Joseph A. Altsheler.

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

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flash of lightning to a gigantic form that upreared itself from the
rocks, an enormous wolf with red eyes, glistening fangs and slavering
jaws.

"Now!" shot forth Tayoga.

Robert had already fitted a second arrow to the string and the immense
throat presented a target full and fair. Now, as always in the moment of
imminent crisis, his nerves were steady, never had they been more
steady, and his eyes pierced the darkness. Never before and never again
did he bend so well the bow of Ulysses. The arrow, feathered and barbed,
hummed through the air, going as straight and swift as a bullet to its
mark, and then it pierced the throat of the wolf so deep that the barb
stood out on one side and the feathers on the other.

The wolf uttered a horrible growling shriek that was almost human to
Robert, leaped convulsively back and out of sight, but for a minute or
two they heard him threshing among the rocks and bushes. The whole pack
uttered a dismal howl. Their sliding sounds ceased, and the last dim
figure vanished.

"I think it is all over with Tandakora's brother," said Robert.

Tayoga said nothing, and Robert glanced at him. Beads of perspiration
stood on the brow of the Onondago, but his eyes glittered.

"You have shot well tonight, O Dagaeoga," he said. "Never did a man
shoot better. Tonight you have been the greatest bowman in all the
world. You have slain the demon wolf, the leader of the pack. Perhaps
the wicked soul that inhabited his body has gone to inhabit the body of
another evil brute, but we are delivered. They will not attack again."

"How do you know that, Tayoga?"

"Because Tododaho, Tododaho who protects us, is whispering it to me. I
do not see him, but he is leaning down from his star, and his voice
enters my ear. Our fight with the wolf pack and its terrible leader is
finished. Steady, Dagaeoga! Steady! Make no excuses! The greatest of
warriors, the hero of a hundred battles, might well sink for a few
moments after such a combat!"

Robert had collapsed suddenly. The great imagination driving forward his
will, and attuning him for such swift and tremendous action, failed, now
that the crisis had passed, and he dropped back against the ledge,
though his fingers still instinctively clutched the bow. Darkness was
before his eyes, and he was weak and trembling, but he projected his
will anew, and a little later sat upright, collected and firm.
Nevertheless, it was Tayoga who now took supreme command.

"You have surely done enough for one night, Dagaeoga," he said.
"Tododaho himself, after doing so much, would have rested. Lie down now
on your blanket and I will watch for the remainder of the darkness. It
is true my left arm is lame and of no use for the present, but nothing
will come."

"I'll do as you tell me, Tayoga," said Robert, "but first I give you
back your bow and arrows. They've served us well, though I little
thought I'd ever have to do work as a bowman."

He was glad enough to stretch himself on the blanket and leaves, as he
realized that despite his will he had become weak. Presently he sank
into a deep slumber. When he awoke the sun was shining in the mouth of
the cave and Tayoga was offering him some of the tenderest of the moose
steak.

"Eat, Dagaeoga," he said. "Though a warrior of the clan of the Bear, of
the nation Onondaga of the great League of the Hodenosaunee, I am proud
to serve the king of bowmen."

"Cease your jesting at my expense, Tayoga."

"It is not wholly a jest, but eat."

"I will. Have you seen what is outside?"

"Not yet. We will take our breakfast together, and then we will go forth
to see what we may see."

They ate heartily, and then with rifles cocked passed into the defile,
where they found only the bones of wolves, picked clean by the others.
But the skeleton of the huge leader was gone, although the arrow that
had slain him was lying among the rocks.

"The living must have dragged away his bones. A curious thing to do,"
said Robert.

Tayoga was silent.




CHAPTER XIII

TANDAKORA'S GRASP


They spent two more days in the cave, and Tayoga's marvelous cure
proceeded with the same marvelous rapidity. Robert repeatedly bathed the
wound for him, and then redressed it, so the air could not get to it.
The Onondaga was soon able to flex the fingers well and then to use the
arm a little.

"It is sure now," he said joyfully, "that Waraiyageh and Dieskau cannot
meet before I am able to do battle."

"Anyhow, they wouldn't think of fighting until you came, Tayoga," said
Robert.

