The colonists, however, were determined that they would submit to no taxation whatever. The English government, in its desire for peace, abandoned all the duties with the exception of that on tea; but even this concession was not sufficient to satisfy the colonists. These entered into a bond to use no English goods. A riot took place at Boston, and the revenue officers were forced to withdraw from their posts. Troops were dispatched from England and the House of Commons declared Massachusetts to be in a state of rebellion.
It must not be supposed that the colonists were by any means unanimous in their resistance to England. There were throughout the country a large number of gentlemen, like Captain Wilson, wholly opposed to the general feeling. New York refused to send members to the Congress, and in many other provinces the adhesion given to the disaffected movement was but lukewarm. It was in the New England provinces that the spirit of rebellion was hottest. These States had been peopled for the most part by Puritans—men who had left England voluntarily, exiling themselves rather than submit to the laws and religion of the country, and among them, as among a portion of the Irish population of America at the present time, the feeling of hatred against the government of England was, in a way, hereditary.
So far but few acts of violence had taken place. Nothing could be more virulent than the language of the newspapers of both parties against their opponents, but beyond a few isolated tumults the peace had not been broken. It was the lull before the storm. The great majority of the New England colonists were bent upon obtaining nothing short of absolute independence; the loyalists and the English were as determined to put down any revolt by force.
The Congress drilled, armed, and organized; the English brought over fresh troops and prepared for the struggle. It was December when Harold returned home to his parents, and for the next three months the lull before the storm continued.
The disaffected of Massachusetts had collected a large quantity of military stores at Concord. These General Gage, who commanded the troops at Boston, determined to seize and destroy, seeing that they could be collected only for use against the Government, and on the night of April 19 the grenadier and light infantry companies of the various regiments, 800 strong, under command of Lieutenant Colonel Smith of the Tenth Regiment, and Major Pitcairne of the Marines, embarked in boats and were conveyed up Charles River as far as a place called Phipps' Farm. There they landed at midnight, having a day's provisions in their haversacks, and started on their march to Concord, twenty miles distant from Boston.
The design had been discovered by some of the revolutionary party in the town, and two of their number were dispatched on horseback to rouse the whole country on the way to Concord, where the news arrived at two o'clock in the morning.
Captain Wilson and his household were startled from sleep by the sudden ringing of the alarm-bells, and a negro servant, Pompey, who had been for many years in their service, was sent down into the town, which lay a quarter of a mile from the house, to find out what was the news. He returned in half an hour.
"Me tink all de people gone mad, massa. Dey swarming out of deir houses and filling de streets, all wid guns on deir shoulders, all de while shouting and halloing 'Down wid de English! Down wid de redcoats! dey shan't have our guns; dey shan't take de cannon and de powder.' Dere were ole Massa Bill Emerson, the preacher, wid his gun in his hands, shouting to de people to stand firm and to fight till de last; dey all shout, 'We will!' Dey bery desperate; me fear great fight come on."
"What are you going to do, father?" Harold asked.
"Nothing, my boy. If, as it is only too likely, this is the beginning of a civil war, I have determined to offer my services to the government. Great numbers of loyalists have sent in their names offering to serve if necessary, and from my knowledge of drill I shall, of course, be useful. To-day I can take no active part in the fight, but I shall take my horse and ride forward to meet the troops and warn the commanding officer that resistance will be attempted here."
"May I go with you, father?"
"Yes, if you like, my boy. Pompey, saddle two horses at once. You are not afraid of being left alone, Mary?" he said, turning to his wife. "There is no chance of any disturbance here. Our house lies beyond the town, and whatever takes place will be in Concord. When the troops have captured the guns and stores they will return."
Mrs. Wilson said she was not frightened and had no fear whatever of being left alone. The horses were soon brought round, and Captain Wilson and his son mounted and rode off at full speed. They made a detour to avoid the town, and then, gaining the highroad, went forward at full speed. The alarm had evidently been given all along the line. At every village the bells were ringing, the people were assembling in the streets, all carrying arms, while numbers were flocking in from the farmhouses around. Once or twice Captain Wilson was stopped and asked where he was going.
"I am going to tell the commander of the British force, now marching hither, that if he advances there will be bloodshed—that it will be the beginning of civil war. If he has orders to come at all hazards, my words will not stop him; if it is left to his discretion, possibly he may pause before he brings on so dire a calamity."
It was just dawn when Captain Wilson and Harold rode into Lexington, where the militia, 130 strong, had assembled. Their guns were loaded and they were ready to defend the place, which numbered about 700 inhabitants.
