Chapter VII. On the Great Trail
 

Robert appreciated fully all the dangers they were sure to encounter upon their perilous expedition to the lakes. Having the gift of imagination, he saw them in their most alarming colors, but having a brave heart also, he was more than willing, he was eager to encounter them with his chosen comrades by his side. The necessity of striking some quick and sharp blow became more apparent every hour, or the lakes, so vital in the fortunes of the war, would soon pass into the complete possession of the French and Indians.

The band was chosen and equipped with the utmost care. It included, of course, all of Rogers' rangers, Robert, Tayoga, Willet and Black Rifle, making a total of fifty white men, all of tried courage and inured to the forest. Besides there were fifty Mohawks under Daganoweda, the very pick of the tribe, stalwart warriors, as tough as hickory, experienced in every art of wilderness trail and war, and eager to be at the foe. Every white man was armed with a rifle, a pistol, a hatchet and a knife, carrying also a pouch containing many bullets, a large horn of powder, a blanket folded tightly and a knapsack full of food. The Mohawks were armed to the teeth in a somewhat similar fashion, and, it being midsummer and the weather warm, they were bare to the waist. Rogers, the ranger, was in nominal command of the whole hundred, white and red, but Willet and Daganoweda in reality were on an equality, and since the three knew one another well and esteemed one another highly they were sure to act in perfect coordination. Black Rifle, it was understood, would go and come as he pleased. He was under the orders of no man.

"I give you no instructions," said Colonel William Johnson to the three leaders, "because I know of none to be given under such circumstances. No man can tell what awaits you in the forest and by the lakes. I merely ask you in God's name to be careful! Do not walk into any trap! And yet 'tis foolish of me to warn Robert Rogers, David Willet, Black Rifle and Daganoweda, four foresters who probably haven't their equal in all North America. But we can ill afford to lose you. If you do not see your way to strike a good blow perhaps it would be better to come back and march with the army."

"You don't mean that, William, old friend," said Willet, smiling and addressing him familiarly by his first name. "In your heart you would be ashamed of us if we returned without achieving at least one good deed for our people. And turning from William, my old friend, to Colonel William Johnson, our commander, I think I can promise that a high deed will be achieved. Where could you find a hundred finer men than these, fifty white and fifty red?"

Daganoweda, who understood him perfectly, smiled proudly and glanced at the ranks of Mohawks who stood impassive, save for their eager, burning eyes.

"But be sure to bring back the good lads, Robert and Tayoga," said Mynheer Jacobus Huysman, who stood with Colonel William Johnson. "I would keep them from going, if I could, but I know I cannot and perhaps I am proud of them, because I know they will not listen to me."

King Hendrik of the Mohawks, in his gorgeous colored clothes, was also present, his bronzed and aged face lighted up with the warlike gleam from his eyes. Evidently his mind was running back over the countless forays and expeditions he had led in the course of fifty years. He longed once more for the forests, the beautiful lakes and the great war trail. His seventy years had not quenched his fiery spirit, but they had taken much of his strength, and so he would abide with the army, going with it on its slow march.

"My son," he said, with the gravity and dignity of an old Indian sachem, to Daganoweda, "upon this perilous chance you carry the honor and fortune of the Ganeagaono, the great warlike nation of the Hodenosaunee. It is not necessary for me to bid you do your duty and show to the Great Bear, the Mountain Wolf, Black Rifle and the other white men that a young Mohawk chief will go where any other will go, and if need be will die with all his men before yielding a foot of ground. I do not bid you do these things because I know that you will do them without any words from me, else you would not be a Mohawk chief, else you would not be Daganoweda, son of fire and battle."

Daganoweda smiled proudly. The wise old sachem had struck upon the most responsive chords in his nature.

"I will try to bear myself as a Mohawk should," he said simply.

Colden and Grosvenor were also there.

"I'm sorry our troop can't go with you," said the young Philadelphian, "but I'm not one to question the wisdom and decision of our commander-in-chief. Doubtless we'd be a drag upon such a band as yours, but I wish we could have gone. At least, we'll be with the army which is going to march soon, and perhaps we'll overtake you at Lake George before many days."

"And I," said Grosvenor to Robert and Tayoga, "am serving on the staff of the commander. I'm perhaps the only Englishman here and I'm an observer more than anything else. So I could be spared most readily, but the colonel will not let me go. He says there is no reason why we should offer a scalp without price to Tandakora, the Ojibway."

