The Shadow of the North by Joseph A. Altsheler
Chapter V. The Runner
Fort Refuge, the stronghold raised by young arms, was the most distant point in the wilderness held by the Anglo-American forces, and for a long time it was cut off entirely from the world. No message came out of the great forest that rimmed it round, but Colden had been told to build it and hold it until he had orders to leave it, and he and his men waited patiently, until word of some kind should come or they should be attacked by the French and Indian forces that were gathering continually in the north.
They saw the autumn reach its full glory. The wilderness glowed in intense yellows and reds. The days grew cool, and the nights cold, the air was crisp and fresh like the breath of life, the young men felt their muscles expand and their courage rise, and they longed for the appearance of the enemy, sure that behind their stout palisade they would be able to defeat whatever numbers came.
Tayoga left them early one morning for a visit to his people. The leaves were falling then under a sharp west wind, and the sky had a cold, hard tint of blue steel. Winter was not far away, but the day suited a runner like Tayoga who wished to make speed through the wilderness. He stood for a moment or two at the edge of the forest, a strong, slender figure outlined against the brown, waved his hand to his friends watching on the palisade, and then disappeared.
"A great Indian," said young Wilton thoughtfully. "I confess that I never knew much about the red men or thought much about them until I met him. I don't recall having come into contact with a finer mind of its kind."
"Most of the white people make the mistake of undervaluing the Indians," said Robert, "but we'll learn in this war what a power they are. If the Hodenosaunee had turned against us we'd have been beaten already."
"At any rate, Tayoga is a noble type. Since I had to come into the forest I'm glad to meet such fellows as he. Do you think, Lennox, that he'll get through safely?"
"Get through safely?" he repeated. "Why, Tayoga is the fastest runner among the Indian nations, and they train for speed. He goes like the wind, he never tires, night and day are the same to him, he's so light of foot that he could pass through a band of his own comrades and they would never know he was there, and yet his own ears are so keen that he can hear the leaves falling a hundred yards away. The path from here to the vale of Onondaga may be lined on either side with the French and the hostile tribes, standing as thick as trees in the forest, but he will flit between them as safely and easily as you and I would ride along a highroad into Philadelphia. He will arrive at the vale of Onondaga, unharmed, at the exact minute he intends to arrive, and he will return, reaching Fort Refuge also on the exact day, and at the exact hour and minute he has already selected."
The young Quaker surveyed Robert with admiration and then laughed.
"What they tell of you is true," he said. "In truth that was a most gorgeous and rounded speech you made about your friend. I don't recall finer and more flowing periods! What vividness! What imagery! I'm proud to know you, Lennox!"
Robert reddened and then laughed.
"I do grow enthusiastic when I talk about Tayoga," he said, "but you'll see that what I predict will come to pass. He's probably told Willet just when he'll be back at Fort Refuge. We'll ask him."
The hunter informed them that Tayoga intended to take exactly ten days.
"This is Monday," he said. "He'll be here a week from next Thursday at noon."
"But suppose something happens to detain him," said Wilton, "suppose the weather is too bad for traveling, or suppose a lot of other things that can happen easily."
Willet shrugged his shoulders.
"In such a case as this where Tayoga is concerned," he said, "we don't suppose anything, we go by certainties. Before he left, Tayoga settled the day and the hour when he would return and it's not now a problem or a question. He has disposed of the subject."
"I can't quite see it that way," said Wilton tenaciously. "I admit that Tayoga is a wonderful fellow, but he cannot possibly tell the exact hour of his return from such a journey as the one he has undertaken."
"You wait and see," said the hunter in the utmost good nature. "You think you know Tayoga, but you don't yet know him fully."
"If I were not a Quaker I'd wager a small sum of money that he does not come at the time appointed," said Wilton.
"Then it's lucky for your pocket that you're a Quaker," laughed Willet.
