The Bushfighters/Chapter 10

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pp. 56–59.



AFTER his men had started down the lake Putnam paddled across to the west shore and risked discovery by advancing eight miles, or until he came to Sabbath Day Point. This was familiar ground for him.

Here he found the remains of a fire, which he decided had been burning within the last twenty-four hours. Five couches of fir boughs led him to deduce that these were the same men as those whom he had raided at the Narrows. As there was no sign of the enemy he concealed the birch and after eating some of his cooked rations withdrew to a thicket and slept until late afternoon.

Scouting the point and surveying the lake, he saw nothing to occasion alarm, and although it lacked several hours of sunset he pulled out the canoe and resumed his journey down the lake. He still kept to the west shore, as here were islets and coves among which he could seek shelter if the enemy appeared and gave pursuit.

He realized that while affording him a hiding-place each cover might be a trap, but that was a risk he must take. He was determined to reach the Carrying-Place that evening.

When he came to the bare and savage steeps of Rogers' Rock he took a supreme risk by cutting diagonally across to the east shore and landing at the entrance of the Second Narrows, as the connecting stream between George and Champlain was called. Now he was in the enemy country, where French partizan and red ally were continually scouting back and forth; and wo to the ranger who was caught napping!

He hid his canoe, set off due north and traveled until he struck into the Carrying-Place trail. This path, he knew, ended at some saw-mills on the rapids in the immediate neighborhood of Ticonderoga.

Following it for about a mile, he swung off to the east and made for a mountain which stood within three miles of the French fort. He knew the ground from previous reconnaissances and had no difficulty in following his course despite the fact that night was settling down and obliterating the landmarks.

After several hours of rough travel he came to the slope of the mountain, and being well satisfied with his progress he found a thick covert and placidly went to sleep. He was aroused in the morning by the sound of voices. Peeping from his hiding-place, he beheld two savages, tall, stalwart men and less ferocious of countenance than the Western Indians or the Caughnawaga Iroquois.

One rested his foot on a rock as he bent over to examine the ground. Putnam observed that he was wearing moosehide moccasins, and at once decided they were Abnaki, either from Canada or from the Penobscot River in the extreme East.

Although less sanguinary than the Iroquois the New England settlers had learned full well their implacable severity in conducting war. While given to treating female captives kindly their inventions in torturing the males left them little to learn from Ottawa or Huron.

Putnam considered them a sturdier foe than the Potawatomi and other western tribes, whose gross superstitions made them victims to many absurd whims. These were grim, dour warriors, who had paid tribute to the Mohawks and yet could wage battle as stoutly as the Keepers of the Eastern Door had they possessed the capacity of holding themselves together as a unit.

The two had happened upon a trace of the trail left by the ranger and were considering it. Used to following signs through the gloomy depths of their ancient evergreen forests, they had quickly observed where a white man had boldly made his way up the slope.

They were curious, but not suspicious. None would look for an enemy so close to Fort Ticonderoga. But being of abundant leisure and accustomed to follow any trail that was not perfectly obvious, they might have stumbled upon the ranger had not friendly fortune interposed.

The situation was saved by a Canadian, who had followed a bear up the mountain and had remained the night, thinking to resume the pursuit in the morning. Now he came down the slope, singing a lively love-song, and passed within a rod of Putnam.

On beholding the Indians he gave them a boisterous greeting and passed on. They glanced at his moccasins, found that they agreed with the trail, grunted to each other and resumed their way to the lake.

Putnam removed his thumb from the hammer of his gun and breathed in relief. If surprized he had had no doubt as to his ability to dispose of the two intruders, but the encounter would arouse the hornets' nest in Ticonderoga and he would-have been obliged to flee without accomplishing his great purpose.

Once they were out of sight he produced his supply of food and devoured half of it and then began his ascent of the mountain. Gaining the summit, he began a careful inspection of the fort and outworks, and sought to estimate the number of men in the masses of humanity he could discern at drill.

