The Hunters of the Hills

by Joseph A. Altsheler

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Chapter VI. The Two Frenchmen

When the three were left alone in the glade the hunter turned to young Lennox.

"You've done good work today, Robert," he said. "I didn't know you had in you the makings of an orator and diplomatist. The governor of New York did better than he knew when he chose you for one of this mission."

Robert blushed again at praise and modestly protested.

"Lennox has found that for which he is best fitted," said Tayoga, slyly.

"If I'm to talk without end I'll do my best," said Robert, laughing, "and I suggest that we resume our journey now. There doesn't appear to be any further danger from the Indians who besieged us."

"You're right about it, Robert," said the hunter. "The coming of the Mohawks has put a barrier between us and them. I've an idea that Dayohogo and his warriors won't go far toward Ticonderoga, but will soon turn south to meet those savages and acquire a few scalps if they can, and if they do meet 'em I hope they'll remove that Ojibway, Tandakora, who I think is likely to make us a lot of trouble."

Willet never spoke of the Iroquois as "savages," but he often applied the term to the Canadian and Western Indians. Like Robert, he regarded those who had built up the great political and military power of the Hodenosaunee as advanced, and, in a sense, civilized nations.

"I think my friend, the Great Bear, is right," said Tayoga. "Unless Tandakora and his band have gone toward the west it is likely that Dayohogo will meet them, and they cannot stand before the Mohawks."

"I think it more probable," said Robert, "that after the failure to destroy us Tandakora went back to St. Luc, giving a false explanation of his absence or none at all, just as he pleased."

"It may be so," said Tayoga, "but I have another opinion."

While they talked they were taking the canoe from its shelter, and then they bore it down to the river again, putting it back into the stream and listening with pleasure to the gurgle of the water by its sides.

"Paddling isn't the easiest work in the world," said Willet with satisfaction, "but when you're used to it your muscles can stand it a long time, and it's far ahead of walking. Now, ho for Canada!"

"Ho for Canada!" said Robert, and the three paddles flashed again in the clear water. The canoe once more became a live thing and shot down the stream. They were still in the wilderness, racing between solid banks of green forest, and they frequently saw deer and bear drinking at the edge of the river, while the foliage was vivid with color, and musical with the voices of singing birds.

Robert had a great elation and he had reason to be satisfied with himself. They had triumphed over the dangers of the gorge and savage siege, and he had sowed fruitful seed in the mind of Dayohogo, the powerful Mohawk chief. He had also come to a realization of himself, knowing for the first time that he had a great gift which might carry him far, and which might be of vast service to his people.

Therefore, the world was magnificent and beautiful. The air of forest and mountain was keen with life. His lungs expanded, all his faculties increased in power, and his figure seemed to grow. Swelling confidence bore him on. He was anxious to reach Quebec and fulfill his mission. Then he would go back to the vale of Onondaga and match himself against the clever St. Luc or any other spokesman whom the Marquis Duquesne might choose to send.

But his golden dreams were of Quebec, which was a continuous beacon and lure to him. Despite a life spent chiefly in the woods, which he loved, he always felt the distant spell of great capitals and a gorgeous civilization. In the New World Quebec came nearer than any other city to fulfilling this idea. There the nobles of France, then the most glittering country in the world, came in silks and laces and with gold hilted swords by their sides. The young French officers fought with a jest on their lips, but always with skill and courage, as none knew better than the British colonials themselves. There was a glow and glamor about Quebec which the sober English capitals farther south did not have. It might be the glow and glamor of decay, but people did not know it then, although they did know that the Frenchman, with his love of the forest and skill in handling the Indians, was a formidable foe.

"When do you think we'll reach the St. Lawrence, Dave?" he asked.

"In two or three days if we're not attacked again," replied the hunter, "and then we'll get a bigger boat and row down the river to Quebec."

"Will they let us pass?"

"Why shouldn't they? There's no war, at least not yet."

"That battle back there in the gorge may not have been war, but it looked precisely like it."

The hunter laughed deep in his throat, and it was a satisfied laugh.

