The Hunters of the Hills

by Joseph A. Altsheler

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Chapter VII. New France

The huge and savage warrior had never looked more malignant. His face and his bare chest were painted with the most hideous devices, and his eyes, in the single glance that he cast upon Robert and his comrades, showed full of black and evil passions. Then, as if they were no longer present, he stalked to the fire, took up some cooked deer meat that lay beside it, and, sitting down Turkish fashion like the other Indians, began to eat, not saying a word to the Frenchmen.

It was the action of a savage of the savages, but Robert, startled at first by the unexpected appearance of such an enemy, called to his aid the forest stoicism that he had learned and sat down, calm, outwardly at least. The initiative was not his now, nor that of his comrades, and he glanced anxiously at de Courcelles to see how he would take this rude invasion of his camp. The French colonel looked at Tandakora, then at Jumonville, and Jumonville looked at him. The two shrugged their shoulders, and in a flash of intuition he was convinced that they knew the Ojibway well.

Whatever anger de Courcelles may have felt at the manners of the savage he showed none at all. All the tact and forbearance which the French used with such wonderful effect in their dealings with the North American Indians were summoned to his aid. He spoke courteously to Tandakora, but, as his words were in the Ojibway dialect, Robert did not understand them. The Indian made a guttural reply and continued to gnaw fiercely at the bone of the deer. De Courcelles still took no offense, and spoke again, his words smooth and his face smiling. Then Tandakora, in his deep guttural, spoke rapidly and with heat. When he had finished de Courcelles turned to his guests, and with a deprecatory gesture, said:

"Tandakora's heart burns with wrath. He says that you attacked him and his party in the forest and have slain some of his warriors."

"Tandakora lies!"

It was the Onondaga who spoke. His voice was not raised, but every syllable was articulated clearly, and the statement came with the impact of a bullet. The tan of de Courcelles' face could not keep a momentary flush from breaking through, but he kept his presence of mind.

"It is easy enough to call a man a liar," he said, "but it is another thing to prove it."

"Since when," said Tayoga, haughtily, "has the word of an Ojibway, a barbarian who knows not the law, been worth more than that of one who is a member of the clan of the Bear, of the nation Onondaga, of the great League of the Hodenosaunee?"

He spoke in English, which Robert knew the Ojibway understood and which both Frenchmen spoke fluently. The great hand of Tandakora drifted down toward the handle of his tomahawk, but Tayoga apparently did not see him, his fathomless eyes again staring into the fire. Robert looked at Willet, and he saw the hunter's eye also fall upon the handle of his tomahawk, a weapon which he knew the Great Bear could hurl with a swiftness and precision equal to those of any Indian. He understood at once that Tayoga was protected by the hunter from any sudden movement by the Ojibway and his great strain relaxed.

De Courcelles frowned, but his face cleared in an instant. Robert, watching him now, believed he was not at all averse to a quarrel between the Onondaga and the Ojibway.

"It is not a question for me to decide," he replied. "The differences of the Hodenosaunee and the western tribes are not mine, though His Majesty, King Louis of France, wishes all his red brethren to dwell together in peace. Yet I but tell to you, Tayoga, what Tandakora has told to me. He says that you three attacked him and peaceful warriors back there in a gorge of the river, and slew some of his comrades."

"Tandakora lies," repeated Tayoga in calm and measured tones. "It is true that warriors who were with them fell beneath our bullets, but they came swimming in the night, seeking to murder us while we slept, and while there is yet no war between us. An Onondaga or a Mohawk or any warrior of the Hodenosaunee hates and despises a snake."

The words, quiet though they were, were fairly filled with concentrated loathing. The eyes of the huge Ojibway flashed and his clutch on the handle of his tomahawk tightened convulsively, but the fixed gaze of the hunter seemed to draw him at that moment. He saw that Willet's eyes were upon him, that every muscle was attuned and that the tomahawk would leap from his belt like a flash of lightning, and seeing, Tandakora paused.

