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The Masters of the Peaks: A Story of the Great North Woods

The Masters of the Peaks: A Story of the Great North Woods

Author:Joseph A. Altsheler


A light wind sang through the foliage, turned to varying and vivid hues now by the touch of autumn, and it had an edge of cold that made Robert Lennox shiver a little, despite a hardy life in wilderness and open. But it was only a passing feeling. A moment or two later he forgot it, and...
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  A light wind sang through the foliage, turned to varying and vividhues now by the touch of autumn, and it had an edge of cold that madeRobert Lennox shiver a little, despite a hardy life in wilderness andopen. But it was only a passing feeling. A moment or two later heforgot it, and, turning his eyes to the west, watched the vastterraces of blazing color piled one above another by the sinking sun.

  Often as he had seen it the wonderful late glow over the mighty forestnever failed to stir him, and to make his pulse beat a little faster.His sensitive mind, akin in quality to that of a poet, responded witheagerness and joy to the beauty and majesty of nature. Forgettingdanger and the great task they had set for themselves, he watched thebanks of color, red and pink, salmon and blue, purple and yellow,shift and change, while in the very heart of the vast panorama thehuge, red orb, too strong for human sight, glittered and flamed.

  The air, instinct with life, intoxicated him and he became rapt as ina vision. People whom he had met in his few but eventful years passedbefore him again in all the seeming of reality, and then his spiritleaped into the future, dreaming of the great things he would see, andin which perhaps he would have a share.

  Tayoga, the young Onondaga, looked at his comrade and he understood.The same imaginative thread had been woven into the warp of whichhe was made, and his nostrils and lips quivered as he drank in thesplendor of a world that appealed with such peculiar force to him, ason of the woods.

  "The spirit of Areskoui

the Sun God

is upon Dagaeoga, and he hasleft us to dwell for a little while upon the seas of color heapedagainst the western horizon," he said.

  Willet, the hunter, smiled. The two lads were very dear to him. Heknew that they were uncommon types, raised by the gift of God farabove the normal.

  "Let him rest there, Tayoga," he said, "while those brilliant bankslast, which won't be long. All things change, and the glorious hueswill soon give way to the dark."

  "True, Great Bear, but if the night comes it, in turn, must yield tothe dawn. All things change, as you say, but nothing perishes. The suntomorrow will be the same sun that we see today. Black night will nottake a single ray from its glory."

  "It's so, Tayoga, but you talk like a book or a prophet. I'm wonderingif our lives are not like the going and coming of the sun. Maybe wepass on from one to another, forever and forever, without ending."

  "Great Bear himself feels the spell of Areskoui also."

  "I do, but we'd better stop rhapsodizing and think about our needs.Here, Robert, wake up and come back to earth! It's no time to sing asong to the sun with the forest full of our red enemies and the whitetoo, perhaps."

  Robert awoke with a start.

  "You dragged me out of a beautiful world," he said.

  "A world in which you were the central star," rejoined the hunter.

  "So I was, but isn't that the case with all the imaginary worlds a mancreates? He's their sun or he wouldn't create 'em."

  "We're getting too deep into the unknown. Plant your feet on the solidearth, Robert, and let's think about the problems a dark night isgoing to bring us in the Indian country, not far south of the St.Lawrence."

  Young Lennox shivered again. The terraces in the west suddenly beganto fade and the wind took on a fresh and sharper edge.

  "I know one thing," he said. "I know the night's going to be cold. Italways is in the late autumn, up here among the high hills, and I'dlike to see a fire, before which we could bask and upon which we couldwarm our food."

  The hunter glanced at the Onondaga.

  "That tells the state of my mind, too," he said, "but I doubt whetherit would be safe. If we're to be good scouts, fit to discover theplans of the French and Indians, we won't get ourselves cut off bysome rash act in the very beginning."

  "It may not be a great danger or any at all," said Tayoga. "There ismuch rough and rocky ground to our right, cut by deep chasms, andwe might find in there a protected recess in which we could build asmothered fire."

  "You're a friend at the right time, Tayoga," said Robert. "I feel thatI must have warmth. Lead on and find the stony hollow for us."

