Part 6 out of 6
and English and holding by the cover Annette's book of the "Good
Girl." But its rightful owner rescued the precious volume and put
it on the shelf.
"Have you read it through, Annette?"
"Yes," was the reply, for she had learned to read before they
"How do you like it?"
"Didn't like it a bit; I like 'Robinson Crusoe'," was the candid
The noon hour came, still the white rollers were pounding the
"If it does not calm by one o'clock I'll go on afoot."
So off he went with the packet, leaving Quonab to follow and
await his return at Fort George. In Schuyler settlement he spent
the night and at noon next day was in Albany.
How it stirred his soul to see the busy interest, the marching of
men, the sailing of vessels, and above all to hear of more
victories on the high seas. What mattered a few frontier defeats
in the north, when the arrogant foe that had spurned and insulted
them before the world had now been humbled again and again.
Young Van Cortlandt was away, but the governor's reception of him
reflected the electric atmosphere -- the country's pride in her sons.
Rolf had a matter of his own to settle. At the bookseller's he
asked for and actually secured a copy of the great book --
"Robinson Crusoe." It was with a thrilling feeling of triumph
that he wrote Annette's name in it and stowed it in his bag.
He left Albany next day in the gray dawn. Thanks to his uniform,
he got a twenty-five mile lift with a traveller who drove a fast
team, and the blue water was glinting back the stars when he
joined Quonab at Fort George, some sixty miles away.
In the calm betwixt star-peep and sun-up they were afloat. It was
a great temptation to stop at Hendrik's for a spell, but
breakfast was over, the water was calm, and duty called him. He
hallooed, then they drew near enough to hand the book ashore.
Skookum growled, probably at the hens, and the family waved their
aprons as he sped on. Thirty miles of lake and four miles of
Ticonderoga Creek they passed and the packet was delivered in
four days and three hours since leaving.
The general smiled and his short but amply sufficient praise was
merely, "You're a good 'un."
Chapter 75. Scouting in Canada
"Thar is two things," said Si Sylvanne to the senate, "that every
national crisis is bound to show up: first, a lot o' dum fools in
command; second a lot o great commanders in the ranks. An'
fortunately before the crisis is over the hull thing is sure set
right, and the men is where they oughter be."
How true this was the nation was just beginning to learn. The
fools in command were already demonstrated, and the summer of
1813 was replete with additional evidence. May, June, and July
passed with many journeyings for Rolf and many times with sad
news. The disasters at Stony Creek, Beaver Dam, and Niagara were
severe blows to the army on the western frontier. In June on Lake
Champlain the brave but reckless Lieutenant Sidney Smith had run
his two sloops into a trap. Thus the Growler and the Eagle were
lost to the Americans, and strengthened by that much the British
navy on the lake.
Encouraged by these successes, the British north of Lake
Champlain made raid after raid into American territory,
destroying what they could not carry off.
Rolf and Quonab were sent to scout in that country and if
possible give timely notice of raiders in force.
The Americans were averse to employing Indians in warfare; the
British entertained no such scruples and had many red-skinned
allies. Quonab's case, however, was unusual, since he was
guaranteed by his white partner, and now he did good service, for
he knew a little French and could prowl among the settlers
without anyone suspecting him of being an American scout.
Thus he went alone and travelled far. He knew the country nearly
to Montreal and late in July was lurking about Odletown, when he
overheard scattered words of a conversation that made hin eager
for more. "Colonel Murray - - twelve hundred men -- four hundred
Meanwhile Rolf was hiding in the woods about La Colle Mill.
Company after company of soldiers he saw enter, until at least
five hundred were there. When night came down, he decided to risk
a scarer approach. He left the woods and walked cautiously across
the open lands about.
The hay had been cut and most of it drawn in, but there was in
the middle of the field a hay-cock. Rolf was near this when he
heard sounds of soldiers from the mill. Soon large numbers came
out, carrying their blankets. Evidently there was not room for
them in the mill, and they were to camp on the field.
The scout began to retreat when sounds behind showed that another
body of soldiers was approaching from that direction and he was
caught between the two. There was only one place to hide and that
was beneath the haycock. He lifted its edge and crawled under,
but it was full of thistles and brambles; indeed, that was why it
was left, and he had the benefit of all the spines about him.
His heart beat fast as he heard the clank of arms and the
trampling; they came nearer, then the voices became more
distinct. He heard unmistakable evidence too that both bodies
were camping for the night, and that he was nearly surrounded.
Not knowing what move was best he kept quiet. The men were
talking aloud, then they began preparing their beds and he heard
some one say, "There's a hay-cock; bring some of that."
A soldier approached to get an armful of the hay, but sputtered
out a chapter of malediction as his bare hands touched the masses
of thistle and briers. His companions laughed at his mishap. He
went to the fire and vowed he'd stick a brand in it and back he
came with a burning stick.
Rolf was all ready to make a dash for his life as soon as the
cover should take fire, and he peered up into the soldier's face
as the latter blew on the brand; but the flame had died, the
thistles were not dry, and the fire was a failure; so, growling
again, the soldier threw down the smoking stick and went away. As
soon as he was safely afar, Rolf gathered a handful of soil and
covered the red embers.
It was a critical moment and his waiting alone had saved him.
Two soldiers came with their blankets and spread them near. For a
time they smoked and talked. One of them was short of tobacco;
the other said, "Never mind, we'll get plenty in Plattsburg," and
Then he heard, "As soon as the colonel" and other broken phrases.
It was a most difficult place for Rolf; he was tormented with
thistles in his face and down his neck; he dared not change his
position; and how long he must stay was a problem. He would try
to escape when all was still.
The nearer soldiers settled to rest now. All was very quiet when
Rolf cautiously peeped forth to see two dreadful things: first, a
couple of sentries pacing up and down the edges of the camp;
second, a broad, brilliant, rising moon. How horrible that lovely
orb could be Rolf never before knew.
Now, what next? He was trapped in the middle of a military camp
and undoubtedly La Colle Mill was the rendezvous for some
He had ample time to think it all over. Unless he could get away
before day he would surely be discovered. His uniform might save
his life, but soldiers have an awkward, hasty way of dealing
summarily with a spy -- then discovering too late that he was in
From time to time he peered forth, but the scene was unchanged --
the sleeping regiment, the pacing sentries, the ever-brightening
moon. Then the guard was changed, and the sentries relieved
selected of all places for their beds, the bank beside the
hay-cock. Again one of them went to help himself to some hay for
a couch; and again the comic anger as he discovered it to be a
bed of thorns. How thankful Rolf was for those annoying things
that pricked his face and neck.
He was now hemmed in on every side and, not knowing what to do,
did nothing. For a couple of hours he lay still, then actually
fell asleep. He was awakened by a faint rustling near his head
and peered forth to see a couple of field mice playing about.
The moon was very bright now, and the movements of the mice were
plain; they were feeding on the seeds of plants in the hay-cock,
and from time to time dashed under - the hay. Then they gambolled
farther off and were making merry over a pod of wild peas when a
light form came skimming noiselessly over the field. There was a
flash, a hurried rush, a clutch, a faint squeak, and one of the
mice was borne away in the claws of its feathered foe. The
survivor scrambled under the hay over Rolf's face and somewhere
The night passed in many short naps. The bugle sounded at
daybreak and the soldiers arose to make breakfast. Again one
approached to use a handful of hay for fire-kindler, and again
the friendly thistles did their part. More and more now his ear
caught suggestive words and sounds -- "Plattsburg" -- "the
colonel" -- etc.
The breakfast smelt wonderfully captivating -- poor Rolf was
famished. The alluring aroma of coffee permeated the hay-cock. He
had his dried meat, but his need was water; he was tormented with
thirst, and stiff and tortured; he was making the hardest fight
of his life. It seemed long, though doubtless it was less than
half an hour before the meal was finished, and to Rolf's relief
there were sounds of marching and the noises were drowned in the
By keeping his head covered with hay and slowly raising it, he
was safe to take a look around. It was a bright, sunny morning.
The hay-cock, or thistle-cock, was one of several that had been
rejected. It was a quarter-mile from cover; the soldiers were at
work cutting timber and building a stockade around the mill; and,
most dreadful to relate, a small dog was prowling about, looking
for scraps on the scene of the soldiers' breakfast. If that dog
came near his hiding-place, he knew the game was up. At such
close quarters, you can fool a man but not a dog.
Fortunately the breakfast tailings proved abundant, and the dog
went off to assist a friend of his in making sundry interesting
smell analyses along the gate posts of the stockade.
Chapter 76. The Duel
This was temporary relief, but left no suggestion of complete
escape. He lay there till nearly noon suffering more and more
from the cramped position and thirst, and utterly puzzled as to
the next move.
"When ye don't like whar ye air, git up without any fuss, and go
whar ye want to be," was what Sylvanne once said to him, and it
came to Rolf with something like a comic shock. The soldiers were
busy in the woods and around the forges. In half an hour it would
be noon and they might come back to eat.
Rolf rose without attempting any further concealment, then
stopped, made a bundle of the stuff that had sheltered him and,
carrying this on his shoulder, strode boldly across the field
toward the woods.
His scout uniform was inconspicuous; the scouts on duty at the
mill saw only one of themselves taking a bundle of hay round to
He reached the woods absolutely unchallenged. After a few yards
in its friendly shade, he dropped the thorny bundle and strode
swiftly toward his own camp. He had not gone a hundred yards
before a voice of French type cried "'Alt," and he was face to
face with a sentry whose musket was levelled at him.
A quick glance interchanged, and each gasped out the other's
"Francois la Colle!"
"Rolf Kittering! Mon Dieu! I ought to shoot you, Rolf; I cannot,
I cannot! But run, run! I'll shoot over your head," and his
kindly eyes filled with tears.
Rolf needed no second hint; he ran like a deer, and the musket
ball rattled the branches above his shoulders.
In a few minutes other soldiers came running and from La Colle
they heard of the hostile spy in camp.