He also made careful notes of the great abatis and the advanced post where he and Rogers had obtained the kettle of beans. Becoming very thirsty, he descended the mountain toward the lake, taking great care to keep under cover as it was customary for the French lookouts to employ spy-glasses in searching the surrounding country.

He reached the foot of the mountain and found himself close to three cabins and a larger structure which he believed was a hay-barn. Finding a pool of water, he quenched his thirst and opened his rations only to discover that the small quantity of meat left had spoiled. He was undecided whether to return to the mountain or to forage for food.

His natural common sense would have influenced him to tighten his belt and fast at least until night had he not now beheld a most tantalizing spectacle. A Canadian emerged from one of the cabins, eating something.

“Looks like roast fowl,” muttered Putnam, his mouth watering. “Most likely wild duck. —— me, I believe it is duck!”

He watched the man enter the hay-barn. Very shortly the man reappeared in the door, held up a jug and began calling to invisible comrades. After a minute a man stuck his head from a cabin and another man came from behind the third cabin. These two gaily called back to the man with the jug and hastened to join him. The three entered the barn and closed the door.

This was Putnam's chance; and, darting across the small plot sown to squash and pumpkins, he reached the middle cabin unobserved and bolted through the door. For a moment he was nonplused, believing that he was in the presence of the dead, and a mummy at that, so withered and shrunken was the figure in the box bunk. But the eyes flickered.

Putnam glided forwarded, but the face of the aged man betrayed no fear. Putnam placed a knife at the scraggy, wrinkled throat, but not a muscle of the parchment face moved.

Putnam now noticed the contracted appearance of the muscles on one side of the face, and knew the man was suffering from a shock and that it was impossible for him to move. With a flush of shame he put up the knife and asked—

“Speak English?”

The man's eyes showed no intelligence. “Parlez Français?” demanded Putnam.

Lights sprang up in the black eyes and then died out.

PUTNAM believed him to be helpless yet he kept an eye on him as he rummaged about the small room. In a kettle by the fireplace he found a savory mess, a huge fricassee of duck. He fished out a breast and devoured it on the spot, throwing the bones into the back of the fireplace. Two plump drumsticks followed. With the edge taken off his hunger, he found a roll of dressed leather and in this placed what remained of the duck.

Happening to glance toward the bunk, he beheld a strange, tense glitter in the paralytic's eyes, and it came to him that the man was listening, waiting for something. Springing to the door, he opened it a crack and looked toward the barn. The three men were just coming out. They had made no sound that Putnam had heard, and yet the ranger believed the paralytic had heard them.

At the end of the cabin was a square hole covered by a blanket. Stepping to this, Putnam found he had a clear field, and with the roll of duck under his arm he slipped through and carefully rearranged the blanket behind him.

The three men, talking volubly, now approached the cabin and at the earnest exhortations of the owner entered. No sooner were they inside and the door closed than the ranger passed back of the cabin and ran to the rear of the barn.

As he ran he heard fragments of wild cries of dismay when the host opened his kettle and found that several fat ducks had vanished. It was pronounced to be devil's work. It was useless to question the ancient. With their nerves in a jangle the invitation to return to the brandy. was gladly accepted.

In the meanwhile Putnam had heard voices of men to the east of the barn, and not wishing to be caught between them and the three men in the cabin, he darted inside the barn and glanced about for a hiding-place. Half the space was stacked with hay to the roof. There was no chance to conceal himself unless he took refuge in a stall next to the door.

The stall was narrow, and while but vaguely lighted it would be a poor retreat to be discovered in. Just now it was empty, but the horse might be led in at any time.

There were several moth-eaten bearskins hanging on the walls. He rapidly canvassed these as affording a possible hiding-place, only to decide that the outline of his figure would be too pronounced, let alone the discomfort of remaining motionless behind them.