Their spirits were very high. They felt that they had been released from
great danger, some of which they could not fathom, and they would soon
leave the hollow. Action would bring relief, and they anticipated
eagerly what the world outside might disclose to them. Robert collected
all the arrows he had shot in the fight with the wolf pack, cleaned them
and restored them to the quiver. They also put a plentiful supply of the
moose meat in their packs, and then he said:

"Which way, Tayoga?"

"There is but one way."

"You mean we should press on toward Crown Point, and find out what has
become of our comrades?"

"That is it. We must know how ended their battle with St. Luc."

"Which entails a search through the forest. That's just what I wanted,
but I didn't know how you felt about it with your lame shoulder."

"Tomorrow or next day I shall be able to use the shoulder if we have to
fight, but we may not meet any of the French or their allied warriors. I
have no wish at all to turn back."

"Then forward it is, Tayoga, and I propose that we go toward the spot
where we left them in conflict. Such eyes as yours may yet find there
signs that you can read. Then we'll know how to proceed."

"Well spoken, Dagaeoga. Come, we'll go through the forest as fast as we
may."

The cave had been a most welcome place. It had served in turn as a home,
a hospital and a fort, and, in every capacity, it had served well, but
both Robert and Tayoga were intensely glad to be out again in the open
world, where the winds were blowing, where vast masses of green rested
and pleased the eye, and where the rustling of leaves and the singing of
birds soothed the ear.

"It's a wonderful, a noble wilderness!" said Robert. "I'm glad I'm here,
even if there are Frenchmen and Indians in it, seeking our lives. Why,
Tayoga, I can feel myself growing in such an atmosphere! Tell me, am I
not an inch taller than I was when I left that hollow in the rocks?"

"You do look taller," said the Onondaga, "but maybe it's because you
stand erect now. Dagaeoga, since the wolves have been defeated, has
become proud and haughty again."

"At any rate, your wonderful cure is still going on at wonderful speed.
You use your left arm pretty freely and you seem to have back nearly all
your old strength."

"Yes, Tododaho still watches over me. He is far better to me than I
deserve."

They pushed on at good speed, returning on the path they had taken, when
Tayoga received his wound, and though they slept one night on the way,
to give Tayoga's wound a further chance, they came in time to the place
where the rangers and the Mohawks had met St. Luc's force in combat. The
heavy rains long since had wiped out all traces of footsteps there, but
Robert hoped that the keen eyes of the Onondaga would find other signs
to indicate which way the battle had gone. Tayoga looked a long time
before he said anything.

"The battle was very fierce," he said at last. "Our main force lay along
here among these bushes."

"How do you know, Tayoga?" asked Robert.

"It is very simple. For a long distance the bushes are shattered and
broken. It was rifle balls and musket balls that did it. Indians are not
usually good marksmen, and they shot high, cutting off twigs above the
heads of the Mohawks and rangers."

"Suppose we look at the opposing ridge and line of bushes where St.
Luc's warriors must have stationed themselves."

They crossed the intervening space of sixty or seventy yards and found
that the bushes there had not been cut up so much.

"The rangers and Mohawks are the better marksmen," said Tayoga. "They
aimed lower and probably hit the target much oftener. At least they did
not cut off so many twigs."

He walked back into the open space between the two positions, his eye
having been caught by something dark lying in a slight depression of the
earth. It was part of the brushy tail of a raccoon, such as the
borderers wore in their caps.

"Our men charged," said the Onondaga.

"Why do you say so?" asked Robert.

"Because of the raccoon tail. It was shot from the cap of one of the
charging men. The French and the Indians do not wear such a decoration.
See where the bullet severed it. I think St. Luc's men must have broken
and run before the charge, and we will look for evidence of it."

They advanced in the direction of Champlain, and, two or three hundred
yards farther on, Tayoga picked up a portion of an Indian headdress,
much bedraggled.

"Their flight was headlong," he said, "or the warrior would not have
lost the frame and feathers that he valued so much. It fell then, before
the storm, as the muddy and broken condition of the feathers shows that
it was lying on the ground when the great rain came."

"And here," said Robert, "is where a bullet went into the trunk of this
big oak."

"Which shows that the rangers and Mohawks were still pursuing closely.
It is possible that the French and Indians tried to make a brief stand
at this place. Let us see if we can find the track of other bullets."

They discovered the paths of two more in tree trunks and saw the boughs
of several shattered bushes, all leading in a line toward Crown Point.

"They were not able to stand long," said Tayoga. "Our men rushed them
again. Ah, this shows that they must have been in a panic for a few
moments."

