P. Hamilton (Peter Hamilton) Myers.

The King of the Hurons online

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silently down the lake.

The boats kept near each other, and when they came opposite the
scene of their recent danger, the Lynx obtained permission to ap-
proach towards the shore and make an effort to bring oflf the myste-
^rious hunter who had rendered them such signal service, and who, it
was thought, might have valuable intelligence to impart. Great
caution was necessary in this attempt, and the count indulged but
little hope of its success ; not so, however, his oarsmen, who knew
more of Indian tactics.

" He'll find him, sir, — the Lynx will," said Francis, who, in times
of unusual excitement, expressed an occasional opinion without re-
proof; "he'll find him, sir, as if it were daylight; there's a sort of
free-masonry among them, sir, as I told you ; by and by you'll hear
a whip-po-will, mayhap, or a tree-toad, or perhaps only a cricket's
chirp, and it will be answered on the shore, — and there he is, sir, —


ai]d he'll plunge into the lake and swim out to the boat, croaking
now and then like a bnll-frog, to show his course ; ah, they're cute
fellows, these savages are, sir ; there's a sort of free-masonry among
them, as I said, sir."

Francis's predictions did not prove to be incorrect ; W'hatever had
been the means resorted to by the Lynx to accomplish his purpose,
he rejoined the barge in a short time accompanied by the stranger,
who proved, he said, to be a Huron hunter, know^n as the Beaver,
and who brought the alarming intelligence that the whole band of
the Iroquois had set out for the outlet of the lake. The haste and
excitement which this information occasioned left little time foi" atten-
tion to its bearer, who conversed only in an Indian dialect, and whom
ilie count did not, in consequence, personally question.



«' Through the trees tierce eyeballs glowed,

Dark human forms in moonshine showed,

Wild from their native wilderness,

With painted limbs and battle dress V'—Whiltier.

A NIGHT of excessive anxiety, of frequent alarms, and of the
most wearying labor at the oars, brought the travellers near the
northern extremity of the lake, not, as they had hoped, while it was
yet dark, but just as the grey twilight of morning was diffusing
itself over the landscape. A fearful uncertainty prevailed as to the
position of the enemy, and a dread that, having outstripped the
boats, they might be already in possession of the dangerous pass.
That they had followed, or preceded the voyagers, night-long, upon
the shore, hke a pack of untiring wolves, no doubt was entertained.
It would have been hazardous, however, to lose, by inaction, their
probable advantage of precedence in the race, and it was resolved to
press forward with caution.

The canoe containing the Indians took the advance, and never
were eyes more faithfully used than were those of these vigilant
men, which seemed to pierce the very depths of the forest on every
side, overlooking nothing, and never, for an instant, relaxing their
scrutiny. But everything was quiet. They approached, and glided
silently into the creek, favored by its current, and hoping soon to
float freely upon the broad bosom of the lower lake. For a few
miles they proceeded rapidly, noiselessly, and uninterrupted ; the
silver waters of the Champlain were already greeting, from afar,


their longing eyes, when the Lynx leaped suddenly from his boat
into the shallow water, followed by the Algonquin and the Beaver,
all of whom sprang to the shore with their weapons, imploring the
oarsmen, meanwhile, to quicken their speed. This sudden move-
ment, which had carried terror into every heart, was occasioned by
the discovery of the enemy, about half a mile behind, surmounting
a small eminence, and running rapidly towards the travellers. The
ladies, nearly swooning with fear, were still reUeved to see that the
three brave men stationed themselves on the shore until the barge
had passed, and then followed the boats, thus covering their retreat
as best they could.

The speed of the vessels Wiis at once greatly accelerated, both
because the leading one was relieved of a material portion of its
weight, and because there was no longer need of precautions to
avoid an ambuscade in front. The enemy were behind, and all that
was to be done was to press unremittingly forward with the hope of
reaching the lake, and attaining a safe offing before the pursuers
gained a proximity which would allow them to make a fatal use of
their weapons. The headlong velocity of the foe seemed, indeed, to
manifest a consciousness of this prospect of escape, and that their
only chance of overtaking the fugitives was the present rapidly
receding o[)portunity. The count, with pallid Hps, begged tlie ladies
not to be alarmed, manifesting his own fears, meanwhile, by the
most earnest and ill-judged commands to the faithful oarsmen to
increase exertions, which seemed already like superhuman efforts of
activity and strength.

