Joseph A. Altsheler.

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

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"At times," he said, "it seems that we are favored by our God, who is
your Manitou."

"Now is the time for us to finish the crossing," said Willet, alive to
the needs of the moment. "Lead, Tayoga, and be sure, Robert, not to give
any bough a shake that might catch the eye of a lurking savage in the
forest."

The Onondaga resumed the slow advance, so guiding his movements that he
might neither make the tree quiver nor bring his body from beneath the
covering of leaves. Robert and the hunter followed him in close
imitation. Thus they gained the bank, and the three drew long breaths of
deep and intense relief, as they stepped upon firm ground. But they
could not afford to linger. Tayoga still in front, they plunged into the
depths of the forest, and advanced at speed a half hour, when they
heard a single faint cry behind them.

"They've found our trail at the end of the natural bridge," said Willet.

"It is so," said Tayoga, in his precise school English.

"And they're mad, mad clean through," said the hunter. "That single cry
shows it. If they hadn't been so mad they'd have followed our trail
without a sound. I wish I could have seen the faces of the Ojibway and
the Frenchman when they came back and noticed our trace at the end of
the tree. They're mad in every nerve and fiber, because they did not
conclude to go upon it. It was only one chance in a thousand that we'd
be there, they let that one chance in a thousand go, and lost."

The great frame of the hunter shook with silent laughter. But Robert, in
very truth, saw the chagrin upon the faces of Tandakora and De
Courcelles. His extraordinary imagination was again up and leaping and
the picture it created for him was as glowing and vivid as fact. They
had gone some distance, and then they had come back, continually
searching the thickets of the opposite shore with their powerful and
trained eyesight. They had felt disappointed because they had seen no
trace of the hunted, who had surely come by this time against the
barrier of the river. Frenchman and Ojibway were in a state of angry
wonder at the disappearance of the three who had vanished as if on wings
in the air, leaving no trail. Then Tandakora had chanced to look down.
His eye in the dusky moonlight had caught the faint imprint of a foot on
the grass, perhaps Robert's own, and the sudden shout had been wrenched
from him by his anger and mortification. Now Robert, too, was convulsed
by internal laughter.

"It was our great luck that they did not find us on the tree," he said.

"No, it was not luck," said Tayoga.

"How so?"

"They did not come upon the tree because Tododaho would not let them."

"I forgot. You're right, Tayoga," said Robert sincerely.

"We'll take fresh breath here for five minutes or so," said the hunter,
"and then we'll push on at speed, because we have not only the band of
Tandakora and De Courcelles to fear. There are others in the forest
converging on Fort Refuge."

"Great Bear is right. He is nearly always right," said Tayoga. "We have
passed one barrier, but we will meet many more. There is also danger
behind us. Even now the band is coming fast."

They did not move until the allotted time had passed. Again Robert's
mind painted a picture in glowing colors of the savage warriors, led by
Tandakora and De Courcelles, coming at utmost speed upon their trail,
and his muscles quivered, yet he made no outward sign. To the eye he was
as calm as Tayoga or Willet.

An hour after the resumption of their flight they came to a shallow
creek with a gravelly bed, a creek that obviously emptied into the river
they had crossed, and they resorted to the commonest and most effective
of all devices used by fugitives in the North American wilderness who
wished to hide their trail. They waded in the stream, and, as it led in
the general direction in which they wished to go, they did not leave the
water until they had covered a distance of several miles. Then they
emerged upon the bank and rested a long time.

"When Tandakora and De Courcelles see our traces disappear in the creek
and fail to reappear on the other side," said Willet, "they'll divide
their band and send half of it upstream, and half downstream, looking
everywhere for our place of entry upon dry land, but it'll take 'em a
long time to find it. Robert, you and Tayoga might spread your blankets,
and if you're calm enough, take a nap. At any rate, it won't hurt you to
stretch yourselves and rest. I can warn you in time, when an enemy
comes."

The Onondaga obeyed without a word, and soon slept as if his will had
merely to give an order to his five senses to seek oblivion. Robert did
not think he could find slumber, but closing his eyes in order to rest
better, he drifted easily into unconsciousness. Meanwhile Willet
watched, and there was no better sentinel in all the northern
wilderness. The wind was still blowing lightly, and the rustling of the
leaves never ceased, but he would have detected instantly any strange
note, jarring upon that musical sound.

