Joseph A. Altsheler.

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

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under the thick shade of his long lashes. They brought reports of the
greatest activity among the French and Indians about the northern end of
Andiatarocte, and that Dieskau was advancing in absolute confidence that
he would equal the achievement of Dumas, St. Luc, Ligneris and the
others against Braddock. All about him were the terrible Indian swarms.
Every settler not slain had fled with his people for their lives. Only
the most daring and skillful of the American forest runners could live
in the woods, and the price they paid was perpetual vigilance. Foremost
among the Indian leaders was Tandakora, the huge Ojibway, and he spared
none who fell into his hands. Torture and death were their fate.

The face of Colonel Johnson darkened when Rogers told him the news. "My
poor people!" he groaned. "Why were we compelled to wait so long?" And
by his "people" he meant the Mohawks no less than the whites. The
valiant tribe, and none more valiant ever lived, was threatened with
destruction by the victorious and exultant hordes.

Refugees poured into Albany, bringing tales of destruction and terror.
Albany itself would soon be attacked by Dieskau, with his regulars, his
cannon, his Canadians and his thousands of Indians, and it could not
stand before them. Robert, Tayoga and Willet were with Colonel Johnson,
when Rogers and Black Rifle arrived, and they saw his deep grief and
anger.

"The army will march in a few more days, David, old friend," he said,
"but it must move slowly. One cannot take cannon and wagons through the
unbroken forest, and so I am sending forward two thousand men to cut a
road. Then our main force will advance, but we should do something
earlier, something that will brush back these murderous swarms. David,
old friend, what are we to do?"

Willet looked around in thought, and he caught the flashing eyes of
Rogers. He glanced at Black Rifle and his dark eyes, too, were sparkling
under their dark lashes. He understood what was in their minds, and it
appealed to him.

"Colonel Johnson," he said, "one must burn the faces of the French and
Indians, and show them a victory is not theirs until they've won it. Let
Mr. Rogers here take the rangers he has, other picked ones from the
camp, Robert, Tayoga and me, perhaps also a chosen band of Mohawks under
Daganoweda, and go forward to strike a blow that will delay Dieskau."

The somber face of Waraiyageh lightened.

"David Willet," he said, "you are a man. I have always known it, but it
seems to me that every time I meet you you have acquired some new virtue
of the mind. 'Tis a daring task you undertake, but a noble one that I
think will prove fruitful. Perhaps, though, you should leave the lads
behind."

Then up spoke Robert indignantly.

"I've been through a thousand dangers with Dave, and I'll not shirk a
new one. I have no commission in the army and it cannot hold me. I shall
be sorry to go without your permission, Colonel Johnson, but go I surely
will."

"For more centuries than man knows, my ancestors have trod the war
trail," said Tayoga, "and I should not be worthy to have been born a son
of the clan of the Bear, of the nation Onondaga, of the great League of
the Hodenosaunee, if I did not go now upon the greatest war trail of
them all, when the nations gather to fight for the lordship of half a
world. When the Great Bear and the Mountain Wolf and Dagaeoga and the
others leave this camp for the shores of Andiatarocte I go with them!"

He stood very erect, his head thrown back a little, his eyes flashing,
his face showing unalterable resolve. Colonel Johnson laughed mellowly.

"What a pair of young eagles we have!" he exclaimed in a pleased tone.
"And if that fiery child, Joseph Brant, were here he would be wild to go
too! And if I let him go on such a venture Molly Brant would never
forgive me. Well, it's a good spirit and I have no right to make any
further objection. But do you, Dave Willet, and you, Rogers, and you,
Black Rifle, see that they take no unnecessary risks."

Grosvenor also was eager to go, but they thought his experience in the
woods was yet too small for him to join the rangers, and, to his great
disappointment, the band was made up without him. Then they arranged for
their departure.




CHAPTER VII

ON THE GREAT TRAIL


Robert appreciated fully all the dangers they were sure to encounter
upon their perilous expedition to the lakes. Having the gift of
imagination, he saw them in their most alarming colors, but having a
brave heart also, he was more than willing, he was eager to encounter
them with his chosen comrades by his side. The necessity of striking
some quick and sharp blow became more apparent every hour, or the lakes,
so vital in the fortunes of the war, would soon pass into the complete
possession of the French and Indians.