It turned much colder that very afternoon, and the raw edge of winter showed. The wind from the northwest was bitter and the dead leaves fell in showers. At dusk a chilling rain began, and the young soldiers, shivering, were glad enough to seek the shelter of the blockhouse, where a great fire was blazing on the broad hearth. They had made many rude camp stools and sitting down on one before the blaze Wilton let the pleasant warmth fall upon his face.
"I'm sorry for Tayoga," he said to Robert. "Just when you and Willet were boasting most about him this winter rain had to come and he was no more than fairly started. He'll have to hunt a den somewhere in the forest and crouch in it wrapped in his blanket."
Robert smiled serenely.
"Den! Crouch! Wrapped in his blanket! What do you mean?" he asked in his mellow, golden voice. "Are you speaking of my friend, Tayoga, of the Clan of the Bear, of the nation Onondaga, of the great League of the Hodenosaunee? Can it be possible, Wilton, that you are referring to him, when you talk of such humiliating subterfuges?"
"I refer to him and none other, Lennox. I see him now, stumbling about in the deep forest, looking for shelter."
"No, Wilton, you don't see Tayoga. You merely see an idle figment of a brain that does not yet fully know my friend, the great young Onondaga. But I see him, and I see him clearly. I behold a tall, strong figure, head slightly bent against the rain, eyes that see in the dark as well as yours see in the brightest sunlight, feet that move surely and steadily in the path, never stumbling and never veering, tireless muscles that carry him on without slackening."
"Dithyrambic again, Lennox. You are certainly loyal to your friend. As for me, I'm glad I'm not out there in the black and wet forest. No human being can keep to his pace at such a time."
Robert again smiled serenely, but he said nothing more. His confidence was unlimited. Presently he wrapped around his body a rude but serviceable overcoat of beaver skin that he had made for himself, and went out. The cold, drizzling icy rain that creeps into one's veins was still falling, and he shivered despite his furs. He looked toward the northeast whither Tayoga's course took him, and he felt sorry for his red comrade, but he never doubted that he was speeding on his way with sure and unfaltering step.
The sentinels, mounted on the broad plank that ran behind the palisade, were walking to and fro, wrapped to their eyes. A month or two earlier they might have left everything on such a night to take care of itself, but now they knew far better. Captain Colden, with the terrible lesson of the battle in the bush, had become a strict disciplinarian, and Willet was always at his elbow with unobtrusive but valuable advice which the young Philadelphian had the good sense to welcome.
Robert spoke to them, and one or two referred to the Indian runner who had gone east, saying that he might have had a better night for his start. The repetition of Wilton's words depressed Robert for a moment, but his heart came back with a bound. Nothing could defeat Tayoga. Did he not know his red comrade? The wilderness was like a trimmed garden to him, and neither rain, nor hail, nor snow could stop him.
As he said the word "hail" to himself it came, pattering upon the dead leaves and the palisade in a whirlwind of white pellets. Again he shivered, and knowing it was no use to linger there returned inside, where most of the men had already gone to sleep. He stretched himself on his blanket and followed them in slumber. When he awoke the next morning it was still hailing, and Wilton said in a serious tone that he hoped Tayoga would give up the journey and come back to Fort Refuge.
"I like that Onondaga," he said, "and I don't want him to freeze to death in the forest. Why, the earth and all the trees are coated with ice now, and even if a man lives he is able to make no progress."
Once more Robert smiled serenely.
"You're thinking of the men you knew in Philadelphia, Will," he said. "They, of course, couldn't make such a flight through a white forest, but Tayoga is an altogether different kind of fellow. He'll merely exert himself a little more, and go on as fast as ever."
Wilton looked at the vast expanse of glittering ice, and then drew the folds of a heavy cloak more closely about his body.
"I rejoice," he said, "that it's the Onondaga and not myself who has to make the great journey. I rejoice, too, that we have built this fort. It's not Philadelphia, that fine, true, comfortable city, but it's shelter against the hard winter that I see coming so fast."