"It did look like it," he said, "and it was war, red war, but nobody was responsible for it. The Marquis Duquesne, the Governor General of Canada, who is Onontio to our Iroquois, will raise his jeweled hand, and protest that he knew nothing about those Indians, that they were wild warriors from the west, that none of his good, pious Indians of Canada could possibly have been among them. And the Intendant, Francois Bigot, the most corrupt and ambitious man in North America, will say that they obtained no rifles, no muskets, no powder, no lead from him or his agents. Oh, no, these fine French gentlemen will disown the attack upon us, as they would have disavowed it, just the same, if we had been killed. I want to warn you, Robert, and you, Tayoga, that when you reach Quebec you'll breathe an air that's not that of the woods, nor yet of Albany or New York. It's a bit of old Europe, it's a reproduction on a small scale of the gorgeous Versailles over there that's eating the heart out of France. The Canadian Frenchman is a good man, brave and enduring, as I ought to know, but he's plundered and fooled by those people who come from France to make fame or quick fortunes here."

He spoke with earnestness, but not as a hunter. Rather he seemed now to Robert, despite his forest dress, to be a man of the world, one who understood cities as well as the wilderness.

"I don't know all your life, Dave," said young Lennox, "but I'm quite sure you know a great deal more than you would have people to think. Sometimes I believe you've been across the great water."

"Then you believe right, Robert. I never told you in so many words before, but I've been in Europe. I'll talk to you about it another time, not now, and I'll choose where and when."

He spoke so positively that Robert did not pursue the topic, knowing that if the hunter wished to avoid it he had good reasons. Yet he felt anew that David Willet, called the Great Bear by the Iroquois, had not spent his whole life in the woods and that when the time came he could tell a tale. There was always the fact that Willet spoke excellent English, so unlike the vernacular of the hunters.

The afternoon was waning fast. The sun was setting in an ocean of fire that turned the blue line of the mountains in the east to red. The slope of the land made the current of the river much swifter, and Robert and Willet drew in their paddles, leaving the work to Tayoga alone, who sat in the prow and guided their light craft with occasional strokes, letting the stream do the rest.

There was no more expert canoeman than Tayoga in the whole northern wilderness. A single sweep of his paddle would send the canoe to any point he wished, and apparently it was made without effort. There was no shortening of the breath nor any sudden and violent movement of his figure. It was all as smooth and easy as the flowing of the water itself. It seemed that Tayoga was doing nothing, and that the canoe once more was alive, the master of its own course.

The ocean of fire faded into a sea of gray, and then black night came, but the canoe sped on in the swift current toward the St. Lawrence. It was still the wilderness. The green forest on either side of the stream was unbroken. No smoke from a settler's chimney trailed across the sky. It was the forest as the Indian had known it for centuries. Robert, sitting in the center of the canoe, quit dreaming of great cities and came back to his own time and place. He felt the majesty of all that surrounded him, but he was not lonely, nor was he oppressed. Instead, the night, the great forest, the swift river and the gliding canoe appealed to his sensitive and highly imaginative mind. He was uplifted and he felt the confidence and elation that contribute so much to success.

It was characteristic of the three, so diverse in type, and yet knitted so closely together in friendship, that they would talk much at times and at other times have silence long and complete. Now, neither spoke for at least three hours. Tayoga, in the prow, made occasional strokes of his paddle, but the current remained swift and the speed of the canoe was not slackened. The young Onondaga devoted most of his time to watching. Much wreckage from storms or the suction of flood water often floated on the surface of these wild rivers, and his keen eyes searched for trunk or bough or snag. They also scanned at intervals the green walls speeding by on either side, lest they might pass some camp fire and not notice it, but finding no lighter note in the darkness he felt sure that no hostile bands were near.

About midnight the force of the current began to abate and Robert and Willet used the paddles. The darkness also thinned. The rainless clouds drifted away and disclosed a full moon, which turned the dusk of the water to silver. The stars came out in cluster after cluster and the skies became a shining blue. The wilderness revealed itself in another and splendid phase, and Robert saw and admired.

"How long will we go on, Dave?" The words were his and they were the first to break the long silence.

"Until nearly daylight," replied Willet. "Then we can land, take the canoe into the bushes and rest. What do you say, Tayoga?"

"It is good," replied the Onondaga. "We are not weary, because the river, of its own accord, has borne us on its bosom, but we must sleep. We would not wish to appear heavy of eye and mind before the children of Onontio."

"Well spoken, Tayoga," said the hunter. "An Iroquois chief knows that appearance and dignity count, and you were right to remind us of it. I think that by the next sunset we'll be meeting French, not the Canadian French that they call habitants, but outposts made up mostly of officers and soldiers from France. They'll be very curious about us, naturally so, and since your new friend Dayohogo has announced that you are a great orator, you can do most of the talking and explaining, Robert."

