The Bushfighters/Chapter 11

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The Bushfighters by Hugh Pendexter
XI. The Escape From the Mountain

pp. 59–64.



CAP'N PEAN, I believe,” saluted Putnam after the two had stared at each other in astonishment for a moment. “Believe me, sir, I am mighty glad to meet you.”

Mordieu! The English Putnam!” exclaimed Pean, his haggard face lighting in cruel triumph. “It is the will of the good God. Come. We will walk to the lake and find a boat.”

“And finding the boat?”

“We will go the fort, m'sieur.”

“That would be neighborly of you, but it would be putting you out of your way. You've just come from there,” said Putnam, beginning to thrill with the hope Pean had not yet delivered his budget of information.

“A thousand pardons, mon ami, but I am on my way there now. My story will sound so incredible in the chevalier's ears that I shall need you to vouch for it.”

“I see. How is the wounded shoulder?”

“Bah! It was but a scratch. I have forgotten it. You ranger should hang for shooting so poorly when he had such an excellent target.”

“I shall discipline him. Yet it is good. It makes me feel better. I hate like sin to kill a wounded man, and yet I'll be —— if I'm not going to try taking you a prisoner to Fort William Henry.”

Zut! You will show resistance?” softly queried Pean, his eyes glittering and a hand dropping to an Indian ax in his belt.

Putnam laughed harshly and cast a glance toward the lake. To his great relief he saw no signs of soldiers or Canadians. He realized Pean was wishing to prolong the conversation until help should arrive.

Behind the Frenchman towered the mountain. A sharp run and he would be hidden on its wooded slopes. He still held his gun by the barrel. The Frenchman could use his ax before the gun could be raised and swung as a club.

“Shall we walk, my brave captain?” asked Pean.

“Your news is stale. It can wait. The lists you stole have been returned to headquarters, the 'riginal and the two copies. What you memorized will do Montcalm no good as we have shifted our troops.”

“As I feared. But there are other informations.”

“Of course. But Lord Loudoun will not move the army against Louisbourg this season.”

“So?” loudly cried Pean, his voice strident and his face flushing. “I see you know too much. I think you have much to tell that will be new to us. I believe our red allies can coax you to tell all. Ahead of me. March!”

“A shout from the direction of the lake announced the coming of men, but Putnam had no glances to waste. Pean's hand was gripping the ax more tightly.

They stood a dozen feet apart. By the contraction of the Frenchman's eyes the ranger knew that they would be at death grips in another few seconds. He dropped his hand down the gun-barrel, and as he did so Pean's visage became savage, and whipping out his ax he shouted:

“You refuse to surrender? Then die!”

He leaped backward and threw up his arm. On the point of hurling the ax he was thrown off his poise for an instant by the appearance of a small wrinkled face, white with a black eye, at the neck of Putnam's shirt. Then the arm swung forward just as Putnam dropped on his knee and one hand, the right hand cocking and discharging the gun.

The ax grazed the ranger's head; a splotch of dark red showed on the white breast of the officer's travel-stained coat. The puppy whimpered and Pean fell dead on his face. With a leap Putnam cleared his body and ran for the woods.

Behind him rose infuriated cries, but the fugitive took no time to look back. Several shots were fired, but all were poorly aimed.

Through the pumpkin-patch he raced, his feet tripping on the vines and nearly throwing him. From the bosom of his shirt rose a mournful protest. He reached the edge of the woods and dived into cover just as a long, wailing cry soared above the hoarse shouts of the Canadians.

“That will be the Abnaki, famous trailers,” he panted, reaching for his twenty-inch powder-horn and measuring out a charge as he glided diagonally up the slope. “And that makes all the difference in the world.” After reloading the piece he came to a narrow lane that extended far down the slope, where the ledge cropped out and defied even the tenacious evergreens to find holding-ground. He crossed this opening and halted behind a big fir. The puppy whined and licked the hand thrust in to quiet him.

“Poor little fellow,” said Putnam, his kind heart ever pitying the helpless. “You don't know what to make of it all. If you could have your way the world would be nothing but play and boiled duck. But his Majesty and Louis the Fifteenth have different notions.

“Ah, now some one comes! And only the Indians. One—two—three. Not so bad as I'd feared. Pup, I'm going to shoot, but don't you be scared. We must put the fear of the Lord into them red trackers.”

He could catch flitting glimpses of naked bodies as the warriors glided zigzag through the woods, moving from tree to tree and yet advancing swiftly, and bending low to read the trail on the forest floor. Three sinister figures, the personification of the forest's inexorable cruelty.

