The Rulers of the Lakes by Joseph A. Altsheler
Chapter IX. On Andiatarocte
Robert, as was natural, swam by the side of Tayoga, his comrade in so many hardships and dangers, and, after the long period of tense and anxious waiting, he felt a certain relief that the start was made, even though it was a start into the very thick of peril.
Willet was on the right wing of the swimming column and Daganoweda was on the left, the white leader and the red understanding each other thoroughly, and ready to act in perfect unison. Beneath the hovering mists and above the surface of the water, the bronze faces of the Mohawks and the brown faces of the rangers showed, eager and fierce. There was not one among them whose heart did not leap, because he was chosen for such a task.
Robert felt at first a chill from the water, as Andiatarocte, set among its northern mountains, is usually cold, but after a few vigorous strokes the blood flowed warm in his veins again, and the singular exciting quality with which the mists and vapors seemed to be surcharged entered his mind also. The great pulse in his throat leaped, and the pulses in his temples beat hard. His sensitive and imaginative mind, that always went far ahead of the present, had foreseen all the dangers, and, physically at least, he had felt keen apprehension when he stepped into the lake. But now it was gone. Youth and the strong comrades around him gave imagination another slant, allowing it to paint wonderful deeds achieved, and victory made complete.
His eyes, which in his condition of superheated fancy enlarged or intensified everything manifold, saw a flash of light near him. It was merely Tayoga drawing his knife from his belt and putting the blade between his teeth, where the whitish mist that served for illumination had thrown back a reflection. He glanced farther down the swimming line and saw that many others had drawn their hunting knives and had clasped them between their teeth, where they would be ready for instant use. Mechanically he did likewise, and he felt something flow from the cold steel into his body, heating his blood and inciting him to battle. He knew at the time that it was only imagination, but the knowledge itself took nothing from the power of the sensation. He became every instant more eager for combat.
It seemed that Tayoga caught glimpses of his comrade's face and with his Onondaga insight read his mind.
"Dagaeoga, who wishes harm to nobody, now craves the battle, nevertheless," he said, taking the knife from between his teeth for a moment or two.
"I'm eager to be in it as soon as I can in order to have it over as soon as we can," said Robert, imitating him.
"You may think the answer wholly true, though it is only partly so. There come times when the most peaceful feel the incitement of war."
"I believe it's the strangeness of the night, the quality of the air we breathe and that singular veiling of the sun just when we wished it, and as if in answer to our prayers."
"That is one of the reasons, Dagaeoga. We cannot see Areskoui, because he is on the other side of the world now, but he turned his face toward us and bade us go and win. Nor can we see Tododaho on his star, because of the mighty veil that has been drawn between, but the great Onondaga chief who went away to eternal life more than four hundred centuries ago still watches over his own, and I know that his spirit is with us."
"Can you see the island yet, Tayoga? My eyes make out a shadow in the mist, but whether it's land, or merely a darker stream of vapor, I can't tell."
"I am not sure either, but I do not think it is land. The island is four hundred yards away, and the mist is so thick that neither the earth itself nor the trees and bushes would yet appear through it."
"You must be right, and we're swimming slowly, too, to avoid any splashing of the water that would alarm St. Luc's sentinels. At what point do you think we'll approach the island, Tayoga?"
"From the north, because if they are expecting us at all they will look for us from the west. See, Daganoweda already leads in the curve toward the north."
"It's so, Tayoga. I can barely make out his figure, but he has certainly changed our course. I don't know whether it's my fancy or not, but I seem to feel a change, too, in the quality of the air about us. A stream of new and stronger air is striking upon the right side of my face, that is, the side toward the south."
"It is reality and not your fancy, Dagaeoga. A wind has begun to blow out of the south and west. But it does not blow away the vapors. It merely sends the columns and waves of mist upon one another, fusing them together and then separating them again. It is the work of Areskoui. Though there is now a world between us and him he still watches over us and speeds us on to a great deed. So, Dagaeoga, the miracle of the sky is continued into the night, and for us. Areskoui will clothe us in a mighty blanket of mist and water and fire."
The Onondaga's face was again the rapt face of a seer, and his words were heavy with import like those of a prophet of old.
