Chapter XIII. Tandakora's Grasp
 

They spent two more days in the cave, and Tayoga's marvelous cure proceeded with the same marvelous rapidity. Robert repeatedly bathed the wound for him, and then redressed it, so the air could not get to it. The Onondaga was soon able to flex the fingers well and then to use the arm a little.

"It is sure now," he said joyfully, "that Waraiyageh and Dieskau cannot meet before I am able to do battle."

"Anyhow, they wouldn't think of fighting until you came, Tayoga," said Robert.

Their spirits were very high. They felt that they had been released from great danger, some of which they could not fathom, and they would soon leave the hollow. Action would bring relief, and they anticipated eagerly what the world outside might disclose to them. Robert collected all the arrows he had shot in the fight with the wolf pack, cleaned them and restored them to the quiver. They also put a plentiful supply of the moose meat in their packs, and then he said:

"Which way, Tayoga?"

"There is but one way."

"You mean we should press on toward Crown Point, and find out what has become of our comrades?"

"That is it. We must know how ended their battle with St. Luc."

"Which entails a search through the forest. That's just what I wanted, but I didn't know how you felt about it with your lame shoulder."

"Tomorrow or next day I shall be able to use the shoulder if we have to fight, but we may not meet any of the French or their allied warriors. I have no wish at all to turn back."

"Then forward it is, Tayoga, and I propose that we go toward the spot where we left them in conflict. Such eyes as yours may yet find there signs that you can read. Then we'll know how to proceed."

"Well spoken, Dagaeoga. Come, we'll go through the forest as fast as we may."

The cave had been a most welcome place. It had served in turn as a home, a hospital and a fort, and, in every capacity, it had served well, but both Robert and Tayoga were intensely glad to be out again in the open world, where the winds were blowing, where vast masses of green rested and pleased the eye, and where the rustling of leaves and the singing of birds soothed the ear.

"It's a wonderful, a noble wilderness!" said Robert. "I'm glad I'm here, even if there are Frenchmen and Indians in it, seeking our lives. Why, Tayoga, I can feel myself growing in such an atmosphere! Tell me, am I not an inch taller than I was when I left that hollow in the rocks?"

"You do look taller," said the Onondaga, "but maybe it's because you stand erect now. Dagaeoga, since the wolves have been defeated, has become proud and haughty again."

"At any rate, your wonderful cure is still going on at wonderful speed. You use your left arm pretty freely and you seem to have back nearly all your old strength."

"Yes, Tododaho still watches over me. He is far better to me than I deserve."

They pushed on at good speed, returning on the path they had taken, when Tayoga received his wound, and though they slept one night on the way, to give Tayoga's wound a further chance, they came in time to the place where the rangers and the Mohawks had met St. Luc's force in combat. The heavy rains long since had wiped out all traces of footsteps there, but Robert hoped that the keen eyes of the Onondaga would find other signs to indicate which way the battle had gone. Tayoga looked a long time before he said anything.

"The battle was very fierce," he said at last. "Our main force lay along here among these bushes."

"How do you know, Tayoga?" asked Robert.

"It is very simple. For a long distance the bushes are shattered and broken. It was rifle balls and musket balls that did it. Indians are not usually good marksmen, and they shot high, cutting off twigs above the heads of the Mohawks and rangers."

"Suppose we look at the opposing ridge and line of bushes where St. Luc's warriors must have stationed themselves."

They crossed the intervening space of sixty or seventy yards and found that the bushes there had not been cut up so much.

"The rangers and Mohawks are the better marksmen," said Tayoga. "They aimed lower and probably hit the target much oftener. At least they did not cut off so many twigs."

He walked back into the open space between the two positions, his eye having been caught by something dark lying in a slight depression of the earth. It was part of the brushy tail of a raccoon, such as the borderers wore in their caps.

"Our men charged," said the Onondaga.

"Why do you say so?" asked Robert.

"Because of the raccoon tail. It was shot from the cap of one of the charging men. The French and the Indians do not wear such a decoration. See where the bullet severed it. I think St. Luc's men must have broken and run before the charge, and we will look for evidence of it."

They advanced in the direction of Champlain, and, two or three hundred yards farther on, Tayoga picked up a portion of an Indian headdress, much bedraggled.

