The Rulers of the Lakes by Joseph A. Altsheler
Chapter XII. The Sinister Siege
Dawn came, very clear and beautiful, with the air crisp and cool. Robert divided the last of the venison between Tayoga and himself, and when he had eaten his portion he was still hungry. He was quite certain that the Onondaga also craved more, but a stoic like Tayoga would never admit it. His belief the day before that this was the time for him to go forth and hunt was confirmed. The game would be out, and so might be the savages, but he must take the chance.
Tayoga had kept his bow and quiver of arrows strapped to his back during their retreat, and now they lay on a shelf in the cave. Robert looked at them doubtfully and the eyes of the Onondaga followed him.
"Perhaps it would be best," he said.
"I can't bend the bow of Ulysses," said Robert, "but I may be able to send in a useful arrow or two nevertheless."
"You can try."
"But I don't want any shot to go amiss."
"Strap your rifle on your back, and take the bow and arrows also. If the arrows fail you, or rather if you should fail the arrows, which always go where they are sent, you can take the rifle, with which you are almost as good as the Great Bear himself. And if you should encounter hostile warriors prowling through the woods the rifle will be your best defense."
"I'll do as you advise, Tayoga, and do you keep a good watch at the entrance. You're feeling a lot stronger today, are you not?"
"So much so that I am almost tempted to take the bow and arrows myself, while I leave you on guard."
"Don't be too proud and boastful. Let's see you walk across the cave."
Tayoga rose from the bed of leaves, on which he had been sitting, and strode firmly back and forth two or three times. He was much thinner than he had been a week before, but his eyes were sparkling now and the bronze of his skin was clear and beautiful. All his nerves and muscles were under complete control.
"You're a great warrior again, Tayoga, thanks to my protecting care," said Robert, "but I don't think you're yet quite the equal of Tododaho and Hayowentha when they walked the earth, and, for that reason, I shall not let you go out hunting. Now, take your rifle, which I saved along with you, and sit on that ledge of stone, where you can see everything approaching the cave and not be seen yourself."
"I obey, O Dagaeoga. I obey you always when the words you speak are worth being obeyed. See, I take the seat you direct, and I hold my rifle ready."
"Very good. Be prepared to fire on an instant's notice, but be sure you don't fire at me when I come striding down the valley bearing on my shoulders a fat young deer that I have just killed."
"Have no fear, Dagaeoga. I shall be too glad to see you and the deer to fire."
With the rifle so adjusted across his back that, if need be, he could disengage it at once, the quiver fastened also and Tayoga's bow in his hand, Robert made ready.
"Now, Tayoga," he said, "exert that famous will of yours like a true medicine man of the Hodenosaunee. While I am absent, so direct me with the concentrated power of your mind that I shall soon find a fat young deer, and that my arrow shall not miss. I'll gratefully receive all the help you can give me in this way, though I won't neglect, if I see the deer, to take the best aim I can with bow and arrow."
"Do not scoff, O Dagaeoga. The lore and belief of my nation and of the whole Hodenosaunee are based upon the experience of many centuries. And do you not say in your religion that the prayer of the righteous availeth? Do you think your God, who is the same as my Manitou, intended that only the prayers of the white men should have weight, and that those of the red men should vanish into nothingness like a snowflake melting in the air? I may not be righteous,--who knows whether he is righteous or not?--but, at least, I shall pray in a righteous cause."
"I don't mock, Tayoga, and maybe the power of your wish, poured in a flood upon me, will help. Yes, I know it will, and I go now, sure that I will soon find what I seek."
He left the cave and passed up the valley, full of confidence. The earnestness of Tayoga had made a great impression upon him, clothing him about with an atmosphere that was surcharged with belief, and, as he breathed in this air, it made his veins fairly sparkle, not alone with hope, but with certainty.
