The Shadow of the North by Joseph A. Altsheler
Chapter IX. The Watcher
It was with emotion that Robert came to Albany, an emotion that was shared by his Onondaga comrade, Tayoga, who had spent a long time in a white school there. The staid Dutch town was the great outpost of the Province of New York in the wilderness, and although his temperament was unlike that of the Dutch burghers he had innumerable pleasant memories of it, and many friends there. It was, in his esteem, too, a fine town, on its hills over-looking that noble river, the Hudson, and as the little group rode on he noted that despite the war its appearance was still peaceful and safe.
Their way led along the main street which was broad and with grass on either side. The solid Dutch houses, with their gable ends to the street, stood every one on its own lawn, with a garden behind it. Every house also had a portico in front of it, on which the people sat in summer evenings, or where they visited with one another. Except that it was hills where the old country was flat, it was much like Holland, and the people, keen and thrifty, had preserved their national customs even unto the third and fourth generations. Robert understood them as he understood the Hodenosaunce, and, with his adaptable temperament, and with his mind that could understand so readily the minds of others, he was able to meet them on common ground. As they rode into the city he looked questioningly at Willet, and the hunter, understanding the voiceless query, smiled.
"We couldn't think of going to any other place," he said. "If we did we could never secure his forgiveness."
"I shall be more than glad to see him. A right good friend of ours, isn't he, Tayoga?"
"Though his tongue lashes us his heart is with us," replied the Onondaga. "He is a great white chief, three hundred pounds of greatness."
They stopped before one of the largest of the brick houses, standing on one of the widest and neatest of the lawns, and Robert and Tayoga, entering the portico, knocked upon the door with a heavy brass knocker. They heard presently the rattle of chains inside, and the rumble of a deep, grumbling voice. Then the two lads looked at each other and laughed, laughed in the careless, joyous way in which youth alone can laugh.
"It is he, Mynheer Jacobus himself, come to let us in," said Robert.
"And he has not changed at all," said Tayoga. "We can tell that by the character of his voice on the other side of the door."
"And I would not have him changed."
"Nor would I."
The door was thrown open, but as all the windows were closed there was yet gloom inside. Presently something large, red and shining emerged from the dusk and two beams of light in the center of the redness played upon them. Then the outlines of a gigantic human figure, a man tall and immensely stout, were disclosed. He wore a black suit with knee breeches, thick stockings and buckled shoes, and his powdered hair was tied in a queue. His eyes, dazzled at first by the light from without, began to twinkle as he looked. Then a great blaze of joy swept over his face, and he held out two fat hands, one to the white youth and one to the red.
"Ah, it iss you, Robert, you scapegrace, and it iss you, Tayoga, you wild Onondaga! It iss a glad day for me that you haf come, but I thought you both dead, und well you might be, reckless, thoughtless lads who haf not the thought uf the future in your minds."
Robert shook the fat hand in both of his and laughed.
"You are the same as of old, Mynheer Jacobus," he said, "and before Tayoga and I saw you, but while we heard you, we agreed that there had been no change, and that we did not want any."
"And why should I change, you two young rascals? Am I not goot enough as I am? Haf I not in the past given the punishment to both uf you und am I not able to do it again, tall and strong as the two uf you haf grown? Ah, such foolish lads! Perhaps you haf been spared because pity wass taken on your foolishness. But iss it Mynheer Willet beyond you? That iss a man of sense."
"It's none other than Dave, Mynheer Jacobus," said Robert.
"Then why doesn't he come in?" exclaimed Mynheer Jacobus Huysman. "He iss welcome here, doubly, triply welcome, und he knows it."
"Dave! Dave! Hurry!" called Robert, "or Mynheer Jacobus will chastise you. He's so anxious to fall on your neck and welcome you that he can't wait!"
Willet came swiftly up the brick walk, and the hands of the two big men met in a warm clasp.
"You see I've brought the boys back to you again, Jacob," said the hunter.
"But what reckless lads they've become," grumbled Mynheer Huysman. "I can see the mischief in their eyes now. They wass bad enough when they went to school here und lived with me, but since they've run wild in the forests this house iss not able to hold them."
"Don't you worry, Jacob, old friend. These arms and shoulders of mine are still strong, and if they make you trouble I will deal with them. But we just stopped a minute to inquire into the state of your health. Can you tell us which is now the best inn in Albany?"