  The Onondaga turned without a word, and started into the maze of loftyhills and narrow valleys, where the shadows of the night that wascoming so swiftly already lay thick and heavy.

  The three had gone north after the great victory at Lake George, atriumph that was not followed up as they had hoped. They had waitedto see Johnson's host pursue the enemy and strike him hard again, butthere were bickerings among the provinces which were jealous of oneanother, and the army remained in camp until the lateness of theseason indicated a delay of all operations, save those of the scoutsand roving bands that never rested. But Robert, Willet and Tayogahoped, nevertheless, that they could achieve some deed of importanceduring the coming cold weather, and they were willing to undergo greatrisks in the effort.

  They were soon in the heavy forest that clothed all the hills, andpassed up a narrow ravine leading into the depths of the maze. Thewind followed them into the cleft and steadily grew colder. Theglowing terraces in the west broke up, faded quite away, and night, asyet without stars, spread over the earth.

  Tayoga was in front, the other two following him in single file,stepping where he stepped, and leaving to him without question theselection of a place where they could stay. The Onondaga, guided bylong practice and the inheritance from countless ancestors who hadlived all their lives in the forest, moved forward with confidence.His instinct told him they would soon come to such a refuge as theydesired, the rocky uplift about him indicating the proximity of manyhollows.

  The darkness increased, and the wind swept through the chasms withalternate moan and whistle, but the red youth held on his course fora full two miles, and his comrades followed without a word. When thecliffs about them rose to a height of two or three hundred feet, hestopped, and, pointing with a long forefinger, said he had found whatthey wished.

  Robert at first could see nothing but a pit of blackness, butgradually as he gazed the shadows passed away, and he traced a deeprecess in the stone of the cliff, not much of a shelter to thoseunused to the woods, but sufficient for hardy forest runners.

  "I think we may build a little fire in there," said Tayoga, "and noone can see it unless he is here in the ravine within ten feet of us."

  Willet nodded and Robert joyfully began to prepare for the blaze. Thenight was turning even colder than he had expected, and the chillwas creeping into his frame. The fire would be most welcome for itswarmth, and also because of the good cheer it would bring. He sweptdry leaves into a heap within the recess, put upon them dead wood,which was abundant everywhere, and then Tayoga with artful use offlint and steel lighted the spark.

  "It is good," admitted the hunter as he sat Turkish fashion on theleaves, and spread out his hands before the growing flames. "Thenights grow cold mighty soon here in the high hills of the north, andthe heat not only loosens up your muscles, but gives you new courage."

  "I intend to make myself as comfortable as possible," said Robert."You and Tayoga are always telling me to do so and I know the adviceis good."

  He gathered great quantities of the dry leaves, making of them whatwas in reality a couch, upon which he could recline in halfway fashionlike a Roman at a feast, and warm at the fire before him the food hecarried in a deerskin knapsack. An appetizing odor soon arose, and, ashe ate, a pleasant warmth pervaded all his body, giving him a feelingof great content. They had venison, the tender meat of the young bearwhich, like the Indians, they loved, and they also allowed themselvesa slice apiece of precious bread. Water was never distant in thenorthern wilderness, and Tayoga found a brook not a hundred yardsaway, flowing down a ravine that cut across their own. They drank atit in turn, and, then, the three lay down on the leaves in the recess,grateful to the Supreme Power which provided so well for them, even inthe wild forest.

  They let the flames die, but a comfortable little bed of coalsremained, glowing within the shelter of the rocks. Young Lennox heapedup the leaves until they formed a pillow under his head, and thenhalf dreaming, gazed into the heart of the fire, while his comradesreclined near him, each silent but with his mind turned to that whichconcerned him most.

  Robert's thoughts were of St. Luc, of the romantic figure he hadseen in the wilderness after the battle of Lake George, the knightlychevalier, singing his gay little song of mingled sentiment anddefiance. An unconscious smile passed over his face. He and St. Luccould never be enemies. In very truth, the French leader, though anofficial enemy, had proved more than once the best of friends, readyeven to risk his life in the service of the American lad. What wasthe reason? What could be the tie between them? There must be someconnection. What was the mystery of his origin? The events of the lastyear indicated to him very clearly that there was such a mystery.Adrian Van Zoon and Master Benjamin Hardy surely knew something aboutit, and Willet too. Was it possible that a thread lay in the hand ofSt. Luc also?