Just as Captain Wilson rode in a messenger ran up with the news that the head of the British column was close at hand. Some of the militia had dispersed to lie down until the English arrived. John Parker, who commanded them, ordered the drums to beat and the alarm-guns to be fired, and his men drew up in two ranks across the road.
"It is too late now, Harold," Captain Wilson said. "Let us get out of the line of fire."
The British, hearing the drums and the alarm-guns, loaded, and the advance company came on at the double. Major Pitcairne was at their head and shouted to the militia to lay down their arms.
It is a matter of dispute, and will always remain one, as to who fired the first shot. The Americans assert that it was the English; the English say that as they advanced several shots were fired at them from behind a stone wall and from some of the adjoining houses, which wounded one man and hit Major Pitcairne's horse in two places.
The militia disregarded Major Pitcairne's orders to lay down their arms. The English fired; several of the militia were killed, nine wounded, and the rest dispersed. There was no further fighting and the English marched on, unopposed, to Concord.
As they approached the town the militia retreated from it. The English took possession of a bridge behind the place and held this while the troops were engaged in destroying the ammunition and gun-carriages. Most of the guns had been removed and only two twenty-four pounders were taken. In destroying the stores by fire the court-house took flames. At the sight of this fire the militia and armed countrymen advanced down the hill toward the bridge. The English tried to pull up the planks, but the Americans ran forward rapidly. The English guard fired; the colonists returned the fire. Some of the English were killed and wounded and the party fell back into the town. Half an hour later Colonel Smith, having performed the duty that he was sent to do, resumed the homeward march with the whole of his troops.
Then the militiamen of Concord, with those from many villages around and every man in the district capable of bearing arms, fell upon the retiring English.
The road led through several defiles, and every tree, every rock, every depression of ground was taken advantage of by the Americans. Scarcely a man was to be seen, but their deadly fire rained thick upon the tired troops. This they vainly attempted to return, but they could do nothing against an invisible foe, every man of whom possessed a skill with his rifle far beyond that of the British soldier. Very many fell and the retreat was fast becoming a rout, when, near Lexington, the column met a strong re-enforcement which had been sent out from Boston. This was commanded by Lord Percy, who formed his detachment into square, in which Colonel Smith's party, now so utterly exhausted that they were obliged to lie down for some time, took refuge. When they were rested the whole force moved forward again toward Boston, harassed the whole way by the Americans, who from behind stone walls and other places of shelter kept up an incessant fire upon both flanks, as well as in the front and rear, against which the troops could do nothing. At last the retreating column safely arrived at Boston, spent and worn out with fatigue. Their loss was 65 men killed, 136 wounded, 49 missing.
Such was the beginning of the war of independence. Many American writers have declared that previous to that battle there was no desire for independence on the part of the colonists, but this is emphatically contradicted by the language used at the meetings and in the newspapers which have come down to us. The leaders may not have wished to go so far—may not have intended to gain more than an entire immunity from taxation and an absolute power for the colonists to manage their own affairs. But experience has shown that when the spark of revolution is once lighted, when resistance to the law has once commenced, things are carried to a point far beyond that dreamed of by the first leaders.
Those who commenced the French Revolution were moderate men who desired only that some slight check should be placed on the arbitrary power of the king—that the people should be relieved in some slight degree from the horrible tyranny of the nobles, from the misery and wretchedness in which they lived. These just demands increased step by step until they culminated in the Reign of Terror and the most horrible scenes of bloodshed and massacre of modern times.
Men like Washington and Franklin and Adams may have desired only that the colonists should be free from imperial taxation, but the popular voice went far beyond this. Three years earlier wise counsels in the British Parliament might have averted a catastrophe and delayed for many years the separation of the colonies from their mother country. At the time the march began from Boston to Concord the American colonists stood virtually in armed rebellion. The militia throughout New England were ready to fight. Arms, ammunition, and military stores were collected in Rhode Island and New Hampshire. The cannon and military stores belonging to the Crown had been carried off by the people, forty cannon being seized in Rhode Island alone. Such being the case, it is nonsense to speak of the fray at Lexington as the cause of the Revolutionary War. It was but the spark in the powder. The magazine was ready and primed, the explosion was inevitable, and the fight at Lexington was the accidental incident which set fire to it.
