Joseph A. Altsheler.

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

. (page 4 of 21)
Online LibraryJoseph A. AltshelerThe Rulers of the Lakes A Story of George and Champlain → online text (page 4 of 21)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

become men."

"A fine crowd of boys," said Willet, with hearty emphasis. "You'll see
'em acting with promptness and courage. Now, we want to tell 'em we're
here without getting a bullet for our pains."

"Suppose you let me hail 'em," said Robert. "I'll stand on the little
hill there - a bullet from the palisades can't reach me - and sing 'em a
song or two."

"Go ahead," said the hunter.

Standing at his full height, young Lennox began to shout:

"Awake! Awake! Up! Up! We're friends! We're friends!"

His musical voice had wonderful carrying power, and the forest, and the
open space in which the fort stood, rang with the sound. Robert became
so much intoxicated with his own chanting that he did not notice its
effect, until Willet called upon him to stop.

"They've heard you!" exclaimed the hunter. "Many of them have heard you!
All of them must have heard you! Look at the heads appearing above the

The side of the palisade fronting them was lined with faces, some the
faces of soldiers and others the faces of civilians. Robert uttered a
joyful exclamation.

"There's Colden!" he exclaimed. "The moonlight fell on him just then,
and I can't be mistaken."

"And if my eyes tell me true, that's young Wilton beside him," said the
hunter. "But come, lads, hold up your hands to show that we're friends,
and we'll go into the fort."

They advanced, their hands, though they grasped rifles, held on high,
but Robert, exalted and irrepressible, began to sing out anew:

"Hey, you, Colden! And you, too, Wilton and Carson! It's fine to see you
again, alive and well."

There was silence on the wall, and then a great shout of welcome.

"It's Lennox, Robert Lennox himself!" cried someone.

"And Willet, the big hunter!"

"And there's Black Rifle, too!"

"And Tayoga, the Onondaga!"

"Open the gate for 'em! Let 'em come in, in honor."

The great gate was thrown wide, and the four entered quickly, to be
surrounded at once by a multitude, eager for news of the outside world,
from which they had been shut off so long. Torches, held aloft, cast a
flickering light over young soldiers in faded uniforms, men in deerskin,
and women in home-made linsey. Colden, and his two lieutenants, Wilton
and Carson, stood together. They were thin, and their faces brown, but
they looked wiry and rugged. Colden shook Robert's hand with great

"I'm tremendously glad to see you," he exclaimed, "and I'm equally glad
to see Mr. Willet, the great Onondaga, and Black Rifle. You're the first
messengers from the outside world in more than a month. What news of
victory do you bring? We heard that a great army of ours was marching
against Duquesne."

Robert did not answer. He could not, because the words choked in his
throat, and a silence fell over the crowd gathered in the court, over
soldiers and men and women and children alike. A sudden apprehension
seized the young commander and his lips trembled.

"What is it, Lennox, man?" he exclaimed. "Why don't you speak? What is
it that your eyes are telling me?"

"They don't tell of any victory," replied Robert slowly.

"Then what do they tell?"

"I'm sorry, Colden, that I have to be the bearer of such news. I would
have told it to you privately, but all will have to know it anyhow, and
know it soon. There has been a great battle, but we did not win it."

"You mean we had to fall back, or that we failed to advance? But our
army will fight again soon, and then it will crush the French and Indian

"General Braddock's army exists no longer."

"What? It's some evil jest. Say it's not true, Lennox!"

"It's an evil jest, but it's not mine, Colden. It's the jest of fate.
General Braddock walked into a trap - it's twice I've told the terrible
tale, once to Black Rifle and now to you - and he and his army were
destroyed, all but a fragment of it that is now fleeing from the woods."

The full horror of that dreadful scene in the forest returned to him for
a moment, and, despite himself, he made tone and manner dramatic. A
long, deep gasp, like a groan, came from the crowd, and then Robert
heard the sound of a woman on the outskirts weeping.

"Our army destroyed!" repeated Colden mechanically.

"And the whole border is laid bare to the French and Indian hosts," said
Robert. "Many bands are converging now upon Fort Refuge, and the place
cannot be held against so many."

"You mean abandon Fort Refuge?"

"Aye, Colden, it's what wiser men than I say, Dave here, and Tayoga, and
Black Rifle."

