THE SHADOW OF THE NORTH
A STORY OF OLD NEW YORK AND A LOST CAMPAIGN
JOSEPH A. ALTSHELER
"The Shadow of the North," while an independent story, in itself, is also the second volume of the Great French and Indian War series which began with "The Hunters of the Hills." All the important characters of the first romance reappear in the second.
CHARACTERS IN THE FRENCH AND INDIAN WAR SERIES
ROBERT LENNOX A lad of unknown origin TAYOGA A young Onondaga warrior DAVID WILLET A hunter RAYMOND LOUIS DE ST. LUC A brilliant French officer AGUSTE DE COURCELLES A French officer FRANCOIS DE JUMONVILLE A French officer LOUIS DE GALISONNIERE A young French officer JEAN DE MEZY A corrupt Frenchman ARMAN GLANDELET A young Frenchman PIERRE BOUCHER A bully and bravo PHILIBERT DROUILLAR A French priest THE MARQUIS DUQUESNE Governor-General of Canada MARQUIS DE VAUDREUIL Governor-General of Canada FRANCOIS BIGOT Intendant of Canada MARQUIS DE MONTCALM French commander-in-chief DE LEVIS A French general BOURLAMAQUE A French general BOUGAINVILLE A French general ARMAND DUBOIS A follower of St. Luc M. DE CHATILLARD An old French Seigneur CHARLES LANGLADE A French partisan THE DOVE The Indian wife of Langlade TANDAKORA An Ojibway chief DAGANOWEDA A young Mohawk chief HENDRICK An old Mohawk chief BRADDOCK A British general ABERCROMBIE A British general WOLFE A British general COL. WILLIAM JOHNSON Anglo-American leader MOLLY BRANT Col. Wm. Johnson's Indian wife JOSEPH BRANT Young brother of Molly Brant, afterward the great Mohawk chief, Thayendanegea ROBERT DINWIDDIE Lieutenant-Governor of Virginia WILLIAM SHIRLEY Governor of Massachusetts BENJAMIN FRANKLIN Famous American patriot JAMES COLDEN A young Philadelphia captain WILLIAM WILTON A young Philadelphia lieutenant HUGH CARSON A young Philadelphia lieutenant JACOBUS HUYSMAN An Albany burgher CATERINA Jacobus Huysman's cook ALEXANDER MCLEAN An Albany schoolmaster BENJAMIN HARDY A New York merchant JOHNATHAN PILLSBURY Clerk to Benjamin Hardy ADRIAN VAN ZOON A New York merchant THE SLAVER A nameless rover ACHILLE GARAY A French spy ALFRED GROSVENOR A young English officer JAMES CABELL A young Virginian WALTER STUART A young Virginian BLACK RIFLE A famous "Indian fighter" ELIHU STRONG A Massachusetts colonel ALAN HERVEY A New York financier STUART WHYTE Captain of the British sloop, Hawk JOHN LATHAM Lieutenant of the British sloop, Hawk EDWARD CHARTERIS A young officer of the Royal Americans ZEBEDEE CRANE A young scout and forest runner ROBERT ROGERS Famous Captain of American Rangers
I. THE ONONDAGA II. THE AMBUSH III. THE SIGNAL IV. THE PERILOUS PATH V. THE RUNNER VI. THE RETURN VII. THE RED WEAPON VIII. WARAIYAGEH IX. THE WATCHER X. THE PORT X1. THE PLAY XII. THE SLAVER XIII. THE MEETING XIV. THE VIRGINIA CAPITAL XV. THE FOREST FIGHT
THE SHADOW OF THE NORTH
Tayoga, of the Clan of the Bear, of the nation Onondaga, of the great League of the Hodenosaunee, advanced with utmost caution through a forest, so thick with undergrowth that it hid all objects twenty yards away. He was not armed with a rifle, but carried instead a heavy bow, while a quiver full of arrows hung over his shoulder. He wore less clothing than when he was in the white man's school at Albany, his arms and shoulders being bare, though not painted.
The young Indian's aspect, too, had changed. The great struggle between English and French, drawing with it the whole North American wilderness, had begun and, although the fifty sachems still sought to hold the Six Nations neutral, many of their bravest warriors were already serving with the Americans and English, ranging the forest as scouts and guides and skirmishers, bringing to the campaign an unrivaled skill, and a faith sealed by the long alliance.
Tayoga had thrown himself into the war heart and soul. Nothing could diminish by a hair his hostility to the French and the tribes allied with them. The deeds of Champlain and Frontenac were but of yesterday, and the nation to which they belonged could never be a friend of the Hodenosaunee. He trusted the Americans and the English, but his chief devotion, by the decree of nature was for his own people, and now, that fighting in the forest had occurred between the rival nations, he shed more of the white ways and became a true son of the wilderness, seeing as red men saw and thinking as red men thought.
He was bent over a little, as he walked slowly among the bushes, in the position of one poised for instant flight or pursuit as the need might be. His eyes, black and piercing, ranged about incessantly, nothing escaping a vision so keen and trained so thoroughly that he not only heard everything passing in the wilderness, but he knew the nature of the sound, and what had made it.
The kindly look that distinguished Tayoga in repose had disappeared. Unnumbered generations were speaking in him now, and the Indian, often so gentle in peace, had become his usual self, stern and unrelenting in war. His strong sharp chin was thrust forward. His cheek bones seemed to be a little higher. His tread was so light that the grass scarcely bent before his moccasins, and no leaves rustled. He was in every respect the wilderness hunter and warrior, fitted perfectly by the Supreme Hand into his setting, and if an enemy appeared now he would fight as his people had fought for centuries, and the customs and feelings of the new races that had come across the ocean would be nothing to him.
A hundred yards more, and he sat down by the trunk of a great oak, convinced that no foe was near. His own five splendid senses had told him so, and the fact had been confirmed by an unrivaled sentinel hidden among the leaves over his head, a small bird that poured forth a wonderful volume of song. Were any other coming the bird would cease his melody and fly away, but Tayoga felt that this tiny feathered being was his ally and would not leave because of him. The song had wonderful power, too, soothing his senses and casting a pleasing spell. His imaginative mind, infused with the religion and beliefs of his ancestors, filled the forest with friendly spirits. Unseen, they hovered in the air and watched over him, and the trees, alive, bent protecting boughs toward him. He saw, too, the very spot in the heavens where the great shining star on which Tododaho lived came out at night and glittered.
He remembered the time when he had gone forth in the dusk to meet Tandakora and his friends, and how Tododaho had looked down on him with approval. He had found favor in the sight of the great league's founder, and the spirit that dwelt on the shining star still watched over him. The Ojibway, whom he hated and who hated him in yet greater measure, might be somewhere in the forest, but if he came near, the feathered sentinel among the leaves over his head would give warning.
Tayoga sat nearly half an hour listening to the song of the bird. He had no object in remaining there, his errand bade him move on, but there was no hurry and he was content merely to breathe and to feel the glory and splendor of the forest about him. He knew now that the Indian nature had never been taken out of him by the schools. He loved the wilderness, the trees, the lakes, the streams and all their magnificent disorder, and war itself did not greatly trouble him, since the legends of the tribes made it the natural state of man. He knew well that he was in Tododaho's keeping, and, if by chance, the great chief should turn against him it would be for some grave fault, and he would deserve his punishment.
He sat in that absolute stillness of which the Indian by nature and training was capable, the green of his tanned and beautifully soft deerskin blending so perfectly with the emerald hue of the foliage that the bird above his head at last took him for a part of the forest itself and so, having no fear, came down within a foot of his head and sang with more ecstasy than ever. It was a little gray bird, but Tayoga knew that often the smaller a bird was, and the more sober its plumage the finer was its song. He understood those musical notes too. They expressed sheer delight, the joy of life just as he felt it then himself, and the kinship between the two was strong.
The bird at last flew away and the Onondaga heard its song dying among the distant leaves. A portion of the forest spell departed with it, and Tayoga, returning to thoughts of his task, rose and walked on, instinct rather than will causing him to keep a close watch on earth and foliage. When he saw the faint trace of a large moccasin on the earth all that was left of the spell departed suddenly and he became at once the wilderness warrior, active, alert, ready to read every sign.
He studied the imprint, which turned in, and hence had been made by an Indian. Its great size too indicated to him that it might be that of Tandakora, a belief becoming with him almost a certainty as he found other and similar traces farther on. He followed them about a mile, reaching stony ground where they vanished altogether, and then he turned to the west.