He walked up a deep defile which gradually grew shallower, and then ascended rapidly. Finally he came out on a crest, crowned with splendid trees, and he drew a great breath of pleasure as he looked upon a vast green wilderness, deepened in color by the long and recent rains, and upon the far western horizon a dim but splendid band of silver which he knew was Andiatarocte. A lover of beauty, and with the soul of a poet, he could have stood, gazing a long time, but there was a sterner task forward than the contemplation of nature in the wild.
He must sink the poet in the hunter, and he began to look for tracks of game, which he felt sure would be plentiful in the forest, since men had long been hunting one another instead of the deer. He had an abundance of will of his own, but he felt also, despite a certain incredulity of the reason, that the concentrated will of his distant comrade was driving him on.
He walked about a mile, remaining well under cover, having a double object, to keep himself hidden from foes and also to find traces of game. His confidence that he would find it, and very quickly, was not abated, and, at the end of a mile, he saw a broad footprint on the turf that made him utter a low exclamation of delight. It was larger than that of a cow, and more pointed. He knew at once that it had been made by a moose, the great animal which was then still to be found in the forests of Northern New York.
The tracks led northward and he studied them with care. The wind had risen and was blowing toward him, which was favorable for his pursuit, as the sound of his own footsteps rustling the grass or breaking a little stick would not be likely to reach the ear of the moose. He was convinced, too, that the tracks were not much more than two hours old, and since the big animal was likely to be rambling along, nibbling at the twigs, the chance was in favor of the hunter overtaking him very soon.
It was easy to follow the trail, the hoof prints were so large, and he soon saw, too, the broken ends of twigs that had been nibbled by the moose, and also exposed places on the trunks of trees where the bark had been peeled off by the animal's teeth. He was sure that the game could not be much more than a mile ahead, and his soul was filled with the ardor of the chase. He was confident that he was pursuing a big bull, as the fact was indicated by the size of the prints, the length of the stride, and the height at which the moose had browsed on the twigs. There were other facts he had learned among the Iroquois, indicating to him it was a bull. While the tracks were pointed, they were less pointed than those the cow generally makes, and the twigs that had been nibbled were those of the fir, while the cow usually prefers the birch.
The tracks now seemed to Robert to grow much fresher. Tayoga, with his infallible eye and his wonderful gifts, both inherited and improved, would have known just how fresh they were, but Robert was compelled to confine his surmise to the region of the comparative. Nevertheless, he knew that he was gaining upon the moose and that was enough. But as it was evident by his frequent browsing that the animal was going slowly, he controlled his eagerness sufficiently to exercise great wariness on his own part. It might be that while he was hunting he could also become the hunted. It was not at all impossible that the warriors of Tandakora would fall upon his own track and follow.
He looked back apprehensively, and once he returned and retraced his steps for a little distance, but he could discern no evidence of an enemy and he resumed his pursuit of the moose, going faster now, and seeing twigs which apparently had been broken off only a few minutes before. Then, as he topped a little rise, he saw the animal itself, browsing lazily on the succulent bushes. It was a large moose, but to Robert, although an experienced hunter, it loomed up at the moment like an elephant. He had staked so much upon securing the game, and the issue was so important that his heart beat hard with excitement.
The wind was still in his favor, and, creeping as near as he dared, he fitted an arrow to Tayoga's bow and pulled the string. The arrow struck well in behind the shoulder and the moose leaped high. Another arrow sang from the bow and found its heart, after which it ran a few steps and fell. Robert's laborious task began, to remove at least a part of the skin, and then great portions of the meat, as much as he could carry, wrapped in the folds of the skin, portions from which he intended to make steaks.
He secured at least fifty pounds, and then he looked with regret at the great body. He was not one to slay animals for sport's sake, and he wished that the rangers and Mohawks might have the hundreds of pounds of good moose meat, but he knew it was not destined for them. As he drew away with his own burden his heirs to the rest were already showing signs of their presence. From the thick bushes about came the rustling of light feet, and now and then an eager and impatient snarl. Red eyes showed, and as he turned away the wolves of the hills made a wild rush for the fallen monarch. Robert, for some distance, heard them yapping and snarling over the feast, and, despite his own success in securing what he needed so badly, he felt remorse because he had been compelled to give so fine an animal over to the wolves.