The Iroquois warriors had vanished from view after overcoming
the hill on which they had been discovered, and having not yet
re-appeared, their remoteness could only be matter of conjecture.
There was something awful in this uncertainty as to their position,
and in the thought that their stunning war-whoop might burst upon
the ears of the fugitives at any moment, and from any quarter.
The tortuous course of the creek, indeed, gave the enemy a material



advantage of distance ; for they were able to ford the water at ahnost
any point, and thus preserve a comparatively straight line of march.
But the widening channel of the stream began to give token of the
immediate vicinity of the long coveted lake ; and the boats, flying
still more rapidly forward, seemed to partake of the fear which
influenced their occupants, and to leap, with living impulse, across
the wave.

The creek, near its mouth, divided around a small island which
the canoes passed on the southern side, after which the leading one
stopped to take in the Indians, while the so called barge pressed on
and took the advance. In two minutes more both had emerged
from the creek into the lake, simultaneously with the outbreaking of
a prolonged yell from the foe, which seemed to be made up of all
the horrid noises that ever woke the echoes of Pandemonium. All
eyes were turned towards the forest, where, darting like shadows
past the trees, the dusky warriors were seen, scarcely a hundi'ed
rods distant, on the margin of the creek. But the same moment
revealed another sight, more alarming to the three brave men, who
now virtually commanded the fugitive party, and who composed its
principal strength ; a sight but for which they would have laughed
at the idle rage of their enemy, and sent back shouts of defiance to
the shore. A scream from the ladies, more vigilant than their com-
panion, told that they also perceived the new danger, and the words,
" the boats ! the boats !" resounded suddenly on every side.

Three batteaux lay moored on the northern shore of the little
island, affording the Iroquois the means of pursuit in the water, which
the travellers could scarcely hope to elude : for the long war-boats
were provided with triple sets of oars, and, when fully manned,
could be impelled with nearly the speed of steam. It was evident
now that the enemy had been on a hunting excursion, from which
they had been diverted by the accidental discovery of the northern
party ; that they belonged to some tribe dwelhng about the southern
borders of the Champlain, was also probable, whence they had come


up to tlie neighborhood of the Horicon, to avail themselves of its
well-stocked forests of game.

A moment, nay but a very breath of hesitation marked the con-
duct of the Lynx, after which he ordered the oarsmen to row to the
batteaux : one of the men, trembling with terror, flatly refused, but
the word of mutiny was scarcely uttered, ere the gleaming knife of
the Huron was at his breast. The awed soldier saw only death on
either hand : imploring mercy, he quickly yielded, and mth his
comrade, bent to the oars Avith a desperate earnestness that showed
the most excessive consternation. A dozen strokes brought the
canoe alongside the enemy's vessels, when the Lynx and his two
brave associates leaped, knife in hand, to the shore, and quickly
severing the bark withes which fastened the two nearer boats, pushed
them off the beach. They next darted to the third vessel with
a similar intent, but it had been drawn so far upon the shore, as to
defy their hasty efforts at removal. There was clearly no time to
call the soldiers to their aid, for the yelping pack, incited to new fury
by the sight, were making the woods ring with their rage, while
" brake, bush, and brier," snapped and crackled in their pathway as
they rushed impetuously onward. Seizing, therefore, the oars of the
third vessel, and the bark bow-ropes of the two which they had
loosened, the Indians bounded back to their canoe, and bade the
oarsmen pull for their hves. The ropes of the captive boats were
intrusted to the Algonquin, while the Lynx and the Beaver seized
their rifles and sat ready to fire at the first exposure of a foe ; the
barge having, meanwhile, attained a place of present safety, beyond
the reach of musket-shot from the land.

