The Rulers of the Lakes by Joseph A. Altsheler
Chapter IV. A Forest Concert
The deep creek with its high banks and interwoven forest and thickets on the other side formed an excellent second line of defense, and Willet, with the instinct of a true commander, made the most of it, again posting his men at wide intervals until they covered a distance of several hundred yards, at the same time instructing them to conceal themselves carefully, and let the enemy make the first move. He allowed Robert and Tayoga to remain together, knowing they were at their best when partners.
The two lay behind the huge trunk of a tree torn down by some old hurricane and now almost hidden by vegetation and trailing vines. They were very comfortable there, and, uplifted by their success of the night they were sanguine of an equal success by day.
To the right Robert caught occasional glimpses of Willet, moving about in the bushes, but save for these stray glances he watched the other side of the stream. Luckily it was rather open there, and no savage, however cunning, could come within fifty yards of it without being seen by the wary eyes in the thickets.
"How long do you think it will be before they come?" Robert asked of Tayoga, for whose forest lore he had an immense respect.
"Three hours, maybe four," replied the Onondaga. "Tandakora and De Courcelles may or may not know of this creek, but when they see it they are sure to advance with caution, fearing a trap."
"What a pity our own people don't show the same wisdom!"
"You are thinking of the great slaughter at Duquesne. Every people has its own ways, and the soldiers have not yet learned those of the forest, but they will learn."
"At a huge cost!"
"Perhaps there is no other way? You will notice the birds on the bushes on the far side of the stream, Dagaeoga?"
"Aye, I see 'em. They're in uncommon numbers. What a fine lot of fellows with glossy plumage! And some of 'em are singing away as if they lived for nothing else!"
"I see that Dagaeoga looks when he is told to look and sees when he is told to see. The birds are at peace and are enjoying themselves."
"That is, they're having a sunlight concert, purely for their own pleasure."
"It is so. They feel joy and know that danger is not present. They are protected by the instinct that Manitou, watching over the least of his creatures, has given to them."
"Why this dissertation on birds at such a time, Tayoga?"
"Dissertation is a very long word, but I am talking for Dagaeoga's own good. He has learned much of the forest, but he can learn more, and I am here to teach him."
"Wondrous good of you, Tayoga, and, in truth, your modesty also appeals to me. Proceed with your lesson in woodcraft, although it seems to me that you have chosen a critical time for it."
"The occasion is most fitting, because it comes out of our present danger. We wish to see the approach of our enemies who will lie down among the grass and bushes, and creep forward very silently. We will not see them, perhaps, but others will give warning."
"Oh, you mean that the birds, alarmed by the warriors, will fly away?"
"Nothing else, Dagaeoga."
"Then why so much circumlocution?"
"Circumlocution is another very long word, Dagaeoga. It is the first time that I have heard it used since we left the care of our teacher in Albany. But I came to the solution by a circular road, because I wished you to see it before I told it to you. You did see it, and so I feel encouraged over the progress of my pupil."
"Thanks, Tayoga, I appreciate the compliment, and, as I said before, your modesty also appeals to me."
"You waste words, Dagaeoga, but you have always been a great talker. Now, watch the birds."
Tayoga laughed softly. The Indian now and then, in his highest estate, used stately forms of rhetoric, and it pleased the young Onondaga, who had been so long in the white man's school, to employ sometimes the most orotund English. It enabled him to develop his vein of irony, with which he did not spare Robert, just as Robert did not spare him.
"I will watch the birds," said young Lennox. "They're intelligent, reasoning beings, and I'll lay a wager that while they're singing away there they're not singing any songs that make fun of their friends."
"Of that I'm not sure, Dagaeoga. Look at the bird with the red crest, perched on the topmost tip of the tall, green bush directly in front of us. I can distinguish his song from those of the others, and it seems that the note contains something saucy and ironic."
"I see him, Tayoga. He is an impudent little rascal, but I should call him a most sprightly and attractive bird, nevertheless. Observe how his head is turned on one side. If we were only near enough to see his eyes I'd lay another wager that he is winking."