  He turned his eyes from the coals and gazed at the impassive face ofthe hunter. Once the question trembled on his lips, but he was surethe Great Bear would evade the answer, and the lad thought too much ofthe man who had long stood to him in the place of father to cause himannoyance. Beyond a doubt Willet had his interests at heart, and, whenthe time came for him to speak, speak he would, but not before.

  His mind passed from the subject to dwell upon the task they had setfor themselves, a thought which did not exclude St. Luc, though thechevalier now appeared in the guise of a bold and skillful foe, withwhom they must match their wisdom and courage. Doubtless he had formeda new band, and, at the head of it, was already roaming the countrysouth of the St. Lawrence. Well, if that were the case perhaps theywould meet once more, and he would have given much to penetrate thefuture.

  "Why don't you go to sleep, Robert?" asked the hunter.

  "For the best of reasons. Because I can't," replied the lad.

  "Perhaps it's well to stay awake," said the Onondaga gravely.

  "Why, Tayoga?"

  "Someone comes."

  "Here in the ravine?"

  "No, not in the ravine but on the cliff opposite us."

  Robert strained both eye and ear, but he could neither see nor hearany human being. The wall on the far side of the ravine rose to aconsiderable height, its edge making a black line against the sky, butnothing there moved.

  "Your fancy is too much for you, Tayoga," he said. "Thinking thatsomeone might come, it creates a man out of air and mist."

  "No, Dagaeoga, my fancy sleeps. Instead, my ear, which speaks only thetruth, tells me a man is walking along the crest of the cliff, andcoming on a course parallel with our ravine. My eye does not yet seehim, but soon it will confirm what my ear has already told me. Thisdeep cleft acts as a trumpet and brings the sound to me."

  "How far away, then, would you say is this being, who, I fear, ismythical?"

  "He is not mythical. He is reality. He is yet about three hundredyards distant. I might not have heard him, even with the aid of thecleft, but tonight Areskoui has given uncommon power to my ear,perhaps to aid us, and I know he is walking among thick bushes. I canhear the branches swish as they fly back into place, after his bodyhas passed. Ah, a small stick popped as it broke under his foot!"

  "I heard nothing."

  "That is not my fault, O Dagaeoga. It is a heavy man, because I nowhear his footsteps, even when they do not break anything. He walkswith some uncertainty. Perhaps he fears lest he should make a falsestep, and tumble into the ravine."

  "Since you can tell so much through hearing, at such a great distance,perhaps you know what kind of a man the stranger is. A warrior, Isuppose?"

  "No, he is not of our race. He would not walk so heavily. It is awhite man."

  "One of Rogers' rangers, then? Or maybe it is Rogers himself, orperhaps Black Rifle."

  "It is none of those. They would advance with less noise. It is onenot so much used to the forest, but who knows the way, nevertheless,and who doubtless has gone by this trail before."

  "Then it must be a Frenchman!"

  "I think so too."

  "It won't be St. Luc?"

  "No, Dagaeoga, though your tone showed that for a moment you hoped itwas. Sharp Sword is too skillful in the forest to walk with so heavya step. Nor can it be either of the leaders, De Courcelles orJumonville. They also are too much at home in the woods. The rightname of the man forms itself on my lips, but I will wait to be sure.In another minute he will enter the bare space almost opposite us andthen we can see."

  The three waited in silence. Although Robert had expressed doubt hefelt none. He had a supreme belief in the Onondaga's uncanny powers,and he was quite sure that a man was moving upon the bluff. A strangerat such a time was to be watched, because white men came but littleinto this dangerous wilderness.

  A dark figure appeared within the prescribed minute upon the crest andstopped there, as if the man, whoever he might be, wished to rest anddraw fresh breath. The sky had lightened and he was outlined clearlyagainst it. Robert gazed intently and then he uttered a little cry.

  "I know him!" he said. "I can't be mistaken. It's Achille Garay, theone whose name we found written on a fragment of a letter in Albany."

  "It's the man who tried to kill you, none other," said Tayoga gravely,"and Areskoui whispered in my ear that it would be he."

