The Bushfighters/Chapter 6
IN THE ENEMY'S COUNTRY
WITH the first lessening of the darkness Putnam reached the brook where the whale-boats were to be concealed. Crossing this, he kept on for a quarter of a mile to mislead any hostile scout and then retraced his steps with such care as to leave no trail.
By means of an overhanging bough he swung himself into the water without disturbing the bank and commenced wading toward the creek. As he drew near the mouth a voice from behind the bushes softly called:
“All right, cap'n. I knew you was coming.”
It was Major Rogers. Putnam gained the bank and glanced back at the sluggish current and said—
“The muddy water told you, eh?”
Rogers nodded, and asked—
“Any discoveries along the path?”
And Putnam reported his night's adventures.
Rogers' face was very serious as Putnam related the finding of the Lidindick girl, but brightened as he listened to young Brant's promise to prevent the girl from proceeding north.
“He's only a boy, but he'll see that she keeps south of the lake,” Rogers declared. “And I'd rather she was loose in the woods about Fort William Henry than to be in Albany, where she would be sure to get information from some love-sick young officer. I'd be sorry to have any harm come to her.”
“She didn't ought to be out in these woods prowling round,” protested Putnam.
Rogers chuckled and said:
“Wish I could scout about and be as safe as she is. I don't believe that even the Ottawas and the Menominees would hurt her, while our own Mohawks will fight to protect her. They like her. They call her the Laughing One. She's been down the Mohawk Valley more'n once.
“Why, even if the Long House should turn against us—which God forbid and Sir William Johnson prevent—she would be safe enough. Vaudreuil can't find any one who can come and go where she can so long as the rangers don't catch her.”
“If the Western Indians catch her and haven't any French officers with them to vouch for her she would fare hideously,” insisted Putnam.
“Perhaps. But they won't catch her. Besides, Montcalm by this time has sent out word to all his redskins to treat her right.”
“Bah! Make those filthy creatures understand, let alone making them obey!” jeered Putnam. “Forgetting she is a spy and trying to do us sad mischief, she didn't ought to be allowed to run such risk. I guess she must be pretty as a picture. Young Willis is crazy about her. Then think of the young imp going in swimming within two rods of Dieskau's Path!”
“She's a wild little thing. Still she was safe enough. It was nothing to her dressing up as a young fop and swaggering around New York. They're still talking about her down there, the women rolling their eyes in holy horror, the men cursing because young Willis interfered and helped her out of a bad fix.
“She also went into the tea-house and chucked young matrons under the chin and nearly brought on several duels before her secret was discovered. But she's a good girl, Putnam. I used to know her father. I've seen quite a bit of her.”
“Of course she's good,” declared Putnam. “That makes it hard to deal with her. She's young, she's sweet as a mayflower, and she's good; but she can raise more deviltry between us and the French than a whole regiment of our provincials can smooth out. I vow, I wish some strapping chap would marry her offhand and make her behave since we can't hang her.”
“Maybe Willis will.”
“No, no. A Connecticut girl for a Connecticut man. Now for some sleep.”
THROUGHOUT the long day the scouting-party remained concealed with all but the sentries sleeping. At dusk cold rations were issued and eaten.
When it was dark enough to mask their movements the men entered the boats and with muffled oars resumed their hazardous journey. If it succeeded it would rank as one of the most audacious coups any body of scouts ever accomplished.
Keeping close to the eastern shore, the boats were quietly propelled down the long, narrow arm of the lake which was spoken of as Wood Creek in local nomenclature. As the little flotilla passed Ticonderoga the French sentinels seemed to be within the toss of a biscuit. They could plainly be heard calling the watchword as they paced their beats.
The very boldness of the venture was in favor of its success. Unless some of the savages or soldiers accidentally discovered the boats there could be no suspicions of their presence.
The French believed that when Ticonderoga was attacked the route would be down Lake George by boat and along the road skirting its western shore. If the left bank of the lake's outlet were followed, with the attacking army crossing Trout Brook, or if the English should cut across the bend of the outlet at the Carrying-Place, the result remained the same for Ticonderoga—the attack must come from the west.