"Their flight was headlong," he said, "or the warrior would not have lost the frame and feathers that he valued so much. It fell then, before the storm, as the muddy and broken condition of the feathers shows that it was lying on the ground when the great rain came."

"And here," said Robert, "is where a bullet went into the trunk of this big oak."

"Which shows that the rangers and Mohawks were still pursuing closely. It is possible that the French and Indians tried to make a brief stand at this place. Let us see if we can find the track of other bullets."

They discovered the paths of two more in tree trunks and saw the boughs of several shattered bushes, all leading in a line toward Crown Point.

"They were not able to stand long," said Tayoga. "Our men rushed them again. Ah, this shows that they must have been in a panic for a few moments."

He picked an Indian blanket, soiled and worn, from a gulley.

"See the mud upon it," he said. "It, too, fell before the rain, because when the flood came a stream ran in the gulley, a stream that has left the blanket in this state. The warrior must have been in tremendous haste to have lost his blanket. We know now that they were routed, and that the victory was ours. But it is likely that our leaders continued the pursuit toward Oneadatote and up to the walls of Crown Point itself. And if your wish be the same as mine, Dagaeoga, we will follow on."

"You know, Tayoga, that I wouldn't think of anything else."

"But the dangers grow thick as we approach Crown Point."

"Not any thicker for me than for you."

"To that I can make no reply. Dagaeoga is always ready with words."

"But while I want to go on, I'm not in favor of taking any needless risks. I like to keep my scalp on top of my head, the place where it belongs, and so I bid you, Tayoga, use those keen eyes and ears of yours to the utmost."

Tayoga laughed.

"Dagaeoga is learning wisdom," he said. "A great warrior does not throw his life away. He will not walk blind through the forest. I will do all I can with my ears and so will you."

"I mean to do so. Do you see that silver flash through the tangle of foliage? Don't you think it comes from the waters of Champlain?"

"It cannot be doubted. Once more we see the great lake, and Crown Point itself is not so many miles away. It is in my mind that Black Rifle, Great Bear, Mountain Wolf, Daganoweda and our men have been scouting about it."

"And we might meet 'em coming back. I've had that thought too."

They walked on toward Champlain, through a forest apparently without sign of danger, and Tayoga, hearing a slight noise in a thicket, turned off to the right to see if a deer were browsing there. He found nothing, but as the sound came again from a point farther on, he continued his search, leaving his comrade out of sight behind him. The thickets were very dense and suddenly the warning of Tododaho came.

He sprang back as quick as lightning, and doubtless he would have escaped had it not been for his wounded shoulder. He hurled off the first warrior who threw himself upon him, slipped from the grasp of a second, but was unable to move when the mighty Tandakora and another seized him by the shoulders.

But in the moment of dire peril he remembered his comrade and uttered a long and thrilling cry of warning, which the huge hand of Tandakora could not shut off in time. Then, knowing he was trapped and would only injure his shoulder by further struggles, he ceased to resist, submitting passively to the binding of his arms behind him.

He saw that Tandakora had seven or eight warriors with him, and a half dozen more were bounding out on the trail after Robert. He heard a shot and then another, but he did not hear any yell of triumph, and he drew a long breath of relief. His warning cry had been uttered in time. Dagaeoga would know that it was folly, for him also to fall into the hands of Tandakora, and he would flee at his greatest speed.

So he stood erect with his wrists bound behind him, his face calm and immovable. It did not become an Onondaga taken prisoner to show emotion, or, in fact, feeling of any kind before his captors, but his heart was full of anxiety as he waited with those who held him. A quarter of an hour they stood thus, and then the pursuing warriors, recognizing the vain nature of their quest, began to return. Tandakora did not upbraid them, because he was in high good humor.

"Though the white youth, Lennox, has escaped," he said in Iroquois, "we have done well. We have here Tayoga, of the clan of the Bear, of the nation Onondaga, of the League of the Hodenosaunee, one of our deadliest enemies. It is more than I had hoped, because, though so young, he is a great warrior, skillful and brave, and we shall soon see how he can bear the live coals upon his breast."

Still Tayoga did not move, nor did he visibly shudder at the threat, which he knew Tandakora meant to keep. The Ojibway had never appeared more repellent, as he exulted over his prisoner. He seemed larger than ever, and his naked body was covered with painted and hideous devices.