"And I abide by what I said," laughed Colonel Johnson, who heard. "You're in conditions new to you, Grosvenor, though you've had one tragic and dreadful proof of what the Indians can do, but there's great stuff in you and I'm not willing to see it thrown away before it's developed. Don't be afraid the French and Indians won't give you all the fighting you want, though I haven't the slightest doubt you'll stand up to it like a man."

"Thank you, sir," said Grosvenor, modestly.

The lad, Peter, was also eager to go, and he was soothed only by the promise of Mynheer Jacobus Huysman that he might join the army on the march to Lake George.

Then the leaders gave the word and the hundred foresters, fifty white and fifty red, plunged into the great northern wilderness which stretched through New York into Canada, one of the most beautiful regions on earth, and at that particular time the most dangerous, swarming with ruthless Indians and daring French partisans.

It was remarkable how soon they reached the wilds after leaving Albany. The Dutch had been along the Hudson for more than a century, and the English had come too, but all of them had clung mostly to the river. Powerful and warlike tribes roamed the great northern forests, and the French colonies in the north and the English colonies in the south had a healthy respect for the fighting powers of one another. The doubtful ground between was wide and difficult, and anyone who ventured into it now had peril always beside him.

The forest received the hundred, the white and the red, and hid them at once in its depths. It was mid-summer, but there was yet no brown on the leaves. A vast green canopy overhung the whole earth, and in every valley flowed brooks and rivers of clean water coming down from the firm hills. The few traces made by the white man had disappeared since the war. The ax was gone, and the scalp-hunters had taken its place.

Robert, vivid of mind, quickly responsive to the externals of nature, felt all the charm and majesty that the wilderness in its mightiest manifestations had for him. He did not think of danger yet, because he was surrounded by men of so much bravery and skill. He did not believe that in all the world there was such another hundred, and he was full of pride to be the comrade of such champions.

Daganoweda and the Mohawks reverted at once to the primitive, from which they had never departed much. The young Mohawk chieftain was in advance with Willet. He had a blanket but it was folded and carried in a small pack on his back. He was bare to the waist and his mighty chest was painted in warlike fashion. All his warriors were in similar attire or lack of it.

Daganoweda was happy. Robert saw his black eyes sparkling, and he continually raised his nose to scent the wind like some hunting animal. Robert knew that in his fierce heart he was eager for the sight of a hostile band. The enemy could not come too soon for Daganoweda and the Mohawks. Tayoga's face showed the same stern resolve, but the Onondaga, more spiritual than the Mohawk, lacked the fierceness of Daganoweda.

When they were well into the wilderness they stopped and held a consultation, in which Rogers, Willet, Black Rifle, Daganoweda, Robert and Tayoga shared. They were to decide a question of vital importance--their line of march. They believed that Dieskau and the main French army had not yet reached Crown Point, the great French fortress on Lake Champlain, but there was terrible evidence that the swarms of his savage allies were not only along Champlain but all around Lake George, and even farther south. Unquestionably the French partisan leaders were with them, and where and when would it be best for the American-Iroquois force to strike?

"I think," said Willet, "that St. Luc himself will be here. The Marquis de Vaudreuil, the new Governor General of Canada, knows his merit and will be sure to send him ahead of Dieskau."

Robert felt the thrill that always stirred him at the mention of St. Luc's name. Would they meet once more in the forest? He knew that if the Chevalier came all their own skill and courage would be needed to meet him on equal terms. However kindly St. Luc might feel toward him he would be none the less resolute and far-seeing in battle against the English and Americans.

"I think we should push for the western shore of Andiatarocte," said Willet. "What is your opinion, Daganoweda?"

"The Great Bear is right. He is nearly always right," replied the Mohawk. "If we go along the eastern shore and bear in toward Champlain we might be trapped by the French and their warriors. West of Andiatarocte the danger to us would not be so great, while we would have an equal chance to strike."

"Well spoken, Daganoweda," said Rogers. "I agree with you that for the present it would be wise for us to keep away from Oneadatote (the Indian name for Lake Champlain) and keep to Andiatarocte. The Indians are armed at Crown Point on Oneadatote, which was once our own Fort Saint Frederick, founded by us, but plenty of them spread to the westward and we'll be sure to have an encounter."

The others were of a like opinion, and the line of march was quickly arranged. Then they settled themselves for the night, knowing there was no haste, as the French and Indians would come to meet them, but knowing also there was always great need of caution, since if their foes were sure to come it was well to know just when they would come. The Mohawks asked for the watch, meaning to keep it with three relays of a dozen warriors each, a request that Rogers and Willet granted readily, and all the white forest runners prepared for sleep, save the strange and terrible man whom they commonly called Black Rifle.