The French had established outposts both at the head of the lake and north of the rapids which filled the stream connecting the two lakes. Bordering the southern shore of the outlet, where it merged with the mouth of Wood Creek, was a long and deep morass. With this morass and the outlet to protect it on the south, with the lake behind it, Ticonderoga built advanced entrenchments and a bristling abatis east of the fort and complacently awaited an attack.
Scouting-parties from Fort William Henry invariably went down Lake George in boats or canoes as far as Sabbath Day Point or some such advanced position, and stealthily advanced on foot to within two or three miles of Ticonderoga. These bands usually consisted of but few men, and their coming was always expected and at times checked. To carry five whale-boats across to South Bay and to pass the fort on the east was a feat the French had never dreamed of guarding against.
The morning light found the adventurers at the mouth of a brook half-way between Ticonderoga and Crown Point. The boats were drawn up under the drooping foliage along the bank and cunningly concealed.
Now they were in the midst of much activity. Bateaux were constantly passing to and from the fort. For fifty men to lie hidden throughout a Summer day, their position at times being within a few rods of passing enemy craft, without any accident or carelessness betraying their presence, would have been impossible of achievement except for those trained under Rogers and his capable captains.
Putnam and Rogers shared the responsibility of guarding against discovery, and found but one point of weakness; the sleeping men would snore at times. When this happened a man found his wind shut off until he woke and learned of his delinquency.
That night they encountered their first open risk. They had swung clear of their hiding-place and were straightening out in a line when Putnam insisted that the night was too clear for them to pass Crown Point unseen. There was no moon, but the starlight was very penetrating.
Rogers gazed about and agreed, and was on the point of ordering the boats to put back to cover when some belated bateaux came down upon them from the direction of the Point. Passing word for no man to speak but for all to row their best, Rogers stood in the bow of the first boat and calmly awaited the issue.
The two fleets met and some one called out a question. Rogers snarled back in French that he was behind time. Then he turned and bawled out orders and oaths to his men, and the two units drew apart.
This incident deterred Rogers from returning to the brook, but a search of the eastern bank revealed a wealth of overhanging foliage under which he believed they could remain in safety until the following night.
The morning brought acute dangers. Putnam was complaining of too much sleep when the first fleet of boats, laden with supplies for Ticonderoga, passed them. After that throughout the morning men and supplies swept on to the fort.
At midday the rangers took their guns and prepared to fight, discovery seeming inevitable. This because six boats filled with soldiers swung out of line and approached them.
The fifty men kneeled ready to fire if Rogers gave the signal; but just as it seemed as if the enemy proposed grounding their boats at the feet of the scouts the course changed and proceeded some distance above them, where the soldiers landed to cook their dinner. From their white uniforms with violet facings, their black three-cornered hats and black gaiters, the rangers readily identified them as troops of the line. The freshness of their gay attire evidenced their recent arrival from France. To the relief of the rangers these were unaccompanied by either Indian or Canadian allies.
“They'll never find us 'less they stumble on us by mistake,” Rogers whispered to Putnam. “And I don't think they'll wander far from their kettles.”
“Nor their brandy-kegs. Speaking of kettles, I'm thinking the wind is bringing a pleasant smell from their camp,” observed Putnam, sniffing hungrily.
“——! If the men smell that they'll be for raiding them,” grunted Rogers.
“Detail me to make a scout. I won't be discovered. If I am I'll make off toward Ticonderoga, steal a canoe and come after you and find you.”
“No, no,” Rogers refused. “We're after bigger game than a dinner-kettle.”
Some of the rangers now straightened and began wrinkling their noses, while their eyes grew wolfish. Rogers read the signs, and urged all to go to sleep.
“Major, my teeth ache from chawing them rations of ours,” one of them complained. “Can't we go up there and help ourselves?”
“No, sir,” was the stern reply.
The man sank back sullenly. His companions frowned.. The odor of cooking meat was almost irresistible. Outdoor life and unusual exertions gave the men ravenous appetites. There was not one of them who would not gladly have risked a pitched battle for the sake of a slab of beef.
“It's ox, too!” groaned a man.