His heart grew light again as he made his way back to the defile and the cave. He carried enough food to last Tayoga and himself many days, if necessity compelled them to remain long in the cave, but he did not forget in his triumph to take every precaution for the hiding of his trail, devoutly glad that it was hard ground, thick with stones, on which he could step from one to another.
Thus he returned, bearing his burden, and Tayoga, sitting near the entrance, rifle on knee, greeted him with becoming words as one whom Tododaho and Areskoui had guided to victory.
"It is well, Dagaeoga," he said. "I was wishing for you to find a moose and you found one. You were not compelled to use the rifle!"
"No, the bow served, but I had to shoot two arrows where you would have shot only one."
"It is no disgrace to you. The bow is not the white man's weapon, at least not on this continent. You withdrew the arrows, cleaned them and returned them to the quiver?"
"Yes. I didn't forget that. I know how precious arrows are, and now, Tayoga, since it's important for you to get back your strength faster than a wounded man ever got it back before, I think we'd better risk a fire, and broil some of these fat, juicy steaks."
"It is a danger, but we will do it. You gather the dead wood and we will build the fire beside the mouth of the cave. Both of us can cook."
It was an easy task for two such foresters to light a fire with flint and steel, and they soon had a big bed of coals. Then they broiled the steaks on the ends of sharpened sticks, passing them back and forth quickly, in order to retain the juices.
"Now, Tayoga," announced Robert, "I have a word or two to say to you."
"Then say them quickly and do not let your eloquence become a stream, because I am hungry and would eat, and where the moose steaks are plenty talk is needed but little."
"I merely wished to tell you that besides being our hunter, I'm also the family doctor. Hence I give you my instructions."
"What are they, O youth of many words?"
"You can eat just as much of the moose steak as you like, and the quicker you begin the better you will please me, because my manners won't allow me to start first. Fall on, Tayoga! Fall on!"
They ate hungrily and long. They would have been glad had they bread also, but they did not waste time in vain regrets. When they had finished and the measure of their happiness was full, they extinguished the coals carefully, hid their store of moose meat on a high ledge in the cave, and withdrew also to its shelter.
"How much stronger do you feel now, Tayoga?" asked Robert.
"In the language of your schools, my strength has increased at least fifty per cent in the last hour."
"I've the strength of two men myself now, and thinking it over, Tayoga, I've come to the conclusion that was the best moose I ever tasted. He was a big bull, and he may not have been young, but he furnished good steaks. I'm sorry he had to die, but he died in a good cause."
"Even so, Dagaeoga, and since we have eaten tremendously and have cooked much of the meat for further use, it would be best for us to put out the fire, and hide all trace of it, a task in which I am strong enough to help you."
They extinguished carefully every brand and coal, and even went so far as to take dead leaves from the cave and throw them over the remains of the fire in careless fashion as if they had been swept there by the wind.
"And now," said Robert, "if I had the power I would summon from the sky another mighty rain to hide all signs of our banquet and of the preparations for it. Suppose, Tayoga, you pray to Tododaho and Areskoui for it and also project your mind so forcibly in the direction of your wish that the wish will come true."
"It is well not to push one's favor too far," replied Tayoga gravely. "The heavens are too bright and shining now for rain. Moreover, if one should pray every day for help, Tododaho and Areskoui would grow tired of giving it. I think, however, that we have covered our traces well, and the chance of discovery here by our enemies is remote."
They put away the moose meat on a high ledge in the cave, and sat down again to wait. Tayoga's wound was healing rapidly. The miracle for which he had hoped was happening. His recovery was faster than that of any other injured warrior whom he had ever known. He could fairly feel the clean flesh knitting itself together in innumerable little fibers, and already he could move his left arm, and use the fingers of his left hand. Being a stoic, and hiding his feelings as he usually did, he said:
"I shall recover, I shall be wholly myself again in time for the great battle between the army of Waraiyageh and that of Dieskau."