The hunter looked upon the sleeping lads, the white and the red. Both
had a powerful hold upon his affection. He felt that he stood to them
almost in the relationship of a father, and he was proud, too, of their
strength and skill, their courage and intelligence. Eager as he was to
reach Fort Refuge and save the garrison and people there, he was even
more eager to save the two youths from harm.

He let them sleep until the gold of the morning sun was gilding the
eastern forest, when the three drew further upon their supplies of bread
and venison and once more resumed the journey through the pathless woods
towards their destination. There was no interruption that day, and they
felt so much emboldened that near sundown Tayoga took his bow and
arrows, which he carried as well as his rifle, and stalked and shot a
deer, the forest being full of game. Then they lighted a fire and cooked
delicate portions of the spoil in a sheltered hollow. But they did not
eat supper there. Instead, they took portions of the cooked food and as
much as they could conveniently carry of the uncooked, and, wading along
the bed of a brook, did not stop until they were three or four miles
from the place in which they had built the fire. Then they sat down and
ate in great content.

"We will fare well enough," said Willet, "if it doesn't rain. 'Tis lucky
for us that it's the time of year when but little rain falls."

"But rain would be as hard upon those who are hunting us as upon us,"
said Robert.

"'Tis true, lad, and I'm glad to see you always making the best of
everything. It's a spirit that wins."

"And now, Great Bear," said Tayoga, his eyes twinkling, "you have talked
enough. It is only Dagaeoga who can talk on forever."

"That's so about Robert, but what do you mean by saying I've talked
enough?"

"It is time for you to sleep. You watched last night while we slept,
and now your hour has come. While you slumber Dagaeoga and I will be
sentinels who will see and hear everything."

"Why the two of you?"

"Because it takes both of us to be the equal of the Great Bear."

"Come, now, Tayoga, that's either flattery or irony, but whatever it is
I'll let it pass. I'll own that I'm sleepy enough and you two can
arrange the rest between you."

He was asleep very soon, his great figure lying motionless on his
blanket, and the two wary lads watched, although they sat together, and,
at times, talked. Both knew there was full need for vigilance. They had
triumphed for the moment over Tandakora and De Courcelles, but they
expected many other lions in the path that led to Fort Refuge. It was
important also, not only that they should arrive there, but that they
should arrive in time. It was true, too, that they considered the danger
greater by night than by day. In the day it was much easier to see the
approach of an enemy, but by night one must be very vigilant indeed to
detect the approach of a foe so silent as the Indian.

The two did not yet mention a division of the watch. Neither was sleepy
and they were content to remain awake much longer. Moreover, they had
many things of interest to talk about and also they indulged in
speculation.

"Do you think it possible, Tayoga," asked Robert, "that the garrison,
hearing of the great cloud now overhanging the border, may have
abandoned the fort and gone east with the refugees?"

"No, Dagaeoga, it is not likely. It is almost certain that the young men
from Philadelphia have not heard of General Braddock's great defeat.
French and savage runners could have reached them with the news, could
have taunted them from the forest, but they would not wish to do so;
they seek instead to gather their forces first, to have all the effect
of surprise, to take the fort, its garrison and the people as one takes
a ripe apple from a tree, just when it is ready to fall."

"That rout back there by Duquesne was a terrible affair for us, Tayoga,
not alone because it uncovers the border, but because it heartens all
our enemies. What joy the news must have caused in Quebec, and what joy
it will cause in Paris, too, when it reaches the great French capital!
The French will think themselves invincible and so will their red
allies."

"They would be invincible, Dagaeoga, if they could take with them the
Hodenosaunee."

"And may not this victory of the French and their tribes at Duquesne
shake the faith of the Hodenosaunee?"

"No, Dagaeoga. The fifty sachems will never let the great League join
Onontio. Champlain and Frontenac have been gone long, but their shadows
still stand between the French and the Hodenosaunee, and there is
Quebec, the lost Stadacona of the Ganegaono, whom you call the Mohawks.
As long as the sun and stars stand in the heavens the Keepers of the
Eastern Gate are the enemies of the French. Even now, as you know, they
fight by the side of the Americans and the English."

