The Hunters of the Hills
The Hunters of the Hills
Willet hailed them joyfully when they returned.
"I'll wager that only one arrow was shot," he said, smiling.
"Just one," said Robert. "It struck the stag in the heart and he did not move ten feet from where he stood."
"And the Great Bear has the fire ready," said Tayoga. "I breathe the smoke."
"I knew you would notice it," said Willet, "although it's only a little fire yet and I've built it in a hollow."
Dry sticks were burning in a sunken place surrounded by great trees, and they increased the fire, veiling the smoke as much as possible. Then they broiled luscious steaks of the deer and ate abundantly, though without the appearance of eagerness. Robert had been educated carefully at Fort Orange, which men were now calling Albany, and Tayoga and the hunter were equally fastidious.
"The deer is the friend of both the red man and the white," said Willet, appreciatively. "In the woods he feeds us and clothes us, and then his horn tips the arrow with which you kill him, Tayoga."
"It was so ordered by Manitou," said the young Onondaga, earnestly.
"The deer was given to us that we might live."
"And that being the case," said Willet, "we'll cook all you and Robert have brought and take it with us in the canoe. Since we keep on going north the time will come when we won't have any chance for hunting."
The fire had now formed a great bed of coals and the task was not hard. It was all cooked by and by and they stowed it away wrapped in the two pieces of skin. Then Willet and Tayoga decided to examine the country together, leaving Robert on guard beside the canoe.
Robert had no objection to remaining behind. Although circumstances had made him a lad of action he was also contemplative by nature. Some people think with effort, in others thoughts flow in a stream, and now as he sat with his back to a tree, much that he had thought and heard passed before him like a moving panorama and in this shifting belt of color Indians, Frenchmen, Colonials and Englishmen appeared.
He knew that he stood upon the edge of great events. Deeply sensitive to impressions, he felt that a crisis in North America was at hand. England and France were not yet at war, and so the British colonies and the French colonies remained at peace too, but every breeze that blew from one to the other was heavy with menace. The signs were unmistakable, but one did not have to see. One breathed it in at every breath. He knew, too, that intrigue was already going on all about him, and that the Iroquois were the great pawn in the game. British and French were already playing for the favor of the powerful Hodenosaunee, and Robert understood even better than many of those in authority that as the Hodenosaunee went so might go the war. It was certain that the Indians of the St. Lawrence and the North would be with the French, but he was confident that the Indians of the Long House would not swerve from their ancient alliance with the British colonies.
Two hours passed and Willet and Tayoga did not return, but he had not expected them. He knew that when they decided to go on a scout they would do the work thoroughly, and he waited with patience, sitting beside the canoe, his rifle on his knees. Before him the creek flowed with a pleasant, rippling noise and through the trees he caught a glimpse of the lake, unruffled by any wind.
The rest was so soothing, and his muscles and nerves relaxed so much that he felt like closing his eyes and going to sleep, but he was roused by the sound of a footstep. It was so distant that only an ear trained to the forest would have heard it, but he knew that it was made by a human being approaching, and that the man was neither Willet nor Tayoga.
He put his ear to the earth and heard three men instead of one, and then he rose, cocking his rifle. In the great wilderness in those surcharged days a st