Colden, still following the advice of Willet, kept his men busy, knowing that idleness bred discontent and destroyed discipline. At least a dozen soldiers, taught by Willet and Robert, had developed into excellent hunters, and as the game was abundant, owing to the absence of Indians, they had killed deer, bear, panther and all the other kinds of animals that ranged these forests. The flesh of such as were edible was cured and stored, as they foresaw the day when many people might be in Fort Refuge and the food would be needed. The skins also were dressed and were put upon the floor or hung upon the walls. The young men working hard were happy nevertheless, as they were continually learning new arts. And the life was healthy to an extraordinary degree. All the wounded were as whole as before, and everybody acquired new and stronger muscles.
Their content would have been yet greater in degree had they been able to learn what was going on outside, in that vast world where France and Britain and their colonies contended so fiercely for the mastery. But they looked at the wall of the forest, and it was a blank. They were shut away from all things as completely as Crusoe on his island. Nor would they hear a single whisper until Tayoga came back--if he came back.
On the second day after the Onondaga's departure the air softened, but became darker. The glittering white of the forest assumed a more somber tinge, clouds marched up in solemn procession from the southwest, and mobilized in the center of the heavens, a wind, touched with damp, blew. Robert knew very well what the elements portended and again he was sorry for Tayoga, but as before, after the first few moments of discouragement his courage leaped up higher than ever. His brilliant imagination at once painted a picture in which every detail was vivid and full of life, and this picture was of a vast forest, trees and bushes alike clothed in ice, and in the center of it a slender figure, but straight, tall and strong, Tayoga himself speeding on like the arrow from the bow, never wavering, never weary. Then his mind allowed the picture to fade. Wilton might not believe Tayoga could succeed, but how could this young Quaker know Tayoga as he knew him?
The clouds, having finished their mobilization in the center of the heavens, soon spread to the horizon on every side. Then a single great white flake dropped slowly and gracefully from the zenith, fell within the palisade, and melted before the eyes of Robert and Wilton. But it was merely a herald of its fellows which, descending at first like skirmishers, soon thickened into companies, regiments, brigades, divisions and armies. Then all the air was filled with the flakes, and they were so thick they could not see the forest.
"The first snow of the winter and a big one," said Wilton, "and again I give thanks for our well furnished fort. There may be greater fortresses in Europe, and of a certainty there are many more famous, but there is none finer to me than this with its' stout log walls, its strong, broad roofs, and its abundance of supplies. Once more, though, I'm sorry for your friend, Tayoga. A runner may go fast over ice, if he's extremely sure of foot and his moccasins are good, but I know of no way in which he can speed like the gull in its flight through deep snow."
"Not through the snow, but he may be on it," said Robert.
"And how on it, wise but cryptic young sir?"
"But he took none with him and had none to take."
"Which proves nothing. The Indians often hide in the forest articles they'll need at some far day. A canoe may be concealed in a thicket at the creek's edge, a bow and arrows may be thrust away under a ledge, all awaiting the coming of their owner when he needs them most."
"The chance seems too small to me, Lennox. I can't think a pair of snow shoes will rise out of the forest just when Tayoga wants 'em, walk up to him and say: 'Please strap us on your feet.' I make concession freely that the Onondaga is a most wonderful fellow, but he can't work miracles. He does not hold such complete mastery over the wilderness that it will obey his lightest whisper. I read fairy tales in my youth and they pleased me much, but alas! they were fairy tales! The impossible doesn't happen!"
"Who's the great talker now? Your words were flowing then like the trickling of water from a spout. But you're wrong, Will, about the impossible. The impossible often happens. Great spirits like Tayoga love the impossible. It draws them on, it arouses their energy, they think it worth while. I've seen Tayoga more than once since he started, as plainly as I see you, Will. Now, I shut my eyes and I behold him once more. He's in the forest. The snow is pouring down. It lies a foot deep on the ground, the boughs bend with it, and sometimes they crack under it with a report like that of a rifle. The tops of the bushes crowned with white bend their weight toward the ground, the panthers, the wolves, and the wildcats all lie snug in their dens. It's a dead world save for one figure. Squarely in the center of it I see Tayoga, bent over a little, but flying straight forward at a speed that neither you nor I could match, Will. His feet do not sink in the snow. He skims upon it like a swallow through the air. His feet are encased in something long and narrow. He has on snow shoes and he goes like the wind!"