"And so I have you at last, Tayoga," he said. "Your life shall be short, but your death shall be long, and you shall have full chance to prove how much an Onondaga can bear."

"Whether it be much or little," said Tayoga, "it will be more than any Ojibway can endure."

The black eyes of Tandakora flashed angrily, and he struck Tayoga heavily in the face with his open palm. The Onondaga staggered, but recovered himself, and gazed steadily into the eyes of the Ojibway.

"You have struck a bound captive, O Tandakora," he said. "It is contrary to the customs of your nation and of mine, and for it I shall have your life. It is now written that you shall fall by my hand."

His calm tones, and the fearless gaze with which he met that of Tandakora, gave him all the aspect of a prophet. The huge Ojibway flinched for a moment, and then he laughed.

"If it is written that I am to die by your hand it is written falsely," he said, "because before another sun has set all chance for it will be gone."

"I have said that you will die by my hand, and I say it again. It is written," repeated Tayoga firmly.

Though he showed no emotion there was much mortification in the soul of the young Onondaga. He had practically walked into the hands of Tandakora, and he felt that, for the present, at least, there was a stain upon his skill as a forest runner. The blow of Tandakora had left its mark, too, upon his mind. He had imbibed a part of the Christian doctrine of forgiveness, but it could not apply to so deadly and evil an enemy as the Ojibway. To such an insult offered to a helpless prisoner the reply could be made only with weapons.

Although Tododaho from his star, invisible by day, whispered to him to be of good heart, Tayoga was torn by conflicting beliefs. He was going to escape, and yet escape seemed impossible. The last of the warriors who had gone on the trail of young Lennox had come in, and he was surrounded now by more than a dozen stalwart men. The promise of Tododaho grew weak. Although his figure remained firm and upright and his look was calm and brave he saw no possibility of escape. He thought of Daganoweda, of the Mohawks and the rangers, but the presence of Tandakora and his men indicated that they had gone back toward the army of Waraiyageh, and were perhaps with him now.

He thought of St. Luc, but he did not know whether the gallant Chevalier was alive or dead. But if he should come he would certainly keep Tandakora from burning him at the stake. Tayoga did not fear death, and he knew that he could withstand torture. No torture could last forever, and when his soul passed he would merely go to the great shining star on which Tododaho lived, and do to perfection, forever and without satiety, the things that he loved in life here.

But Tayoga did not want to die. As far as life here was concerned he was merely at the beginning of the chapter. So many things were begun and nothing was finished. Nor did he want to die at the hands of Tandakora, and allow his enemy to have a triumph that would always be sweet to the soul of the fierce Ojibway. He saw many reasons why he did not wish yet to go to Tododaho's great and shining star, despite the perfection of an eternal existence there, and, casting away the doubts that had assailed him, he hoped resolutely.

Tandakora had been regarding him with grim satisfaction. It may be that he read some of the thoughts passing in the mind of the Onondaga, as he said:

"You look for your white friends, Tayoga, but you do not see them. Nor will they come. Do you want to know why?"

"Why, Tandakora?"

"Because they are dead. In the battle back there, toward Andiatarocte, Daganoweda, the Mohawk, was slain. His scalp is hanging in the belt of a Pottawattomie who is now with Dieskau. Black Rifle will roam the forest no more. He was killed by my own men, and the wolves have eaten his body. The hunter Willet was taken alive, but he perished at the stake. He was a very strong man, and he burned nearly a whole day before the spirit left him. The ranger, Rogers, whom you called the Mountain Wolf, was killed in the combat, and the wolves have eaten his body, too."

"Now, I know, O Tandakora," said the Onondaga, "that you are a liar, as well as a savage and a murderer. Great Bear lives, Daganoweda lives, and the Mountain Wolf and Black Rifle live, too. St. Luc was defeated in the battle, and he has gone to join Dieskau at Crown Point, else he would be here. I see into your black heart, Tandakora, and I see there nothing but lies."

The eyes of the huge savage once more shot dark fire, and he lifted his hand, but once again he controlled himself, though the taunts of Tayoga had gone in deep and they stung like barbs. Then, feeling that the talk was not in his favor, but that the situation was all to his liking, he turned away and gave orders to his warriors. They formed instantly in single file, Tayoga near the center, Tandakora just behind him, and marched swiftly toward the north.