The two Frenchmen looked at Tayoga, at Tandakora and at Willet. Then they looked at each other, and being acute men with a full experience of forest life, they understood the silent drama.

"I don't undertake to pass any judgment here," said de Courcelles, after a pause. "It is the word of one warrior against another, and I cannot say which is the better. But since you are going to the Marquis Duquesne at Quebec, Mr. Lennox, the matter may be laid before him, and it is for those who make charges to bring proof."

The words were silky, but Robert saw that they were intended to weave a net.

"We are on an official mission from the Governor of the Province of New York to the Governor General of Canada," he said. "We cannot be tried at Quebec for an offense that we have never committed, and for our commission of which you have only the word of a barbarian who twice tried to murder us."

The hand of Tandakora on the handle of his tomahawk again made a convulsive movement, but the gaze of the hunter was fixed upon him with deadly menace, and another hand equally as powerful and perhaps quicker than his own was clutched around the handle of another tomahawk. Again the Ojibway paused and chose the way of peace.

"Patience, Tandakora," said Jumonville, taking the initiative for the first time. "If you have suffered wrongs Onontio will avenge them. His eye sees everything, and he does not forget his children of the western forests."

"When we first saw him," said Robert, "he was with the Chevalier Raymond Louis de St. Luc, who was going with belts from the Marquis Duquesne to the council of the fifty chiefs in the vale of Onondaga. Now he has come on another course, and is here far from the vale of Onondaga."

"We will dismiss the matter," said de Courcelles, who evidently was for peace also. "Since you and your friends are our guests, Mr. Lennox, we cannot treat you except as such. Take to your blankets and you rest as safely with us as if you were sleeping in your own town of Albany."

Willet removed his hand from the handle of his tomahawk, and, rising to his full height, stretched himself and yawned.

"We accept your pledge in the spirit in which it is given, Colonel de Courcelles," he said, "and being worn from a long day and long toil I, for one, shall find sweet slumber here on the leaves with a kindly sky above me."

"Then, sir, I bid you a happy good night," said Colonel de Courcelles.

Without further ado the three folded their blankets them and fell asleep on the leaves.

Robert, before closing his eyes, had felt assured that no harm would befall them while they were in the camp of de Courcelles, knowing that the French colonel could not permit any attack in his own camp upon those who bore an important message from the Governor of New York to the Governor General of Canada. Hence his heart was light as he was wafted away to the land of slumber, and it was light again when he awoke the next morning at the first rays of dawn.

Tayoga and Willet still slept, and he knew that they shared his confidence, else these wary rovers of the woods would have been watching rather than sleeping. Jumonville also was still rolled in his blankets, but de Courcelles was up, fully dressed, and alert. Several of the Canadians and Indians were building a fire. Robert's questing eye sought at once for the Ojibway, but he was gone, and the youth was not surprised. His departure in the night was a relief to everybody, even to the French, and Robert felt that an evil influence was removed. The air that for a space the night before had been poisonous to the lungs was now pure and bracing. He took deep breaths, and his eyes sparkled as he looked at the vast green forest curving about them. Once more he felt to the full the beauty and majesty of the wilderness. Habit and use could never dull it for him.

De Courcelles turned upon him a frank and appreciative eye. Robert saw that he intended to be pleasant, even genial that morning, having no reason for not showing his better side, and the lad, who was learning not only to fence and parry with words, but also to take an intellectual pleasure in their use, was willing to meet him half way.

"I see, Mr. Lennox," said de Courcelles gayly, "that you are in a fine humor this morning. Your experience with the Ojibway has left no ill results. He departed in the night. One can never tell what strange ideas these savages will take into their heads."

"I have forgotten it," said Robert lightly. "I knew that a French gentleman could not take the word of a wild Ojibway against ours."

De Courcelles gave him a sharp glance, but the youth's face was a mask.