  "What on earth can he be doing here in this lone wilderness at such atime?" asked Robert.

  "Likely he's on his way to a French camp with information about ourforces," said Willet. "We frightened Mynheer Hendrik Martinus, when wewere in Albany, but I suppose that once a spy and traitor always aspy and traitor. Since the immediate danger has moved from Albany,Martinus and Garay may have begun work again."

  "Then we'd better stop him," said Robert.

  "No, let him go on," said Willet. "He can't carry any informationabout us that the French leaders won't find out for themselves.The fact that he's traveling in the night indicates a French campsomewhere near. We'll put him to use. Suppose we follow him anddiscover what we can about our enemies."

  Robert looked at the cheerful bed of coals and sighed. They wereseeking the French and Indians, and Garay was almost sure to leadstraight to them. It was their duty to stalk him.

  "I wish he had passed in the daytime," he said ruefully.

  Tayoga laughed softly.

  "You have lived long enough in the wilderness, O Dagaeoga," he said,"to know that you cannot choose when and where you will do your work."

  "That's true, Tayoga, but while my feet are unwilling to go my willmoves me on. So I'm entitled to more credit than you who take anactual physical de light in trailing anybody at any time."

  The Onondaga smiled, but did not reply. Then the three took up theirarms, returned their packs to their backs and without noise left thealcove. Robert cast one more reluctant glance at the bed of coals, butit was a farewell, not any weakening of the will to go.

  Garay, after his brief rest on the summit, had passed the open spaceand was out of sight in the bushes, but Robert knew that both Tayogaand Willet could easily pick up his trail, and now he was alleagerness to pursue him and see what the chase might disclose. Alittle farther down, the cliff sloped back to such an extent that theycould climb it without trouble, and, when they surmounted the crest,they entered the bushes at the point where Garay had disappeared.

  "Can you hear him now, Tayoga?" asked Robert.

  "My ears are as good as they were when I was in the ravine," repliedthe Onondaga, "but they do not catch any sounds from the Frenchman.It is, as we wish, because we do not care to come so near him that hewill hear."

  "Give him a half mile start," said Willet. "The ground is soft here,and it won't be any sort of work to follow him. See, here are thetraces of his footsteps now, and there is where he has pushed his wayamong the little boughs. Notice the two broken twigs, Robert."

  They followed at ease, the trail being a clear one, and the light ofmoon and stars now ample. Robert began to feel the ardor of the chase.He did not see Garay, but he believed that Tayoga at times heard himwith those wonderful ears of his. He rejoiced too that chance hadcaused them to find the French spy in the wilderness. He rememberedthat foul attempt upon his life in Albany, and, burning withresentment, he was eager to thwart Garay in whatever he was nowattempting to do. Tayoga saw his face and said softly:

  "You hate this man Garay?"

  "I don't like him."

  "Do you wish me to go forward and kill him?"

  "No! No, Tayoga! Why do you ask me such a cold-blooded question?"

  The Onondaga laughed gently.

  "I was merely testing you, Dagaeoga," he said. "We of the Hodenosauneeperhaps do not regard the taking of life as you do, but I would notshoot Garay from ambush, although I might slay him in open battle. Ah,there he is again on the crest of the ridge ahead!"

  Robert once more saw the thick, strong figure of the spy outlinedagainst the sky which was now luminous with a brilliant moon andcountless clear stars, and the feeling of resentment was very powerfulwithin him. Garay, without provocation, had attempted his life, andhe could not forget it, and, for a moment or two, he felt that ifthe necessity should come in battle he was willing for a bullet fromTayoga to settle him. Then he rebuked himself for harboring rancor.

  Garay paused, as if he needed another rest, and looked back, though itwas only a casual glance, perhaps to measure the distance he had come,and the three, standing among the dense bushes, had no fear that hesaw them or even suspected that anyone was on his traces. After adelay of a minute or so he passed over the crest and Robert, Willetand Tayoga moved on in pursuit. The Frenchman evidently knew his path,as the chase led for a long time over hills, down valleys and acrosssmall streams. Toward morning he put his fingers to his lips and blewa shrill whistle between them. Then the three drew swiftly nearuntil they could see him, standing under the boughs of a great oak,obviously in an attitude of waiting.

