The Shadow of the North by Joseph A. Altsheler
Chapter I. The Onondaga
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.