"At least," he said, "the matter is not one of which I could dispose. Nor can any government take note of everything that passes in a vast wilderness. I, too, shall forget it. Nor is it likely that it will ever be taken before the Marquis Duquesne. Come, our breakfast will soon be ready and your comrades are awakening."

Robert walked down to a small brook, bathed his face, and returned to find the food ready. He did not wholly trust either de Courcelles or Jumonville, but their manners were good, and it was quite evident that they no longer wished to interfere with the progress of the mission. Tayoga and Willet also seemed to have forgotten the episode of the night before, and asked no questions about Tandakora. After breakfast, the three put their canoe back in the river, and thanking their hosts for the courtesy of a night in their camp, shot out into the stream. De Courcelles and Jumonville, standing on the bank, waved them farewell, and they held their paddles aloft a moment or two in salute. Then a bend shut them from view.

"I don't trust them," said Robert, after a long silence. "This is our soil, but they march over it and calmly assume that it's their own."

"King George claims it, and King Louis claims it, too," said Willet in a whimsical tone, "but I'm thinking it belongs to neither. The ownership, I dare say, will not be decided for many a year. Now, Tayoga, what do you think has become of that demon, Tandakora?"

The Onondaga looked at the walls of foliage on either side of the stream before answering.

"One cannot tell," he said in his precise language of the schools. "The mind of the Ojibway is a fitful thing, but always it is wild and lawless. He longs, night and day, for scalps, and he covets ours most. It is because we have defeated the attempts he has made already."

"Do you think he has gone ahead with the intention of ambushing us? Would he dare?"

"Yes, he would dare. If he were to succeed he would have little to fear. A bullet in one of our hearts, fired from cover on the bank, and then the wilderness would swallow him up and hide him from pursuit. He could go to the country around the last and greatest of the lakes, where only the white trapper or explorer has been."

"It gives me a tremendously uncomfortable feeling, Tayoga, to think that bloodthirsty wretch may be waiting for a shot at us. How are we to guard against him?"

"We must go fast and watch as we go. Our eyes are keen, and we may see him moving among the trees. The Ojibway is no marksman, and unless we sit still it is not likely that he can hit us."

Tayoga spoke very calmly, but his words set Robert's heart to beating, understanding what an advantage Tandakora had if he sought to lie in ambush. He knew that the soul of the Ojibway was full of malice and that his craving for scalps was as strong as the Onondaga had said it was. Had it been anyone else he would not follow them, but Robert foresaw in Tandakora a bitter and persistent enemy. Both he and Willet, feeling the wisdom of Tayoga's advice, began to paddle faster. But the hunter presently slowed down a little.

"No use to take so much out of ourselves now that we'll just creep along later on," he said.

"The temptation to go fast is very strong," said Robert. "You feel then that you're really dodging bullets."

Tayoga was looking far ahead toward a point where the stream became much narrower and both banks were densely wooded, as usual.

"If Tandakora really means to ambush us," he said, "he will be there, because it offers the best opportunity, and it is a place that the heart of a murderer would love. Suppose that Dagaeoga and I paddle, and that the Great Bear rests with his rifle across his knees ready to fire at the first flash. We know what a wonderful marksman the Great Bear is, and it may be Tandakora who will fall."

"The plan, like most of yours, is good, Tayoga," said Willet. "The Lord has given me some skill with the rifle, and I have improved it with diligent practice. I think I can watch both sides of the stream pretty well, and if the Ojibway fires I can fire back at the flash. We'll rely upon our speed to make his bullet miss, and anyway we must take the chance. You lads needn't exert yourselves until we come to the narrow part of the stream. Then use the paddles for your lives."

