Joseph A. Altsheler.

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

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wished that the rangers and Mohawks might have the hundreds of pounds
of good moose meat, but he knew it was not destined for them. As he drew
away with his own burden his heirs to the rest were already showing
signs of their presence. From the thick bushes about came the rustling
of light feet, and now and then an eager and impatient snarl. Red eyes
showed, and as he turned away the wolves of the hills made a wild rush
for the fallen monarch. Robert, for some distance, heard them yapping
and snarling over the feast, and, despite his own success in securing
what he needed so badly, he felt remorse because he had been compelled
to give so fine an animal over to the wolves.

His heart grew light again as he made his way back to the defile and the
cave. He carried enough food to last Tayoga and himself many days, if
necessity compelled them to remain long in the cave, but he did not
forget in his triumph to take every precaution for the hiding of his
trail, devoutly glad that it was hard ground, thick with stones, on
which he could step from one to another.

Thus he returned, bearing his burden, and Tayoga, sitting near the
entrance, rifle on knee, greeted him with becoming words as one whom
Tododaho and Areskoui had guided to victory.

"It is well, Dagaeoga," he said. "I was wishing for you to find a moose
and you found one. You were not compelled to use the rifle!"

"No, the bow served, but I had to shoot two arrows where you would have
shot only one."

"It is no disgrace to you. The bow is not the white man's weapon, at
least not on this continent. You withdrew the arrows, cleaned them and
returned them to the quiver?"

"Yes. I didn't forget that. I know how precious arrows are, and now,
Tayoga, since it's important for you to get back your strength faster
than a wounded man ever got it back before, I think we'd better risk a
fire, and broil some of these fat, juicy steaks."

"It is a danger, but we will do it. You gather the dead wood and we will
build the fire beside the mouth of the cave. Both of us can cook."

It was an easy task for two such foresters to light a fire with flint
and steel, and they soon had a big bed of coals. Then they broiled the
steaks on the ends of sharpened sticks, passing them back and forth
quickly, in order to retain the juices.

"Now, Tayoga," announced Robert, "I have a word or two to say to you."

"Then say them quickly and do not let your eloquence become a stream,
because I am hungry and would eat, and where the moose steaks are plenty
talk is needed but little."

"I merely wished to tell you that besides being our hunter, I'm also the
family doctor. Hence I give you my instructions."

"What are they, O youth of many words?"

"You can eat just as much of the moose steak as you like, and the
quicker you begin the better you will please me, because my manners
won't allow me to start first. Fall on, Tayoga! Fall on!"

They ate hungrily and long. They would have been glad had they bread
also, but they did not waste time in vain regrets. When they had
finished and the measure of their happiness was full, they extinguished
the coals carefully, hid their store of moose meat on a high ledge in
the cave, and withdrew also to its shelter.

"How much stronger do you feel now, Tayoga?" asked Robert.

"In the language of your schools, my strength has increased at least
fifty per cent in the last hour."

"I've the strength of two men myself now, and thinking it over, Tayoga,
I've come to the conclusion that was the best moose I ever tasted. He
was a big bull, and he may not have been young, but he furnished good
steaks. I'm sorry he had to die, but he died in a good cause."

"Even so, Dagaeoga, and since we have eaten tremendously and have cooked
much of the meat for further use, it would be best for us to put out the
fire, and hide all trace of it, a task in which I am strong enough to
help you."

They extinguished carefully every brand and coal, and even went so far
as to take dead leaves from the cave and throw them over the remains of
the fire in careless fashion as if they had been swept there by the
wind.

"And now," said Robert, "if I had the power I would summon from the sky
another mighty rain to hide all signs of our banquet and of the
preparations for it. Suppose, Tayoga, you pray to Tododaho and Areskoui
for it and also project your mind so forcibly in the direction of your
wish that the wish will come true."

"It is well not to push one's favor too far," replied Tayoga gravely.
"The heavens are too bright and shining now for rain. Moreover, if one
should pray every day for help, Tododaho and Areskoui would grow tired
of giving it. I think, however, that we have covered our traces well,
and the chance of discovery here by our enemies is remote."