"I shoot; I t'ink maybe I not hit eem; maybe some brood dere? No,
There were both runners and trackers in camp. They were like
bloodhounds and they took up the trail of the fugitive. But Rolf
was playing his own game now; he was "Flying Kittering." A
crooked trail is hard to follow, and, going at the long stride
that had made his success, he left many a crook and turn. Before
two miles I they gave it up and the fugitive coming to the river
drank a deep and cooling draught, the first he had had that day.
Five miles through is the dense forest that lies between La Colle
and the border. He struck a creek affluent of the Richelieu River and
followed to its forks, which was the place of rendezvous with Quonab.
It was evening as he drew near and after long, attentive
listening he gave the cry of the barred owl:
The answer came: a repetition of the last line, and a minute
later the two scouts were together.
As they stood, they were startled by a new, sudden answer, an
exact repetition of the first call. Rolf had recovered his rifle
from its hiding place and instantly both made ready for some
hostile prowler; then after a long silence he gave the final wail
line "hoooo-aw" and that in the woods means, "Who are you?"
Promptly the reply came:
"Wa wah wa wah Wa wah wa hoooo-aw."
But this was the wrong reply. It should have been only the last
half. The imitation was perfect, except, perhaps, on the last
note, which was a trifle too human. But the signal was well done;
it was an expert calling, either an Indian or some thoroughly
seasoned scout; yet Quonab was not deceived into thinking it an
owl. He touched his cheek and his coat, which, in the scout sign
language, means "red coat," i. e., Britisher.
Rolf and his partner got silently out of sight, each with his
rlile cocked and ready to make a hole in any red uniform or badge
that might show itself. Then commenced a very peculiar duel, for
evidently the enemy was as clever as themselves and equally
anxious to draw them out of cover.
Wa-wah-wa hooo-aw called the stranger, giving the right answer in
the wrong place. He was barely a hundred yards off, and, as the
two strained their senses to locate him, they heard a faint click
that told of his approach.
Rolf turned his head and behind a tree uttered again the Wa-wah
-a - hoo which muffled by his position would convince the foe
that he was retreating. The answer came promptly and much nearer:
Wa - wah - wa - hoooo-aw.
Good! the medicine was working. So Rolf softened his voice still
more, while Quonab got ready to shoot.
The Wa - wa - hooo-aw that came in answer this time was
startlingly clear and loud and nearly perfect in intonation, but
again betrayed by the human timbre of the aw. A minute or two
more and they would reach a climax.
After another wait, Rolf muffled his voice and gave the single
hooo-aw, and a great broad-winged owl came swooping through the
forest, alighted on a tree overhead, peered about, then thrilled
them with his weird:
Wa - hoo - wa - boo
Wa - hoo -wa - hooooooooo-aw, the last note with the singular
human quality that had so completely set them astray.
Chapter 77. Why Plattsburg Was Raided
The owl's hull reputation for wisdom is built up on lookin' wise
and keepin' mum. -- Sayings of St Sylvanne
THE owl incident was one of the comedies of their life, now they
had business on hand. The scraps of news brought by Quonab pieced
out with those secured by Rolf, spelt clearly this: that Colonel
Murray with about a thousand men was planning a raid on
Their duty was to notify General Hampton without delay.
Burlington, forty miles away, was headquarters. Plattsburg,
twenty miles away, was marked for spoil.
One more item they must add: Was the raid to baby land or water?
If the latter, then they must know what preparations were being
made at the British naval station, Isle au Noix. They travelled
all night through the dark woods, to get there, though it was but
seven miles away, and in the first full light they saw the
gallant array of two warships, three gunboats, and about fifty
long boats, all ready, undoubtedly waiting only for a change in
the wind, which at this season blew on Champlain almost steadily
form the south.
A three-hour, ten-mile tramp through ways now familiar brought
Rolf and his partner to the north of the Big Chazy where the
canoe was hidden, and without loss of time they pushed off for
Burlington, thirty miles away. The wind was head on, and when
four hours later they stopped for noon, they had made not more
than a dozen miles.
All that afternoon they had to fight a heavy sea; this meant they
must keep near shore in case of an upset, and so lengthened the
course; but it also meant that the enemy would not move so long
as this wind kept up.
It was six at night before the scouts ran into Burlington Harbour
and made for Hampton's headquarters.
His aide received them and, after learning that they had news,
went in to the general. From the inner room now they heard in
unnecessarily loud tones the great man's orders to, "Bring them
The bottles on the table, his purple visage, and thick tongued
speech told how well-founded were the current whispers.
"Raid on Plattsburg? Ha! I hope so. I only hope so. Gentlemen,"
and he turned to his staff, "all I ask is a chance to get at them
-- Ha, Ha! Here, help yourself, Macomb," and the general pushed
the decanter to a grave young officer who was standing by.
"No, thank you, sir," was the only reply.
The general waved his hand, the scouts went out, puzzled and
ashamed. Was this the brains of the army? No wonder our men are
Now Macomb ventured to suggest: "Have you any orders, sir? These
scouts are considered quite reliable. I understand from them that
the British await only a change of wind. They have between one
thousand and two thousand men."
"Plenty of time in the morning, sah. Plattsburg will be the bait
of my trap, not one of them shall return alive," and the general
dismissed his staff that he might fortify himself against a
Another young man, Lieut. Thomas MacDonough, the naval
commandant, now endeavoured to stir him by a sense of danger.
First he announced that his long boats, and gunboats were ready
and in six hours he could transfer three thousand troops from
Burlington to Plattsburg. Then he ventured to urge the necessity
Champlain is a lake of two winds. It had brown from the south for
two weeks; now a north wind was likely to begin any day.
MacDonough urged this point, but all in vain, and, shocked and
humiliated, the young man obeyed the order "to wait till his
advice was asked."
The next day Hampton ordered a review, not an embarkation, and
was not well enough to appear in person.
The whole army knew now of the situation of affairs, and the
militia in particular were not backward in expressing their minds.
Next day, July 30th, the wind changed. Hampton did nothing. On
the morning of July 3Ist they heard the booming of guns in the
north, and at night their scouts came with the news that the raid
was on. Plattsburg was taken and pillaged by a force less than
one third of those held at Burlington.
There were bitter, burning words on the lips of the rank and
file, and perfunctory rebukes on the lips of the young officers
when they chanced to overhear. The law was surely working out as
set forth by Si Sylvanne: "The fools in command, the leaders in
And now came news of fresh disasters -- the battles of Beaverdam,
Stony Creek, and Niagara River. It was the same story in nearly
every case -- brave fighting men, ill-drilled, but dead shots,
led into traps by incompetent commanders.
In September Lieutenant Macomb was appointed to command at
Plattsburg. This proved as happy an omen as it was a wise move.
Immediately after, in all this gloom, came the news of Perry's
famous victory on Lake Erie, marking a new era for the American
cause, followed by the destruction of Moraviantown and the
British army which held it.
Stirred at last to action General Wilkinson sent despatches to
Hampton to arrange an attack on Montreal. There was no
possibility of failure, he said, for the sole defence of Montreal
was 600 marines. His army consisted of 8000 men. Hampton's
consisted of 4000. By a union of these at the mouth of Chateaugay
River, they would form an invincible array.
So it seemed. Rolf had not yet seen any actual fighting and began
to long for the front. But his powers as a courier kept him ever
busy bearing despatches. The road to Sackett's Harbour and thence
to Ogdensburg and Covington, and back to Plattsburg he knew
thoroughly, and in his canoe he had visited every port on Lakes
Champlain and George.
He was absent at Albany in the latter half of October and first
of November, but the ill news travelled fast. Hampton requested
MacDonough to "swoop down on Isle au Noix" -- an insane request,
compliance with which would have meant certain destruction to the
American fleet. MacDonough's general instructions were:
"Cooperate with the army, but at any price retain supremacy of
the lake," and he declined to receive Hampton's order.
Threatening court-martials and vengeance on his return, Hampton
now set out by land; but at Chateaugay he was met by a much
smaller force of Canadians who resisted him so successfully that
he ordered a retreat and his army retired to Plattsburg.
Meanwhile General Wilkinson had done even worse. His army
numbered 8000. Of these the rear guard were 2500. A body of 800
Canadians harassed their line of march. Turning to brush away
this annoyance, the Americans were wholly defeated at Chrystler's
farm and, giving up the attack on Montreal, Wilkinson crossed the
St. Lawrence and settled for the winter at Chateaugay.
In December, America scored an important advance by relieving
Hampton of his command.
As the spring drew near, it was clearly Wilkinson's first play to
capture La Colle Mill, which had been turned into a fortress of
considerable strength and a base for attack on the American
border, some five miles away.
Of all the scouts Rolf best knew that region, yet he was the one
left out of consideration and despatched with papers to
Plattsburg. The attack was bungled from first to last, and when
Wilkinson was finally repulsed, it was due to Macomb that the
retreat was not a rout.
But good came out of this evil, for Wilkinson was recalled and
the law was nearly fulfilled -- the incompetents were gone.
General Macomb was in command of the land force and MacDonough of
Chapter 78. Rumours and Papers
MacDonough's orders were to hold control of the Lake. How he did
it will be seen. The British fleet at Isle au Noix was slightly
stronger than his own, therefore he established a navy yard at
Vergennes, in Vermont, seven miles up the Otter River, and at the
mouth erected earthworks and batteries. He sent for Brown (of the
firm of Adam and Noah Brown) a famous New York shipbuilder. Brown
agreed to launch a ship of twenty-four guns in sixty days. The
trees were standing in the forest on March 2d the keel was laid
March 7th, and on April 11th the Saratoga was launched -- forty
days after the timbers were green standing trees on the hills.
Other vessels were begun and pushed as expeditiously. And now
MacDonough's wisdom in choice of the navy yard was seen, for a
British squadron was sent to destroy his infant fleet, or at
least sink stone-boats across the exit so as to bottle it up.