"The lad is speaking you true, Captain Colden," said Willet. "Not only
must you and your garrison and people leave Fort Refuge, but you must
leave it tomorrow, and you must burn it, too."

Again Robert heard the sound of a woman weeping in the outskirts of the

"We held it once against the enemy," protested Colden.

"I know," said Willet, "but you couldn't do it now. A thousand warriors,
yes, more, would gather here for the siege, and the French themselves
would come with cannon. The big guns would blow your palisades to
splinters. Your only safety is in flight. I know it's a hard thing to
destroy the fort that your own men built, but the responsibility of all
these women and children is upon you, and it must be done."

"So it is, Mr. Willet. I'm not one to gainsay you. I think we can be
ready by daylight. Meanwhile you four rest, and I'll have food served to
you. You've warned us and we can count upon you now to help us, can't

"To the very last," said Willet.

After the first grief among the refugees was over the work of
preparation was carried on with rapidity and skill, and mostly in
silence. There were enough men or well grown boys among the settlers to
bring the fighting force up to a hundred. Colden and his assistants knew
much of the forest now, and they were willing and anxious, too, to take
the advice of older and far more experienced men like Black Rifle and

"The fighting spirit bottled up so long in our line has surely ample
opportunity to break out in me," said Wilton to Robert toward morning.
"As I've told you before, Lennox, if I have any soldierly quality it's
no credit of mine. It's a valor suppressed in my Quaker ancestors, but
not eradicated."

"That is, if you fight you fight with the sword of your fathers and not
your own."

"You put it well, Lennox, better than I could have stated it myself.
What has become of that wonderful red friend of yours?"

"Tayoga? He has gone into the forest to see how soon we can expect
Tandakora, De Courcelles and the Indian host."

The Onondaga returned at dawn, saying that no attack need be feared
before noon, as the Indian bands were gathering at an appointed place,
and would then advance in great force.

"They'll find us gone by a good six hours," said Willet, "and we must
make every minute of those six hours worth an ordinary day, because the
warriors, wild at their disappointment, will follow, and at least we'll
have to beat off their vanguard. It's lucky all these people are used to
the forest."

Just as the first rim of the sun appeared they were ready. There were
six wagons, drawn by stout horses, in which they put the spare
ammunition and their most valuable possessions. Everybody but the
drivers walked, the women and children in the center of the column, the
best of the scouts and skirmishers in the woods on the flanks. Then at
the command of Colden the whole column moved into the forest, but
Tayoga, Willet and a half dozen others ran about from house to house,
setting them on fire with great torches, making fifty blazes which grew
rapidly, because the timbers were now dry, uniting soon into one vast

Robert and Colden, from the edge of the forest, watched the destruction
of Fort Refuge. They saw the solid log structures fall in, sending up
great masses of sparks as the burning timbers crashed together. They saw
the strong blockhouse go, and then they saw the palisade itself flaming.
Colden turned away with a sigh.

"It's almost like burning your own manor house which you built yourself,
and in which you expected to spend the remainder of your life," he said.
"It hurts all the more, too, because it's a sign that we've lost the

"But we'll come back," said Robert, who had the will to be cheerful.

"Aye, so we will," said Colden, brightening. "We'll sweep back these
French and Indians, and we'll come here and rebuild Fort Refuge on this
very spot. I'll see to it, myself. This _is_ a splendid place for a
fort, isn't it, Lennox?"

"So it is," replied Robert, smiling, "and I've no doubt, Colden, that
you'll supervise the rebuilding of Fort Refuge."

And in time, though the interval was great, it did come to pass.

Colden was not one to be gloomy long, and there was too much work ahead
for one to be morbid. Willet had spoken of the precious six hours and
they were, in, truth, more precious than diamonds. The flight was
pushed to the utmost, the old people or the little children who grew
weary were put in the wagons, and the speed they made was amazing for
the wilderness. Robert remained well in the rear with Tayoga, Willet and
Black Rifle, and they continually watched the forest for the first
appearance of the Indian pursuit. That, in time, it would appear they
never doubted, and it was their plan to give the vanguard of the
warriors such a hot reception that they would hesitate. Besides the
hundred fighting men, including the soldiers and boys large enough to
handle arms, there were about a hundred women and children. Colden
marched with the main column, and Wilton and Carson were at the rear.
Black Rifle presently went ahead to watch lest they walk into an ambush,
while Tayoga, Robert and Willet remained behind, the point from which
the greatest danger was apprehended.