The necessity of towing the batteaux, of course greatly impeded
the canoe, and it was yet ^vithin thirty rods of the shore, when the
enemy arrived breathless on the beach, and flew severally to cover
behind the outermost trees. Well was it that they were breathless,
and that their excited nerves and trembhng tendons prevented a
close or steady aim, for their guns were at once protruding from a


dozen points, and a volley of balls came hissing towards the seemingly
doomed party, whose utmost efforts had yet left them within the
dangerous \-icimty. Foreseeing the coming storm, they had stooped
to the gunwale for shelter, but the hurtling missiles fell like hail in
their midst, w^ounding both the Algonquin and one of the soldiers,
and opening some dangerous seams in their little bark.

Shouting back defiance, the Lynx and Beaver leaped severally into
a batteau, and throwing themselves prostrate within, presented their
weapons towards the enemy, waiting for the moment when the latter
should expose themselves to Aiew, by an attempt to reload. The
threat forced the cowardly assailants to seek a deeper cover until they
had re-charged their guns, wath which, as it now became e\ddent,
they were not all equipped — a third, at least, of !he party, ha^dng
only knives and hatchets, harmless, of course, at such a distance.
This division of the band, however, performed extra duty in swelling
the immelodious concert which rang through the forest arches at
intervals of a few seconds, and which came back in wailing echoes
from the far distant shores. The wound of the oarsman was slight,
and though ehciting many moans, did not disable him or induce
him to relinquish his task, while that of the Algonquin, though moi-e
serious, was only proclaimed by the trickling current which ran down
his naked arm, adding another hue to its diversified colors.

The boats continued to recede, and before the foe were prepared
to fire a second round, full twenty rods were added to the distance
between the parties ; the vigilant Lynx gave timely warning of the
renewed danger : every man was again prostrate, and the only injury
effected was that of boring a few holes in the batteaux, and makinsf
a considerable rent in one of the leggins of the Beaver, a casualty at
which that brave warrior seemed singularly disconcerted, and which
he took evident pains to conceal.

The immediate peril was now considered past ; another minute
placed the retreating boat beyond the reach of probable harm from the
shore : the leaks in the canoe were stopped, and, although another



volley was fired, the balls skipped with spent strength, idly along the
water. The canoe in a few minutes rejoined the barge, which was
awaiting its approach about a mile from the land, and the inmates
of which had watched with harrowing anxiety the recent perilous
adventure. Miss Montaigne eagerly inquired if any of the brave men
were killed or mortally wounded, for it had seemed impossible that
all should escape, and when informed that no serious harm was done,
she manifested the utmost delight. Impatient of the count's faint
commendation of his comrades, she assured the gratified Lynx that
his brilliant exploit should be faithfully reported to the Baron Mon-
taigne, and expressing her earnest thanks also to the Algonquin, she
requested them to make her language known to the heroic stranger
who had so efficiently aided them, and whose invaluable services to
the whole party on the preceding day should not, she said, be over-
looked. The Lynx uttered a few sentences in an Indian dialect to
the Beaver, who answered it by smiling and looking a moment at
Blanche with eyes that seemed eloquent of gratitude.

These, however, were the hasty occurrences of the first moment of
meeting, for the peril was still far too imminent to admit of wasting
time in inaction. No doubt was entertained that the enemy would
be in pursuit as soon as they could construct new oars for their
remaining batteau, a labor which would not detain them at the
farthest, beyond two hours, and as they could throw a dozen men
into this boat, who could relieve each other, by turns, in rowing,
their lost time would speedily be retrieved. A hasty consultation of
the fugitives resulted, therefore, in the resolution to destroy all their
boats, excepting one of the prizes, which, when their party was con-
solidated, would be fully manned, and would offer the most probable
means of successful flight. The necessary changes were speedily
made, and the three vessels, including the decorated barge, having
been shattered and rendered useless by the active tomahawks of the
Indians, were left drifting in fragments on the wave, while the long
batteau impelled by six strong oarsmen leaped forward with a most


encouraging velocity. For many hours everything promised success ;
the day v,^ore on until the sun had attained half its meridian altitude,
and yet not the faintest trace of pursuit could be perceived.

The relieved travellers were beginning to congratulate themselves
on being entirely rid of their adversaries, when a small spot made its
appearance on the southern horizon of sky and water, which grew
gradually in size, and soon took shape as the dreaded batteau. The
enemy was again on the track, blood-hound like, untiring, unpelding,
prepared for the deathly combat, prepared to hunt their expected
prey with ^•indictive ferocity, by night and by day, through the long
wilderness of water which yet lay extended between them and their
coveted home ; prepared to send their frequent war-cry over lake
and land, until the peopled forests should send forth their ro^^ng
bands to assist in securing the common foe.

