily he exerted his will with increasing power. He
said to himself again and again how fortunate he was to be watched over
by such a brave and loyal friend, and to have a safe and dry refuge,
when other warriors of his nation, wounded, had lain in the forest to
die of exhaustion or to be devoured by wild beasts. He knew from the
feel of the air that a storm was coming, and again he was thankful to
his patron saint, Tododaho, and also to Areskoui, and to Manitou,
greatest of all, because a bed and a roof had been found for him in
this, the hour of his greatest need.

The mounting fever in his veins seemed to make his senses more vivid
and acute for the time. Although Robert could not yet hear in reality
the rumbling thunder far down in the southwest, the menace came very
plainly to the ears of Tayoga, but it was no menace to him. Instead, the
rumble was the voice of a friend, telling him that the deluge was at
hand to wash away all traces of their flight and to force their enemies
into shelter, while his fever burned itself out.

Tayoga on his blanket, with the thick couch of dry leaves beneath, could
still see the figure of Robert, rifle across his knees, crouched at the
doorway, a black silhouette against the fading sky. The Onondaga knew
that he would watch until the storm came in full flood, and nothing
would escape his keen eyes and ears. Dagaeoga was a worthy pupil of
Willet, known to the Hodenosaunee as the Great Bear, a man of surpassing
skill.

Tayoga also heard the rushing of the rain, far off, coming, perhaps,
from Andiatarocte, and presently he saw the flashes of lightning, every
one a vast red blaze to his feverish eyes. It was only by the light of
these saber strokes across the sky that he could now see Robert, as the
dark had come, soon to be followed by floods of rain. Then he closed his
eyes, and calling incessantly for sleep, refused to open them again.
Sleep came by and by, though it was Tarenyawagon, the sender of dreams,
who presided over it, because as he slept, and his fever grew higher,
visions, many and fantastic, flitted through his disordered brain.

Robert watched until long after the rain had been pouring in sheets,
and it was pitchy dark in the cave. Then he felt of Tayoga's forehead
and his pulse, and observed the fever, though without alarm. Tayoga's


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Online LibraryJoseph A. AltshelerThe Rulers of the Lakes A Story of George and Champlain → online text (page 14 of 21)