Black Rifle, whose story was known in some form along the whole border, was a figure with a sort of ominous fascination for Robert, who could not keep from watching him whenever he was within eye-shot. He had noticed that the man was restless and troubled at Albany. The presence of so many people and the absence of the wilderness appeared to vex him. But since they had returned to the forest his annoyance and uneasiness were gone. He was confident and assured, he seemed to have grown greatly in size, and he was a formidable and menacing figure.

Black Rifle did not watch with the Mohawk sentinels, but he was continually making little trips into the forest, absences of ten or fifteen minutes, and whenever he returned his face bore a slight look of disappointment. Robert knew it was because he had found no Indian sign, but to the lad himself the proof that the enemy was not yet near gave peace. He was eager to go on the great war trail, but he was not fond of bloodshed, though to him more perhaps than to any other was given the vision of a vast war, and of mighty changes with results yet more mighty flowing from those changes. His heart leaped at the belief that he should have a part in them, no matter how small the part.

He lay on the grass with his blanket beneath him, his head on a pillow of dead leaves. Not far away was Tayoga, already asleep. They had built no fires, and as the night was dark the bronze figures of the Indian sentinels soon grew dim. Rogers and Willet also slept, but Robert still lay there awake, seeing many pictures through his wide-open eyes, Quebec, the lost Stadacona of the Mohawks, the St. Lawrence, Tandakora, the huge Ojibway who had hunted him so fiercely, St. Luc, De Courcelles, and all the others who had passed out of his life for a while, though he felt now, with the prescience of old King Hendrik, that they were coming back again. His path would lie for a long time away from cities and the gay and varied life that appealed to him so much, and would lead once more through the wilderness, which also appealed to him, but in another way. Hence when he slept his wonderfully vivid imagination did not permit him to sleep as soundly as the others.

He awoke about midnight and sat up on his blanket, looking around at the sleeping forms, dim in the darkness. He distinguished Tayoga near him, just beyond him the mighty figure of Willet, then that of Rogers, scarcely less robust, and farther on some of the white men. He did not see Black Rifle, but he felt sure that he was in the forest, looking for the signs of Indians and hoping to find them. Daganoweda also was invisible and it was likely that the fiery young Mohawk chief was outside the camp on an errand similar to that of Black Rifle. He was able to trace on the outskirts the figures of the sentinels, shadowy and almost unreal in the darkness, but he knew that the warriors of the Ganeagaono watched with eyes that saw everything even in the dusk, and listened with ears that heard everything, whether night or day.

He fell again into a doze or a sort of half sleep in which Tarenyawagon, the sender of dreams, made him see more pictures and see them much faster than he ever saw them awake. The time of dreams did not last more than half an hour, but in that period he lived again many years of his life. He passed once more through many scenes of his early boyhood when Willet was teaching him the ways of the forest. He met Tayoga anew for the first time, together they went to the house of Mynheer Jacobus Huysman in Albany, and together they went to the school of Alexander McLean; then he jumped over a long period and with Willet and Tayoga had his first meeting with St. Luc and Tandakora. He was talking to the Frenchman when he came out of that period of years which was yet less than an hour, and sat up.

All the others save the sentinels were asleep, but his delicate senses warned him that something was moving in the forest. It was at first an instinct rather than anything seen or heard, but soon he traced against the misty background of the dusk the shadowy figures of moving Mohawks. He saw the tall form of Daganoweda, who had come back from the forest, and who must have come because he had something to tell. Then he made out behind the Mohawk chief, Black Rifle, and, although he could not see his features, the white man nevertheless looked swart and menacing, an effect of the day carried over into the night.

It was Robert's first impulse to lie down again and pretend not to know, but he remembered that he was in the full confidence of them all, a trusted lieutenant, welcomed at any time, anywhere, and so remembering, he arose and walked on light foot to the place where Daganoweda stood talking with the others. The Mohawk chief gave him one favoring glance, telling him he was glad that he had come. Then he returned his attention to a young Indian warrior who stood alert, eager and listening.

"Haace (Panther), where did you find the sign that someone had passed?" he asked.

"Two miles to the north Gao (the wind) brought me a sound," replied Haace. "It was light. It might have been made by the boughs of Oondote (a tree) rubbing together, but the ears of Haace told him it was not so. I crept through Gabada (the forest) to the place, whence the sound had come, and lo! it and whatever had made it were gone, but I found among the bushes traces to show that moccasins had passed."

Fire leaped up in the black eyes of Daganoweda.

"Did you follow?" he asked.

