The Lords of the Wild
By Joseph A. Altsheler
Public Domain Books
Chapter XII: The French Camp
They returned to the camp without further event. Colden and Strong were gratified to learn that the retreat of St. Luc was real, and that he was certainly going toward Champlain, with the obvious intention of joining Montcalm.
“We owe you a great debt of gratitude, Colonel,” said the young officer, frankly, to Elihu Strong. “If you had not come I don’t think we could have held out against St. Luc.”
“We did the best we could,” replied Elihu Strong. “If the Governor and Legislature of Massachusetts had done their full duty we’d have been here earlier, with twice as many men and guns, but as it is we did our best, and man can do no more.”
They decided that they would hold the point and await the coming of the great army under Abercrombie which was to crush Montcalm. The outworks were built higher and stronger and the brass cannon were mounted upon them at points, where they could sweep the forest. These fine twelve-pounders were sources of much moral courage and added greatly to the spirits of the troops. They had shown their power at the forcing of the ford and at the taking of the ridge, and their brazen mouths, menacing the forest, looked well.
Willet and his comrades considered it their duty to stay there also, and wait for Abercrombie, and, the third day after the retreat of St. Luc, Robert and Tayoga went into the woods to see whether Tandakora had turned back again with his warriors. They reckoned that the Ojibway chief’s anger was so strong that he would make another attempt at revenge upon those who had defeated him. There was a rumor that the Indians with the French were becoming much dissatisfied, that they were awed by the reports of the mighty British and American force advancing under Abercrombie, and might leave the French to meet it alone.
“Do you think there is much in these rumors?” asked Robert, as he and the Onondaga went into the forest.
“I do,” replied Tayoga. “The warriors with the French do not like the cannon, and they say the force that is coming against Montcalm is very vast. A great battle may be fought, but Tandakora and his men are not likely to be there. They will go away and await a better day.”
“Then I’m glad they’ll desert for a while. They’re the eyes and ears of the French. That will leave our own scouts and forest runners the lords of the wild, though it seems to me, Tayoga, that you’re the true and veritable lord of the wild.”
“Then if that were so, though you praise my skill too much, Dagaeoga, you and the Great Bear and Black Rifle also are lords of the wild.”
“Lords of the wild! I like the term. It is something to be that at this time and in this region. We’re mainly a wilderness people, Tayoga, and our wars are waged in the woods. We’re not more than two miles from the camp now, and yet we’re completely lost in the forest. There’s not a trace of man. I don’t even see any smoke soiling the sky.”
“It is so, Dagaeoga, and we are again in the shadow of peril. Dangers in the forest are as thick as leaves on the trees. Here is an old trail of our enemies.”
“I’m not interested in old trails. What we’re looking for is new ones.”
“If we keep going toward the north it may be that we will find them, Dagaeoga.”
Several miles farther on they came to other trails which the Onondaga examined with great interest and care. Two or three he pronounced quite recent, but he did not read any particular purpose in them.
“It is likely that they were made by hunters,” he said. “While the armies are gathering, the warriors are sure to seek game. Here two of them passed, and here they stood behind a tree. It is sure now that those two were hunting. I think they stood behind a tree to ambush a deer. The deer was to the west of them. The traces they left in the soft earth under the tree show that the toes of their moccasins pointed toward the west and so they were looking that way, at the deer, which probably stood in the thicket over there nibbling at its food. They must have had an easy shot. Now, we’ll enter the thicket. Lo, Dagaeoga, here is where the deer fell! Look at the little bushes broken and at the dark stain on the ground where its life flowed out. They dragged the body to the other side of the thicket, and cut it up there. Nothing could be plainer, the traces are so numerous. They were casual hunters, and it is not worth our while to follow them.”
Northward they still pursued their course, and struck another and larger trail which made Tayoga look grave.
“This is the path of seven or eight warriors,” he said, “and it is likely that they are a scouting party. They have come back, as we expected, to spy upon us and to cut off stragglers from our camp. We will follow it a little while.”
