Joseph A. Altsheler.

The Lords of the Wild A Story of the Old New York Border online

. (page 18 of 18)
Online LibraryJoseph A. AltshelerThe Lords of the Wild A Story of the Old New York Border → online text (page 18 of 18)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


die. Such valor would march to triumph in the end.

He lay awake almost the whole night, and he did not expect Abercrombie
to advance again. Somehow he had the feeling that the play, so far as
this particular drama was concerned, was played out. The blow was
so heavy that he was in a dull and apathetic state from which he was
stirred only once in the evening, and that was when two Frenchmen
passed near him, escorting a prisoner of whose face he caught a
glimpse in the firelight. He started forward, exclaiming:

"Charteris!"[1]

The young man, tall, handsome and firm of feature, although a
captive, turned.

"Who called me?" he asked.

"It is I, Robert Lennox," said Robert. "I knew you in New York!"

"Aye, Mr. Lennox. I recognize you now. We meet again, after so long
a time. I could have preferred the meeting to be elsewhere and under
other circumstances, but it is something to know that you are alive."

They shook hands with great friendliness and the Frenchmen, who were
guarding Charteris, waited patiently.

"May our next meeting be under brighter omens," said Robert.

"I think it will be," said Charteris confidently.

Then he went on. It was a long time before they were to see each other
again, and the drama that was to bring them face to face once more was
destined to be as thrilling as that at Ticonderoga.

The next night came heavy and dark, and Robert, who continued to be
treated with singular forbearance, wandered toward Lake Champlain,
which lay pale and shadowy under the thick dusk. No one stopped him.
The sentinels seemed to have business elsewhere, and suddenly he
remembered his old threat to escape. Hope returned to a mind that had
been stunned for a time, and it came back vivid and strong. Then hope
sank down again, when a figure issued from the dusk, and stood before
him. It was St. Luc.

"Mr. Lennox," said the Chevalier, "what are you doing here?"

"Merely wandering about," replied Robert. "I'm a prisoner, as you
know, but no one is bothering about me, which I take to be natural
when the echoes of so great a battle have scarcely yet died."

St. Luc looked at him keenly and Robert met his gaze. He could not
read the eye of the Chevalier.

"You have been a prisoner of ours once before, but you escaped," said
the Chevalier. "It seems that you are a hard lad to hold."

"But then I had the help of the greatest trailer and forest runner in
the world, my staunch friend, Tayoga, the Onondaga."

"If he rescued you once he will probably try to do it again, and the
great hunter, Willet, is likely to be with him. I suppose you were
planning a few moments ago to escape along the shore of the lake."

"I might have been, but I see now that it is too late."

"Too late is a phrase that should be seldom used by youth."

Robert tried once again to read the Chevalier's eye, but St. Luc's
look contained the old enigma.

"I admit," said young Lennox, "that I thought I might find an open
place in your line. It was only a possible chance."

St. Luc shrugged his shoulders, and looked at the darkness that lay
before them like a great black blanket.

"There is much yet to be done by us at Ticonderoga," he said. "Perhaps
it is true that a possible chance for you to escape does exist, but
my duties are too important for me to concern myself about guarding a
single prisoner."

His figure vanished. He was gone without noise, and Robert stared at
the place where he had been. Then the hope of escape came back, more
vivid and more powerful than ever. "Too late," was a phrase that
should not be known to youth. St. Luc was right. He walked straight
ahead. No sentinel barred the way. Presently the lake, still and
luminous, stretched across his path, and, darting into the bushes
along its edge, he ran for a long time. Then he sank down and looked
back. He saw dimly the lights of the camp, but he heard no sound of
pursuit.

Rising, he began a great curve about Ticonderoga, intending to seek
his own army, which he knew could not yet be far away. Once he heard
light footsteps and hid deep in the bush. From his covert he saw a
band of warriors at least twenty in number go by, their lean, sinewy
figures showing faintly in the dusk. Their faces were turned toward
the south and he shuddered. Already they were beginning to raid the
border. He knew that they had taken little or no part in the battle at
Ticonderoga, but now the great success of the French would bring them
flocking back to Montcalm's banner, and they would rush like wolves
upon those whom they thought defenseless, hoping for more slaughters
like that of William Henry.

Tandakora would not neglect such a glowing opportunity for scalps. His
savage spirit would incite the warriors to attempts yet greater, and
Robert looked closely at the dusky line, thinking for a moment that
he might be there. But he did not see his gigantic figure and the
warriors flitted on, gone like shadows in the darkness. Then the
fugitive youth resumed his own flight.

Far in the night Robert sank down in a state of exhaustion. It was
a physical and mental collapse, coming with great suddenness, but he
recognized it for what it was, the natural consequence flowing from
a period of such excessive strain. His emotions throughout the great
battle had been tense and violent, and they had been hardly less so in
the time that followed and in the course of the events that led to his
escape. And knowing, he forced himself to do what was necessary.

