The Lords of the Wild by Joseph A. Altsheler
Chapter XI. The Happy Escape
The spirits of young Lennox rose to the zenith. Although they were still grazing the edge of peril, he had supreme confidence in Tayoga and also in the fog. It was a great fog, a thick fog, a kindly fog, and it had made possible their escape and the achievement of their mission. Having held so long it would hold until they needed it no longer.
"Have they come any nearer, Tayoga?" he asked.
"Jumonville is still giving orders, and sending the canoes somewhat at random. He is not the leader Sharp Sword would be in an emergency, nor anything like it. He is having his own boat paddled about uncertainly. I can hear the paddles of the four men in it. Now and then he speaks angrily, too. He is upbraiding those who are not to blame. How are you feeling now, Dagaeoga? Has Manitou already filled you with new strength?"
"I'm feeling as well as I ever did in my life. I'm ready to swing the paddle again."
"Then we go. The fog will not wait for us forever. We must use it while we have it."
They swept their paddles through the water in long and vigorous strokes, and the canoe shot forward once more. They were confident now that no enemy was ahead of them, and that none of those behind could overtake them. The wet, cold fog still enclosed them like a heavy, damp blanket, but their vigorous exercise and their high spirits kept them warm. After ten minutes they made another stop, but as Tayoga could hear nothing of Jumonville's party they pushed on again at speed. By and by the Onondaga said:
"I feel the fog thinning, Dagaeoga. A wind out of the west has risen, and soon it will take it all away."
"But it has served its purpose. I shall always feel well toward fogs. Yes, here it goes! The wind is rising fast, and it is taking away the mists and vapors in great folds."
The water began to roughen under the stiff breeze. The fog was split asunder, the pieces were torn to fragments and shreds, and then everything was swept away, leaving the surface of the lake a silver mirror, and the mountains high and green on either shore. Far behind them hovered the Indian canoes, and four or five miles ahead a tower of smoke rose from the west bank.
"Certainly our people," said Robert, looking at the smoke.
"There is no doubt of it," said the Onondaga, "and that is where we will go."
"And those behind us know now that we tricked them in the fog and have escaped. They give forth a shout of anger and disappointment. Now they turn back."
They eased their strokes a little as the pursuit had been abandoned, but curved more toward the center of the lake, lest some hidden sharpshooter on shore might reach them, and made fair speed toward the smoke, which Robert surmised might be made by a vanguard of troops.
"We ought to have help for Colden and Willet very soon," he said.
"It will not be long," said Tayoga; "but Dagaeoga has forgotten something. Can he not think what it is?"
"No, Tayoga, I can't recall anything."
"Dagaeoga's body is bare from the waist up. It is well for an Indian to go thus into a white camp, but it is not the custom of the people to whom Lennox belongs."
"You're right. I've had so much excitement that I'd forgotten all about my clothes. I must be true to my race, when I meet my brethren."
He reclothed himself, resumed his paddle, and they pushed on steadily for the smoke. No trace of the fog was left. The lake glistened in the sun, the ranges showed green from base to summit, and the tower of smoke deepened and broadened.
"Can you make out what lies at the foot of it, Tayoga?" asked Robert.
"I think I can see a gleam of the sun on an epaulet. It is certainly a camp of your people. The lake is supposed to be under their command, and if the French should make a new incursion here upon its shores they would not build their fires so boldly. Now, I see another gleam, and I hear the ring of axes. They are not boat builders, because no boats, either finished or unfinished, show at the water's edge. They are probably cutting wood for their fires. I hear, too, the crack of a whip, which means that they have wagons, and the presence of wagons indicates a large force. They may be coming ahead with supplies for our great army when it advances. I can now see men in uniform, and there are some red coats among them. Hold your paddle as high as you can, Dagaeoga, as a sign that we are friends, and I will send the canoe in toward the shore. Ah, they see us now, and men are coming down to the lake's edge to meet us! It is a large camp, and it should hold enough men to make St. Luc give up the siege of Colden."
The two sent the canoe swiftly toward the land, where soldiers and others in hunter's dress were already gathered to meet them. Robert saw a tall, thin officer in a Colonial uniform, standing on the narrow beach, and, assuming him to be in command, he said as the canoe swept in:
"We are messengers, sir, from the force of Captain Colden, which is besieged at the sawmill ten or twelve miles farther north."
