The Shadow of the North by Joseph A. Altsheler
Chapter III. The Signal
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.
Robert knew how bitter the defeat would be to St. Luc, but the knowledge did not keep his exultation from mounting to a high pitch. St. Luc might strive with all his might to keep his men in the battle, but the Frenchmen could not be numerous, and it was the custom of Indians, once a combat seemed lost, to melt away like a mist. They believed thoroughly that it was best to run away and fight another day, and there was no disgrace in escaping from a stricken field.
"They run! They run! And the Frenchmen must run with them!" exclaimed Black Rifle. As he spoke, a bullet grazed his side and struck a soldier behind him, but the force pressed on with the ardor fed by victory. Willet did not try any longer to restrain them, although he understood full well the danger of a battle in the dark. But he knew that Daganoweda and his Mohawks, experienced in every forest wile, would guard them against surprise, and he deemed it best now that they should strike with all their might.
Robert seldom saw any of the warriors before him, and he did not once catch a glimpse of a Frenchman. Whenever his rifle was loaded he fired at a flitting form, never knowing whether or not his bullet struck true, and glad of his ignorance. His sensitive and imaginative mind became greatly excited. The flashes of flame in the thickets were multiplied a hundred fold, a thousand little pulses beat heavily in his temples, and the shouts of the savages seemed to fill the forest. But he pressed on, conscious that the enemy was disappearing before them.
In his eagerness he passed ahead of Willet and Tayoga and came very near to St. Luc's retreating line. His foot became entangled in trailing vines and he fell, but he was up in an instant, and he fired at a shadowy figure not more than twenty feet in advance. In his haste he missed, and the figure, turning, raised a rifle. There was a fair moonlight and Robert saw the muzzle of the weapon bearing directly upon him, and he knew too that the rifle was held by firm hands. His vivid and sensitive imagination at once leaped into intense life. His own weapon was empty and his last moment had come. He saw the strong brown hands holding the rifle, and then his gaze passed on to the face of St. Luc. He saw the blue eyes of the Frenchman, as they looked down the sights, open wide in a kind of horror. Then he abruptly dropped the muzzle, waved one hand to Robert, and vanished in the thickets and the darkness.
The battle was over. There were a few dying shots, scattered beads of flame, an occasional shout of triumph from the Mohawks, a defiant yell or two in reply from the Hurons and the Abenakis, and then the trail of the combat swept out of the sight and hearing of Robert, who stood dazed and yet with a heart full of gratitude. St. Luc had held his life upon the pressure of a trigger, and the trigger would have been pulled had he not seen before it was too late who stood before the muzzle of his rifle. The moonlight was enough for Robert to see that look of horror in his eyes when he recognized the target. And then the weapon had been turned away and he had gone like a flash! Why? For what reason had St. Luc spared him in the heat and fury of a desperate and losing battle? It must have been a powerful motive for a man to stay his bullet at such a time!
"Wake up, lad! Wake up! The battle has been won!"
Willet's heavy but friendly hand fell upon his shoulder, and Robert came out of his daze. He decided at once that he would say nothing about the meeting with St. Luc, and merely remarked in a cryptic manner:
"I was stunned for a moment by a bullet that did not hit me. Yes, we've won, Dave, thanks to the Mohawks."
"Thanks to Daganoweda and his brave Mohawks, and to Tayoga, and to the gallant Captain Colden and his gallant men. All of us together have made the triumph possible. I understand that the bodies of only two Frenchmen have been found and that neither was that of St. Luc. Well, I'm glad. That Frenchman will do us great damage in this war, but he's an honorable foe, and a man of heart, and I like him."
A man of heart! Yes, truly! None knew it better than Robert, but again he kept his own counsel. He too was glad that his had not been one of the two French bodies found, but there was still danger from the pursuing Mohawks, who would hang on tenaciously, and he felt a sudden thrill of alarm. But it passed, as he remembered that the chevalier was a woodsman of experience and surpassing skill.
Tayoga came back to them somewhat blown. He had followed the fleeing French and Indian force two or three miles. But there was a limit even to his nerves and sinews of wrought steel. He had already run thirty miles before joining in the combat, and now it was time to rest.
"Come, Tayoga," said the hunter, "we'll go back to the ground our lads have defended so well, and eat, drink and sleep. The Mohawks will attend to all the work that's left, which isn't much. We've earned our repose."
Captain Colden, slightly wounded in the arm, appeared and Willet gave him the high compliments that he and his soldiers deserved. He told him it was seldom that men unused to the woods bore themselves so well in an Indian fight, but the young captain modestly disclaimed the chief merit, replying that he and his detachment would surely have been lost, had it not been for Willet and his comrades.