"I'll talk my best," replied young Lennox. "Nobody can do more."

As agreed, they drew the canoe into the bushes shortly before daylight, and slept several hours. Then they returned to the river and resumed their journey. By the middle of the afternoon they saw signs of habitation, or at least of the presence of human beings. They beheld two smokes on the right bank, and one on the left, trailing black lines against the blue of the sky, but they were all far away, and they did not care to stop and determine their origin.

Shortly before sunset they saw a camp fire, very close on the eastern shore, and as they drew near the figures of men in uniform were visible against the red glow.

"I think we'd better draw in here," said Robert. "This is undoubtedly an outpost, and, likely, an officer of some importance is in charge. Ours is a mission of peace, and we want to placate as many people as we can, as we go."

"It is so," said Tayoga, making a sweep or two of the paddle, and sending the canoe in a diagonal line toward the designated shore.

Two men in blue uniforms with white facings walked to the edge of the water and looked at them with curiosity. Robert gave them a gaze as inquiring as their own, and after the habit of the forest, noted them carefully. He took them to be French of France. One was about forty years of age, rather tall, built well, his face browned by forest life. He had black, piercing eyes and a strong hooked nose. A man of resolution but cold of heart, Robert said to himself. The other, a little smaller, and a little younger, was of much the same type. The uniforms of both were fine and neat, and they bore themselves as officers of importance. Like St. Luc, they fortified Robert's opinion of what he was going to find at Quebec.

Neither of the men spoke until the canoe touched the shore, and its three occupants sprang out. Then they bowed politely, though Robert fancied that he saw a trace of irony in their manner, and the elder said in good English:

"Good evening, gentlemen."

"Good evening, Messieurs," said Robert, remembering that he was to be spokesman. "We are English."

"I can see readily that two of you are."

"The third, Tayoga, the son of a great Onondaga chief, is English also at heart."

The lips of the Frenchman curled ever so little. Robert saw at once that he challenged his assertion about Tayoga, but he did not seem to notice it, as he expected that his comrades and himself would be guests in the French camp.

"I have mentioned Tayoga," he said, "but I will introduce him again. He is of the clan of the Bear, of the nation Onondaga, of the great League of the Hodenosaunee. I also present Mr. David Willet, a famous scout and hunter, known to the Indians, and perhaps to some of the French, too, as the Great Bear. My own name is Robert Lennox, of Albany and New York, and I have done nothing that is descriptive of me, but I bear important letters from the Governor of New York to Quebec, to be delivered to the Marquis Duquesne, the Governor General of Canada."

"That, young sir, is no slight mission," said the elder man, "and it is our good fortune to speed you on your way. My friend is the Chevalier Francois de Jumonville, one of France's most gallant officers, and I am Auguste de Courcelles, a colonel by fortune's favor, in the service of His Majesty, King Louis."

"I am sure," said Robert, "that it is not chance or the favor of fortune that has given you such important rank. Your manner and presence are sufficient assurance to me that you have won your rank with your own merits."

De Courcelles laughed a little, but it was a pleased laugh.

"You have a more graceful tongue than most of the English," he said, "and I could almost believe you had been at court."

"No nearer a court than Albany or New York."

"Then, sir, your credit is all the greater, because you have acquired so much with so little opportunity."

Robert bowed formally and Colonel de Courcelles bowed back in the same manner.

"The roads from Albany to Quebec are but trails," said de Courcelles, "but I hope your journey has been easy and pleasant."

Willet gave Robert a warning glance, and the lad replied:

"Fairly pleasant. We have met a slight obstacle or two, but it was not hard to remove them."

De Courcelles lifted his eyebrows a little.

"'Tis reported," he said, "that the savages are restless, that your English governors have been making them presents, and, as they interpret them, 'tis an inducement for them to take up the tomahawk against our good Canadians. Oh, don't be offended, Mr. Lennox! I have not said I believe such tales. Perhaps 'tis but the tongue of scandal wagging in this way, because it must wag in some way."

Robert believed much meaning underlay the man's words, and he made rapid surmises. Was de Courcelles trying to draw him out? Did he know of the attack made upon them at the hollow beside the river? Did he seek to forestall by saying the English were corrupting the Indians and sending them forth with the tomahawk? All these questions passed swiftly in his mind, but the gift discovered so newly came to his aid. His face expressed nothing, and smiling a little, he replied:

"The tongue of scandal, sir, does indeed wag wildly. The Governor of New York seeks at all times to keep peace among the Indians, and the fact that I am bearing letters from him to the Marquis Duquesne is proof of his good intentions."