He lay down in the shelter of dense bushes, and kept himself perfectly
quiet for a long time. He would not allow hand or foot to move. His
weary heart at last began to beat with regularity, the blood ceased to
pound in his temples, and his nerves grew steadier. He dozed a little,
or at least passed into a state that was midway between wakefulness
and oblivion. Then the terrible battle was fought once more before
him. Again he heard the crash and roar of the French fire, again
he saw British and Americans coming forward in indomitable masses,
offering themselves to death, once again he saw them tangled among the
logs and sharpened boughs, and then mowed down at the wooden wall.

He roused himself and passed his hands over his eyes to shut away that
vision of the stricken field and the vivid reminder of his terrible
disappointment. The picture was still as fresh as the reality and it
sent shudders through him every time he saw it. He would keep it from
his sight whenever he could, lest he grow too morbid.

He rose and started once more toward the south, but the forest became
more dense and tangled and the country rougher. In his weakened state
he was not able to think with his usual clearness and precision, and
he lost the sense of direction. He began to wander about aimlessly,
and at last he stopped almost in despair.

He was in a desperate plight. He was unarmed, and a man alone and
without weapons in the wilderness was usually as good as lost. He
looked around, trying to study the points of the compass. The night
was not dark. Trees and bushes stood up distinctly, and on a bough not
far away, his eyes suddenly caught a flash of blue.

The flash was made by a small, glossy bird that wavered on a bough,
and he was about to turn away, taking no further notice of it, when
the bird flew slowly before him and in a direction which he now knew
led straight toward the south. He remembered. Back to his mind rushed
an earlier escape, and how he had followed the flight of a bird to
safety. Had Tayoga's Manitou intervened again in his favor? Was it
chance? Or did he in a dazed state imagine that he saw what he did not
see?

The bird, an azure flash, flew on before him, and hope flowing in an
invincible tide in his veins, he followed. He was in continual fear
lest the blue flame fade away, but on he went, over hills and across
valleys and brooks, and it was always just before him. He had been
worn and weary before, but now he felt strong and active. Courage
rose steadily in his veins, and he had no doubt that he would reach
friends.

Near dawn the bird suddenly disappeared among the leaves. Robert
stopped and heard a light foot-step in the bushes. Being apprehensive
lest he be re-taken, he shrank away and then stopped. He listened a
while, and the sound not being repeated, he hoped that he had been
mistaken, but a voice called suddenly from a bush not ten feet away:

"Come, Dagaeoga! The Great Bear and I await you. Tododaho, watching on
his star, has sent us into your path."

Robert, uttering a joyful cry, sprang forward, and the Onondaga and
Willet, rising from the thicket, greeted him with the utmost warmth.

"I knew we'd find you again," said Willet "How did you manage to
escape?"

"A way seemed to open for me," replied Robert. "The last man I saw in
the French camp was St. Luc. After that I met no sentinel, although I
passed where a sentinel would stand."

"Ah!" said Willet.

They gave him food, and after sunrise they started toward the south.
Robert told how he had seen the great battle and the French victory.

"Tayoga, Black Rifle, Grosvenor and I were in the attack," said
Willet, "but we went through it without a scratch. No troops ever
fought more bravely than ours. The defeat was the fault of the
commander, not theirs. But we'll put behind us the battle lost and
think of the battle yet to be won."

"So we will," said Robert, as he looked around at the great curving
forest, its deep green tinted with the light brown of summer. It was a
friendly forest now. It no longer had the aspect of the night before,
when the wolves, their jaws slavering in anticipation, howled in its
thickets. Rabbits sprang up as they passed, but the little creatures
of the wild did not seem to be afraid. They did not run away. Instead,
they crouched under the bushes, and gazed with mild eyes at the human
beings who made no threats. A deer, drinking at the edge of a brook,
raised its head a little and then continued to drink. Birds sang in
the dewy dawn with uncommon freshness and sweetness. The whole world
was renewed.

Creature, as he was, of his moods, Robert's spirits soared again at
his meeting with Tayoga and Willet, those staunch friends of his,
bound to him by such strong ties and so many dangers shared. The past
was the past, Ticonderoga was a defeat, a great defeat, when a victory
had been expected, but it was not irreparable. Hope sang in his
heart and his face flushed in the dawn. The Onondaga, looking at him,
smiled.

"Dagaeoga already looks to the future," he said.

"So I do," replied Robert with enthusiasm. "Why shouldn't I? The night
just passed has favored me. I escaped. I met you and Dave, and it's a
glorious morning."

The sun was rising in a splendid sea of color, tinting the woods with
red and gold. Never had the wilderness looked more beautiful to him.
He turned his face in the direction of Ticonderoga.

"We'll come back," he said, his heart full of courage, "and we'll yet
win the victory, even to the taking of Quebec."

"So we will," said the hunter.

"Aye, Stadacona itself will fall," said Tayoga.

Refreshed and strong, they plunged anew into the forest, traveling
swiftly toward the south.


[Footnote 1: The story of Edward Charteris and his adventures at
Ticonderoga and Quebec is told in the author's novel, "A Soldier of
Manhattan."]


THE END







1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 18

Online LibraryJoseph A. AltshelerThe Lords of the Wild A Story of the Old New York Border → online text (page 18 of 18)