But their attempts were baffled by the batteries which the
far-seeing American had placed at the river's mouth.
The American victory at Chippewa was followed by the defeat at
Lundy's Lane, and on August 25th the city of Washington was
captured by the British and its public buildings destroyed. These
calamities, instead of dampening the spirits of the army, roused
the whole nation at last to a realization of the fact that they
were at war. Fresh troops and plentiful supplies were voted, the
deadwood commanders were retired, and the real men revealed by
the two campaigns were given place and power.
At the same time, Great Britain, having crushed Napoleon, was in
a position to greatly reinforce her American army, and troops
seasoned in Continental campaigns were poured into Canada.
All summer Rolf was busied bearing despatches. During the winter
he and Quonab had built a birch canoe on special lines for speed;
it would carry two men but no baggage.
With this he could make fully six miles an hour for a short time,
and average five on smooth water. In this he had crossed and
recrossed Champlain, and paddled its length, till he knew every
bay and headland. The overland way to Sackett's Harbour he had
traversed several times; the trail from Plattsburg to Covington
he knew in all weathers, and had repeatedly covered its sixty
miles in less than twenty-four hours on foot. The route he
picked and followed was in later years the line selected for the
military highway between these two camps.
But the chief scene of his activities was the Canadian wilderness
at the north end of Lake Champlain. Chazy, Champlain, Odelltown,
La Colle Mill, Isle au Noix, and Richelieu River he knew
intimately and had also acquired a good deal of French in
learning their country.
It was characteristic of General Wilkinson to ignore the scout
who knew and equally characteristic of his successors, Izard and
Macomb, to seek and rely on the best man.
The news that he brought in many different forms was that the
British were again concentrating an army to strike at Plattsburg
Izard on the land at Plattsburg and Champlain, and Macomb at
Burlington strained all their resources to meet the invader at
fair terms. Izard had 4000 men assembled, when an extraordinary
and devastating order from Washington compelled him to abandon
the battle front at Champlain and lead his troops to Sackett's
Harbour where all was peace. He protested like a statesman, then
obeyed like a soldier, leaving Macomb in command of the land
forces of Lake Champlain, with, all told, some 3400 men. On the
day that Izard left Champlain, the British troops, under
Brisbane, advanced and occupied his camp.
As soon as Rolf had seen them arrive, and had gauged their
number, he sent Quonab back to report, and later retired by night
ten miles up the road to Chazy. He was well known to many of the
settlers and was welcome where ever known, not only because he
was a patriot fighting his country's battles, but for his own
sake, for he was developing into a handsome, alert, rather silent
youth. It is notorious that in the drawing-room, given equal
opportunity, the hunter has the advantage over the farmer. He has
less self-consciousness, more calm poise. He is not troubled
about what to do with his feet and hands, and is more convinced
of his native dignity and claims to respect. In the drawin-room
Rolf was a hunter: the leading inhabitants of the region around
received him gladly and honoured him. He was guest at Judge
Hubbell's in Chazy, in September of 1814. Every day he scouted in
the neighbourhood and at night returned to the hospitable home of
On the 12th of September, from the top of a tall tree on a
distant wooded hill, he estimated the force at Champlain to be
10,000 to 15,000 men. Already their bodyguard was advancing on
Judge Hubbell and anxious neighbours hastily assembled now,
discussed with Rolf the situation and above all, "What shall we
do with our families?" One man broke into a storm of hate and
vituperation against the British. "Remember the burning of
Washington and the way they treated the women at Bladensburg."
"All of which about the women was utterly disproved, except in
one case, and in that the criminal was shot by order of his own
commander," retorted Hubbell.
At Plattsburg others maintained that the British had harmed no
one. Colonel Murray had given strict orders that all private
property be absolutely respected. Nothing but government property
was destroyed and only that which could be construed into war
stores and buildings. What further damage was done was the result
of accident or error. Officers were indeed quartered on the
inhabitants, but they paid for what they got, and even a carpet
destroyed by accident was replaced months afterward by a British
officer who had not the means at the time.
So it was agreed that Hubbell with Rolf and the village fathers
and brothers should join their country's army, leaving wives and
There were wet bearded cheeks among the strong, rugged men as
they kissed their wives and little ones and prepared to go, then
stopped, as horrible misgivings rose within. "This was war, and
yet again, 'We have had proofs that the British harmed no woman
or child'." So they dashed away the tears, suppressed the choking
in their throats, shouldered their guns, and marched away to the
front, commending their dear ones to the mercy of God and the
None had any cause to regret this trust. Under pain of death, Sir
George Prevost enforced his order that the persons of women and
children and all private property be held inviolate. As on the
previous raid, no damage was done to non-combatants, and the only
hardships endured were by the few who, knowing nothing, feared
much, and sought the precarious safety of life among the hills.
Sir George Prevost and his staff of ten officers were quartered
in Judge Hubbell's house. Mrs. Hubbell was hard put to furnish
them with meals, but they treated her with perfect respect, and
every night, not knowing how long they might stay, they left on
the table the price of their board and lodging.
For three days they waited, then all was ready for the advance.
"Now for Plattsburg this week and Albany next, so good-bye,
madam" they said politely, and turned to ride away. a gay and
"Good-bye, sirs, for a very little while, but I know you'll soon
be back and hanging your heads as you come," was the retort.
Sir George replied: "If a man had said that, I would call him
out; but since it is a fair lady that has been our charming
hostess, I reply that when your prophecy comes true, every
officer here shall throw his purse on your door step as he
So they rode away, 13,000 trained men with nothing between them
and Albany but 2000 troops, double as many raw militia, and --
MacDonough of the Lake.
Ten times did Rolf cover that highway north of Plattsburg in the
week that followed, and each day his tidings were the same -- the
British steadily advance.
Chapter 79. McGlassin's Exploit
There was a wonderful spirit on everything in Plattsburg, and the
earthly tabernacle in which it dwelt, was the tall, grave young
man who had protested against Hampton's behaviour at Burlington
-- Captain, now General Macomb. Nothing was neglected, every
emergency was planned for, every available man was under arms.
Personally tireless, he was ever alert and seemed to know every
man in his command and every man of it had implicit confidence in
the leader. We have heard of soldiers escaping from a besieged
fortress by night; but such was the inspiring power of this
commander that there was a steady leaking in of men from the
hills, undrilled and raw, but of superb physique and dead shots
with the ride.
A typical case was that of a sturdy old farmer who was marching
through the woods that morning to take his place with those who
manned the breastworks and was overheard to address his visibly
trembling legs: "Shake, damn you, shake; and if ye knew where I
was leading you, you'd be ten times worse."
His mind was more valiant than his body, and his mind kept
control -- this is true courage.
No one had a better comprehension of all this than Macomb. He
knew that all these men needed was a little training to make of
them the best soldiers on earth. To supply that training he mixed
them with veterans, and arranged a series of unimportant
skirmishes as coolly and easily as though he were laying out a
programme for an evening's entertainment.
The first of these was at Culver's Hill. Here a barricade was
thrown up along the highway, a gun was mounted, and several
hundred riflemen were posted under leaders skilled in the arts of
harrying a foe and giving him no chance to strike back.
Among the men appointed for the barricade's defence was Rolf and
near him Quonab. The latter had been seasoned in the Revolution,
but it was the former's first experience at the battle front, and
he felt as most men do when the enemy in brave array comes
marching up. As soon as they were within long range, his leader
gave the order "Fire!" The rifles rattled and the return fire
came at once. Balls pattered on the barricade or whistled above.
The man next to him was struck and dropped with a groan; another
fell back dead. The horror and roar were overmuch. Rolf was
nervous enough when he entered the fight. Now he was unstrung,
almost stunned, his hands and knees were shaking, he was nearly
panic-stricken and could not resist the temptation to duck, as
the balls hissed murder over his head. He was blazing away,
without aiming, when an old soldier, noting his white face and
shaking form, laid a hand on his shoulder and, in kindly tones,
said: "Steady, boy, steady; yer losing yer head; see, this is
how," and he calmly took aim, then, without firing, moved the gun
again and put a little stick to raise the muzzle and make a
better rest, then fired as though at target practice. "Now rest
for a minute. Look at Quonab there; you can see he's been through
it before. He is making a hit with every shot."
Rolf did as he was told, and in a few minutes his colour came
back, his hand was steady, and thenceforth he began to forget the
danger and thought only of doing his work.
When at length it was seen that the British were preparing to
charge, the Americans withdrew quickly and safely to Halsey's
Corner, where was another barricade and a fresh lot of recruits
awaiting to receive their baptism of fire. And the scene was
repeated. Little damage was done to the foe but enormous benefit
was gained by the Americans, because it took only one or two of
these skirmishes to turn a lot of shaky-kneed volunteers into a
band of steady soldiers -- for they had it all inside. Thus their
powder terror died.
That night the British occupied the part of the town that was
north of the Saranac, and began a desultory bombardment of the
fortification opposite. Not a very serious one, for they
considered they could take the town at any time, but preferred to
await the arrival of their fleet under Downie.
The fight for the northern half of the town was not serious,
merely part of Macomb's prearranged training course; but when the
Americans retired across the Saranac, the planks of the bridges
were torn up, loop-holed barricades were built along the southern
bank, and no effort spared to prepare for a desperate resistance.
Every man that could hold up a gun was posted on the lines of
Plattsburg. The school-boys, even, to the number of five hundred
formed a brigade, and were assigned to places where their
squirrel-hunting experiences could be made of service to their
Meanwhile the British had established a battery opposite Fort
Brown. It was in a position to do some material and enormous
moral damage. On the ninth it was nearly ready for bloody work,
and would probably begin next morning. That night, however, an
extraordinary event took place, and showed how far from
terror-palsy were the motley troops in Plattsburg. A sturdy
Vermonter, named Captain McGlassin, got permission of Ma. comb to
attempt a very Spartan sortie.