Then they went back to the ground near the cliff, where they had made their great fight, and Willet although the night was warm, wisely had a large fire built. He knew the psychological and stimulating effect of heat and light upon the lads of the city, who had passed through such a fearful ordeal in the dark and Indian-haunted forest. He encouraged them to throw on more dead boughs, until the blaze leaped higher and higher and sparkled and roared, sending up myriads of joyous sparks that glowed for their brief lives among the trees and then died. No fear of St. Luc and the Indians now! That fierce fringe of Mohawks was a barrier that they could never pass, even should they choose to return, and no such choice could possibly be theirs! The fire crackled and blazed in increasing volume, and the Philadelphia lads, recovering from the collapse that had followed tremendous exertions and excitement, began to appreciate the extent of their victory and to talk eagerly with one another.
But the period of full rest had not yet come. Captain Colden made them dig with their bayonets shallow graves for their dead, six in number. Fluent of speech, his sensitive mind again fitting into the deep gravity of the situation, Robert said a few words above them, words that he felt, words that moved those who heard. Then the earth was thrown in and stones and heavy boughs were placed over all to keep away the digging wolves or other wild animals.
The wounded were made as comfortable as possible before the fire, and in the light of the brilliant flames the awe created by the dead quickly passed. Food was served and fresh water was drunk, the canteens being refilled from a spring that Tayoga found a quarter of a mile away. Then the soldiers, save six who had been posted as guard, stretched themselves on grass or leaves, and fell asleep, one by one. Tayoga who had made the greatest physical effort followed them to the land of slumber, but Captain Colden sat and talked with Robert and Willet, although it was now far past midnight.
The bushes parted and a dark figure, making no sound as it came, stepped into the circle of light. It was Black Rifle and his eyes still glittered, but he said nothing. Robert thought he saw upon his face a look of intense satisfaction and once more he shuddered a little. The man lay down with his rifle beside him, and fell asleep, his hands still clutching his weapon.
Before dawn Daganoweda and the Mohawks came back also, and Robert in behalf of them all thanked the young chief in the purest Mohawk, and with the fine phrasing and apt allegory so dear to the Indian heart. Daganoweda made a fitting reply, saying that the merit did not belong to him but to Manitou, and then, leaving a half dozen of his warriors to join in the watch, he and the others slept before the fire.
"It was well that you played so strongly upon the feelings of the Mohawks at that test in the vale of Onondaga, Robert," said Willet. "If you had not said over and over again that the Quebec of the French was once the Stadacona of the Mohawks they would not have been here tonight to save us. They say that deeds speak louder than words, but when the same man speaks with both words and deeds people have got to hear."
"You give me too much credit, Dave. The time was ripe for a Mohawk attack upon the French."
"Aye, lad, but one had to see a chance and use it. Now, join all those fellows in sleep. We won't move before noon."
But Robert's brain was too active for sleep just yet. While his imaginative power made him see things before other people saw them, he also continued to see them after they were gone. The wilderness battle passed once more before him, and when he brushed his eyes to thrust it away, he looked at the sleeping Mohawks and thought what splendid savages they were. The other tribes of the Hodenosaunee were still holding to their neutrality--all that was asked of them--but the Mohawks, with the memories of their ancient wrongs burning in their hearts, had openly taken the side of the English, and tonight their valor and skill had undoubtedly saved the American force. Daganoweda was a hero! And so was Tayoga, the Onondaga, always the first of red men to Robert.
His heated brain began to grow cool at last. The vivid pictures that had been passing so fast before his eyes faded. He saw only reality, the blazing fire, the dusky figures lying motionless before it, and the circling wall of dark woods. Then he slept.
Willet was the only white man who remained awake. He saw the great fire die, and the dawn come in its place. He felt then for the first time in all that long encounter the strangeness of his own position. The wilderness, savages and forest battle had become natural to him, and yet his life had once been far different. There was a taste of a distant past in that fierce duel at Quebec when he slew the bravo, Boucher, a deed for which he had never felt a moment's regret, and yet when he balanced the old times against the present, he could not say which had the advantage. He had found true friends in the woods, men who would and did risk their own lives to save his.
The dawn came swiftly, flooding the earth with light. Daganoweda and many of the Mohawk warriors awoke, but the young Philadelphia captain and his men slept on, plunged in the utter stupor of exhaustion. Tayoga, who had made a supreme effort, both physical and mental, also continued to sleep, and Robert, lying with his feet to the coals, never stirred.
Daganoweda shook himself, and, so shaking, shook the last shred of sleep from his eyes. Then he looked with pride at his warriors, those who yet lay upon the ground and those who had arisen. He was a young chief, not yet thirty years of age, and he was the bloom and flower of Mohawk courage and daring. His name, Daganoweda, the Inexhaustible, was fully deserved, as his bravery and resource were unlimited. But unlike Tayoga, he had in him none of the priestly quality. He had not drunk or even sipped at the white man's civilization. The spirituality so often to be found in the Onondagas was unknown to him. He was a warrior first, last and all the time. He was Daganoweda of the Clan of the Turtle, of the Nation Ganeagaono, the Keepers of the Eastern Gate, of the great League of the Hodenosaunee, and he craved no glory save that to be won in battle, which he craved all the time.