"For a mile, and I found other traces of moccasins passing. The traces met and fused into one trail. All the owners of the moccasins knelt and drank at a Dushote (a spring), and as they were very thirsty they must have come far."

"How do you know, Haace?"

"Because the imprints of their knees were sunk deep in the earth, showing that they drank long and with eagerness. Oneganosa (the water) was sweet to their lips, and they would not have drunk so long had they not been walking many miles. I would have followed further, but I felt that I should come back and tell to my chief, Daganoweda, what I had seen."

"You have done well, Haace. Some day the Panther will turn into a chief."

The black eyes of the young warrior flashed with pleasure, but he said nothing, silence becoming him when he was receiving precious words of praise from his leader.

"I saw sign of the savages too," said Black Rifle. "I came upon the coals of a dead fire about two days' old. By the side of it I found these two red beads that had dropped from the leggings or moccasins of some warrior. I've seen beads of this kind before, and they all come from the French in Canada."

"Then," said Robert, speaking for the first time, "you've no doubt the enemy is near?"

"None in the world," replied Black Rifle, "but I think they're going west, away from us. It's not likely they know yet we're here, but so large a band as ours can't escape their notice long."

"If they did not find that we are here," said Daganoweda proudly, "we would soon tell it to them ourselves, and in such manner that they would remember it."

"That we would," said Black Rifle, with equal emphasis. "Now, what do you think, Daganoweda? Should we wake the Great Bear and the Mountain Wolf?"

"No, Black Rifle. Let them sleep on. They will need tomorrow the sleep they get tonight. Man lives by day in the sleep that he has at night, and we wish the eyes of them all to be clear and the arms of them all to be strong, when the hour of battle, which is not far away, comes to us."

"You're right, Daganoweda, right in both things you say, right that they need all their strength, and right that we'll soon meet St. Luc, at the head of the French and Indians, because I'm as sure as I know that I'm standing here that he's now leading 'em. Shall we finish out the night here, and then follow on their trail until we can bring 'em to battle on terms that suit us?"

"Yes, Black Rifle. That is what the Great Bear and the Mountain Wolf would say too, and so I shall not awake them. Instead, I too will go to sleep."

Daganoweda, as much a Viking as any that ever lived in Scandinavia, lay down among his men and went quickly to the home over which Tarenyawagon presided. Haace, filled with exultation that he had received the high approval of his chief, slid away among the trees on another scout, and, in like manner, the forest swallowed up Black Rifle. Once more the camp was absolutely silent, only the thin and shadowy figures of the bronze sentinels showing through the misty gloom. Robert lay down again and Tarenyawagon, the sender of dreams, held him in his spell. His excited brain, even in sleep, was a great sensitive plate, upon which pictures, vivid and highly colored, were passing in a gorgeous procession.

Now, Tarenyawagon carried him forward and not back. They met St. Luc in battle, and it was dark and bloody. How it ended he did not know, because a veil was dropped over it suddenly, and then he was in the forest with Tayoga, fleeing for his life once more from Tandakora, De Courcelles and their savage band. Nor was it given to him to know how the pursuit ended, because the veil fell again suddenly, and when it was lifted he was in a confused and terrible battle not far from a lake, where French soldiers, American soldiers and English soldiers were mingled in horrible conflict. For some strange reason, one that he wondered at then, he stood among the French, but while he wondered, and while the combat increased in ferocity the veil slipped down and it was all gone like a mist. Then came other pictures, vivid in color, but vague in detail, that might or might not be scenes in his future life, and he awoke at last to find the dawn had come.

Tayoga was already awake and handed him a piece of venison.

"Eat, Dagaeoga," he said, "and drink at the little spring in the wood on our right. I have learned what Haace and Black Rifle saw in the night, and we march in half an hour."

Robert did more than drink at the spring; he also bathed his face, neck and hands at the little brook that ran away from it, and although Tarenyawagon had been busy shifting his kaleidoscope before him while he slept, he was as much refreshed as if he had slumbered without dreams. The dawn, clear but hot in the great forest, brought with it zeal and confidence. They would follow on the trail of the French and Indian leaders, and he believed, as surely as a battle came, that Willet, Rogers, Daganoweda and their men would be the victors.

As soon as the brief and cold breakfast was finished the hundred departed silently. The white rangers wore forest dress dyed green that blended with the foliage, and the Mohawks still wore scarcely anything at all. It was marvelous the way in which they traveled, and it would not have been possible to say that white man or red man was the better. Robert heard now and then only the light brush of a moccasin. A hundred men flitted through the greenwood and they passed like phantoms.