The efforts of American writers to conceal the real facts of the case, to minimize the rebellious language, the violent acts of the colonists, and to make England responsible for the war because a body of troops were sent to seize cannon and military stores intended to be used against them are so absurd, as well as so untrue, that it is astonishing how wide a credence such statements have received.
From an eminence at some distance from the line of retreat Captain Wilson and his son watched sorrowfully the attack upon the British troops. When at last the combatants disappeared from sight through one of the defiles Captain Wilson turned his horse's head homeward.
"The die is cast," he said to his wife as she met him at the door. "The war has begun, and I fear it can have but one termination. The colonists can place forces in the field twenty times as numerous as any army that England can spare. They are inferior in drill and in discipline, but these things, which are of such vast consequence in a European battlefield, matter but little in such a country as this. Skill with the rifle and knowledge of forest warfare are far more important. In these points the colonists are as superior to the English soldiers as they are in point of numbers. Nevertheless, my dear, my duty is plain. I am an Englishman and have borne his Majesty's commission, and I must fight for the king. Harold has spoken to me as we rode home together, and he wishes to fight by my side. I have pointed out to him that as he was born here he can without dishonor remain neutral in the struggle. He, however, insists that as a royal subject of the king he is entitled to fight for him. He saw to-day many lads not older than himself in the rebel ranks, and he has pleaded strongly for permission to go with me. To this I have agreed. Which would you prefer, Mary—to stay quietly here, where I imagine you would not be molested on account of the part I take, or will you move into Boston and stop with your relations there until the struggle has ended one way or the other?"
As Mrs. Wilson had frequently talked over with her husband the course that he would take in the event of civil war actually breaking out, the news that he would at once offer his services to the British authorities did not come as a shock upon her. Even the question of Harold accompanying his father had been talked over; and although her heart bled at the thought of husband and son being both engaged in such a struggle, she agreed to acquiesce in any decision that Harold might arrive at. He was now nearly sixteen, and in the colonies a lad of this age is, in point of independence and self-reliance, older than an English boy. Harold, too, had already shown that he possessed discretion and coolness as well as courage, and although now that the moment had come Mrs. Wilson wept passionately at the thought of their leaving her, she abstained from saying any word to dissuade them from the course they had determined upon. When she recovered from her fit of crying she said that she would accompany them at once to Boston, as in the first place their duties might for some time lie in that city, and that in any case she would obtain far more speedy news there of what was going on throughout the country than she would at Concord. She would, too, be living among her friends and would meet with many of the same convictions and opinions as her husband's, whereas in Concord the whole population would be hostile.
Captain Wilson said that there was no time to be lost, as the whole town was in a tumult. He therefore advised her to pack up such necessary articles as could be carried in the valises, on the horses' backs.
Pompey and the other servants were to pack up the most valuable effects and to forward them to a relation of Mrs. Wilson's who lived about three miles from Boston. There they would be in safety and could be brought into the town, if necessary. Pompey and two other old servants were to remain in charge of the house and its contents. Jake, an active young negro some twenty-three or twenty-four years old, who was much attached to Harold, whose personal attendant and companion he had always been, was to accompany them on horseback, as was Judy, Mrs. Wilson's negro maid.
As evening fell the five horses were brought round, and the party started by a long and circuitous route, by which, after riding for nearly forty miles, they reached Boston at two o'clock next morning.
The excitement caused by the news of the fight at Concord was intense and, as it spread through the colonies, the men everywhere rushed to arms. The fray at Lexington was represented as a wanton outrage, and the fact wholly ignored that the colonists concerned in it were drawn up in arms to oppose the passage of the king's troops, who were marching on their legitimate duty of seizing arms and ammunition collected for the purpose of warring against the king. The colonial orators and newspaper writers affirmed then, as they have affirmed since, that, up to the day of Lexington, no one had a thought of firing a shot against the Government. A more barefaced misstatement was never made. Men do not carry off cannon by scores, and accumulate everywhere great stores of warlike ammunition, without a thought of fighting. The colonists commenced the war by assembling in arms to oppose the progress of British troops obeying the orders of the Government. It matters not a whit on which side the first shot was fired. American troops have, many times since that event, fired upon rioters in the streets, under circumstances no stronger than those which brought on the fight at Lexington.
From all parts of New England the militia and volunteers poured in, and in three days after the fight, twenty thousand armed men were encamped between the rivers Mystic and Roxburgh, thus besieging Boston. They at once set to work throwing up formidable earthworks, the English troops remaining within their intrenchments across the neck of land joining Boston with the mainland.