"Besieged, did you say?" said the officer, speaking in a sharp, dry voice. "It's one of those French tricks they're always playing on us, rushing in under our very noses, and trying to cut out our forces."
"That's it, sir. The French and Indian host, in this case, is led by St. Luc, the ablest and most daring of all their partisans, and, unless you give help, they'll have to escape as best they can in what boats they have."
"As I'm a good Massachusetts man, I expected something of this kind. I sent word to Pownall, our Governor, that we must be extremely cautious in respect to the French, but he thinks the army of General Abercrombie will overwhelm everything. Forest fighting is very different from that of the open fields, a fact which the French seem to have mastered better than we have. My name, young sir, is Elihu Strong. I'm a colonel of the Massachusetts militia, and I command the force that you see posted here."
"And mine, sir, is Robert Lennox, a free lance, and this is Tayoga, of the clan of the Bear, of the great Onondaga nation, a devoted friend of ours and the finest trailer the world has ever produced."
"Ah, I heard something of you both when I was at Albany from one Jacobus Huysman, a stout and worthy burgher, who spoke well of you, and who hazarded a surmise that I might meet you somewhere in the neighborhood of the lakes."
"We lived in the house of Mynheer Jacobus when we went to school in Albany. We owe him much."
"There was a third who was generally with you, a famous hunter, David Willet, was there not?"
"He is with Captain Colden, sir, assisting in the defense."
"I'm glad he's there. Judging from what I've heard of him, he's a tower of strength. But come into the camp. Doubtless, both of you need food and rest. The times be dark, and we must get out of each day whatever it has to offer."
Robert looked at him with interest. He was the forerunner of a type that was to develop markedly in New England, tall, thin, dry-lipped, critical, shrewd and tenacious to the last degree. He and his kind were destined to make a great impress upon the New World. He gave to the two the best the camp had, and ordered that they be treated with every courtesy.
"I've a strong force here," he said, "although it might have been stronger if our Governor and Legislature had done their full duty. Still, we must make the best of everything. My men reported Indians in the forest to the north of us, and that, perhaps, is the reason why we have not come into contact with Captain Colden, but I did not suspect that he was besieged."
Robert, as he ate the good food set before him, looked over the camp, which had been pitched well, with far-flung pickets to guard against ambush, and his eyes glistened, as they fell upon two brass cannon, standing side by side upon a slight rise in the center of the camp. The big guns, when well handled, were always effective against forest warriors. Colonel Strong's eyes followed his.
"I see that you are taking notice of my cannon," he said. "They're good pieces, but if our governor and legislature had done their duty they'd be four instead of two. Still, we have to make the best of what we have. I told Shirley that we must prepare for a great war, and I tell Pownall the same. Those who don't know him always underrate our French foe."
"I never do, sir," said Robert. "I've seen too much of him to do that."
"Well, well, we'll do the best we can. I've four hundred men here, though if the Governor and the Legislature of Massachusetts had done their full duty they'd be eight hundred, not to say a thousand. I'll advance as soon as possible to the relief of Colden. He can surely hold out until the morrow."
"Not a doubt of it, sir, and, if you'll pardon me for making a suggestion, I wouldn't begin any advance until the morning. Not much of the day is left. If we started this afternoon, night would overtake us in the woods and the Chevalier de St. Luc is sure to plant an ambush for us."
"Sensibly spoken, young sir. We're an eternally rash people. We're always walking into traps. I've in my force about twenty good scouts, though if the Governor and Legislature of Massachusetts had done their full duty they'd be forty, not to say fifty, and I don't want to risk their loss in night fighting in the forest."
He went away and Robert saw him moving among his men, giving orders. Elihu Strong, a merchant, nevertheless had made himself a strenuous soldier at his province's call, and he was not unwilling to learn even from those not more than half his age.
"Open Eyes will do well," said Tayoga.
"Aye, Dagaeoga. The colonel who is named Strong I will call Open Eyes, because he is willing to look and see. He will look when you tell him to look, and many who come from the cities will not do that. And because his eyes are open he will not stick his head into an ambush. Yet he will always complain of others."