The face of Mynheer Jacobus Huysman flamed, and his eyes blazed in the center of it, two great red lights.
"Inn! Inn!" he roared in his queer mixture of English, Dutch and German accent "Iss it that your head hass been struck by lightning und you haf gone crazy? If there wass a thousand inns at Albany you und Robert und Tayoga could not stop at one uf them. Iss not the house uf Jacobus Huysman good enough for you?"
Robert, Tayoga and the hunter laughed aloud.
"He did but make game of you, Mynheer Jacobus," said Robert. "We will alter your statement and say if there were a thousand inns in Albany you could not make us stay at any one of them. Despite your commands we would come directly to your house."
Mynheer Jacobus Huysman permitted himself to smile. But his voice renewed its grumbling tone.
"Ever the same," he said. "You must stay here, although only the good Lord himself knows in what condition my house will be when you leave. You are two wild lads. It iss not so strange uf you, Robert Lennox, who are white, but I would expect better uf Tayoga, who is to be a great Onondaga chief some day."
"You make a great mistake, Mynheer Jacobus," said Robert. "Tayoga is far worse than I am. All the mischief that I have ever done was due to his example and persuasion. It is my misfortune that I have a weak nature, and I am easily led into evil by my associates."
"It iss not so. You are equally bad. Bring in your baggage und I will see if Caterina, der cook, cannot find enough for you three, who always eat like raging lions."
The soldiers, who were to return immediately to Colonel William Johnson, rode away with their horses, and Robert, Tayoga and Willet took their packs into the house of Mynheer Huysman, who grumbled incessantly while he and a manservant and a maidservant made them as comfortable as possible.
"Would you und Tayoga like to haf your old room on the second floor?" he said to Robert.
"Nothing would please us better," replied the lad.
"Then you shall haf it," said Mynheer, as he led the way up the stair and into the room. "Do you remember, Tayoga, how wild you wass when you came here to learn the good ways und bad ways uf the white people?"
"I do," replied Tayoga, "and the walls and the roof felt oppressive to me, although we have stout log houses of our own in our villages. But they were not our own walls and our own roof, and there was the great young warrior, Lennox, whom we now call Dagaeoga, who was to stay in the same room and even in the same bed with me. Do you wonder that I felt like climbing out of a window at night, and escaping into the woods?"
"You were eleven then," said Robert, "and I was just a shade younger. You were as strange to me as I was to you, and I thought, in truth, that you were going to run away into the wilderness. But you didn't, and you began to learn from books faster than I thought was possible for one whose mind before then had been turned in another direction."
"But you helped me, Dagaeoga. After our first and only battle in the garden, which I think was a draw, we became allies."
"Und you united against me," said Mynheer Huysman.
"And you helped me with the books," continued Tayoga. "Ah, those first months were hard, very hard!"
"And you taught me the use of the bow and arrow," continued Robert, "and new skill in both fishing and hunting."
"Und the two uf you together learned new tricks und new ways uf making my life miserable," grumbled Mynheer Huysman.
"But you must admit, Jacob," said Willet, "that they were not the worst boys in the world."
"Well, not the worst, perhaps, David, because I don't know all the boys uf all the countries in the world, but when you put an Onondaga lad und an American lad together in alliance it iss hard to find any one who can excel them, because they haf the mischief uf two nations."
"But you are tremendously glad to see them again, Jacob. Don't deny it. I read it over and over again in your eyes."
Willet's own eyes twinkled as he spoke, and he saw also that there was a light in those of the big Dutchman. But Huysman would admit nothing.
"Here iss your room," he said to Robert and Tayoga.
Robert saw that it was not changed. All the old, familiar objects were there, and they brought to him a rush of emotion, as inanimate things often do. On a heavy mahogany dresser lay two worn volumes that he touched affectionately. One was his Caesar and the other his algebra. Once he had hated both, but now he thought of them tenderly as links with, the peaceful boyhood that was slipping away. Hanging from a hook on the wall was an unstrung bow, the first weapon of the kind with which he had practiced under the teaching of Tayoga. He passed his hand over it gently and felt a thrill at the touch of the wood.