The streets of Boston were crowded with an excited populace when Captain Wilson and his party rode into it at two in the morning. No one thought of going to bed, and all were excited to the last degree at the news of the battle. All sorts of reports prevailed. On the colonial side it was affirmed that the British, in their retreat, had shot down women and children; while the soldiers affirmed that the colonists had scalped many of their number who fell in the fight. The latter statement was officially made by Lord Percy in his report of the engagement.
Captain Wilson rode direct to the house of his wife's friends. They were still up, and were delighted to see Mary Wilson, for such exaggerated reports had been received of the fight that they were alarmed for her safety. They belonged to the moderate party, who saw that there were faults on both sides and regretted bitterly both the obstinacy of the English Parliament in attempting to coerce the colonists and the determination of the latter to oppose, by force of arms, the legitimate rights of the mother country.
Until the morning the events of the preceding day were talked over; a few hours' repose was then taken, after which Captain Wilson went to the headquarters of General Gage and offered his services. Although Boston was the headquarters of the disaffected party, no less than two hundred men came forward as volunteers in the king's service, and Captain Wilson was at once appointed to the command of a company of fifty men. Before leaving the army he had taken part in several expeditions against the Indians, and his knowledge of forest warfare rendered him a valuable acquisition. Boston was but poorly provisioned, and, as upon the day when the news of Lexington reached New York two vessels laden with flour for the use of the troops at Boston were seized by the colonists and many other supplies cut off, the danger of the place being starved out was considerable. General Gage, therefore, offered no opposition to the exit from the city of those who wished to avoid the horror of a siege, and a considerable portion of the population made their way through to the rebel lines. Every day brought news of fresh risings throughout the country; the governors of the various provinces were powerless; small garrisons of English troops were disarmed and made prisoners; and the fortress of Ticonderoga, held only by fifty men, was captured by the Americans without resistance. In one month after the first shot was fired the whole of the American colonies were in rebellion.
The news was received in England with astonishment and sorrow. Great concessions had been made by Parliament, but the news had reached America too late to avoid hostilities. Public opinion was divided; many were in favor of granting at once all that the colonists demanded, and many officers of rank and position resigned their commissions rather than fight against the Americans. The division, indeed, was almost as general and complete as it had been in the time of our own civil war. In London the feeling in favor of the colonists was strong, but in the country generally the determination to repress the rising was in the ascendant. The colonists had, with great shrewdness, dispatched a fast-sailing ship to Europe upon the day following the battle of Lexington, giving their account of the affair, and representing it as a massacre of defenseless colonists by British troops; and the story thus told excited a sympathy which would not, perhaps, have been extended to them had the real facts of the case been known. Representatives from all the colonies met at Philadelphia to organize the national resistance; but as yet, although many of the bolder spirits spoke of altogether throwing off allegiance to England, no resolution was proposed to that effect.
For the first six weeks after his arrival at Boston, Captain Wilson was engaged in drilling his company. Harold was, of course, attached to it, and entered with ardor upon his duties. Captain Wilson did not attempt to form his men into a band of regular soldiers; accuracy of movement and regularity of drill would be of little avail in the warfare in which they were likely to be engaged. Accuracy in shooting, quickness in taking cover, and steadiness in carrying out any general orders were the principal objects to be attained. Most of the men had already taken part in frontier warfare. The majority of them were gentlemen—Englishmen who, like their captain, had come out from home and purchased small estates in the country. The discipline, therefore, was not strict, and, off duty, all were on terms of equality.
Toward the end of May and beginning of June considerable re-enforcements arrived from England, and, as a step preparatory to offensive measures, General Gage, on June 12, issued a proclamation offering, in his Majesty's name, a free pardon to all who should forthwith lay down their arms, John Hancock and General Adams only excepted, and threatening with punishment all who should delay to avail themselves of the offer. This proclamation had no effect whatever.
Near the peninsula of Boston, on the north, and separated from it by the Charles River, which is navigable and about the breadth of the Thames at London Bridge, is another neck of land called the Peninsula of Charlestown. On the north bank, opposite Boston, lies the town of Charlestown, behind which, in the center of the peninsula, rises an eminence called Bunker's Hill. Bunker's Hill is sufficiently high to overlook any part of Boston and near enough to be within cannon-shot. This hill was unoccupied by either party, and about this time the Americans, hearing that General Gage had come to a determination to fortify it, resolved to defeat his resolution by being the first to occupy it.