  "It is a signal to someone," said Robert.

  "So it is," said Willet, "and it means that he and we have come tothe end of our journey. I take it that we have arrived almost at theFrench and Indian camp, and that he whistles because he fears lest heshould be shot by a sentinel through mistake. The reply should comesoon."

  As the hunter spoke they heard a whistle, a faint, clear note farahead, and then Garay without hesitation resumed his journey. Thethree followed, but when they reached the crest of the next ridge theysaw a light shining through the forest, a light that grew and finallydivided into many lights, disclosing to them with certainty thepresence of a camp. The figure of Garay appeared for a little whileoutlined against a fire, another figure came forward to meet him, andthe two disappeared together.

  From the direction of the fires came sounds subdued by the distance,and the aroma of food.

  "It is a large camp," said Tayoga. "I have counted twelve fires whichproves it, and the white men and the red men in it do not go hungry.They have deer, bear, fish and birds also. The pleasant odors of themall come to my nostrils, and make me hungry."

  "That's too much for me," said Robert. "I can detect the blendedsavor, but I know not of what it consists. Now we go on, I suppose,and find out what this camp holds."

  "We wouldn't dream of turning back," said the hunter. "Did you noticeanything familiar, Robert, about the figure that came forward to meetGaray?"

  "Now that you speak of it, I did, but I can't recall the identity ofthe man."

  "Think again!"

  "Ah, now I have him! It was the French officer, Colonel Auguste deCourcelles, who gave us so much trouble in Canada and elsewhere."

  "That's the man," said Willet. "I knew him at once. Now, wherever DeCourcelles is mischief is likely to be afoot, but he's not the onlyFrenchman here. We'll spy out this camp to the full. There's time yetbefore the sunrise comes."

  Now the three used all the skill in stalking with which they wereendowed so plentifully, creeping forward without noise through thebushes, making so little stir among them that if a wary warrior hadbeen looking he would have taken the slight movement of twig or leaffor the influence of a wandering breeze. Gradually the whole camp cameinto view, and Tayoga's prediction that it would be a large one provedtrue.

  Robert lay on a little knoll among small bushes growing thick, wherethe keenest eye could not see him, but where his own vision sweptthe whole wide shallow dip, in which the French and Indian force wasencamped. Twelve fires, all good and large, burned gayly, throwing outruddy flames from great beds of glowing coals, while the aroma of foodwas now much stronger and very appetizing.

  The force numbered at least three hundred men, of whom about one thirdwere Frenchmen or Canadians, all in uniform. Robert recognized DeCourcelles and near him Jumonville, his invariable comrade, and alittle farther on a handsome and gallant young face.

  "It's De Galissonnière of the Battalion Languedoc, whom we met inQuébec," he whispered to Tayoga. "Now I wonder what he's doing here."

  "He's come with the others on a projected foray," Tayoga whisperedback. "But look beyond him, Dagaeoga, and you will see one more to bedreaded than De Courcelles or Jumonville."

  Robert's gaze followed that of the young Onondaga and was interceptedby the huge figure of Tandakora, the Ojibway, who stood erect by oneof the fires, bare save for a breech cloth and moccasins, his bodypainted in the most hideous designs, of which war paint was possible,his brow lowering.

  "Tandakora is not happy," said Tayoga.

  "No," said Robert. "He is thinking of the battle at Lake George thathe did not win, and of all the scalps he did not take. He is thinkingof his lost warriors, and the rout of his people and the French."

  "Even so, Dagaeoga. Now Tandakora and De Courcelles talk with the spy,Garay. They want his news. They rejoice when he tells them Waraiyagehand his soldiers still make no preparations to advance after theirvictory by the lake. The long delay, the postponement of a bigcampaign until next spring will give the French and Indians time tobreathe anew and renew their strength. Tandakora and De Courcellesconsider themselves fortunate, and they are pleased with the spy,Garay. But look, Dagaeoga! Behold who comes now!"

