The Hunters of the Hills

by Joseph A. Altsheler

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Chapter XVI. The Great Test

While Robert and Willet had been glad hitherto that the council of the fifty sachems had delayed its meeting, they were anxious, now that Father Drouillard had come, to hasten it. That the army and the church, that is the French army and the French church, were in close alliance, they soon had full proof. The priest and the chevalier were much together, and Robert caught an occasional flash of exultation in St. Luc's eyes.

The new influence was visible also among a minority of the Onondagas. The faith of the converts was very strong, and Father Drouillard was to them not only a teacher but an emblem also, and through him, a Frenchman, they looked upon France as the chosen country of the new God whom they worshiped. And Father Drouillard never worked harder than in those fateful days. His thin face grew thinner, and his lean figure leaner, but the fire in his eyes burned brighter. The fifty sachems said nothing. Whether they were for the priest or against him, they never interfered with his energies, because without exception they respected one who they knew sought nothing for himself, who could endure hardship, privation and even torture as well as they, and who also had the gift of powerful and persuasive speech.

The other nations too, except one, listened to him, though less than the Onondagas. The fierce and warlike Mohawks would have none of him, nor would they allow St. Luc to speak to them. Never could a single Mohawk warrior forget that Stadacona was theirs, though generations ago it had become French Quebec. They recalled with delight the numerous raids they had made into Canada, and their many wars with the French. Robert saw that one nation, and it was the one standing on an equality with the Onondagas, was irreconcilable. When the council met the nine sachems of the Mohawks, and their names would be called first, would prove themselves to the last man the bitter and implacable enemies of the French. So, feeling that he was right and loving his own country as much as the priest and the chevalier loved theirs, he deftly worked upon the minds of the Mohawks. He talked to the fiery young chief, Daganoweda, of lost Stadacona that he had seen with his own eyes. He spoke of its great situation on the lofty cliffs above the grandest of rivers, and he described it as the strongest fortress in America. The spirit of the young Mohawk responded readily. Robert's appeal was not made to prejudice. He felt that truth and right were back of it. As he saw it, the future of the Hodenosaunee lay with the English, the French could never be their real friends, the long breach between Quebec and the vale of Onondaga could not be healed.

He had an able and efficient assistant in Tayoga, who was devoted to the alliance with the English and the Americans, and who was constantly talking with the sachems and chiefs. Willet, too, who had a long acquaintance with all the nations of the Hodenosaunee, and who had many friends among them, used all his arts of persuasion, which were by no means small, and thus the battle for the favor of the Iroquois went on. The night before the council was to be held, Tayoga, his black eyes flashing, came to Robert and the hunter and they talked together for a long time.

The great council was held the next day in the grove devoted to that purpose, the entire ceremony being Greek in its simplicity and dignity, and in its surroundings. The fifty sachems, arrayed in their finest robes, sat once more in a half circle, save that Tododaho, the Onondaga, was slightly in front of the others, with Tonessaah at his elbow. The nine Mohawk chiefs, fierce and implacable, sat close together, and long before the appeals of England and France were begun Robert knew how they would vote.

The effort that he would make had already taken definite shape in his mind. He would be moderate, he would not ask the Hodenosaunee to fight for the English and Americans, he would merely ask the great nations to refuse the alliance of the French, and if they could not find it in their hearts to take up the tomahawk for their old friends then to remain at peace in their villages, while English and French fought for the continent.

Spring was now far advanced. Robert had never seen the forest in deeper green and he had never looked up to a bluer sky than the one that bent over them, as they walked toward the council grove. His heart was beating hard, but it was with excitement, not with fear. He knew that a great test was before him, but his mind responded to it, in truth sprang forward to meet it. The breeze that came down from the hills seemed to whisper encouragement in his ears, and the words that he would speak were already leaping to his lips.

A great crowd, men, women and children, was gathered about the grove, and like the sachems they were clothed in their best. Brilliant red, blue or yellow blankets gleamed in the sun's rays, and the beads on leggings and moccasins of the softest tanned deerskin, flashed and glittered. Robert, with his memories of the Albany school still fresh, thought once more of the great Greek and Roman assemblies, where all the people came to hear their orators discuss the causes that meant most. And then his pulse leaped again and his confidence grew.

Tododaho spoke first, and when he rose there was a respectful silence broken only by the murmurs of the wind or the heavy breathing of the multitude. In a spirit of love and exhortation he addressed his people, all of the six great nations. He told them that the mighty powers beyond the sea, England and France, who with their children divided nearly the whole world between them, were about to begin war with each other. The lands occupied by both bordered upon the lands of the Hodenosaunee, and the storm of battle would hover over all their castles and over the vale of Onondaga. It was well for them to take long and anxious thought, and to listen with attention to what the orators of the English and the French would have to say.