"I think, too, that we'll be in it," said Robert confidently. "Armies move slowly and they won't come together for quite a while yet. Meantime, I'm wondering what became of the rangers and the Mohawks."
"We shall have to keep on wondering, but I am thinking it likely that they prevailed over the forces of St. Luc and have passed on toward Crown Point and Oneadatote. It may be that the present area of conflict has passed north and east of us and we have little to fear from our enemies."
"It sounds as if you were talking out of a book again, Tayoga, but I believe you're right."
"I think the only foes whom we may dread in the next night and day are four-footed."
"You mean the wolves?"
"Yes, Dagaeoga. When you left the body of the moose did they not appear?"
"They were fighting over it before I was out of sight. But they wouldn't dare to attack you and me."
"It is a strange thing, Dagaeoga, but whenever there is war in the woods among men the wolves grow numerous, powerful and bold. They know that when men turn their arms upon one another they are turned aside from the wolves. They hang upon the fringes of the bands and armies, and where the wounded are they learn to attack. I have noticed, too, since the great war began that we have here bigger and fiercer wolves than any we've ever known before, coming out of the vast wilderness of the far north."
"You mean the timber wolves, those monsters, five or six feet long, and almost as powerful and dangerous as a tiger or a lion?"
"So I do, Dagaeoga, and they will be abroad tonight, led by the body of your moose and the portion we have here. Tododaho, sitting on his star, has whispered to me that we are about to incur a great danger, one that we did not expect."
"You give me a creepy feeling, Tayoga. All this is weird and uncanny. We've nothing to fear from wolves."
"A thousand times we might have nothing to fear from them, but one time we will, and this is the time. In a voice that I did not hear, but which I felt, Tododaho told me so, and I know."
"Then all we have to do is to build a fire in front of the cave mouth and shut them off as thoroughly, as if we had raised a steel wall before us."
"The danger from a fire burning all night would be too great. While I do not think any warriors of the enemy are wandering in this immediate region, yet it is possible, and our bonfire would be a beacon to draw them."
"Then we'll have to meet 'em with bullets, but the reports of our rifles might also draw Tandakora's warriors."
"We will not use the rifles. We will sit at the entrance of the cave, and you shall fight them with my bow and arrows. If we are pressed too hard, we may resort to the rifles."
Tayoga's words were so earnest and sententious, his manner so much that of a prophet, that Robert, in spite of himself, believed in the great impending danger that would come in the dark, and the hair on the back of his neck lifted a little. Yet the day was still great and shining, the forest tinted gold with the flowing sunlight, and the pure fresh air blowing into the cave. There the two youths, the white and the red, took their seats at either side of the entrance. Tayoga held his rifle across his knees, but Robert put his and the quiver at his feet, while he held the bow and one arrow in his hands.
They talked a little from time to time and then relapsed into a long silence. Robert noticed that nothing living stirred in the defile. No more rabbits came out to play and no birds sang in the trees. He considered it a sign, nay more, an omen that Tayoga's prediction was coming true. The peril threatening them was great and imminent. His sense of the sinister and uncanny increased. A chill ran through his veins. The great shining day was going, and, although it was midsummer, a cold wind was herald of the coming twilight. He shivered again, and looked at the long shadows falling in the defile.
"Tayoga," he said, "that uncanny talk of yours has affected me, but I believe you've just made it all up. No wolves are coming to attack us."
"Dagaeoga does not believe anything of the kind. He believes, instead, what I have told him. His voice and his manner show it. He is sure the wolves are coming."
"You're right, Tayoga, I do believe it. There's every reason why I shouldn't, but, in very truth and fact, I do. Our fine day is going fast. Look how the twilight is growing on the mountains. From our nook here I can just see the rim of the sun, who is your God, Areskoui. Soon he will be gone entirely and then all the ridges will be lost in the dusk. I hope--and I'm not jesting either--that you've said your prayer to him."