The sound of voices close to the door dissolved his hesitation. He could not leave the barn without being seen. Snatching a bearskin from its peg, he threw it over his head, entered the stall and crouched on his heels. Being in deep shadow, with the brown pelt tending to eliminate the outlines of his figure, he hoped to remain unnoticed. A dog yapped. The voices were at the door.

Wishing to fight on a full stomach if fight he must, Putnam unrolled the dressed leather and selected a leg. The door opened and the three Canadians entered. The mystery of the vanishing duck still worried them. It was common knowledge that the Foul Fiend might appear anywhere at any time in any guise.

With a wealth of violent gesticulations the host of the day described his emotions on discovering his loss. His pantomime was so excellent that Putnam, peeping from under a flap of the skin, had no trouble in following it. A broad smile spread over his face as he imagined the scene in the cabin. The jug was unearthed from under the hay, and there followed three periods of prolonged gurgling as the men in turn crooked their elbows.

The conversation was resumed and reflected the effect of the jug. Putnam smiled scornfully. There could be no danger from three frightened and drunken men. He pushed back the skin that he might get more air and proceeded to finish his drumstick.

Now entered a new element, The puppy that had been yapping outside dashed upon the half-intoxicated trio and pretended to be very savage in worrying their feet. One of them kicked it aside and the solemn, bibulous conversation was continued.

The puppy, disconsolate that no one would play with him, whimpered for a bit, then pricked up an ear and rolled his eyes. He had scented the Great Adventure. The men, now talking all together, each trying to drown out the other two, gave the bundle of fat no heed, as in response to some ancestral jungle traits he began stalking the stall.

Putnam scowled as he beheld the fat form slowly approaching. But he smiled at the tiny growl as the puppy reached the entrance of the stall and paused before the fearful shadows.

He might have abandoned his investigation of this stange man-smell if not for a new discovery. And the small nose wrinkled and sniffed with great enthusiasm. The lust for hunting out the stranger; also all fear of the shadows vanished. For he was breathing in the good cabin smell and the heavenly aroma of the duck.

With complete confidence in the stall the puppy yapped exultingly and hurled himself forward. Putnam caught him by the nap of the neck but let him go when he began to ki-yi. The three men failed to notice the outcry as they now had reached the contradictory stage as to the manners and habits of Satan in walking the earth, the owner of the jug arguing loudly against the two.

To still the puppy Putnam rubbed his nose against the drumstick, whereat the pup grabbed blindly and secured a breast with all its bony substructure and bolted from the stall.

The disputant was bitterly proclaiming his guests to be ingrates when the puppy emerged from the stall and settled himself to enjoy his feast. With a flood of invective the man was denouncing his companions, waving both arms and endangering the jug which a hand still clutched, when his wild gaze happened to fall upon the dog and to note his occupation.

He ceased his drunken arraignment and for a moment stood motionless and silent, his eyes protruding. Then he shrieked—

“Nom de Dieu!”

And he pointed a trembling finger at the contented diner.

Sacre! The stolen duck!” cried one of his companions.

“By St. Denis, but he is a queer dog to steal it from a boiling kettle!” gasped the third man.

“Pig! Stealer of ducks!” began the man with the jug.

But the preceding speaker gestured for silence and whispered—

“Devil's dog.”

“Accursed thief!” passionately cried the man with the jug. “Your master, Gros Pierre, shall pay for the ducks!”

And he dramatically advanced, shaking an accusatory finger at the puppy.

THE brave spirit of his fathers told the puppy he must defend his skill, and he gave voice to a tiny g-r-r-r.. This diminutive defiance sent the Canadian staggering back against the hay.

Superstition and a heritage of terrible legends promptly seized upon his imagination. His companion had said it was a “devil's dog.” It was a devil's dog. No; it was the Evil One himself, cunningly hiding in that roll of fat. Form and size meant nothing. The Evil One could work his will through the instrumentality of a tiny worm.