Tayoga, also was moving about the room. On a small shelf lay an English dictionary and several readers. They too were worn. He had spent many a grieving hour over them when he had come from the Iroquois forests to learn the white man's lore. He recalled how he had hated them for a time, and how he had looked out of his school windows at the freedom for which he had longed. But he was made of wrought steel, both mind and body, and always the white youth, Lennox, his comrade, was at his elbow in those days of his scholastic infancy to help him. It had been a great episode in the life of Tayoga, who had the intellect of a mighty chief, the mind of Pontiac or Thayendanegea, or Tecumseh, or Sequoia. He had forced himself to learn and in learning his books he had learned also to like the people of another race around him who were good to him and who helped him in the first hard days on the new road. So the young Onondaga felt an emotion much like that of Robert as he walked about the room and touched the old familiar things. Then he turned to Huysman.
"Mynheer Jacobus," he said, "you have a mighty body, and you have in it a great heart. If all the men at Albany were like you there would never be any trouble between them and the Hodenosaunee."
"Tayoga," said Huysman, "you haf borrowed Robert's tongue to cozen und flatter. I haf not a great heart at all. I haf a very bad heart. I could not get on in this world if I didn't."
Tayoga laughed musically, and Mynheer Jacobus gruffly bidding them not to destroy anything, while he was gone, departed to see that Caterina, the Dutch cook, fat like her master, should have ready a dinner, drawing upon every resource of his ample larder. It is but truth to say that the heart of Mynheer Jacobus was very full. A fat old bachelor, with no near kin, his heart yearned over the two lads who had spent so long a period in his home, and he knew them, too, for what they were, each a fine flower of his own racial stock.
They were to remain several days in Albany, and after dinner they visited Alexander McLean, the crusty teacher who had given them such a severe drilling in their books. Master McLean allowed himself a few brief expressions of pleasure when they came into his house, and then questioned them sharply:
"Do you remember any of your ancient history, Tayoga?" he asked. "Are the great deeds of the Greeks and Romans still in your mind?"
"At times they are, sir," replied the young Onondaga.
"Um-m. Is that so? What was the date of the battle of Zama?"
"It was fought 202 B.C., sir."
"You're correct, but it must have been only a lucky guess. I'll try you again. What was the date of the battle of Hastings?"
"It was fought 1066 A.D., sir."
"Very good. Since you have answered correctly twice it must be knowledge and not mere surmise on your part. Robert, whom do you esteem the greatest of the Greek dramatic poets?"
"Because he combined the vigor and power of Aeschylus with the polish and refinement of Euripides."
"Correct. I see that you remember what I told you, as you have quoted almost my exact words. And now, lads, be seated, while I order refreshments for you."
"We thank you, sir," said Robert, "but 'tis less than an hour since we almost ate ourselves to death at the house of Mynheer Jacobus Huysman."
"A good man, Jacob, but too fat, and far too brusque in speech, especially to the young. I'll warrant me he has been addressing upbraiding words to you, finding fault, perhaps, with your manners and your parts of speech."
The two youths hid their smiles.
"Mynheer Jacobus was very good to us," said Robert. "Just as you are, Master McLean."
"I am not good to you, if you mean by it weakness and softness of heart. Never spoil the young. Speak sternly to them all the time. Use the strap and the rod freely upon them and you may make men of them."
Again Robert and Tayoga hid their smiles, but each knew that he had a soft place in the heart of the crusty teacher, and they spent a pleasant hour with him. That night they slept in their old room at Mynheer Huysman's and two days later they and Willet went on board a sloop for New York, where they intended to see Governor de Lancey. Before they left many more alarming reports about the French and Indians had come to Albany. They had made new ravages in the north and west, and their power was spreading continually. France was already helping her colonists. When would England help hers?
But Robert forgot all alarm in the pleasure of the voyage. It was a good sloop, it had a stout Dutch captain, and with a favoring wind they sped fast southward. Pride in the splendid river swelled in Robert's soul and he and Tayoga, despite the cold, sat together on the deck, watching the lofty shores and the distant mountains.
But Willet, anxious of mind, paced back and forth. He had seen much at Albany that did not please him. The Indian Commissioners were doing little to cement the alliance with the Hodenosaunee. The Mohawks, alone of the great League, were giving aid against the French. The others remained in their villages, keeping a strict neutrality. That was well as far as it went, but the hunter had hoped that all the members of the Hodenosaunee would take the field for the English. He believed that Father Drouillard would soon be back among the Onondagas, seeking to sway his converts to France, and he dreaded, too, the activity and persistency of St. Luc.