The band was chosen and equipped with the utmost care. It included, of
course, all of Rogers' rangers, Robert, Tayoga, Willet and Black Rifle,
making a total of fifty white men, all of tried courage and inured to
the forest. Besides there were fifty Mohawks under Daganoweda, the very
pick of the tribe, stalwart warriors, as tough as hickory, experienced
in every art of wilderness trail and war, and eager to be at the foe.
Every white man was armed with a rifle, a pistol, a hatchet and a knife,
carrying also a pouch containing many bullets, a large horn of powder, a
blanket folded tightly and a knapsack full of food. The Mohawks were
armed to the teeth in a somewhat similar fashion, and, it being
midsummer and the weather warm, they were bare to the waist. Rogers, the
ranger, was in nominal command of the whole hundred, white and red, but
Willet and Daganoweda in reality were on an equality, and since the
three knew one another well and esteemed one another highly they were
sure to act in perfect coordination. Black Rifle, it was understood,
would go and come as he pleased. He was under the orders of no man.

"I give you no instructions," said Colonel William Johnson to the three
leaders, "because I know of none to be given under such circumstances.
No man can tell what awaits you in the forest and by the lakes. I merely
ask you in God's name to be careful! Do not walk into any trap! And yet
'tis foolish of me to warn Robert Rogers, David Willet, Black Rifle and
Daganoweda, four foresters who probably haven't their equal in all North
America. But we can ill afford to lose you. If you do not see your way
to strike a good blow perhaps it would be better to come back and march
with the army."

"You don't mean that, William, old friend," said Willet, smiling and
addressing him familiarly by his first name. "In your heart you would be
ashamed of us if we returned without achieving at least one good deed
for our people. And turning from William, my old friend, to Colonel
William Johnson, our commander, I think I can promise that a high deed
will be achieved. Where could you find a hundred finer men than these,
fifty white and fifty red?"

Daganoweda, who understood him perfectly, smiled proudly and glanced at
the ranks of Mohawks who stood impassive, save for their eager, burning
eyes.

"But be sure to bring back the good lads, Robert and Tayoga," said
Mynheer Jacobus Huysman, who stood with Colonel William Johnson. "I
would keep them from going, if I could, but I know I cannot and perhaps
I am proud of them, because I know they will not listen to me."

King Hendrik of the Mohawks, in his gorgeous colored clothes, was also
present, his bronzed and aged face lighted up with the warlike gleam
from his eyes. Evidently his mind was running back over the countless
forays and expeditions he had led in the course of fifty years. He
longed once more for the forests, the beautiful lakes and the great war
trail. His seventy years had not quenched his fiery spirit, but they had
taken much of his strength, and so he would abide with the army, going
with it on its slow march.

"My son," he said, with the gravity and dignity of an old Indian sachem,
to Daganoweda, "upon this perilous chance you carry the honor and
fortune of the Ganeagaono, the great warlike nation of the Hodenosaunee.
It is not necessary for me to bid you do your duty and show to the Great
Bear, the Mountain Wolf, Black Rifle and the other white men that a
young Mohawk chief will go where any other will go, and if need be will
die with all his men before yielding a foot of ground. I do not bid you
do these things because I know that you will do them without any words
from me, else you would not be a Mohawk chief, else you would not be
Daganoweda, son of fire and battle."

Daganoweda smiled proudly. The wise old sachem had struck upon the most
responsive chords in his nature.

"I will try to bear myself as a Mohawk should," he said simply.

Colden and Grosvenor were also there.

"I'm sorry our troop can't go with you," said the young Philadelphian,
"but I'm not one to question the wisdom and decision of our
commander-in-chief. Doubtless we'd be a drag upon such a band as yours,
but I wish we could have gone. At least, we'll be with the army which is
going to march soon, and perhaps we'll overtake you at Lake George
before many days."

"And I," said Grosvenor to Robert and Tayoga, "am serving on the staff
of the commander. I'm perhaps the only Englishman here and I'm an
observer more than anything else. So I could be spared most readily, but
the colonel will not let me go. He says there is no reason why we should
offer a scalp without price to Tandakora, the Ojibway."

"And I abide by what I said," laughed Colonel Johnson, who heard.
"You're in conditions new to you, Grosvenor, though you've had one
tragic and dreadful proof of what the Indians can do, but there's great
stuff in you and I'm not willing to see it thrown away before it's
developed. Don't be afraid the French and Indians won't give you all the
fighting you want, though I haven't the slightest doubt you'll stand up
to it like a man."