"But his head is not on one side any longer, Dagaeoga. He has straightened up. If you watch one object a long time you will see it much more clearly, and so I am able to observe his actions even at this distance. He has ceased to sing. His position is that of a soldier at attention. He is suspicious and watchful."
"You're right, Tayoga. I can see, too, that the bird's senses are on the alert against something foreign in the forest. All the other birds, imitating the one who seems to be their leader, have ceased singing also."
"And the leader is unfolding his wings."
"So I see. He is about to fly away. There he goes like a flash of red flame!"
"And there go all the rest, too. It is enough. Tandakora, De Courcelles and the savages have come."
Robert and Tayoga crouched a little lower and stared over the fallen log. Presently the Onondaga touched the white youth on the arm. Robert, following his gaze, made out the figure of a warrior creeping slowly through a dense thicket toward the creek.
"It is likely that Great Bear sees him, too," said Tayoga, "but we will not fire. He will not come nearer than fifty yards, because good cover is lacking."
"I understand that the contest is to be one of patience. So they can loose their bullets first. I see the bushes moving in several places now, Tayoga."
"It is probable that their entire force has come up. They may wait at least an hour before they will try a ford."
"Like as not. Suppose we eat a little venison, Tayoga, and strengthen ourselves for the ordeal."
"You have spoken well, Dagaeoga."
They ate strips of venison contentedly, but did not neglect to keep a wary watch upon the creeping foe. Robert knew that Tandakora and De Courcelles were trying to discover whether or not the line of the creek was defended, and if Willet and his men remained well hidden it would take a long time for them to ascertain the fact. He enjoyed their perplexity, finding in the situation a certain sardonic humor.
"The Ojibway and the Frenchman would give a good deal to know just what is in the thickets here," he whispered to Tayoga. "But the longer they must take in finding out the better I like it."
"They will delay far into the afternoon," said Tayoga. "The warriors and the Frenchmen have great patience. It would be better for the Americans and the English if they, too, like the French, learned the patience of the Indians."
"The birds gave us a warning that they had come. You don't think it possible, Tayoga, that they will also give the savages warning that we are here?"
"No, Dagaeoga, we have been lying in the thickets so long now, and have been so quiet that the birds have grown used to us. They feel sure we are not going to do them any harm, and while they may have flown away when we first came they are back now, as you can see with your own eyes, and can hear with your own ears."
Almost over Robert's head a small brown bird on a small green bough was singing, pouring out a small sweet song that was nevertheless clear and penetrating. Within the radius of his sight a half dozen more were trilling and quavering, and he knew that others were pouring out their souls farther on, as the low hum of their many voices came to his ears. Now and then he saw a flash of blue or brown or gray, as some restless feathered being shot from one bough to another. The birds, unusual in number and sure that there was no hostile presence, were having a grand concert in honor of a most noble day.
Robert listened and the appeal to his imagination and higher side was strong. Overhead the chorus of small sweet voices went on, as if there were no such things as battle or danger. Tayoga also was moved by it.
"By the snakes in the hair of the wise Tododaho," he said, "it is pleasant to hear! May the wilderness endure always that the birds can sing in it, far from men, and in peace!"
"May it not be, Tayoga, that the warriors watching the thickets here will see the birds so thick, and will conclude from it that no defenders are lying in wait?"
"De Courcelles might, but Tandakora, who has lived his whole life in the forest, will conclude that the birds are here, unafraid, because we have been so long in the bushes."
Time went on very slowly and the forest on either side of the creek was silent, save for the singing of the birds among the bushes in which the defenders lay hidden. Robert, from whom the feeling of danger departed for the moment, was almost tempted into? a doze by the warmth of the thicket and the long peace. His impressions, the pictures that passed before his mental and physical eye, were confused but agreeable. He was lying on a soft bank of turf that sloped up to a huge fallen trunk, and warm, soothing winds stole about among the boughs, rustling the leaves musically. The birds were singing in increased volume, and, though his eyes were half veiled by drooping lids, he saw them on many boughs.