It led south by west and seemed to go on with a definite purpose, but, after a mile or so, it divided, four warriors, as Tayoga said, going in one direction and three in the other.
“Suppose I follow those on the north a short distance while you take those on the south,” suggested Robert.
“We will do so,” said Tayoga, “and in an hour come back to this point.”
The three warriors were on the north, and, as the earth was soft, Robert saw their trail quite clearly leading steadily west by north. His own ambition to excel as a trailer was aroused and he followed it with great energy. Two or three times when the ground became hard and rocky he lost it, but a little search always disclosed it again, and he renewed the pursuit with increased zeal. He went on over a hill and then into a wide valley, well grown with thickets. Pushing his way through the bushes he sought the traces and was startled by a sound almost at his shoulder. Keyed to the dangers of the forest he whirled instantly, but it was too late. A powerful warrior threw himself upon him, and though Robert, by a great effort, threw him off he sprang back and another on the other side also seized him. He was borne to the earth and a third Indian coming up, he was quickly secured.
Robert at first was so sick with chagrin that he did not think about his life. In nine cases out of ten the warriors would have tomahawked him, and this he soon realized, thankful at the same time that he had been spared, for the present, at least. Yet his mortification endured. What would Tayoga say when he saw by the trail that he had been caught so easily? He had fairly walked into the trap, and he was now a prisoner the second time. Yet he showed the stoicism that he had learned in a forest life. While the Indians bound his wrists tightly with rawhide thongs he stood up and looked them squarely in the face.
One of the warriors took his rifle and examined it with a pleased eye. Another appropriated his pistol and a third helped himself to his knife and hatchet.
“I’ve four shillings in an inside pocket,” said Robert. “If you want ’em, take ’em.”
But the warriors did not understand English and shook their heads. Evidently they were satisfied with the spoil they had taken already.
“Which way?” asked Robert.
They replied by leading him to the northwest. He was hopeful at first that Tayoga might rescue him as he had done once before, but the warriors were wary and powerful, and three, too, were too many for the Onondaga alone to attack. The thought passed and by an effort of the will he resigned himself to his immediate captivity. They did not mean to take his life, and while there was no hope for the present there was plenty of it for the future. He could be in a far worse case. His unfailing optimism broke through the shell of mortification, and he became resolutely cheerful.
“Which way, my friends?” he said to the warriors.
But again they understood no English and shook their heads.
“Don’t plume yourself too much on that rifle,” he said, speaking to the warrior who had taken his favorite weapon. “You have it for the present, but when I escape for the second time I mean to take it with me. I give you fair warning.”
The warrior, who seemed to be good natured, shook his head once more, and grinned, not abating at all his air of proprietorship so far as the rifle was concerned.
“And you with the pistol,” continued the prisoner, “I beg to tell you it’s mine, not yours, and I shall claim it again. What, you don’t understand? Well, I’ll have to find some way to make you comprehend later on.”
The three warriors walked briskly and Robert, of course, had no choice but to keep pace with them. They indicated very conclusively that they knew where they meant to go, and so he assumed that a hostile camp was not very far away. Resolved to show no sign of discouragement, he held his head erect and stepped springily.
About three miles, and he saw a gleam of uniforms through the trees, a few steps more and his heart gave a leap. He beheld a group of Indians, and several Frenchmen, and one of them, tall, young, distinguished, was St. Luc.
The Chevalier was in a white uniform, trimmed with silver, a silver hilted small sword by his side, and his smile was not unpleasant when he said to Robert:
“I sent out these three warriors to find me a prisoner and bring him in, but I little suspected that it would be you.”
“I suspected as little that it was you to whom I was being taken," said Robert. “But since I had to be a prisoner I’m glad I’m yours instead of De Courcelles’ or Jumonville’s, as those two soldiers of France have as little cause to love me as I have to love them.”
“Monsieur De Courcelles is suffering from a bullet wound.”
“It was my bullet.”
“You say that rather proudly, but perhaps I’d better not tell it to him. It seems, Mr. Lennox, that you have a certain facility in getting yourself captured, as this is the second time within a year.”