"And sometimes of himself, too," laughed Robert. "I think he'll be fair in that respect. Now, Tayoga, we'll rest here, and be easy with ourselves until to-morrow morning, when we advance."
"We will stay, Dagaeoga, but I do not know whether it will be so easy. Since Jumonville saw us escape he will tell St. Luc of it, and Sharp Sword will send a force here to harry Open Eyes, and to make him think the forest is full of warriors. But Open Eyes, though he may complain, will not be afraid."
It was even as the Onondaga predicted. The foe came with the twilight. The dark wilderness about them gave back whoops and yells, and furtive bands skirmished with Strong's scouts. Then the shouts of the warriors increased greatly in number, and seemed to come from all points about the camp. It was obvious to Robert that the enemy was trying to make Strong's men believe that a great force was confronting them, and some of them, unused to the woods, showed apprehension lest such an unseen and elusive danger overwhelm them. But Elihu Strong never flinched. The forest was almost as much of a mystery to him as it was to his troops, but he was there to dare its perils and he dared them.
"I shall keep my men in camp and await attack, if they make it," he said to Robert, to whom he seemed to have taken a great fancy, "and whatever happens I shall move forward in the morning to the relief of Colden."
He shut his thin lips tightly together and his pale blue eyes flashed. The merchant, turned soldier, had the stoutest of hearts, and a stout heart was what was needed in his camp that night. The warriors gave his men no rest. They circled about continually, firing and whooping, and trying to create panic, or at least a fear that would hold Strong where he was.
Robert went to sleep early, and, when he awakened far in the night, the turmoil was still going on. But he saw Elihu Strong walking back and forth near one of the fires, and in the glow his thin face still reflected an iron resolution. Satisfied that the camp was in no danger of being frightened, young Lennox went back to sleep.
A gray, chilly morning came, and soon after dawn Elihu Strong began to prepare his men for their perilous progress, serving first an ample hot breakfast with plenty of tea and coffee.
"Open Eyes not only watches but he knows much," said Tayoga. "He has learned that an army marches better on a full stomach."
Strong then asked Robert and Tayoga to serve in a way as guides, and he made his dispositions, sending his scouts in advance, putting his most experienced soldiers on the flanks and heading his main column with the two brass cannon. The strictest injunctions that nobody straggle were given, and then the force took up its march.
They had not been molested while at breakfast, and when making the preparations, but as soon as they left the fire and entered the deep forest, the terrifying turmoil burst forth again, fierce whoops resounding on every side and bullets pattering on the leaves or bark. Colonel Strong left his scouts and flankers to deal with the ambushed warriors, and the main column, face to the front, marched steadily toward Colden's camp. It was to be a trial of nerves, and Robert was quite confident that the stern New England leader would win.
"The savages make a tremendous tumult," he said to young Lennox, "but their bullets are not reaching us. We're not to be shaken by mere noise."
"When they find that out, as they soon will," said Robert, "they'll make an attack. Some French officers and troops must be with them. Perhaps Jumonville came in the night to lead them."
He and Tayoga then went a short distance into the forest ahead of the scouts, and Tayoga saw ample evidence that the French were present with the Indians.
"You are right in your surmise that Jumonville came in the night," he said. "He wore boots, and here are the imprints of his heels. I think he is not far away now. Watch well, Dagaeoga, while I lie on the earth and listen."
Ear to the ground, the Onondaga announced that he could hear men on both sides of them moving.
"There is the light step of the warriors," he said, "and also the heavier tread of the French. I think I can hear Jumonville himself. It sounds like the crush of boots. Perhaps they are now seeking to lay an ambush."
"Then it's time for us to fall back, Tayoga, both for our own sakes and for the sake of Colonel Strong's force."
The two retreated quickly lest they be caught in an ambush, and gave warning to Elihu Strong that an attack was now probable, a belief in which they were confirmed by the report the scouts brought in presently that a creek was just ahead, a crossing always being a favorite place for an Indian trap.
"So be it," said Colonel Strong, calmly. "We are ready. If the Governor and Legislature of Massachusetts had done their full duty, we'd be twice as strong, but even as we are we'll force the passage of the creek."