“Better let me go, major,” whispered Putnam. “It'll quiet the men, and I won't get caught. If they keep sulky they'll be poor workers when we need them the most.”
“All right. Go ahead,” Rogers reluctantly consented.
Then to the disgruntled men:
“Cap'n Putnam will scout their camp. I want every man here to lie low and keep his mouth shut.”
“All signs of sullenness instantly vanished. If any one could procure a portion of the meat it was Israel Putnam. And with whispered best wishes they watched him steal into the woods back of their hiding-place.
Putnam had no plan thought out. His going was prompted solely by his desire to escape the tedium of doing nothing. The soldiers had bivouacked within easy pistol-shot and were laughing and shouting boisterously and calling for more brandy. No guards were considered necessary, for were they not in the water-lane controlled by France?
Gliding through the ancient growth, Putnam advanced until their voices told him he was directly abreast of them. He began stealing toward the shore when a new note struck his ears, one that caused him to shrink back. It was the guttural voice of an Indian.
He feared that his companions in their contempt for the regulars might indulge in some piece of carelessness which would attract the attention of the red men. Throwing himself flat, he wriggled down the slight slope until he found a peep-hole through the undergrowth.
Six Indians—from the West if their beaver-skin blankets told anything—were fraternizing with the soldiers. They were Ottawas from Michillimackinac, and they had been drinking at Ticonderoga, and they had left there in disgust and anger on being refused more liquor. The soldiers, delighted to play host to their savage allies and unable to perceive their guests were close to the homicidal pitch, kicked forth a keg and, slapping the Indians heartily on the back, invited them to drink.
Their leader, whose face was hideously startling with its stripes of white and yellow and black, produced a tin cup from under his blanket and eagerly filled it and tossed it off.
One of the soldiers, being something of a comedian, made much of this savage and swore that he belonged to the troupes de terre; for did he not wear the white and black with yellow facings? The savage grunted under the man's familiarity, but passed his dipper for more.
Another Ottawa, his face painted white except for black areas around his eyes, snatched the dipper and filled it. The first drinker was inclined to resent this act, but was not yet sufficiently primed.
The dipper passed rapidly, and Putnam perceived the devils glaring from the small black eyes, and pitied the soldiers for their ignorance. They were lighting a torch over a barrel of powder and were finding it great sport. As the red men drank, the soldiers kept pace with them.
The liquor reacted differently on the two races. The Indians glared and grimaced as if suffering from convulsions, then gave voice to terrible cries, terminating them abruptly. A warrior would stand rigid for a minute, his eyes distended and fixed, suggesting a suppressed hysteria, then he would all but collapse, screaming like a fiend and striking the air. In another moment he would fall frantically to stabbing his knife into the ground and grunting in a bestial manner.
The effect of repeated drams on the regulars was to incite them to ruder horseplay. They began to view their guests with contempt and to play pranks upon them.
PUTNAM relaxed, as he no longer feared discovery. He began to believe that one of the kettles of meat was to be his spoil.
Suddenly two of the Indians disagreed as to who should next drink from the dipper, and began tearing at each other with their teeth like two wolves. The soldiers rubbed their eyes in amazement at the ferocious spectacle and endeavored to pull the two apart. Instantly the owner of the dipper hurled his ax and brained a soldier.
In the next second Indians and white men were fighting confusedly. The soldiers, while greatly outnumbering the savages, had left their guns in the boats, and began to make for them. Their lack of experience was quickly perceived by the Ottawas, who charged them recklessly. The two combatants ceased their struggle and turned to collecting white scalps.
In rushing back to the boats the soldiers did not keep together, but each man went his own pace, thereby stringing out and weakening their retreat. The six Indians whooped after them, plying knife and ax. The camp-fire was deserted. Putnam dashed from cover, caught up two huge kettles of boiling meat and carried them back into the woods.
Rogers stepped from cover and offered to carry one of the kettles, Putnam shook his head and dumped the meat out on the pine needles, briefly explaining:
“They'll think they ate the meat while drunk. But they'd know they never ate the kettles. Get two men with blankets.”
With that he ran back with the kettles and secured two more. These were also emptied upon the ground and then returned to the encampment.
