Joseph A. Altsheler.

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

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made with all due precaution - the French partisan leaders saw to
that - with plenty of scouts about, and the whole force in swift,
marching order. It would probably be up and away again before dawn, and
if they were to pass it and reach Johnson in good time not a single
moment could be wasted.

"Now I wonder," said Willet, "if they suspect the advance of this
warning force. St. Luc, of course, knows that we were back there by
Champlain, as we gave him the most complete proofs of it that human
beings could give. So does Tandakora, and they may prevail upon Dieskau
to throw out a swift band for the purpose of cutting us off. If so, St.
Luc is sure to lead it. What do you say, Tayoga?"

"I think St. Luc will surely come," replied the Onondaga youth gravely.
"We have been trailing the army of Dieskau, and tomorrow, after we have
passed it, we shall be trailed in our turn. It does not need the whisper
of Tododaho to tell me that St. Luc and Tandakora will lead the
trailers, because, as we all know, they are most fitting to lead them."

"Then there's no sleep for us tonight," said Rogers; "we'll push on and
not close our eyes again until we reach Colonel Johnson."

They traveled many miles before dawn, but with the rising of the sun
they knew that they were followed, and perhaps flanked. The Mohawk
scouts brought word of it. Daganoweda himself found hostile signs in the
bushes, a bead or two and a strand of deerskin fringe caught on a bush.

"It's likely," said Willet, "that they were even more cautious than we
reckoned. It may be that before Dieskau left his force at Ticonderoga he
sent forward St. Luc with a swift band to intercept us and any others
who might take a warning to Colonel Johnson."

"I agree with you," said Rogers. "St. Luc started before we did, and,
all the time, has been ahead of us. So we have him in front, Dieskau
behind, and it looks as if we'd have to fight our way through to our
army. Oh, the Frenchmen are clever! Nobody can deny it, and they're
always awake. What's your opinion, Daganoweda?"

"We shall have to fight," replied the Mohawk chieftain, although the
prospect caused him no grief. "The traces that we have found prove Sharp
Sword to be already across our path. We have yet no way to know the
strength of his force, but, if a part of us get through, it will be
enough."

Robert heard them talking, and while he was able once more to preserve
outward calm, his heart, nevertheless, throbbed hard. More than any
other present, with the possible exception of Tayoga, his imagination
pictured what was to come, and before it was fought he saw the battle.
They were to march, too, into an ambush, knowing it was there, but
impossible to be avoided, because they must get through in some fashion
or other. They were now approaching Andiatarocte again, and although the
need of haste was still great they dropped perforce into a slow walk,
and sent ahead more scouts and skirmishers.

Robert and Tayoga went forward on the right, and they caught through the
bushes the gleam from the waters of a small stream that ran down to the
lake. Going a little nearer, they saw that the farther bank was high and
densely wooded, and then they drew back, knowing that it was a splendid
place for an ambush, and believing that St. Luc was probably there.
Tayoga lay almost flat, face downward, and stared intently at the high
bank.

"I think, Dagaeoga," he said, "that so long as we keep close to the
earth we may creep a little nearer, and perhaps our eyes, which are
good, may be able to pick out the figures of our foes from the leaves
and bushes in which they probably lie hidden."

They dragged themselves forward about fifty yards, taking particular
care to make nothing in the thickets bend or wave in a manner for which
the wind could not account. Robert stared a long time, but his eyes
separated nothing from the mass of foliage.

"What do you see, Tayoga?" he whispered at last.

"No proof of the enemy yet, Dagaeoga. At least, no proof of which I am
sure. Ah, but I do now! There was a flash in the bushes. It was a ray of
sunlight penetrating the leaves and striking upon the polished metal of
a gun barrel."

"It means that at least one Indian or Frenchman is there. Keep on
looking and see if you don't see something more."

"I see a red feather. At this distance you might at first take it for a
feather in the wing of a bird, but I know it is a feather in the
scalplock of a warrior."

"And that makes two, at least. Look harder than ever, Tayoga, and tell
me what more you see."

"Now I catch a glimpse of white cloth with a gleam of silver. The cloth
is on the upper arm, and the silver is on the shoulder of an officer."

"A uniform and an epaulet. A French officer, of course."

"Of course, and I think it is Sharp Sword himself."

"Look once more, Tayoga, and maybe your eyes can pick out something else
from the foliage."