Robert found it hard to be slow, but his will took command of his muscles and he imitated the long easy strokes of Tayoga. As the current helped much, their speed was considerable, nevertheless. The river flowed, a silver torrent, in the clear light of the morning, a fish leaping up now and then in the waters so seldom stirred by any strange presence. The whole scene was saturated with the beauty and the majesty of the wilderness, and to the eye that did not know it suggested only peace. But Robert often lifted his gaze from the paddle and the river to search the green thickets on either side. They were only casual glances, Willet being at once their sentinel and guard.

The great hunter was never more keenly alert. His thick, powerful figure was poised evenly in the canoe, and the long-barreled rifle lay in the hollow of his arm, his hand on the lock and his finger on the trigger. Eyes, trained by many years in the forest, searched continually among the trees for a figure that did not belong there, and, at the same time, he listened for the sound of any movement not natural to the wilderness. He felt his full responsibility as the rifleman of the fleet of one canoe, and he accepted it.

"Lads," he said, "we're approaching the narrowest part of the river. It runs straight, I can see a full mile ahead, and for all that distance it's not more than thirty yards from shore to shore. Now use the strength that you've been saving, and send the canoe forward like an arrow. Those are grand strokes, Tayoga! And yours too, Robert! Now, our speed is increasing! We fairly fly! Good lads! I knew you were both wonderful with the paddle, but I did not know you were such marvels! Never mind the woods, Robert, I'm watching 'em! Faster! A little faster, if you can! I think I see something moving in a thicket on our right! Bang, there goes his rifle! Just as I expected, his bullet hit the water twenty feet from us! And bang goes my own rifle! How do you like that, my good friend Tandakora?"

"Did you make an end of him?" asked Robert breathlessly.

"No," replied the hunter, although his tone was one of satisfaction. "I had to shoot when I saw the flash of his rifle, and I had only a glimpse of him. But I saw enough to know that my bullet took him in the shoulder. His rifle fell from his hand, and then he dropped down in the underbrush, thinking one of you might snatch up a weapon and fire. No, I didn't make an end of him, Robert, but I did make an end of his warfare upon us for a while. That bullet must have gone clean through his shoulder, and for the present at least he'll have to quit scalp hunting. But how he must hate us!"

"Let him hate," said Robert. "I don't care how much his hate increases, so long as he can't lie in ambush for us. It's pretty oppressive to have an invisible death lurking around you, unable to fend it off, and never knowing when or where it will strike."

"But we did fend it off," said the big hunter, as he reloaded the rifle of which he had made such good use. "And now I can see the stream widening ahead of us, with natural meadows on either side, where no enemy can lay an ambush. Easy now, lads! The danger has passed. That fiend is lying in the thicket binding up his wounded shoulder as best he can, and tomorrow we'll be in Canada. Draw in your paddles, and I'll take mine. You're entitled to a rest. You couldn't have done better if you had been in a race, and, after all, it was a race for life."

Robert lifted his paddle and watched the silver bubbles fall from it into the stream. Then he sank back in his seat, relaxing after his great effort, his breath coming at first in painful gasps, but gradually becoming long and easy.

"I'm glad we'll be in Canada tomorrow, Dave," he said, "because the journey has surely been most difficult."

"Pretty thick with dangers, that's true," laughed the hunter, "but we've run past most of 'em. The rest of the day will be easy, safe and pleasant."

His prediction came true, their journey on the river continuing without interruption. Two or three times they saw distant smoke rising above the forest, but they judged that it came from the camp fires of hunters, and they paid no further attention to it. That night they took the canoe from the river once more, carrying it into the woods and sleeping beside it, and the next day they entered the mighty St. Lawrence.

"This is Canada," said Willet. "Farther west we claim that our territory comes to the river and that we have a share in it. But here it's surely French by right of long occupation. We can reach Montreal by night, where we'll get a bigger boat, and then we'll go on to Quebec. It's a fine river, isn't it, Robert?"

"So it is," replied Robert, looking at the vast sheet of water, blue then under a perfectly blue sky, flowing in a mighty mass toward the sea. Tayoga's eyes sparkled also. The young warrior could feel to the full the splendors of the great forests, rivers and lakes of his native land.