About nine in the evening of June 16 a detachment from the colonial army, one thousand strong, under the command of Colonel Prescott, moved along the Charlestown road and took up a position on a shoulder of Bunker's Hill, which was known as Breed's Hill, just above the town of Charlestown. They reached this position at midnight. Each man carried a pick and shovel, and all night they worked vigorously in intrenching the position. Not a word was spoken, and the watch on board the men-of-war in the harbor were ignorant of what was going on so near at hand. At daybreak the alarm was given, and the Lively opened a cannonade upon the redoubt. A battery of guns was placed on Copp's Hill, behind Boston, distant twelve hundred yards from the works, and this, also, opened fire. The Americans continued their work, throwing up fresh intrenchments; and, singularly, only one man was killed by the fire from the ships and redoubt. A breastwork was carried down the hill to the flat ground which, intersected by fences, stretched away to the Mystic. By nine o'clock they had completed their intrenchments.
Prescott sent off for re-enforcements, but there was little harmony among the colonial troops. Disputes between the contingents of the various provinces were common; there was no head of sufficient authority to enforce his orders upon the whole; and a long delay took place before the re-enforcements were sent forward.
In the meantime the English had been preparing to attack the position. The Fifth, Thirty-eighth, Forty-third, and Fifty-second regiments, with ten companies of the grenadiers and ten of the light infantry, with a proportion of field artillery, embarked in boats, and, crossing the harbor, landed on the outward side of the peninsula, near the Mystic, with a view of outflanking the American position and surrounding them. The force was under the command of Major General Howe, under whom was Brigadier General Piggott.
Upon seeing the strength of the American position, General Howe halted, and sent back for further re-enforcements. The Americans improved the time thus given them by forming a breastwork in front of an old ditch. Here there was a post-and-rail fence. They ran up another by the side of this and filled the space between the two with the new-mown hay, which, cut only the day before, lay thickly over the meadows.
Two battalions were sent across to re-enforce Howe, while large re-enforcements, with six guns, arrived to the assistance of Prescott. The English had now a force consisting, according to different authorities, of between 2000 and 2500 men. The colonial force is also variously estimated, and had the advantage both in position and in the protection of their intrenchments, while the British had to march across open ground. As individual shots the colonists were immensely superior, but the British had the advantages given by drill and discipline.
The English lines advanced in good order, steadily and slowly, the artillery covering them by their fire. Presently the troops opened fire, but the distance was too great and they did but little execution. Encumbered with their knapsacks they ascended the steep hill toward the redoubt with difficulty, covered, as it was, by grass reaching to the knees. The colonists did not fire a shot until the English line had reached a point about one hundred and fifty yards from the intrenchments. Then Prescott gave the order, and from the redoubt and the long line of intrenchments flanking it flashed a line of fire. Each man had taken a steady aim with his rifle resting on the earthwork before him, and so deadly was the fire that nearly the whole front line of the British fell. For ten minutes the rest stood with dogged courage, firing at the hidden foe, but these, sheltered while they loaded and only exposing themselves momentarily while they raised their heads above the parapets to fire, did such deadly execution that the remnant of the British fell back to the foot of the hill.
While this force, which was under the command of General Pigott, had been engaged, another division under Howe himself moved against the rail fence. The combat was a repetition of that which had taken place on the hill. Here the Americans reserved their fire until the enemy were close; then, with their muskets resting on the rails, they poured in a deadly fire, and, after in vain trying to stand their ground, the troops fell back to the shore.
Captain Wilson was standing with Harold on Copp's Hill watching the engagement.
"What beautiful order they go in!" Harold said, looking admiringly at the long lines of red-coated soldiers.
"It is very pretty," Captain Wilson said sadly, "and may do in regular warfare; but I tell you, Harold, that sort of thing won't do here. There is scarce a man carrying a gun behind those intrenchments who cannot with certainty hit a bull's-eye at one hundred and fifty yards. It is simply murder, taking the men up in regular order against such a foe sheltered by earthworks."
At this moment the long line of fire darted out from the American intrenchments.
"Look there!" Captain Wilson cried in a pained voice. "The front line is nearly swept away! Do you see them lying almost in an unbroken line on the hillside? I tell you, Harold, it is hopeless to look for success if we fight in this way. The bravest men in the world could not stand such a fire as that."
"What will be done now?" Harold asked as the men stood huddled upon the shore.
"They will try again," Captain Wilson said. "Look at the officers running about among them and getting them into order."