By this time the Indians were being clubbed into submission. They attempted to escape to the woods, but the officer in charge of the regulars was determined that they should be taken to the fort for punishment, and forced them into the boats and placed a guard over them.
Four of the soldiers had been murdered in addition to the one brained by the fire. The tragedy sobered the men, and when they hurried back to the camp to remove the body of their comrade and found the kettles overturned, but with no trace of the meat, they did not tarry to inquire into the phenomenon. Hastily gathering up their belongings, they repaired to their boats and started for Ticonderoga. Putnam returned to the~pine-grove and was in time to assist Rogers and two men in scooping up the meat and carrying it to the rangers.
Boats were now hurrying to the scene of the fight and there was every chance that some of these might blunder upon the rangers. The latter had no intention of being deprived of their fresh rations, and as they stood ready to resent a discovery they eagerly bolted the hot meat. Fortunately the scene of the fight was obvious to the inbound boats; and although several passed within an oar's length of the whale-boats there was but one focal point for French eyes.
“Take it easy,” whispered Rogers as boat after boat dashed by.
The men relaxed and ate their stolen meat and winked humorously at Putnam. Now and then one of them would double up and softly smite his leg as he reviewed the joke played on the troops of the line. It was bad enough to be taken in by drunken Indians; but to lose their dinner in broad daylight!
Between nine and ten o'clock that night they took to the boats and rowed by the stone tower of Crown Point—or Fort Frederic as the French called it—unchallenged and unseen. By daylight they were ten miles below the point, hemmed in at the bottom of a magnificent green bowl, with an aquamarine sea at their feet and the horizons built up-of the Adirondacks and the Green Mountains. Thus had the lake appeared to Champlain when he gave it his name and precipitated that hate which the Long House was to feel toward his race for a century and a half.
The French and English regulars beholding the beautiful island-dotted sheet of water for the first time must have been deeply impressed. To the rangers it was quite ordinary and commonplace; for once Albany, or the “Western” frontier along the Alleghanies, were left behind its like was frequently found.
This day twoscore bateaux and a schooner passed their hiding-place on the way to Canada; poor game, for it was Ticonderoga-bound boats with their cargoes of supplies that the rangers desired to prey upon. The night was cloudy and with an early start the boats were rowed fifteen miles farther from Crown Point and again laid up. Now Rogers was ready to raid the enemy's shipping.
While the men slept Putnam went ashore and scouted along the lake until he had rounded a heavily wooded point. Beyond the point was a schooner lying at anchor. It was patent she was heavily laden and bound for the foot of the lake. Putnam believed this would be their first prize and lost no time in returning and making his report.
Rogers at once aroused his men and prepared to capture the vessel. Taking the lead with Putnam at his side, he led his little fleet close inshore and along the point.
As he neared the wooded tip he waited for the boats to come up and gave the signal for all to dash around the point and attack the schooner on both sides. The capture would have been easily effected as the lazy crew had no thought of danger and only two men were visible on deck.
As the whale-boats came in sight of the schooner, however, Rogers beheld two sloops coming up the lake and sweeping down on them. To persist in the capture of the schooner would permit the sloops to bear away and carry the alarm to the point.
“After the sloops!” he roared, instantly shifting his plans.
The sloops still came on, not realizing their peril until well within gunshot. Then the spectacle of five whale-boats lustily propelled toward them occasioned first wonder, then fear.
“Fire,” yelled Rogers.
The volley of balls stupefied the two small crews for a minute, and the sloops veered and swerved like immense waterfowl fearfully wounded. Even then they might have escaped had they regained their course. Instead of doing this—it was their only chance—the crews promptly dropped small boats and in a panic endeavored to row to the opposite shore.
The pursuit was brief as each whale-boat was being hurled through the water under the impetus of ten pairs of arms. Realizing that flight was useless, the two boats surrendered. The volley had killed three men and wounded two, Rogers was informed by one of the captives.
By this time the crew of the schooner was awake to their danger and was frantically raising sail and endeavoring to stand off. Rogers gazed up and down the lake and beheld a long line of dots, which he knew must be bateaux containing soldiers, and several dipping sails.