To shoot while they were yet within the woods meant a waste of powder. Putnam waited until they came to the opening and the leader glided into view and sought to find the trail on the naked ledge. The rocks left no signs of the ranger's passing, yet a tiny piece of moss torn from its fastenings told the whole story to the Indian.

Putnam covered him but waited until he straightened to his full height to call to his companions. With the bang of the gun the stricken brave leaped convulsively but made no outcry. His companions vanished like magic and raised a lugubrious howl, petitioning Kechi Niwaskw, their god of good, and the more powerful Machi Niwaskw, god of evil, to aid them in encompassing the death of this white man.

Putnam descended the slope a considerable distance before resuming his course round the mountain. He halted and loaded the gun and quieted the puppy, then proceeded at double speed to gain the western flank of the mountain. He came to the point where he had ascended the mountain and passed it without taking any pains to conceal his trail.

He ran on until he came out on a ledge. Springing from this, he caught the bough of a spruce, gently swung into the trunk and rapidly descended thirty feet to the ground.

Now he turned squarely back and with as as exquisite caution permitted moved parallel to his trail. Reaching a point where his line of vision up the slope crossed his trail, he dropped behind a decaying log and sighted his gun on a birch.

THE day was drowsily warm. A squirrel ran down a tree and “froze” on beholding the figure by the log. The puppy thrust his head from the ranger's shirt and on seeing the squirrel yapped ecstatically. Growling beneath his breath, Putnam thrust the puppy back. The squirrel ran up the tree, and, vibrating mightily, began shrilly proclaiming to all forest folks that an enemy was near.

With a grunt of disgust Putnam slipped from his ambush and retreated farther down the slope. This time he was careful to keep the puppy inside his shirt. He could not see the birch he had intended to use as a range-finder, but he could see the log he had abandoned.

Perhaps it was well he shifted his position, for as he watched a scalp-lock, then a painted face, suddenly showed above the log. This tracker saw the spot where Putnam had crouched, read the story of the fugitive's withdrawal, then darted his gaze down the slope.

Instinct warned him he was trapped. He started to jerk his head below the log, but was not quick enough; and the explosion of the smooth-bore was his death sentence, the heavy ball catching him between the eyes.

“If they was Ottawas or Menominees the third man might quit till help come along,” muttered Putnam, lying on his side and dexterously reloading. “But being a Abnaki the third man'll stick just like he was a Mohawk.”

This time he rammed home several buckshot in addition to the ball.

He could visualize what was going on between the mountain and Ticonderoga. Long since the alarm had been given and the dead body of Captain Pean identified. In a terrible rage the French soldiery were being thrown about the mountain, with all available Indians being sent up the slopes to kill or drive the lone scout into the open.

Had it been night Putnam would have considered his chances most excellent, but to evade the horde of red trailers soon to be hot on his heels and at the same time break through the cordon of soldiers sure to be thrown between him and Lake George would call for all his cunning and more than an average amount of good luck. He could not afford to tolerate any avoidable handicap; and the puppy with his whimpering and yapping was a great source of danger. Yet, so stubborn was the ranger's spirit, and so enduring were the qualities of kindness and mercy which ever characterized his gallant soul, he never thought to abandon the squirming bunch for the wild creatures of the mountainside.

Also he believed the puppy had done him good service in the hay-barn. Loyalty impelled him to save the dog.

This decision precluded his indulging in hide and seek, a game at which he was the past master. Speed was imperative. He could not wait to pick off the third Abnaki. It was a race between him and the men sent to encircle the mountain.

Tightening his belt, he resumed his flight down the slope, and it was not until he neared the foot of the slant that he found it necessary to lessen his speed. Peculiarly enough it was a squirrel that warned him. When he heard the indignant chattering on his right he knew he must stop and reconnoiter although Death was tagging his steps.

He crawled under the low hanging boughs of a dwarf spruce and stared intently toward the evergreen where the squirrel was raging. A crow left the ragged pine and flopped heavily heavily toward the fort. His cunning eyes had noticed an intrusion near the foot of his lofty perch.

Putnam waited a full minute and on observing nothing shifted his gaze to examine the cover between him and the lake. He had no the of venturing into the Carrying-Place trail.

A slight movement in some bushes a dozen feet away caused him to whirl and glare along the brown gun-barrel. The agitation instantly ceased, then was repeated a bit farther away.

For a moment he was greatly puzzled. Then a low oath slipped through his clinched teeth as he realized the bosom of his shirt was quiet. The puppy had tumbled or crawled out and was questing forth for adventures.