The Onondaga knew that their course would not bring them to Crown Point, which now lay more toward the east. Nor was it likely that they would go there. Dieskau and the French officers would scarcely allow him to be burned in their camp, and Tandakora would keep away from it until his hideous work was done.

Now Tayoga, despite his cynicism and apparent indifference, was all watchfulness. He knew that, for the present, any attempt to escape was hopeless, but he wished to observe the country through which he was passing, and see everything pertaining to it as far as the eye could reach. It was always well to know where one was, and he had been taught from infancy to observe everything, the practice being one of the important conditions of life in the wilderness.

The soul of Tandakora, who walked just behind him, was full of savage joy. It was true that Lennox had escaped, but Tayoga was an important capture. He was of a powerful family of the Onondagas, whom the Ojibway hated. Despite his youth, his fame as a warrior was already great, and in destroying him Tandakora would strike both at the Hodenosaunee and the white people who were his friends. Truly, it had been the Ojibway's lucky day.

As they went on, Tandakora's belief that it was his day of days became a conviction. Perhaps they would yet find Lennox, who had taken to such swift flight, and before the sun set they could burn the two friends together. His black heart was full of joy as he laughed in silence and to himself. In the forest to his right a bird sang, a sweet, piercing note, and he thought the shoulders of the captive in front of him quivered for a single instant. And well they might quiver! It was a splendid world to leave amid fire and pain, and the sweet, piercing note of the bird would remind Tayoga of all that he was going to lose.

There was no pity in the heart of Tandakora. He was a savage and he could never be anything but a savage. He might admire the fortitude with which Tayoga would endure the torture, but he would have no thought of remitting it on that account. The bird sang again, or another like it, because it was exactly the same sweet, piercing note, but now Tandakora did not see the shoulders of the Onondaga quiver. Doubtless after the first stab of pain that the bird had brought him he had steeled himself to its renewal.

Tandakora would soon see how the Onondaga could stand the fire. The test should be thorough and complete The Ojibway chieftain was a master artist upon such occasions, and, as he continued the march, he thought of many pleasant little ways in which he could try the steel of Tayoga's nature. The captive certainly had shown no signs of shrinking so far, and Tandakora was glad of it. The stronger the resistance the longer and the more interesting would be the test.

The Ojibway had in mind a certain little valley a few miles farther to the north, a secluded place where a leader of men like himself could do as he pleased without fear of interruption. Already he was exulting over the details, and to him, breathing the essence of triumph, the wilderness was as beautiful as it had ever been to Robert and Tayoga, though perhaps in a way that was peculiarly his own. Unlike Tayoga, he had heard little of the outside world, and he cared nothing at all for it. His thoughts never went beyond the forest, and the customs of savage ancestors were his. What he intended to do they had often done, and the tribes thought it right and proper.

"In half an hour, Tayoga, we will be at the place appointed," he said.

No answer.

"You said I would die at your hand, but there is only a half hour left in which to make good the prophecy."

Still no answer.

"Tododaho, the patron saint of the Onondagas, is hidden on his star, which is now on the other side of the world, and he cannot help you."

And still no answer.

"Does not fear strike into your heart, Tayoga? The flames that will burn you are soon to be lighted. You are young, but a boy, you are not a seasoned warrior, and you will not be able to bear it."

Tayoga laughed aloud, a laugh full and hearty. "I have heard frogs croak in the muddy edge of a pond," he said. "I could not tell what they meant, but there was as much sense in their voices as in yours, Tandakora."

"At last you have found your tongue, youth of the Onondagas. You have heard the frogs croak, but your voice at the stake will sound like theirs."

"The flames shall not be lighted around me, Tandakora."

"How do you know?"

"Tododaho has whispered in my ear the promise that he will save me. Twice has he whispered it to me as we marched."

"Tododaho in life was no warrior of the Ojibways," said Tandakora, "and since he has passed away he is no god of ours. His whispers, if he has whispered at all to you, are false. There is less than half an hour in which you can be saved, and Manitou himself would need all that time."