"You will find a body of the warriors on this side of the stream," said Tayoga. "They will give way after a little firing, tempting you to think you have won an easy victory. Then when about half of your men are across they will attack with all their might, hoping to cut you down."
"I thank you for telling me," said Colonel Strong. "I've no doubt you know what you're talking about. Your manner indicates it. We might be much better equipped than we are if those in authority in my province had done their full duty, but we will make way, nevertheless. I'll cover the passage of the creek with the guns."
The firing in front already showed that Tayoga's prediction was coming true, and it was accompanied by a tremendous volume of yelling, as if the whole Indian force were gathered on the near side of the creek.
Robert from the crest of a hill saw the stream, narrow and deep, though not too deep for fording as he was to learn later, fringed on either side with a dense growth of low bushes, from the shelter of which warriors were sending their bullets toward the white force. The men were eager to go against them at once, but the scouts were sent forward through the undergrowth to open up a flanking fire, and then the main column marched on at a steady pace.
The crash of the rifles grew fast. The warriors on the near side of the creek leaped from the bushes as Strong's men drew near, waded the stream and disappeared in the forest on the other bank, giving forth howls of disappointment as they fled. The soldiers, uttering a shout of triumph, undertook to rush forward in pursuit, but Strong restrained them.
"It's the ambush against which the Onondaga warned us," he said to his lieutenants, "and we won't run into it. Bring forward the cannon."
The two brass guns, fine twelve pounders, were moved up within close range of the creek, and they swept the forest on the other side with balls and grape shot. It was probably the first time cannon were ever heard in those woods, and the reports came back in many echoes. Boughs and twigs rained down.
"It is a great sound," said Tayoga admiringly, "and the warriors who are trying to plant an ambush will not like it."
"But you'll remember Braddock's fate," said Robert. "The cannon didn't do much then."
"But this is different, Dagaeoga. Open Eyes has his eyes open. He is merely using the cannon as a cover for his advance. They will be backed up by the rifles. You will see."
The soldiers approached the creek cautiously, and, when the first ranks were in the water, the cannon raked the woods ahead to right and left, and to left and right. The best of the riflemen were also pushed forward, and, when the warriors opened fire, they were quickly driven away. Then the whole force, carrying the cannon with them, crossed, and stood in triumph on the other side.
"Did I not tell you that Open Eyes knew what he was doing?" said Tayoga.
"It seems that he does," Robert replied, "but we haven't yet arrived at Colden's station. An attack in force is sure to come."
"Dagaeoga speaks truth. I think it will occur a mile or two farther on. They will make it before Captain Colden's men can learn that we are on the march."
"Then they won't wait long. Anywhere will do, as the forest is dense everywhere."
Since they had carried the ford with but little loss, the cannon that had blazed the way ceased to fire, but the gunners regarded them proudly and Robert did not withhold admiration. They were pioneers, fine brass creatures, and when handled right they were a wonderful help in the forest. He did not blame the gunners for patting the barrels, for scraping the mud of the creek's crossing from the wheels, and for speaking to them affectionately. Massive and polished they gleamed in the sun and inspired confidence.
Tayoga went ahead in the forest, but came back soon and reported a low ridge not more than half a mile farther on, a likely place for an attack, which he judged would come there. It would be made by the united force of the French and Indians and would be severe.
"So be it," said Elihu Strong, whose iron calm nothing disturbed. "We are ready for the foe, though St. Luc himself should come. It is true that instead of two cannon we might have had four or even six, or twice as many men, if the Governor and Legislature of Massachusetts had done their full duty, but we'll let that pass. Will you, Lennox, and you, Tayoga, advance with the scouts and be my eyes?"
Robert appreciated the compliment to the full, and promptly replied in the affirmative for them both. Then he and Tayoga at once plunged into the forest with the borderers who were there to provide against ambush, all of them approaching the menacing ridge with great care. It was a long projection, rising about a hundred feet, and grown densely with trees and bushes. It looked very quiet and peaceful and birds even were singing there among the boughs. The leader of the scouts, a bronzed man of middle age named Adams, turned to Tayoga.