"Thank you, sir," said Grosvenor, modestly.

The lad, Peter, was also eager to go, and he was soothed only by the
promise of Mynheer Jacobus Huysman that he might join the army on the
march to Lake George.

Then the leaders gave the word and the hundred foresters, fifty white
and fifty red, plunged into the great northern wilderness which
stretched through New York into Canada, one of the most beautiful
regions on earth, and at that particular time the most dangerous,
swarming with ruthless Indians and daring French partisans.

It was remarkable how soon they reached the wilds after leaving Albany.
The Dutch had been along the Hudson for more than a century, and the
English had come too, but all of them had clung mostly to the river.
Powerful and warlike tribes roamed the great northern forests, and the
French colonies in the north and the English colonies in the south had a
healthy respect for the fighting powers of one another. The doubtful
ground between was wide and difficult, and anyone who ventured into it
now had peril always beside him.

The forest received the hundred, the white and the red, and hid them at
once in its depths. It was mid-summer, but there was yet no brown on the
leaves. A vast green canopy overhung the whole earth, and in every
valley flowed brooks and rivers of clean water coming down from the firm
hills. The few traces made by the white man had disappeared since the
war. The ax was gone, and the scalp-hunters had taken its place.

Robert, vivid of mind, quickly responsive to the externals of nature,
felt all the charm and majesty that the wilderness in its mightiest
manifestations had for him. He did not think of danger yet, because he
was surrounded by men of so much bravery and skill. He did not believe
that in all the world there was such another hundred, and he was full of
pride to be the comrade of such champions.

Daganoweda and the Mohawks reverted at once to the primitive, from which
they had never departed much. The young Mohawk chieftain was in advance
with Willet. He had a blanket but it was folded and carried in a small
pack on his back. He was bare to the waist and his mighty chest was
painted in warlike fashion. All his warriors were in similar attire or
lack of it.

Daganoweda was happy. Robert saw his black eyes sparkling, and he
continually raised his nose to scent the wind like some hunting animal.
Robert knew that in his fierce heart he was eager for the sight of a
hostile band. The enemy could not come too soon for Daganoweda and the
Mohawks. Tayoga's face showed the same stern resolve, but the Onondaga,
more spiritual than the Mohawk, lacked the fierceness of Daganoweda.

When they were well into the wilderness they stopped and held a
consultation, in which Rogers, Willet, Black Rifle, Daganoweda, Robert
and Tayoga shared. They were to decide a question of vital
importance - their line of march. They believed that Dieskau and the main
French army had not yet reached Crown Point, the great French fortress
on Lake Champlain, but there was terrible evidence that the swarms of
his savage allies were not only along Champlain but all around Lake
George, and even farther south. Unquestionably the French partisan
leaders were with them, and where and when would it be best for the
American-Iroquois force to strike?

"I think," said Willet, "that St. Luc himself will be here. The Marquis
de Vaudreuil, the new Governor General of Canada, knows his merit and
will be sure to send him ahead of Dieskau."

Robert felt the thrill that always stirred him at the mention of St.
Luc's name. Would they meet once more in the forest? He knew that if the
Chevalier came all their own skill and courage would be needed to meet
him on equal terms. However kindly St. Luc might feel toward him he
would be none the less resolute and far-seeing in battle against the
English and Americans.

"I think we should push for the western shore of Andiatarocte," said
Willet. "What is your opinion, Daganoweda?"

"The Great Bear is right. He is nearly always right," replied the
Mohawk. "If we go along the eastern shore and bear in toward Champlain
we might be trapped by the French and their warriors. West of
Andiatarocte the danger to us would not be so great, while we would have
an equal chance to strike."

"Well spoken, Daganoweda," said Rogers. "I agree with you that for the
present it would be wise for us to keep away from Oneadatote (the Indian
name for Lake Champlain) and keep to Andiatarocte. The Indians are armed
at Crown Point on Oneadatote, which was once our own Fort Saint
Frederick, founded by us, but plenty of them spread to the westward and
we'll be sure to have an encounter."