"As I told you, Dagaeoga, one must not ask too many favors. But now the sun is wholly gone and the night will be dark. The wind rises and it moans like the soul of an evil warrior condemned to wander between heaven and earth. The night will be dark, and in two hours the wolves will be here."
Robert looked at him, but the face of the Onondaga was that of a seer, and once more the blood of the white youth ran chill in his veins. He was silent again, and now the minutes were leaden-footed, so slow, in truth, that it seemed an hour would never pass and the two hours Tayoga had predicted were an eternity. The afterglow disappeared and the darkness was deep in the defile. The trees above were fused into a black mass, and then, after an infinity of waiting, a faint note, sinister and full of menace, came out of the wilderness. Tayoga and Robert glanced at each other.
"It is as you predicted," said Robert.
"It is the howl of the great timber wolf from the far north who has made himself the leader of the band," said the Onondaga. "When he howls again he will be much nearer."
Robert waited for an almost breathless minute or two, and then came the malignant note, much nearer, as Tayoga had predicted, and directly after came other howls, faint but equally sinister.
"The great leader gives tongue a second time," said Tayoga, "and his pack imitate him, but their voices are not so loud, because their lungs are not so strong. They come straight toward us. Do you see, Dagaeoga, that your nerves are steady, your muscles strong and your eyes bright. I would that I could use the bow myself tonight, for the chance will be glorious, but Manitou has willed otherwise. It is for you, Dagaeoga, to handle my weapon as if you had been familiar with it all your life."
"I will do my best, Tayoga. No man can do more."
"Dagaeoga's best is very good indeed. Remember that if they undertake to rush us we will use our rifles, but they are to be held in reserve. Hark, the giant leader howls for the third time!"
The long, piercing note came now from a point not very distant. Heard in all the loneliness of the black forest it was inexpressively threatening and evil. Not until his own note died did the howl of his pack follow. All doubts that Robert may have felt fled at once. He believed everything that Tayoga had said, and he knew that the wolf-pack, reenforced by mighty timber wolves from the far north, was coming straight toward the cave for what was left of the moose meat and Tayoga and himself. His nerves shook for an instant, but the next moment he put them under command, and carefully tested the bowstring.
"It is good and strong," he said to Tayoga. "It will not be any fault of the bow and arrow if the work is not done well. The fault will be mine instead."
"You will not fail, Dagaeoga," said the Onondaga. "Your great imagination always excites you somewhat before the event, but when it comes you are calm and steady."
"I'll try to prove that you estimate me correctly."
As their eyes were used to the dusk they could see each other well, sitting on opposite sides of the cave mouth and sheltered by the projection of the rocks. The great wolf howled once more and the pack howled after him, but there followed an interval of silence that caused Robert to think they had, perhaps, turned aside. But Tayoga whispered presently:
"I see the leader on the opposite side of the defile among the short bushes. The pack is farther back. They know, of course, that we are here. The leader is, as we surmised, a huge timber wolf, come down from the far north. Do not shoot, Dagaeoga, until you get a good chance."
"Do you think I should wait for the leader himself?"
"No. Often the soul of a wicked warrior goes into the body of a wolf, and the wolf becomes wicked, and also full of craft. The leader may not come forward at first himself, but will send others to receive our blows."
There was no yapping and snarling from the wolves such as was usual, and such as Robert had often heard, but they had become a phantom pack, silent and ghost-like, creeping among the bushes, sinister and threatening beyond all reckoning. Robert began to feel that, in very truth, it was a phantom pack, and he wondered if his arrows, even if they struck full and true, would slay. Nature, in her chance moments, touches one among the millions with genius, and she had so tipped him with living fire. His vivid and powerful imagination often made him see things others could not see and caused him to clothe objects in colors invisible to common eyes.