"It is true. I was wrong to question the faith of the great nations of
the Hodenosaunee. If none save the Mohawks fight for us it is at least
certain that they will not fight against us, and even undecided, while
we're at present suffering from disaster, they'll form a neutral
barrier, in part, between the French and us. Ah, that defeat by
Duquesne! I scarcely see yet how it happened!"

"A general who made war in a country that he did not know, with an enemy
that he did not understand."

"Well, we'll learn from it. We were too sure. Pride, they say, goes
before a fall, but they ought to add that those who fall can rise again.
Perhaps our generals will be more cautious next time, and won't walk
into any more traps. But I foresee now a long, a very long war. Nearly
all of Europe, if what comes across the Atlantic be true, will be
involved in it, and we Americans will be thrown mostly upon our own
resources. Perhaps it will weld our colonies together and make of them a
great nation, a nation great like the Hodenosaunee."

"I think it will come to pass, Dagaeoga. The mighty League was formed by
hardship and self-denial. A people who have had to fight long and
tenaciously for themselves grows strong. So it has been said often by
the fifty sachems who are old and very wise, and who know all that it is
given to men to know. Did you hear anything stirring in the thicket,
Dagaeoga?"

"I did, Tayoga. I heard a rustling, the sound of very light footfalls,
and I see the cause."

"A black bear, is it not, seeing what strangers have invaded the bush!
Now, he steals away, knowing that we are the enemies most to be dreaded
by him. Doubtless there are other animals among the bushes, watching us,
but we neither see nor hear them. It is time to divide the watch, for we
must save our strength, and it is not well for both to remain awake far
into the night."

It was arranged that Robert should sleep first and the Onondaga gave his
faithful promise to awaken him in four hours. The two lads meant to take
the burden of the watch upon themselves, and, unless Willet awoke, of
his own accord, he was to lie there until day.

Robert lay down upon his blanket, went to sleep in an instant, and the
next instant Tayoga awakened him. At least it seemed but an instant,
although the entire four hours had passed. Tayoga laughed at the dubious
look on his face.

"The time is up. It really is," he said. "You made me give my faithful
promise. Look at the moon, and it will tell you I am no teller of a
falsehood."

"I never knew four hours to pass so quickly before. Has anything
happened while I slept?"

"Much, Dagaeoga. Many things, things of vast importance."

"What, Tayoga! You astonish me. The forest seems quiet."

"And so it is. But the revolving earth has turned one-sixth of its way
upon itself. It has also traveled thousands and thousands of miles in
that vast circle through the pathless void that it makes about the sun.
I did not know that such things happened until I went to the white
man's school at Albany, but I know them now, and are they not important,
hugely important?"

"They're among the main facts of the universe, but they happen every
night."

"Then it would be more important if they did not happen?"

"There'd be a big smash of some kind, but as I don't know what the kind
would be I'm not going to talk about it. Besides, I can see that you're
making game of me, Tayoga. I've lived long enough with Indians to know
that they love their joke."

"We are much like other people. I think perhaps that in all this great
world, on all the continents and islands, people, whether white or red,
brown or black, are the same."

"Not a doubt of it. Now, stop your philosophizing and go to sleep."

"I will obey you, Dagaeoga," said Tayoga, and in a minute he was fast
asleep.

Robert watched his four hours through and then awakened the Onondaga,
who was sentinel until day. When they talked they spoke only in whispers
lest they wake Willet, whose slumbers were so deep that he never
stirred. At daybreak Tayoga roused Robert, but the hunter still slept,
his gigantic bulk disposed at ease upon his blanket. Then the two lads
seized him by either shoulder and shook him violently.

"Awake! Awake, Great Bear!" Tayoga chanted in his ear. "Do you think you
have gone into a cave for winter quarters? Lo, you have slept now, like
the animal for which you take your name! We knew you were exhausted,
and that your eyes ached for darkness and oblivion, but we did not know
it would take two nights and a day to bring back your wakefulness.
Dagaeoga and I were your true friends. We watched over you while you
slept out your mighty sleep and kept away from you the bears and
panthers that would have devoured you when you knew it not. They came
more than once to look at you, and truly the Great Bear is so large that
he would have made breakfast, dinner and supper for the hungriest bear
or panther that ever roamed the woods."