The others were of a like opinion, and the line of march was quickly
arranged. Then they settled themselves for the night, knowing there was
no haste, as the French and Indians would come to meet them, but knowing
also there was always great need of caution, since if their foes were
sure to come it was well to know just when they would come. The Mohawks
asked for the watch, meaning to keep it with three relays of a dozen
warriors each, a request that Rogers and Willet granted readily, and all
the white forest runners prepared for sleep, save the strange and
terrible man whom they commonly called Black Rifle.

Black Rifle, whose story was known in some form along the whole border,
was a figure with a sort of ominous fascination for Robert, who could
not keep from watching him whenever he was within eye-shot. He had
noticed that the man was restless and troubled at Albany. The presence
of so many people and the absence of the wilderness appeared to vex him.
But since they had returned to the forest his annoyance and uneasiness
were gone. He was confident and assured, he seemed to have grown greatly
in size, and he was a formidable and menacing figure.

Black Rifle did not watch with the Mohawk sentinels, but he was
continually making little trips into the forest, absences of ten or
fifteen minutes, and whenever he returned his face bore a slight look of
disappointment. Robert knew it was because he had found no Indian sign,
but to the lad himself the proof that the enemy was not yet near gave
peace. He was eager to go on the great war trail, but he was not fond of
bloodshed, though to him more perhaps than to any other was given the
vision of a vast war, and of mighty changes with results yet more
mighty flowing from those changes. His heart leaped at the belief that
he should have a part in them, no matter how small the part.

He lay on the grass with his blanket beneath him, his head on a pillow
of dead leaves. Not far away was Tayoga, already asleep. They had built
no fires, and as the night was dark the bronze figures of the Indian
sentinels soon grew dim. Rogers and Willet also slept, but Robert still
lay there awake, seeing many pictures through his wide-open eyes,
Quebec, the lost Stadacona of the Mohawks, the St. Lawrence, Tandakora,
the huge Ojibway who had hunted him so fiercely, St. Luc, De Courcelles,
and all the others who had passed out of his life for a while, though he
felt now, with the prescience of old King Hendrik, that they were coming
back again. His path would lie for a long time away from cities and the
gay and varied life that appealed to him so much, and would lead once
more through the wilderness, which also appealed to him, but in another
way. Hence when he slept his wonderfully vivid imagination did not
permit him to sleep as soundly as the others.

He awoke about midnight and sat up on his blanket, looking around at the
sleeping forms, dim in the darkness. He distinguished Tayoga near him,
just beyond him the mighty figure of Willet, then that of Rogers,
scarcely less robust, and farther on some of the white men. He did not
see Black Rifle, but he felt sure that he was in the forest, looking for
the signs of Indians and hoping to find them. Daganoweda also was
invisible and it was likely that the fiery young Mohawk chief was
outside the camp on an errand similar to that of Black Rifle. He was
able to trace on the outskirts the figures of the sentinels, shadowy and
almost unreal in the darkness, but he knew that the warriors of the
Ganeagaono watched with eyes that saw everything even in the dusk, and
listened with ears that heard everything, whether night or day.

He fell again into a doze or a sort of half sleep in which Tarenyawagon,
the sender of dreams, made him see more pictures and see them much
faster than he ever saw them awake. The time of dreams did not last more
than half an hour, but in that period he lived again many years of his
life. He passed once more through many scenes of his early boyhood when
Willet was teaching him the ways of the forest. He met Tayoga anew for
the first time, together they went to the house of Mynheer Jacobus
Huysman in Albany, and together they went to the school of Alexander
McLean; then he jumped over a long period and with Willet and Tayoga had
his first meeting with St. Luc and Tandakora. He was talking to the
Frenchman when he came out of that period of years which was yet less
than an hour, and sat up.

All the others save the sentinels were asleep, but his delicate senses
warned him that something was moving in the forest. It was at first an
instinct rather than anything seen or heard, but soon he traced against
the misty background of the dusk the shadowy figures of moving Mohawks.
He saw the tall form of Daganoweda, who had come back from the forest,
and who must have come because he had something to tell. Then he made
out behind the Mohawk chief, Black Rifle, and, although he could not
see his features, the white man nevertheless looked swart and menacing,
an effect of the day carried over into the night.