Now the wolves, with their demon leader, were moving in silence among the bushes, and he felt that in truth he would soon be fighting with what Tayoga called evil spirits. For the moment, not the demon leader alone, but every wolf represented the soul of a wicked warrior, and they would approach with all the cunning that the warriors had known and practiced in their lives.
"Do you see the great beast now, Tayoga?" he whispered.
"No, he is behind a rock, but there is another slinking forward, drawing himself without noise over the ground. He must have been in life a savage from the far region, west of the Great Lakes, perhaps an eater of his own kind, as the wolf eats his."
"I see him, Tayoga, just there on the right where the darkness lies like a shroud. I see his jaws slavering too. He comes forward as a stalker, and I've no doubt the soul of a most utter savage is hidden in his body. He shall meet my arrow."
"Wait a little, Dagaeoga, until you can be sure of your shot. There is another creeping forward on the left in the same manner, and you'll want to send a second arrow quickly at him."
"I never saw a wolf-pack attack in this way before. They come like a band of warriors with scouts and skirmishers, and I can see that they have a force massed in the center for the main rush."
"In a few more seconds you can take the wolf on the right. Bury your arrow in his throat. It is as I said, Dagaeoga. Now that the moment has come your hand is steady, your nerves are firm, and even in the dusk I can see that your eyes are bright."
It was true. Robert's imagination had painted the danger in the most vivid colors, but now, that it was here, the beat of his pulse was as regular as the ticking of a clock. Yet the unreal and sinister atmosphere that clothed him about was not dispelled in the least, and he could not rid himself of the feeling that in fighting them he was fighting dead and gone warriors.
Nearer and nearer came the great wolf on his right, dragging his body over the ground for all the world like a creeping Indian. Robert's eyes, become uncommonly keen in the dusk, saw the long fangs, the slavering jaws and the red eyes, and he also saw the spot in the pulsing throat where he intended that the sharp point of his arrow should strike.
"Now!" whispered Tayoga.
Robert fitted the shaft to the string, and deftly throwing his weight into it bent the great bow. Then he loosed the arrow, and, singing through the air, it buried itself almost to the feather in the big beast's throat, just at the spot that he had chosen. The strangled howl of despair and death that followed was almost like that of a human being, but Robert did not stop to listen, as with all speed he fitted another arrow to the string and fired at the beast on the left, with equal success, piercing him in the heart.
"Well done, Dagaeoga," whispered Tayoga. "Two shots and two wolves slain. The skirmisher on the right and the skirmisher on the left both are gone. There will be a wait now while the living devour their dead comrades. Listen, you can hear them dragging the bodies into the bushes."
"After they have finished their cannibalism perhaps they will go away."
"No, it is a great pack, and they are very hungry. In ten or fifteen minutes they will be stalking us again. You must seek a shot at the giant leader, but it will be hard for you to get it because he will keep himself under cover, while he sends forth his warriors to meet your arrows. Ah, he is great and cunning! Now, I am more sure than ever that his body contains the soul of one of the most wicked of all warriors, perhaps that of a brother of Tandakora. Yes, it must be a brother, the blood of Tandakora."
"Then Tandakora's brother would better beware. My desire to slay him has increased, and if he's incautious and I get good aim I think I can place an arrow so deep in him that the Ojibway's wicked soul will have to seek another home."
"Hear them growling and snarling in the bushes. It is over their cannibalistic feast. Soon they will have finished and then they will come back to us."
The deadly stalking, more hideous than that carried on by men, because it was more unnatural, was resumed. Robert discharged a third arrow, but the fierce yelp following told him that he had inflicted only a wound. He glanced instinctively at the Onondaga, fearing a reproof, but Tayoga merely said:
"If one shoots many times one must miss sometimes."
A fourth shot touched nothing, but the Onondaga had no rebuke, a fifth shot killed a wolf, a sixth did likewise, and Robert's pride returned. The wolves drew off, to indulge in cannibalism again, and to consult with their leader, who carried the soul of a savage in his body.