“Dern his fat little hide! He's killed hisself,” murmured Putnam, watching anxiously the progress of the runaway by noting the occasional disturbance of twigs and the low branches.

But now was created a new focus for his attention. From some silver birch just below him and squarely in his path to the lake emerged the naked and freshly oiled figure of an Indian. Behind him followed another, and then another. The three of them had detected the slight rustling in the undergrowth and fancied that they had located their victim.

Two of them were armed with bows and arrows. The third trailed a gun, and Putnam put him down for a Caughnawaga Iroquois and his companions for being from some Western tribe.

The puppy, busily exploring the tiny entrance to the home of a woods mouse, gave an excellent imitation of big game in hiding. The agitation of the bushes was very slight

Up the slope crept the Indians, their course taking them north of Putnam's hiding-place. The puppy, tired of that particular clump of bushes, made his way to another; and again the telltale movement of a branch betrayed his advance.

The red men interpreted it as being the white man's effort to retreat up the mountain.

They changed their formation and advanced abreast of each other.

This maneuver brought the one with the gun close to Putnam's covert; and the ranger's lips clamped together like a trap as he appreciated his advantage. Gently relinquishing his rifle, he drew his ax and gradually worked to his knees.

On crawled the Mohawk, his beady eyes glued on the spot where the puppy was conducting further investigations. The three were now strung out with wide intervals between them so as to close in from three sides, leaving only the eastern side open. If the prey escaped in that direction he would be forced to return up the mountain and into the hands of the Abnaki.

Now the Mohawk was so close that Putnam could hear his deep breathing. His sinuous movements were practically noiseless. Drawing up the left knee, he would place the right hand holding the gun ahead. Then the right knee and left hand were likewise advanced.

Like some wonderfully efficient and thoroughly oiled piece of mechanism he came to the edge of the ranger's hiding-place. The brown hand holding the gun fell into position almost under Putnam's nose. The weight of the body was partly resting on it as the left hand was being put ahead.

It was at that precise moment that Putnam's arm shot from the bushes and brought the ax down on the back of the brave's neck, the force of the blow almost severing the head. And as the blow landed, and before the other Indians could comprehend the situation the gun was caught up from the dead hand and discharged at the nearest savage.

He came to his knees, screaming, drilled through from side to side. The survivor began rolling under some cedars; but with his own gun and its generous charge of buckshot Putnam got him as he was flopping from sight.

THE two explosions and the terrible death-cry sadly frightened the puppy. He came rolling down the slope, his small soul exhausting itself in shrill howls.

“You derned nuisance!” growled Putnam, snatching up the white, fluffy form with its ridiculous black eye and stuffing it into his shirt.

Then he appropriated the Mohawk's gun, ran to the foot of the slope and took time to load both weapons. From the mountain and from the north came the yells of the militia as they swarmed through the woods. Threading this general clamor together was the ululating signals of the red allies.

With a gun in each hand Putnam ran at right angles to the enemy sweeping down on his right, or from the north. He heard the disappointed howls of the red men who were descending the mountain and who were now meeting the reenforcements cutting in from the north to head the fugitive off. They had shaken out the bag and the quarry had escaped.

But the chase was far from being ended.

There could be but one way open to the ranger; and the pack, in full cry, made for Lake George.

“I like a straight run bettern' being boxed up between two or three bunches of the varments,” Putnam confided to the penitent puppy as he sped like a deer for the water.

On his immediate right he could hear the soldiers excitedly talking as they followed along the Carrying-Place trail. The fact that they stuck to the trail gave him confidence. They must be regulars, as the militia would have taken to the bush to rout him out.

He could mark the progress of the pursuit as the savages descended the slope and sounded their view-halloa as they met with bands coming round the mountain. The answering calls finally ceased, and he knew that all his pursuers were at his back with the swiftest of foot racing in a dead line to reach the lake ahead of him. As he was convinced that none of the enemy was abreast of him on his left he bore off to the southwest, although this course would bring him out far below the spot where he had concealed his canoe.

At last through an opening he sighted the blue water and slowed down to a walk to ease his aching lungs. Cautiously gaining the edge of the shore, he found he had emerged directly below a narrow point.

Three canoes were drawn up on the beach. As he prepared to make a dash for one of these two Indians came out of the woods, filled kettles with water and leisurely went back. It was obvious that these and the band they were camping with had not as yet learned of the white fugitive.

He waited until they had disappeared from sight, then ran to the canoes and with his knife spoiled two beyond repair. Placing his two guns and the puppy in the third, he dropped it into the water and seized the paddle.