The fact that Tandakora was so near, and might approach again was not unpleasant to him, as Tayoga, having all the soul of a warrior, was anxious to match himself with the gigantic Ojibway, and since the war was now active on the border it seemed that the opportunity might come. But his attention must be occupied with something else for the present, and he went toward the west for a full hour through the primeval forest. Now and then he stopped to listen, even lying down and putting his ear to the ground, but the sounds he heard, although varied and many, were natural to the wild.
He knew them all. The steady tapping was a woodpecker at work upon an old tree. The faint musical note was another little gray bird singing the delight of his soul as he perched himself upon a twig; the light shuffling noise was the tread of a bear hunting succulent nuts; a caw-caw so distant that it was like an echo was the voice of a circling crow, and the tiny trickling noise that only the keenest ear could have heard was made by a brook a yard wide taking a terrific plunge over a precipice six inches high. The rustling, one great blended note, universal but soft, was that of the leaves moving in harmony before the gentle wind.
The young Onondaga was sure that the forest held no alien presence. The traces of Tandakora were hours old, and he must now be many miles away with his band, and, such being the case, it was fit time for him to choose a camp and call his friends.
It pleased Tayoga, zealous of mind, to do all the work before the others came, and, treading so lightly and delicately, that he would not have alarmed a rabbit in the bush, he gathered together dead sticks and heaped them in a little sunken place, clear of undergrowth. Flint and steel soon lighted a fire, and then he sent forth his call, the long penetrating whine of the wolf. The reply came from the north, and, building his fire a little higher, he awaited the result, without anxiety.
The dry wood crackled and many little flames red or yellow arose. Tayoga heaped dead leaves against the trunk of a tree and sat down comfortably, his shoulders and back resting against the bark. Presently he heard the first alien sound in the forest, a light tread approaching That he knew was Willet, and then he heard the second tread, even lighter than the first, and he knew that it was the footstep of Robert.
"All ready! It's like you, Tayoga," said Willet, as he entered the open space. "Here you are, with the house built and the fire burning on the hearth!"
"I lighted the fire," said Tayoga, rising, "but Manitou made the hearth, and built the house which is worthy of Him."
He looked with admiration at the magnificent trees spreading away on every side, and the foliage in its most splendid, new luxuriant green.
"It is worthy, Tayoga," said Robert, whose soul was like that of the Onondaga, "and it takes Manitou himself a century or more to grow trees like these."
"Some of them, I dare say, are three or four hundred years old or more," said Willet, "and the forest goes west, so I've heard the Indians say, a matter of near two thousand miles. It's pleasant to know that if all the axes in the world were at work it couldn't all be cut down in our time or in the time of our children."
Tayoga's heart swelled with indignation at the idea that the forest might be destroyed, but he said nothing, as he knew that Willet and Robert shared his feeling.
"Here's your rifle, Tayoga," said the hunter; "I suppose you didn't have an occasion to use your bow and arrows."
"No, Great Bear," replied the Onondaga, "but I might have had the chance had I come earlier."
"What do you mean by that?"
"I saw on the grass a human trace. It was made by a foot clothed in a moccasin, a large foot, a very large foot, the foot of a man whom we all have cause to hate."
"I take it you're speaking of Tandakora, the Ojibway."
"None other. I cannot be mistaken. But the trail was cold. He and his warriors have gone north. They may be thirty, forty miles from here."
"Likely enough, Tayoga. They're on their way to join the force the French are sending to the fort at the junction of the Monongahela and the Alleghany. Perhaps St. Luc—and there isn't a cleverer officer in this continent—is with them. I tell you, Tayoga, and you too, Robert, I don't like it! That young Washington ought to have been sent earlier into the Ohio country, and they should have given him a much larger force. We're sluggards and all our governors are sluggards, except maybe Shirley of Massachusetts. With the war just blazing up the French are already in possession, and we're to drive 'em out, which doubles our task. It was a great victory for us to keep the Hodenosaunee on our side, or, in the main, neutral, but it's going to be uphill work for us to win. The young French leaders are genuine kings of the wilderness. You know that, Robert, as well as I do."
"Yes," said the youth. "I know they're the men whom the English colonies have good cause to fear."
When he spoke he was thinking of St. Luc, as he had last seen him in the vale of Onondaga, defeated in the appeal to the fifty sachems, but gallant, well bred, showing nothing of chagrin, and sure to be a formidable foe on the field of battle. He was an enemy of whom one could be proud, and Robert felt an actual wish to see him again, even though in opposing ranks.
"We may come into contact with some of 'em," said the hunter. "The French are using all their influence over the Indians, and are directing their movements. I know that St. Luc, Jumonville, Beaujeu, Dumas, De Villiers, De Courcelles and all their best men are in the forest. It's likely that Tandakora, fierce and wild as he is, is acting under the direction of some Frenchman. St. Luc could control him."
Robert thought it highly probable that the chevalier was in truth with the Indians on the border, either leading some daring band or gathering the warriors to the banner of France. His influence with them would be great, as he understood their ways, adapted himself to them and showed in battle a skill and daring that always make a powerful appeal to the savage heart. The youth had matched himself against St. Luc in the test of words in the vale of Onondaga, and now he felt that he must match himself anew, but in the test of forest war.
Tayoga having lighted the fire, the hunter cooked the food over it, while the two youths reposed calmly. Robert watched Willet with interest, and he was impressed for the thousandth time by his great strength, and the lightness of his movements. When he was younger, the disparity in years had made him think of Willet as an old man, but he saw now that he was only in early middle age. There was not a gray hair on his head, and his face was free from wrinkles.
An extraordinarily vivid memory of that night in Quebec when the hunter had faced Boucher, the bully and bravo, reputed the best swordsman of France, leaped up in Robert's mind. He had found no time to think of Willet's past recently and he realized now that he knew little about it. The origin of that hunter was as obscure as his own. But the story of the past and its mysteries must wait. The present was so great and overwhelming that it blotted out everything else.
"The venison and the bacon are ready," said Willet, "and you two lads can fall on. You're not what I'd call epicures, but I've never known your appetites to fail."
"Nor will they," said Robert, as he and Tayoga helped themselves. "What's the news from Britain, Dave? You must have heard a lot when you were in Albany."
"It's vague, Robert, vague. The English are slow, just as we Americans are, too. They're going to send out troops, but the French have dispatched a fleet and regiments already. The fact that our colonies are so much larger than theirs is perhaps an advantage to them, as it gives them a bigger target to aim at, and our people who are trying to till their farms, will be struck down by their Indians from ambush."
"And you see now what a bulwark the great League of the Hodenosaunee is to the English," said Tayoga.
"A fact that I've always foreseen," said Willet warmly. "Nobody knows better than I do the power of the Six Nations, and nobody has ever been readier to admit it."
"I know, Great Bear. You have always been our true friend. If all the white men were like you no trouble would ever arise between them and the Hodenosaunee."
Robert finished his food and resumed a comfortable place against a tree. Willet put out the fire and he and Tayoga sat down in like fashion. Their trees were close together, but they did not talk now. Each was absorbed in his own thoughts and Robert had much to think about.
The war was going slowly. He had believed a great flare would come at once and that everybody would soon be in the thick of action, but since young Washington had been defeated by Coulon de Villiers at the Great Meadows the British Colonies had spent much time debating and pulling in different directions. The union for which his eager soul craved did not come, and the shadow of the French power in the north, reinforced by innumerable savages, hung heavy and black over the land. Every runner brought news of French activities. Rumor painted as impregnable the fort they had built where two rivers uniting formed the Ohio, and it was certain that many bands already ranged down in the regions the English called their own.
Spring had lingered far into summer where they were, and the foliage was not yet touched by heat. All the forest was in deep and heavy green, hiding every object a hundred yards away, but from their opening they saw a blue and speckless sky, which the three by and by watched attentively, and with the same motive. Before the dark had begun to come in the east they saw a thin dark line drawn slowly across it, the trail of smoke. It might not have been noticed by eyes less keen, but they understood at once that it was a signal. Robert noted its drifting progress across the heavens, and then he said to Willet:
"How far from here do you calculate the base of that smoke is, Dave?"
"A long distance, Robert. Several miles maybe. The fire, I've no doubt, was kindled on top of a hill. It may be French speaking to Indians, or Indians talking to Indians."
"And you don't think it's people of ours?"
"I'm sure it isn't. We've no hunters or runners in these parts, except ourselves."
"And it's not Tandakora," said the Onondaga. "He must be much farther away."
"But the signal may be intended for him," said the hunter. "It may be carried to him by relays of smoke. I wish I could read that trail across the sky."
"It's thinning out fast," said Robert. "You can hardly see it! and now it's gone entirely!"
But the hunter continued to look thoughtfully at the sky, where the smoke had been. He never underrated the activity of the French, and he believed that a movement of importance, something the nature of which they should discover was at hand.