This pet of Gros Pierre's appeared to be a puppy. But how could a puppy rifle a boiling kettle of its contents without upsetting it? How could he do this and then replace the cover? And did not the paralytic grandfather's eyes try to tell a terrible secret? God in heaven! At night the fell beast might transform itself into a ravening wolf.

“Devils dog!” shivered the man whose suspicions were the first to be aroused.

Ah! Now the Beast was parting with his secret. He could not keep the devil's light from shining through his eyes. The three men crossed themselves. One hoarsely whispered he must be slain by fire. Another insisted the head must be cut off as a sure preventive of the evil assuming another form.

The puppy growled contentedly over his feast.

“We shall make sure by using both blood and fire,” choked out the owner of the jug as he reached to the wall and secured an ax.

His companions edged toward the door, their potations permitting them to anticipate all sorts of horrible transformations once the ax forced the Spirit from its hiding-place. With an inarticulate roar the man swung the ax and rushed toward the puppy.

A heavy stamping of feet at the door and a loud voice calling out blasphemies disturbed the man's technique, and the ax fell wide of its victim. Now the puppy realized his danger, and, remembering only the kindly hand that had fed him the delectable-duck, he scampered whimpering into the stall.

The man with the ax regained his balance, his eyes bulging with a fear that bordered on madness. The man at the door ceased his blasphemy and led in a horse. He was astounded at the tableau. He harshly cried:

“Ho, Le Petit Jean! So you drink till you would kill your good friends. Parbleu, but you're a nice fellow! Drop the ax, madman.”

“He fights the devil, not us, good Pierre,” hastily corrected one of the men.

“The devil is in the stall. He steals hot duck from a boiling kettle. The fires of hell shine in his eyes,” hurriedly added the third man.

“He has taken the form of a little dog. The little white dog with the black eye you call the Rogue,” whispered the executioner.

The man with the horse roared in rage, and at last managed to warn—

“Now may the devil take you three worthless ones if you have hurt my little Rogue!”

“But the devil is in him!” screamed the man with the ax. “I, Little Jean, have seen the Evil One looking from his eyes.”

And he crossed himself and groaned dismally; for sorry the fate of him who had passed under the Evil Eye.

The dog's owner became shaken. His anger was strongly leavened with superstition. After all it was a well known and fully authentic fact that Satan took on most deceiving guises.

He hesitated, then whistled faintly to the dog and stepped back toward the door. The puppy, his nose deep in the débris of the fricassee, paid no attention to the call. The horse, finding himself released, made for the stall.

“See! The horse knows there is nothing to fear,” hoarsely said the man at the door.

But the horse by this time had detected the unfamiliar shape at the head of the stall and was hearing the worrying sounds made by the puppy. With a snort of alarm he backed from the stall.

The keen vision of the man by the door was as yet undimmed by brandy. Now he screamed:

“Our Lady help us and save us! There is something in there!”

Putnam knew that the climax had arrived. Pulling the bearskin over his head and grasping the gun by the barrel to be used as a club, he stood up, emitted a horrible roar and lunged toward the door. The terrified nag reared with a snort, and, clumsily pivoting, bolted through the door, knocking his owner prostrate.

The three drinkers were convinced the devil now had them for certainty as the huge, hairy form shot from the stall. A fat puppy had retired there to change into this fearful monster. With terrific screams they tumbled over each other in making for the door. Once outside they cast off their drunkenness and ran like deer for the lake.

Putnam threw aside the skin and waited until they were out of view. Then, seeing that the way was clear, he made to leave, only to be deterred by a whimpering note and something soft falling against his legs. He glanced down and beheld the puppy, an animated ball of rejoicing at having found such a good friend.

“They'll burn him and do lots of things to drive out the bad spirit,” mused Putnam as he stared down into the small, beady eyes. “You poor little varmint, guess you won't be much of a load.”

And he picked the puppy up, dropped him into the bosom of his belted shirt and stepped through the door.

He had thought to run to the cover of the mountain, but found himself confronting an officer in the uniform of the French Regulars.