Paddling with all his power, he made across the lake diagonally. The puppy waddled and rolled about in the bottom of the canoe and whined dolefully at first; then became an optimist and curled up with his head between his white paws and slept.

Putnam traveled so swiftly that when a faint howl warned him that he had been discovered the men running along the shore were only dots. They were sure to find canoes speedily, and the Canadian Mohawks, like their pagan brothers in the Long House, were among the best boatmen in North America.

However, his great lead stilled any fear of being captured on the water. Already the long, bare slopes of Rogers' Rock towered ahead; and if need be he could take the wild gorges and hidden gullies back of this.

But land travel did not appeal to him, and as Sabbath Day Point was not more than ten miles away he was determined to keep within striking distance of shore and make it by canoe if possible. He steered a course that took him behind the numerous islands, expecting at any moment to run into an ambush of some wandering scouting band.

Once he saw a smoke ashore and placed a long island between himself and it. None of Rogers' men would make a smoke so far down the lake.

By sunset he rounded the point, concealed the canoe and went ashore. His unusual exertions had told on his iron muscles; and although he was within seven or eight miles of the appointed rendezvous at North West Bay he knew he must rest before making it.

The puppy whined and whimpered and altogether was a nuisance. Putnam eyed him grimly, then smiled broadly at the silly, wrinkled face

“Guess, pup, you like to live like other folks,” he solemnly remarked as he pressed deeper into the woods in search of a resting-place. “You ain't intended for a ranger; but if you'd stayed behind they'd barbecued you in fancy fashion to drive the devil out.”

The puppy licked his hand and wagged its stubby tail.

Putnam knocked over a squirrel with his ax and gave it to his pet to worry, saying:

“There's victuals for you. But what you need is milk. Well, if were lucky we'll get where we can find some milk sometime.”

With this promise he threw himself on a bank of moss and fell asleep. When he awoke it was dark and the dog was curled up under his chin.

Without moving, the ranger listened for several minutes and satisfied himself that no enemy was lurking near. Stuffing the dog into his shirt, he stole back to the canoe.

As he was about to put the birch in the water his nose detected the pleasing aroma of wood-smoke, Placing his cap in the canoe, he dropped the puppy into it and turned inland to reconnoiter, scouting through the woods to the northern side of the point.

He traveled a quarter of a mile and upon several fires. The lavish use of fuel would have told him that no red men built the fires even if he had not heard the careless conversation of the soldiers.

For nearly half a minute he watched them with contempt twisting his lips. Then he stiffened and half-raised his gun as a tall savage abruptly glided from the black forest wall and stood among the soldiers and briefly addressed an officer.

The ranger studied this newcomer with great respect. He carried a gun and had the Bear totem painted on his chest.

He talked in French to the officer, and Putnam knew he must come from the Caughnawaga village and was either a Mohawk or an Oneida, the converted Iroquois being largely from these two nations.

The savage seemed to be alone, and what he reported brought a sharp order from the officer. Men sprang from the ground and began buckling on their accouterments.

A second order sent a squad hurrying to the boats, while six men with the officer in the lead followed the Indian directly toward Putnam's hiding-place. The ranger fell back and, striking into a path, ran as fast as the darkness would it until he came to his canoe.

Leaping in, he paddled swiftly to get among the islands just south of the point. The Indian had discovered something which made him believe that Putnam was hiding on the point. Possibly he had heard the puppy complaining and had located the canoe.

Refreshed by his nap, Putnam made good time up the lake until he was at the mouth of North West Bay. Tongue Mountain cut the sky on the right. The canoe nosed its way round the tip of the point, the ranger wondering if his men were waiting for him in the deep bay. The puppy lifted his head and barked. Instantly the challenge rang out—

“Who comes?”

“Israel Putnam and a fool dog.”

“Is it really you, cap'n?”

“You should know my voice,” testily replied Putnam, sending his canoe ahead.

“I thought I did; but the dog?”

“Prisoner I fetched along,” soberly replied Putnam. “How many men?”

“Twenty, with Major Rogers.”

“Then hooray for us!” softly cried Putnam. “Lead the way.”

“I must stay here. Major's orders. Keep on till you pass the island and you'll see the camp-fire. And, cap'n, we had to leave that derned wounded Frenchman in the boat when two bateauxk and some canoes piled down on us from Sloop Island.”

“You remembered my orders and didn't kill him?” sternly questioned Putnam.

“Kill him? Lordy, no. He sent some word to you in French. One of the boys said it was that he was much obleeged to you.”