"'Tis not their daily concert," he said to Tayoga "In very truth it must be their grand, annual affair I believe that a great group on our right is singing against another equally great group on our left. I can't recall having heard ever before such a volume of song in the woods. It's in my mind that a contest is going on, for a prize, perhaps. Doubtless juicy worms are awaiting the winners."
"You are improving, Dagaeoga," he said in precise tones. "You do not merely fight and eat and sleep like the white man. You are developing a soul. You are beginning to understand the birds and animals that live in the woods. Almost I think you worthy to be an Onondaga."
"I know you can pay me what is to you no higher compliment, but I have a notion the end of the concert is not far away. It seems to me the volume of song from the group on the left is diminishing."
"And you notice no decrease on our right?"
"No, Tayoga. The grand chorus there is as strong as ever, and unless my ears go wrong, I detect in it a triumphant note."
"Then the test of song which you have created is finished, and the prize has been won by the group on the right. It is a fine conceit that you have about the birds, Dagaeoga. I like it, and we will see it to the end."
The song on their left died, the one on their right swelled anew, and then died in its turn. Soon the birds began to drift slowly away. Robert watched some of them as they disappeared among the green boughs farther on.
"I also am learning to read the signs, Tayoga," he said, "and, having observed 'em, I conclude that our foes are about to make an advance, or at least, have crept forward a little more. The birds, used to our presence, know we are neither dangerous nor hostile, but they do not know as much about those on the other side of the creek. While the advance of the warriors is not yet sufficient to threaten 'em, it's enough to make 'em suspicious, and so they are flying away slowly, ready to return if it be a false alarm."
"Good! Very good, Dagaeoga! I can believe that your conclusions are true, and I can say to you once more that almost you are worthy to be an Onondaga. If you will look now toward the spot where the banks shelve down, and the grass grows high you will see four warriors on their hands and knees approaching the creek. If they reach the water without being fired upon they will assume that we are not here. Then the entire force will rush across the stream and take up the trail."
"But the creeping four will be fired upon."
"I think so, too, Dagaeoga, because there is no longer any reason for us to delay, and the rifle of the Great Bear will speak the first word."
There was a report near them, and one of the warriors, sinking flat in the grass, lay quite still. Robert, through the bushes, saw Willet, smoking rifle in hand. The three savages who lived began a swift retreat, and the others behind them uttered a great cry of grief and rage. They fired a dozen shots or so, but the bullets merely clipped leaves and twigs in the thickets. Nobody among the defenders save Willet pulled trigger, but his single shot was a sufficient warning to Tandakora and De Courcelles. They knew that the creek was held strongly.
Now ensued another long combat in which the skill, courage and ingenuity of warriors and hunters were put to the supreme test. Many shots were fired, but faces and bodies were shown only for an instant. Nevertheless a bullet now and then went home. One of Willet's men was killed and three more sustained slight wounds. Several of the warriors were slain, and others were wounded, but Robert had no means of telling the exact number of their casualties, as it was an almost invisible combat, which Willet and Tayoga, as the leaders, used all their skill to prolong to the utmost with the smallest loss possible. What they wanted was time, time for the fugitive train, now far away among the hills.
So deftly did they manage the defense of the creek that the entire afternoon passed and Tandakora and De Courcelles were still held in front of it, not daring to make a rush, and Willet, Robert and Tayoga glowed with the triumph they were achieving at a cost relatively so small. Night arrived, fortunately for them thick and black, and Willet gathered up his little force. They would have taken away with them the body of the slain man, but that was impossible, and, covering it up with brush and stones, they left it. Then still uplifted and exulting, they slipped away on the trail of the wagons, knowing that the Indian horde might watch for hours at the creek before they discovered the departure of the defenders.
"You see, Dagaeoga," said Tayoga to Robert, "that there is more in war than fighting. Craft and cunning, wile and stratagem are often as profitable as the shock of conflict."
"So I know, Tayoga. I learned it well in the battle by Duquesne. What right had a force of French and Indians which must have been relatively small to destroy a fine army like ours!"