He picked an Indian blanket, soiled and worn, from a gulley.

"See the mud upon it," he said. "It, too, fell before the rain, because
when the flood came a stream ran in the gulley, a stream that has left
the blanket in this state. The warrior must have been in tremendous
haste to have lost his blanket. We know now that they were routed, and
that the victory was ours. But it is likely that our leaders continued
the pursuit toward Oneadatote and up to the walls of Crown Point itself.
And if your wish be the same as mine, Dagaeoga, we will follow on."

"You know, Tayoga, that I wouldn't think of anything else."

"But the dangers grow thick as we approach Crown Point."

"Not any thicker for me than for you."

"To that I can make no reply. Dagaeoga is always ready with words."

"But while I want to go on, I'm not in favor of taking any needless
risks. I like to keep my scalp on top of my head, the place where it
belongs, and so I bid you, Tayoga, use those keen eyes and ears of yours
to the utmost."

Tayoga laughed.

"Dagaeoga is learning wisdom," he said. "A great warrior does not throw
his life away. He will not walk blind through the forest. I will do all
I can with my ears and so will you."

"I mean to do so. Do you see that silver flash through the tangle of
foliage? Don't you think it comes from the waters of Champlain?"

"It cannot be doubted. Once more we see the great lake, and Crown Point
itself is not so many miles away. It is in my mind that Black Rifle,
Great Bear, Mountain Wolf, Daganoweda and our men have been scouting
about it."

"And we might meet 'em coming back. I've had that thought too."

They walked on toward Champlain, through a forest apparently without
sign of danger, and Tayoga, hearing a slight noise in a thicket, turned
off to the right to see if a deer were browsing there. He found nothing,
but as the sound came again from a point farther on, he continued his
search, leaving his comrade out of sight behind him. The thickets were
very dense and suddenly the warning of Tododaho came.

He sprang back as quick as lightning, and doubtless he would have
escaped had it not been for his wounded shoulder. He hurled off the
first warrior who threw himself upon him, slipped from the grasp of a
second, but was unable to move when the mighty Tandakora and another
seized him by the shoulders.

But in the moment of dire peril he remembered his comrade and uttered a
long and thrilling cry of warning, which the huge hand of Tandakora
could not shut off in time. Then, knowing he was trapped and would only
injure his shoulder by further struggles, he ceased to resist,
submitting passively to the binding of his arms behind him.

He saw that Tandakora had seven or eight warriors with him, and a half
dozen more were bounding out on the trail after Robert. He heard a shot
and then another, but he did not hear any yell of triumph, and he drew a
long breath of relief. His warning cry had been uttered in time.
Dagaeoga would know that it was folly, for him also to fall into the
hands of Tandakora, and he would flee at his greatest speed.

So he stood erect with his wrists bound behind him, his face calm and
immovable. It did not become an Onondaga taken prisoner to show emotion,
or, in fact, feeling of any kind before his captors, but his heart was
full of anxiety as he waited with those who held him. A quarter of an
hour they stood thus, and then the pursuing warriors, recognizing the
vain nature of their quest, began to return. Tandakora did not upbraid
them, because he was in high good humor.

"Though the white youth, Lennox, has escaped," he said in Iroquois, "we
have done well. We have here Tayoga, of the clan of the Bear, of the
nation Onondaga, of the League of the Hodenosaunee, one of our deadliest
enemies. It is more than I had hoped, because, though so young, he is a
great warrior, skillful and brave, and we shall soon see how he can bear
the live coals upon his breast."

Still Tayoga did not move, nor did he visibly shudder at the threat,
which he knew Tandakora meant to keep. The Ojibway had never appeared
more repellent, as he exulted over his prisoner. He seemed larger than
ever, and his naked body was covered with painted and hideous devices.

"And so I have you at last, Tayoga," he said. "Your life shall be short,
but your death shall be long, and you shall have full chance to prove
how much an Onondaga can bear."

"Whether it be much or little," said Tayoga, "it will be more than any
Ojibway can endure."

The black eyes of Tandakora flashed angrily, and he struck Tayoga
heavily in the face with his open palm. The Onondaga staggered, but
recovered himself, and gazed steadily into the eyes of the Ojibway.

"You have struck a bound captive, O Tandakora," he said. "It is contrary
to the customs of your nation and of mine, and for it I shall have your
life. It is now written that you shall fall by my hand."