“I was treated so well by the French that I thought I could risk it again,” said Robert jauntily.
The Chevalier smiled. Robert felt again that current of understanding and sympathy, that, so it seemed to him, had passed so often between them.
“I see,” said St. Luc, “that you are willing to give credit to France, the evergreen nation, the nation of light and eternal life. We may lose at times, we may be defeated at times, but we always rise anew. You British and Americans will realize that some day.”
“I do not hate France.”
“I don’t think you do. But this is scarcely a time for me to give you a lecture on French qualities. Sit down on this log. I trust that my warriors did not treat you with undue harshness.”
“I’ve nothing to complain of. They took my weapons, but that is the law of war. I’d have done the same in their place. As I see it, they’re not particularly bad Indians. But if you don’t mind, I’d like you to cut these rawhide thongs that bind my wrists. They’re beginning to sting.”
The Chevalier drew a knife and with one sweep of its keen edge severed the rawhide. Robert’s wrists flew apart and the blood once more flowed freely through his veins. Though the stinging did not cease he felt great relief.
“I thank you,” he said politely, “but, as I told you before, I do not hold it against your warriors, because they bound me. I’d have escaped had they given me any chance at all, and I warn you now, as I warned them, that I intend to escape later on.”
St. Luc smiled.
“I’ll accept the challenge,” he said, “and I’ll see that you don’t make good your boast. I can assure you, too, if by any possibility you should escape, it certainly will not be before the great battle.”
“Great battle! What great battle? You don’t mean that Montcalm will dare to meet Abercrombie?”
“Such an idea was in my mind.”
“Why, we’ll come with four or five to one! The Marquis de Montcalm cannot stand against such a powerful force as ours. We’ve definite information that he won’t be able to muster more than three or four thousand men. We hear, too, that the Indians, frightened by our power, are leaving him, for the time, at least.”
“Some of your surmises may be correct, but your facts don’t follow from them. The Marquis de Montcalm, our great leader, will await your Abercrombie, no matter what your force may be. I violate no military secret when I tell you that, and I tell you also that you are very far from being assured of any victory.”
The Chevalier suddenly dropped his light manner, and became intensely earnest. His eyes gleamed for an instant with blue fire, but it was only a passing moment of emotion. He was in an instant his old, easy self again.
“We talk like the debaters of the schools,” he said, “when we are at war. I am to march in a few minutes. I suggest that in return for certain liberties you give me your pledge to attempt no escape until we arrive at the camp of the Marquis de Montcalm.”
“I can’t do it. Since I’ve promised you that I will escape I must neglect no chance.”
“So be it. Then I must guard you well, but I will not have your wrists bound again. Here comes an expert rover of the forest who will be your immediate jailer.”
A white man at the head of several warriors was approaching through the woods. He was young, lean, with a fierce, hooked Roman nose, and a bold, aggressive face, tanned to the color of mahogany. Robert recognized him at once, and since he had to be a prisoner a second time, he took a certain pleasure in the meeting.
“How do you do, Monsieur Langlade?” he said. “You see, I’ve come back. I forgot to tell you good-by, and I’m here to make amends for my lack of politeness. And how is the patient and watchful spouse, the Dove?”
Robert spoke in good French and the partisan stared in astonishment. Then a pleased look of recognition came into his eyes.
“Ah, it’s young Mr. Lennox,” he exclaimed. “Young Mr. Lennox come back to us. It’s not mere politeness that makes me tell you I’m glad to see you. You did make a very clever escape with the aid of that Indian friend of yours. I hope to capture Tayoga some day, and, if I do, it will be an achievement of which I shall boast all the rest of my life. But we’ll take good care that you don’t leave us again.”
“He has just warned me that he intends to escape a second time,” said St. Luc.
“Then it will be a pretty test of mettle,” said the Owl, appreciation showing in his tone, “and we welcome it. Have you any commands for me, sir?”