"Lads," he said, "I expected an easy night of good sleep for all three of us, but I'm thinking instead that we'd better take to the trail, and travel toward the place where that smoke was started."
"It's what scouts would do," said Tayoga tersely.
"And such we claim to be," said Robert.
As the sun began to sink they saw far in the west another smoke, that would have been invisible had it not been outlined against a fiery red sky, across which it lay like a dark thread. It was gone in a few moments, and then the dusk began to come.
"An answer to the first signal," said Tayoga. "It is very likely that a strong force is gathering. Perhaps Tandakora has come back and is planning a blow."
"It can't be possible that they're aiming it at us," said the hunter, thoughtfully. "They don't know of our presence here, and if they did we've too small a party for such big preparations."
"Perhaps a troop of Pennsylvanians are marching westward," said Tayoga, "and the French and their allies are laying a trap for them."
"Then," said Robert, "there is but one thing for us to do. We must warn our friends and save them from the snare."
"Of course," said Willet, "but we don't know where they are, and meanwhile we'd better wait an hour or two. Perhaps something will happen that will help us to locate them."
Robert and Tayoga nodded and the three remained silent while the night came. The blazing red in the west faded rapidly and darkness swept down over the wilderness. The three, each leaning against his tree, did not move but kept their rifles across their knees ready at once for possible use. Tayoga had fastened his bow over his back by the side of his quiver, and their packs were adjusted also.
Robert was anxious not so much for himself as for the unknown others who were marching through the wilderness, and for whom the French and Indians were laying an ambush. It had been put forward first as a suggestion, but it quickly became a conviction with him, and he felt that his comrades and he must act as if it were a certainty. But no sound that would tell them which way to go came out of this black forest, and they remained silent, waiting for the word.
The night thickened and they were still uncertain what to do. Robert made a silent prayer to the God of the white man, the Manitou of the red man, for a sign, but none came, and infected strongly as he was with the Indian philosophy and religion, he felt that it must be due to some lack of virtue in himself. He searched his memory, but he could not discover in what particular he had erred, and he was forced to continue his anxious waiting, until the stars should choose to fight for him.
Tayoga too was troubled, his mind in its own way being as active as Robert's. He knew all the spirits of earth, air and water were abroad, but he hoped at least one of them would look upon him with favor, and give him a warning. He sought Tododaho's star in the heavens, but the clouds were too thick, and, eye failing, he relied upon his ear for the signal which he and his young white comrade sought so earnestly.
If Tayoga had erred either in omission or commission then the spirits that hovered about him forgave him, as when the night was thickest they gave the sign. It was but the faint fall of a foot, and, at first, he thought a bear or a deer had made it, but at the fourth or fifth fall he knew that it was a human footstep and he whispered to his comrades:
"Some one comes!"
As if by preconcerted signal the three arose and crept silently into the dense underbrush, where they crouched, their rifles thrust forward.
"It is but one man and he walks directly toward us," whispered Tayoga.
"I hear him now," said Robert. "He is wearing moccasins, as his step is too light for boots."
"Which means that he's a rover like ourselves," said Willet. "Now he's stopped. There isn't a sound. The man, whoever he is, has taken alarm, or at least he's decided that it's best for him to be more watchful. Perhaps he's caught a whiff from the ashes of our fire. He's white or he wouldn't be here alone, and he's used to the forest, or he wouldn't have suspected a presence from so little."
"The Great Bear thinks clearly," said Tayoga. "It is surely a white man and some great scout or hunter. He moved a little now to the right, because I heard his buckskin brush lightly against a bush. I think Great Bear is right about the fire. The wind has brought the ashes from it to his nostrils, and he will lie in the bush long before moving."
"Which doesn't suit our plans at all," said Willet. "There's a chance, just a chance, that I may know who he is. White men of the kind to go scouting through the wilderness are not so plenty on the border that one has to make many guesses. You lads move away a little so you won't be in line if a shot comes, and I'll give a signal."
Robert and Tayoga crept to other points in the brush, and the hunter uttered a whistle, low but very clear and musical. In a moment or two, a like answer came from a place about a hundred yards away, and Willet rising, advanced without hesitation. Robert and Tayoga followed promptly, and a tall figure, emerging from the darkness, came forward to meet them.
The stranger was a man of middle years, and of a singularly wild appearance. His eyes roved continually, and were full of suspicion, and of a sort of smoldering anger, as if he had a grievance against all the world. His hair was long and tangled, his face brown with sun and storm, and his dress more Indian than white. He was heavily armed, and, whether seen in the dusk or in the light, his whole aspect was formidable and dangerous. But Willet continued to advance without hesitation.
"Captain Jack," he said extending his hand. "We were not looking for you tonight, but no man could be more welcome. These are young friends of mine, brave warriors both, the white and the red, Robert Lennox, who is almost a son to me, and Tayoga, the Onondaga, to whom I feel nearly like a father too."
Now Robert knew him, and he felt a thrill of surprise, and of the most intense curiosity. Who along the whole border had not heard of Captain Jack, known also as the Black Hunter, the Black Rifle and by many other names? The tale had been told in every cabin in the woods how returning home, he had found his wife and children tomahawked and scalped, and how he had taken a vow of lifelong vengeance upon the Indians, a vow most terribly kept. In all the villages in the Ohio country and along the Great Lakes, the name of Black Rifle was spoken with awe and terror. No more singular and ominous figure ever crossed the pages of border story.
He swept the two youths with questing glances, but they met his gaze firmly, and while his eye had clouded at first sight of the Onondaga the threatening look soon passed.
"Friends of yours are friends of mine, Dave Willet," he said. "I know you to be a good man and true, and once when I was at Albany I heard of Robert Lennox, and of the great young warrior, Tayoga, of the clan of the Bear, of the nation Onondaga, of the great League of the Hodenosaunee."
The young Onondaga's eyes flashed with pleasure, but he was silent.
"How does it happen, Willet?" asked Black Rifle, "that we meet here in the forest at such a time?"
"We're on our way to the Ohio country to learn something about the gathering of the French and Indian forces. Just before sundown we saw smoke signals and we think our enemies are planning to cut off a force of ours, somewhere here in the forest."
Black Rifle laughed, but it was not a pleasant laugh. It had in it a quality that made Robert shudder.
"Your guesses are good, Dave," said Black Rifle. "About fifty men of the Pennsylvania militia are in camp on the banks of a little creek two miles from here. They have been sent out to guard the farthest settlements. Think of that, Dave! They're to be a guard against the French and Indians!"
His face contracted into a wry smile, and Robert understood his feeling of derision for the militia.
"As I told you, they're in camp," continued Black Rifle. "They built a fire there to cook their supper, and to show the French and Indians where they are, lest they miss 'em in the darkness. They don't know what part of the country they're in, but they're sure it's a long distance west of Philadelphia, and if the Indians will only tell 'em when they're coming they'll be ready for 'em. Oh, they're brave enough! They'll probably all die with their faces to the enemy."
He spoke with grim irony and Robert shuddered. He knew how helpless men from the older parts of the country were in the depths of the wilderness, and he was sure that the net was already being drawn about the Pennsylvanians.
"Are the French here too, Black Rifle?" asked Willet.
The strange man pointed toward the north.
"A band led by a Frenchman is there," he replied. "He is the most skillful of all their men in the forest, the one whom they call St. Luc."
"I thought so!" exclaimed Robert. "I believed all the while he would be here. I've no doubt he will direct the ambush."
"We must warn this troop," said Willet, "and save 'em if they will let us. You agree with me, don't you, Tayoga?"
"The Great Bear is right."
"And you'll back me up, of course, Robert. Will you help us too, Black Rifle?"
The singular man smiled again, but his smile was not like that of anybody else. It was sinister and full of menace. It was the smile of a man who rejoiced in sanguinary work, and it made Robert think again of his extraordinary history, around which the border had built so much of truth and legend.
"I will help, of course," he replied. "It's my trade. It was my purpose to warn 'em before I met you, but I feared they would not listen to me. Now, the words of four may sound more real to 'em than the words of one."
"Then lead the way," said Willet. "'Tis not a time to linger."
Black Rifle, without another word, threw his rifle over his shoulder and started toward the north, the others falling into Indian file behind him. A light, pleased smile played over his massive and rugged features. More than the rest he rejoiced in the prospect of combat. They did not seek battle and they fought only when they were compelled to do so, but he, with his whole nature embittered forever by that massacre of long ago, loved it for its own sake. He had ranged the border, a torch of fire, for years, and now he foresaw more of the revenge that he craved incessantly.