"Listen!" he said. "It is Areskoui himself who speaks!"
Robert shivered, but it was not from the cold of the water. It was because a mighty belief that Tayoga spoke the truth had entered his soul, and what the Onondaga believed he, too, believed with an equal faith.
"I hear," he replied.
A low sound, deep and full of menace, came out of the south, and rumbled over Andiatarocte and all the mountains about it. It was the voice of thunder, but Tayoga and Robert felt that its menace was not for them.
"One of the sudden storms of the lake comes," said the Onondaga. "The mists will be driven away now, but the clouds in their place will be yet darker, Areskoui still holds his shrouding blanket before us."
"But the lightning which will come soon, Tayoga, and which you meant, when you spoke of fire, will not that unveil us to the sentinels of St. Luc?"
"No, because only our heads are above the water and at a little distance they are blended with it. Yet the same flashes of fire will disclose to us their fleet and show us our way to it. Andiatarocte has already felt the wind in the south and is beginning to heave and surge."
Robert felt the lake lift him up on a wave and then drop him down into a hollow, but he was an expert swimmer, and he easily kept his head on the surface. The thunder rumbled again. There was no crash, it was more like a deep groan coming up out of the far south. The waters of Andiatarocte lifted themselves anew, and wave after wave pursued one another northward. A wind began to blow, straight and strong, but heavy floating clouds came in its train, and the darkness grew so intense that Robert could not see the face of Tayoga beside him.
Daganoweda called from the north end of the swimming line, and the word was passed from Mohawk and ranger until Willet at the south end replied. All were there. Not a man, white or red, had dropped out, and not one would.
"In a minute or two the lightning will show the way," said Tayoga.
As the last word left his lips a flaming sword blazed across the lake, and disclosed the island, wooded and black, not more than two hundred yards distant, and the dim shadows of canoes and boats huddled against the bank. Then it was gone and the blackness, thicker and heavier than ever, settled down over island, lake and mountain. But Robert, Tayoga and all the others had seen the prize they were seeking, and their course lay plain before them now.
Robert's emotion was so intense and his mind was concentrated so powerfully upon the object ahead that he was scarcely conscious of the fact that he was swimming. An expert in the water, he kept afloat without apparent effort, and the fact that he was one of fifty all doing the same thing gave him additional strength and skill. The lightning flashed again, blue now, almost a bar of violet across the sky, tinting the waters of the lake with the same hue, and he caught another glimpse of the Indian fleet drawn up against the shore, and of the Indian sentinels, some sitting in the boats, and others standing on the land.
Then the wind strengthened, and he felt the rain upon his face. It was a curious result, but he sank a little deeper in the water to shelter himself from the storm. Light waves ran upon the surface of the lake, and his body lifted with them. The fleet could not be more than a hundred yards away now, and his heart began to throb hard with the thought of imminent action. Yet he knew that he was in a mystic and unreal world. His singular position, the night, the coming of the storm with its swift alternations of light and blackness, heated his blood and imagination until he saw many things that were not, and did not see some that were. He saw a triumph and the capture of the Indian fleet, and in his eager anticipation he failed to see the dangers just ahead.
The air grew much colder and the rain beat upon his face like hail. The thunder which had rumbled almost incessantly, like a mighty groaning, now ceased entirely, and the last flash of lightning burned across the lake. It showed the fleet of the foe not more than fifty yards away now, and, so far as Robert could tell, the Indian sentinels had yet taken no alarm. Three were crouched in the boats with their blankets drawn about their shoulders to protect them from the cold rain, and the four who had been standing on the land were huddled under the trees with their blankets wrapped about their bodies also.
"Do you think we'll really reach the fleet unobstructed?" whispered Robert to Tayoga.
"It does not seem possible," the Onondaga whispered back. "The favor of Areskoui is great to us, but the miracle he works in our behalf could hardly go so far. Now the word comes from both Daganoweda and the Great Bear, and we swim faster. The rain, too, grows and it drives in sheets, but it is well for us that it does so. Rifles and muskets cannot be used much in the storm, but our knives and tomahawks can. Perhaps this rain is only one more help that Areskoui has sent to us."