They put away the moose meat on a high ledge in the cave, and sat down
again to wait. Tayoga's wound was healing rapidly. The miracle for which
he had hoped was happening. His recovery was faster than that of any
other injured warrior whom he had ever known. He could fairly feel the
clean flesh knitting itself together in innumerable little fibers, and
already he could move his left arm, and use the fingers of his left
hand. Being a stoic, and hiding his feelings as he usually did, he said:

"I shall recover, I shall be wholly myself again in time for the great
battle between the army of Waraiyageh and that of Dieskau."

"I think, too, that we'll be in it," said Robert confidently. "Armies
move slowly and they won't come together for quite a while yet.
Meantime, I'm wondering what became of the rangers and the Mohawks."

"We shall have to keep on wondering, but I am thinking it likely that
they prevailed over the forces of St. Luc and have passed on toward
Crown Point and Oneadatote. It may be that the present area of conflict
has passed north and east of us and we have little to fear from our
enemies."

"It sounds as if you were talking out of a book again, Tayoga, but I
believe you're right."

"I think the only foes whom we may dread in the next night and day are
four-footed."

"You mean the wolves?"

"Yes, Dagaeoga. When you left the body of the moose did they not
appear?"

"They were fighting over it before I was out of sight. But they wouldn't
dare to attack you and me."

"It is a strange thing, Dagaeoga, but whenever there is war in the woods
among men the wolves grow numerous, powerful and bold. They know that
when men turn their arms upon one another they are turned aside from the
wolves. They hang upon the fringes of the bands and armies, and where
the wounded are they learn to attack. I have noticed, too, since the
great war began that we have here bigger and fiercer wolves than any
we've ever known before, coming out of the vast wilderness of the far
north."

"You mean the timber wolves, those monsters, five or six feet long, and
almost as powerful and dangerous as a tiger or a lion?"

"So I do, Dagaeoga, and they will be abroad tonight, led by the body of
your moose and the portion we have here. Tododaho, sitting on his star,
has whispered to me that we are about to incur a great danger, one that
we did not expect."

"You give me a creepy feeling, Tayoga. All this is weird and uncanny.
We've nothing to fear from wolves."

"A thousand times we might have nothing to fear from them, but one time
we will, and this is the time. In a voice that I did not hear, but which
I felt, Tododaho told me so, and I know."

"Then all we have to do is to build a fire in front of the cave mouth
and shut them off as thoroughly, as if we had raised a steel wall before
us."

"The danger from a fire burning all night would be too great. While I do
not think any warriors of the enemy are wandering in this immediate
region, yet it is possible, and our bonfire would be a beacon to draw
them."

"Then we'll have to meet 'em with bullets, but the reports of our rifles
might also draw Tandakora's warriors."

"We will not use the rifles. We will sit at the entrance of the cave,
and you shall fight them with my bow and arrows. If we are pressed too
hard, we may resort to the rifles."

Tayoga's words were so earnest and sententious, his manner so much that
of a prophet, that Robert, in spite of himself, believed in the great
impending danger that would come in the dark, and the hair on the back
of his neck lifted a little. Yet the day was still great and shining,
the forest tinted gold with the flowing sunlight, and the pure fresh air
blowing into the cave. There the two youths, the white and the red, took
their seats at either side of the entrance. Tayoga held his rifle across
his knees, but Robert put his and the quiver at his feet, while he held
the bow and one arrow in his hands.

They talked a little from time to time and then relapsed into a long
silence. Robert noticed that nothing living stirred in the defile. No
more rabbits came out to play and no birds sang in the trees. He
considered it a sign, nay more, an omen that Tayoga's prediction was
coming true. The peril threatening them was great and imminent. His
sense of the sinister and uncanny increased. A chill ran through his
veins. The great shining day was going, and, although it was midsummer,
a cold wind was herald of the coming twilight. He shivered again, and
looked at the long shadows falling in the defile.

"Tayoga," he said, "that uncanny talk of yours has affected me, but I
believe you've just made it all up. No wolves are coming to attack us."

"Dagaeoga does not believe anything of the kind. He believes, instead,
what I have told him. His voice and his manner show it. He is sure the
wolves are coming."

"You're right, Tayoga, I do believe it. There's every reason why I
shouldn't, but, in very truth and fact, I do. Our fine day is going
fast. Look how the twilight is growing on the mountains. From our nook
here I can just see the rim of the sun, who is your God, Areskoui. Soon
he will be gone entirely and then all the ridges will be lost in the
dusk. I hope - and I'm not jesting either - that you've said your prayer
to him."