"I see nothing there," he said, "but I've heard of you and your power to find things where others can't. Do you think they're on that ridge waiting for us?"
"It is certain," replied the Onondaga. "It is the place best fitted for them, and they will not neglect it. Let me go forward a little, with my friend, Dagaeoga, and we will unveil them."
"We'll wait here, and if they're on it I believe you'll soon know it," said Adams confidently.
Tayoga slid forward among the bushes and Robert followed. Neither made the slightest noise, and they drew much nearer to the ridge, which still basked in the sun, peaceful and innocent in looks. Not a warrior or a Frenchman appeared there, the bushes gave back no glint of weapons, nothing was disclosed.
"They may be hidden in that jungle, but they won't stir until we're under the muzzles of their rifles. What do you propose to do?" asked Robert.
"I will tempt them, Dagaeoga."
"Tempt them? I don't understand you."
"Tododaho on his great star which we cannot see in the day, but which, nevertheless, is there, whispers to me that Tandakora himself is among the bushes on the ridge. It is just such an ambush as he loves. As you know, Dagaeoga, he hates us all, but he hates me most. If he sees a good opportunity for a shot at me he will not be able to forego it."
"For Heaven's sake, Tayoga, don't make a martyr of yourself merely to draw the enemy's fire!"
"No such thought was in my mind. I am not yet ready to leave the world, which I find bright and full of interest. Moreover, I wish to see the end of this war and what will happen afterward. Risks are a part of our life, Dagaeoga, but I will take none that is undue."
Tayoga spoke in his usual precise, book English, explaining everything fully, and Robert said nothing more. But he awaited the actions of the Onondaga with intense interest. Tayoga crept forward five or six yards more, and then he stumbled, striking against a bush and shaking it violently. Robert was amazed. It was incredible that the Onondaga should be so awkward, and then he remembered. Tayoga was going to draw the enemy's fire.
Tayoga struck against another bush, and then stood upright and visible. Those hidden on the ridge, if such there were, could see him clearly. The response was immediate. A gigantic figure stood up among the bushes, leveled a rifle and fired at him point blank. But the Onondaga, quick as lightning, dropped back and the bullet whistled over his head. Robert fired at the great painted figure of Tandakora, but he too missed, and in a moment the Ojibway chief sank down in the undergrowth. A shout came from the hidden Indians about him.
"They are there," said Tayoga, "and we know just where many of them lie. We will suggest to Open Eyes that he fire the cannon at that point."
They rejoined Adams.
"You were right, as I knew you'd be," said the scout. "You've located 'em."
"Yes, because Tandakora could not resist his hate of me," said the Onondaga.
They withdrew to the main force, and once more the brave brass guns were brought up, sending solid shot and grape into the bushes on the ridge, then moving forward and repeating the fire. Many rifles opened upon them from the thickets, and several men fell, but Elihu Strong held his people in hand, and the scouts drove back the sharpshooters. Meanwhile the whole force advanced and began to climb the ridge, the cannon being turned on the flanks, where the attack was now heaviest. A fierce battle ensued, and the guns, served with great skill and effectiveness, kept the Indians at bay. More of Strong's men were slain and many were hit, but their own rifles backed up the guns with a deadly fire. Thus the combat was waged in the thickets a full two hours, when they heard a great shout toward the north, and Willet, at the head of a hundred men, broke his way through to their relief. Then French and Indians drew off, and the united forces proceeded to the point, where Colden, Wilton, Carson and Grosvenor gave them a great welcome.
"We are here," said Elihu Strong. "If the Governor and Legislature of Massachusetts had done their full duty we might have been here sooner, but here we are."
"I knew that you would come back and bring help with you," said Grosvenor to Robert. "I felt sure that Tayoga would guide the canoe through every peril."
"Your confidence was not misplaced," said Robert. "He did some wonderful work. He was as great a trailer on the water as he is on land. Now that we are so much stronger, I wonder what St. Luc is going to do."
But Black Rifle came in the next morning with the news that the Chevalier and his whole force were gone.
They had stolen away silently in the night, and were now marching northward, probably to join Montcalm.