Tayoga gave him a scornful look. Tandakora was talking sacrilege, but he had no right to expect anything else from a savage Ojibway. He refused to reply. They came presently to the little valley that Tandakora had in mind, an open place, with a tree in the center, and much dead wood scattered about. Tayoga knew instinctively that this was their destination, and his heart would have sunk within him had it not been for the whispers of Tododaho that he had heard on the march. The Ojibway gave the word and the file of warriors stopped. The hills enclosing the valley were much higher on the right than elsewhere, and touching Tayoga on the arm, he said:

"Walk with me to the crest there."

Tayoga, without a word, walked with him, while the other warriors stood watching, musket or rifle in hand.

The Onondaga, wrists bound behind him, knew that he did not have the slightest chance of escape, even if he made a sudden dash into the woods. He would be shot down before he went a dozen steps, and his pride and will restrained the body that was eager for the trial.

They reached the crest, and Tayoga saw then that the hill itself rose from a high plateau. When he gazed toward the east he saw a vast expanse of green wilderness, beyond it a ribbon of silver, and beyond the silver high green mountains, outlined sharply against a sky of clear blue.

"Oneadatote," said Tandakora.

"Yes, it is the great lake," said Tayoga.

"And if you will turn and look in the other direction you will see where Andiatarocte lies," said Tandakora. "There are greater lakes to the west, some so vast that they are as big as the white man's ocean, but there is none more beautiful than these. Think, Tayoga, that when you stand here upon this hill you have Oneadatote on one side of you and Andiatarocte on the other, and all the country between is splendid, every inch of it. Look! Look your fill, Tayoga! I have brought you here that you might see, that this might be your last sight before you go to your Tododaho on his star."

The Onondaga knew that the Ojibway was taunting him, that the torture had begun, that Tandakora intended to contrast the magnificent world from which he intended to send him with the black death that awaited him so soon. But the dauntless youth appeared not to know.

"The lakes I have seen many times," he said. "They are, as you truly call them, grand and beautiful, and they are the rightful property of the Hodenosaunee, the great League to which my nation belongs. I shall come to see them many more times all through my life, and when I am an old, old man of ninety summers and winters I shall lay myself down on a high shore of Andiatarocte, and close my eyes while Tododaho bears my spirit away to his star."

It is possible that Tandakora's eyes expressed a fleeting admiration. Savage and treacherous as he was, he respected courage, and the Onondaga had not shown the slightest trace of fear. Instead, he spoke calmly of a long life to come, as if the shadow of death were not hovering near at that moment.

"Look again," he said. "Look around all the circle of the world as far as your eyes can reach. It may help you a half hour from now, when you are in the flames, to remember the cool, green forest. And I tell you, too, Tayoga, that your white friend Lennox, the one whom you call Dagaeoga, shall soon follow you into the other world and by the same flaming path. When you are but ashes, which will be by the setting of the sun, my warriors will take up his trail, and he cannot escape us."

"Dagaeoga will live long, even as I do," said Tayoga calmly. "His summers and winters will be ninety each, even as mine. Tododaho has whispered that to me also, and the whispers of Tododaho are never false."

Tandakora turned back toward the valley, motioning to his captive to descend, and Tayoga obeyed without resistance. The glen was secluded, just suited to his purpose, which required time, and he did not wish the Frenchman, St. Luc, to come upon him suddenly, and interfere with the pleasure that he anticipated.

He was quite sure that the forest was empty of everything save themselves, though he heard again and for the third time the note of the bird, piercing and sweet, trilling among the bushes.

The warriors, knowing what was to be done, were doing it already, having piled many pieces of dead wood around the trunk of the lone tree in the center of the opening. Two had cut shavings with their hunting knives, and one stood ready with flint and steel.

"Do you not tremble, Tayoga?" asked the Ojibway. "Many an old and seasoned warrior has not been able to endure the fire without a groan."

"You shall not hear any groan from me," replied Tayoga, "because I shall not stand among the flames."

"There is no way to escape them. Even now the pile is built, and the warrior is ready with flint and steel to make the sparks."

High, thrillingly sweet, came the voice of the bird in the bushes, and Tayoga suddenly leaped with all his might against the great chest of Tandakora. Vast as was the strength of the Ojibway he was thrown from his feet by the violent and unexpected impact, and as he fell Tayoga, leaping lightly away, ran like a deer through the bushes.