"As I told you, Dagaeoga, one must not ask too many favors. But now the
sun is wholly gone and the night will be dark. The wind rises and it
moans like the soul of an evil warrior condemned to wander between
heaven and earth. The night will be dark, and in two hours the wolves
will be here."

Robert looked at him, but the face of the Onondaga was that of a seer,
and once more the blood of the white youth ran chill in his veins. He
was silent again, and now the minutes were leaden-footed, so slow, in
truth, that it seemed an hour would never pass and the two hours Tayoga
had predicted were an eternity. The afterglow disappeared and the
darkness was deep in the defile. The trees above were fused into a black
mass, and then, after an infinity of waiting, a faint note, sinister and
full of menace, came out of the wilderness. Tayoga and Robert glanced at
each other.

"It is as you predicted," said Robert.

"It is the howl of the great timber wolf from the far north who has made
himself the leader of the band," said the Onondaga. "When he howls again
he will be much nearer."

Robert waited for an almost breathless minute or two, and then came the
malignant note, much nearer, as Tayoga had predicted, and directly after
came other howls, faint but equally sinister.

"The great leader gives tongue a second time," said Tayoga, "and his
pack imitate him, but their voices are not so loud, because their lungs
are not so strong. They come straight toward us. Do you see, Dagaeoga,
that your nerves are steady, your muscles strong and your eyes bright. I
would that I could use the bow myself tonight, for the chance will be
glorious, but Manitou has willed otherwise. It is for you, Dagaeoga, to
handle my weapon as if you had been familiar with it all your life."

"I will do my best, Tayoga. No man can do more."

"Dagaeoga's best is very good indeed. Remember that if they undertake to
rush us we will use our rifles, but they are to be held in reserve.
Hark, the giant leader howls for the third time!"

The long, piercing note came now from a point not very distant. Heard
in all the loneliness of the black forest it was inexpressively
threatening and evil. Not until his own note died did the howl of his
pack follow. All doubts that Robert may have felt fled at once. He
believed everything that Tayoga had said, and he knew that the
wolf-pack, re├źnforced by mighty timber wolves from the far north, was
coming straight toward the cave for what was left of the moose meat and
Tayoga and himself. His nerves shook for an instant, but the next moment
he put them under command, and carefully tested the bowstring.

"It is good and strong," he said to Tayoga. "It will not be any fault of
the bow and arrow if the work is not done well. The fault will be mine
instead."

"You will not fail, Dagaeoga," said the Onondaga. "Your great
imagination always excites you somewhat before the event, but when it
comes you are calm and steady."

"I'll try to prove that you estimate me correctly."

As their eyes were used to the dusk they could see each other well,
sitting on opposite sides of the cave mouth and sheltered by the
projection of the rocks. The great wolf howled once more and the pack
howled after him, but there followed an interval of silence that caused
Robert to think they had, perhaps, turned aside. But Tayoga whispered
presently:

"I see the leader on the opposite side of the defile among the short
bushes. The pack is farther back. They know, of course, that we are
here. The leader is, as we surmised, a huge timber wolf, come down from
the far north. Do not shoot, Dagaeoga, until you get a good chance."

"Do you think I should wait for the leader himself?"

"No. Often the soul of a wicked warrior goes into the body of a wolf,
and the wolf becomes wicked, and also full of craft. The leader may not
come forward at first himself, but will send others to receive our
blows."

There was no yapping and snarling from the wolves such as was usual, and
such as Robert had often heard, but they had become a phantom pack,
silent and ghost-like, creeping among the bushes, sinister and
threatening beyond all reckoning. Robert began to feel that, in very
truth, it was a phantom pack, and he wondered if his arrows, even if
they struck full and true, would slay. Nature, in her chance moments,
touches one among the millions with genius, and she had so tipped him
with living fire. His vivid and powerful imagination often made him see
things others could not see and caused him to clothe objects in colors
invisible to common eyes.

Now the wolves, with their demon leader, were moving in silence among
the bushes, and he felt that in truth he would soon be fighting with
what Tayoga called evil spirits. For the moment, not the demon leader
alone, but every wolf represented the soul of a wicked warrior, and they
would approach with all the cunning that the warriors had known and
practiced in their lives.