He led without hesitation straight toward the north. All four were accomplished trailers and the flitting figures were soundless as they made their swift march through the forest. In a half hour they reached the crest of a rather high hill and Black Rifle, stopping, pointed with a long forefinger toward a low and dim light.
"The camp of the Pennsylvanians," he said with bitter irony. "As I told you, fearing lest the savages should miss 'em in the forest they keep their fire burning as a beacon."
"Don't be too hard on 'em, Black Rifle," said Willet. "Maybe they come from Philadelphia itself, and city bred men can scarcely be expected to learn all about the wilderness in a few days."
"They'll learn, when it's too late, at the muzzles of the French and Indian rifles," rejoined Black Rifle, abating a little his tone of savage derision.
"At least they're likely to be brave men," said Willet, "and now what do you think will be our best manner of approaching 'em?"
"We'll walk directly toward their fire, the four of us abreast. They'll blaze away all fifty of 'em together, as soon as they see us, but the darkness will spoil their aim, and at least one of us will be left alive, able to walk, and able to tell 'em of their danger. We don't know who'll be the lucky man, but we'll see."
"Come, come, Captain Jack! Give 'em a chance! They may be a more likely lot than you think. You three wait here and I'll go forward and announce our coming. I dare say we'll be welcome."
Willet advanced boldly toward the fire, which he soon saw consisted of a great bed of coals, surrounded by sleepers. But the figures of men, pacing back and forth, showed that the watch had not been neglected, although in the deep forest such sentinels would be but little protection against the kind of ambush the French and Indians were able to lay.
Not caring to come within the circle of light lest he be fired upon, the hunter whistled, and when he saw that the sentinels were at attention he whistled again. Then he emerged from the bushes, and walked boldly toward the fire.
"Who are you?" a voice demanded sharply, and a young man in a fine uniform stood up in front of the fire. The hunter's quick and penetrating look noted that he was tall, built well, and that his face was frank and open.
"My name is David Willet," he replied, "and I am sometimes called by my friends, the Iroquois, the Great Bear. Behind me in the woods are three comrades, young Robert Lennox, of New York and Albany; Tayoga, a young warrior of the clan of the Bear, of the nation Onondaga, of the great League of the Hodenosaunee, and the famous hunter and border fighter, of whom everybody has heard, Captain Jack, Black Hunter, or Black Rifle as he has been called variously."
"I know the name," replied the young man, "and yours too, Mr. Willet. My own is Colden, James Colden of Philadelphia, and I am in command of this troop, sent to guard the farthest settlements against the French and Indians. Will you call your comrades, Mr. Willet? All of you are welcome."
The hunter whistled again, and Robert, Tayoga and Black Rifle, advancing from the forest, came within the area of half light cast by the glow from the coals, young Captain Colden watching them with the most intense curiosity as they approached. And well he might feel surprise. All, even Robert, wore the dress of the wilderness, and their appearance at such a time was uncommon and striking. Most of the soldiers had been awakened by the voices, and were sitting up, rubbing sleepy eyes. Robert saw at once that they were city men, singularly out of place in the vast forest and the darkness.
"We welcome you to our camp," said young Captain Colden, with dignity. "If you are hungry we have food, and if you are without blankets we can furnish them to you."
Willet and Tayoga looked at Robert and he knew they expected him to fill his usual role of spokesman. The words rushed to his lips, but they were held there by embarrassment. The soldiers who had been awakened were already going back to sleep. Captain Colden sat down on a log and waited for them to state their wants. Then Robert spoke, knowing they could not afford to delay.
"We thank you, Captain Colden," he said, "for the offer of supper and bed, but I must say to you, sir, that it's no time for either."
"I don't take your meaning, Mr. Lennox."
"Tayoga, Mr. Willet and Black Rifle, are the best scouts in the wilderness, and before sunset they saw smoke on the horizon. Then they saw smoke answering smoke, and Black Rifle has seen more. The French and Indians, sir, are in the forest, and they're led, too, by Frenchmen."
Young James Colden was a brave man, and his eyes glittered.
"We ask nothing better than to meet 'em," he said, "At the first breath of dawn we'll march against 'em, if your friends will only be so good as to show us the way."
"It's not a matter of waiting until dawn, nor even of going to meet 'em. They'll bring the battle to us. You and your force, Captain Colden, are surrounded already."
The young captain stared at Robert, but his eyes were full of incredulity. Several of the soldiers were standing near, and they too heard, but the warning found no answer in their minds. Robert looked around at the men asleep and the others ready to follow them, and, despite his instinctive liking for Colden, his anger began to rise.
"I said that you were surrounded," he repeated sharply, "and it's no time, Captain Colden, for unbelief! Mr. Willet, Tayoga and I saw the signals of the enemy, but Black Rifle here has looked upon the warriors themselves. They're led too by the French, and the best of all the French forest captains, St. Luc, is undoubtedly with them off there."
He waved his hand toward the north, and a little of the high color left Colden's face. The youth's manner was so earnest and his words were spoken with so much power of conviction that they could not fail to impress.
"You really mean that the French and Indians are here, that they're planning to attack us tonight?" said the Philadelphian.
"Beyond a doubt and we must be prepared to meet them."
Colden took a few steps back and forth, and then, like the brave young man he was, he swallowed his pride.
"I confess that I don't know much of the forest, nor do my men," he said, "and so I shall have to ask you four to help me."
"We'll do it gladly," said Robert. "What do you propose, Dave?"
"I think we'd better draw off some distance from the fire," replied the hunter. "To the right there is a low hill, covered with thick brush, and old logs thrown down by an ancient storm. It's the very place."
"Then," said Captain Colden briskly, "we'll occupy it inside of five minutes. Up, men, up!"
The sleepers were awakened rapidly, and, although they were awkward and made much more noise than was necessary, they obeyed their captain's sharp order, and marched away with all their arms and stores to the thicket on the hill, where, as Willet had predicted, they found also a network of fallen trees, affording a fine shelter and defense. Here they crouched and Willet enjoined upon them the necessity of silence.
"Sir," said young Captain Colden, again putting down his pride, "I beg to thank you and your comrades."
"You don't owe us any thanks. It's just what we ought to have done," said Willet lightly. "The wilderness often turns a false face to those who are not used to it, and if we hadn't warned you we'd have deserved shooting."
The faint whine of a wolf came from a point far in the north.
"It's one of their signals," said Willet. "They'll attack inside of an hour."
Then they relapsed into silence and waited, every heart beating hard.
Robert now had much experience of Indian attack and forest warfare, but it always made a tremendous impression upon his vivid and uncommon imagination. The great pulses in his throat and temples leaped, and his ear became so keen that he seemed to himself to hear the fall of the leaf in the forest. It was this acute sharpening of the senses, the painting of pictures before him, that gave him the gift of golden speech that the Indians had first noticed in him. He saw and heard much that others could neither hear nor see, and the words to describe it were always ready to pour forth.
Willet and Tayoga were crouched near him, their rifles thrust forward a little, and just beyond them was Captain Colden who had drawn a small sword, more as an evidence of command than as a weapon. The men, city bred, were silent, but the faces of some of them still expressed amazement and incredulity. Robert's quick and powerful imagination instantly projected itself into their minds, and he saw as they saw. To them the cry of a wolf was the cry of a real wolf, the forest was dark, lonely and uncomfortable, but it was empty of any foe, and the four who had come to them were merely trying to create a sense of their own importance. They began to move restlessly, and it required Captain Colden's whispered but sharp command to still them again.
The cry of the wolf, used much by both the Indians and the borderers as a signal, came now from the east, and after the lapse of a minute it was repeated from the west. Call and answer were a relief to Robert, whose faculties were attuned to such a high degree that any relief to the strain, though it brought the certainty of attack, was welcome.
"You're sure those cries were made by our enemies?" said young Colden.
"Beyond a doubt," replied Willet. "I can tell the difference between the note and that of a genuine wolf, but then I've spent many years in the wilderness, and I had to learn these things in order to live. They'll send forward scouts, and they'll expect to find you and your men around the fire, most of you asleep. When they miss you there they'll try to locate you, and they'll soon trail us to these bushes."
Captain James Colden had his share of pride, and much faith in himself, but he had nobility of soul, too.
"I believe you implicitly, Mr. Willet," he said. "If it had not been for you and your friends the enemy would have been upon us when we expected him not at all, and 'tis most likely that all of us would have been killed and scalped. So, I thank you now, lest I fall in the battle, and it be too late then to express my gratitude."
It was a little bit formal, and a little bit youthful, but Willet accepted the words in the fine spirit in which they were uttered.