With a sigh of regret he gave his orders. Three of the boats with the prisoners put back behind the point. He and Putnam in the two remaining boats overhauled the sloops. These were heavily freighted with food supplies and a considerable quantity of brandy. Saving out a small keg of the liquor for his men, Rogers proceeded to scuttle the craft.
Guns were being fired from the distant bateaux, more to stimulate the courage of the men aboard the schooner than in any hope of injuring the raiders. Rogers leaped into one boat, Putnam into another, and the men gave way with a will. Soon they were behind the point and back to their hiding-place. Rogers broached the keg and allowed his men and the prisoners a ration; then ordered:
“Take the prisoners to Fort William Henry. Swing well west to clear the marsh at the head of Trout Brook, then bear back to strike the path leading to Sabbath Day Point.
“Send scouts ahead to learn if any of our boats are at the point, and if there are make the rest of the trip by water. But the prisoners must be delivered at the fort. Cap'n Putnam and I will follow.”
Then, turning to one of the prisoners, an intelligent-appearing young man, Rogers asked—
“Why are so many soldiers hurrying to Ticonderoga?”
The prisoner shrugged his shoulders and replied:
“You know. The English are about to advance in force. M. de Vaudreuil is rushing all available men from Fort St. Jean.”
Rogers repeated this to Putnam, and the latter declared:
“Then the girl's first message got through. She found some one to take it before she reached Fort Edward and learned from Lyman that there was no chance of our attacking in force. By heavens, major, she wasn't the only spy in Albany.”
A RANGER was sent to observe what happened beyond the point. By the time the whale-boats were hidden—for Rogers intended to return and make use of them again—the scout returned.
“The schooner's crew was striving desperately to work her into the lake and was signaling furiously to the bateaux. The sloops were bearing down on her, and there was much firing of guns to attract the attention of all distant craft.
The partizan leader hesitated. Even now, he was confident, it would be possible to capture and destroy the schooner.
But if the destruction of the schooner entailed loss of life among his rangers he would be making a poor exchange. Schooners could be turned out rapidly, but it took time to make a ranger.
“Swing your packs!” he ordered; and the rangers with their prisoners filed into the silent forest.
Satisfying himself that the boats were effectually concealed, Rogers paused only long enough to bury the keg of brandy and then with Putnam at his heels struck off up the lake, keeping close to the shore. Toward night they came upon a birch canoe and hid near it until dark, then took to the water and silently paddled up the lake. Their strenuous efforts advanced them to within a few miles of Crown Point by the time the sun drove them to cover.
That day they lay close, spending much of the time in sleeping and seeking to forget their ravenous hunger. During the late afternoon they watched numerous boats make back and forth in search of the mysterious raiders. But 5o long as they watched they saw nothing to indicate that the five whale-boats had been found.
“It's puzzling the Frenchmen like sin,” chuckled Rogers as they prepared to depart. “They can't understand where the pirates come from.”
The next leg of their journey was to be on foot, their need of food sending them forth before it was fairly dark. The enemy, however, never dreamed of the foe lingering so far north of Ticonderoga, and the two adventurers swung along briskly over a well-beaten trail.
Soldiers werecoming and going, also frequent bands of Indians. Avoiding these without much difficulty, they covered something better than ten miles, or until they were within dangerous proximity of Ticonderoga.
Once they came near being discovered. Because of the darkness and their growing confidence, coupled to their keen desire to find some habitation where they could secure food, they held on their way too boldly and unexpectedly came upon a small band of Indians camped at one side of the trail.
Rogers gave Putnam a warning with his elbow and began jabbering in French. Neither paid any heed to the savages.
An Indian called out for them to join them, Rogers waved his hand and held to the path. Two of the savages jumped to their feet as if intending to run after them and bring them back, but thought better of it and dropped back by the fire.
“Just luck,” murmured Rogers. “If they'd been French Mohawks instead of big-lake Indians they'd have spotted us at once.”
“Saved them two scalps,” Putnam grimly replied. “If those two had come after us there would 'a' been two less of the devils.”