The prospect of the fugitives, indeed, grew suddenly dark, they
evidently could not long maintain their advance of a vessel, the
oarsmen of which, by frequent changes, were continually fi*esh at their
work, and which had already given such ample proof of its superior
speed. If they could keep out of reach of the enemy's guns until
evening, their escape might possibly be effected, but the night was
yet eight hours distant, and the batteau was coming down like the
wind, in their path. Frequent consultations between the Lynx and the
Algonquin manifested their uneasiness, and communicated additional
alarm to their companions, and the ladies, disheartened by the oft-
recurring danger, scarcely disguised their growing despondency.

The Beaver alone seemed entirely at ease, and labored silently at
his oar, without ajjpearing to partake of the excitement which pre-
vailed around him. His post was at one of the aft oars, and nearest
to the count and the ladies. Blanche, indeed, was directly in front
of him, and sought, from time to time, to gain courage by a perusal
of his composed features, which, whether they betokened stoicism or
hope, seemed gradually to impart a portion of their equanimity to
her mind.


By mid-day the enemy had approached to within a mile of the
chase, and the imminence of the danger could no longer be dis-
guised. The disparity in the numbers of the two parties would not
of itself have been sufficient to cause the brave defenders of Miss
Montaigne to seek to avoid the engagement, but the personal peril to
which a contest must expose Blanche and her cousin, and the great
danger of drawing other foes upon them by the tumult of a fight^
impelled them to practise " the better part of valor " while it was
possible so to do. Carlton scarcely assumed longer to control the
actions of the party ; the Lynx's suggestions, which usually included
the concurring opinions of the Algonquin and the Beaver, met with
a complaisant acquiescence at his hands, although accompanied by
some feeble manifestations of a conceit which fear had not fully para-
lyzed. Anxious now, l^owever, to anticipate what he thought must
be the inevitable decision of his dusky council, and thus be able to
claim one important movement as his own, he said, after a long, ear-
nest look at the foe, —

" I think we must soon take to the shore, and fight them from a
cover ; here they can choose their own distance, and have every
advantage of us. What says the Lynx ?"

The Huron differed from his superior. " If we land, they will
land," he said ; " they are twelve, — we are three ; these," he con-
tinued, pointing to the soldiers, " would be children at a bush-fight ;
here they are brave men."

The Algonquin, who was next appealed to, seemed undecided ; he
only answered, " Wait and see ;" while the Beaver, whose opinion
was asked by the Lynx, at Carlton's request, rephed promptly to his
querist, in an Indian tongue, but in many more sentences than
seemed necessary to convey the few ideas which the Huron gave as
the substance of his sentiments.

" He says, ' fear nothing, and go on !' " said the Lynx.
Thus overruled, the count, whose anxiety for safety overcame all
other considerations, quietly acceded to the voice of the majority.


The confident air of the strange hunter continued to attract attention,
and Blanche still found herself fi-equently gazing at his calm counte-
nance, to glean from it the signs of hope which she could not else-
where discern. When the piirsuers had approached within about
two thirds of a mile, he relinquished his oar and again muttered a
few words to the Lynx.

" What says he ? " eagerly asked the count, who had begun to
regard the stranger with singular awe and deference.

" He says, ' let the men rest ; let the boat stand still,' " replied the
Huron, ceasing his labors as he spoke ; the other oarsmen followed
his example, and the batteau stopped, while Carlton, lost in wonder,
made no reply.

The Beaver looked for some moments at the approaching vessel
without comment; its occupants had raised a shout as they saw the
pause of their enemy, who, they doubtless supposed, had stopped
from exhaustion, and towards whom they now rushed with increasing
velocity. Scarcely half a mile soon separated them from the fugi-
tives, and anon this distance was reduced to little more than a third ;
yet still the Indian gazed calmly and unmoved.

" For Heaven's sake, do not let us wait longer," exclaimed Emily ;
" I shall die of terror, if we stay here."

The Beaver raised his gun as she spoke, and after taking a
careful aim for a few seconds, lowered it, as if in doubt.