He called for fifty volunteers to go on a most hazardous
enterprise. He got one thousand at once. Then he ordered all over
twenty-five and under eighteen to retire. This reduced the number
to three hundred. Then, all married men were retired, and thus
again they were halved. Next he ordered away all who smoked --
Ah, deep philosopher that he was! -- and from the remnant he
selected his fifty. Among them was Rolf. Then he divulged his
plan. It was nothing less than a dash on the new-made fort to
spike those awful guns -- fifty men to dash into a camp of
Again he announced, "Any who wish to withdraw now may do so." Not
a man stirred.
Twenty of those known to be expert with tools were provided with
hammers and spikes for the guns, and Rolf was proud to be one of
In a night of storm and blackness they crossed the Saranac;
dividing in two bodies they crawled unseen, one on each side of
the battery. Three hundred British soldiers were sleeping near,
only the sentries peered into the storm-sleet.
All was ready when McGlassin's tremendous voice was heard,
"Charge front and rear!" Yelling, pounding, making all the noise
they could, the American boys rushed forth. The British were
completely surprised, the sentries were struck down, and the rest
assured that Macomb's army was on them recoiled for a few
minutes. The sharp click, click, click of the hammers was heard.
An iron spike was driven into every touch hole; the guns were
made harmless as logs and quickly wheeling, to avoid the return
attack, these bold Yankee boys leaped from the muzzled redoubt
and reached their own camp without losing one of their number.
Chapter 80. The Bloody Saranac
Sir george Prevost had had no intention of taking Plattsburg,
till Plattsburg's navy was captured. But the moral effect of
McGlassin's exploit must be offset at once. He decided to carry
the city by storm -- a matter probably of three hours' work.
He apportioned a regiment to each bridge, another to each ford
near the town, another to cross the river at Pike's Cantonment,
and yet another to cross twenty miles above, where they were to
harry the fragments of the American as it fled.
That morning Plattsburg was wakened by a renewal of the
bombardment. The heavy firing killed a few men knocked down a few
walls and chimneys, but did little damage to the earthworks.
It was surprising to all how soon the defenders lost their
gun-shyness. The very school-boys and their sisters went calmly
about their business, with cannon and musket balls whistling
overhead, striking the walls and windows, or, on rare occasions,
dropping some rifleman who was over-rash as he worked or walked
on the ramparts.
There were big things doing in the British camp -- regiments
marching and taking their places -- storms of rifle and cannon
balls raging fiercely. By ten o'clock there was a lull. The
Americans, from the grandfathers to the school- boys, were
posted, each with his rifle and his pouch full of balls; there
were pale faces among the youngsters, and nervous fingers, but
there was no giving way. Many a man there was, no doubt, who,
under the impulse of patriotism, rushed with his gun to join the
ranks, and when the bloody front was reached, he wished in his
heart he was safe at home. But they did not go. Something kept
Although the lines were complete all along the ramparts, there
were four places where the men were massed. These were on the
embankments opposite the bridges and the fords. Here the best
shots were placed and among them was Rolf, with others of
The plank of the bridges had been torn up and used with earth to
form breastworks; but the stringers of the bridges were there,
and a body of red-coats approaching, each of them showed plainly
what their plan was.
The farthest effective range of rifle fire in those days was
reckoned at a hundred yards. The Americans were ordered to hold
their fire till the enemy reached the oaks, a grove one hundred
yards from the main bridge -- on the other bank.
The British came on in perfect review-day style. Now a hush fell
on all. The British officer in command was heard clearly giving
his orders. How strange it must have been to the veterans of wars
in Spain, France, and the Rhine, to advance against a force with
whom they needed no interpreter.
McGlassin's deep voice now rang along the defences, "Don't fire
till I give the order."
The red-coats came on at a trot, they reached the hundred-
"Now, aim low and fire!" from McGlassin, and the rattle of the
Yankee guns was followed by reeling ranks of red in the oaks.
"Charge!" shouted the British officer and the red-coats charged
to the bridge, but the fire from the embankment was incessant;
the trail of the charging men was cluttered with those who fell.
"Forward!" and the gallant British captain leaped on the central
stringer of the bridge and, waving his sword, led on. Instantly
three lines of men were formed, one on each stringer.
They were only fifty yards from the barricade, with five hundred
rifles, all concentrated on these stringers. The first to fall
was the captain, shot through the heart, and the river bore him
away. But on and on came the three ranks into the whistling,
withering fire of lead. It was like slaughtering sheep. Yet on
and on they marched steadily for half an hour. Not a man held
back or turned, though all knew they were marching to their
certain death. Not one of them ever reached the centre of the
span, and those who dropped, not dead, were swallowed by the
swollen stream. How many hundred brave men were sacrificed that
day, no one ever knew. He who gave the word to charge was dead
with his second and third in command and before another could
come to change the order, the river ran red -- the bloody Saranac
they call it ever since.
The regiment was wrecked, and the assault for the time was over.
Rolf had plied his rifle with the rest, but it sickened him to
see the horrible waste of human valour. It was such ghastly work
that he was glad indeed when a messenger came to say he was
needed at headquarters. And in an hour he was crossing the lake
with news and instructions for the officer in command at Burlington.
Chapter 81. The Battle of Plattsburg
In broad daylight he skimmed away in his one man canoe.
For five hours he paddled, and at star-peep he reached the dock
at Burlington. The howl of a lost dog caught his ear; and when he
traced the sound, there, on the outmost plank, with his nose to
the skies, was the familiar form of Skookum, wailing and sadly
What a change he showed when Rolf landed; he barked, leaped,
growled, tail-wagged, head-wagged, feet-wagged, body-wagged,
wig-wagged and zigzagged for joy; he raced in circles, looking
for a sacrificial hen, and finally uttered a long and
conversational whine that doubtless was full of information for
those who could get it out.
Rolf delivered his budget at once. It was good news, but not
conclusive. Everything depended now on MacDonough. In the morning
all available troops should hurry to the defence of Plattsburg;
not less than fifteen hundred men were ready to embark at daylight.
That night Rolf slept with Skookum in the barracks. At daybreak,
much to the latter's disgust, he was locked up in a cellar, and
the troops embarked for the front.
It was a brisk north wind they had to face in crossing and
passing down the lake. There were many sturdy oarsmen at the
sweeps, but they could not hope to reach their goal in less than
When they were half way over, they heard the cannon roar; the
booming became incessant; without question, a great naval battle
was on, for this north wind was what the British had been
awaiting. The rowers bent to their task and added to the speed.
Their brothers were hard pressed; they knew it, they must make
haste. The long boats flew. In an hour they could see the masts,
the sails, the smoke of the battle, but nothing gather of the
portentous result. Albany and New York, as well as Plattsburg,
were in the balance, and the oarsmen rowed and rowed and rowed.
The cannon roared louder and louder, though less continuously, as
another hour passed. Now they could see the vessels only four
miles away. The jets of smoke were intermittent from the guns;
masts went down. They could see it plainly. The rowers only set
their lips and rowed and rowed and rowed.
Sir George had reckoned on but one obstacle in his march to
Albany, an obstruction named MacDonough; but he now found there
was another called Macomb.
It was obviously a waste of men to take Plattsburg by front
assault, when he could easily force a passage of the river higher
up and take it on the rear; and it was equally clear that when
his fleet arrived and crushed the American fleet, it would be a
simple matter for the war vessels to blow the town to pieces,
without risking a man.
Already a favouring wind had made it possible for Downie to leave
Isle au Noix and sail down the lake with his gallant crew, under
gallant canvas clouds.
Tried men and true in control of every ship, out- numbering
MacDonough, outweighing him, outpointing him in everything but
seamanship, they came on, sure of success.
Three chief moves were in MacDonough's strategy. He anchored to
the northward of the bay, so that any fleet coming down the lake
would have to beat up against the wind to reach him; so close to
land that any fleet trying to flank him would come within range
of the forts; and left only one apparent gap that a foe might try
to use, a gap in front of which was a dangerous sunken reef. This
was indeed a baited trap. Finally he put out cables, kedges,
anchors, and springs, so that with the capstan he could turn his
vessels and bring either side to bear on the foe.
All was ready, that morning of September the 11th as the British
fleet, ably handled, swung around the Cumberland Head.
The young commander of the Yankee fleet now kneeled bareheaded
with his crew and prayed to the God of Battles as only those
going into battle pray. The gallant foe came on, and who that
knows him doubts that he, too, raised his heart in reverent
prayer? The first broadside from the British broke open a chicken
coop on the Saratoga from which a game-cock flew, and, perching
on a gun, flapped his wings and crowed; so all the seamen cheered
at such a happy omen.
Then followed the fighting, with its bravery and its horrors --
its brutish wickedness broke loose.
Early in the action, the British sloop, Finch, fell into
MacDonough's trap and grounded on the reef.
The British commander was killed, with many of his officers.
Still, the heavy fire of the guns would have given them the
victory, but for MacDonough's foresight in providing for swinging
his ships. When one broadside was entirely out of action, he used
his cables, kedges and springs, and brought the other batteries
It was one of the most desperate naval fights the world has ever
seen. Of the three hundred men on the British flag- ship not more
than five, we are told, escaped uninjured; and at the close there
was not left on any one of the eight vessels a mast that could
carry sail, or a sail that could render service. In less than two
hours and a half the fight was won, and the British fleet
To the God of Battles each had committed his cause: and the God
of Battles had spoken.
Far away to the southward in the boats were the Vermont troops
with their general and Rolf in the foremost. Every sign of the
fight they had watched as men whose country's fate is being tried.
It was a quarter after eleven when the thunder died away; and the
Vermonters were headed on shore, for a hasty landing, if need be,
when down from the peak of the British flag-ship went the Union
Jack, and the Stars and Stripes was hauled to take its place.
"Thank God!" a soft, murmuring sigh ran through all the boats and
many a bronzed and bearded cheek was wet with tears. Each man
clasped hands with his neighbour; all were deeply moved, and even
as an audience melted renders no applause, so none felt any wish
to vent his deep emotion in a cheer.