His calm tones, and the fearless gaze with which he met that of
Tandakora, gave him all the aspect of a prophet. The huge Ojibway
flinched for a moment, and then he laughed.

"If it is written that I am to die by your hand it is written falsely,"
he said, "because before another sun has set all chance for it will be
gone."

"I have said that you will die by my hand, and I say it again. It is
written," repeated Tayoga firmly.

Though he showed no emotion there was much mortification in the soul of
the young Onondaga. He had practically walked into the hands of
Tandakora, and he felt that, for the present, at least, there was a
stain upon his skill as a forest runner. The blow of Tandakora had left
its mark, too, upon his mind. He had imbibed a part of the Christian
doctrine of forgiveness, but it could not apply to so deadly and evil an
enemy as the Ojibway. To such an insult offered to a helpless prisoner
the reply could be made only with weapons.

Although Tododaho from his star, invisible by day, whispered to him to
be of good heart, Tayoga was torn by conflicting beliefs. He was going
to escape, and yet escape seemed impossible. The last of the warriors
who had gone on the trail of young Lennox had come in, and he was
surrounded now by more than a dozen stalwart men. The promise of
Tododaho grew weak. Although his figure remained firm and upright and
his look was calm and brave he saw no possibility of escape. He thought
of Daganoweda, of the Mohawks and the rangers, but the presence of
Tandakora and his men indicated that they had gone back toward the army
of Waraiyageh, and were perhaps with him now.

He thought of St. Luc, but he did not know whether the gallant Chevalier
was alive or dead. But if he should come he would certainly keep
Tandakora from burning him at the stake. Tayoga did not fear death, and
he knew that he could withstand torture. No torture could last forever,
and when his soul passed he would merely go to the great shining star on
which Tododaho lived, and do to perfection, forever and without satiety,
the things that he loved in life here.

But Tayoga did not want to die. As far as life here was concerned he was
merely at the beginning of the chapter. So many things were begun and
nothing was finished. Nor did he want to die at the hands of Tandakora,
and allow his enemy to have a triumph that would always be sweet to the
soul of the fierce Ojibway. He saw many reasons why he did not wish yet
to go to Tododaho's great and shining star, despite the perfection of an
eternal existence there, and, casting away the doubts that had assailed
him, he hoped resolutely.

Tandakora had been regarding him with grim satisfaction. It may be that
he read some of the thoughts passing in the mind of the Onondaga, as he
said:

"You look for your white friends, Tayoga, but you do not see them. Nor
will they come. Do you want to know why?"

"Why, Tandakora?"

"Because they are dead. In the battle back there, toward Andiatarocte,
Daganoweda, the Mohawk, was slain. His scalp is hanging in the belt of a
Pottawattomie who is now with Dieskau. Black Rifle will roam the forest
no more. He was killed by my own men, and the wolves have eaten his
body. The hunter Willet was taken alive, but he perished at the stake.
He was a very strong man, and he burned nearly a whole day before the
spirit left him. The ranger, Rogers, whom you called the Mountain Wolf,
was killed in the combat, and the wolves have eaten his body, too."

"Now, I know, O Tandakora," said the Onondaga, "that you are a liar, as
well as a savage and a murderer. Great Bear lives, Daganoweda lives, and
the Mountain Wolf and Black Rifle live, too. St. Luc was defeated in the
battle, and he has gone to join Dieskau at Crown Point, else he would be
here. I see into your black heart, Tandakora, and I see there nothing
but lies."

The eyes of the huge savage once more shot dark fire, and he lifted his
hand, but once again he controlled himself, though the taunts of Tayoga
had gone in deep and they stung like barbs. Then, feeling that the talk
was not in his favor, but that the situation was all to his liking, he
turned away and gave orders to his warriors. They formed instantly in
single file, Tayoga near the center, Tandakora just behind him, and
marched swiftly toward the north.

The Onondaga knew that their course would not bring them to Crown Point,
which now lay more toward the east. Nor was it likely that they would go
there. Dieskau and the French officers would scarcely allow him to be
burned in their camp, and Tandakora would keep away from it until his
hideous work was done.

Now Tayoga, despite his cynicism and apparent indifference, was all
watchfulness. He knew that, for the present, any attempt to escape was
hopeless, but he wished to observe the country through which he was
passing, and see everything pertaining to it as far as the eye could
reach. It was always well to know where one was, and he had been taught
from infancy to observe everything, the practice being one of the
important conditions of life in the wilderness.