"No right at all," said Willet, "but it happened, nevertheless. We'll learn from it, though it's a tremendous price to pay for a lesson."
"Do we make a third stand somewhere, Dave?" asked Robert, "and delay them yet another time?"
"I scarcely see a chance for it," replied the hunter. "We must have favorable ground or they'd outflank us. How old does the trail of the wagons look, Tayoga?"
"They are many, many hours ahead," replied the Onondaga. "They have made good use of the time we have secured for them."
"Another day and night and they should be safe," said Willet. "Tandakora and De Courcelles will scarcely dare follow deep into the fringe of settlements. What is it, Tayoga?"
The Onondaga had stopped and, kneeling down, he was examining the trail as minutely as he could in the dusk.
"Others have come," he replied tersely.
"What do you mean by 'others'?" asked Willet.
"Those who belong neither to pursued nor pursuers, a new force, white men, fifteen, perhaps. They came down from the north, struck this trail, for which they were not looking, and have turned aside from whatever task they were undertaking to see what it means."
"And so they're following the fugitive train. Possibly it's a band of French."
"I do not think so, Great Bear. The French do not roam the forest alone. The warriors are always with them, and this party is composed wholly of white men."
"Then they must be ours, perhaps a body of hunters or scouts, and we need 'em. How long would you say it has been since they passed?"
"Not more than two hours."
"Then we must overtake 'em. Do you lead at speed, Tayoga, but on the bare possibility that they're French, look out for an ambush."
"The new people, whoever they are," said Robert, "are trailing the train, we're trailing them, and the French and Indians are trailing us. It's like a chain drawing its links through the forest."
"But the links are of different metals, Robert," said Willet.
They talked but little more, because they needed all their breath now for the pursuit, as Tayoga was leading at great speed, the broad trail in the moonlight being almost as plain as day. It was a pleasure to Robert to watch the Onondaga following like a hound on the scent. His head was bent forward a little, and now and then when the brightest rays fell across them, Robert could see that his eyes glittered. He was wholly the Indian, his white culture gone for the moment, following the wilderness trail as his ancestors had done for centuries before him.
"Do the traces of the new group grow warmer?" asked Robert.
"They do," replied Tayoga. "We are advancing just twice as fast as they. We will overtake them before midnight."
"White men, and only by the barest possibility French," said Robert. "So the chances are nine out of ten that they're our own people. Now, I wonder what they are and what they're doing here."
"Patience, Dagaeoga," said the young Onondaga. "We will learn by midnight. How often have I told you that you must cultivate patience before you are worthy to be an Onondaga?"
"I'll bear it in mind, O worthy teacher. Your great age and vast learning compel me to respect your commands."
The new trail, which was like a narrow current in the broad stream of that left by the flying train, was now rapidly growing warmer. The speed of the thirty was so great that it became evident to Tayoga that they would overtake the strange band long before midnight.
"They stopped here and talked together a little while," he said, when they had been following the trail about two hours. "They stood by the side of the path. Their footprints are gathered in a group. They knew by the wagon tracks that white settlers, fleeing, were ahead of them, and they may have thought of turning back to see who followed. That is why they drew up in a group, and talked. At last they concluded to keep on following the train, and they cannot be more than a half hour ahead now."
Willet knelt down for the first time, and examined the traces with the greatest care and attention.
"The leader stood here by this fallen log," he said, "He had big feet, as anybody can see, and I believe I can make a good guess at his identity. I hope to Heaven I'm right!"
"Whom do you mean?" exclaimed Robert eagerly.
"I won't say just yet, because if I'm wrong you won't know the mistake I've made. But come on, lads. 'Twill not take long to decide the question that interests us so much."
He led the way with confidence, and when they had gone about a mile he sank down in a thicket beside the trail, the others imitating him. Then the hunter emitted a sharp whistle.
"I think I'll soon get an answer to that," he said, "and it'll not come from French or Indian."
They waited a minute or two and then the whistling note, clear and distinct, rose from a point ahead of them. Willet whistled a second time, and the second reply soon came in similar fashion.