"I see the back and painted shoulder of a warrior. It may be those of
Tandakora, but I cannot be sure."

"You needn't be. You've seen quite enough to prove that the whole force
of St. Luc is there in the bushes, awaiting us, and we must tell our
leaders at once."

They crept back to the center, where Willet and Rogers lay, Daganoweda
being on the flank, and told them what they had seen.

"It's good enough proof," said Rogers. "St. Luc with his whole force in
the bushes means to hold the stream against us and keep us from taking a
warning to Johnson, but the hardest way to do a thing isn't always the
one you have to choose."

"I take it," said Willet, "that you mean to flank him out of his
position."

"It was what I had in mind. What do you think, Dave?"

"The only possible method. Those Mohawks are wonders at such operations,
and we'd better detail as many of the rangers as we can spare to join
'em, while a force here in the center makes a demonstration that will
hold 'em to their place in the bushes. I'll take the picked men and join
Daganoweda."

Rogers laughed.

"It's like you, Dave," he said, "to choose the most dangerous part, and
leave me here just to make a noise."

"But the commander usually stays in the center, while his lieutenants
lead on the wings."

"That's true. You have precedent with you, but it wouldn't have made any
difference, anyhow."

"But when we fall on 'em you'll lead the center forward, and with such
a man as St. Luc I fancy you'll have all the danger you crave."

Rogers laughed again.

"Go ahead, old fire-eater," he said. "It was always your way. I suppose
you'll want to take Tayoga and Lennox with you."

"Oh, yes, I need 'em, and besides, I have to watch over 'em, in a way."

"And you watch over 'em by leading 'em into the very thickest of the
battle. But danger has always been a lure for you, and I know you're the
best man for the job."

Willet quickly picked twenty men, including Black Rifle and the two
lads, and bore away with speed toward the flank where Daganoweda and the
Mohawks already lay. As Robert left he heard the rifle shots with which
the little force of Rogers was opening the battle, and he heard, too,
the rifles and muskets of the French and Indians on the other side of
the stream replying.

Fortunately, as the forest was very dense, and it was not possible for
any of St. Luc's men to see the flanking movement, Willet and his
rangers joined Daganoweda quickly and without hindrance, the eyes of the
chieftain glittering when he saw the new force, and heard the plan to
cross the stream far down and fall on St. Luc's flank.

"It is good," he said with satisfaction. "Sharp Sword has eyes to see
much, but he cannot see everything."

"But one thing must be understood," said Willet, gravely. "If we see
that we are getting the worst of the fight and our men are falling
fast, the good runners must leave the conflict at once and make all
speed for Waraiyageh. Tayoga, you are the fastest and surest of all, and
you must leave first, and, Daganoweda, do you pick three of your swift
young warriors for the same task."

"I have one request to make," said Tayoga.

"What is it?"

"When I leave let me take Dagaeoga with me. We are comrades who have
shared many dangers, and he, too, is swift of foot and hardy. It may be
that there will be danger also in the flight to Waraiyageh's camp. Then,
if one should fall the other will go on."

"Well put, Tayoga. Robert, do you hear? If the tide seems to be turning
against us join Tayoga in his flight toward Johnson."

Robert nodded, and the young warriors chosen by Daganoweda also
indicated that they understood. Then the entire force began its silent
march through the woods on their perilous encircling movement. They
waded the river at a ford where the water did not rise above their
knees, and entered the deep woods, gradually drawing back toward the
point where St. Luc's force lay.

As they approached they began to hear the sounds of the little battle
Rogers was waging with the French leader, a combat which was intended to
keep the faculties and energies of the French and Indians busy, while
the more powerful detachment under Willet and Daganoweda moved up for
the main blow. Faint reports of rifle and musket shots came to them, and
also the long whining yell of the Indians, so like, in the distance, to
the cry of a wolf. Then, as they drew a little nearer they heard the
shouts of the rangers, shouts of defiance or of triumph rattling
continuously like a volley.

"That's a part of their duty," said Willet. "Rogers has only twenty men,
but he means to make 'em appear a hundred."

"Sounds more like two hundred," said Robert. "It's the first time I ever
heard one man shout as ten."