In a quarter of an hour the British again advanced both toward the redoubt and the grass fence. As before the Americans withheld their fire, and this time until the troops were far closer than before, and the result was even more disastrous. Some of the grenadier and light infantry companies who led lost three-fourths, others nine-tenths of their men. Again the British troops recoiled from that terrible fire. General Howe and his officers exerted themselves to the utmost to restore order when the troops again reached the shore, and the men gallantly replied to their exhortations. Almost impossible as the task appeared, they prepared to undertake it for the third time. This time a small force only was directed to move against the grass fence, while the main body, under Howe, were to attack the redoubt on the hill.
Knapsacks were taken off and thrown down, and each man nerved himself to conquer or die. The ships in the harbor prepared the way by opening a heavy cannonade. General Clinton, who was watching the battle from Copp's Hill, ran down to the shore, rowed across the harbor, and put himself at the head of two battalions. Then, with loud cheers, the troops again sprang up the ascent. The American ammunition was running short, many of the men not having more than three or four rounds left, and this time they held their fire until the British troops were within twenty yards. These had not fired a shot, the order being that there was to be no pause, but that the redoubt was to be carried with the bayonet. For a moment they wavered when the deadly volley was poured in upon them. Then, with a cheer, they rushed at the intrenchments. All those who first mounted were shot down by the defenders, but the troops would not be denied, and, pouring over the earthworks leaped down upon the enemy.
For a few minutes there was a hand-to-hand fight, the Americans using the butt-ends of their muskets, the English their bayonets. The soldiers were exhausted with the climb up the hill and their exertions under a blazing sun, and the great majority of the defenders of the redoubt were, therefore, enabled to retreat unharmed, as, fresh and active, they were able to outrun their tired opponents, and as the balls served out to the English field-pieces were too large, the artillery were unable to come into action.
The colonists at the rail fence maintained their position against the small force sent against them till the main body at the redoubt had made their escape. The British were unable to continue the pursuit beyond the isthmus.
In the whole history of the British army there is no record of a more gallant feat than the capture of Bunker's Hill, and few troops in the world would, after two bloody repulses, have moved up the third time to assail such a position, defended by men so trained to the use of the rifle. Ten hundred and fifty-four men, or nearly half their number, were killed and wounded, among whom were 83 officers. In few battles ever fought was the proportion of casualties to the number engaged so great. The Americans fought bravely, but the extraordinary praise bestowed upon them for their valor appears misplaced. Their position was one of great strength, and the absence of drill was of no consequence whatever in such an engagement. They were perfectly sheltered from the enemy's fire while engaged in calmly shooting him down, and their loss, up to the moment when the British rushed among them, was altogether insignificant. Their casualties took place after the position was stormed and on their retreat along the peninsula, and amounted in all to 145 killed and captured and 304 wounded. It may be said that both sides fought well; but, from the circumstances under which they fought, the highest credit is due to the victors.
The battle, however, though won by the English, was a moral triumph for the Americans, and the British Parliament should at once have given up the contest. It was, from the first, absolutely certain that the Americans, with their immense superiority in numbers, could, if they were only willing to fight, hold their vast country against the British troops, fighting with a base thousands of miles away. The battle of Bunker's Hill showed that they were so willing—that they could fight sternly and bravely: and this point once established, it was little short of madness for the English government to continue the contest. They had not even the excuse of desiring to wipe out the dishonor of a defeat. Their soldiers had won a brilliant victory and had fought with a determination and valor never exceeded, and England could have afforded to say, "We will fight no more. If you, the inhabitants of a vast continent, are determined to go alone, are ready to give your lives rather than remain in connection with us, go and prosper. We acknowledge we cannot subdue a nation in arms."
From the height of Copp's Hill it could be seen that the British had suffered terribly. Captain Wilson was full of enthusiasm when he saw the success of the last gallant charge of the English soldiers, but he said to Harold:
"It is a disastrous victory. A few such battles as these and the English army in America would cease to exist."
But although they were aware that the losses were heavy they were not prepared for the truth. The long grass had hidden from view many of those who fell, and when it was known that nearly half of those engaged were killed or wounded the feeling among the English was akin to consternation.
The generalship of the British was wholly unworthy of the valor of the troops. There would have been no difficulty in placing some of the vessels of light draught so far up the Mystic as to outflank the intrenchments held by the colonists. Indeed, the British troops might have been landed further up the Mystic, in which case the Americans must have retreated instantly to avoid capture. Lastly, the troops, although fighting within a mile of their quarters, were encumbered with three days' provisions and their knapsacks, constituting, with their muskets and ammunition, a load of 125 pounds. This was, indeed, heavily handicapping men who had, under a blazing sun, to climb a steep hill, with grass reaching to their knees, and intersected by walls and fences.