The warriors in the valley uttered a shout, but the reply was a shattering volley, before which half of them fell. Tandakora understood at once. If he had the mind and heart of a savage he had also all the craft and cunning of one whose life was incessantly in danger. Instead of springing up, he rolled from the crest of the hill, then, rising to a stooping position, darted away at incredible speed through the forest.

Rangers and Mohawks, Robert, Daganoweda, Willet, Black Rifle and Rogers at their head, burst into the glen and the Mohawks began the pursuit of Tandakora's surviving warriors, who had followed their leader in his flight. But Robert turned back to meet Tayoga and cut the thongs from his wrists.

"I thank you, Dagaeoga," said the Onondaga. "You came in time."

"Yes, they were making ready. A half hour more and we should have been too late. But you knew that we were coming, Tayoga?"

"Yes. I heard the bird sing thrice, but I knew the bird was in the throat of the Great Bear. I will say this, though, to you, Dagaeoga, that I have heard many birds sing and sing sweetly, but never any so sweetly as the one that sang thrice in the throat of the Great Bear."

"It is not hard for me to believe you," said Robert, smiling, "and I can tell you in turn, Tayoga, that your patron saint, Tododaho, must in very truth have watched over you, because when I heard your warning cry and took to flight, hoping for a chance later on to rescue you, I ran within two hours straight into the camp of the rangers and the Mohawks. You can easily surmise how glad I was to see them, and how quickly we followed Tandakora."

"And we'd have attacked sooner," said Willet, "but we could not get up all our force in time. We've annihilated this band, but I'm sure we did not get Tandakora. He fled like the wind, and we'll have to settle accounts with him some other day."

"It was not possible for Tandakora to fall before your arms today," said Tayoga.

"Why not?" asked Willet, curiously.

"It is reserved for him to die by my hand, though the time is yet far off. I know it, because Tododaho whispered it to me more than once today. Let him go now, but his hour will surely come."

"You may be right, Tayoga. I'm not one to question your prophecies, but it's not wise for us to continue the pursuit of him, as we've other things to do. We destroyed the forces of St. Luc in the battle, but he escaped with some of his men to Crown Point, and there are still Indian warriors in the forest, though we mean to continue skirmishing and scouting up to the walls of Crown Point, or until we meet Dieskau's army on the march."

Words of approval came from the fierce Daganoweda, who stood by, listening. The young Mohawk chieftain, in the midst of a great and terrible war, was living the life he loved. The Keepers of the Eastern Gate were taking revenge for Quebec, their lost Stadacona, and he and his warriors could boast already of more than one victory. Around him, too, stood the white allies whom he respected and admired most, Black Rifle, Willet, Rogers and Dagaeoga, the youth of golden speech. Willet, looking at him, read his mind.

"What do you say, Daganoweda?" he asked. "Now that Tayoga and Dagaeoga have been recovered, shall we go back and join the army of Waraiyageh, or shall we knock on the walls of Crown Point?"

"The time to turn back has not yet come," replied the Mohawk. "We must know all about the army of Dieskau before we return to Waraiyageh."

Willet laughed.

"I knew that would be your reply," he said. "I merely asked in order to hear you speak the words. As I've said already, it's in my mind to go on toward Crown Point, and I know Rogers feels that way too. But I think we'd first better rest and refresh ourselves a bit. Although Tayoga won't admit it, food and an hour or two of ease here in the very valley where they meant to burn him alive, will do him a power of good."

After throwing out competent sentinels, they lighted a fire by the very tree to which Tandakora meant to bind Tayoga for the flames, and broiled venison over the coals. They also had bread and samp, which were most welcome, and the whole force ate with great zest. The warriors, in their flight, had dropped Tayoga's bow and quiver of arrows, and their recovery gave him keen delight, though he said little as he strapped them over his shoulder.

They spent two hours in the valley, and for the Onondaga the air was full of the good spirits that watched over him. The dramatic and extraordinary change, occurring in a few minutes, made an ineffaceable impression upon a mind that saw meaning in everything. Here was the glen in which he had been held by Tandakora and his most deadly enemies, and there was the lone tree against which they had already heaped the fuel for burning him alive. Such a sudden and marvelous change could not have come if he were not in the special favor of both Tododaho and Areskoui. Secure in his belief that he was protected by the mighty on their stars, he awaited the future with supreme confidence.