"What we did was no more than we should have done," he replied, "and you'll pay us back. In such times as these everybody ought to help everybody else. Caution your soldiers, captain, won't you, not to make any noise at all. The wolf will howl no more, and I fancy their scouts are now within two or three hundred yards of the fire. I'm glad it's turned darker."
The troop, hidden in the bushes, was now completely silent. The Philadelphia men, used to contiguous houses and streets, were not afraid, but they were appalled by their extraordinary position at night, in the deep brush of an unknown wilderness with a creeping foe coming down upon them. Many a hand quivered upon the rifle barrel, but the heart of its owner did not tremble.
The moonlight was scant and the stars were few. To the city men trees and bushes melted together in a general blackness, relieved only by a single point of light where the fire yet smoldered, but Robert, kneeling by the side of Tayoga, saw with his trained eyes the separate trunks stretching away like columns, and then far beyond the fire he thought he caught a glimpse of a red feather raised for a moment above the undergrowth.
"Did you see!" he whispered to Tayoga.
"Yes. It was a painted feather in the scalp lock of a Huron," replied the Onondaga.
"And where he is others are sure to be."
"Well spoken, Dagaeoga. They have discovered already that the soldiers are not by the fire, and now they will search for them."
"They will lie almost flat on their faces and follow, a little, the broad trail the city men have left."
Willet had already warned Captain Colden, and the soldiers were ready. Tayoga was on Robert's right, and on his left was Black Rifle to whom his attention was now attracted. The man's eyes were blazing in his dark face, and his crouched figure was tense like that of a lion about to spring. Face and attitude alike expressed the most eager anticipation, and Robert shuddered. The ranger would add more lives to the toll of his revenge, and yet the youth felt sympathy for him, too. Then his mind became wholly absorbed in the battle, which obviously was so close at hand.
Their position was strong. Just behind them the thickets ended in a cliff hard to climb, and on the right was an open space that the enemy could not cross without being seen. Hence the chief danger was in front and on the left, and most of the men watched those points.
"I can see the bushes moving about a hundred yards away," whispered Tayoga. "A warrior is there, but to fire at him would be shooting at random."
"Let them begin it. They'll open soon. They'll know by our absence from the fire that we're looking for 'em."
"Spoken well, Dagaeoga. You'll be a warrior some day."
Robert smiled in the dark. Tayoga himself was so great a warrior that he could preserve his sense of humor upon the eve of a deadly battle. Robert also saw bushes moving now, but nothing was definite enough for a shot, and he waited with his fingers on the trigger.
"The enemy is at hand, Captain Colden," said Willet. "If you will look very closely at the thicket about one hundred yards directly in front of us you'll see the leaves shaking."
"Yes, I can make out some movement there," said Colden.
"They've discovered, of course, that we've left the fire, and they know also where we are."
"Do you think they'll try to rush us?"
"Not at all. It's not the Indian way, nor is it the way either of the French, who go with them. They know your men are raw—pardon me—inexperienced troops, and they'll put a cruel burden upon your patience. They may wait for hours, and they'll try in every manner to wear them out, and to provoke them at last into some rash movement. You'll have to guard most, Captain Colden, against the temper of your troop. If you'll take advice from one who's a veteran in the woods, you'd better threaten them with death for disobedience of orders."
"As I said before, I'm grateful to you for any advice or suggestion, Mr. Willet. This seems a long way from Philadelphia, and I'll confess I'm not so very much at home here."
He crawled among his men, and Willet and Robert heard him threatening them in fierce whispers, and their replies that they would be cautious and patient. It was well that Willet had given the advice, as a full hour passed without any sign from the foe. Troops even more experienced than the city men might well have concluded it was a false alarm, and that the forest contained nothing more dangerous than a bear. There was no sound, and Captain Colden himself asked if the warriors had not gone away.
"Not a chance of it," replied Willet. "They think they're certain of a victory, and they would not dream of retiring."
"And we have more long waiting in the dark to do?"
"I warned you. There is no other way to fight such enemies. We must never make the mistake of undervaluing them."
Captain Colden sighed. He had a gallant heart, and he and his troop had made a fine parade through the streets of Philadelphia, before he started for the frontier, but he had expected to meet the French in the open, perhaps with a bugle playing, and he would charge at the head of his men, waving the neat small sword, now buckled to his side. Instead he lay in a black thicket, awaiting the attack of creeping savages. Nevertheless, he put down his pride for the third time, and resolved to trust the four who had come so opportunely to his aid, and who seemed to be so thoroughly at home in the wilderness.
Another hour dragged its weary length away, and there was no sound of anything stirring in the forest. The skies lightened a little as the moon came out, casting a faint whitish tint over trees and bushes, but the brave young captain was yet unable to see any trace of the enemy.
"Do you feel quite sure that we're still besieged?" he whispered to Willet.
"Yes, Captain," replied the hunter, "and, as I said, patience is the commodity we need most. It would be fatal for us to force the action, but I don't think we have much longer to wait. Since they can't induce us to take some rash step they're likely to make a movement soon."
"I see the bushes waving again," said Tayoga. "It is proof that the warriors are approaching. It would be well for the soldiers to lie flat for a little while."
Captain Colden, adhering to his resolution to take the advice of his new friends, crept along the line, telling the men in sharp whispers to hug the earth, a command that they obeyed willingly, as the darkness, the silence and the mysterious nature of the danger had begun to weigh heavily upon their nerves.
Robert saw a bead of flame among the bushes, and heard a sharp report. A bullet cut a bough over his head, and a leaf drifted down upon his face. The soldiers shifted uneasily and began to thrust their rifles forward, but again the stern command of the young captain prompted by the hunter, held them down.
"'Twas intended merely to draw us," said Willet. "They're sure we're in this wood, but of course they don't know the exact location of our men. They're hoping for a glimpse of the bright uniforms, but, if the men keep very low, they won't get it."
It was a tremendous trial for young and raw troops, but they managed to still their nerves, and to remain crouched and motionless. A second shot was fired soon, and then a third, but like the first they were trial bullets and both went high. Black Rifle grew impatient. The memory of his murdered family began to press upon him once more. The night was black, but now it looked red to him. Lying almost flat, he slowly pulled himself forward like a great wild beast, stalking its prey. Colden looked at him, and then at Willet, who nodded.
"Don't try to stop him," whispered the hunter, "because he'll go anyhow. Besides, it's time for us to reply to their shots."
The dark form, moving forward without noise, had a singular fascination for Robert. His imagination, which colored and magnified everything, made Black Rifle sinister and supernatural. The complete absence of sound, as he advanced, heightened the effect. Not a leaf nor a blade of grass rustled. Presently he stopped and Robert saw the black muzzle of his rifle shoot forward. A stream of flame leaped forth, and then the man quickly slid into a new position.
A fierce shout came from the opposing thicket, and a half dozen shots were fired. Bullets again cut twigs and leaves over Robert's head, but all of them went too high.
"Do you think Black Rifle hit his mark?" whispered Robert to Tayoga.
"It is likely," replied the Onondaga, "but we may never know. I think it would be well, Dagaeoga, for you and me to go toward the left. They may try to creep around our flank, and we must meet them there."
Willet and Colden approved of the plan, and a half dozen of the best soldiers went with them, the movement proving to be wise, as within five minutes a scattering fire was opened upon that point. The soldiers fired two rash shots, merely aiming at the reports and the general blackness, but Robert and Tayoga quickly reduced them to control, insisting that they wait until they saw a foe, before pulling trigger again. Then they sank back among the bushes and remained quite still.
Tayoga suddenly drew a deep and very long breath, which with him was equivalent to an exclamation.
"What is it, Tayoga?" asked Robert.
"I saw a bit of a uniform, and I caught just a glimpse of a white face."
"An officer. Then we were right in our surmise that the French are here, leading the warriors."
"It was but a glimpse, but it showed the curve of his jaw and chin, and I knew him. He is one who is beginning to be important in your life, Dagaeoga."
"None other. I could not be mistaken. He is leading the attack upon us. Perhaps Tandakora is with him. The Frenchman does not like the Ojibway, but war makes strange comrades. That was close!"
A bullet whistled directly between them, and Tayoga, kneeling, fired in return. There was no doubt about his aim, as a warrior uttered the death cry, and a fierce shout of rage from a dozen throats followed. Robert, imaginative, ready to flame up in a moment, exulted, not because a warrior had fallen, but because the flank attack upon his own people had been stopped in the beginning. St. Luc himself would have admitted that the Americans, or the English, as he would have called them, were acting wisely. The soldiers, stirred by the successful shot, showed again a great desire to fire at the black woods, but Robert and the Onondaga still kept them down.