"Do you see the great beast now, Tayoga?" he whispered.

"No, he is behind a rock, but there is another slinking forward, drawing
himself without noise over the ground. He must have been in life a
savage from the far region, west of the Great Lakes, perhaps an eater of
his own kind, as the wolf eats his."

"I see him, Tayoga, just there on the right where the darkness lies like
a shroud. I see his jaws slavering too. He comes forward as a stalker,
and I've no doubt the soul of a most utter savage is hidden in his body.
He shall meet my arrow."

"Wait a little, Dagaeoga, until you can be sure of your shot. There is
another creeping forward on the left in the same manner, and you'll want
to send a second arrow quickly at him."

"I never saw a wolf-pack attack in this way before. They come like a
band of warriors with scouts and skirmishers, and I can see that they
have a force massed in the center for the main rush."

"In a few more seconds you can take the wolf on the right. Bury your
arrow in his throat. It is as I said, Dagaeoga. Now that the moment has
come your hand is steady, your nerves are firm, and even in the dusk I
can see that your eyes are bright."

It was true. Robert's imagination had painted the danger in the most
vivid colors, but now, that it was here, the beat of his pulse was as
regular as the ticking of a clock. Yet the unreal and sinister
atmosphere that clothed him about was not dispelled in the least, and he
could not rid himself of the feeling that in fighting them he was
fighting dead and gone warriors.

Nearer and nearer came the great wolf on his right, dragging his body
over the ground for all the world like a creeping Indian. Robert's eyes,
become uncommonly keen in the dusk, saw the long fangs, the slavering
jaws and the red eyes, and he also saw the spot in the pulsing throat
where he intended that the sharp point of his arrow should strike.

"Now!" whispered Tayoga.

Robert fitted the shaft to the string, and deftly throwing his weight
into it bent the great bow. Then he loosed the arrow, and, singing
through the air, it buried itself almost to the feather in the big
beast's throat, just at the spot that he had chosen. The strangled howl
of despair and death that followed was almost like that of a human
being, but Robert did not stop to listen, as with all speed he fitted
another arrow to the string and fired at the beast on the left, with
equal success, piercing him in the heart.

"Well done, Dagaeoga," whispered Tayoga. "Two shots and two wolves
slain. The skirmisher on the right and the skirmisher on the left both
are gone. There will be a wait now while the living devour their dead
comrades. Listen, you can hear them dragging the bodies into the
bushes."

"After they have finished their cannibalism perhaps they will go away."

"No, it is a great pack, and they are very hungry. In ten or fifteen
minutes they will be stalking us again. You must seek a shot at the
giant leader, but it will be hard for you to get it because he will keep
himself under cover, while he sends forth his warriors to meet your
arrows. Ah, he is great and cunning! Now, I am more sure than ever that
his body contains the soul of one of the most wicked of all warriors,
perhaps that of a brother of Tandakora. Yes, it must be a brother, the
blood of Tandakora."

"Then Tandakora's brother would better beware. My desire to slay him
has increased, and if he's incautious and I get good aim I think I can
place an arrow so deep in him that the Ojibway's wicked soul will have
to seek another home."

"Hear them growling and snarling in the bushes. It is over their
cannibalistic feast. Soon they will have finished and then they will
come back to us."

The deadly stalking, more hideous than that carried on by men, because
it was more unnatural, was resumed. Robert discharged a third arrow, but
the fierce yelp following told him that he had inflicted only a wound.
He glanced instinctively at the Onondaga, fearing a reproof, but Tayoga
merely said:

"If one shoots many times one must miss sometimes."

A fourth shot touched nothing, but the Onondaga had no rebuke, a fifth
shot killed a wolf, a sixth did likewise, and Robert's pride returned.
The wolves drew off, to indulge in cannibalism again, and to consult
with their leader, who carried the soul of a savage in his body.

Robert had sought in vain for a fair shot at the giant wolf. He had
caught one or two glimpses of him, but they were too fleeting for the
flight of an arrow, and, despite all reason and logic, he found himself
accepting Tayoga's theory that he was, in reality, a lost brother of
Tandakora, marshaling forward his forces, but keeping himself secure.
After the snarling and yelping over the horrible repast, another silence
followed in the bushes.

"Perhaps they've had enough and have gone away," said Robert, hazarding
the hopeful guess a second time.