"Isn't it likely," asked Robert, "that the Indians will see the light of
the burning fort, and that it will cause them to hasten?"

"More probably it will set them to wondering," replied the hunter, "and
they may hesitate. They may think a strong force has come to rescue the
garrison and people."

"But whatever Tandakora and the officer of Onontio may surmise," said
Tayoga, "our own course is plain, and that is to march as fast as we

"And hope that a body of Colonial troops and perhaps the Mohawks will
come to help us," said Willet. "Colonel William Johnson, as we all know,
is alert and vigorous, and it would be like him to push westward for the
protection of settlers and refugees. 'Twould be great luck, Tayoga, if
that bold young friend of yours, Daganoweda, the Mohawk chief, should be
in this region."

"It is not probable," said the Onondaga. "The Keepers of the Eastern
Gate are likely to remain in their own territory. They would not,
without a strong motive, cross the lands of the other nations of the
Hodenosaunee, but it is not impossible. They may have such a motive."

"Then let us hope that it exists!" exclaimed Robert fervently. "The
sight of Daganoweda and a hundred of his brave Mohawks would lift a
mighty load from my mind."

Tayoga smiled. A compliment to the Mohawks was a compliment to the
entire Hodenosaunee, and therefore to the Onondagas as well. Moreover
the fame and good name of the Mohawks meant almost as much to him as the
fame and good name of the Onondagas.

"The coming of Daganoweda would be like the coming of light itself," he

They were joined by Wilton, who, as Robert saw, had become a fine forest
soldier, alert, understanding and not conceited because of his
knowledge. Robert noted the keen, wary look of this young man of Quaker
blood, and he felt sure that in the event of an attack he would be among
the very best of the defenders.

"The spirit of battle, bursting at last in you, Will, from its long
confinement, is likely to have full chance for gratification," he said.

"So it will, Lennox, and I tremble to think of what that released spirit
may do. If I achieve any deed of daring and valor bear in mind that
it's not me, but the escaped spirit of previous ages taking violent and
reckless charge of my weak and unwilling flesh."

"Suppose we form a curtain behind our retreating caravan," said Robert.
"A small but picked force could keep back the warriors a long time, and
permit our main column to continue its flight unhampered."

"A good idea! an idea most excellent!" exclaimed Willet.

As a matter of form, the three being entirely independent in their
movements, the suggestion was made to Colden, and he agreed at once and
with thorough approval. Thirty men, including Willet, Robert, Tayoga and
Wilton, were chosen as a fighting rear guard, and the hunter himself
took command of it. Spreading out in a rather long line to prevent being
flanked, they dropped back and let the train pass out of sight on its
eastern flight.

They were now about ten miles from the burned fort, and, evidences of
pursuit not yet being visible, Robert became hopeful that the caution of
Tandakora and De Courcelles would hold them back a long time. He and
Tayoga kept together, but the thirty were stretched over a distance of
several hundred yards, and now they retreated very slowly, watching
continually for the appearance of hostile warriors.

"They have, of course, a plain trail to follow," Robert said. "One could
not have a better trace than that made by wagon wheels. It's just a
matter of choice with them whether they come fast or not."

"I think we are not likely to see them before the night," said Tayoga.
"Knowing that the column has much strength, they will prefer the
darkness and ambush."

"But they're not likely to suspect the screen that we have thrown out to
cover the retreat."

"No, that is the surprise we have prepared for them. But even so, we,
the screen, may not come into contact with them before the dark."

Tayoga's calculation was correct. The entire day passed while the rear
guard retreated slowly, and all the aspects of the forest were peaceful.
They saw no pursuing brown figures and they heard no war cry, nor the
call of one band to another. Yet Robert felt that the night would bring
a hostile appearance of some kind or other. Tandakora and De Courcelles
when they came upon the site of the burned fort would not linger long
there, but would soon pass on in eager pursuit, hoping to strike a
fleeing multitude, disorganized by panic. But he smiled to himself at
the thought that they would strike first against the curtain of fire and
steel, that is, the thirty to whom he belonged.

When night came he and Tayoga were still together and Willet was a short
distance away. He watched the last light of the sun die and then the
dusk deepen, and he felt sure that the approach of the pursuing host
could not be long delayed. His eyes continually searched the thickets
and forest in front of them for a sight of the savage vanguard.