A crackling fire arose behind them, showing that the main force had engaged, and now and then the warriors uttered defiant cries. But Robert had enough power of will to watch in front, sure that Willet and Black Rifle were sufficient to guide the central defense. He observed intently the segment of the circle in front of them, and he wondered if St. Luc would appear there again, but he concluded that he would not, since the failure of the attempted surprise at that point would be likely to send him back to the main force.
"Do you think they'll go away and concentrate in front?" he asked Tayoga.
"No," replied the Onondaga. "They still think perhaps that they have only the soldiers from the city to meet, and they may attempt a rush."
Robert crept from soldier to soldier, cautioning every one to take shelter, and to have his rifle ready, and they, being good men, though without experience, obeyed the one who so obviously knew what he was doing. Meantime the combat behind them proceeded with vigor, the shots crashing in volleys, accompanied by shouts, and once by the cry of a stricken soldier. It was evident that St. Luc was now pushing the battle, and Robert was quite sure the attack on the flank would soon come again.
They did not wait much longer. The warriors suddenly leaped from the undergrowth and rushed straight toward them, a white man now in front. The light was sufficient for Robert to see that the leader was not St. Luc, and then without hesitation he raised his rifle and fired. The man fell, Tayoga stopped the rush of a warrior, and the bullets of the soldiers wounded others. But their white leader was gone, and Indians have little love for an attack upon a sheltered enemy. So the charge broke, before it was half way to the defenders, and the savages vanished in the thickets.
The soldiers began to exult, but Robert bade them reload as fast as possible, and keep well under cover. The warriors from new points would fire at every exposed head, and they could not afford to relax their caution for an instant.
But it was a difficult task for the youthful veterans of the forest to keep the older but inexperienced men from the city under cover. They had an almost overpowering desire to see the Indians who were shooting at them, and against whom they were sending their bullets. In spite of every command and entreaty a man would raise his head now and then, and one, as he did so, received a bullet between the eyes, falling back quietly, dead before he touched the ground.
"A brave lad has been lost," whispered Tayoga to Robert, "but he has been an involuntary example to the rest."
The Onondaga spoke in his precise school English, but he knew what he was saying, as the soldiers now became much more cautious, and controlled their impulse to raise up for a look, after every shot. Another man was wounded, but the hurt was not serious and he went on with his firing. Robert, seeing that the line on the flank could be held without great difficulty, left Tayoga in command, and crept back to the main force, where the bullets were coming much faster.
Two of the soldiers in the center had been slain, and three had been wounded, but Captain Colden had not given ground. He was sitting behind a rocky outcrop and at the suggestion of Willet was giving orders to his men. Oppressed at first by the ambush and weight of responsibility he was exulting now in their ability to check the savage onset. Robert was quite willing to play a little to his pride and he said in the formal military manner:
"I wish to report, sir, that all is going well on the southern flank. One of our men has been killed, but we have made it impossible for the enemy to advance there."
"Thank you, Mr. Lennox," said the young captain with dignity. "We have also had some success here, due chiefly to the good advice of Mr. Willet, and the prowess and sharpshooting of the extraordinary man whom you call Black Rifle. See him now!"
He indicated a dark figure a little distance ahead, behind a clump of bushes, and, as Robert looked, a jet of fire leaped from the muzzle of the man's rifle, followed almost immediately by a cry in the forest.
"I think he has slain more of our enemies than the rest of us combined," said Captain Colden.
Robert shuddered a little, but those who lived on the border became used to strange things. The constant struggle for existence hardened the nerves, and terrible scenes did not dwell long in the mind. He bent forward for a better look, and a bullet cut the hair upon his forehead. He started back, feeling as if he had been seared by lightning and Willet looked at him anxiously.
"The lead burned as it passed," the lad said, "but the skin is not broken. I was guilty of the same rashness, for which I have been lecturing the men on the flank."
"I caught a glimpse of the fellow who fired the shot," said Willet. "I think it was the Canadian, Dubois, whom we saw with St. Luc."
"Tayoga saw St. Luc himself on the flank," said Robert, "and so there is no doubt that he is leading the attack. The fact makes it certain that it will be carried on with persistence."
"We shall be here, still besieged, when day comes," said the hunter. "It's lucky that the cliff protects us on one side."
As if to disprove his assertion, all the firing stopped suddenly, and for a long time the forest was silent. Fortunately they had water in their canteens, and they were able to soothe the thirst of the wounded men. They talked also of victory, and, knowing that it was only two or three hours until dawn, Captain Colden's spirits rose to great heights. He was sure now that the warriors, defeated, had gone away. This Frenchman, St. Luc, of whom they talked, might be a great partisan leader, but he would know when the price he was paying became too high, and would draw off.
The men believed their captain, and, despite the earnest protest of the foresters, began to stir in the bushes shortly before dawn. A rifle shot came from the opposing thickets and one of them would stir no more. Captain Colden, appalled, was all remorse. He took the death of the man directly to himself, and told Willet with emotion that all advice of his would now be taken at once.
"Let the men lie as close as they can," said the hunter. "The day will soon be here."
Robert found shelter behind the trunk of a huge oak, and crouched there, his nerves relaxing. He did not believe any further movement of the enemy would come now. As the great tension passed for a time he was conscious of an immense weariness. The strain upon all the physical senses and upon the mind as well made him weak. It was a luxury merely to sit there with his back against the bark and rest. Near him he heard the soldiers moving softly, and now and then a wounded man asking for water. A light breeze had sprung up, and it had upon his face the freshness of the dawn. He wondered what the day would bring. The light that came with it would be cheerful and uplifting, but it would disclose their covert, at least in part, and St. Luc might lead both French and Indians in one great rush.
"Better eat a little," said Tayoga, who had returned to the center. "Remember that we have plenty of food in our knapsacks, nor are our canteens empty."
"I had forgotten it," said Robert, and he ate and drank sparingly. The breeze continued to freshen, and in the east the dawn broke, gray, turning to silver, and then to red and gold. The forest soon stood out, an infinite tracery in the dazzling light, and then a white fleck appeared against the wall of green.
"A flag of truce!" exclaimed Captain Colden. "What can they want to say to us?"
"Let the bearer of the flag appear first," suggested Willet, "and then we'll talk with 'em."
The figure of a man holding up a white handkerchief appeared and it was St. Luc himself, as neat and irreproachable as if he were attending a ball in the Intendant's palace at Quebec. Robert knew that he must have been active in the battle all through the night, but he showed no signs of it. He wore a fine close-fitting uniform of dark blue, and the handkerchief of lace was held aloft on the point of a small sword, the golden hilt of which glittered in the morning sunlight. He was a strange figure in the forest, but a most gallant one, and to Robert's eyes a chevalier without fear and without reproach.
"I know that you speak good French, Mr. Lennox," said Captain Colden. "Will you go forward and meet the Frenchman? You will perhaps know what to say to him, and, if not, you can refer to Mr. Willet and myself."
"I will do my best, sir," said Robert, glad of the chance to meet St. Luc face to face again. He did not know why his heart leaped so every time he saw the chevalier, but his friendship for him was undeniable. It seemed too that St. Luc liked him, and Robert felt sure that whatever hostility his official enemy felt for the English cause there was none for him personally.
Unconsciously he began to arrange his own attire of forest green, beautifully dyed and decorated deerskin, that he might not look less neat than the man whom he was going to meet. St. Luc was standing under the wide boughs of an oak, his gold hilted rapier returned to its sheath and his white lace handkerchief to its pocket. The smile of welcome upon his face as he saw the herald was genuine.
"I salute you, Mr. Lennox," he said, "and wish you a very good morning. I learned that you were in the force besieged by us, and it's a pleasure to see that you've escaped unhurt. When last we met the honors were yours. You fairly defeated me at the word play in the vale of Onondaga, but you will admit that the savage, Tandakora, played into your hands most opportunely. You will admit also that word play is not sword play, and that in the appeal to the sword we have the advantage of you."
"It may seem so to one who sees with your eyes and from your position," said Robert, "but being myself I'm compelled to see with my own eyes and from our side. I wish to say first, however, Chevalier de St. Luc, that since you have wished me a very good morning I even wish you a better."
St. Luc laughed gayly.
"You and I will never be enemies. It would be against nature," he said.
"No, we'll never be enemies, but why is it against nature?"
"Perhaps I was not happy in my phrase. We like each other too well, and—in a way—our temperaments resemble too much to engender a mutual hate. But we'll to business. Mine's a mission of mercy. I come to receive the surrender of your friends and yourself, since continued resistance to us will be vain!"