He spoke with great respect when he addressed the query to St. Luc, and the Chevalier replied that they would march in a half hour. Then Langlade gave Robert food, and took a little himself, sitting with the prisoner and informing him that the Dove had worried greatly over his escape. Although she was not to blame, she considered that in some indirect manner it was a reflection upon her vigilance, and it was many months before she was fully consoled.
“I must send word to her by one of our runners that you have been retaken,” said the Owl, “and I wish to tell you, Mr. Lennox, that the Dove’s younger sister, who is so much like her in looks and character, is still unmarried and perhaps it may come into the mind of the Chevalier de St. Luc or the Marquis de Montcalm to send you back to our village.”
“You’re once more most polite,” laughed Robert, “but I’m far too young, yet, to think of marriage.”
“It’s not an offer that I’d make to many young men,” said Langlade regretfully. “In truth, I know of none other to whom I’d have mentioned it.”
When they took up the march the force numbered about fifty men, and Robert walked between Langlade and a stalwart Indian. St. Luc was further on. They did not seem to fear any ambush and Langlade chattered after his fashion. He made the most of the French resources. He spoke as if the Marquis de Montcalm had ten or fifteen thousand veteran French regulars, and half as many Indian warriors.
“Don’t consider me contentious, Monsieur Langlade,” said Robert, at last, “but I know full well that your general has not half that many troops, no, not a third, and that nearly all his Indians are about to leave him.”
“And how do you know that?” exclaimed the Owl. “Well, one Frenchman equals two of the English or the Bostonnais, and that doubles our numbers. You don’t see any chance to escape, do you?”
“Not at present,” laughed Robert.
“Not now, nor at any other time. No man ever escapes twice from the French.”
The talk of Langlade, his frank egotism and boastfulness for himself personally and for the French collectively, beguiled the journey which soon became strenuous, the force advancing at a great pace through the forest. At night a fire was built in the deep woods, the knapsacks furnished plenty of food, and Robert slept soundly on a blanket until dawn. He had seen before closing his eyes that a strict guard was set, and he knew that it was not worth while to keep awake in the hope of escape. Like a wise man he dismissed the hope of the impossible at once, and waited calmly for another time. He knew too that St. Luc had originally sent out his warriors to capture a prisoner from whom they might drag information, but that the Chevalier would not try to cross-examine him, knowing its futility.
They traveled northward by east all the next day, through very rough country, slept another night in the forest, and on the third day approached a great camp, which held the main French force. Robert’s heart thrilled. Here was the center of the French power in North America. Vaudreuil and Bigot at Quebec might plan and plot and weave their webs, but in the end the mighty struggle between French and English and their colonies must be decided by the armies.
He knew that this was the outlet of Lake George and he knew also that the army of Abercrombie was gathering at the head of the same lake. His interest grew keener as they drew nearer. He saw clusters of tents, cannon parked, and many fires. There were no earthworks or other fortifications, and he inferred from their absence that Montcalm was undecided whether to go or stay. But Robert thought proudly that he would surely go, when the invincible Anglo-American army advanced from its base at the head of the lake. The whole camp lay under his eye, and he had enough military experience now to judge the French numbers by its size. He did not think they were much in excess of three thousand, and as Abercrombie would come four or five to one, Montcalm must surely retreat.
“I take it that this is Ticonderoga,” he said to St. Luc.
“Aye,” replied the Chevalier.
“And in effect you have Champlain on one side of you and George on the other. But you can’t hold the place against our great force. I’m here in time to join you in your retreat.”
“We don’t seem to be retreating, as you’ll notice, Mr. Lennox, and I don’t know that we will. Still, that rests on the knees of the gods. I think you’ll find here some old friends and enemies of yours, and though your people have made a great outcry against the Marquis de Montcalm because of the affair at Fort William Henry, I am sure you will find that the French know how to treat a prisoner. I shall put you for the present in the care of Monsieur Langlade, with whom you appear to have no quarrel. He has his instructions.”