"I accept your professions," said de Courcelles, "as I trust you will accept my own assurances of amity and good faith. Why should we discuss politics, when we are well met here in the woods? We have a fairly good camp, and it's at your service. If I may judge by appearances your journey has been attended by some hardships."

"You infer correctly," replied Robert, "and we shall be glad indeed to share your fire and food with you."

De Courcelles and Jumonville led the way to a large camp fire around which at least fifty French, Canadians and Indians were seated. All the French and Canadians were in uniform, and the Canadians, although living in a colder climate, had become much darker than the parent stock. In truth, many of them were quite as dark as the Indians.

These Canadians of the French stock were, for the present, silent men, and Robert regarded them with the deepest interest. Those who were not in uniform wore long frock coats of dark gray or dark brown, belted at the waist with a woolen sash of bright colors, decorated heavily with beads. Trousers and waistcoats were of the same material as the coats, but their feet were inclosed in Indian moccasins, also adorned profusely with beads. They wore long hair in a queue, incased in an eel-skin, and with their swarthy complexions and high cheek bones they looked like wild sons of the forest to Robert. Tayoga, the Onondaga, was to him a more civilized being. All the Canadians were smoking short pipes, and, while they did not speak, their black eyes, restless with eager curiosity, inspected the strangers.

The Indians in de Courcelles' party were of two types, the converted Indians of Canada, partly in white man's costume, and utterly savage Indians of the far west, in very little costume at all, one or two of them wearing only the breech cloth. The looks they bestowed upon Robert and his comrades were far from friendly, and he wondered if any Ojibway, a warrior who perhaps owned Tandakora as a chief, was among them. They were sitting about the fire and none of them spoke.

"We cannot offer you a banquet," said de Courcelles, "but we can give you variety, none the less. This portion of His Majesty's territory is a wilderness, but it provides an abundance of fish and game."

Robert believed that he had alluded purposely to the territory as "His Majesty's," and, his mind challenging it instantly, he was about to reply that in reality it was the northern part of the Province of New York, but his second and wiser thought caused him to refrain. He would enter upon no controversy with the older man, especially when he saw that the latter wished to draw him into one. De Courcelles, seeing that his lead was not followed, devoted himself to hospitality.

"We have venison, beaver tail, quail, good light bread and some thin red wine," he said. "You Americans or English--which shall I call you?"

"Either," replied Robert, "because we are both."

"Then English it shall be for the present, because you are under that flag. I was going to say that you are somewhat hostile to wine, which we French love, and which we know how to drink in moderation. In some respects we are a people of more restraint than you are. The slow, cold English mind starts with an effort, but when it is started it is stopped with equal difficulty. You either do too little or too much. You lack the logic and precision of the Frenchman."

Robert smiled and replied lightly. Having avoided controversy upon one point, he was of no mind to enter it upon another, and de Courcelles, not pressing a third attack, entered with Jumonville upon his duties as host. Both were graceful, easy, assured, and they fulfilled Robert's conception of French officers, as men of the world who knew courts and manners. It was a time when courts were more important than they are today, and they were recognized universally as the chief fountains from which flowed honor and advancement.

Robert did not like them as well as St. Luc, but he found a certain charm in their company. They could talk of things that interested him, and they exerted themselves, telling indirectly of the glories of Quebec and alluding now and then to the greater splendors of Paris and Versailles. It was a time when the French monarchy loomed as the greatest power in the world. The hollowness and decay of the House of Bourbon were not yet disclosed, even to the shrewdest observers, and a spell was cast upon all the civilized nations by the gorgeous and glittering world of fashion and the world of arms. The influence reached even into the depths of the vast North American wilderness and was felt by Robert as he sat beside the camp fire in the savage woods with the Frenchmen.