Robert had sought in vain for a fair shot at the giant wolf. He had caught one or two glimpses of him, but they were too fleeting for the flight of an arrow, and, despite all reason and logic, he found himself accepting Tayoga's theory that he was, in reality, a lost brother of Tandakora, marshaling forward his forces, but keeping himself secure. After the snarling and yelping over the horrible repast, another silence followed in the bushes.
"Perhaps they've had enough and have gone away," said Robert, hazarding the hopeful guess a second time.
"No. They will make a new attack. They care nothing for those that have fallen. Watch well, Dagaeoga, and keep your arrows ready."
"I think I'll become a good bowman in time," said Robert lightly, to ease his feelings, "because I'm getting a lot of practice, and it seems that I'll have a lot more. Perhaps I need this rest, but, so far as my feelings are concerned, I wish the wolves would come on and make a final rush. Their silence and invisibility are pretty hard on the nerves."
He examined the bow carefully again, and put six arrows on the floor of the cave beside him, with the quiver just beyond them. Tayoga sat immovable, his rifle across his knees, ready in the last emergency to use the bullet. Thus more time passed in silence and without action.
It often seemed to Robert afterward that there was something unnatural about both time and place. The darkness came down thicker and heavier, and to his imaginative ear it had a faint sliding sound like the dropping of many veils. So highly charged had become his faculties that they were able to clothe the intangible and the invisible with bodily reality. He glanced across at his comrade, whom his accustomed eyes could see despite the blackness of the night. Tayoga was quite still. So far as Robert could tell he had not stirred by a hair's breadth in the last hour.
"Do you hear anything?" whispered the white youth.
"Nothing," replied the Onondaga. "Not even a dead leaf stirs before the wind. There is no wind to stir it. But I think the pack will be coming again very soon. They will not leave us until you shoot their demon leader."
"You mean Tandakora's brother! If I get a fair chance I'll certainly send my best arrow at him, and I'm only sorry that it's not Tandakora himself. You persist in your belief that the soul of a wicked warrior is in the body of the wolf?"
"Of course! As I have said, it is surely a brother of Tandakora, because Tandakora himself is alive, and, as it cannot be his own, it must be that of a monstrous one so much like his that it can be only a brother's. That is why the wolf leader is so large, so fierce and so cunning. I persist, too, in saying that all the wolves of this pack contain the souls of wicked warriors. It is natural that they should draw together and hunt together, and hunt men as they hunted them in life."
"I'm not disputing you, Tayoga. Both day and night have more things than I can ever hope to understand, but it seems to me that night has the more. I've been listening so hard, Tayoga, that I can't tell now where imagination ends and reality begins, but I think I hear a footfall, as soft as that of a leaf dropping to the ground, but a footfall just the same."
"I hear it too, Dagaeoga, and it is not the dropping of a leaf. It is a wolf creeping forward, seeking to stalk us. He is on the right, and there are others on both right and left. Now I know they are warriors, or have been, since they use the arts of warriors rather than those of wolves."
"But if they should get in here they would use the teeth and claws of wolves."
"Teeth and claws are no worse than the torch, the faggot and the stake, perhaps better. I hear two sliding wolves now, Dagaeoga, but I know that neither is the giant leader. As before, he keeps under cover, while he sends forward others to the attack."
"Which proves that Tandakora's brother is a real general. I think I can make out a dim outline now. It is that of the first wolf on the right, and he does slide forward as if he were a warrior and not a wolf. I think I'll give him an arrow."
"Wait until he comes a dozen feet nearer, Dagaeoga, and you can be quite sure. But when you do shoot snatch up another arrow quicker than you ever did before in your life, because the leader, thinking you are not ready, may jump from the shelter of the rocks to drive the rest of the pack in a rush upon us."
"You speak as if they were human beings, Tayoga."
"Such is my thought, Dagaeoga."
"Very well. I'll bear in mind what you say, and I'll pick an arrow for Tandakora's brother."