"Now, lads," he said, rising from the bush, "we'll up and join 'em. It's the one I expected, and right glad I am, too."
He led the way boldly, making no further effort at concealment. Robert saw outlined in the moonlight on a low hill in front of them a group of fifteen or sixteen white men, all in hunter's garb, all strong, resolute figures, armed heavily. One, a little in advance of the others, and whom the lad took at once to be the leader, was rather tall, with a very powerful figure and a bold, roving eye. He was looking keenly at the approaching group and as they drew near his eyes lighted up with recognition and pleasure.
"By all that's glorious, it's Dave Willet, the Great Bear himself, the greatest hunter and marksman in all the northern province! Of a certainty it's none other!"
"Yes, Rogers, it's Willet," said the hunter, extending his hand, "though you complimented me too prettily. But glad am I, too, to see you here. You're no beauty, but your face is a most welcome sight."
Then Robert understood. It was Robert Rogers from the New Hampshire grants, already known well, and destined to become famous as one of the great partisan leaders of the war, a wild and adventurous spirit who was fully a match for Dumas and Ligneris or St. Luc himself, a man whose battles and hairbreadth escapes surpassed fiction. Around him gathered spirits dauntless and kindred, and here already was the nucleus of the larger force that he was destined to lead in so many a daring deed. Now his fierce face showed pleasure, as he shook the hunter's powerful hand with his own hand almost as powerful.
"It's a joy to meet you in these woods, Dave," he said. "But who are the two likely lads with you? Lads, I call 'em because their faces are those of lads, though their figures have the stature and size of men."
"Rogers, this is Tayoga, of the clan of the Bear, of the nation Onondaga, of the great League of the Hodenosaunee, a friend of ours, and no braver or more valiant youth ever trod moccasin. Tayoga, this is Robert Rogers of the New Hampshire grants."
The sunburnt face of Rogers shone with pleasure.
"I've heard of the lad," he said, "and I know he's all that you claim for him, Dave."
"And the other youth," continued Willet, "is Robert Lennox, in a way a ward of mine, in truth almost a son to me. What Tayoga is among the Onondagas, he is among the white people of New York. I can say no more."
"That's surely enough," said Rogers, "and glad am I to meet you, Lennox. I've come from the north and the east, from Champlain and George, with my brave fellows, hearing of Braddock's defeat and thinking we might be needed, and by chance we struck this broad trail. It's plain enough that it's made by settlers withdrawing from the border, but whether 'tis a precaution or they're pursued closely we don't know. We thought once of turning back to see. But you know, Dave."
Willet explained rapidly and again the fierce face of Rogers shone with pleasure.
"'Twas in truth a fortunate chance that guided us down here," he said.
"It was Tododaho himself," said Tayoga with reverence.
Then Willet also called rapidly the names of his hunters and scouts, who had remained in a little group in the rear, while the leaders talked.
"Dave," said Rogers, "you and I will be joint leaders, if you say so. We've now nearly two score stout fellows ready for any fray, and since you've twice held back Tandakora, De Courcelles and their scalp hunters, our united bands should be able to do it a third time. I agree with you that the best way to save the train is to fight rear guard actions, and never let the train itself be attacked."
"If we had about twenty more good men," said Willet, "we might not only defend a line but push back the horde itself. What say you to sending Tayoga, our swiftest runner, to the wagons for a third force?"
"A good plan, a most excellent plan, Dave! And while he's about it, tell him to make it thirty instead of twenty. Then we'll burn the faces of these Indian warriors. Aye, Dave, we'll scorch 'em so well that they'll be glad to turn back!"
It was arranged in a minute or two and Tayoga disappeared like one of his own arrows in the forest and the darkness, while the others followed, but much more slowly. It would not escape the sharp eyes of the warriors that a reenforcement had come, but, confident in their numbers, they would continue the pursuit with unabated zeal.
The united bands of hunters and scouts fell back slowly, and for a long time. Robert looked with interest at Rogers' men. They were the picked survivors of the wilderness, the forest champions, young mostly, lean, tough of muscle, darkened by wind and weather, ready to follow wherever their leader led, ready to risk their lives in any enterprise, no matter how reckless. They affiliated readily with Willet's own band, and were not at all averse to being overtaken by the Indian horde.