The swimming line was approaching fast, and a few more strokes would bring them to the canoes, when one of the warriors on the land suddenly came from the shelter of his tree, leaned forward a little and peered intently from under his shading hand. He had seen at last the dark heads on the dark water, and springing back he uttered a fierce whoop.
"Now we swim for our lives and victory!" said Tayoga.
Willet and Daganoweda, attempting no farther concealment, cried to their men to hurry. In a moment more the boarders were among the boats. Robert shut his eyes as the knives flashed in the dusk, and the dead bodies of the sentinels were thrown into the water. He seized the side of a long canoe, which he gladly found to be empty, pulled himself in, to discover Tayoga sitting just in front of him, paddle in hand also. All around him men, red and white, were laying hold of canoes and boats and at the edge of the water the sentinels were attacking.
On the island a terrific turmoil arose. Despite the rain a great fire flared up as the forces of St. Luc kindled some bonfire anew, and they heard him shouting in French and more than one Indian language to his men. They heard also heavy splashes, as the warriors leaped into the water to defend their fleet. A dark figure rose up by the side of the boat in which young Lennox and his comrade sat. The knife of Tayoga flashed and Robert involuntarily shut his eyes. When he opened them again the dark figure was gone, and the knife was back in the Onondaga's belt.
St. Luc, although surprised again, was rallying his men fast. The French were shouting their battle cries, the Indians were uttering the war whoop, as they poured down to the edge of the island, leaping into the lake to save their fleet. The water was filled with dusky forms, Mohawk and Huron met in the death grasp, and sometimes they found their fate beneath the waters, held tight in the arms of each other. Confused and terrible struggles for the boats ensued, and in the darkness and rain it was knife and hatchet and then paddles, which many snatched up and used as clubs.
Above the tumult Robert heard the trumpet tones of St. Luc cheering his men and directing them. Once he caught a glimpse of him standing up to his knees in the water, waving the small gold-hilted sword that he carried so often, and he might have brought him down with a bullet had he carried a rifle, but he would have had no thought of drawing trigger upon him. Then he was gone in the mist, and the gigantic painted figure of Tandakora appeared in his place for a moment. Then the mists closed in for a second time, and he saw through it only fleeting forms and flashes of fire, when rifles and muskets were fired by the enemy.
His feeling of unreality increased. The elements themselves had conspired to lend to everything a tinge weird and sinister to the last degree. There was a lull for a little in the wind and rain, but Andiatarocte was heaving, and great waves were chasing one another over the surface of the water, after threatening to overturn the canoes and boats for which both sides fought so fiercely. The thunder began to mutter again, furnishing a low and menacing under note like the growling of cannon in battle. Occasional streaks of lightning flashed anew across the lake, revealing the strained faces of the combatants and tinging the surface of the waters with red. Then both thunder and lightning ceased again, and wind and rain came with a renewed sweep and roar.
Robert and Tayoga still occupied their captured long boat alone, and they hovered near the edge of the battle, not ready to withdraw with the prize until their entire force, whether victor or vanquished, turned back from the island. Now and then Robert struck with his tomahawk at some foe who came swimming to the attack, but, as the violence of the storm grew, both he and Tayoga were compelled to take up their paddles, and use all their skill to keep the boat from being capsized. The shouting and the shots and the crash of the storm made a turmoil from which he could detach little, but he knew that the keen eyes of the Onondaga, dusk or no dusk, confusion or no confusion, would pierce to the heart of things.
"What do you see, Tayoga?" he exclaimed. "How goes the battle?"
"I cannot see as much as I wish, Dagaeoga, but it turns in our favor. I saw the Great Bear just then in a boat, and when the lightning flared last I saw Daganoweda in another. Beware, Dagaeoga! Beware!"
His shout of warning was just in time. A figure rose out of the water beside their boat, and aimed a frightful blow at him with a tomahawk. It was an impulse coming chiefly from the words of Tayoga, but Robert threw himself flat in the boat and the keen weapon whistled through the empty air. He sprang up almost instantly, and, not having time to draw either hatchet or knife, struck with his clenched fist at the dark face glaring over the side of the boat. It was a convulsive effort, and the fist was driven home with more than natural power. The figure disappeared like a stone dropped into the water.