It was the second time that Robert had entered the camp of Montcalm and his keen interest drove away for the present all thought of himself. He noted anew the uniforms, mostly white faced with blue or violet or red or yellow, and with black, three-cornered hats. There were the battalions of Guienne, La Reine, Béarn, La Sarre, Languedoc, Berry and Royal Roussillon. The Canadians, swarthy, thick and strong, wore white with black facings. Some Indians were about, but fewer than Robert had expected. It was true then that they had become alarmed at Abercrombie’s advancing might, and were leaving the French to their fate.
“You are to stay in a tent with me,” said Langlade, “and you will be so thoroughly surrounded by the army, that you will have no earthly chance of escape. So I think it better that you pledge your word not to attempt it for a while, and I can make things easier for you.”
“No, I decline again to give such a pledge,” said Robert firmly. “I warn you, as I’ve warned the Chevalier de St. Luc, that I’m going to escape.”
Langlade looked at him searchingly, and then the face of the partisan kindled.
“I believe you mean it!” he exclaimed. “You rely on yourself and you think, too, that clever Onondaga, Tayoga, will come again to your aid. I acknowledge that he’s a great trailer, that he’s master of some things that even I, Charles Langlade, the Owl, do not know, but he cannot steal you away a second time.”
“I admit that I’ve been thinking of Tayoga. He may be here now close to us.”
The Owl gave a startled look at the empty air, as if he expected Tayoga to be hovering there, formidable but invisible.
“I see you do fear him,” laughed Robert.
“I do, but we shall be a match for him this time, though I never underrate his powers.”
A young officer in a captain’s uniform stopped suddenly and looked at Robert. Then he advanced and extended his hand.
“It is evident that you like the French,” he said, “since you are continually coming back to them.”
“De Galissonnière!” exclaimed Robert, as he warmly shook the extended hand. “Yes, here I am, and I do like many of the French. I’m sorry we’re official enemies.”
“I know that our people will treat you well,” jested De Galissonnière, “and then, when we take New York, you can tell the inhabitants of that city what good masters we are and teach them to be reconciled.”
Young Lennox made a reply in like spirit, and De Galissonnière passed on. But a man walking near with his shoulder well bound greeted him in no such friendly manner. Instead a heavy frown came over his face and his eyes flashed cruelly. It was De Courcelles, nursing the wound Robert had given him, and at the same time increasing his anger. The youth returned his gaze defiantly.
“Colonel De Courcelles does not like you,” said Langlade, who had noticed the brief exchange.
“He does not,” replied Robert. “It was my bullet that hurt his shoulder, but I gave him the wound in fair combat.”
“And he hates you because of it?”
“That and other things.”
“What a strange man! A wound received in fair and honorable battle should be a tie that binds. If you had given it to me in a combat on equal terms I’d have considered it an honor conferred upon me by you. It would have wiped away all grievance and have made us friends.”
“Then, Monsieur Langlade, I’m afraid I missed my opportunity to make our friendship warmer than it is.”
“How is that?”
“I held you also under the muzzle of my rifle in that battle in the forest, but when I recognized you I could not send the bullet. I turned the weapon aside.”
“Ah, that was in truth a most worthy and chivalrous act! Embrace me, my friend!”
“No! No! We American men never embrace or kiss one another!”
“I should have remembered. A cold people! But never mind! You are my brother, and I esteem you so highly that I shall let nothing on earth take you away from us. Can you not reconsider your decision about the sister of the Dove? She would make you a most admirable wife, and after the war we could become the greatest rangers, you and I, that the forest has ever known. And the life in the woods is marvelous in its freedom and variety!”
But Robert plead extreme youth once more, and the Owl was forced to be resigned. The small tent in which guard and prisoner were to sleep was almost in the center of the camp and Robert truly would have needed wings and the power of invisibility to escape then. Instead of it he let the thought pass for a while and went to sleep on a blanket.
While young Lennox slept St. Luc was in the tent of Montcalm talking with his leader. The Marquis was in much perplexity. His spies had brought him word of the great force that was mustering in the south, and he did not know whether to await the attack at Ticonderoga or to retreat to the powerful fortifications at Crown Point on Lake Champlain. His own ardent soul, flushed by the successes he had already won, told him to stay, but prudence bade him go. Now he wanted to hear what St. Luc had to say and wanting it he knew also that the Chevalier was the most valiant and daring of his captains. He wished to hear from the dauntless leader just what he wished to hear and nothing else.