Near midnight they halted at the foot of a low, wooded hill. At the base on the opposite side of this was located one of the French advanced posts.
Skirting the hill on the west side so as to keep clear of the outpost and planning to make the outlet of Lake George, they swung too far aside and before they knew it were blundering close to several camp-fires. This they knew must be a temporary camp of soldiers.
Recovering their assurance as no alarm was given, they decided to approach nearer. Where there were soldiers there must be food. They crawled on their hands and knees side by side, watching out for the sentinels.
Neither remembered that the French, unlike the English, posted their sentinels well outside the range of their fires. And so it was with much dismay, and while they were yet some distance from the fires, that they heard a she “Qui vive?” hurled at them from behind. Both rolled in the same direction and fell into a clay pit, Putnam being underneath.
Out of the darkness came the flash of a gun. Clambering from the pit and while seemingly surrounded by shouting voices, they retreated until Rogers fell over a log. Putnam dropped beside him.
They waited to get their bearings. The camp was in confusion, various orders being shouted with the men racing frantically back and forth.
“Bah! The fools don't know even now what fussed them out,” said Rogers with contempt.
“That's an Indian yell. We must be going. They've called in their Huron scouts,” warned Putnam.
Knowing that the search would be pushed toward the lake, the rangers doubled back to the western base of the hill. Had it not been for their gnawing hunger they would have ascended this and found a hiding-place where they might sleep, and whence they might reconnoiter the fort in the morning.
But the demands of the stomach made them savagely indifferent to risks, and, agreeing that boldness might result in food, they rounded the hill and made straight for the advanced post. Putnam, who was in the lead, frequently popped low to bring objects against the sky-line.
Finally he announced—
“Theres a cabin or something directly ahead.”
“Cabin. Canadians who work in the saw-mill near here use it. Climb up the slope a bit and we'll see the lights of the outpost.”
They ascended the rising ground until they could behold the camp-fire of the enemy behind the barricade of logs and earth. The cabin was half-way between them and the post. Both eyed the dark, squat mass of logs hungrily.
“Men live there. There must be food there,” muttered Putnam, licking his lips.
“And food we must have or we can't climb the mountain tomorrow and see how many men are in Ticonderoga,” Rogers declared.
Without another word both worked down to the foot of the slope and stole toward the cabin. Stalking the low structure as if it had been some wild animal asleep, they drew very close.
There was no suggestion of light about the place, and Rogers whispered his belief that the men were back at the post enjoying the society and brandy of the soldiers. They reached one end of the cabin and Putnam peered in through the small opening that answered for a window.
The moment he did this his nostrils dilated. A pleasant aroma came from the fireplace, where a dull glow marked the bed of coals. Turning to Rogers, he exulted:
“Empty. No dog to bother us. And something cooking in the fireplace!”
“I could smell it,” hissed Rogers.
Passing to the door, Rogers stood on guard while Putnam entered. Now the Connecticut man could identify the seductive aroma as emanating from a kettle of beans stewing in company with generous chunks of pork. Darting to the fireplace, he swung the kettle from the crane and started for the door. Rogers sprang inside and collided with him.
“Two men coming,” he warned. “Kill or capture.”
Putnam set the kettle on the dirt floor and drew his ax and took a position beside the door. Rogers stood behind him, likewise ready. The two men were loitering and talking carelessly. Over Putnam's shoulder Rogers whispered:
“French officers returning to the advanced post. Been to learn the cause of the rumpus at the camp.” A pause; then he continued:
“One says it must have been an Indian trying to steal some brandy. T'other's cursing the Indians as more nuisance than help.”
The officers were now very close, and Putnam's blood tingled at the thought of capturing one or both of them right in the shadow of Ticonderoga. The voices sounded just outside the door as the two men halted. The rangers believed they were about to enter, but as they made no move to do so Putnam whispered:
“Call out in French that you're sick. Ask them to come in. We'll bag the two.”
Rogers tapped his shoulder in assent, and just as the officers were on the point of resuming their stroll he groaned dismally and faintly cried:
“Help, messieurs! For the love of our Lady! A dying man calls you!”
“Mordieu!” cried one. “That scamp François says he is sick. He was well enough this morning.”