Daganoweda, as he looked at his men, felt intense satisfaction, because the achievement of his Mohawks the night before had been brilliant and successful, but he concealed it from all save himself. It was not for a chief who wished to win not one victory, but a hundred to show undue elation. But he turned and for a few moments gazed directly into the sun with unwinking eyes, and when he shifted his gaze away, a great tide of life leaped in his veins.
Then he gave silent thanks. Like all the other Indians in North America the Mohawks personified and worshipped the sun, which to them was the mighty Dweller in Heaven, almost the same as Manitou, a great spirit to whom sacrifices and thanksgivings were to be made. The sun, an immortal being, had risen that morning and from his seat in the highest of the high heavens he had looked down with his invincible eye which no man could face more than a few seconds, upon his favorite children, the Mohawks, to whom he had given the victory. Daganoweda bowed a head naturally haughty and under his breath murmured thanks for the triumph given and prayers for others to come.
The warriors built the fire anew and cooked their breakfasts. They had venison and hominy of three kinds according to the corn of which it was made, Onaogaant or the white corn, Ticne or the red corn, and Hagowa or the white flint corn. They also had bear meat and dried beans. So their breakfast was abundant, and they ate with the appetite of warriors who had done mighty deeds.
Daganoweda and Willet, as became great men, sat together on a log and were served by a warrior who took honor from the task. Black Rifle sat alone a little distance away. He would have been welcome in the company of the Mohawk chief and the hunter, but, brooding and solitary in mind, he wished to be alone and they knew and respected his wish. Daganoweda glanced at him more than once as he remained in silence, and always there was pity in his looks. And there was admiration too, because Black Rifle was a great warrior. The woods held none greater.
When Robert awoke it was well on toward noon and he sprang up, refreshed and strong.
"You've had quite a nap, Robert," said Willet, who had not slept at all, "but some of the soldiers are still sleeping, and Tayoga has just gone down to the spring to bathe his face."
"Which I also will do," said Robert.
"And when you come back food will be ready for you."
Robert found Tayoga at the spring, flexing his muscles, and taking short steps back and forth. "It was a great run you made," said the white youth, "and it saved us. There's no stiffness, I hope?"
"There was a little, Dagaeoga, but I have worked it out of my body. Now all my muscles are as they were. I am ready to make another and equal run."
"It's not needed, and for that I'm thankful. St. Luc will not come back, nor will Tandakora, I think, linger in the woods, hoping for a shot. He knows that the Mohawk skirmishers will be too vigilant."
As they went back to the fire for their food they heard a droning song and the regular beat of feet. Some of the Mohawks were dancing the Buffalo Dance, a dance named after an animal never found in their country, but which they knew well. It was a tribute to the vast energy and daring of the nations of the Hodenosaunee that they should range in such remote regions as Kentucky and Tennessee and hunt the buffalo with the Cherokees, who came up from the south.
They called the dance Dageyagooanno, and it was always danced by men only. One warrior beat upon the drum, ganojoo, and another used gusdawasa or the rattle made of the shell of a squash. A dozen warriors danced, and players and dancers alike sang. It was a most singular dance and Robert, as he ate and drank, watched it with curious interest.
The warriors capered back and forth, and often they bent themselves far over, until their hands touched the ground. Then they would arch their backs, until they formed a kind of hump, and they leaped to and fro, bellowing all the time. The imitation was that of a buffalo, recognizable at once, and, while it was rude and monotonous, both dancing and singing preserved a rhythm, and as one listened continuously it soon crept into the blood. Robert, with that singular temperament of his, so receptive to all impressions, began to feel it. Their chant was of war and victory and he stirred to both. He was on the warpath with them, and he passed with them through the thick of battle.
They danced for a long time, quitting only when exhaustion compelled. By that time all the soldiers were awake and Captain Colden talked with the other leaders, red and white. His instructions took him farther west, where he was to build a fort for the defense of the border, and, staunch and true, he did not mean to turn back because he had been in desperate battle with the French and their Indian allies.
"I was sent to protect a section of the frontier," he said to Willet, "and while I've found it hard to protect my men and myself, yet I must go on. I could never return to Philadelphia and face our people there."
"It's a just view you take, Captain Colden," said Willet.
"I feel, though, that my men and I are but children in the woods. Yesterday and last night proved it. If you and your friends continue with us our march may not be in vain."
Willet glanced at Robert, and then at Tayoga.
"Ours for the present, at least, is a roving commission," said young Lennox. "It seems to me that the best we can do is to go with Captain Colden."
"I am not called back to the vale of Onondaga," said Tayoga, "I would see the building of this fort that Captain Colden has planned."
"Then we three are agreed," said the hunter. "It's best not to speak to Black Rifle, because he'll follow his own notions anyway, and as for Daganoweda and his Mohawks I think they're likely to resume their march northward against the French border."
"I'm grateful to you three," said Captain Colden, "and, now that it's settled, we'll start as soon as we can."
"Better give them all a good rest, and wait until the morning," said the hunter.
Again Captain Colden agreed with him.