Chapter 82. Scouting for Macomb
General Macomb knew that Sir George Prevost was a cautious and
experienced commander. The loss of his fleet would certainly make
a radical change in his plans, but what change? Would he make a
flank move and dash on to Albany, or retreat to Canada, or
entrench himself to await reinforcements at Plattsburg, or try to
retrieve his laurels by an overwhelming assault on the town?
Whatever his plan, he would set about it quickly, and Macomb
studied the enemy's camp with a keen, discerning eye, but nothing
suggesting a change was visible when the sun sank in the rainy west.
It was vital that he know it at once when an important move was
begun, and as soon as the night came down, a score of the
swiftest scouts were called for. All were young men; most of them
had been in McGlassin's band. Rolf was conspicuous among them for
his tall figure, but there was a Vermont boy named Seymour, who
had the reputation of being the swiftest runner of them all.
They had two duties laid before them: first, to find whether
Prevost's army was really retreating; second, what of the
regiment he sent up the Saranac to perform the flank movement.
Each was given the country he knew best. Some went westerly, some
followed up the river. Rolf, Seymour, and Fiske, another
Vermonter, skimmed out of Plattsburg harbour in the dusk, rounded
Cumberland Bend, and at nine o'clock landed at Point au Roche, at
the north side of Treadwell's Bay.
Here they hid the canoe and agreeing to meet again at midnight,
set off in three different westerly directions to strike the
highway at different points. Seymour, as the fast racer, was
given the northmost route; Rolf took the middle. Their signals
were arranged -- in the woods the barred-owl cry, by the water
the loon; and they parted.
The woods seemed very solemn to Rolf that historic September
night, as he strode along at speed, stopping now and again when
he thought he heard some signal, and opened wide his mouth to
relieve his ear-drums of the heart-beat or to still the rushing
of his breath.
In half an hour he reached the high-road. It was deserted. Then
he heard a cry of the barred owl:
Wa -- wah -- wa -- wah Wa - wah -- wa -- hooooo-aw.
He replied with the last line, and the answer came a repeat of
the whole chant, showing that it might be owl, it might be man;
but it was not the right man, for the final response should have
been the hooooo-aw. Rolf never knew whence it came, but gave no
For a long time he sat in a dark corner, where he could watch the
road. There were sounds of stir in the direction of Plattsburg.
Then later, and much nearer, a couple of shots were fired. He
learned afterward that those shots were meant for one of his
friends. At length there was a faint tump ta tump ta. He drew his
knife, stuck it deep in the ground, then held the handle in his
teeth. This acted like a magnifier, for now he heard it plainly
enough -- the sound of a horse at full gallop -- but so far away
that it was five minutes before he could clearly hear it while
standing. As the sound neared, he heard the clank of arms, and
when it passed, Rolf knew that this was a mounted British
officer. But why, and whither?
In order to learn the rider's route, Rolf followed at a trot for
a mile. This brought him to a hilltop, whither in the silent
night, that fateful north wind carried still the sound
te -- rump te -- rump te -- rump.
As it was nearly lost, Rolf used his knife again; that brought
the rider back within a mile it seemed, and again the hoof beat
faded, te -- rump te -- rump.
"Bound for Canada all right," Rolf chuckled to himself. But there
was nothing to show whether this was a mere despatch rider, or an
advance scout, or a call for reinforcements.
So again he had a long wait. About half-past ten a new and larger
sound came from the south. The knife in the ground increased but
did not explain it. The night was moonless, dark now, and it was
safe to sit very near the road. In twenty minutes the sound was
near at hand in five, a dark mass was passing along the road.
There is no mistaking the language of drivers. There is never any
question about such and such a voice being that of an English
officer. There can be no doubt about the clank of heavy wheels --
a rich, tangy voice from some one in advance said: "Oui. Parbleu,
tows ce que je sais, c'est par la." A body of about one hundred
Britishers, two or three wagons, guns, and a Frenchman for guide.
Rolf thought he knew that voice; yes, he was almost sure it was
the voice of Francios la Colle.
This was important but far from conclusive. It was now eleven. He
was due at the canoe by midnight. He made for the place as fast
as he could go, which, on such a night, was slow, but guided by
occasional glimpses of the stars he reached the lake, and pausing
a furlong from the landing, he gave the rolling, quivering loon call:
Ho-o-o-o-ooo-o Ho-o-o-o-ooo-o. Hooo-ooo.
After ten seconds the answer came:
And again after ten seconds Rolf's reply:
Both his friends were there; Fiske with a bullet-hole through his
arm. It seemed their duty to go back at once to headquarters with
the meagre information and their wounded comrade. But Fiske made
light of his trouble -- it was a mere scratch -- and reminded
them that their orders were to make sure of the enemy's
movements. Therefore, it was arranged that Seymour take back
Fiske and what news they had, while Rolf went on to complete his scouting.
By one o'clock he was again on the hill where he had marked the
horseman's outward flight and the escorted guns. Now, as he
waited, there were sounds in the north that faded, and in the
south were similar sounds that grew. Within an hour he was
viewing a still larger body of troops with drivers and wheels
that clanked. There were only two explanations possible: Either
the British were concentrating on Chazy Landing, where, protected
from MacDonough by the north wind, they could bring enough stores
and forces from the north to march overland independent of the
ships, or else they were in full retreat for Canada. There was
but one point where this could be made sure, namely, at the forks
of the road in Chazy village. So he set out at a jog trot for
Chazy, six miles away.
The troops ahead were going three miles an hour. Rolf could go five.
In twenty minutes he overtook them and now was embarrassed
by their slowness. What should he do? It was nearly impossible to
make speed through the woods in the darkness, so as to pass them.
He was forced to content himself by marching a few yards in their rear.
Once or twice when a group fell back, he was uncomfortably close
and heard scraps of their talk.
These left little doubt that the army was in retreat. Still this
was the mere chatter of the ranks. He curbed his impatience and
trudged with the troop. Once a man dropped back to light his
pipe. He almost touched Rolf, and seeing a marching figure, asked
in unmistakable accents "Oi soi matey, 'ave ye a loight?"
Rolf assumed the low south country English dialect, already
familiar through talking with prisoners, and replied: "Naow, oi
oin't a-smowking," then gradually dropped out of sight.
They were nearly two hours in reaching Chazy where they passed
the Forks, going straight on north. Without doubt, now, the army
was bound for Canada! Rolf sat on a fence near by as their
footsteps went tramp, tramp, tramp -- with the wagons, clank,
clank, clank, and were lost in the northern distance.
He had seen perhaps three hundred men; there were thirteen
thousand to account for, and he sat and waited. He did not have
long to wait; within half an hour a much larger body of troops
evidently was approaching from the south; several lanterns
gleamed ahead of them, so Rolf got over the fence, but it was low
and its pickets offered poor shelter. Farther back was Judge
Hubbell's familiar abode with dense shrubbery. He hastened to it
and in a minute was hidden where he could see something of the
approaching troops. They were much like those that had gone
before, but much more numerous, at least a regiment, and as they
filled the village way, an officer cried "Halt!" and gave new
orders. Evidently they were about to bivouac for the night. A
soldier approached the picket fence to use it for firewood, but
an officer rebuked him. Other fuel, chiefly fence rails, was
found, and a score or more of fires were lighted on the highway
and in the adjoining pasture. Rolf found himself in something
like a trap, for in less than two hours now would be the dawn.
The simplest way out was to go in; he crawled quietly round the
house to the window of Mrs. Hubbell's room. These were times of
nervous tension, and three or four taps on the pane were enough
to arouse the good lady. Her husband had come that way more than once.
"Who is it?" she demanded, through a small opening of the sash.
"Rolf Kittering," he whispered, "the place is surrounded by
soldiers; can't you hide me?"
Could she? Imagine an American woman saying "No" at such a time.
He slipped in quietly.
"What news?" she said. "They say that MacDonough has won
on the Lake, but Plattsburg is taken."
"No, indeed; Plattsburgh is safe; MacDonough has captured the fleet.
I am nearly sure that the whole British army is retiring to Canada."
"Thank God, thank God," she said fervently, "I knew it must be
so; the women have met here and prayed together every day,
morning and night. But hush!" she laid a warning finger on her
lips and pointed up toward one of the rooms -- "British officer."
She brought two blankets from a press and led up to the garret.
At the lowest part of the roof was a tiny door to a lumber
closet. In this Rolf spread his blankets, stretched his weary
limbs, and soon was sound asleep.
At dawn the bugles blew, the camp was astir. The officer in the
house arose and took his post on the porch. He was there on guard
to protect the house. His brother officers joined him. Mrs.
Hubbell prepared breakfast. It was eaten silently, so far as Rolf
could learn. They paid for it and, heading their regiment, went
away northward, leaving the officer still on the porch.
Presently Rolf heard a stealthy step in his garret, the closed
door was pushed open, and Mrs. Hubbell's calm, handsome face
appeared, as, with a reassuring nod, she set down a mug of
coffee, some bread, and a bowl of mush and milk. And only those
who have travelled and fasted for twelve hours when they were
nineteen know how good it tasted.
From a tiny window ventilator Rolf had a view of the road in
front. A growing din of men prepared him for more troops, but
still he was surprised to see ten regiments march past with all
their stores -- a brave army, but no one could mistake their
looks; they wore the despondent air of an army in full retreat.
Chapter 83. The Last of Sir George Prevost
The battle was over at Plattsburg town, though it had not been
fought; for the spirit of MacDonough was on land and water, and
it was felt by the British general, as well as the Yankee
riflemen, as soon as the Union Jack had been hauled from the mast
of the Confiance.
Now Sir George Prevost had to face a momentous decision: He could
force the passage of the Saranac and march on to Albany, but his
communications would be cut, and he must rely on a hostile
country for supplies. Every day drew fresh bands of riflemen from
the hills. Before he could get to Albany their number might
exceed his, and then what? Unless Great Britain could send a new
army or a fleet to support him, he must meet the fate of
Burgoyne. Prevost proposed to take no such chances and the night
of the 11th eight hours after MacDonough's victory, he gave the
order "Retire to Canada."