But he kept his anxieties from Robert, knowing how eagerly the lad anticipated his arrival in New York, and not blaming him at all for it, since New York, although inferior in wealth, size and power to Philadelphia, and in leadership to Boston, was already, in the eye of the prophets, because of its situation, destined to become the first city of America. And Willet felt his own pulses beat a little faster at the thought of New York, a town that he knew well, and already a port famous throughout the world.
Tayoga, although he wore his Indian dress, attracted no particular attention from Captain Van Zouten and his crew. Indians could be seen daily at Albany, and along the river, and they had been for generations a part of American life. Captain Van Zouten, in truth, noticed the height and fine bearing of the Onondaga, but he was a close mouthed Dutchman, and if he felt like asking questions he put due Dutch restraint upon himself.
The wind held good all day long, and the sloop flew southward, leaving a long white trail in the blue water, but toward night it rose to a gale, with heavy clouds that promised snow. Captain Hendrick Van Zouten looked up with some anxiety at his sails, through which the wind was now whistling, and, after a consultation with his mate, decided to draw into a convenient cove and anchor for the night.
"I'm sorry," he said to Willet, "that our voyage to New York will be delayed, but there'll be nasty weather on the river, and I don't like to risk the sloop in it. But I didn't promise you that I'd get you to the city at any particular time."
"We don't blame wind, weather and water upon you, Captain Van Zouten," laughed Willet, "and although I'm no seaman if you'd have consulted me I too would have suggested shelter for the night."
Captain Van Zouten breathed his relief.
"If my passengers are satisfied," he said, "then so am I."
All the sails were furled, the sloop was anchored securely in a cove where she could not injure herself, no matter how fiercely the wind might beat, and Robert and Tayoga, wrapped in their fur cloaks, stood on her deck, watching the advance of the fierce winter storm, and remembering those other storms they had passed through on Lake Champlain, although there was no danger of Indians here.
It began to snow heavily, and a fierce wind whistled among the mountains behind them, lashing the river also into high waves, but the sloop was a tight, strong craft, and it rocked but little in its snug cove. Despite snow, wind and darkness Robert, Tayoga and the hunter remained a long, time on deck. The Onondaga's feather headdress had been replaced by a fur cap, similar to those now worn by Robert and Willet, and all three were wrapped in heavy cloaks of furs.
Robert was still thinking of New York, a town that he knew to some extent, and yet he was traveling toward it with a feeling akin to that with which he had approached Quebec. It was in a way and for its time a great port, in which many languages were spoken and to which many ships came. Despite its inferiority in size it was already the chief window through which the New World looked upon the Old. He expected to see life in the seething little city at the mouth of the Hudson and he expected also that a crisis in his fortunes would come there.
"Dave," he said to the hunter, "have you any plans for us in New York?"
"They've not taken very definite shape," replied Willet, "but you know you want to serve in the war, and so do I. A great expedition is coming out from England, and in conjunction with a Colonial force it will march against Fort Duquesne. The point to which that force advances is bound to be the chief scene of action."
"And that, Dave, is where we want to go."
"With proper commissions in the army. We must maintain our dignity and station, Robert."
"Of course, Dave. And you, Tayoga, are you willing to go with us?"
"It is far from the vale of Onondaga," replied the young Indian, "but I have already made the great journey to Quebec with my comrades, Dagaeoga and the Great Bear. I am willing to see more of the world of which I read in the books at Albany. If the fortunes of Dagaeoga take him on another long circle I am ready to go with him."
"Spoken like a warrior, Tayoga," said the hunter. "I have some influence, and if we join the army that is to march against Fort Duquesne I'll see that you receive a place befitting your Onondaga rank and your quality as a man."
"And so that is settled," said Robert. "We three stand together no matter what may come."
"Stand together it is, no matter what may come," said Willet.
"We are, perhaps, as well in one place as in another," said Tayoga philosophically, "because wherever we may be Manitou holds us in the hollow of his hand."
A great gust of wind came with a shriek down one of the gorges, and the snow was whipped into their faces, blinding them for a moment.