He drank a little of the red wine, but only a very little, and Tayoga would not touch it at all. Willet took a small leather cup of it, but declined a second. The food was good, better cooked than it usually was among the English colonists, where the table was regarded as a necessity, and in no particular as a rite. Robert, despite his habitual caution, found his heart warming toward his French hosts. It could not be possible that the Indians had been set upon his comrades and himself by the French! The warmth of his heart increased when one of the Canadians took a violin from a cloth cover and began to play wailing old airs. Like so many others, Robert was not made melancholy by melancholy music. Instead, he saw through a pleasing glow and the world grew poetic and tender. The fire sank and Americans, French, Canadians and Indians listened with the same silent interest. Presently the violinist played a livelier tune and the habitants sang to the music:

   "Malbrouck, s'en va t-en guerre
   Mironton, mironton, mirontaine;
   Malbrouck s'en va t-en guerre
   Ne sait quand reviendra."

Then he left Malbrouck, and it was:

   "Hier sur le pont d'Avignon
   J'ai oui chanter la belle
           Lon, la,
   J'ai oui chanter la belle
   Elle chantait d'un ton si doux
       Comme une demoiselle
           Lon, la,
       Comme une demoiselle."

The Canadians sang well, particularly in "The Bridge of Avignon," and the dying fire, the black woods around them and the sighing wind created an effect that no stage scenery could ever have given it. When the last note melted with the wind de Courcelles sighed a little and stared into the sinking fire.

"It is a fair country, sweet France," he said; "I myself have stood upon the bridge of Avignon, and I have watched the pretty girls. It may be that I have had a kiss or two, but all that is far away now. This is a bolder country than France, Mr. Lennox, larger, more majestic, but it is wild and savage, and will be so for many years to come. Nor can the rules that apply to old and civilized Europe apply here, where the deeds of men, like the land, are wilder, too."

Robert was conscious of some meaning in his words, perhaps a trace of apology for a deed that he had done or would do, but in the mind of young Lennox men's standards should be the same, whether in the wilderness of New York and Canada or in the open fields of France and England. De Courcelles, thoughtful for a moment, turned suddenly to the man with the violin and cried:

"Play! Play again!"

The man played quaint old airs, folk songs that had been brought from Normandy and Brittany, and the habitants sang them in low voices or rather hummed them in the subdued manner that seemed fitting to the night, since the black shadows were creeping up closer, leaving only the fire, as a core of light with the dusky figures around it. During all the talk the Indians had been silent. They had eaten their food and remained now, sitting in Turkish fashion, the flickering flames that played across their faces giving to them a look sinister and menacing to the last degree.

The Frenchmen, too, fell silent, as if their courtesy was exhausted and conversation had become an effort. The last of the old French airs was finished, and the player put his violin away. Jumonville, who had spoken but little, threw a fresh stick on the fire and looked at the black wall of circling forest.

"I can never get quite used to it," he said. "The wilderness is so immense, so menacing that when I am in it at night a little shiver will come now and then. I suppose our remote ancestors who lived in caves must have had fear at their elbows all their lives."

"Very likely," said de Courcelles, thoughtfully, staring into the coals. "It isn't strange that many people have worshiped fire as God. Why shouldn't they when it brings light in the dark, and lifts up our souls, when it warms us and makes us feel strong, when it cooks our food and when in the earlier day it drove away the great wild animals, with which man was not able to fight on equal terms?"

"I am not one to undervalue fire," said Robert.

"Few of us do in the forest. The night grows chill, but two of our good Canadians will keep the coals alive until morning. And now I suppose you are weary with your day's travels and wish sleep. I see that you have blankets of your own or I should offer you some of ours."

Tayoga had been sitting before the fire, as silent as the Canadian Indians, his rifle across his knees, his eyes turned toward the blaze. The glow of the flames fell upon him, disclosing his lofty countenance, his splendidly molded figure, and his superiority to the other Indians, who were not of the Hodenosaunee and who to him were, therefore, as much barbarians as all people who were not Greeks were barbarians to the ancient Greeks. Not a word of kinship or friendship had passed between him and them. For him, haughty and uncompromising, they did not exist. For a long time his deep unfathomable eyes had never turned from the fire, but now he rose suddenly and said:

"Someone comes in the forest!"

De Courcelles looked up in surprise.

"I hear nothing," he said.

"Someone comes in the forest!" repeated Tayoga with emphasis.

De Courcelles glanced at his own Indians. They had not yet moved, but in a moment or two they too rose to their feet, and then he knew that the Onondaga was right. Now Robert also heard a moccasined and light footstep approaching. A darker shadow appeared against the darkness, and the figure of an Indian, gigantic and sinister, stepped within the circle of the firelight.

It was Tandakora, the Ojibway.

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