To hide the move as long as possible, no change was made till
after sundown; no hint was given to the beleaguered town; they
must have no opportunity to reap the enormous advantages, moral
and material, of harrying a retreating foe. They must arise in
the morning to find the enemy safely over the border. The plan
was perfect, and would have been literally carried out, had not
he had to deal with a foe as clever as himself.
How eagerly Rolf took in the scene on Chazy Road; how much it
meant! how he longed to fly at his fastest famous speed with the
stirring news. In two hours and a half he could surely let his
leader know. And he gazed with a sort of superior pride at the
martial pomp and bravery of the invaders driven forth.
Near the last was a gallant array of gentlemen in gorgeous
uniforms of scarlet and gold; how warlike they looked, how
splendid beside the ill-clad riflemen of Vermont and the rude
hunters of the Adirondacks. How much more beautiful is an iron
sword with jewels, than a sword of plain gray steel.
Dame Hubbell stood in her door as they went by. Each and all
saluted politely; her guard was ordered to join his regiment. The
lady waved her sun-bonnet in response to their courteous
good-bye, and could not refrain from calling out:
"How about my prophecy, Sir George, and those purses?"
Rolf could not see his hostess, but he heard her voice, and he
saw the astonishing effect:
The British general reined in his horse. "A gentleman's word is
his bond, madam," he said. "Let every officer now throw his purse
at the lady's feet," and he set the example. A dozen rattling
thuds were heard and a dozen officers saluting, purseless, rode
A round thousand dollars in gold the lady gathered on her porch
that morning, and to this day her grand-kin tell the tale.
Chapter 84. Rolf Unmasks the Ambush
Rolf's information was complete now, and all that remained was to
report at Plattsburg. Ten regiments he had counted from his peep
hole. The rear guard passed at ten o'clock. At eleven Mrs.
Hubbell did a little scouting and reported that all was quiet as
far as she could see both ways, and no enemy in sight anywhere.
With a grateful hand shake he left the house to cover the
fourteen miles that lay between Chazy and Plattsburg.
Refreshed and fed, young and strong, the representative of a just
and victorious cause, how he exulted in that run, rejoicing in
his youth, his country, his strength, his legs, his fame as a
runner. Starting at a stride he soon was trotting; then, when the
noon hour came, he had covered a good six miles. Now he heard
faint, far shots, and going more slowly was soon conscious that a
running fight was on between his own people and the body of
British sent westward to hold the upper Saranac.
True to the instinct of the scout, his first business was to find
out exactly what and where they were. From a thick tree top he
saw the red-coats spotting an opening of the distant country.
Then they were lost sight of in the woods. The desultory firing
became volley firing, once or twice. Then there was an interval
of silence. At length a mass of red-coats appeared on the highway
within half a mile. They were travelling very fast, in full
retreat, and were coming his way. On the crest of the hill over
which the road ran, Rolf saw them suddenly drop to the ground and
take up position to form a most dangerous ambuscade, and half a
mile away, straggling through the woods, running or striding,
were the men in the colours he loved. They had swept the enemy
before them, so far, but trained troops speedily recover from a
panic, if they have a leader of nerve, and seeing a noble chance
in the angle of this deep-sunk road, the British fugitives turned
like boars at bay. Not a sign of them was visible to the
Americans. The latter were suffering from too much success. Their
usual caution seemed to have deserted them, and trotting in a
body they came along the narrow road, hemmed in by a forest and
soon to be hedged with cliffs of clay. They were heading for a
death-trap. At any price he must warn them. He slid down the
tree, and keeping cover ran as fast as possible toward the
ambush. It was the only hill near -- Beekman's Rise, they call
it. As far as possible from the red-coats, but still on the hill
that gave a view, he leaped on to a high stump and yelled as he
never did before: "Go back, go back! A trap! A trap!" And lifting
high his outspread hands he flung their palms toward his friends,
the old-time signal for "go back."
Not twice did they need warning. Like hunted wolves they flashed
from view in the nearest cover. A harmless volley from the
baffled ambush rattled amongst them, and leaping from his stump
Rolf ran for life.
Furious at their failure, a score of red-coats, reloading as they
ran, came hot-footed after him. Down into cover of an alder swamp
he plunged, and confident of his speed, ran on, dashing through
thickets and mudholes. He knew that the red- coats would not
follow far in such a place, and his comrades were near. But the
alder thicket ended at a field. He heard the bushes crashing
close at hand, and dashed down a little ravine at whose lower
edge the friendly forest recommenced. That was his fatal mistake.
The moment he took to the open there was a rattle of rifles from
the hill above, and Rolf fell on his face as dead.
It was after noontide when he fell; he must have lain unconscious
for an hour; when he came to himself he was lying still in that
hollow, absolutely alone. The red-coats doubtless had continued
their flight with the Yankee boys behind them. His face was
covered with blood. His coat was torn and bloody; his trousers
showed a ragged rent that was reddened and sopping. His head was
aching, and in his leg was the pain of a cripplement. He knew it
as soon as he tried to move; his right leg was shattered below
the knee. The other shots had grazed his arm and head; the latter
had stunned him for a time, but did no deeper damage.
He lay still for a long time, in hopes that some of his friends
might come. He tried to raise his voice, but had no strength.
Then he remembered the smoke signal that had saved him when he
was lost in the woods. In spite of his wounded arm, he got out
his flint and steel, and prepared to make a fire. But all the
small wood he could reach was wet with recent rains. An old pine
stump was on the bank not far away; he might cut kindling-wood
from that to start his fire, and he reached for his knife. Alas!
its case was empty. Had Rolf been four years younger, he might
have broken down and wept at this. It did seem such an
unnecessary accumulation of disasters. Without gun or knife, how
was he to call his friends?
He straightened his mangled limb in the position of least pain
and lay for a while. The September sun fell on his back and
warmed him. He was parched with thirst, but only thirty yards
away was a little rill. With a long and fearful crawling on his
breast, he dragged himself to the stream and drank till he could
drink no more, then rested, washed his head and hands, 'and tried
to crawl again to the warm place. But the sun had dropped behind
the river bank, the little ravine was in shadow, and the chill of
the grave was on the young man's pain-racked frame.
Shadows crossed his brain, among them Si Sylvanne with his quaint
sayings, and one above all was clear:
"Trouble is only sent to make ye do yer best. When ye hev done
yer best, keep calm and wait. Things is comin' all right." Yes,
that was what he said, and the mockery of it hurt him now.
The sunset slowly ended; the night wind blew; the dragging hours
brought gloom that entered in. This seemed indeed the direst
strait of his lot. Crippled, dying of cold, helpless, nothing to
do but wait and die, and from his groaning lips there came the
half-forgotten prayer his mother taught him long ago, "O God,
have mercy on me!" and then he forgot.
When he awoke, the stars were shining; he was numb with cold, but
his mind was clear.
"This is war," he thought, "and God knows we never sought it."
And again the thought: "When I offered to serve my country, I
offered my life. I am willing to die, but this is not a way of my
choosing," and a blessed, forgetfulness came upon him again.
But his was a stubborn-fibred race; his spark of life was not so
quickly quenched; its blazing torch might waver, wane, and wax
again. In the chill, dark hour when the life- lamp flickers most,
he wakened to hear the sweet, sweet music of a dog's loud bark;
in a minute he heard it nearer, and yet again at hand, and
Skookum, erratic, unruly, faithful Skookum, was bounding around
and barking madly at the calm, unblinking stars.
A human "halloo" rang not far away; then others, and Skookum
barked and barked.
Now the bushes rustled near, a man came out, kneeled down, laid
hand on the dying soldier's brow, and his heart. He opened his
eyes, the man bent over him and softly said, "Nibowaka! it's Quonab."
That night when the victorious rangers had returned to
Plattsburg it was a town of glad, thankful hearts, and human love
ran strong. The thrilling stories of the day were told, the
crucial moment, the providential way in which at every hopeless
pass, some easy, natural miracle took place to fight their battle
and back their country's cause. The harrying of the flying
rear-guard, the ambuscade over the hill, the appearance of an
American scout at the nick of time to warn them -- the shooting,
and his disappearance -- all were discussed.
Then rollicking Seymour and silent Fiske told of their scouting
on the trail of the beaten foe; and all asked, "Where is
Kittering?" So talk was rife, and there was one who showed a
knife he had picked up near the ambuscade with R. K. on the
Now a dark-faced scout rose up, stared at the knife, and quickly
left the room. In three minutes he stood before General Macomb,
his words were few, but from his heart:
"It is my boy, Nibowaka; it is Rolf; my heart tells me. Let me go.
I feel him praying for me to come. Let me go, general. I must go."
It takes a great man to gauge the heart of a man who seldom speaks.
"You may go, but how can you find him tonight?"
"Ugh, I find him," and the Indian pointed to a little,
prick-eared, yellow cur that sneaked at his heels.
"Success to you; he was one of the best we had," said the
general, as the Indian left, then added: "Take a couple of men
along, and, here, take this," and he held out a flask.
Thus it was that the dawning saw Rolf on a stretcher carried by
his three scouting partners, while Skookum trotted ahead, looking
this way and that -- they should surely not be ambushed this time.
And thus the crowning misfortune, the culminating apes of
disaster -- the loss of his knife -- the thing of all others that
roused in Rolf the spirit of rebellion, was the way of life,
his dungeon's key, the golden chain that haled him from the pit.
Chapter 85. The Hospital, the Prisoners, and Home
There were wagons and buckboards to be had, but the road was
rough, so the three changed off as litter-bearers and brought him
to the lake where the swift and smooth canoe was ready, and two
hours later they carried him into the hospital at Plattsburg.
The leg was set at once, his wounds were dressed, he was warmed,
cleaned, and fed; and when the morning sun shone in the room, it
was a room of calm and peace.