"You do have supreme confidence in the Onondaga, Lennox!"
"So would you if you knew him as I do, Will, a truth I've told you several times already."
"But he can't provide for every emergency!"
"Must I tell you for the twentieth time that you don't know Tayoga as I know him?"
"No, Lennox, but I'll wait and see what happens."
The fall of snow lasted the entire day and the following night. The wilderness was singularly beautiful, but it was also inaccessible, comfortable for those in the fort, but outside the snow lay nearly two feet deep.
"I hope that vision of yours comes true," said Wilton to Robert, as they looked at the forest. "They say the Highland Scotch can go into trances or something of that kind, and look into the future, and I believe the Indians claim the gift, but I've never heard that English and Americans assumed the possession of such powers."
"I'm no seer," laughed Robert. "I merely use my imagination and produce for myself a picture of things two or three days ahead."
"Which comes to the same thing. Well, we'll see. I take so great an interest in the journey of your Onondaga friend that somehow I feel myself traveling along with him."
"I know I'm going with him or I wouldn't have seen him flying ahead on his snow shoes. But come, Will, I've promised to teach you how to sew buckskin with tendons and sinews, and I'm going to see that you do it."
The snow despite its great depth was premature, because on the fourth day soft winds began to blow, and all the following night a warm rain fell. It came down so fast that the whole earth was flooded, and the air was all fog and mist. The creek rose far beyond its banks, and the water stood in pools and lakes in the forest.
"Now, in very truth, our friend Tayoga has been compelled to seek a lair," said Wilton emphatically. "His snow shoes would be the sorriest of drags upon his feet in mud and water, and without them he will sink to his knees. The wilderness has become impassable."
"I see no way out of it for him," said Wilton.
"But I do."
"Then what, in Heaven's name, is it?"
"I not only see the way for Tayoga, but I shut my eyes once more and I see him using it. He has put away his snow shoes, and, going to the thick bushes at the edge of a creek, he has taken out his hidden canoe. He has been in it some time, and with mighty sweeps of the paddle, that he knows so well how to use, it flies like a wild duck over the water. Now he passes from the creek into a river flowing eastward, and swollen by the floods to a vast width. The rain has poured upon him, but he does not mind it. The powerful exercise with the paddles dries his body, and sends the pleasant warmth through every vein. His feet and ankles rest, after his long flight on the snow shoes, and his heart swells with pleasure, because it is one of the easiest parts of his journey. His rifle is lying by his side, and he could seize it in a moment should an enemy appear, but the forest on either side of the stream is deserted, and he speeds on unhindered. There may be better canoemen in the world than Tayoga, but I doubt it."
"Come, come, Lennox! You go too far! I can admit the possibility of the snow shoes and their appearance at the very moment they're needed, but the evocation of a river and a canoe at the opportune instant puts too high a strain upon credibility."
"Then don't believe it unless you wish to do so," laughed Robert, "but as for me I'm not only believing it, but I'm almost at the stage of knowing it."
The flood was so great that all hunting ceased for the time, and the men stayed under shelter in the fort, while the fires were kept burning for the sake of both warmth and cheer. But they were on the edge of the great Ohio Valley, where changes in temperature are often rapid and violent. The warm rain ceased, the wind came out of the southwest cold and then colder. The logs of the buildings popped with the contracting cold all through the following night and the next dawn came bright, clear and still, but far below zero. The ice was thick on the creek, and every new pool and lake was covered. The trees and bushes that had been dripping the day before were sheathed in silver mail. Breath curled away like smoke from the lips.
"If Tayoga stayed in his canoe," said Wilton, "he's frozen solidly in the middle of the river, and he won't be able to move it until a thaw comes."
Robert laughed with genuine amusement and also with a certain scorn.
"I've told you many times, Will," he said, "that you didn't know all about Tayoga, but now it seems that you know nothing about him."