After dawn they met Tayoga returning with thirty-five men, rather more than they had expected, and also with the news that the train was making great speed in its flight. Willet and Rogers looked over the seventy or more brave fellows, with glistening eyes, and Robert saw very well that, uplifted by their numbers, they were more than anxious for a third combat. In an hour or so they found a place suitable for an ambush, a long ravine, lined and filled with thickets which the wagons evidently had crossed with difficulty, and here they took their stand, all of the force hidden among the bushes and weeds. Robert, at the advice of Willet, lay down in a secure place and went to sleep.
"You're young, lad," he said, "and not as much seasoned in the bark as the rest of us who are older. I'll be sure to wake you when the battle begins, and then you'll be so much the better for a nap that you'll be a very Hercules in the combat."
Robert, trained in wilderness ways, knew that it was best, and he closed his eyes without further ado. When he opened them again it was because the hunter was shaking his shoulder, and he knew by the position of the sun that several hours had passed.
"Have they come?" he asked calmly.
"We've seen their skirmishers in the woods about two hundred yards away," replied the hunter. "I believe they suspect danger here merely because this is a place where danger is likely to be, but 'twill not keep them from attacking. You can hold your rifle ready, lad, but you'll have no use for it for a good quarter of an hour. They'll do a lot of scouting before they try to pass the ravine, but our fellows are happy in the knowledge that they'll try to pass it."
Robert suppressed as much as he could the excitement one was bound to feel at such a time, and ate a little venison to stay him for the combat, imitating the coolness and providence of Tayoga, who was also strengthening his body for the ordeal.
"About noon, isn't it?" he asked of the Onondaga.
"A little after it," Tayoga replied.
"When did they come up?"
"Just now. I too have slept, although my sleep was shorter than yours."
"Have you seen Tandakora or De Courcelles?"
"I caught one glimpse of Tandakora. My bullet will carry far, but alas! it will not carry far enough to reach the Ojibway. It is not the will of Tododaho that he should perish now. As I have said, his day will come, though it is yet far away."
"What will happen here, Tayoga?"
"The forces of Tandakora and De Courcelles will be burned worse than before. The man Rogers, whom some of the Mohawks call the Mountain Wolf, is like a Mohawk warrior himself, always eager to fight. He will want to push the battle and Great Bear, having so many men now, will be willing."
The words of Tayoga came to pass. After a long delay, accompanied by much scouting and attempts to feel out the defense, Tandakora and De Courcelles finally charged the ravine in force and suffered a bitter repulse. Seventy or eighty rifles, aimed by cool and experienced sharpshooters, poured in a fire which they could not withstand, and so many warriors were lost that the Ojibway and the Frenchman retreated. The Great Bear and the Mountain Wolf would not allow their eager men to follow, lest in their turn they fall into an ambush.
Later in the day the Indian horde returned a second time to the attack, with the same result, and when night came Tayoga and several others who went forward to scout reported that they had withdrawn several miles. The white leaders then decided in conference that they had done enough for their purpose, and, after a long rest on their arms, withdrew slowly in the path of the retreating train, ready for another combat, if pursued too closely, but feeling sure that Tandakora and De Courcelles would not risk a battle once more.
They overtook the train late that evening and their welcome was enough to warm their hearts and to repay them for all the hardships and dangers endured. Colden was the first to give them thanks, and his fine young face showed his emotion.
"I'm sorry I couldn't have been back there with you," he said, when he heard the report Robert made; "you had action, and you faced the enemy, while we have merely been running over the hills."
"In truth you've made a good run of it," said Robert, "and as I see it, it was just as necessary for you to run as it was for us to fight. We had great luck, too, in the coming of Rogers and his men."