“Your observations, then, confirm what the spies have reported?” he said. “The enemy can easily control Lake George!”
“He has only to make an effort to do so, my general,” replied St. Luc. “I could have captured the boat builders on the point or have compelled their retirement, but large forces came to their relief. The numbers of the foe are even greater than we had feared.”
“How many men do you think General Abercrombie will have when he advances against us?”
“Not less than fifteen thousand, sir, perhaps more.”
The face of Montcalm fell.
“As many as that!” he exclaimed. “It is more than four to one!”
“He cannot have less, sir,” repeated St. Luc positively.
Montcalm’s brow clouded and he paced back and forth.
“And the Indians who have been so powerful an ally,” he said at last. “They are frightened by the reports concerning the Anglo-American army. After their fashion they wish to run away before superior force, and fight when the odds are not so great. It is most embarrassing to lose their help, at such a critical time. Can you do nothing with this sullen giant, Tandakora, who has such influence over them?”
“I fear not, sir. He was with me on the expedition from which I have just returned, and he fared ill. He is in a most savage humor. He is like a bear that will hide in the woods and lick its hurts until the sting has passed. I think we may consider it certain, sir, that they will desert us, for the time.”
“And we shall have but little more than three thousand French and Canadians to defend the honor of France and His Majesty’s great colony in North America. We might retreat to the fortifications at Crown Point, and make an advantageous stand there, but it goes ill with me to withdraw. Still, prudence cries upon me to do so. I have talked with Bourlamaque, Trepezec, Lotbiniére, the engineer, Langy, the partisan, and other of my lieutenants whom you know. They express varying opinions. Now, Colonel de St. Luc, I want yours, an opinion that is absolutely your own.”
St. Luc drew himself up and his warrior soul flashed through his blue eyes.
“Sir,” he said, “it goes as ill with me as it does with you to retreat. My heart is here at Ticonderoga. Nor does prudence suggest to me that we retreat to Crown Point. My head agreeing with my heart says that we should stand here.”
“And that is your conviction?”
“It is, sir. Ticonderoga is ours and we can keep it.”
“Upon what do you base this opinion? In such a crisis as this we must be influenced by sound military reasons and not by sentiment.”
“My reasons, sir, are military. That is why my heart goes with my head. It is true that the Anglo-American army will come in overwhelming numbers, but they may be overwhelming numbers that will not overwhelm. As we know, the British commanders have not adapted themselves as well as the French to wilderness, campaigning. Their tactics and strategy are the same as those they practice in the open fields of Europe, and it puts them at a great disadvantage. We have been willing to learn from the Indians, who have practiced forest warfare for centuries. And the British Colonials, the Bostonnais, fall into the faults of the parent country. In spite of all experience they, continue to despise wilderness wile and stratagem, and in a manner that is amazing. They walk continually into ambush, and are cut up before they can get out of it. I am not one to cheapen the valor of British and British Colonials. It has been proved too often on desperate fields, but in the kind of war we must wage here deep in the wilds of North America, valor is often unavailing, and I think, sir, that we can rely upon one fact. The enemy will take us too lightly. He is sure to do something that will keep him from using his whole force at the right moment against us. Our forest knowledge will work all the time in our behalf. I entreat you, sir, to keep the army here at Ticonderoga and await the attack.”
St. Luc spoke with intense earnestness, and his words had all the ring of conviction. Montcalm’s dark face was illumined. Again he walked back and forth, in deep thought.