It was Robert's first impulse to lie down again and pretend not to know,
but he remembered that he was in the full confidence of them all, a
trusted lieutenant, welcomed at any time, anywhere, and so remembering,
he arose and walked on light foot to the place where Daganoweda stood
talking with the others. The Mohawk chief gave him one favoring glance,
telling him he was glad that he had come. Then he returned his attention
to a young Indian warrior who stood alert, eager and listening.

"Haace (Panther), where did you find the sign that someone had passed?"
he asked.

"Two miles to the north _Gao_ (the wind) brought me a sound," replied
Haace. "It was light. It might have been made by the boughs of _Oondote_
(a tree) rubbing together, but the ears of Haace told him it was not so.
I crept through _Gabada_ (the forest) to the place, whence the sound had
come, and lo! it and whatever had made it were gone, but I found among
the bushes traces to show that moccasins had passed."

Fire leaped up in the black eyes of Daganoweda.

"Did you follow?" he asked.

"For a mile, and I found other traces of moccasins passing. The traces
met and fused into one trail. All the owners of the moccasins knelt and
drank at a _Dushote_ (a spring), and as they were very thirsty they must
have come far."

"How do you know, Haace?"

"Because the imprints of their knees were sunk deep in the earth,
showing that they drank long and with eagerness. _Oneganosa_ (the water)
was sweet to their lips, and they would not have drunk so long had they
not been walking many miles. I would have followed further, but I felt
that I should come back and tell to my chief, Daganoweda, what I had
seen."

"You have done well, Haace. Some day the Panther will turn into a
chief."

The black eyes of the young warrior flashed with pleasure, but he said
nothing, silence becoming him when he was receiving precious words of
praise from his leader.

"I saw sign of the savages too," said Black Rifle. "I came upon the
coals of a dead fire about two days' old. By the side of it I found
these two red beads that had dropped from the leggings or moccasins of
some warrior. I've seen beads of this kind before, and they all come
from the French in Canada."

"Then," said Robert, speaking for the first time, "you've no doubt the
enemy is near?"

"None in the world," replied Black Rifle, "but I think they're going
west, away from us. It's not likely they know yet we're here, but so
large a band as ours can't escape their notice long."

"If they did not find that we are here," said Daganoweda proudly, "we
would soon tell it to them ourselves, and in such manner that they would
remember it."

"That we would," said Black Rifle, with equal emphasis. "Now, what do
you think, Daganoweda? Should we wake the Great Bear and the Mountain
Wolf?"

"No, Black Rifle. Let them sleep on. They will need tomorrow the sleep
they get tonight. Man lives by day in the sleep that he has at night,
and we wish the eyes of them all to be clear and the arms of them all to
be strong, when the hour of battle, which is not far away, comes to us."

"You're right, Daganoweda, right in both things you say, right that they
need all their strength, and right that we'll soon meet St. Luc, at the
head of the French and Indians, because I'm as sure as I know that I'm
standing here that he's now leading 'em. Shall we finish out the night
here, and then follow on their trail until we can bring 'em to battle on
terms that suit us?"

"Yes, Black Rifle. That is what the Great Bear and the Mountain Wolf
would say too, and so I shall not awake them. Instead, I too will go to
sleep."

Daganoweda, as much a Viking as any that ever lived in Scandinavia, lay
down among his men and went quickly to the home over which Tarenyawagon
presided. Haace, filled with exultation that he had received the high
approval of his chief, slid away among the trees on another scout, and,
in like manner, the forest swallowed up Black Rifle. Once more the camp
was absolutely silent, only the thin and shadowy figures of the bronze
sentinels showing through the misty gloom. Robert lay down again and
Tarenyawagon, the sender of dreams, held him in his spell. His excited
brain, even in sleep, was a great sensitive plate, upon which pictures,
vivid and highly colored, were passing in a gorgeous procession.

Now, Tarenyawagon carried him forward and not back. They met St. Luc in
battle, and it was dark and bloody. How it ended he did not know,
because a veil was dropped over it suddenly, and then he was in the
forest with Tayoga, fleeing for his life once more from Tandakora, De
Courcelles and their savage band. Nor was it given to him to know how
the pursuit ended, because the veil fell again suddenly, and when it was
lifted he was in a confused and terrible battle not far from a lake,
where French soldiers, American soldiers and English soldiers were


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Online LibraryJoseph A. AltshelerThe Rulers of the Lakes A Story of George and Champlain → online text (page 9 of 21)