As they drew nearer the volume of the firing seemed to increase. Rogers
was certainly carrying out his part of the work in the most admirable
manner, his men firing with great rapidity and never ceasing their
battle shouts. Even so shrewd a leader as St. Luc might well believe the
entire force of rangers and Mohawks, instead of only twenty men, was in
front of him. But Robert was quite sure from the amount of firing coming
from the Frenchman's position that he was in formidable force, perhaps
outnumbering his opponents two to one, and the fight, though with the
advantage of a flank attack by Willet and Daganoweda, was sure to be
doubtful. It seemed that Tayoga read his thought as he whispered:

"Once more, Dagaeoga, we may leave the combat together, when it is at
its height. Remember the duty that has been laid upon us. If the battle
appears doubtful we are to flee."

"A hard thing to do at such a time."

"But we have our orders from the Great Bear."

"I had no thought of disobeying. I know the importance of our getting
through, if our force is defeated, or even held. Why couldn't our whole
detachment have gone around St. Luc just as we've done, and have left
him behind without a fight?"

"Because if the Mountain Wolf had not been left in his front, Sharp
Sword would have discovered immediately the absence of us all and would
have followed so fast that he would have forced us to battle on his
terms, instead of our being able to force him on ours."

"I see, Tayoga. Look out!"

He seized the Onondaga suddenly and pulled him down. A rifle cracked in
the bushes sixty or seventy yards in front of them, and a bullet
whistled where the red youth's head had been. The shot came from an
outlying sentinel of St. Luc's band, and knowing now that the time for a
hidden advance had passed, Willet and all of his men charged with a
mighty shout.

Their cheering also was a signal to the twenty men of Rogers on the
other side of the river, and they, too, rushed forward. St. Luc was
taken by surprise, but, as Robert had feared, his French and Indians
outnumbered them two to one. They fell back a little, thus giving Rogers
and his twenty a chance to cross the river, but they took up a new and
strong position upon a well-wooded hill, and the battle at close range
became fierce, sanguinary and doubtful.

Robert caught two glimpses of St. Luc directing his men with movements
of his small sword, and once he saw another white man, who, he was sure
was Dubois, although generally the enemy was invisible, keeping well
under the shelter of tree and bush. But while human forms were hidden,
the evidences of ferocious battle were numerous. The warriors on each
side uttered fierce shouts, rifles and muskets crackled rapidly, now
and then a stricken man uttered his death cry, and the depths of the
forest were illuminated by the rapid jets of the firing.

The sudden and heavy attack upon his flank compelled St. Luc to take the
defensive, and put him at a certain disadvantage, but he marshaled his
superior numbers so well that the battle became doubtful, with every
evidence that it would be drawn out to great length. Moreover, the
chevalier had maneuvered so artfully that his whole force was now drawn
directly across the path of the rangers and Mohawks, and the way to
Johnson was closed, for the time, at least.

An hour, two hours, the battle swayed to and fro among the trees and
bushes. Had their opponent been any other than St. Luc the three
leaders, Willet, Rogers and Daganoweda, would have triumphed by that
time, but French, Canadians and Indians alike drew courage from the
dauntless Chevalier. More than once they would have abandoned the field,
but he marshaled them anew, and always he did it in a manner so skillful
that the loss was kept at the lowest possible figure.

The forest was filled with smoke, though the high sun shot it through
with luminous rays. But no one looking upon the battle could have told
which was the loser and which the winner. The losses on the two sides
were about equal, and St. Luc, holding the hill, still lay across the
path of rangers and Mohawks. Robert, who was crouched behind the trunk
of a great oak, felt a light touch upon his arm, and, looking back, saw
Tayoga.

"The time has come, Dagaeoga," said the Onondaga.

"What time?"

"The time for us to leave the battle and run as fast as we may to
Waraiyageh."

"I had forgotten. The conflict here had gotten so much into my blood
that I couldn't think of anything else. But, as I said it would be, it's
hard to go."

"Go, Robert!" called Willet from a tree twenty feet away. "Curve around
St. Luc. Do what Tayoga says - he can scent danger like an animal of the
forest - and make all speed to Johnson. Maybe we'll join you in his camp
later on."

"Good-by, Dave," said Robert, swallowing hard. He crept away with the
Onondaga, not rising to his full height for a long time. Then the two
stood for a few moments, listening to the sounds of the battle, which
seemed to be increasing in violence. Far through the forest they faintly
saw the drifting smoke and the sparks of fire from the rifles and
muskets.

"Once more I say it's hard to leave our friends there," exclaimed
Robert.

"But our path leads that way," said Tayoga, pointing southward.