Rogers groaned. The officer who had just spoken started forward to investigate, but his friend pulled him back, protesting:
“What would you, Rigaud? The pig must have smallpox!”
With a squeal of fear the impetuous one fell back and the two began a rapid retreat. Putnam clicked his teeth in rage and snarled:
“We must catch them. I'll race you to them.”
He sprang lightly through the door with Rogers at his heels. The officers were some rods away and walking rapidly to escape possible contagion. Rogers touched Putnam's hand as a signal to advance when a new voice burst through the darkness, bawling indecencies set to rime. Putnam halted. Rogers bumped into him and swore under his breath.
The officers seemed electrified by the boisterous, drunken voice.and sharply called out:
Rogers turned and pulled Putnam back, whispering:
“It's the man who lives in the cabin—the man I pretended to be. Ah! Now the officers are calling for the soldiers to come and investigate. Run!”
“Not till I get the beans,” was the grim reply.
THE officers were now sharply issuing orders. The sound of clumping feet marked the coming of the soldiers. The drunken Canadian was in the lead and breathing a hideous vengeance on the trespassers. Putnam emerged from the cabin just as Rogers felled a man with the butt of his gun.
The night was too dark to distinguish individuals, but the rangers made out a solid mass of humanity striving to locate them, while the yells and curses of the soldiers blundering into each other and receiving and giving blows resulted in cries of encouragement from the post. Rogers swung his gun as a club, striking at random. Putnam swung the big kettle in a circle at arm's length and mowed down half a dozen bewildered assailants.
Falling back, the two gained the end of the cabin and made up the wooded slope. Behind them continued the voices of the infuriated men and the sound of blows and the shrill commands of the officers.
“They don't know that we're gone,” chuckled Rogers. “Fighting among themselves!”
“They'll know soon. Look!”
And Putnam pointed toward the post. Torches were being brought up on the run. A quavering, ululating cry now rose above the chorus of profanity.
The situation no longer appealed to the rangers as being humorous, and they stiffened their nerves against a real peril. For the cry was the hunting-call of the Caughnawaga Mohawks.
“So many feet, so much trampling about, they'll be slow to pick up our trail,” murmured Rogers.
“I won't feel easy till we get these beans inside us,” grumbled Putnam.
They pushed on up the hill, taking comfort in the thought that the Mohawks would seek them near the lake. The confusion below them died out and a shoulder of the elevation shut off their view of the post camp-fire. Lessening his efforts, Rogers led the way over pine needles.
At last he halted and pawed about with the muzzle of his gun. With a sigh of relief he sank to the ground, saying:
“Knew I could find it blindfolded. Ledge behind us with a hole in it. Good place to hide.”
“Now let's eat,” said Putnam, pushing the kettle between them although unable to see his friend.
Their fumbling hands were soon dipping into the kettle, and for several minutes they bolted beans and pieces of pork. Then Rogers informed the other:
“I couldn't tell you in the cabin, but the officers said things that showed the Lidindick girl got her first message through just as you said. The three thousand men left under Levis when Montcalm went to take Oswego is being increased to five thousand men. It's being done with a rush, showing the French fear an attack in force.”
“Unless we stiffen up in spirit they can sweep Winslow back to Fort Edward and then roll Winslow and Lyman back to Albany,” groaned Putnam. “And I thought it would help to let such talk get through!”
“Don't blame yourself so hard. Vaudreuil was bound to sendto Ticonderoga once Oswego was taken. But he'd have taken his time about it if it were not for the girl's message.”
“But there's something even more interesting if I read the officers' talk right. It seems the French won't advance against Fort William Henry until they get a special word from the girl—some word she has promised to send, some word they're waiting for.”
“That's the word we found on the dead warrior, telling them to strike now and capture forts William Henry and Edward!” exclaimed Putnam. “When she sees no advance is being made she'll guess it failed to get through. She'll try to repeat it. We've stayed round here too long. The girl is the danger-point. She must be stopped from sending any more information.”
“Yes; she must be stopped,” sighed Rogers. “I knew her father—and liked him. But she gets too dangerous. I'm ready to start any time.