"Can you see Tododaho upon his star?" he asked Tayoga in all

"The star is yet faint in the heavens," replied the Onondaga, "and I can
only trace across its face the mists and vapors which are the snakes in
the hair of the great chieftain, but Tododaho will not desert us. We,
his children, the Onondagas, have done no harm, and I, Tayoga, am one of
them. I feel that all the omens and presages are favorable."

The reply of the Onondaga gave Robert new strength. He had the deepest
respect for the religion of the Hodenosaunee, which he felt was so
closely akin to his own, and Tododaho was scarcely less real to him than
to Tayoga. His veins thrilled with confidence that they would drive
back, or at least hold Tandakora and De Courcelles, if they came.

The last and least doubt that they would come was dispelled within an
hour when Tayoga suddenly put a hand upon his arm, and, in a whisper,
told him to watch a bush not more than a hundred yards away.

"A warrior is in the thicket," he said. "I would not have seen him as he
crept forward had not a darker shadow appeared upon the shadow of the
night. But he is there, awaiting a chance to steal upon us and fire."

"And others are near, seeking the same opportunity."

"It is so, Dagaeoga. The attack will soon begin."

"Shall we warn Willet?"

"The Great Bear has seen already. His eyes pierce the dark and they have
noted the warrior, and the other warriors. Lie down, Dagaeoga, the first
warrior is going to fire."

Robert sank almost flat. There was a report in the bush, a flash of
fire, and a bullet whistled high over their heads. From a point on their
right came an answering report and flash, and the warrior in the bush
uttered his death cry. Robert, who was watching him, saw him throw up
his hands and fall.

"It was the bullet of the Great Bear that replied," said Tayoga. "It was
rash to fire when such a marksman lay near. Now the battle begins."

The forest gave forth a great shout, penetrating and full of menace,
coming in full volume, and indicating to the shrewd ears of Tayoga the
presence of two or three hundred warriors. Robert knew, too, that a
large force was now before them. How long could the thirty hold back the
Indian hosts? Yet he had the word of Tayoga that Tododaho looked down
upon them with benignity and that all the omens and presages were
favorable. There was a flash at his elbow and a rifle sang its deadly
song in his ear. Then Tayoga uttered a sigh of satisfaction.

"My bullet was not wasted," he said.

Robert waited his opportunity, and fired at a dusky figure which he saw
fall. He was heart and soul averse to bloodshed, but in the heat of
action, and in self-defense, he forgot his repugnance. He was as eager
now for a shot as Tayoga, Willet, or any other of the thirty. Tayoga,
who had reloaded, pulled trigger again and then a burst of firing came
from the savage host. But the thirty, inured to the forest and forest
warfare, were sheltered well, and they took no hurt. The Indians who
were usually poor marksmen, fired many bullets after their fashion and
wasted much lead.

"They make a great noise, inflict no wounds, and do not advance,"
whispered Tayoga to Robert.

"Doubtless they are surprised much at meeting our line in the forest,
and think us many times more numerous than we are."

"And we may fill their minds with illusions," said Robert hopefully.
"They may infer from our strong resistance that re├źnforcements have
come, that the Mohawks are here, or that Colonel Johnson himself has
arrived with Colonial troops."

"It may be that Waraiyageh will come in time," said Tayoga. "Ah, they
are trying to pass around our right flank."

His comment was drawn by distant shots on their right. The reports,
however, did not advance, and the two, reassured, settled back into
their places. Three or four of the best scouts and skirmishers were at
the threatened point, and they created the effect of at least a dozen.
Robert knew that the illusion of a great force confronting them was
growing in the Indian mind, and his heart glowed with satisfaction.
While they held the savage host the fugitive train was putting fresh
miles between them and pursuit. Suddenly he raised his own rifle and
fired. Then he uttered a low cry of disappointment.

"It was Tandakora himself," he said. "I couldn't mistake his size, but
it was only a glimpse, and I missed."

"The time of the Ojibway has not come," said Tayoga with conviction,
"but it will come before this war is over."

"The sooner the better for our people and yours, Tayoga."

"That is so, Dagaeoga."