In a brief hour they struck the trail that Haace had found, and followed it swiftly, but with alert eyes for ambush. Presently other little trails flowed into it, some from the east, and some from the west, and the tributaries included imprints, which obviously were those of white men. Then the whole broad trail, apparently a force of about one hundred, curved back toward the west.

"They go to Andiatarocte," said Daganoweda. "Perhaps they meet another force there."

"It's probably so," said Willet. "Knowing that our army is about to advance they wouldn't come to the southwest shore of the lake unless they were in strength. I still feel that St. Luc is leading them, but other Frenchmen are surely with him. It behooves us to use all the caution of which white men and red together are capable. In truth, there must be no ambush for us. Besides the loss which we should suffer it would be a terrible decrease of prestige for it to be known that the Mountain Wolf and Daganoweda, the most warlike of all the chiefs of the Ganeagaono, were trapped by the French and their savage allies."

Willet spoke artfully and the response was instantaneous. The great chest of Daganoweda swelled, and a spark leaped from his eyes.

"It will never be told of us," he said, "because it cannot happen. There are not enough of the French and their savage allies in the world to trap the Great Bear, the Mountain Wolf, Daganoweda, and the lads Tayoga and Dagaeoga."

Willet smiled. It was the reply that he had expected. Moreover, both his words and those of the chief were heard by many warriors, and he knew that they would respond in every fiber to the battle cry of their leader. His contemptuous allusion to the allies of the French as "savages" met a ready response in their hearts, since the nations of the Hodenosaunee considered themselves civilized and enlightened, which, in truth, they were in many respects.

Robert always remembered the place at which they held their brief council. They stood in a little grove of oaks and elms, clear of underbrush. The trees were heavy with foliage, and the leaves were yet green. The dawn had not yet fully come, and the heavens, save low down in the east, were still silver, casting a silvery veil which gave an extraordinary and delicate tint to the green of foliage. In the distance on the right was the gleam of water, silver like the skies, but it was one of the beautiful lakelets abundant in that region and not yet Andiatarocte, which was still far away. The bronze figures of the Indians, silent and impassive as they listened to their chief, fitted wonderfully into the wilderness scene, and the white men in forest green, their faces tanned and fierce, were scarcely less wild in look and figure. Robert felt once more a great thrill of pride that he had been chosen a member of such a company.

They talked less than five minutes. Then Black Rifle, alone as usual because he preferred invariably to be alone, disappeared in the woods to the right of the great trail. Three young warriors, uncommonly swift of foot, soon followed him, and three more as nimble of heel as the others, sank from sight in the forest to the left. Both right and left soon swallowed up several of the rangers also, who were not inferior as scouts and trailers to the Mohawks.

"The wings of our force are protected amply now," said Tayoga, in his precise school English. "When such eyes as those of our flankers are looking and watching, no ambush against us is possible. Now our main force will advance with certainty."

Twenty men had been sent out as scouts and the remaining eighty, eager for combat, white and red, advanced on the main trail, not fast but steadily. Now and then the cries of bird or beast, signals from the flankers, came from right or left, and the warriors with Daganoweda responded.

"They are telling us," said Tayoga to Robert, "that they have not yet found a hostile presence. The enemy has left behind him no skirmishers or rear guard. It may be that we shall not overtake them until we approach the lake or reach it."

"How do you know that we will overtake them at all, Tayoga? They may go so fast that we can't come up."

"I know it, Dagaeoga, because if they are led by St. Luc, and I think they are, they will not try to get away. If they believe we are not about to overtake them they will wait for us at some place they consider good."

"You're probably right, Tayoga, and it's likely that we'll be in battle before night. One would think there is enough country here on this continent for the whole world without having the nations making war over any part of it. As I have said before, here we are fighting to secure for an English king or a French king mountains and lakes and rivers and forests which neither of them will ever see, and of the existence of which, perhaps, they don't know."

"And as I have told you before, Dagaeoga, the mountains and lakes and rivers and forests for which the English and French kings have their people fight, belong to neither, but to the great League of the Hodenosaunee and other red nations."

"That's true, Tayoga. Sometimes I'm apt to forget it, but you know I'm a friend of the Hodenosaunee. If I had the power I'd see that never an acre of their country was filched from them by the white men."

"I know it well, Dagaeoga."

The pursuit continued all the morning, and the great trail left by the French and Indians broadened steadily. Other trails flowed into and merged with it, and it became apparent that the force pursued was larger than the force pursuing. Yet Willet, Rogers and Daganoweda did not flinch, clinging to the trail, which now led straight toward Andiatarocte.