Despite the dusk, Robert had seen the countenance, and he recognized the sinister features of the French spy whom they had tried to catch in Albany, the man whose name he had no doubt was Achille Garay. He had felt a fierce joy when his fist came into contact with his face, but he was quite sure the spy had not perished. Hardy men of the wilderness did not die from a blow with the naked hand. The water would revive him, and he would quickly come up again to fight elsewhere.
Tayoga leaned over suddenly and pulled in a dusky figure dripping with wounds, a Mohawk warrior, hurt badly and sure to have been lost without quick help. There was no time to bind up his hurts, as the combat was growing thicker and fiercer, and they drove their boat into the middle of it, striking out with hatchet and knife whenever an enemy came within reach.
A shrill whistle presently rose over all the noise of battle, and it seemed to have a meaning in it.
"What is it, Tayoga?" shouted Robert.
"It is the whistle of the Great Bear himself, and I have no doubt it is a signal to retire. Reason tells me, too, that it is so. We have captured as much of the enemy's fleet as we may at this time, and we must make off with it lest we be destroyed ourselves."
The whistle still rose shrill, penetrating and insistent, and at the other end of the line Daganoweda began to shout commands to the Ganeagaono. Robert and Tayoga paddled away from the island, and on either side of them they saw canoes and boats going in the same direction. Flashes of fire came from the land, where the French and Indians, raging up and down, sought to destroy those who had captured most of their fleet. But the darkness made their aim uncertain, almost worthless, and only two or three of the invaders were struck, none mortally. Twenty canoes and boats were captured, and the venture was a brilliant success. Areskoui had not worked his miracles in vain, and a triumphant shout, very bitter for the enemy, burst from rangers and Mohawks. Willet, alone in a captured canoe, paddled swiftly up and down the line, seeing like a good commander what the losses and gains might be, and also for personal reasons peering anxiously through the dusk for something that he hoped to see. Suddenly he uttered a low cry of pleasure.
"Ah, it is you, Robert!" he exclaimed. "And you, Tayoga! And both unhurt!"
"Yes, except for scratches," replied Robert. "I think that Tayoga's Areskoui was, in very truth, watching over us, and watching well. In the darkness and confusion all the bullets passed us by, but I was attacked at the boat's edge by a Frenchman, the one whom I saw in Albany, the one who I am quite sure is Achille Garay. Luck saved me."
"Some day we'll deal with that Achille Garay," said the hunter, "but now we must draw off in order, and see to our wounded."
He passed on in his canoe, and met Daganoweda in another. The young Mohawk chieftain was dripping from seven wounds, but they were all in the shoulders and forearms and were slight, and they were a source of pride to him rather than inconvenience.
"'Twas well done, Daganoweda," said Willet.
"It is a deed of which the Ganeagaono in their castles will hear with pride," said the Mohawk. "The fleet of Onontio and his warriors, or most of it, is ours, and we dispute with them the rulership of the lake."
"Great results, worthy of such a risk. I'm sorry we didn't take every boat and canoe, because then we might have cooped up St. Luc on his island, and have destroyed his entire force."
"It is given to no man, Great Bear, to achieve his whole wish. We have done as much as we hoped, and more than we expected."
"True, Daganoweda! True! What are your losses?"
"Nine of my men have been slain, but they fell as warriors of the Ganeagaono would wish to fall. Two more will die and others are hurt, but they need not be counted, since they will be in any other battle that may come. And what have you suffered, Great Bear?"
"Five of the rangers have gone into the hereafter, another will go, and as for the hurt, like your Mohawks they'll be good for the next fight, no matter how soon it comes. We'd better go along the line, Daganoweda, and caution them all to be steady. The wind and rain are driving hard and Andiatarocte is heaving mightily. We don't want to lose a man or a canoe."
"No, Great Bear, after taking the fleet in battle we must not give it up to the waters of the lake. See, the flare of a great fire on the mainland! The Mountain Wolf and the rest of the men await us with joy."