Robert smiled. His gift of golden speech was again making its presence felt. He had matched himself against St. Luc before the great League of the Hodenosaunee in the vale of Onondaga, and they had spoken where all might hear. Now they two alone could hear, but he felt that the test was the same in kind. He knew that his friends in the thickets behind him were watching, and he was equally sure that French and savages in the thickets before him were watching too. He had no doubt the baleful eyes of Tandakora were glaring at him at that very moment, and that the fingers of the Ojibway were eager to grasp his scalp. The idea, singularly enough, caused him amusement, because his imagination, vivid as usual, leaped far ahead, and he foresaw that his hair would never become a trophy for Tandakora.
"You smile, Mr. Lennox," said St. Luc. "Do you find my words so amusing?"
"Not amusing, chevalier! Oh, no! And if, in truth, I found them so I would not be so impolite as to smile. But there is a satisfaction in knowing that your official enemy has underrated the strength of your position. That is why my eyes expressed content—I would scarcely call it a smile."
"I see once more that you're a master of words, Mr. Lennox. You play with them as the wind sports among the leaves."
"But I don't speak in jest, Monsieur de St. Luc. I'm not in command here. I'm merely a spokesman a herald or a messenger, in whichever way you should choose to define me. Captain James Colden, a gallant young officer of Philadelphia, is our leader, but, in this instance, I don't feel the need of consulting him. I know that your offer is kindly, that it comes from a generous soul, but however much it may disappoint you I must decline it. Our resistance in the night has been quite successful, we have inflicted upon you much more damage than you have inflicted upon us, and I've no doubt the day will witness a battle continued in the same proportion."
St. Luc threw back his head and laughed, not loud, but gayly and with unction. Robert reddened, but he could not take offense, as he saw that none was meant.
"I no longer wonder at my defeat by you in the vale of Onondaga," said the chevalier, "since you're not merely a master of words, you're a master-artist. I've no doubt if I listen to you you'll persuade me it's not you but we who are besieged, and it would be wise for us to yield to you without further ado."
"Perhaps you're not so very far wrong," said Robert, recovering his assurance, which was nearly always great. "I'm sure Captain Colden would receive your surrender and treat you well."
The eyes of the two met and twinkled.
"Tandakora is with us," said St. Luc, "and I've a notion he wouldn't relish it. Perhaps he distrusts the mercy he would receive at the hands of your Onondaga, Tayoga. And at this point in our dialogue, Mr. Lennox, I want to apologize to you again, for the actions of the Ojibway before the war really began. I couldn't prevent them, but, since there is genuine war, he is our ally, and I must accord to him all the dignities and honors appertaining to his position."
"You're rather deft with words yourself, Monsieur de St. Luc. Once, at New York, I saw a juggler with balls who could keep five in the air at the same time, and in some dim and remote way you make me think of him. You'll pardon the illustration, chevalier, because I really mean it as a compliment."
"I pardon gladly enough, because I see your intentions are good. We both play with words, perhaps because the exercise tickles our fancy, but to return to the true spirit and essence of things, I warn you that it would be wise to surrender. My force is very much greater than Captain Colden's, and has him hemmed in. If my Indian allies suffer too much in the attack it will be difficult to restrain them. I'm not stating this as a threat—you know me too well for that—but to make the facts plain, and to avoid something that I should regret as much as you."
"I don't think it necessary to consult Captain Colden, and without doing so I decline your offer. We have food to eat, water to drink and bullets to shoot, and if you care to take us you must come and do so."
"And that is the final answer? You're quite sure you don't wish to consult your superior officer, Captain Colden?"
"Absolutely sure. It would waste the time of all of us."
"Then it seems there is nothing more to say, and to use your own fanciful way of putting it, we must go back from the play of words to the play of swords."
"I see no alternative."
"And yet I hope that you will survive the combat, Mr. Lennox."
"I've the same hope for you, Chevalier de St. Luc."
Each meant it, and, in the same high manner of the day, they saluted and withdrew. Robert, as he walked back to the thickets in which the defenders lay, felt that Indian eyes were upon him, and that perhaps an Indian bullet would speed toward him, despite St. Luc. Tandakora and the savages around him could not always be controlled by their French allies, as was to be shown too often in this war. His sensitive mind once more turned fancy into reality and the hair on his head lifted a little, but pride would not let him hasten his steps.
No gun was fired, and, with an immense relief, he sank down behind a fallen log, and by the side of Colden and Willet.
"What did the Frenchman want?" asked the young captain.
"Our instant and unconditional surrender. Knowing how you felt about it, I gave him your refusal at once."
"Well done, Mr. Lennox."
"He said that in case of a rush and heavy loss by his Indians he perhaps would not be able to control them in the moment of victory, which doubtless is true."
"They will know no moment of victory. We can hold them off."
"Where is Tayoga?" asked Robert of Willet.
The hunter pointed westward.
"Why, the cliff shuts off the way in that direction!" said Robert.
"Not to a good climber."
"Do you mean, then, that Tayoga is gone?"
"I saw him go. He went while you were talking with St. Luc."
"Why should Tayoga leave us?"
"He saw another smoke against the sky. It was but a faint trace. Only an extremely keen eye would have noticed it, and having much natural curiosity, Tayoga is now on his way to see who built the fire that made the smoke."
"And it may have been made by friends."
"That's our hope."
Robert drew a long breath and looked toward the west. The sky was now clear there, but he knew that Tayoga could not have made any mistake. Then, his heart high once more, he settled himself down to wait.
The day advanced, brilliant with sunshine, and the forces of St. Luc were quiet. For a long time, not a shot was fired, and it seemed to the besieged that the forest was empty of human beings save themselves. Robert did not believe the French leader would attempt a long siege, since an engagement could not be conducted in that manner in the forest, where a result of some kind must be reached soon. Yet it was impossible to tell what plan St. Luc had in mind, and they must wait until Tayoga came.
Young Captain Colden was in good spirits. It was his first taste of wilderness warfare, and he knew that he had done well. The dead were laid decently among the bushes to receive Christian burial later, if the chance came, and the wounded, their hurts bound up, prepared to take what part they could in a new battle. Robert crept to the edge of the cliff, and looked toward the west, whence Tayoga had gone. He saw only a dazzling blue sky, unflecked by anything save little white clouds, and there was nothing to indicate whether the mission of his young Onondaga comrade would have any success. He crept back to the side of Willet.
"Have you any opinion, Dave, about the smoke that Tayoga saw," he asked.
"None, Robert, just a hope. It might have been made by another French and Indian band, most probably it was, but there is a chance, too, that friends built the fire."
"If it's a force of any size it could hardly be English. I don't think any troop of ours except Captain Colden's is in this region."
"We can't look for help from our own race."
Robert was silent, gazing intently into the west, whence Tayoga had gone. He recognized the immense difficulties of their position. Indians, if an attack or two of theirs failed, would be likely to go away, but the French, and especially St. Luc, would increase their persistence and hold them to the task. He returned to the forest, and his attention was drawn once more by Black Rifle. The man was lying almost flat in the thicket, and evidently he had caught a glimpse of a foe, as he was writhing slowly forward like a great beast of prey, and his eyes once more had the expectant look of one who is going to strike. Robert considered him. He knew that the man's whole nature had been poisoned by the great tragedy in his life, and that it gave him a sinister pleasure to inflict blows upon those who had inflicted the great blow upon him. Yet he would be useful in the fierce war that was upon them and he was useful now.
Black Rifle crept forward two or three yards more, and, after he had lain quite still for a few moments, he suddenly thrust out his rifle and fired. A cry came from the opposing thicket and Robert heard the sharpshooter utter a deep sigh of satisfaction. He knew that St. Luc was one warrior less, which was good for the defense, but he shuddered a little. He could never bring himself to steal through the bushes and shoot an unseeing enemy. Still Black Rifle was Black Rifle, and being what he was he was not to be judged as other men were.
After a half hour's silence, the besiegers suddenly opened fire from five or six points, sending perhaps two score bullets into the wood, clipping off many twigs and leaves which fell upon the heads of the defenders. Captain Colden did not forget to be grateful to Willet for his insistence that the soldiers should always lie low, as the hostile lead, instead of striking, now merely sent a harmless shower upon them. But the fusillade was brief, Robert, in truth, judging that it had been against the commands of St. Luc, who was too wise a leader to wish ammunition to be wasted in random firing. At the advice of Willet, Captain Colden would not let his men reply, restraining their eagerness, and silence soon returned.