Then Father Drouillard spoke for France. He made an impressive figure, wrapped in his black robe, his eyes burning like coals of fire in his thin, dead white face. Near him on the right, his Onondaga converts were gathered, and he frequently looked at them as he told the fifty sachems that France, the greatest and strongest son of Holy Church, was their best friend, and their fitting ally. Such was the thread of his discourse. He struck throughout the priestly note. He appealed not alone to their sense of right in this world, but to the deeds they must do to insure their entrance into the world to come. France alone could lead them in the right path, she alone thought of their souls.

The priest spoke with intense fervor, using the tongue of the Indians with the greatest clearness and purity. His sincerity was obvious. Neither Robert nor Willet could doubt it for an instant, and they saw, too, that it was making an impression. Deep murmurs of approval came often from the converts, and now and then the whole multitude stirred in agreement. But the fifty sachems, all except the nine Mohawks, sat as expressionless as stones. The Mohawks did not move, but the stern, accusing gaze they bent upon the priest never relaxed. As Robert had foreseen, the most eloquent orator might talk a thousand years, and he could never bring them a single inch toward France.

Willet followed the priest. He attempted no flights. He left the future to itself and emphasized the present and the past. He recalled the facts, so well known, that the English had always been their friends, and the French always their enemies. The English had kept their treaties with the Hodenosaunee, the French could not be trusted.

The hunter, too, received applause, much of it, and when he finished he took his position in the audience beside Tayoga. Then the Chevalier de St. Luc stood before the fifty sachems, as gallant and as handsome a figure as one could find in either the Old World or the New, clothed in a white uniform faced with gold, his hair powdered and tied in a knot, his small sword, gold hilted, by his side.

The chevalier knew the children of the forest, and Robert recognized at once in him an antagonist even more formidable than he had expected. His appeal was to the lore of the woods and to valor. The French adapted themselves to the ways of the forest. They practiced the customs of the Indians, lived with them and often married their women. They could grow and flourish together, while the Englishmen and the Bostonnais held themselves aloof from the red men, and pretended to be their superiors. The French soldier and the Indian warrior had much in common, side by side they were invincible, and together they could drive the English into the sea, giving back to the red races the lands they had lost.

He was a graceful and impassioned speaker, and he, too, made his impression. The principal point of his theme, that the French alone fraternized with the Indians, was good and all were familiar with the fact. He returned to it continually, and when he sat down the applause was louder than it had been for either Willet or the priest. It was evident that he had made a strong appeal, and the Onondaga and Seneca sachems regarded him with a certain degree of favor, but the nine fierce and implacable Mohawk sachems did not unbend a particle.

Then Robert rose. Despite the fewness of his years, the times and hard circumstance had given him wisdom. He was surcharged, too, with emotion. He was yet an Iroquois for the time being, despite his white face. He still saw as they saw, and felt as they felt, and while he wished them to take the side of Britain and the British colonies, or at least not join the side of France and the French colonies, he was moved, too, by a deep personal sympathy. The fortunes of the Hodenosaunee were dear to him. He had been adopted into the great League. Tayoga, as the red people saw it, was his brother in more than blood.

He trembled a little with emotion as he looked upon the grave half-circle of the fifty sachems, and the clustering chiefs behind them, and then upon the people, the old men, the warriors, the women and the children. As he saw them, they were friendly. They knew him to be one of them by all the sacred rites of adoption, they knew that he had fought by the side of the great young warrior Tayoga of the clan of the Bear, of the nation Onondaga, of the mighty League of the Hodenosaunee, and after the momentary silence a deep murmur of admiration for the lithe, athletic young figure, and the frank, open face, ran through the multitude.

He spoke with glowing zeal and in a clear, beautiful voice that carried like a trumpet. After the first minute, all embarrassment and hesitation passed away, and his gift shone, resplendent. The freshness and fervor of youth were added to the logic and power of maturer years, and golden words flowed from his lips. The Indians, always susceptible to oratory, leaned forward, attentive and eager. The eyes of the fifty sachems began to shine and the fierce and implacable Mohawks, who would not relax a particle for any of the others, nodded with approval, as the speaker played upon the strings of their hearts.

He dwelled less upon the friendship of the English than upon the hostility of the French. He knew that Champlain and Frontenac were far away in time, but near in the feelings of the Hodenosaunee, especially the Mohawks, the warlike Keepers of the Eastern Gate. He said that while the French had often lived with the Indians, and sometimes had married Indian women, it was not with the nations of the Hodenosaunee, but with their enemies, Huron, Caughnawaga, St. Regis, Ojibway and other savages of the far west. Onontio could not be the friend of their foes and their friends also. Manitou had never given to any man the power to carry water on both shoulders in such a manner.