"I'm not surprised," said Willet. "We're now too strong for him and St. Luc is not the man to waste his time and strength in vain endeavors. I suspect that we will next hear of him near Champlain, somewhere in the neighborhood of Ticonderoga. I think we'd better follow his trail a little distance."
Willet himself led the band that pursued St. Luc, and it included Tayoga, Robert, Grosvenor, Black Rifle and Adams, Daganoweda and his Mohawks having left shortly before on an expedition of their own. It was an easy enough task, as the trail necessarily was wide and deep, and the Onondaga could read it almost with his eyes shut.
"Here went Sharp Sword," he said after looking about a while. "I find traces of his moccasins, which I would know anywhere because I have seen them so many times before. Here another Frenchman joined him and walked beside him for a while. It was Jumonville, whose imprints I also know. They talked together. Perhaps Jumonville was narrating the details of his encounter with us. Now he leaves St. Luc, who is joined by another Frenchman wearing moccasins. But the man is heavy and walked with a heavy step. It is the Canadian, Dubois, who attends upon Sharp Sword, and who is devoted to him. Perhaps Sharp Sword is giving him instructions about the camp that they will make when the day is over. Now Dubois also goes, and here come the great moccasins of Tandakora. I have seen none other so large in the woods, and a child would know them. He too talks with Sharp Sword, but Sharp Sword does not stop for him. They walk on together, because the stride continues steady and even, just the length that a man of Sharp Sword's height would make when walking. Tandakora is very angry, not at Sharp Sword--he would not dare to show anger against him--but at the will of Manitou who would not let him win a victory over us. He did not get much satisfaction from Sharp Sword, because he stayed with him only a very short time. Here his trail leads away again, and Sharp Sword once more walks on alone.
"Perhaps Sharp Sword prefers to be alone. Most men do after a disappointment, and he knows that his attack upon the boat builders has been a failure. Sharp Sword does not like failures any more than other people do, and he wants to think. He is planning how to win a great success, and to atone for his failure here. I do not see anything of De Courcelles. I do not find his trail anywhere, which shows that the wound you gave him, Dagaeoga, was severe. He is being carried either by warriors or French soldiers on a litter. It is far more likely to be soldiers, and here I find them, the trail of four men who walk exactly even, two by two all the time. The rage of De Courcelles will mount very high against you, Dagaeoga, and you will have to beware of him."
"I am ready for him," said Robert, proudly.
The broad trail led steadily on toward the north, but Willet, after a while, spread out his own little force, taking no chances with forest ambush. He considered it highly probable that before long Tandakora would curve aside with some of his warriors, hoping to trap the unwary. He was confirmed in his opinion by the Onondaga's reading of the trail.
"I find the footprints of the Ojibway chief again," said Tayoga. "Here they go at the edge of the trail. Now he has stopped. His stride has ceased, and he stands with his moccasins close together. He is probably talking with his warriors and he meditates something. The rage of Tandakora is as great as that of De Courcelles, but Tandakora is not hurt, and he is able to strike. He moves on again, and, ah! here he goes into the woods. Beyond question he is now engaged in planting an ambush for those who would follow St. Luc. Shall we go back, Great Bear, or shall we meet the Ojibway's ambush with an ambush of our own?"
The black eyes of the Onondaga sparkled.
"We ought to turn back," replied Willet, "but I can't resist playing Tandakora's own game with him. It may give us a chance to rid the border of that scourge. We'll leave the trail, and go into the deep bush."
Led by the hunter the little band plunged into the forest and began a careful circle, intending to come back to the trail some distance ahead, and to post themselves behind Tandakora in case that wily savage was planning an ambush, as they felt sure he was. They redoubled their precautions, ceasing all talk for the while, and allowing no bushes to rustle as they passed. Willet led the line, and Tayoga brought up the rear. Grosvenor was just behind Robert. He, too, was now able to bring down his feet in soundless fashion, and to avoid every stick or twig that might break with a crack beneath his weight. While he was aware of the perils before them, his heart beat high. He felt that he was making further progress, and that he was becoming a worthy forest runner.
After two careful hours of travel, they came back again to the broad trail which showed that St. Luc was still maintaining steady progress toward the north. But both the hunter and the Onondaga felt sure that Tandakora and a chosen band were now to the south, waiting in ambush for those who would come in pursuit.