The general came and sat beside him for a time, and the words he
spoke were ample, joyful compensation for his wounds. MacDonough,
too, passed through the ward, and the warm vibrations of his
presence drove death from many a bed whose inmate's force ebbed
low, whose soul was walking on the brink, was near surrender.
Rolf did not fully realize it then, but long afterward it was
clear that this was the meaning of the well-worn words, "He
filled them with a new spirit."
There was not a man in the town but believed the war was over;
there was not a man in the town who doubted that his country's
cause was won.
Three weeks is a long time to a youth near manhood, but there was
much of joy to while away the hours. The mothers of the town came
and read and talked. There was news from the front. There were
victories on the high seas. His comrades came to sit beside him;
Seymour, the sprinter, as merry a soul as ever hankered for the
stage and the red cups of life; Fiske, the silent, and McGlassin,
too, with his dry, humorous talk; these were the bright and funny
hours. There were others. There came a bright-checked Vermont
mother whose three sons had died in service at MacDonough's guns;
and she told of it in a calm voice, as one who speaks of her
proudest honour. Yes, she rejoiced that God had given her three
such sons, and had taken again His gifts in such a day of glory.
Had England's rulers only known, that this was the spirit of the
land that spoke, how well they might have asked: "What boots it
if we win a few battles, and burn a few towns; it is a little
gain and passing; for there is one thing that no armies, ships,
or laws, or power on earth, or hell itself can down or crush --
that alone is the thing that counts or endures -- the thing that
permeates these men, that finds its focal centre in such souls as
that of the Vermont mother, steadfast, proud, and rejoicing in
But these were forms that came and went; there were two that
seldom were away -- the tall and supple one of the dark face and
the easy tread, and his yellow shadow -- the ever unpopular,
snappish, prick-eared cur, that held by force of arms all
territories at floor level contiguous to, under, comprised, and
bounded by, the four square legs and corners of the bed.
Quonab's nightly couch was a blanket not far away, and his daily,
self-given task to watch the wounded and try by devious ways and
plots to trick him into eating ever larger meals.
Garrison duty was light now, so Quonab sought the woods where the
flocks of partridge swarmed, with Skookum as his aid. It was the
latter's joyful duty to find and tree the birds, and "yap" below,
till Quonab came up quietly with bow and blunt arrows, to fill
his game-bag; and thus the best of fare was ever by the invalid's
Rolf's was easily a winning fight from the first, and in a week
he was eating well, sleeping well, and growing visibly daily
Then on a fleckless dawn that heralded a sun triumphant, the
Indian borrowed a drum from the bandsman, and, standing on the
highest breastwork, he gazed across the dark waters to the
whitening hills. There on a tiny fire he laid tobacco and
kinnikinnik, as Gisiss the Shining One burnt the rugged world rim
at Vermont, and, tapping softly with one stick, he gazed upward,
after the sacrificial thread of smoke, and sang in his own tongue:
"Father, I burn tobacco, I smoke to Thee. I sing for my heart is singing."
Pleasant chatter of the East was current by Rolf's bedside.
Stories of homes in the hills he heard, tales of hearths by far
away lakes and streams, memories of golden haired children
waiting for father's or brother's return from the wars. Wives
came to claim their husbands, mothers to bring away their boys,
to gain again their strength at home. And his own heart went
back, and ever back, to the rugged farm on the shores of the
In two weeks he was able to sit up. In three he could hobble, and
he moved about the town when the days were warm.
And now he made the acquaintance of the prisoners. They were
closely guarded and numbered over a hundred. It gave him a
peculiar sensation to see them there. It seemed un- American to
hold a human captive; but he realized that it was necessary to
keep them for use as hostages and exchanges.
Some of them he found to be sullen brutes, but many were kind and
friendly, and proved to be jolly good fellows.
On the occasion of his second visit, a familiar voice saluted him
with, "Well, Rolf! Comment ca va?" and he had the painful joy of
greeting Francois la Colle.
"You'll help me get away, Rolf, won't you?" and the little
Frenchman whispered and winked. "I have seven little ones now on
La Riviere, dat have no flour, and tinks dere pa is dead."
"I'll do all I can, Francois," and the picture of the desolate
home, brought a husk in his voice and a choke in his throat. He
remembered too the musket ball that by intent had whistled
harmless overhead. "But," he added in a shaky voice, "I cannot
help my country's enemy to escape."
Then Rolf took counsel with McGlassin, told him all about the
affair at the mill, and McGlassin with a heart worthy of his
mighty shoulders, entered into the spirit of the situation, went
to General Macomb presenting such a tale and petition that six
hours later Francis bearing a passport through the lines was
trudging away to Canada, paroled for the rest of the war.
There was another face that Rolf recognized -- hollow- cheeked,
flabby-jowled and purplish-gray. The man was one of the oldest of
the prisoners. He wore a white beard end moustache. He did not
recognize Rolf, but Rolf knew him, for this was Micky Kittering.
How he escaped from jail and joined the enemy was an episode of
the war's first year. Rolf was shocked to see what a miserable
wreck his uncle was. He could not do him any good. To identify
him would have resulted in his being treated as a renegade, so on
the plea that he was an old man, Rolf saw that the prisoner had
extra accommodation and out of his own pocket kept him abundantly
supplied with tobacco. Then in his heart he forgave him, and kept
away. They never met again.
The bulk of the militia had been disbanded after the great
battle. A few of the scouts and enough men to garrison the fort
and guard the prisoners were retained. Each day there were joyful
partings -- the men with homes, going home. And the thought that
ever waxed in Rolf came on in strength. He hobbled to headquarters.
"General, can I get leave -- to go -- he hesitated -- "home?"
"Why, Kittering, I didn't know you had a home. But, certainly,
I'll give you a month's leave and pay to date."
Champlain is the lake of the two winds; the north wind blows for
six months with a few variations, and the south wind for the
other six months with trifling.
Next morning a bark canoe was seen skimming southward before as
much north wind as it could stand, with Rolf reclining in the
middle, Quonab at the stern, and Skookum in the bow.
In two days they were at Ticonderoga. Here help was easily got at
the portage and on the evening of the third day, Quonab put a
rope on Skookum's neck and they landed at Hendrik's farm.
The hickory logs were blazing bright, and the evening pot was
reeking as they opened the door and found the family gathered for
"I didn't know you had a home," the general had said. He should
have been present now to see the wanderer's welcome. If war
breeds such a spirit in the land, it is as much a blessing as a
curse. The air was full of it, and the Van Trumpers, when they
saw their hero hobble in, were melted. Love, pity, pride, and
tenderness were surging in storms through every heart that knew.
"Their brother, their son come back, wounded, but proven and
glorious." Yes, Rolf had a home, and in that intoxicating
realization he kissed them all, even Annette of the glowing
cheeks and eyes; though in truth he paid for it, for it conjured
up in her a shy aloofness that lasted many days.
Old Hendrik sputtered around. "Och, I am smile; dis is goood,
yah. Vere is that tam dog? Yah! tie him not, he shall dis time
von chicken have for joy."
"Marta," said Rolf, "you told me to come here if I got hurt.
Well, I've come, and I've brought a boat-load of stuff in case I
cannot do my share in the fields."
"Press you, my poy you didn't oughter brung dot stuff; you know
we loff you here, and effery time it is you coom I get gladsomer,
and dot Annette she just cried ven you vent to de war."
"Oh, mother, I did not; it was you and little Hendrick!" and
Annette turned her scarlet cheeks away.
October, with its trees of flame and gold, was on the hills;
purple and orange, the oaks and the birches; blue blocked with
white was the sky above, and the blue, bright lake was limpid.
"Oh, God of my fathers," Quonab used to pray, "when I reach the
Happy Hunting, let it be ever the Leaf-falling Moon, for that is
the only perfect time." And in that unmarred month of sunny sky
and woodlands purged of every plague, there is but one menace in
the vales. For who can bring the glowing coal to the dry-leafed
woods without these two begetting the dread red fury that
devastates the hills?
Who can bring the fire in touch with tow and wonder at the blaze?
Who, indeed? And would any but a dreamer expect young manhood in
its growing strength, and girlhood just across the blush-line, to
meet in daily meals and talk and still keep up the brother and
sister play? It needs only a Virginia on the sea-girt island to
turn the comrade into Paul.
"Marta, I tink dot Rolf an Annette don't quarrel bad, ain't it?"
"Hendrik, you vas von blind old bat-mole," said Marta, "I fink
dat farm next ours purty good, but Rolf he say 'No Lake George no
good.' Better he like all his folk move over on dat Hudson."
Chapter 86. The New Era of Prosperity
As November neared and his leave of absence ended, Rolf was himself
again; had been, indeed, for two weeks, and, swinging fork or axe,
he had helped with many an urgent job on the farm.
A fine log stable they had rolled up together, with corners
dovetailed like cabinet work, and roof of birch bark breadths
above the hay.
But there was another building, too, that Rolf had worked at night
and day. It was no frontier shack, but a tall and towering castle,
splendid and roomy, filled with loved ones and love. Not by the
lake near by, not by the river of his choice, but higher up than
the tops of the high mountains it loomed, and he built and built
until the month was nearly gone. Then only did he venture to ask
for aid, and Annette it was who promised to help him finish the
Yes, the Lake George shore was a land of hungry farms. It was off
the line of travel, too. It was neither Champlain nor Hudson; and
Hendrik, after ten years' toil with barely a living to show, was
easily convinced. Next summer they must make a new choice of home.
But now it was back to Plattsburg.
On November 1st Rolf and Quonab reported to General Macomb. There
was little doing but preparations for the winter. There were no
prospects of further trouble from their neighbours in the north. Most
of the militia were already disbanded, and the two returned to
Plattsburg, only to receive their honourable discharge, to be
presented each with the medal of war, with an extra clasp on Rolf's
for that dauntless dash that spiked the British guns.