"No. They will make a new attack. They care nothing for those that have
fallen. Watch well, Dagaeoga, and keep your arrows ready."

"I think I'll become a good bowman in time," said Robert lightly, to
ease his feelings, "because I'm getting a lot of practice, and it seems
that I'll have a lot more. Perhaps I need this rest, but, so far as my
feelings are concerned, I wish the wolves would come on and make a final
rush. Their silence and invisibility are pretty hard on the nerves."

He examined the bow carefully again, and put six arrows on the floor of
the cave beside him, with the quiver just beyond them. Tayoga sat
immovable, his rifle across his knees, ready in the last emergency to
use the bullet. Thus more time passed in silence and without action.

It often seemed to Robert afterward that there was something unnatural
about both time and place. The darkness came down thicker and heavier,
and to his imaginative ear it had a faint sliding sound like the
dropping of many veils. So highly charged had become his faculties that
they were able to clothe the intangible and the invisible with bodily
reality. He glanced across at his comrade, whom his accustomed eyes
could see despite the blackness of the night. Tayoga was quite still. So
far as Robert could tell he had not stirred by a hair's breadth in the
last hour.

"Do you hear anything?" whispered the white youth.

"Nothing," replied the Onondaga. "Not even a dead leaf stirs before the
wind. There is no wind to stir it. But I think the pack will be coming
again very soon. They will not leave us until you shoot their demon
leader."

"You mean Tandakora's brother! If I get a fair chance I'll certainly
send my best arrow at him, and I'm only sorry that it's not Tandakora
himself. You persist in your belief that the soul of a wicked warrior is
in the body of the wolf?"

"Of course! As I have said, it is surely a brother of Tandakora, because
Tandakora himself is alive, and, as it cannot be his own, it must be
that of a monstrous one so much like his that it can be only a
brother's. That is why the wolf leader is so large, so fierce and so
cunning. I persist, too, in saying that all the wolves of this pack
contain the souls of wicked warriors. It is natural that they should
draw together and hunt together, and hunt men as they hunted them in
life."

"I'm not disputing you, Tayoga. Both day and night have more things than
I can ever hope to understand, but it seems to me that night has the
more. I've been listening so hard, Tayoga, that I can't tell now where
imagination ends and reality begins, but I think I hear a footfall, as
soft as that of a leaf dropping to the ground, but a footfall just the
same."

"I hear it too, Dagaeoga, and it is not the dropping of a leaf. It is a
wolf creeping forward, seeking to stalk us. He is on the right, and
there are others on both right and left. Now I know they are warriors,
or have been, since they use the arts of warriors rather than those of
wolves."

"But if they should get in here they would use the teeth and claws of
wolves."

"Teeth and claws are no worse than the torch, the faggot and the stake,
perhaps better. I hear two sliding wolves now, Dagaeoga, but I know that
neither is the giant leader. As before, he keeps under cover, while he
sends forward others to the attack."

"Which proves that Tandakora's brother is a real general. I think I can
make out a dim outline now. It is that of the first wolf on the right,
and he does slide forward as if he were a warrior and not a wolf. I
think I'll give him an arrow."

"Wait until he comes a dozen feet nearer, Dagaeoga, and you can be quite
sure. But when you do shoot snatch up another arrow quicker than you
ever did before in your life, because the leader, thinking you are not
ready, may jump from the shelter of the rocks to drive the rest of the
pack in a rush upon us."

"You speak as if they were human beings, Tayoga."

"Such is my thought, Dagaeoga."

"Very well. I'll bear in mind what you say, and I'll pick an arrow for
Tandakora's brother."

He chose a second arrow carefully and put it on the ledge beside him,
where it required but one sweep of his hand to seize it and fit it to
the string, when the first had been sent. He now distinctly saw the
creeping wolf, and again fancy laid hold of him and played strange
tricks with his eyes. The creeping figure changed. It was not that of a
wolf, but a warrior, intent upon his life. A strange terror, the terror
of the weird and unknown, seized him, but in an instant it passed, and
he drew the bowstring. When he loosed it the arrow stood deep in the
wolf's throat, but Robert did not see it. His eyes passed on like a


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Online LibraryJoseph A. AltshelerThe Rulers of the Lakes A Story of George and Champlain → online text (page 16 of 21)