"I too shall be glad to see Stadacona," he said, "the mighty rock that once belonged to a nation of the Hodenosaunee, the Mohawks, the Keepers of the Eastern Gate."

"It is the French who have pressed upon you and who have driven you from some of your old homes, but it is the English who have respected all your rights," said Robert, not wishing Tayoga to forget who were the friends of the Hodenosaunee.

"It is so," said the Onondaga.

Taking full advantage of the current, and sparing the paddles as much as they could, they went down the stream, which was not bare of life. They saw two great canoes, each containing a dozen Indians, who looked curiously at them, but who showed no hostility.

"It's likely they take us for French," said Willet. "Of what tribe are these men, Tayoga?"

"I cannot tell precisely," replied the Onondaga, "but they belong to the wild tribes that live in the regions north of the Great Lakes. They bring furs either to Montreal or Quebec, and they will carry back blankets and beads and guns and ammunition. Above the Great Lakes and running on, no man knows how far, are many other vast lakes. It is said that some in the distant north are as large as Erie or Ontario or larger, but I cannot vouch for it, as we warriors of the Hodenosaunee have never been there, hearing the tales from warriors of other tribes that have come down to trade."

"It's true, Tayoga," said Willet. "I've roamed north of the Great Lakes myself, and I've met Indians of the tribes called Cree and Assiniboine, and they've told me about those lakes, worlds and worlds of 'em, and some of 'em so big that you can paddle days without reaching the end. I suppose there are chains and chains of lakes running up and down a hollow in the middle of this continent of ours, though it's only a guess of mine about the middle. Nobody knows how far it is across from sea to sea."

"We better go in closer to the shore," said Tayoga. "A wind is coming and on so big a river big waves will rise."

"That's so, Tayoga," said Willet. "A little bark canoe like ours wasn't made to fight with billows."

They paddled near to the southern shore, and, being protected by the high banks, the chief force of the wind passed over their heads. In the center of the stream the water rose in long combers like those of the sea, and a distant boat with oarsmen rocked violently.

"Hugging the land will be good for us until the wind passes," said Willet. "Suppose we draw in among those bushes growing in the edge of the water and stop entirely."

"A good idea," said Robert, who did not relish a swamping of the canoe in the cold St. Lawrence.

A few strokes of the paddle and they were in the haven, but the three still watched the distant boat, which seemed to be of large size, and which still kept in the middle of the stream.

"It has a mast and can carry a sail when it wishes," said Willet, after a long examination.

"French officers are in it," said Tayoga.

"I believe you are right, boy. I think I caught the glitter of a uniform."

"And the boat has steered about and is coming this way, Great Bear. The French officers no doubt have the glasses that magnify, and, having seen us, are coming to discover what we are."

"Correct again, Tayoga. They've turned their prow toward us, and, as we don't want to have even the appearance of hiding, I think we'd better paddle out of the bushes and make way slowly again close to the shore."

A few sweeps of the paddle and the canoe was proceeding once more down the St. Lawrence, keeping in comparatively quiet waters near the southern side. The large boat was approaching them fast, but they pretended not to have seen it.

"Probably it comes from Hochelaga," said Tayoga.

"And your Hochelaga, which is the French Montreal, was Iroquois once, also," said Robert.

"Our fathers and grandfathers are not sure," replied Tayoga. "Cartier found there a great village surrounded by a palisade, and many of our people think that a nation of the Hodenosaunee, perhaps the Mohawks, lived in it, but other of our old men say it was a Huron town. It is certain though that the Hodenosaunee lived at Stadacona."

"In any event, most of this country was yours or races kindred to yours owned it. So, Tayoga, you are traveling on lands and waters that once belonged to your people. But we're right in believing that boat has come to spy us out. I can see an officer standing up and watching us with glasses."