“The engineer, Lotbiniére, a man whose opinion I respect, is of your mind,” he said at last. “He says that whether Crown Point or Ticonderoga, it’s merely either horn of the dilemma, and naturally, if the dangers of the two places are even, we prefer Ticonderoga and no retreat. The Marquis de Vaudreuil had a plan to save Ticonderoga by means of a diversion with a heavy force under Bourlamaque, De Levis and Longueuil into the Mohawk Valley. But some American rangers taken near Lake George by Langy told him that Abercrombie already had thirty thousand men at the head of George and the Marquis at once abandoned the scheme. It was lucky for us the rangers exaggerated so much that the plan was destined to failure, as we needed here the men who were sent on it. We save or lose Ticonderoga by fighting at Ticonderoga itself and by nothing else. I thank you, Colonel de St. Luc, for your gallant and timely words, I have been wavering and they have decided me. We stay here and await the Anglo-American army.”
“And the star of France will not fail us,” said St Luc, with intense conviction.
“I trust not. I feel more confidence since I have decided, and I do know this: the young men who are my lieutenants are as brave and skillful leaders as any chief could desire. And the troops will fight even ten to one, if I ask it of them. It is a pleasure and a glory to command troops of such incomparable bravery as the French. But we must try to keep the Indians with us. I confess that I know little about dealing with them. Has this savage chief, Tandakora, come back to Ticonderoga?”
“I think he is here, sir. Do you wish me to talk with him?”
“I do. I wish it very much.”
“He is very sullen, sir. He holds that the Indians have received no rewards for their services.”
“We have given them blankets and food and muskets and ammunition.”
“He takes those as a matter of course. But he means something else. To tell you the truth, sir, the savages want us to give prisoners to them.”
Montcalm’s face clouded again.
“To burn at the stake, or to torture to death otherwise!” he exclaimed. “My reputation and what is more, the reputation of France, suffers already from the massacre at William Henry, though God knows I would have prevented it if I could. It happened so suddenly and so unexpectedly that I could not stop it, until the harm was done. But never, St. Luc, never will I give up a prisoner to them for their tortures, though every savage in our armies desert us!”
“I hold with you, sir, that we cannot surrender prisoners to them, even though the cause of France should suffer.”
“Then talk to this savage chief. Make him see reason. Promise him and his people what you wish in muskets, ammunition, blankets and such things, but no prisoners, not one.”
St. Luc, with a respectful salute, left the tent. He was torn by conflicting emotions. He was depressed over the smallness of the French numbers, and yet he was elated by Montcalm’s decision to stay at Ticonderoga and await Abercrombie. He was confident, as he had said, that some lucky chance would happen, and that the overwhelming superiority of the Anglo-American army would be nullified.
The Chevalier cast a discriminating eye over the French position. The staunch battalion of Berry lay near the foot of Lake George, but the greater part of the army under the direct command of Montcalm was in camp near a saw mill. The valiant Bourlamaque was at the head of the portage, and another force held the point of embarkation on Lake George. But he knew that Montcalm would change these dispositions when the day of battle came.
On the westward side of the camp several fires burned and dark figures lay near them. St. Luc marked one of these, a gigantic savage, stretched at his ease, and he walked toward him. He pretended, at first, that his errand had nothing to do with Tandakora, but stood thoughtfully by the fire, for a minute or two. Nor did the Ojibway chief take any notice. He lay at ease, and it was impossible to tell what thoughts were hidden behind his sullen face.
“Does Tandakora know what the commander of the French army has decided to do?” said St. Luc, at last.
“Tandakora is not thinking much about it,” replied the chief.
“Montcalm is a brave general. He shows that he is not afraid of the great army the English and the Bostonnais have gathered. He will not retreat to Crown Point or anywhere else, but will stay at Ticonderoga and defeat his foes.”
The black eyes of the Ojibway flickered.
“Tandakora does not undertake to tell Montcalm what he must do,” he said, “nor must Montcalm undertake to tell Tandakora what he should do. What Montcalm may do will not now keep Tandakora awake.”
St. Luc’s heart filled with hot anger, but he was used to dealing with Indians. He understood their minds from the inside, and he had a superb self-control of his own.