They struck, without another word, into the long, loping run that the
forest runners use with such effect, and sped southward. The sounds of
the conflict soon died behind them, and they were in the stillness of
the woods, where no enemy seemed near. But they did not decrease their
pace, leaping the little brooks, wading the wider streams, and flitting
like shades through forest and thicket. Twice they crossed Indian
trails, but paid no heed to them. Once a warrior, perhaps a hunter,
fired a long shot at them, but as his bullet missed they paid no
attention to him, but, increasing their speed, fled southward at a pace
no ordinary man could overtake.

"Now that we have left," said Robert, after a while, "I'm glad we did
so. It will be a personal pleasure for us two to warn Johnson."

"We may carry the fate of a war with us, Dagaeoga. Think of that!"

"I've thought of it. But our friends behind us, engaged in the battle
with St. Luc! What of them? Does Tododaho whisper to you anything about
their fate?"

"They are great and skillful men, cunning and crafty in all the ways of
the forest. They have escaped great dangers a thousand times before and
Tododaho tells me they will escape the thousand and first. Be of good
heart, Dagaeoga, and do not worry about them."

They dropped almost to a walk for a while, permitting their muscles to
rest. Tayoga's wound had healed so fast, the miracle was so nearly
complete, that it did not trouble him, and, after walking two hours,
they struck into the long, easy run again. The miles dropped fast behind
them, and now Johnson's camp was not far away. It was well for Tayoga
and Robert that they were naturally so strong and that they had lived
such healthy lives, as now they were able to go on all through the day,
and the setting sun found them still traveling, the Onondaga leading
with an eye as infallible for the way as that of a bird in the heavens.
Some time after dark they stopped for a half hour and sat on fallen logs
while they took fresh breath. Robert was apprehensive about Tayoga's
wound and expressed his solicitude.

"There is no pain," replied the young warrior, "and there will be none.
Tododaho and Areskoui gave me the miraculous cure for a purpose. It was
that I might have the strength to be a messenger to Waraiyageh, because
if he is crushed then the French and the Indians will strike at the
Hodenosaunee, and they will ravage the Vale of Onondaga itself with fire
and the tomahawk. Tododaho watches over his people."

"The stars have come out, Tayoga. Can you see the one on which Tododaho
lives? And if so, what is he saying to you now?"

Tayoga looked up a long time. He had received the white man's culture,
but the Indian soul was strong within him, nevertheless, and he was
steeped, too, in Indian lore. All the legends of his race, all the
Iroquois religion, came crowding upon him. A faint silvery vapor
overspread the sky, the stars in myriads quivered and danced, and there
in a remote corner of space was the great star on which Tododaho lived.
It hung in the heavens a silver shield, small in the distance, but vast,
Tayoga knew, beyond all conception. There were fine lines across its
face, but they were only the snakes in Tododaho's hair.

Gradually the features and countenance of the great Onondaga emerged
upon the star, and the blood of Tayoga ran in a chill torrent through
his veins, though the chill was not the chill of fear. He was, in
effect, meeting the mighty Onondaga of four hundred years ago, face to
face. The forest around him glided away, Robert vanished, the solid
earth melted from under his feet, and he was like a being who hung in
the air suspended from nothing. He leaned his head forward a little in
the attitude of one who listens, and he distinctly heard Tododaho say:

"Go on, Tayoga. As I have protected you so far on the way I shall
protect you to the end. Four hundred years ago I left my people, but my
watch over them is as vigilant now as it was when I was on earth. The
nations of the Hodenosaunee shall not perish, and they shall remain
great and mighty."

The voice ceased, the face of the mighty Onondaga disappeared, Tayoga
was no longer suspended without a support in the air, the forest came
back, and his good comrade, Robert Lennox, stood by his side, staring at
him curiously.

"Have you been in a trance, Tayoga?" asked Robert.

"No, Dagaeoga, I have not, but I can answer your question. I not only
heard Tododaho, but I saw him face to face. He spoke to me in a voice
like the wind among the pines, and he said that he would watch over me
the rest of the way, and that the Hodenosaunee should remain great and
powerful. Come, Dagaeoga, all danger for us on this march has passed."

They rose, continued their flight without hindrance, and the next
morning entered the camp of Johnson.