That night the train, for the first time since it began its flight, made a real camp. Willet, Rogers and all the great foresters thought it safe, as they were coming now so near to the settled regions, and the faces of the pursuers had been scorched so thoroughly. Scouts and skirmishers were thrown out on all sides, and then fires were built of the fallen brushwood that lay everywhere in the forest. The ample supplies in the wagons were drawn upon freely, and the returning victors feasted at their leisure.
It was a happy time for Robert. His imaginative mind responded as usual to time and place. They had won one victory. It was no small triumph to protect the fugitive train, and so they would win many more. He already saw them through the flame of his sanguine temperament, and the glow of the leaping fires helped in the happy effect. All around him were cheerful faces and he heard the chatter of happy voices, their owners happy because they believed themselves released from a great and imminent danger.
"Has anything been heard of Black Rifle?" Robert asked of Tayoga.
"He has not come back," replied the Onondaga, "but they think he will be here in the morning."
The dawn brought instead fifty dusky figures bare to the waist and painted in all the terrible imagery of Indians who go to war. Some of the women cried out in fright, but Tayoga said:
"Have no fear. These be friends. The warriors of our great brother nation, the Ganeagaono, known to you as the Mohawks, have come to aid us."
The leader of the Mohawks was none other than the daring young chief, Daganoweda himself, flushed with pride that he had come to the help of his white brethren, and eager as always for war. He gravely saluted Robert, Willet and Tayoga.
"Dagaeoga is a storm bird," he said. "Wherever he goes battle follows."
"Either that," laughed Robert, "or because I follow battle. How could I keep from following it, when I have Willet on one side of me and Tayoga on the other, always dragging me to the point where the combat rages fiercest?"
"Did you meet Black Rifle?" asked Willet.
"It was he who told us of your great need," replied Daganoweda. "Then while we came on at the speed of runners to help you, he continued north and east in the hope that he would meet Waraiyageh and white troops."
"Do you know if Colonel William Johnson is in this region or near it?"
"He lay to the north with a considerable force, watching for the French and Indians who have been pouring down from Canada since their great taking of scalps by Duquesne. Black Rifle will find him and he will come, because Waraiyageh never deserts his people, but just when he will arrive I cannot say."
Ample food was given to the Mohawks and then, burning for battle, Daganoweda at their head, they went on the back trail in search of Tandakora, De Courcelles and their savage army.
"We could not have a better curtain between us and the enemy," said Willet. "War is their trade and those fifty Mohawks will sting and sting like so many hornets."
The train resumed its flight an hour after sunrise, although more slowly now and with less apprehension, and about the middle of the afternoon the uniforms of Colonial militia appeared in the forest ahead. All set up a great shout, because they believed them to be the vanguard of Johnson. They were not mistaken, as a force of a hundred men, better equipped and drilled than usual, met them, at their head Colonel William Johnson himself, with the fierce young Mohawk eagle, Joseph Brant, otherwise Thayendanegea, at his side. The somber figure of Black Rifle, who had brought him, stood not far away.
Colonel Johnson was in great good humor, thoroughly delighted to find the train safe and to meet such warm friends of his again. He was first presented duly to Captain Colden and his young officers, paid them some compliments on their fine work, talked with them a while and then conversed more intimately with Tayoga, Robert and Willet.
"The train is now entirely safe," he said. "Even if Tandakora and De Courcelles could brush away the screen of the Mohawks, they dare not risk an encounter with such a force as we have here. They will turn aside for easier game."
"And there will be no battle!" exclaimed young Brant, in deep disappointment. "Ah! why did I not have the chance to go forward with my cousin, Daganoweda?"
Colonel Johnson laughed, half in pride and half in amusement, and patted his warlike young Mohawk brother-in-law on the shoulder.
"All in good time, Joseph, my lad," he said. "Remember that you are scarce twelve and you may have fifty years of fighting before you. No one knows how long this conflagration in America may last. As for you, Tayoga and Lennox, and you, Willet, your labors with the train are over. But there is a fierce fire burning in the north, and it is for us to put it out. You have lost one commander, Braddock, but you may find another. I can release you from your obligations to Governor Dinwiddie of Virginia. Will you go with me?"
The three assented gladly, and they saw that their service of danger was but taking a new form.