Willet sat up, sleep still heavy on his eyelids, and, for a moment or
two, looked dazed.

"What do you mean, you young rascals?" he asked. "You don't say that
I've been sleeping here two nights and a day?"

"Of course you have," replied Robert, "and I've never seen anybody sleep
so hard, either. Look under your blanket and see how your body has
actually bored a hole into the ground."

Then Willet began to laugh.

"I see, it's a joke," he said, "though I don't mind. You're good lads,
but it was your duty to have awakened me in the night and let me take my
part in the watch."

"You were very tired," said Robert, "and we took pity on you. Moreover,
the enemy is all about us, and we knew that the watch must be of the
best. Tayoga felt that at such a time he could trust me alone, and I
felt with equal force that I could trust him alone. We could not put our
lives in the hands of a mere beginner."

Willet laughed again, and in the utmost good humor.

"As I repeat, you're sprightly lads," he said, "and I don't mind a jest
that all three of us can enjoy. Now, for breakfast, and, truth to say,
we must take it cold. It will not do to light another fire."

They ate deer meat, drank water from a brook, and then, refreshed
greatly by their long rest, started at utmost speed for Fort Refuge,
keeping in the deepest shadows of the wilderness, eager to carry the
alarm to the garrison, and anxious to avoid any intervening foe. The day
was fortunate, no enemy appearing in their path, and they traveled many
miles, hope continually rising that they would reach the fort before a
cloud of besiegers could arrive.

Thus they continued their journey night and day, seeing many signs of
the foe, but not the foe himself, and the hope grew almost into
conviction that they would pass all the Indian bands and gain the fort
first.




CHAPTER III

THE FLIGHT


They were within twenty-four hours of the fort, when they struck a new
trail, one of the many they had seen in the forest, but Tayoga observed
it with unusual attention.

"Why does it interest you so much?" asked Robert. "We've seen others
like it and you didn't examine them so long."

"This is different, Dagaeoga. Wait a minute or two more that I may
observe it more closely."

Young Lennox and Willet stood to one side, and the Onondaga, kneeling
down in the grass, studied the imprints. It was late in the afternoon,
and the light of the red sun fell upon his powerful body, and long,
refined, aristocratic face. That it was refined and aristocratic Robert
often felt, refined and aristocratic in the highest Indian way. In him
flowed the blood of unnumbered chiefs, and, above all, he was in himself
the very essence and spirit of a gentleman, one of the finest gentlemen
either Robert or Willet had ever known. Tayoga, too, had matured greatly
in the last year under the stern press of circumstance. Though but a
youth in years he was now, in reality, a great Onondaga warrior,
surpassed in skill, endurance and courage by none. Young Lennox and the
hunter waited in supreme confidence that he would read the trail and
read it right.

Still on his knees, he looked up, and Robert saw the light of discovery
in the dusky eyes.

"What do you read there, Tayoga?" he asked.

"Six men have passed here."

"Of what tribe were they?"

"That I do not know, save as it concerns one."

"I don't understand you."

"Five were of the Indian race, but of what tribe I cannot say, but the
sixth was a white man."

"A Frenchman. It certainly can't be De Courcelles, because we've left
him far behind, and I hope it's not St. Luc. Maybe it's Jumonville, De
Courcelles' former comrade. Still, it doesn't seem likely that any of
the Frenchmen would be with so small a band."

"It is not one of the Frenchmen, and the white man was not with the
band."

"Now you're growing too complex for my simple mind, Tayoga. I don't
understand you."

"It is one trail, but the Indians and the white man did not pass over it
at the same time. The Indian imprints were made seven or eight hours
ago, those of the white man but an hour or so since. Stoop down, Great
Bear, and you will see that it is true."

"You're right, Tayoga," said Willet, after examining minutely.

"It follows, then," said the young Onondaga, in his precise tones, "that
the white man was following the red men."

"It bears that look."

"And you will notice, Great Bear, and you, too, Dagaeoga, that the
white man's moccasin has made a very large imprint. The owner of the
foot is big. I know of none other in the forest so big except the Great
Bear himself."

"Black Rifle!" exclaimed Robert, with a flash of insight.

"It can be none other."

"And he's following on the trail of these Indians, intending to ambush
them when they camp tonight. He hunts them as we would hunt wolves."