"It is good to be aboard a stout sloop in such a storm," said Robert, as he wiped his eyes clear. "It would be hard to live up there on those cliffs in all this driving white winter."
A deep rumbling sound came back from the mountains, and he felt a chill that was not of the cold creep into his bones.
"It is the wind in the deep gorges," said Tayoga, "but the winds themselves are spirits and the mountains too are spirits. On such a wild night as this they play together and the rumbling you hear is their voices joined in laughter."
Robert's vivid mind as usual responded at once to Tayoga's imagery, and his fancy went as far as that of the Onondaga, and perhaps farther. He filled the air with spirits. They lined the edge of the driving white storm. They flitted through every cleft and gorge, and above every ridge and peak. They were on the river, and they rode upon the waves that were pursuing one another over its surface. Then he laughed a little at himself.
"My fancy is seeing innumerable figures for me," he said, "where my eyes really see none. No human being is likely to be abroad on the river on such a night as this."
"And yet my own eyes tell me that I do see a human being," said Tayoga, "one that is living and breathing, with warm blood running in his veins."
"A living, breathing man! where, Tayoga?"
"Look at the sloping cliff above us, there where the trees grow close together. Notice the one with the boughs hanging low, and by the dark trunk you will see the figure. It is a tall man with his hat drawn low over his eyes, and a heavy cloak wrapped closely around his body."
"I see him now, Tayoga! What could a man want at such a place on such a night? It must be a farmer out late, or perhaps a wandering hunter!"
"Nay, Dagaeoga, it is not a farmer, nor yet a wandering hunter. The shoulders are set too squarely. The figure is too upright. And even without these differences we would be sure that it is not the farmer, nor yet the wandering hunter, because it is some one else whom we know."
"What do you mean, Tayoga?"
"Look! Look closely, Dagaeoga!"
"Now the wind drives aside the white veil of snow and I see him better. His figure is surely familiar!"
"Aye, Dagaeoga, it is! And do you not know him?"
"St. Luc! As sure as we live, Tayoga, it's St. Luc."
"Yes," said the hunter, who had not spoken hitherto. "It's St. Luc, and I could reach him from here with a rifle shot."
"But you must not! You must not fire upon him!" exclaimed Robert.
"I wasn't thinking of doing so," he said. "And now it's too late. St. Luc has gone."
The dark figure vanished from beside the trunk, and Robert saw only the lofty slope, and the whirling snow. He passed his hands before his eyes.
"Did we really see him?" he said.
"We beheld him alive and in the flesh," replied the hunter, "deep down in His Britannic Majesty's province of New York."
"What could have brought him here at such a time?"
"The cause of France, no doubt. He speaks English as well as you and I, and he is probably in civilian clothing, seeking information for his country. I know something of St. Luc. He has in him a spice of the daring and romantic. Luck and adventure would appeal to him. He probably knows already what forces we have at Albany and Kingston and what is their state of preparation. Valuable knowledge for Quebec, too."
"Do you think St. Luc will venture to New York?"
"Scarce likely, lad. He can obtain about all he wishes to know without going so far south."
"I'm glad of that, Dave. I shouldn't want him to be captured and hanged as a spy."
"Nor I, Robert. St. Luc is the kind of man who, if he falls at all in this war, should fall sword in hand on the battle field. He must know this region or he would not dare to come here, on such a terrible night. He has probably gone now to shelter. And, since there is nothing more to be seen we might do the same."
But Robert and Tayoga were not willing to withdraw yet. Well wrapped and warm, they found a pleasure in the fierce storm that raged among the mountains and over the river, and their own security on the deck of the stout sloop, fastened so safely in the little cove. They listened to the wind rumbling anew like thunder through the deep gorges and clefts, and they saw the snow swept in vast curtains of white over the wild river.
"I wonder what we shall find in New York, Tayoga," said Robert.
"We shall find many people, of many kinds, Dagaeoga, but what will happen to us there Manitou alone knows. But he has us in his keeping. Look how he watched over us in Quebec, and look how the sword of the Great Bear was stretched before you when your enemies planned to slay you."
"That's true, Tayoga. I don't look forward to New York with any apprehension, but I do wonder what fate has prepared for us there."
"We must await it with calm," said Tayoga philosophically.