" It is folly to fire yet !" exclaimed the count, who Avas used to the
imperfect weapons of that age ; "it is but a ^vaste of lead."

The stranger, unheeding, again drew up his piece, and this time
his eye lighted with a vi\id glow, that seemed to proclaim success ;
he fired, and a quick, violent commotion in the enemy's boat told the
eflfect. The vigilant Lynx pronounced it most assuredly fatal ; he
had even seen the victim bound upwards and fall, and then remain
prostrate and struggling. The enemy sent back a yell of wrath, and
rushed forward with new impetus to bring the fugitives within the
more limited range of their own weapons. A few minutes would


have sufficed for this purpose, if the latter had remained stationary ;
and probably, at their now furious rate of progress, a quarter of an
hour would have effected it, despite the utmost efforts of their ad-
versaries. But no sooner had the Beaver discharged his piece than
he bade the Lynx proceed with haste ; and, while the now refreshed
oarsmen resumed their task, he quickly reloaded his gun. Again, at
his bidding, they stopped, and again the fatal weapon poured forth
its fearful missile, bringing back the very death-screech of its victim
to their ears.

" Keei^ them there /" said the marksman to his friend ; and again
the boat rushed onwards, while the undaunted Iroquois, yelling with
insane rage, discharged a useless volley and continued their mad

Unwilling to increase their danger by adding to the necessary
noise of the contest, the Lynx and Algonquin refrained with diffi-
culty from sending forth derisive and defiant shouts to their antago-
nists ; but they chanted their low taunts to their moving oars, and
sang, in improvised verse, the praises of the mountain hunter and
his enchanted gun. The count, too, was lavish, for once, of com-
mendation of their gallant champion, on whom every eye rested with
admiration, and whose words and gestures became a law to regulate
their movements.

A third time did the stranger hold up his finger as a signal to
stop the boat ; and as the long, slender tube was once more pomted
portentously southward, the frightened Iroquois were seen to crouch
on every side, several even leaping into the water, to escape the
winged messenger of death. The effect of the shot could not be
accurately ascertained, the foe having probably learned more discre-
tion than to reveal their loss ; but as the ball did not strike the
water, it was supposed to have found a human target. Another
volley was instantly returned fi'om the enemy, and, to the utter con-
sternation of the fugitives, the Lynx bounded suddenly upwards and
fell prostrate in the boat, while a prolonged shout of triumph arose


from the pursuers, making the very forest ring with its reverberating
notes. A horror, intense and awfal, fell upon the httle party, who
had su]3posed themselves as yet entirely beyond the reach of their
antagonists' weapons, and who saw in this fearful event what seemed
but the beginning of a tragedy which could end only with their
lives. The count and several of the men sprang to the side of the
Huron, and Blanche, utterly appalled at the sight, with difficulty
refrained from swooning, when the trembling voice of Emily was
heard at her side.

" Look at the Beaver," she said ; " the cold, heartless wretch !"
Blanche's eyes turned to the stranger, who, heedless of his friend's
misfortune, was reloading his rifle with the utmost composure, —
and not only so, but his whole countenance was wreathed into a
smile of merriment, that seemed an extraordinary illustration of
savage stoicism. There was little, however, that was remarkable in
the Indian's conduct; he had seen the spent balls of the enemy
leaping hke skipped stones across the water, and sinking into the
lake at a furlong's distance, and he knew full well the feint of his
ally, which, to the general delight of the party, was at the next mo-
ment proclaimed from the opposite end of the boat. The shrewd
Huron, exulting inexpressibly in the presence of the extraordinary
weapon and its w'ielder, which were doing such manifest execution,
had feared nothing except that the enemy might turn back disheart-
ened, before their numbers had been so effectually thinned as to
prevent future danger from their pursuit, and, to give Indian nature
its due, before either his revenge was appeased, or his love of martial
glory sufficiently gratified. It was therefore only as a lure that he
had practised this dissimulation, and he was now compelled to use
the utmost caution in reasserting his existence, venturing to resume
his erect position only when well shielded by his comrades from

Online LibraryP. Hamilton (Peter Hamilton) MyersThe King of the Hurons → online text (page 16 of 29)