American writers describe the defenders of the position as inferior in numbers to the assailants, but it is due to the English to say that their estimate of the number of the defenders of the intrenchments differs very widely from this. General Gage estimated them as being fully three times as numerous as the British troops. It is probable that the truth lies between the two accounts.
Captain Wilson returned with Harold, greatly dispirited, to his house.
"The lookout is dreadfully bad," he said to his wife, after describing the events of the day. "So far as I can see there are but two alternatives—either peace or a long and destructive war with failure at its end. It is even more hopeless trying to conquer a vast country like this, defended by irregulars, than if we had a trained and disciplined army to deal with. In that case two or three signal victories might bring the war to a conclusion; but fighting with irregulars, a victory means nothing beyond so many of the enemy killed. There are scarcely any cannon to take, no stores or magazines to capture. When the enemy is beaten he disperses, moves off, and in a couple of days gathers again in a fresh position. The work has no end. There are no fortresses to take, no strategical positions to occupy, no great roads to cut. The enemy can march anywhere, attack and disperse as he chooses, scatter, and re-form when you have passed by. It is like fighting the wind."
"Well, John, since it seems so hopeless, cannot you give it up? Is it too late?"
"Altogether too late, Mary, and if I were free tomorrow I would volunteer my services again next day. It is not any the less my duty to fight in my country's cause because I believe the cause to be a losing one. You must see that yourself, dear. If England had been sure to win without my aid, I might have stood aloof. It is because everyone's help is needed that such services as I can render are due to her. A country would be in a bad way whose sons were only ready to fight when their success was a certainty."
The Congress determined now to detach Canada from the English side and prepared a force for the invasion of that colony, where the British had but few regular troops.
Captain Wilson was one morning summoned to headquarters. On his return he called together four or five of the men best acquainted with the country. These had been in their early days hunters or border scouts, and knew every foot of the forest and lakes.
"I have just seen the general," Captain Wilson said. "A royalist brought in news last night that the rebels are raising a force intended to act against Montreal. They reckon upon being joined by a considerable portion of the Canadians, among whom there is, unfortunately, a good deal of discontent. We have but two regiments in the whole colony. One of these is at Quebec. The rebels, therefore, will get the advantage of surprise, and may raise the colony before we are in a condition to resist. General Howe asked me to take my company through the woods straight to Montreal. We should be landed a few miles up the coast at night. I suppose some of you know the country well enough to be able to guide us."
Several of the men expressed their ability to act as guides.
"I've fought the Injuns through them woods over and over again," said one of them, a sinewy, weather-beaten man of some sixty years old, who was known as Peter Lambton. He had for many years been a scout attached to the army and was one of the most experienced hunters on the frontier. He was a tall, angular man, except that he stooped slightly, the result of a habit of walking with the head bent forward in the attitude of listening. The years which had passed over him had had no effect upon his figure. He walked with a long, noiseless tread, like that of an Indian, and was one of the men attached to his company in whom, wisely, Captain Wilson had made no attempt to instill the very rudiments of drill. It was, the captain thought, well that the younger men should have such a knowledge of drill as would enable them to perform simple maneuvers, but the old hunters would fight in their own way—a way infinitely better adapted for forest warfare than any that he could teach them. Peter and some of his companions were in receipt of small pensions, which had been bestowed upon them for their services with the troops. Men of this kind were not likely to take any lively interest in the squabbles as to questions of taxation, but when they found that it was coming to fighting they again offered their services to the government as a matter of course. Some were attached to the regular troops as scouts, while others were divided among the newly raised companies of loyalists.
Peter Lambton had for the last four years been settled at Concord. During the war with the French he had served as a scout with the regiment to which Captain Wilson belonged, and had saved that officer's life when with a portion of his company, he was surrounded and cut off by hostile Indians. A strong feeling of friendship had sprung up between them, and when, four years before, there had been a lull in the English fighting on the frontier, Peter had retired on his pension and the savings which he had made during his many years' work as a hunter, and had located himself in a cottage on Captain Wilson's estate. It was the many tales told him by the hunter of his experiences in Indian warfare that had fired Harold with a desire for the life of a frontier hunter, and had given him such a knowledge of forest life as had enabled him to throw off the Indians from his trail. On Harold's return the old hunter had listened with extreme interest to the story of his adventures and had taken great pride in the manner in which he had utilized his teachings. Peter made his appearance in the city three days after the arrival of Captain Wilson there.