  Robert's heart began to throb as the handsomest and most gallantfigure of them all walked into the red glow of the firelight, a tallman, young, lithe, athletic, fair of hair and countenance, his mannerat once graceful and proud, a man to whom the others turned withdeference, and perhaps in the case of De Courcelles and Jumonvillewith a little fear. He wore a white uniform with gold facings, anda small gold hilted sword swung upon his thigh. Even in the forest,dress impresses, and Robert was quite sure that St. Luc was in hisfinest attire, not from vanity, but because he wished to create aneffect. It would be like him, when his fortunes were lowest, to assumehis highest manner before both friend and foe.

  "You'd think from his looks that he had nothing but a string ofvictories and never knew defeat," whispered Willet. "Anyway, his isthe finest spirit in all that crowd, and he's the greatest leaderand soldier, too. Notice how they give way to him, and how they stopasking questions of Garay, leaving it to him. And now Garay himselfbows low before him, while De Courcelles, Jumonville and Tandakorastand aside. I wish we could hear what they say; then we might learnsomething worth all our risk in coming here."

  But their voices did not reach so great a distance, though the three,eager to use eye even if ear was of no use, still lay in the bushesand watched the flow of life in the great camp. Many of the French andIndians who had been asleep awoke, sat up and began to cook breakfastfor themselves, holding strips of game on sharp sticks over the coals.St. Luc talked a long while with Garay, afterward with the Frenchofficers and Tandakora, and then withdrew to a little knoll, where heleaned against a tree, his face expressing intense thought. A dark,powerfully built man, the Canadian, Dubois, brought him food which heate mechanically.

  The dusk floated away, and the sun came up, great and brilliant. Thethree stirred in their covert, and Willet whispered that it was timefor them to be going.

  "Only the most marvelous luck could save us from detection in thedaylight," he said, "because presently the Indians, growing restless,will wander about the camp."

  "I'm willing to go," Robert whispered back. "I know the danger is toogreat. Besides I'm starving to death, and the odors of all their goodfood will hasten my death, if I don't take an antidote."

  They retreated with the utmost care and Robert drew an immense breathof relief when they were a full mile away. It was well to look uponthe French and Indian camp, but it was better to be beyond the reachof those who made it.

  "And now we make a camp of our own, don't we?" he said. "All my bonesare stiff from so much bending and creeping. Moreover, my hunger hasgrown to such violent pitch that it is tearing at me, so to speak,with red hot pincers."

  "Dagaeoga always has plenty of words," said Tayoga in a whimsicaltone, "but he will have to endure his hunger a while longer. Let thepincers tear and burn. It is good for him. It will give him a chanceto show how strong he is, and how a mighty warrior despises suchlittle things as food and drink."

  "I'm not anxious to show myself a mighty warrior just now," retortedyoung Lennox. "I'd be willing to sacrifice my pride in that respect ifI could have carried off some of their bear steaks and venison."

  "Come on," said Willet, "and I'll see that you're satisfied. I'mbeginning to feel as you do, Robert."

  Nevertheless he marshaled them forward pretty sternly and they pursueda westward course for many miles before he allowed a halt. Even thenthey hunted about among the rocks until they found a secluded place,no fire being permitted, at which it pleased Robert to grumble,although he did not mean it.

  "We were better off last night when we had our little fire in thehollow," he said.

  "So we were, as far as the body is concerned," rejoined Willet,"but we didn't know then where the Indian camp lay. We've at leastincreased our knowledge. Now, I'm thinking that you two lads, who havebeen awake nearly all night and also the half of the morning that haspassed, ought to sleep. Time we have to spare, but you know we shouldpractice all the economy we can with our strength. This place ispretty well hidden, and I'll do the watching. Spread your blankets onthe leaves, Robert. It's not well even for foresters to sleep on thebare ground. Now draw the other half of it over you. Tayoga has doneso already. I'm wondering which of you will get to sleep first.Whoever does will be the better man, a question I've long wanted todecide."

  But the problem was still left for the future. They fell asleep sonearly at the same time that Willet could tell no difference. Henoticed with pleasure their long, regular breathing, and he said tohimself, as he had said so often before, that they were two good andbrave lads.

  Then he made a very comfortable cushion of fallen leaves to sit upon,and remained there a long time, his rifle across his knees.