Wicked war with its wickedness was done at last. "The greatest evil
that can befall a country," some call it, and yet out of this end
came three great goods: The interstate distrust had died away, for
now they were soldiers who had camped together, who had "drunk from
the same canteen"; little Canada, until then a thing of shreds and
scraps, had been fused in the furnace, welded into a young nation,
already capable of defending her own. England, arrogant with long
success at sea, was taught a lesson of courtesy and justice, for
now the foe whom she had despised and insulted had shown himself
her equal, a king of the sea-king stock. The unnecessary battle
of New Orleans, fought two weeks after the war was officially closed,
showed that the raw riflemen of Tennessee were more than a match for
the seasoned veterans who had overcome the great Napoleon, and thus
on land redeemed the Stars and Stripes.
The war brought unmeasured material loss on all concerned, but some
weighty lasting gains to two at least. On December 24, 1814, the
Treaty of Ghent was signed and the long rides were hung up on the
cabin walls. Nothing was said in the treaty about the cause of war --
the right of search. Why should they speak of it? If a big boy bullies
a smaller one and gets an unexpected knockdown blow, it is not
necessary to have it all set forth in terms before they shake hands
that "I, John, of the first part, to wit, the bully, do hereby
agree, promise, and contract to refrain in future forevermore from
bullying you, Jonathan, of the second part, to wit, the bullied.
"That point had already been settled by the logic of events. The
right of search was dead before the peace was born, and the very
place of its bones is forgotten to-day.
Rolf with Quonab returned to the trapping that winter; and as soon
as the springtime came and seeding was over, he and Van Trumper
made their choice of farms. Every dollar they could raise was
invested in the beautiful sloping lands of the upper Hudson. Rolf
urged the largest possible purchase now. Hendrick looked somewhat
aghast at such a bridge-burning move. But a purchaser for his
farm was found with unexpected promptness, one who was not on
farming bent and the way kept opening up.
The wedding did not take place till another year, when Annette was
nineteen and Rolf twenty-one. And the home they moved to was not
exactly a castle, but much more complete and human.
This was the beginning of a new settlement. Given good land in plenty,
and all the rest is easy; neighbours came in increasing numbers; every
claim was taken up; Rolf and Hendrik saw themselves growing rich, and
at length the latter was thankful for the policy that he once thought
so rash, of securing all the land he could. Now it was his making, for
in later years his grown-up sons were thus provided for, and kept at home.
The falls of the river offered, as Rolf had foreseen, a noble chance
for power. Very early he had started a store and traded for fur. Now,
with the careful savings, he was able to build his sawmill; and about
it grew a village with a post- office that had Rolf's name on the
Quonab had come, of course, with Rolf, but he shunned the house, and
the more so as it grew in size. In a remote and sheltered place he
built a wigwam of his own.
Skookum was divided in his allegiance, but he solved the puzzle by
dividing his time between them. He did not change much, but he did
rise in a measure to the fundamental zoological fact that hens are
not partridges; and so acquired a haughty toleration of the cackle-
party throng that assembled in the morning at Annette's call. Yes,
he made even another step of progress, for on one occasion he valiantly
routed the unenlightened dog of a neighbour, a "cur of low degree,
"whose ideas of ornithology were as crude as his own had been in the
All of which was greatly to his credit, for he found it hard to learn
now; he was no longer young, and before he had seen eight springs
dissolve the snow, he was called to the Land of Happy Hunting, where
the porcupine is not, but where hens abound on every side, and there
is no man near to meddle with his joy.
Yet, when he died, he lived. His memory was kept ever green, for
Skookum Number 2 was there to fill his room, and he gave place to
Skookum 3, and so they keep their line on to this very day.
Quonab Goes Home
The public has a kind of crawlin' common-sense, that is always
right and fair in the end, only it's slow -- Sayings of Si Sylvanne
Twenty years went by. Rolf grew and prospered. He was a man of
substance and of family now; for store and mill were making money
fast, and the little tow-tops came at regular intervals.
And when the years had added ripeness to his thought, and the kind
gods of gold had filled his scrip, it was that his ampler life
began to bloom. His was a mind of the best begetting, born and
bred of ancient, clean-blooded stock; inflexibly principled,
trained by a God-fearing mother, nurtured in a cradle of adversity,
schooled in a school of hardship, developed in the big outdoors,
wise in the ways of the woods, burnt in the fire of affliction,
forced into self- reliance, inspired with the lofty inspiration
of sacrificial patriotism -- the good stuff of his make-up shone,
as shines the gold in the fervent heat; the hard blows that prove
or crush, had proved; the metal had rung true; and in the great
valley, Rolf Kittering was a man of mark.
The country's need of such is ever present and ever seeking. Those
in power who know and measure men soon sought him out, and their
messenger was the grisly old Si Sylvanne.
Because he was a busy man, Rolf feared to add to his activities.
Because he was a very busy man, the party new they needed him.
So at length it was settled, and in a little while, Rolf stood
in the Halls of Albany and grasped the hand of the ancient
mill-man as a colleague, filling an honoured place in the
councils of the state.
Each change brought him new activities. Each year he was more
of a public man, and his life grew larger. From Albany he went
to New York, in the world of business and men's affairs; and
at last in Washington, his tall, manly figure was well known,
and his good common-sense and clean business ways were respected.
Yet each year during hunting time he managed to spend a few weeks
with Quonab in the woods. Tramping on their ancient trapping
grounds, living over the days of their early hunts; and double
zest was added when Rolf the second joined them and lived and
loved it all.
But this was no longer Kittering's life, rather the rare
precarious interval, and more and more old Quonab realized that
they were meeting only in the past. When the big house went up
on the river-bank, he indeed had felt that they were at the
parting of the ways. His respect for Nibowaka had grown to be
almost a worship, and yet he knew that their trails had yearly
less in common. Rolf had outgrown him; he was alone again, as
on the day of their meeting. His years had brought a certain
insight; and this he grasped -- that the times were changed,
and his was the way of a bygone day.
"Mine is the wisdom of the woods," he said, "but the woods are
going fast; in a few years there will be no more trees, and my
wisdom will be foolishness. There is in this land now a big,
strong thing called 'trade,' that will eat up all things and
the people themselves. You are wise enough, Nibowaka, to paddle
with the stream, you have turned so the big giant is on your
side, and his power is making you great. But this is not for me;
so only I have enough to eat, and comfort to sleep, I am content
to watch for the light."
Across the valley from the big store he dwelt, in a lodge from
which he could easily see the sunrise. Twenty-five years added
to the fifty he spent in the land of Mayn Mayano had dimmed his
eye, had robbed his foot of its spring, and sprinkled his brow
with the winter rime; but they had not changed his spirit, nor
taught him less to love the pine woods and the sunrise. Yes,
even more than in former days did he take his song-drum to the
rock of worship, to his idaho -- as the western red man would
have called it. And there, because it was high and the wind
blew cold, he made a little eastward- facing lodge.
He was old and hunting was too hard for him, but there was a
strong arm about him now; he dimly thought of it at times --
the arm of the fifteen-year-old boy that one time he had shielded.
There was no lack of food or blankets in the wigwam, or of freedom
in the woods under the sun-up rock. But there was a hunger that
not farseeing Nibowaka could appease, not even talk about. And
Quonab built another medicine lodge to watch the sun go down
over the hill. Sitting by a little fire to tune his song-drum,
he often crooned to the blazing skies. "I am of the sunset now,
I and my people," he sang, "the night is closing over us."
One day a stranger came to the hills; his clothes were those of
a white man, but his head, his feet, and his eyes -- his blood,
his walk, and his soul were those of a red Indian of the West.
He came from the unknown with a message to those who knew him
not: "The Messiah was coming; the deliverer that Hiawatha bade
them look for. He was coming in power to deliver the red race,
and his people must sing the song of the ghost-dance till the
spirit came, and in a vision taught them wisdom and his will!"
Not to the white man, but to the lonely Indian in the hill cleft
he came, and the song that he brought and taught him was of a
sorrowing people seeking their father.
"Father have pity on us! Our souls are hungry for Thee. There
is nothing here to satisfy us Father we bow to Thy will."
By the fire that night they sang, and prayed as the Indian
prays -- "Father have pity and guide us." So Quonab sang the
new song, and knew its message was for him.
The stranger went on, for he was a messenger, but Quonab sang
again and again, and then the vision came, as it must, and
the knowledge that he sought.
None saw him go, but ten miles southward on the river he met a
hunter and said: "Tell the wise one that I have heard the new
song. Tell him I have seen the vision. We are of the sunset,
but the new day comes. I must see the land of Mayn Mayano,
the dawn-land, where the sun rises out of the sea."
They saw no more of him. But a day later, Rolf heard of it,
and set out in haste next morning for Albany. Skookum the
fourth leaped into the canoe as he pushed off. Rolf was minded
to send him back, but the dog begged hard with his eyes and
tail. It seemed he ought to go, when it was the old man they
sought. At Albany they got news. "Yes, the Indian went on
the steamboat a few days ago." At New York, Rolf made no
attempt to track his friend, but took the Stamford boat and
hurried to the old familiar woods, where he had lived and
suffered and wakened as a boy.
There was a house now near the rock that is yet called "Quonab's."
From the tenants he learned that in the stillest hours of the
night before, they had heard the beating of an Indian drum, and
the cadence of a chant that came not from throat of white man's
In the morning when it was light Rolf hastened to the place,
expecting to find at least an Indian camp, where once had stood
the lodge. There was no camp; and as he climbed for a higher
view, the Skookum of to-day gave bristling proof of fear at
some strange object there -- a man that moved not. His long
straight hair was nearly white, and by his side, forever still,
lay the song-drum of his people.
And those who heard the mournful strains the night before knew
now from Rolf that it was Ouonab come back to his rest, and the
song that he sang was the song of the ghost dance.
"Pity me, Wahkonda. My soul is ever hungry. There is nothing
here to satisfy me, I walk in darkness; Pity me, Wahkondal"