CHAPTER XV

THE LAKE BATTLE


Robert and Tayoga approached the American camp in the early dawn of a
waning summer, and the air was crisp and cool. The Onondaga's shoulder,
at last, had begun to feel the effects of his long flight, and he, as
well as Robert, was growing weary. Hence it was with great delight that
they caught the gleam of a uniform through a thicket, and knew they had
come upon one of Johnson's patrols. It was with still greater delight as
they advanced that they recognized young William Wilton of the
Philadelphia troop, and a dozen men. Wilton looked wan and hollow-eyed,
as if he had been watching all night, but his countenance was alert, and
his figure erect nevertheless.

Hearing the steps of Tayoga and Robert in the bushes, he called sharply:

"Who's there?"

His men presented their arms, and he stepped forward, sword in hand.
Robert threw up his own hands, and, emerging from the thicket, said in
tones which he made purposely calm and even.

"Good morning, Will. It's happy I am to see you keeping such a good
watch."

Then he dropped his hands and walked into the open, Tayoga following
him. Wilton stared as if he had seen someone come back from another
star.

"Lennox, is it really you?" he asked.

"Nobody else."

"You in the flesh and not a ghost?"

"In the flesh and no ghost."

"And is that Tayoga following you?"

"The Onondaga himself."

"And he is not any ghost, either?"

"No ghost, though Tandakora's men tried hard to make him one, and took a
good start at it. But he's wholly in the flesh, too."

"Then shake. I was afraid, at first, to touch hands with a ghost, but,
God bless you, Robert, it fills me with delight to see you again, and
you, too, Tayoga, no less. We thought you both were dead, and Colden and
Carson and Grosvenor and I and a lot of others have wasted a lot of good
mourning on you."

Robert laughed, and it was probably a nervous laugh of relief at having
arrived, through countless dangers, upon an errand of such huge
importance.

"Both of you look worn out," said Wilton. "I dare say you've been up all
night, walking through the interminable forest. Come, have a good, fat
breakfast, then roll between the blankets and sleep all day long."

Robert laughed again. How little the young Quaker knew or suspected!

"We neither eat nor sleep yet, Will," he said. "Where is Colonel
Johnson? You must take us to him at once!"

"The colonel himself, doubtless, has not had his breakfast. But why
this feverish haste? You talk as if you and Tayoga carried the fate of a
nation on your shoulders."

"That's just what we do carry. And, in truth, the fate of more than one,
perhaps. Lead on, Will! Every second is precious!"

Wilton looked at him again, and, seeing the intense earnestness in the
blue eyes of young Lennox, gave a command to his little troop, starting
without another word across the clearing, Robert and Tayoga following
close behind. The two lads were ragged, unkempt, and bore all the signs
of war, but they were unconscious of their dilapidated appearance,
although many of the young soldiers stared at them as they went by. They
passed New England and New York troops cooking their breakfast, and on a
low hill a number of Mohawks were still sleeping.

They approached the tent of Colonel Johnson and were fortunate enough to
find him standing in the doorway, talking with Colonel Ephraim Williams
and Colonel Whiting. But he was so engrossed in the conversation that he
did not see them until Wilton saluted and spoke.

"Messengers, sir!" he said.

Colonel Johnson looked up, and then he started.

"Robert and Tayoga!" he exclaimed. "I see by your faces that you have
word of importance! What is it?"

"Dieskau's whole army is advancing," said Robert. "It long since left
Crown Point, put a garrison in Ticonderoga, and is coming along Lake
George to fall on you by surprise, and destroy you."

Waraiyageh's face paled a little, and then a spark leaped up in his
eye.

"How do you know this?" he asked.

"I have seen it with my own eyes. I looked upon Dieskau's marching army,
and so did Tayoga. St. Luc was thrown across our path to stop us, and we
left Willet, Rogers and Daganoweda in battle with him, while we fled,
according to instructions, to you."

"Then you have done well. Go now and seek rest and refreshment. You are
good and brave lads. Our army will be made ready at once. We'll not wait
for Dieskau. We'll go to meet him. What say you, Williams, and you,
Whiting?".

"Forward, sir! The troops would welcome the order!" replied Colonel
Williams, and Whiting nodded assent.

Johnson was now all activity and energy and so were his officers. He
seemed not at all daunted by the news of Dieskau's rapid advance. Rather
he welcomed it as an end to his army's doubts and delays, and as a


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Online LibraryJoseph A. AltshelerThe Rulers of the Lakes A Story of George and Champlain → online text (page 19 of 21)