"We'd better draw 'em if we can," said Willet. "Let 'em know we're here, but make 'em believe we're friends."
"I think I can do it," said Tayoga. "I know Huron and St. Regis signals. It is likely that some of the warriors with Tandakora are Hurons, and, in any event, the Ojibway will understand the signals."
He imitated the cawing of a crow, and presently the answer came from the forest about a quarter of a mile to the south. The cry was repeated, and the answer came duly a second time. No one in the little band now doubted that Tandakora and his men were there.
"Shall we attack?" asked Robert.
"I think we can sting them a little," replied Willet. "Our numbers are few, but the force of the Ojibway is not likely to be large. It was his purpose to strike and get away, and that's what we'll do. Now, Tayoga, we're relying upon you to get us into a good position on his flank."
The Onondaga led them in another but much smaller circle toward the forest, from which the answering caws of the crow had come. The way went through dense thickets but, before he reached his chosen spot, he stopped.
"Look," he said, pointing to the earth, where there were faint traces that Robert could scarcely see and over which he would have passed, unnoticing. "Here is where Tandakora went on his way to the ambush. It is a little trail, and it was to be only a little ambush. He has only about ten warriors with him. The Ojibway has come back for revenge. He could not bear to leave without striking at least one blow. Perhaps he slipped away from Sharp Sword to try the ambush on his own account."
"They can't be far ahead," said the hunter.
"No," said the Onondaga. "They will be coming back in response to my call, and I think we would better await them here."
They disposed themselves in good order for battle, and then sank to the earth. Light waves of air registered delicately but clearly on those wonderful eardrums of Tayoga's. Faint though the sound was, he understood it. It was the careful tread of men. Tandakora and his warriors were on the way, called by the crow. He knew when they came within a hundred yards of where he and his companions lay, and he knew when they spread out in cautious fashion, to see what manner of friends these were who came. He knew, too, that Tandakora would not walk into a trap, and he had not expected at any time that he would, it having been merely his purpose when he cawed like a crow to call him back to fair and honorable combat, ambush against ambush. He noted when the thin line of detached warriors began to advance again, he was even able to trace the step of Tandakora, heavier than the others, and to discern when the Ojibway chief stopped a second time, trying to pierce the thickets with his eyes.
"Tandakora is in doubt," he whispered to Robert. "The call of the crow which at first seemed so friendly has another meaning now. He is not so sure that friends are here after all, but he does not understand how an enemy happens to be behind him. He is angry, too, that his own pretty ambush, in which he was sitting so cunningly waiting for us, is broken up. Tandakora's humor is far from good, but, because of it, mine is excellent."
"You certainly learned the dictionary well when you were in our schools," Robert whispered back, but as full as ever of admiration for Tayoga's powers. "Has all sound ceased now?"
"They are not stirring. They have become quite sure that we are enemies and they wait for us to act first."
"Then I'll give 'em a lead," said Willet, who lay on Tayoga's right.
He thrust out a foot, bringing it down on a dead stick so hard that it broke with a sharp snap, but instantly drew away to the shelter of another bush. A rifle cracked in front of them and a bullet cut the air over the broken stick. Before the warrior who fired the bullet could sink back Black Rifle pulled the trigger at a certain target, and the man fell without a sound.
"A fine shot, Captain Jack," said Willet, and a few minutes later the hunter himself made another just as good. For a half hour the combat was waged in the deep thickets, mere glimpses serving for aim, but the combatants were as fierce and tenacious as if the issue were joined by great armies. Four warriors fell, Willet's band suffered only a few scratches, and then, at a signal from him, they melted away into the woods, curved about again, and took up the return journey toward their own force.
"We did enough," said Willet, when he was sure they were not pursued by Tandakora. "All we wanted to do was to sting the Ojibway and not to let him forget that those who ambush may be ambushed. He'll be fairly burning with anger."
"How are you feeling, Red Coat?" asked Tayoga.
"As well as could be expected after such an experience," replied Grosvenor with pride. But the young Englishman was very sober, too. A warrior had fallen before his rifle, and, with the heat of battle over, he was very thoughtful.