It was nearly noon now and a huge golden sun shone over the vast wilderness in which two little bands of men fought, mere motes in the limitless sea of green. Robert ate some venison, and drank a little water from the canteen of a friendly soldier. Then his thoughts turned again to Tayoga. The Onondaga was a peerless runner, he had been gone long now, and what would he find at the base of the smoke? If it had been the fire of an enemy then he would be back in the middle of the afternoon, and they would be in no worse case than before. They might try to escape in the night down the cliff, but it was not likely that vigilant foes would permit men, clumsy in the woods like the soldiers, to steal away in such a manner.
The earlier hours of the afternoon were passed by the sharpshooters on either side trying to stalk one another. Although Robert had no part in it, it was a savage play that alternately fascinated and repelled him. He had no way to tell exactly, but he believed that two more of the Indians had fallen, while a soldier received a wound. A bullet grazed Black Rifle's head, but instead of daunting him it seemed to give him a kind of fierce joy, and to inspire in him a greater desire to slay.
These efforts, since they achieved no positive results, soon died down, and both sides lay silent in their coverts. Robert made himself as comfortable as he could behind a log, although he longed to stand upright, and walk about once more like a human being. It was now mid-afternoon and if the smoke had meant nothing good for them it was time for Tayoga to be back. It was not conceivable that such a marvelous forester and matchless runner could have been taken, and, since he had not come, Robert's heart again beat to the tune of hope.
Willet with whom he talked a little, was of like opinion. He looked to Tayoga to bring them help, and, if he failed their case, already hard, would become harder. The hunter did not conceal from himself the prowess and skill of St. Luc and he knew too, that the savage persistency of Tandakora was not to be held lightly. Like Robert he gazed long into the blue west, which was flecked only by little clouds of white.
"A sign! A sign!" he said. "If we could only behold a sign!"
But the heavens said nothing. The sun, a huge ball of glowing copper, was already far down the Western curve, and the hunter's heart beat hard with anxiety. He felt that if help came it should come soon. But little water was left to the soldiers, although their food might last another day, and the night itself, now not far away, would bring the danger of a new attack by a creeping foe, greatly superior in numbers. He turned away from the cliff, but Robert remained, and presently the youth called in a sharp thrilling whisper:
"Dave! Dave! Come back!"
Robert had continued to watch the sky and he thought he saw a faint dark line against the sea of blue. He rubbed his eyes, fearing it was a fault of vision, but the trace was still there, and he believed it to be smoke.
"Dave! Dave! The signal! Look! Look!" he cried.
The hunter came to the edge of the cliff and stared into the west. A thread of black lay across the blue, and his heart leaped.
"Do you believe that Tayoga has anything to do with it?" asked Robert.
"I do. If it were our foes out there he'd have been back long since."
"And since it may be friends they've sent up this smoke, hoping we'll divine what they mean."
"It looks like it. Tayoga is a sharp lad, and he'll want to put heart in the soldiers. It must be the Onondaga, and I wish I knew what his smoke was saying."
Captain Colden joined them, and they pointed out to him the trace across the sky which was now broadening, explaining at the same time that it was probably a signal sent up by Tayoga, and that he might be leading a force to their aid.
"What help could he bring?" asked the captain.
Willet shook his head.
"I can't answer you there," he replied; "but the smoke has significance for us. Of that I feel sure. By sundown we'll know what it means."
"And that's only about two hours away," said Captain Colden. "Whatever happens we'll hold out to the last. I suppose, though, that St. Luc's force also will see the smoke."
"Quite likely," replied Willet, "and the Frenchman may send a runner, too, to see what it means, but however good a runner he may be he'll be no match for Tayoga."
"That's sure," said Robert.
So great was his confidence in the Onondaga that it never occurred to him that he might be killed or taken, and he awaited his certain return, either with or without a helping force. He lay now near the edge of the cliff, whence he could look toward the west, the point of hope, whenever he wished, ate another strip of venison, and took another drink of water out of a friendly canteen.
The west was now blazing with terraces of red and yellow, rising above one another, and the east was misty, gray and dim. Twilight was not far away. The thread of smoke that had lain against the sky above the forest was gone, the glittering bar of red and gold being absolutely free from any trace. St. Luc's force opened fire again, bullets clipping twigs and leaves, but the defense lay quiet, except Black Rifle, who crept back and forth, continually seeking a target, and pulling the trigger whenever he found it.
The misty gray in the east turned to darkness, in the west the sun went down the slope of the world, and the brilliant terraces of color began to fade. The firing ceased and another tense period of quiet, hard, to endure, came. At the suggestion of the hunter Colden drew in his whole troop near the cliff and waited, all, despite their weariness and strain, keeping the keenest watch they could.
But Robert, instead of looking toward the east, where St. Luc's force was, invariably looked into the sunset, because it was there that Tayoga had gone, and it was there that they had seen the smoke, of which they expected so much. The terraces of color, already grown dim, were now fading fast. At the top they were gone altogether, and they only lingered low down. But on the forest the red light yet blazed. Every twig and leaf seemed to stand individual and distinct, black against a scarlet shield. But it was for merely a few minutes. Then all the red glow disappeared, like a great light going out suddenly, and the western forest as well as the eastern, lay in a gray gloom.
It always seemed to Robert that the last going of the sunset that day was like a signal, because, when the night swept down, black and complete everywhere, there was a burst of heavy firing from the south and a long exultant yell. No bullet sped through the thickets, where the defenders lay, and Willet cried:
"Tayoga! Tayoga and help! Ah, here they come! The Mohawks!"
Tayoga, panting from exertion, sprang into the bushes among them, and he was followed by a tall figure in war paint, lofty plumes waving from his war bonnet. Behind him came many warriors, and others were already on the flanks, spreading out like a fan, filing rapidly and shouting the war whoop. Robert recognized at once the great figure that stood before them. It was Daganoweda, the young Mohawk chief of his earlier acquaintance, whom he had met both on the war path and at the great council of the fifty sachems in the vale of Onondaga. Had his been the right to choose the man who was to come to their aid, the Mohawk would have been his first choice. Robert knew his intense hatred of the French and their red allies, and he also knew his fierce courage and great ability in battle.
The soldiers looked in some alarm at the painted host that had sprung among them, but Willet and Robert assured them insistently that these were friends, and the sound of the battle they were already waging on the flank with St. Luc's force, was proof enough.
"Captain Colden," said Robert, not forgetful that an Indian likes the courtesies of life, and can take his compliments thick, "this is the great young Mohawk Chief, Daganoweda, which in our language means 'The Inexhaustible' and such he is, inexhaustible in resource and courage in battle, and in loyalty to his friends."
Daganoweda smiled and extended his hand in the white man's fashion. Young Colden had the tact to shake it heartily at once and to say in English, which the young Mohawk chief understood perfectly:
"Daganoweda, whatever praise of you Mr. Lennox has given it's not half enough. I confess now although I would not have admitted it before, that if you had not come we should probably have been lost."
He had made a friend for life, and then, without further words the two turned to the battle. But Robert remained for a minute beside Tayoga, whose chest was still heaving with his great exertions.
"Where did you find them?" he asked.
"Many miles to the west, Lennox. After I descended the cliff I was pursued by Huron skirmishers, and I had to shake them off. Then I ran at full speed toward the point where the smoke had risen, knowing that the need was great, and I overtook Daganoweda and the Mohawks. Their first smoke was but that from a camp-fire, as being in strong force they did not care who saw them, but the last, just before the sunset, was sent up as a signal by two warriors whom we left behind for the purpose. We thought you might take it to mean that help was coming."
"And so we did. How many warriors has Daganoweda?"
"Fifty, and that is enough. Already they push the Frenchman and his force before them. Come, we must join them, Dagaeoga. The breath has come back into my body and I am a strong man again!"
The two now quickly took their places in the battle in the night and the forest, the position of the two forces being reversed. The soldiers and the Mohawks were pushing the combat at every point, and the agile warriors extending themselves on the flanks had already driven in St. Luc's skirmishers. Black Rifle, uttering fierce shouts, was leading a strong attack in the center. The firing was now rapid and much heavier than it had been at any time before. Flashes of flame appeared everywhere in the thicket. Above the crackle of rifles and muskets swelled the long thrilling war cry of the Mohawks, and back in fierce defiance came the yells of the Hurons and Abenakis.
Willet joined Robert and the two, with Tayoga, saw that the soldiers fought well under cover. The young Philadelphians, in the excitement of battle and of a sudden and triumphant reversal of fortune, were likely to expose themselves rashly, and the advice of the forest veterans was timely. Captain Colden saw that it was taken, although two more of his men were slain as they advanced and several were wounded. But the issue was no longer doubtful. The weight that the Mohawks had suddenly thrown into the battle was too great. The force of St. Luc was steadily driven northward, and Daganoweda's alert skirmishers on the flanks kept it compressed together.