PUTNAM dug his paddle deep, soon rounded one of the two islands that partly choked the mouth of the bay and came in sight of a small fire. A sentry sharply challenged him, and figures of sleepers suddenly became armed. men erect and ready for a fight. Putnam called out his name and jumped ashore.

Major Rogers came down to the beach to greet him, and to him Putnam hurriedly reported:

“Band of Canadian regulars camping at Sabbath Day Point. An Indian scout got some trace of me and they was hunting for me when I quit the point.”

“Do they know you came up here?”

“Don't think they have the slightest notion where I went to.”

“Good,” said Rogers calmly. “I've two whale-boats and a wall-piece. We'll go and find the gentlemen. Swing your packs to the boats, men.”

“I'll scout ahead in my canoe,” said Putnam.

“That's for you to decide, but there's some business waiting for you! Where's Brant?”

Rogers had scarcely put the query when a slim form emerged from the woods and the Mohawk boy stood beside Putnam.

“For you,” he said, extending a hand.

As Putnam took the piece of paper the puppy thrust his head from the ranger's shirt. With a little guttural cry of delight the boy drew him forth and stared admiringly at the white woolly little form with its eccentric black markings.

Putnam kneeled by the fire and opening the paper read:

Captain Israel Putnam, by hand of the boy Joseph Brant:

Ephraim Willis is a prisoner in the hands of the Potawatomi. If you can come to help me rescue him, come alone with Joseph Brant. I will wait for you a certain time. If you do not come I shall go alone.

The band is returning home through Canada. As they have deserted the French there are no French officers with them to secure Mr. Willis' release:

If they were Caughnawaga warriors I would be safe to go among them. But I shall go if you do not come. Bring no one with you, as cunning, not force, must be used. Elizabeth Lidindick.

“If that ain't a dish of bad luck!” groaned Putnam.

“Young Brant said there was work for you to do, but he didn't explain what, and there's no making an Indian talk. What is it?” asked Rogers.

“My neighbor, Ephraim Willis, is laid by the heels by the Potawatomi. The Lidindick girl sends for me to come and get him out of the scrape. Says I must come alone, or she'll try it single-handed.”

“Better she tie a rock round her neck and jump into the lake than to fall into the power of those Western Indians,” growled Rogers. “I'll split my force. You can have half.”

“Captain Putnam must come alone if I lead him to the Laughing One,” coldly spoke up young Brant.

“Yes, yes, major. This is a case where numbers don't count,” sighed Putnam, “An army couldn't rescue Willis alive. All I ask is that some one take charge of this puppy. He ought to have some milk. I've risked my hair getting the little fool down here from Ticonderoga; but he saved my pelt and I owed him that much.”

And he nodded toward the dog, which was now on the ground and making a brave show of ferocity in attacking young Brant's moccasins.

Rogers smiled at Putnam's simplicity in believing he owed loyalty to a puppy and somewhat impatiently remarked—

“With your friend's life at stake and a party of Frenchmen waiting to be captured or run off the lake I guess we won't have much time to think about dogs.”

“I will take the dog to his mother,” spoke up young Brant.

“To his mother? That would be a dangerous job,” said Putnam. “You'd never get within six miles of Ticonderoga without losing your hair. Even if the pup was back there they'd kill him. They seem to think he's chuck full of some devil.”

The boy quietly continued:

“The Blind Seneca is a few miles to the west of us. I passed his camp coming here. One of his dogs has little ones. She will give this one milk.”

He paused thoughtfully to study the puppy's strenuous efforts to chew his moccasins, his eyes sparkling with approval as the little beast growled with miniature ferocity.

“Yes, this one will be strong and big. He has great courage. Some of his children will be all white. He will never disgrace his new mother. He is too young for meat. He will die soon if he doesn't have milk! Ku!”

The last in applause as the puppy gave a wrench and untied a moccasin fastening with her teeth.

“Blind Seneca,” mused Putnam. “I've heard a heap about him. Didn't know he was in this country. But he isn't really blind.”

“The Indians say he has been touched by the Great Spirit, or he'd 'a' been killed long ago. Crazy's a loon. That's why they call him blind. If he comes round this lake we'll have to wipe him and his —— pack of dogs out. Regular nuisance. Now we must be off.”

“Mighty sorry I can't go with you, major,” sighed Putnam. “They may be on the way here. Keep both eyes open and shoot first.”

With that he picked up his gun and presented the captured Mohawk piece to young Brant. The boy picked up a blanket, and, holding it by the corners, placed the dog inside and slung it over his shoulder, then made into the Western woods.