"Well, then, wherein am I wrong, Sir Robert the Omniscient?" asked Wilton.
"In your assumption that Tayoga would not foresee what was coming. Having spent nearly all his life with nature he has naturally been forced to observe all of its manifestations, even the most delicate. And when you add to these necessities the powers of an exceedingly strong and penetrating mind you have developed faculties that can cope with almost anything. Tayoga foresaw this big freeze, and I can tell you exactly what he did as accurately as if I had been there and had seen it. He kept to the river and his canoe almost until the first thin skim of ice began to show. Then he paddled to land, and hid the canoe again among thick bushes. He raised it up a little on low boughs in such a manner that it would not touch the water. Thus it was safe from the ice, and so leaving it well hidden and in proper condition, and situation, he sped on."
"Of course you're a master with words, Robert, and the longer they are the better you seem to like 'em, but how is the Onondaga to make speed over the ice which now covers the earth? Snow shoes, I take it, would not be available upon such a smooth and tricky surface, and, at any rate, he has left them far behind."
"In part of your assumption you're right, Will. Tayoga hasn't the snow shoes now, and he wouldn't use 'em if he had 'em. He foresaw the possibility of the freeze, and took with him in his pack a pair of heavy moose skin moccasins with the hair on the outside. They're so rough they do not slip on the ice, especially when they inclose the feet of a runner, so wiry, so agile and so experienced as Tayoga. Once more I close my eyes and I see his brown figure shooting through the white forest. He goes even faster than he did when he had on the snow shoes, because whenever he comes to a slope he throws himself back upon his heels and lets himself slide down the ice almost at the speed of a bird darting through the air."
"If you're right, Lennox, your red friend is not merely a marvel, but a series of marvels."
"I'm right, Will. I do not doubt it. At the conclusion of the tenth day when Tayoga arrives on the return from the vale of Onondaga you will gladly admit the truth."
"There can be no doubt about my gladness, Lennox, if it should come true, but the elements seem to have conspired against him, and I've learned that in the wilderness the elements count very heavily."
"Earth, fire and water may all join against him, but at the time appointed he will come. I know it."
The great cold, and it was hard, fierce and bitter, lasted two days. At night the popping of the contracting timbers sounded like a continuous pistol fire, but Willet had foreseen everything. At his instance, Colden had made the young soldiers gather vast quantities of fuel long ago from a forest which was filled everywhere with dead boughs and fallen timber, the accumulation of scores of years.
Then another great thaw came, and the fickle climate proceeded to show what it could do. When the thaw had been going on for a day and a night a terrific winter hurricane broke over the forest. Trees were shattered as if their trunks had been shot through by huge cannon balls. Here and there long windrows were piled up, and vast areas were a litter of broken boughs.
"As I reckon, and allowing for the marvels you say he can perform, Tayoga is now in the vale of Onondaga, Lennox," said Wilton. "It's lucky that he's there in the comfortable log houses of his own people, because a man could scarcely live in the forest in such a storm as this, as he would be beaten to death by flying timbers."
"This time, Will, you're wrong in both assumptions. Tayoga has already been to the vale of Onondaga. He has spent there the half day that he allowed to himself, and now on the return journey has left the vale far behind him. I told you how sensitive he was to the changes of the weather, and he knew it was coming several hours before it arrived. He sought at once protection, probably a cleft in the rock, or an opening of two or three feet under a stony ledge. He is lying there now, just as snug and safe as you please, while this storm, which covers a vast area, rages over his head. There is much that is primeval in Tayoga, and his comfort and safety make him fairly enjoy the storm. As he lies under the ledge with his blanket drawn around him, he is warm and dry and his sense of comfort, contrasting his pleasant little den with the fierce storm without, becomes one of luxury."
"I suppose of course, Lennox, that you can shut your eyes and see him once more without any trouble."