The soul of Tandakora, who walked just behind him, was full of savage
joy. It was true that Lennox had escaped, but Tayoga was an important
capture. He was of a powerful family of the Onondagas, whom the Ojibway
hated. Despite his youth, his fame as a warrior was already great, and
in destroying him Tandakora would strike both at the Hodenosaunee and
the white people who were his friends. Truly, it had been the Ojibway's
lucky day.

As they went on, Tandakora's belief that it was his day of days became a
conviction. Perhaps they would yet find Lennox, who had taken to such
swift flight, and before the sun set they could burn the two friends
together. His black heart was full of joy as he laughed in silence and
to himself. In the forest to his right a bird sang, a sweet, piercing
note, and he thought the shoulders of the captive in front of him
quivered for a single instant. And well they might quiver! It was a
splendid world to leave amid fire and pain, and the sweet, piercing note
of the bird would remind Tayoga of all that he was going to lose.

There was no pity in the heart of Tandakora. He was a savage and he
could never be anything but a savage. He might admire the fortitude with
which Tayoga would endure the torture, but he would have no thought of
remitting it on that account. The bird sang again, or another like it,
because it was exactly the same sweet, piercing note, but now Tandakora
did not see the shoulders of the Onondaga quiver. Doubtless after the
first stab of pain that the bird had brought him he had steeled himself
to its renewal.

Tandakora would soon see how the Onondaga could stand the fire. The test
should be thorough and complete The Ojibway chieftain was a master
artist upon such occasions, and, as he continued the march, he thought
of many pleasant little ways in which he could try the steel of Tayoga's
nature. The captive certainly had shown no signs of shrinking so far,
and Tandakora was glad of it. The stronger the resistance the longer and
the more interesting would be the test.

The Ojibway had in mind a certain little valley a few miles farther to
the north, a secluded place where a leader of men like himself could do
as he pleased without fear of interruption. Already he was exulting over
the details, and to him, breathing the essence of triumph, the
wilderness was as beautiful as it had ever been to Robert and Tayoga,
though perhaps in a way that was peculiarly his own. Unlike Tayoga, he
had heard little of the outside world, and he cared nothing at all for
it. His thoughts never went beyond the forest, and the customs of savage
ancestors were his. What he intended to do they had often done, and the
tribes thought it right and proper.

"In half an hour, Tayoga, we will be at the place appointed," he said.

No answer.

"You said I would die at your hand, but there is only a half hour left
in which to make good the prophecy."

Still no answer.

"Tododaho, the patron saint of the Onondagas, is hidden on his star,
which is now on the other side of the world, and he cannot help you."

And still no answer.

"Does not fear strike into your heart, Tayoga? The flames that will burn
you are soon to be lighted. You are young, but a boy, you are not a
seasoned warrior, and you will not be able to bear it."

Tayoga laughed aloud, a laugh full and hearty. "I have heard frogs
croak in the muddy edge of a pond," he said. "I could not tell what they
meant, but there was as much sense in their voices as in yours,
Tandakora."

"At last you have found your tongue, youth of the Onondagas. You have
heard the frogs croak, but your voice at the stake will sound like
theirs."

"The flames shall not be lighted around me, Tandakora."

"How do you know?"

"Tododaho has whispered in my ear the promise that he will save me.
Twice has he whispered it to me as we marched."

"Tododaho in life was no warrior of the Ojibways," said Tandakora, "and
since he has passed away he is no god of ours. His whispers, if he has
whispered at all to you, are false. There is less than half an hour in
which you can be saved, and Manitou himself would need all that time."

Tayoga gave him a scornful look. Tandakora was talking sacrilege, but he
had no right to expect anything else from a savage Ojibway. He refused
to reply. They came presently to the little valley that Tandakora had in
mind, an open place, with a tree in the center, and much dead wood
scattered about. Tayoga knew instinctively that this was their
destination, and his heart would have sunk within him had it not been
for the whispers of Tododaho that he had heard on the march. The Ojibway
gave the word and the file of warriors stopped. The hills enclosing the


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Online LibraryJoseph A. AltshelerThe Rulers of the Lakes A Story of George and Champlain → online text (page 17 of 21)