Then Daganoweda achieved a feat which Willet himself would have said a moment before was impossible. He stood suddenly upright in his rocking canoe, whirled his paddle around his head, and uttered a tremendous shout, long and thrilling, that pierced far above the roar of wind and rain. Then Mohawks and rangers took it up in a tremendous chorus, and the force of Rogers on land joined in, too, adding to the mighty volume. When it sank into the crash and thunder of the storm, a shrill whoop of defiance came from the island.
"Are they trying pursuit?" asked Robert.
"They would not dare," replied Tayoga. "They do not know, of course, that we have only the edges of our tomahawks and hunting knives with which to meet them, and even in the darkness they dread our rifles."
Robert glanced back, catching only the dark outline of the island through the rain and fog, and that, too, for but a moment, as then the unbroken dark closed in, and wind and rain roared in his ears. He realized for the first time, since their departure on the great adventure, that he was without clothes, and as the fierce tension of mind and body began to relax he felt cold. The rain was driving upon him in sheets and he began to paddle with renewed vigor in order to keep up his circulation.
"I'll welcome the fire, Tayoga," he said.
"And I, too," said the Onondaga in his precise fashion. "The collapse is coming after our mighty efforts of mind and body. We will not reach shore too soon. The Mountain Wolf and his men build the fire high, so high that it can defy the rain, because they know we will need it."
A shout welcomed them as they drew in to the mainland, and the spectacle of the huge fire, sputtering and blazing in the storm, was grateful to Robert. All the captured boats and canoes were drawn out of the water, well upon the shore, and then, imitating a favorite device of the Indians, they inverted the long boats, resting the ends on logs before the fires, and sat or stood under them, sheltered from the rain, while they warmed white or brown bodies in the heat of the flames.
"'Twas a great achievement, Dave," said Rogers to Willet, "and improves our position wonderfully, but 'twas one of the hardest things I've ever had to do to stand here, just waiting and listening to the roar of the battle."
"Tayoga says we were helped by Areskoui, and we must have been helped by some power greater than our own. We paid a price for our victory, though it wasn't too high, and tomorrow we'll see what St. Luc will do. 'Tis altogether possible that we may have a naval fight."
"It's so, Dave, but this is a fine deed you and Daganoweda and your men have done."
"Nothing more than you would have done, Rogers, if you had been in our place."
They spoke in ordinary tones, being men too much hardened to danger and mighty tasks to show emotion. Robert stood under the same inverted boat that sheltered them, and he heard their words in a kind of daze, his brain still benumbed after the long and terrible test. But it was a pleasant numbing, a provision of nature, a sort of rest that was akin to sleep.
The storm had not abated a particle. Wind and rain roared across Andiatarocte and along the slopes and over the mountains. The waters of the lake whenever they were disclosed were black and seething, and all the islands were invisible.
Robert looked mostly at the great fire that crackled and blazed so near. It was fed continually by Indians and rangers, who did not care for the rain, and it alone defied the storm. The sheets of rain, poured upon it, seemed to have no effect. The coals merely hissed as if it were oil instead of water, and the flames leaped higher, deep red at the heart and often blue at the edges.
Robert had never seen a more beautiful fire, a vast core of warmth and light that challenged alike darkness, wind and rain. There had been a time, so he had heard, in the remote, dim ages when man knew nothing of fire. It might have been true, but he did not see how man could have existed, and certainly no cheer ever came into his life. He turned himself around, as if he were broiling on a spit, and heated first one side and then the other, until the blood in his veins sparkled with new life and vigor. Then he dressed, still pervaded by that enormous feeling of comfort and content, and ate of the food that Rogers ordered to be served to the returned and refreshed men. He also resumed his rifle and pistol, but kept his seat under the inverted boat, where the rain could not reach him.
He would have slept, but the ground was too wet, and he waited with the others for the approach of day and the initiative of St. Luc. The rangers and Mohawks had made the first move, and it was now for the French leader to match it. Robert wondered what St. Luc would attempt, but that he would try something he never doubted for a moment.