The promises of the French to the great nations of the League had never been kept. He and Willet, the hunter whom they called the Great Bear, and the brave young warrior, Tayoga, whom they all knew, had just returned from the Stadacona of the Mohawks, which the French had seized, and where they had built their capital, calling it Quebec. They had covered it with stone buildings, palaces, fortresses and churches, but, in truth and right, it was still the Stadacona of the Mohawks. When Tayoga and Willet and he walked there, they saw the shades of the great Mohawk sachems of long ago, come down from the great shining stars on which they now lived, to confound the French, and to tell the children of the Ganeagaono never to trust them.

Stirred beyond control, a fierce shout burst from the nine Mohawk sachems. It was the first time within the memory of the council that any of its members had given evidence of feeling, while a question lay before it, but their cry touched a common chord of sympathy. Applause swept the crowd, and then, deep silence coming again, the orator continued, his fervor and power increasing as he knew now that all the nations of the Hodenosaunee were with him.

He enlarged upon his theme. He showed to them what a victorious France would do. If Quebec prevailed, the fair promises the priest and the chevalier had made to the Hodenosaunee would be forgotten. Even as the Mohawks had lost Quebec and other villages they would lose now their castles, the Upper, the Lower and the Middle, the Cayugas and the Oneidas would be crushed, and with them their new brethren the Tuscaroras. The French would burst with fire and sword into the sacred vale of Onondaga itself, they would cut down the council grove and burn the Long House, then their armies would go forth to destroy the Senecas, the Keepers of the Western Gate.

The thousands, swayed by uncontrollable emotion, sprang to their feet and a tremendous shout burst from them all. St. Luc, seeing the Hodenosaunee slipping from his hands and from those of France, leaped up, unable to contain himself, and cried:

"Do not listen to him! Do not listen to him! What he says cannot come to pass!"

The people were in a turmoil, and the council strove in vain for order, but the young speaker raised his hand and silence came again.

"The Chevalier de St. Luc and Father Drouillard, who have spoken to you in behalf of France, are brave and good men," he said, "but they cannot control the acts of their country. They tell you what I say cannot come to pass, but I tell you that it can come to pass, and what is more it has come to pass. Behold!"

He took from beneath his deerskin tunic a tomahawk, large and keen, and held it up. Its shining blade was stained red with the blood of a human being. The silence was now so intense that it became heavy and oppressive. Everyone in the crowd expected something startling to follow, and they were right.

He swung the tomahawk about in a circle that all might see it, and the blood upon its blade. His feeling for the dramatic was strong upon him, and he knew that the right moment had come.

"Do you know whose tomahawk this is?" he cried.

The crowd was silent and waiting.

"It is the tomahawk of Tandakora, the Ojibway, the friend and ally of the French."

A fierce shout like a peal of thunder from the crowd, and then the same intense, waiting silence.

"Do you know whose blood stains the tomahawk of Tandakora, the Ojibway, the friend and ally of the French?"

A deep breath from the crowd.

"It is the blood of Hosahaho, the Onondaga. You knew him well, one of your swiftest runners, a skillful hunter, a great warrior, one who lived a truthful and upright life before the face of Manitou. But he is gone. Three nights ago, Tandakora, the Ojibway, the friend and ally of the French, with a band of his treacherous men, foully murdered him in ambush. But other Onondagas came, and Tandakora and his band had to flee so fast that he could not regain his tomahawk. It has been brought to the vale of Onondaga by those who saw Tandakora, but who could not overtake him. It was given by them to Tayoga, whom all of you know and honor, and he has given it to me as proof of the faith of Onontio. Tandakora and Onontio are brothers. What Tandakora does Onontio does also, and the bright blood of Hosahaho, the Onondaga, that stains the tomahawk of Tandakora, the Ojibway, was shed by Onontio as well as Tandakora. Behold! Here are the promises of Onontio, written red in the blood of your brother!"

An immense tumult followed, but presently Tododaho, first among the sachems, rose and stilled it with uplifted hands. Turning his eyes upon Robert, he said:

"You have spoken well, O Dagaeoga, and you have shown the proof of your words. Never will the great nations of the Hodenosaunee be the friends of the French. There is too much blood between us."

Then, turning to Chevalier de St. Luc and Father Drouillard, he said:

"Go you back to Quebec and tell Onontio that he cannot come to us with promises in one hand and murder in the other. Our young men will guard you and see that you are safe, until you pass out of our lands. Go! Through me the fifty sachems speak for the great League of the Hodenosaunee."

The chevalier and the priest, disappointed but dignified, left the vale of Onondaga that night, and St. Luc said to Robert that he bore him no ill will because of his defeat.

Several weeks later, as Robert, Willet, and Tayoga were on their way to Albany, they heard from an Oneida runner that the English colonials from Virginia, under young Washington, and the French had been in battle far to the west.

"The war has begun," said Willet solemnly, "a war that will shake both continents."

"And the Hodenosaunee will not help Onontio," said Tayoga.

"And the French may lose Quebec," said Robert looking northward to the city of his dreams.

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