The Onondaga himself was not a stranger to New York. He had gone there once with the chiefs of the Hodenosaunee for a grand council with the British and provincial authorities, and he had gone twice with Robert when they were schoolboys together in Albany. His enlightened mind, without losing any of its dignity and calm, took a deep interest in everything he saw at the port, through which the tide of nations already flowed. He had much of the quality shown later by the fiery Thayendanegea, who bore himself with the best in London and who was their equal in manners, though the Onondaga, while as brave and daring as the Mohawk, was gentler and more spiritual, being, in truth, what his mind and circumstances had made him, a singular blend of red and white culture.
Willet, also wrapped in a long fur cloak, came from the cabin of the sloop and looked at the two youths, each of whom had such a great place in his heart. Both were white with snow as they stood on the deck, but they did not seem to notice it.
"Come now," said the hunter with assumed brusqueness. "You needn't stand here all night, looking at the river, the cliffs and the storm. Off to your berths, both of you."
"Good advice, or rather command, Dave," said Robert, "and we'll obey it."
Their quarters were narrow, because sloops plying on the river in those days were not large, but the three who slept so often in the forest were not seekers after luxury. Robert undressed, crept into his bunk, which was not over two feet wide, and slept soundly until morning. After midnight the violence of the storm abated. It was still snowing, but Captain Van Zouten unfurled his sails, made for the middle of the river, and, when the sun came up over the eastern hills, the sloop was tearing along at a great rate for New York.
So when Robert awoke and heard the groaning of timbers and the creak of cordage he knew at once that they were under way and he was glad. The events of the night before passed rapidly through his mind, but they seemed vague and indistinct. At first he thought the vision of St. Luc on the cliff in the storm was but a dream, and he had to make an effort of the will to convince himself that it was reality. But everything came back presently, as vivid as it had been when it occurred, and rising he dressed and went on deck. Tayoga and Willet were already there.
"Sluggard," said the Onondaga. "The French warships would capture you while you are still in the land of dreams."
"We'll find no French warships in the Hudson," retorted Robert, "and as for sluggards, how long have you been on deck yourself, Tayoga?"
"Two minutes, but much may happen in two minutes. Look, Dagaeoga, we come now into a land of plenty. See, how many smokes rise on either shore, and the smoke is not of camps, but of houses."
"It comes from strong Dutch farmhouses, and from English manor houses, Tayoga. They nestle in the warm shelter of the hills or at the mouths of the creeks. Surely, the world cannot furnish a nobler scene."
All the earth was pure white from the fallen snow, but the river itself was a deep blue, reflected from the dazzling blue of the sky overhead. The air, thin and cold, was exhilarating, and as the sloop fled southward a panorama, increasing continually in magnificence, unfolded before them. Other vessels appeared upon the river, and Captain Van Zouten gave them friendly signals. Tiny villages showed and the shores were an obvious manifestation of comfort and opulence.
"I have heard that the French, if their success continues, mean to attack Albany," said Robert, "but we must stop them there, Dave. We can never let them invade such a region as this."
"They'll invade it, nevertheless," said the hunter, "unless stout arms and brave hearts stop them. We can drive both French and Indians back, if we ever unite. There lies the trouble. We must get some sort of concentrated action."
"And New York is the best place to see whether it will be done or not."
"So it is."
The wind remained favorable all that day, the next night there was a calm, but the following day they drew near to New York, Captain Van Zouten assuring them he would make a landing before sunset.
He was well ahead of his promise, because the sun was high in the heavens when the sloop began to pass the high, wooded hills that lie at the upper end of Manhattan Island, and they drew in to their anchorage near the Battery. They did not see the stone government buildings that had marked Quebec, nor the numerous signs of a fortress city, but they beheld more ships and more indications of a great industrial life.
"Every time I come here," said Willet, "it seems to me that the masts increase in number. Truly it is a good town, and an abundant life flows through it."
"Where shall we stop, Dave?" asked Robert. "Do you have a tavern in mind?"
"Not a tavern," replied the hunter. "My mind's on a private house, belonging to a friend of mine. You have not met him because he is at sea or in foreign parts most of the time. Yet we are assured of a welcome."
An hour later they said farewell to Captain Van Zouten, carried their own light baggage, and entered the streets of the port.