"In all truth and certainty I can, Will. He is lying on a stone shelf with a stone ledge above him. His blanket takes away the hardness of the stone that supports him. He sees boughs and sticks whirled past by the storm, but none of them touches him. He hears the wind whistling and screaming at a pitch so fierce that it would terrify one unused to the forest, but it is only a song in the ears of Tayoga. It soothes him, it lulls him, and knowing that he can't use the period of the storm for traveling, he uses it for sleep, thus enabling him to take less later on when the storm has ceased. So, after all, he loses nothing so far as his journey is concerned. Now his lids droop, his eyes close, and he slumbers while the storm thunders past, unable to touch him."
"You do have the gift, Lennox. I believe that sometimes your words are music in your own ears, and inspire you to greater efforts. When the war is over you must surely become a public man--one who is often called upon to address the people."
"We'll fight the war first," laughed Robert.
The storm in its rise, its zenith and its decline lasted several hours, and, when it was over, the forest looked like a wreck, but Robert knew that nature would soon restore everything. The foliage of next spring would cover up the ruin and new growth would take the place of the old and broken. The wilderness, forever restoring what was lost, always took care of itself.
A day or two of fine, clear winter weather, not too cold, followed, and Willet went forth to scout. He was gone until the next morning and when he returned his face was very grave.
"There are Indians in the forest," he said, "not friendly warriors of the Hodenosaunee, but those allied with the enemy. I think a formidable Ojibway band under Tandakora is there, and also other Indians from the region of the Great Lakes. They may have started against us some time back, but were probably halted by the bad weather. They're in different bodies now, scattered perhaps for hunting, but they'll reunite before long."
"Did you see signs of any white men, Dave?" asked Robert.
"Yes, French officers and some soldiers are with 'em, but I don't think St. Luc is in the number. More likely it's De Courcelles and Jumonville, whom we have such good cause to remember."
"I hope so, Dave, I'd rather fight against those two than against St. Luc."
"So would I, and for several reasons. St. Luc is a better leader than they are. They're able, but he's the best of all the French."
That afternoon two men who ventured a short distance from Fort Refuge were shot at, and one was wounded slightly, but both were able to regain the little fortress. Willet slipped out again, and reported the forest swarming with Indians, although there was yet no indication of a preconcerted attack. Still, it was well for the garrison to keep close and take every precaution.
"And this shuts out Tayoga," said Wilton regretfully to Robert. "He may make his way through rain and flood and sleet and snow and hurricane, but he can never pass those watchful hordes of Indians in the woods."
Once more the Onondaga's loyal friend laughed. "The warriors turn Tayoga back, Will?" he said. "He will pass through 'em just as if they were not there. The time will be up day after tomorrow at noon, and then he will be here."
"Even if the Indians move up and besiege us in regular form?"
"Even that, and even anything else. At noon day after tomorrow Tayoga will be here."
Another man who went out to bring in a horse that had been left grazing near the fort was fired upon, not with rifles or muskets but with arrows, and grazed in the shoulder. He had, however, the presence of mind to spring upon the animal's back and gallop for Fort Refuge, where the watchful Willet threw open the gate to the stockade, let him in, then quickly closed and barred it fast. A long fierce whining cry, the war whoop, came from the forest.
"The siege has closed in already," said Robert, "and it's well that we have no other men outside."
"Except Tayoga," said Wilton.
"The barrier of the red army doesn't count so far as Tayoga is concerned. How many times must I tell you, Will, that Tayoga will come at the time appointed?"
After the shout from the woods there was a long silence that weighed upon the young soldiers, isolated thus in the wintry and desolate wilderness. They were city men, used to the streets and the sounds of people, and their situation had many aspects that were weird and appalling. They were hundreds of miles from civilization, and around them everywhere stretched a black forest, hiding a tenacious and cruel foe. But on the other hand their stockade was stout, they had plenty of ammunition, water and provisions, and one victory already to their credit. After the first moments of depression they recalled their courage and eagerly awaited an attack.
But the attack did not come and Robert knew it would not be made, at least not yet. The Indians were too wary to batter themselves to pieces against the palisade, and the Frenchmen with them, skilled in forest war, would hold them back.
"Perhaps they've gone away, realizing that we're too strong for 'em," said Wilton.