"Let 'em come," said Willet. "There's no war--at least, not yet--and there's plenty of water in the St. Lawrence for all the canoes, boats and ships that England and France have."

"If they hail us," said Robert, "and demand, as they probably will, what we're about, I shall tell them that we're going to the Marquis Duquesne at Quebec and show our credentials."

The large boat rapidly came nearer, and as men on board furled the sail others at the oars drew it alongside the little canoe, which seemed a mere cork on the waves of the mighty St. Lawrence. But Robert, Tayoga and Willet paddled calmly on, as if boats, barges and ships were everyday matters to them, and were not to be noticed unduly. A tall young man standing up in the boat hailed them in French and then in English. Robert, watching out of the corner of his eye, saw that he was fair, like so many of the northern French, that he was dressed in a uniform of white with violet facings, and that his hat was black and three-cornered. He learned afterward that it was the uniform of a battalion of Languedoc. He saw also that the boat carried sixteen men, all except the oarsmen being in uniform.

"Who are you?" demanded the officer imperiously.

Robert, to whom the others conceded the position of spokesman, had decided already that his course should be one of apparent indifference.

"Travelers," he replied briefly, and the three bent to their paddles.

"What travelers are you and where are you going?" demanded the officer, in the same imperious manner.

The wash of the heavy boat made the frail canoe rock perilously, but its three occupants appeared not to notice it. Using wonderful skill, they always brought it back to the true level and maintained a steady course ahead. On board the larger boat the oarsmen, rowing hard, kept near, and for the third time the officer demanded:

"Who are you? I represent the authority of His Majesty, King Louis of France, upon this river, and unless you answer explicitly I shall order my men to run you down."

"But we are messengers," said Robert calmly. "We bear letters of great importance to the Marquis Duquesne at Quebec. If you sink us it's likely the letters will go down with us."

"It's another matter if you are on such a mission, but I must demand once more your names."

"The highest in rank among us is the young chief, or coming chief, Tayoga, of the clan of the Bear, of the nation Onondaga, of the great League of the Hodenosaunee. Next comes David Willet, a famous hunter and scout, well known throughout the provinces of New York and Massachusetts and even in Canada, and often called by his friends, the Iroquois, the Great Bear. As for me, I am Robert Lennox, of Albany and sometimes of New York, without rank or office."

The officer abated his haughty manner. The answer seemed to please him.

"That surely is explicit enough," he said. "I am Louis de Galisonniere, a captain of the battalion Languedoc, stationed for the present at Montreal and charged with the duty of watching the river for all doubtful characters, in which class I was compelled to put the three of you, if you gave no explanations."

"Galisonniere! That is a distinguished name. Was there not a Governor General of Canada who bore it?"

"A predecessor of the present Governor General, the Marquis Duquesne. It gives me pride to say that the Count de Galisonniere was my uncle."

Robert saw that he had found the way to young Galisonniere's good graces through his family and he added with the utmost sincerity, too:

"New France has had many a great Governor General, as we of the English colonies ought to know, from the Sieur de Roberval, through Champlain, Frontenac, de Beauharnais and on to your uncle, the Count de Galisonniere."

Willet and the Onondaga gave Robert approving looks, and the young Frenchman flushed with pleasure.

"You have more courtesy and appreciation for us than most of the Bostonnais," he said. "I would talk further with you, but conversation is carried on with difficulty under such circumstances. Suppose we run into the first cove, lift your canoe aboard, and we'll take you to Montreal, since that's our own port of destination."

Robert agreed promptly. He wished to make a good impression upon de Galisonniere, and, since the big boat was now far safer and more comfortable than the canoe, two ends would be served at the same time. Willet and the Onondaga also nodded in acquiescence, and a mile or two farther on they and the canoe too went aboard de Galisonniere's stout craft. Then the sail was set again, they steered to the center of the stream and made speed for Montreal.

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