  His eyes were wide open, but no part of his body stirred. He hadacquired the gift of infinite patience, and with it the difficultphysical art of remaining absolutely motionless for a long time. Sothorough was his mastery over himself that the small wild game beganto believe by and by that he was not alive. Birds sang freely over hishead and the hare hopped through the undergrowth. Yet the hunter saweverything and his very stillness enabled him to listen with all themore acuteness.

  The sun which had arisen great and brilliant, remained so, floodingthe world with golden lights and making it wonderfully alluring toWillet, whose eyes never grew weary of the forest's varying shades andaspects. They were all peaceful now, but he had no illusions. He knewthat the hostile force would send out many hunters. So many men musthave much game and presently they would be prowling through the woods,seeking deer and bear. The chief danger came from them.

  The hours passed and noon arrived. Willet had not stirred. He didnot sleep, but he rested nevertheless. His great body was relaxedthoroughly, and strength, after weariness, flowed back into his veins.Presently his head moved forward a little and his attitude grew moreintent. A slight sound that was not a part of the wilderness had cometo him. It was very faint, few would have noticed it, but he knew itwas the report of a rifle. He knew also that it was not a shot firedin battle. The hunters, as he had surmised, were abroad, and they hadstarted up a deer or a bear.

  But Willet did not stir nor did his eyelids flicker. He was used tothe proximity of foes, and the distant report did not cause his heartto miss a single beat. Instead, he felt a sort of dry amusement thatthey should be so near and yet know it not. How Tandakora would haverejoiced if there had been a whisper in his ear that Willet, Robertand Tayoga whom he hated so much were within sound of his rifle! Andhow he would have spread his nets to catch such precious game!

  He heard a second shot presently from the other side, and then thehunter began to laugh softly to himself. His faint amusement wasturning into actual and intense enjoyment. The Indian hunters wereobviously on every side of them but did not dream that the finest gameof all was at hand. They would continue to waste their time on deerand bear while the three formidable rangers were within hearing oftheir guns.

  But the hunter was still silent. His laughter was wholly internal, andhis lips did not even move. It showed only in his eye and the generalexpression of his countenance. A third shot and a fourth came, but noanxiety marred his sense of the humorous.

  Then he heard the distant shouts of warriors in pursuit of a woundedbear and still he was motionless.

  Willet knew that the French and Tandakora suspected no pursuit. Theybelieved that no American rangers would come among the lofty peaks andridges south of the border, and he and his comrades could lie in safehiding while the hunt went on with unabated zeal. But he was sure oneday would be sufficient for the task. That portion of the wildernesswas full of game, and, since the coming of the war, deer and bear wereincreasing rapidly. Willet often noted how quickly game returned toregions abandoned by man, as if the wild animals promptly told oneanother the danger had passed.

  Joyous shouts came now and then and he knew that they marked thetaking of game, but about the middle of the afternoon the hunt driftedentirely away. A little later Tayoga awoke and sat up. Then Willetmoved slightly and spoke.

  "Tandakora's hunters have been all about us while you slept," he said,"but I knew they wouldn't find us."

  "Dagaeoga and I were safe in the care of the Great Bear," said theOnondaga confidently. "Tandakora will rage if we tell him some daythat we were here, to be taken if he had only seen us. Now Lennoxawakes also! O Dagaeoga, you have slept and missed all the greatjest."

  "What do you mean, Tayoga?"

  "Tandakora built his fire just beyond the big bush that grows ten feetaway, and sat there two hours without suspecting our presence here."

  "Now I know you are romancing, Tayoga, because I can see the twinklein your eyes. But I suspect that what you say bears some remoterelation to the truth."

  "The hostile hunters passed while you slept, and while I slept also,but the Great Bear was all eyes and ears and he did not think itneedful to awaken us."

  "What are we going to do now, Dave?"

  "Eat more venison. We must never fail to keep the body strong."

  "And then?"

  "I'm not sure. I thought once that we'd better go south to our army atLake George with news of this big band, but it's a long distance downthere, and it may be wiser to stay here and watch St. Luc. What do yousay, Robert?"

  "Stay here."

  "And you, Tayoga?"

  "Watch St. Luc."

  "I was inclining to that view myself, and it's settled now. But wemustn't move from this place until dark; it would be too dangerous inthe day."

  The lads nodded and the three settled into another long period ofwaiting.