"That's just what we must guard against," said Robert. "The Indian fights with trick and stratagem. He always has more time than the white man, and he is wholly willing to wait. They want us to think they've left, and then they'll cut off the incautious."
The afternoon wore on, and the silence which had grown oppressive persisted. A light pleasant wind blew through the forest, which was now dry, and the dead bark and wintry branches rustled. To many of the youths it became a forest of gloom and threat, and they asked impatiently why the warriors did not come out and show themselves like men. Certainly, it did not become Frenchmen, if they were there to lurk in the woods and seek ambush.
Willet was the pervading spirit of the defense. Deft in word and action, acknowledging at all times that Colden was the commander, thus saving the young Philadelphian's pride in the presence of his men, he contrived in an unobtrusive way to direct everything. The guards were placed at suitable intervals about the palisade, and were instructed to fire at anything suspicious, the others were compelled to stay in the blockhouse and take their ease, in order that their nerves might be steady and true, when the time for battle came. The cooks were also instructed to prepare an unusually bountiful supper for them.
Robert was Willet's right hand. Next to the hunter he knew most about the wilderness, and the ways of its red people. There was no possibility that the Indians had gone. Even if they did not undertake to storm the fort they would linger near it, in the hope of cutting off men who came forth incautiously, and at night, especially if it happened to be dark, they would be sure to come very close.
The palisade was about eight feet high, and the men stood on a horizontal plank three feet from the ground, leaving only the head to project above the shelter, and Willet warned them to be exceedingly careful when the twilight came, since the besiegers would undoubtedly use the darkness as a cover for sharp-shooting. Then both he and Robert looked anxiously at the sun, which was just setting behind the black waste.
"The night will be dark," said the hunter, "and that's bad. I'm afraid some of our sentinels will be picked off. Robert, you and I must not sleep until tomorrow. We must stay on watch here all the while."
As he predicted, the night came down black and grim. Vast banks of darkness rolled up close to the palisade, and the forest showed but dimly. Then the warriors proved to the most incredulous that they had not gone far away. Scattered shots were fired from the woods, and one sentinel who in spite of warnings thrust his head too high above the palisade, received a bullet through it falling back dead. It was a terrible lesson, but afterwards the others took no risks, although they were anxious to fire on hostile figures that their fancy saw for them among the trees. Willet, Robert and Colden compelled them to withhold their fire until a real and tangible enemy appeared.
Later in the night burning arrows were discharged in showers and fell within the palisade, some on the buildings. But they had pails, and an unfailing spring, and they easily put out the flames, although one man was struck and suffered both a burn and a bruise.
Toward midnight a terrific succession of war whoops came, and a great number of warriors charged in the darkness against the palisade. The garrison was ready, and, despite the darkness, poured forth such a fierce fire that in a few minutes the horde vanished, leaving behind several still forms which they stole away later. Another of the young Philadelphians was killed, and before dawn he and his comrade who had been slain earlier in the evening were buried behind the blockhouse.
At intervals in the remainder of the night the warriors fired either arrows or bullets, doing no farther damage except the slight wounding of one man, and when day came Willet and Robert, worn to the bone, sought a little rest and sleep in the blockhouse. They knew that Golden could not be surprised while the sun was shining, and that the savages were not likely to attempt anything serious until the following night So they felt they were not needed for the present.
Robert slept until nearly noon, when he ate heartily of the abundant food one of the young cooks had prepared, and learned that beyond an occasional arrow or bullet the forest had given forth no threat. His own spirits rose high with the day, which was uncommonly brilliant, with a great sun shining in the center of the heavens, and not a cloud in the sky. Wilton was near the blockhouse and was confident about the siege, but worried about Tayoga.
"You tell me that the Indians won't go away," he said, "and if you're right, and I think you are, the Onondaga is surely shut off from Fort Refuge."
"I tell you for the last time that he will come at the appointed hour," he said.
A long day began. Hours that seemed days in themselves passed, and quiet prevailed in the forest, although the young soldiers no longer had any belief that the warriors had gone away.