They did not talk much more for a long time because the combat in the
forest and the dark deepened, and the thirty were so active that there
was little time for question or answer. They crept back and forth from
bush to bush and from log to log, firing whenever they saw a flitting
form, and reloading with quick fingers. Now and then Willet, or some
other, would reply with a defiant shout to the yells of the warriors,
and thus, while the combat of the sharpshooters surged to and fro in the
dim light, many hours passed.

But the thirty held the line. Robert knew that the illusion of at least
a hundred, doubtless more, was created in the minds of the warriors,
and, fighting with their proverbial caution, they would attempt no rush.
He had a sanguine belief now that they could hold the entire host until
day, and then the fleeing train would be at least twenty miles farther
on. A few of the thirty had been wounded, though not badly enough to put
them out of the combat, but Robert himself had not been touched. As
usual with him in moments of success or triumph his spirits flamed high,
and his occasional shout of defiance rose above the others.

"In another hour," said Tayoga, "we must retreat."

"Why?" asked Robert. "When we're holding 'em so well?"

"By day they will be able to discover how few we are, and then, although
they may not be able to force our front, they will surely spread out and
pass around our flanks. I do not see the Great Bear now, but I know he
thinks so, too, and it will not be long before we hear from him."

Within five minutes Willet, who was about a hundred yards away, uttered
a low whistle, which drew to him Robert, Tayoga and others, and then he
passed the word by them to the whole line to withdraw swiftly, but in
absolute silence, knowing that the longer Tandakora and De Courcelles
thought the defenders were in their immediate front the better it was
for their purpose. Seven of the thirty were wounded, but not one of them
was put out of the combat. Their hurts merely stung them to renewed
energy, and lighted higher in them the fire of battle.

Under the firm leadership of Willet they retreated as a group, wholly
without noise, vanishing in the thickets, and following fast on the
tracks left by the wagons. When the sun rose they stopped and Tayoga
went back to see if the Indian host was yet coming. He returned in an
hour saying there was no indication of pursuit, and Robert exulted.

"We've come away, and yet we are still there!" he exclaimed.

"What do you mean?" asked Willet.

"We abandoned our position, but we left the great illusion there for the
warriors. They think we're still before 'em and so long as that illusion
lasts it will hold 'em. So you see, Dave, an illusion is often fully as
good as reality."

"It may be for a little while, but it doesn't last as long. Within
another hour Tandakora and De Courcelles will surely find out that we've
gone, and then, raging mad, they'll come on our trail."

"And we'll meet 'em with a second stand, I suppose?"

"If we can find a good place for defense."

One of the men, Oldham, who had been sent ahead, soon returned with news
that the train had crossed a deep creek with rather high banks.

"It was a hard ford," he said, "but I followed the trail some distance
on the other side, and they seem to have made the passage without any
bad accident."

"Was the far bank of the creek thick with forest?" asked Willet.

"Trees and undergrowth are mighty dense there," replied Oldham.

"Then that's the place for our second stand. If we can hold the creek
against 'em for three or four hours more it will be another tremendous
advantage gained. With high banks and the woods and thickets on 'em so
dense, we ought to create what Robert would call a second illusion."

"We will!" exclaimed Robert. "We can do it!"

"At least, we'll try," said Willet, and he led the little force at speed
toward the creek.



The deep creek with its high banks and interwoven forest and thickets on
the other side formed an excellent second line of defense, and Willet,
with the instinct of a true commander, made the most of it, again
posting his men at wide intervals until they covered a distance of
several hundred yards, at the same time instructing them to conceal
themselves carefully, and let the enemy make the first move. He allowed
Robert and Tayoga to remain together, knowing they were at their best
when partners.

The two lay behind the huge trunk of a tree torn down by some old
hurricane and now almost hidden by vegetation and trailing vines. They
were very comfortable there, and, uplifted by their success of the night
they were sanguine of an equal success by day.

To the right Robert caught occasional glimpses of Willet, moving about
in the bushes, but save for these stray glances he watched the other
side of the stream. Luckily it was rather open there, and no savage,
however cunning, could come within fifty yards of it without being seen
by the wary eyes in the thickets.

"How long do you think it will be before they come?" Robert asked of
Tayoga, for whose forest lore he had an immense respect.

1 2 4 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21

Online LibraryJoseph A. AltshelerThe Rulers of the Lakes A Story of George and Champlain → online text (page 4 of 21)