“We know that Tandakora is a great chief,” he said evenly. “We know too that he and his men are as free as the winds. As they blow where they please so the warriors of Tandakora go where they wish. But Onontio [The Governor-General of Canada.] and Tandakora have long been friends. They have been allies, they have fought side by side in many a battle. If Onontio falls, Tandakora falls with him. If the British and Bostonnais are victorious, there will be room for none of the tribes save the League of the Hodenosaunee, and them Tandakora hates. Onontio will not be able to protect them any more, and they will be driven from all their hunting grounds.”
He paused to watch his words take effect and they obviously stirred the soul of the savage chief who moved uneasily.
“It is true,” he said. “Sharp Sword never tells a falsehood. If Onontio is struck down then the British, the Bostonnais and the Hodenosaunee triumph, but my warriors bring me word that our enemies have gathered the greatest force the world has ever seen at the head of Andiatarocte. They come thicker than the leaves of the forest. They have more guns than we can count. They will trample Montcalm and his soldiers under their feet. So, according to our custom, Tandakora and his warriors would go away into the forest, until the British and the Bostonnais scatter, unable to find us. Then, when they are not looking, we will strike them and take many scalps.”
Tandakora spoke in his most impressive manner, and, when he ceased, his eyes met St. Luc’s defiantly. Again the blood of the Chevalier burned with wrath, but as before he restrained himself, and his smooth voice gave no hint of anger as he replied:
“Odds are of no avail against Montcalm. The children of Onontio are used to dealing with them. Remember, Tandakora, the great victories Montcalm won at Oswego and William Henry. He has the soul of a mighty chief. He has decided to stay here at Ticonderoga and await the enemy, confident that he will win the victory. Tandakora is a great warrior, is he willing to have no share in such a triumph?”
The cruel eyes of the Ojibway glistened.
“The heart of Tandakora is heavy within him,” he said. “He and his warriors are not afraid of the British and the Bostonnais. They have fought by the side of Montcalm, but they do not receive all the rewards that Onontio owes them.”
“Onontio has given to them freely of his muskets and powder and bullets, and of his blankets and food.”
“But he takes from them the prisoners. We have no scalps to carry home.”
“It is against the custom of the French to put prisoners to death or torture. Moreover, we have no prisoners here. The rangers taken by Langy have already been sent to Canada.”
“There is one in the camp now. He was captured by three of my warriors, those you sent out, and by the law of war he belongs to me. Yet Sharp Sword and Montcalm hold him. I speak of the youth Lennox, the comrade of the Onondaga, Tayoga, who is my bitterest enemy. I hate Lennox too because he has stood so often in my way and I demand him, to do with as I please, because it is my right.”
The Ojibway moved close to St. Luc and the fierce black eyes glared into those of stern blue. The Chevalier did not change his smooth, placatory tone as he replied:
“I cannot give up Lennox. It is true that he was taken by your warriors, but they were then in my service, so he is my prisoner. But he is only a single captive, a lad. Ask for some other and greater reward, Tandakora, and it shall be yours.”
“Give me the prisoner, Lennox, and I and my warriors stay and fight with you at Ticonderoga. Refuse him and we go.”
The chief’s words were sharp and decisive and St. Luc understood him. He knew that the savage Ojibway hated young Lennox intensely, and would put him to the torture. He never hesitated an instant.
“I cannot yield the prisoner to you,” he said. “The custom of the French will not permit it.”
“The warriors are a great help in battle, and the reward I ask is but small. St. Luc knows that Montcalm needs men here. What is this boy to St. Luc that he refuses so great a price for him?”
“It cannot be done, Tandakora. I keep the prisoner, Lennox, and later I will send him to Canada to be held there until the war is over.”
“Then the forest to-morrow will swallow up Tandakora and his warriors.”
The chief returned to the fire and lay at ease in his blanket. St. Luc walked thoughtfully back toward the tent of Montcalm. He knew that it was his duty to report the offer of Tandakora to his chief, but he did so reluctantly.
“You have refused it already?” said the Marquis.
“I have, sir,” replied St. Luc.
“Then you have done well. I confirm you in the refusal.”
St. Luc saluted with great respect, and again retired from the tent.