Robert shuddered a little. It was a time when human life was held cheap
in the wilderness, but he could not bring himself to slay except in
self-defense.

"We need Black Rifle," said Willet, "and they'll need him more at the
fort. We've an hour of fair sunlight left, and we must follow this trail
as fast as we can and call him back. Lead the way, Tayoga."

The young Onondaga, without a word, set out at a running walk, and the
others followed close behind. It was a plain trail. Evidently the
warriors had no idea that they were followed, and the same was true of
Black Rifle. Tayoga soon announced that both pursuers and pursued were
going slowly, and, when the last sunlight was fading, they stopped at
the crest of a hill and called, imitating first the cry of a wolf, and
then the cry of an owl.

"He can't be more than three or four hundred yards away," said Willet,
"and he may not understand either cry, but he's bound to know that they
mean something."

"Suppose we stand out here where he can see us," said Robert. "He must
be lurking in the thickets just ahead."

"The simplest way and so the right way," said Willet. "Come forth, you
lads, where the eyes of Black Rifle may look upon you."

The three advanced from the shelter of the woods, and stood clearly
outlined in an open space. A whistle came from a thicket scarce a
hundred yards before them, and then they saw the striking figure of the
great, swarthy man emerging. He came straight toward them, and, although
he would not show it in his manner, Robert saw a gleam of gladness in
the black eyes.

"What are you doing here, you three?" he asked.

"Following you," replied Robert in his usual role of spokesman.

"Why?"

"Tayoga saw the trail of the Indians overlaid by yours. We knew you were
pursuing them, and we've come to stop you."

"By what right?"

"Because you're needed somewhere else. You're to go with us to Fort
Refuge."

"What has happened?"

"Braddock's army was destroyed near Fort Duquesne. The general and many
of his officers were killed. The rest are retreating far into the east.
We're on our way to Fort Refuge to save the garrison and people if we
can, and you're to go with us."

Black Rifle was silent a moment or two. Then he said:

"I feared Braddock would walk into an ambush, but I hardly believed his
army would be annihilated. I don't hold it against him, because he
turned my men and me away. How could I when he died with his soldiers?"

"He was a brave man," said Robert.

"I'm glad you found me. I'll leave the five Indians, though I could have
ambushed 'em within the hour. The whole border must be ablaze, and
they'll need us bad at Fort Refuge."

The three, now four, slept but little that night and they pressed
forward all the next day, their anxiety to reach the fort before an
attack could be made, increasing. It did not matter now if they arrived
exhausted. The burden of their task was to deliver the word, to carry
the warning. At dusk, they were within a few miles of the fort. An hour
later they noticed a thread of blue smoke across the clear sky.

"It comes from the fort," said Tayoga.

"It's not on fire?" said Robert, aghast.

"No, Dagaeoga, the fort is not burning. We have come in time. The smoke
rises from the chimneys."

"I say so, too," said Willet. "Unless there's a siege on now, we're
ahead of the savages."

"There is no siege," said Tayoga calmly. "Tododaho has held the warriors
back. Having willed for us to arrive first, nothing could prevent it."

"Again, I think you're right, Tayoga," said Robert, "and now for the
fort. Let our feet devour the space that lies between."

He was in a mood of high exaltation, and the others shared his
enthusiasm. They went faster than ever, and soon they saw rising in the
moonlight the strong palisade and the stout log houses within it. Smoke
ascended from several chimneys, and, uniting, made the line across the
sky that they had beheld from afar. From their distant point of view
they could not yet see the sentinels, and it was hard to imagine a more
peaceful forest spectacle.

"At any rate, we can save 'em," said Robert.

"Perhaps," said Willet gravely, "but we come as heralds of disaster
occurred, and of hardships to come. It will be a task to persuade them
to leave this comfortable place and plunge into the wilderness."

"It's fortunate," said Robert, "that we know Colden and Wilton and
Carson and all of them. We warned 'em once when they were coming to the
place where the fort now is, and they didn't believe us, but they soon
learned better. This time they'll know that we're making no mistake."

As they drew near they saw the heads of four sentinels projecting above
the walls, one on each side of the square. The forest within rifle shot
had also been cleared away, and Black Rifle spoke words of approval.

"They've learned," he said. "The city lads with the white hands have


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