A log was rolled beneath the long boat under which the leaders stood, and, spreading their blankets over it, they sat down on it. There was room at the end for Robert and Tayoga, too, and Robert found that his comfort increased greatly. He was in a kind of daze, that was very soothing, and yet he saw everything that went on around him. But he still looked mostly at the great fire which zealous hands fed and which stood up a pillar of light in the darkness and cold. He reflected dimly that it was a beautiful fire, a magnificent, a most magnificent fire. How the first man who saw the first fire must have rejoiced in it!
Toward morning the wind sank, and the sheets of rain grew thinner. Once or twice thunder moaned in the southwest, and there were occasional streaks of lightning, but they were faint, and merely disclosed fleeting strips of a black lake and a black forest.
"Before the sun rises the storm will be gone," said Tayoga. "The miracle that Areskoui worked in our behalf is finished, and the rest must be done by our own courage and skill. Who are we to ask more for ourselves than the Sun God has done?"
"We've been splendidly favored," said Robert, "and if he does not help us with another miracle he'll at least shine for us before long. After such a night as this, I'll be mighty glad to see the day, the green mountains, and the bright waters of Andiatarocte again."
"I feel the dawn already, Dagaeoga. The rain, as you see, has almost stopped, and the troubled wind will now be still. The storm will pass away, and it will leave not a mark, save a fallen tree here and there."
Tayoga's words came true. In a half hour both wind and rain died utterly, and they breathed an air clean and sweet, as if the world had been washed anew. A touch of silver appeared on the eastern mountains, and then up came the dawn, crisp and cool after the storm, and the world was more splendid and beautiful than ever. The green on slopes and ridges had been deepened and the lake was all silver in the morning light.
The islands stood up, sharp and clear, and there were the forces of St. Luc still on his island, and Rogers, through his powerful glasses, was able to make out the French leader himself walking about, while white men and Indians were lighting the fires on which they expected to cook their breakfasts.
Several boats and canoes were visible drawn upon the shore, showing that St. Luc had saved a portion of his fleet, and it appeared that he and his men did not fear another attack, or perhaps they wanted it. Meanwhile rangers and Mohawks prepared their own breakfasts and awaited with patience the word of their leaders. Apparently there was nothing but peace. It was a camping party on the island and another on the mainland, and the waters of the lake danced in the sunshine, reflecting one brilliant color after another.
"Reenforcements are coming for St. Luc," said Robert, who saw black specks on the lake to the eastward of the island. "I think that's a fleet of Indian canoes."
"It's what I expected," said Tayoga. "The French and their allies had complete control of Andiatarocte until we appeared, and it is likely, when the storm began to die, Sharp Sword sent for the aid that is now coming."
The canoes soon showed clear outlines in the intense sunlight, and, as well as Rogers could judge through his glasses, they brought about fifty men, ten of whom were Frenchmen. But there were no long boats, a fact at which they all rejoiced, as in a naval battle the canoes would be at a great disadvantage opposed to the heavier craft.
"When do you think it best to make the attack?" Willet asked the leader of the rangers.
"Within an hour," replied Rogers. "If we had been in condition we might have gone at them before their help came, but it was wise to let the men rest a little after last night's struggle."
"And it will be better for our purpose to beat two forces instead of one."
"So it will, and that's the right spirit, Dave. You can always be depended upon to take the cheerful view of things. It's good, old friend, for us to be together again, doing our best."
"So it is, and it's a time that demands one's best. The world's afire, and our part of it is burning with the rest. What do your glasses tell you now?"
"The reenforcements are landing on the island. St. Luc himself has gone forward to meet them. He's a fine leader. He impresses red men and white men alike, and he'll make the new force feel that it's the most important and timely in the world. Have you found anything in the woods, Black Rifle?"
"No," replied the swart forester, who had been circling about the camp. "Nobody is there. It's just ourselves and the fellows out there on the island."
"Do you see any more canoes, Rogers, coming to the help of St. Luc?" asked Willet.
The ranger searched long and carefully over the surface of the lake with his strong glasses and then replied:
"Not a canoe. If they have any more force afloat it's too far in the north to reach here in time. We've all of our immediate enemy before us, and we'll attack at once."
The boats and canoes were lifted into the water and the little force made ready for the naval battle.