He chose a second arrow carefully and put it on the ledge beside him, where it required but one sweep of his hand to seize it and fit it to the string, when the first had been sent. He now distinctly saw the creeping wolf, and again fancy laid hold of him and played strange tricks with his eyes. The creeping figure changed. It was not that of a wolf, but a warrior, intent upon his life. A strange terror, the terror of the weird and unknown, seized him, but in an instant it passed, and he drew the bowstring. When he loosed it the arrow stood deep in the wolf's throat, but Robert did not see it. His eyes passed on like a flash of lightning to a gigantic form that upreared itself from the rocks, an enormous wolf with red eyes, glistening fangs and slavering jaws.
"Now!" shot forth Tayoga.
Robert had already fitted a second arrow to the string and the immense throat presented a target full and fair. Now, as always in the moment of imminent crisis, his nerves were steady, never had they been more steady, and his eyes pierced the darkness. Never before and never again did he bend so well the bow of Ulysses. The arrow, feathered and barbed, hummed through the air, going as straight and swift as a bullet to its mark, and then it pierced the throat of the wolf so deep that the barb stood out on one side and the feathers on the other.
The wolf uttered a horrible growling shriek that was almost human to Robert, leaped convulsively back and out of sight, but for a minute or two they heard him threshing among the rocks and bushes. The whole pack uttered a dismal howl. Their sliding sounds ceased, and the last dim figure vanished.
"I think it is all over with Tandakora's brother," said Robert.
Tayoga said nothing, and Robert glanced at him. Beads of perspiration stood on the brow of the Onondago, but his eyes glittered.
"You have shot well tonight, O Dagaeoga," he said. "Never did a man shoot better. Tonight you have been the greatest bowman in all the world. You have slain the demon wolf, the leader of the pack. Perhaps the wicked soul that inhabited his body has gone to inhabit the body of another evil brute, but we are delivered. They will not attack again."
"How do you know that, Tayoga?"
"Because Tododaho, Tododaho who protects us, is whispering it to me. I do not see him, but he is leaning down from his star, and his voice enters my ear. Our fight with the wolf pack and its terrible leader is finished. Steady, Dagaeoga! Steady! Make no excuses! The greatest of warriors, the hero of a hundred battles, might well sink for a few moments after such a combat!"
Robert had collapsed suddenly. The great imagination driving forward his will, and attuning him for such swift and tremendous action, failed, now that the crisis had passed, and he dropped back against the ledge, though his fingers still instinctively clutched the bow. Darkness was before his eyes, and he was weak and trembling, but he projected his will anew, and a little later sat upright, collected and firm. Nevertheless, it was Tayoga who now took supreme command.
"You have surely done enough for one night, Dagaeoga," he said. "Tododaho himself, after doing so much, would have rested. Lie down now on your blanket and I will watch for the remainder of the darkness. It is true my left arm is lame and of no use for the present, but nothing will come."
"I'll do as you tell me, Tayoga," said Robert, "but first I give you back your bow and arrows. They've served us well, though I little thought I'd ever have to do work as a bowman."
He was glad enough to stretch himself on the blanket and leaves, as he realized that despite his will he had become weak. Presently he sank into a deep slumber. When he awoke the sun was shining in the mouth of the cave and Tayoga was offering him some of the tenderest of the moose steak.
"Eat, Dagaeoga," he said. "Though a warrior of the clan of the Bear, of the nation Onondaga of the great League of the Hodenosaunee, I am proud to serve the king of bowmen."
"Cease your jesting at my expense, Tayoga."
"It is not wholly a jest, but eat."
"I will. Have you seen what is outside?"
"Not yet. We will take our breakfast together, and then we will go forth to see what we may see."
They ate heartily, and then with rifles cocked passed into the defile, where they found only the bones of wolves, picked clean by the others. But the skeleton of the huge leader was gone, although the arrow that had slain him was lying among the rocks.
"The living must have dragged away his bones. A curious thing to do," said Robert.
Tayoga was silent.