"I look upon this here affair as a favorable occurrence for Harold," he said to Captain Wilson. "The boy has lots of spirits, but if it had not been for this he might have grown up a regular town greenhorn, fit for nothing but to walk about in a long coat and to talk pleasant to women; but this 'll jest be the making of him. With your permission, cap, I'll take him under my charge and teach him to use his eyes and his ears, and I reckon he'll turn out as good an Injun fighter as you'll see on the frontier."
"But it is not Indians that we are going to fight Peter," Captain Wilson said. "I heartily wish it was."
"It 'll be the same thing," Peter said; "not here, in course; there 'll be battles between the regulars and the colonists, regular battles like that at Quebec, where both parties was fools enough to march about in the open and get shot down by hundreds. I don't call that fighting; that's jest killing, and there aint no more sense in it than in two herd of buffalo charging each other on the prairie. But there 'll be plenty of real fighting—expeditions in the woods and Injun skirmishes, for you'll be sure that the Injuns'll join in, some on one side and some on the other; it aint in their nature to sit still in their villages while powder's being burned. A few months of this work will make a man of him, and he might have a worse teacher than Peter Lambton. You jest hand him over to my care, cap, and I'll teach him all I know of the ways of the woods, and I tell yer there aint no better kind of edication for a young fellow. He larns to use the senses God has given him, to keep his head when another man would lose his presence of mind, to have the eye of a hawk and the ear of a hound, to get so that he scarcely knows what it is to be tired or hungry, to be able to live while other men would starve, to read the signs of the woods like a printed book, and to be in every way a man and not a tailor's figure."
"There is a great deal in what you say, old friend," Captain Wilson answered, "and such a training cannot but do a man good. I wish with all my heart that it had been entirely with red foes that the fighting was to be done. However, that cannot be helped, and as he is to fight he could not be in better hands than yours. So long as we remain here I shall teach him what drill I can with the rest of the company, but when we leave this town and the work really begins, I shall put him in your charge to learn the duties of a scout."
The young negro Jake had also enlisted, for throughout the war the negroes fought on both sides, according to the politics of their masters. There were only two other negroes in the company, and Captain Wilson had some hesitation in enlisting them, but they made good soldiers. In the case of Jake, Captain Wilson knew that he was influenced in his wish to join solely by his affection for Harold, and the lad's father felt that in the moment of danger the negro would be ready to lay down his life for him.
There was great satisfaction in the band when they received news that they were at last about to take the field. The long inaction had been most wearisome to them, and they knew that any fighting that would take place round Boston would be done by the regular troops. Food, too, was very scarce in town, and they were heartily weary of the regular drill and discipline. They were, then, in high spirits as they embarked on board the Thetis sloop-of-war and sailed from Boston harbor.
It was a pitiful parting between Mrs. Wilson and her husband and son. It had been arranged that she should sail for England in a ship that was leaving in the following week and should there stay with her husband's family, from whom she had a warm invitation to make their home her own until the war was over.
The Thetis ran out to sea. As soon as night fell her bow was turned to land again, and about midnight the anchor was let fall near the shore some twenty miles north of Boston. The landing was quickly effected, and with three days' provisions in their knapsacks the little party started on their march.
One of the scouts who had come from that neighborhood led them by paths which avoided all villages and farms. At daybreak they bivouacked in a wood and at nightfall resumed the march. By the next morning they had left the settlements behind, and entered a belt of swamp and forest extending west to the St. Lawrence.
A party of six men were seated around a fire in the forest which covered the slopes of the northern shore of Lake Champlain. The spot had been chosen because a great tree had fallen, bringing down several others in its course, and opening a vista through which a view could be obtained of the surface of the lake. The party consisted of Peter Lambton, Harold, Jake, Ephraim Potter, another old frontiersman, and two Indians.
The company under Captain Wilson had made its way safely to the St. Lawrence after undergoing considerable hardships in the forest. They had been obliged to depend entirely on what game they could shoot and such fish as they could catch in the rivers whose course they followed. They had, however, reached Montreal without loss, and there they found that General Carleton had in all about 500 regulars and about 200 volunteers who had recently been engaged.
It was clear that if the people of Canada were as hostile to the connection with England as were those of the other colonies, the little force at the disposal of the English general could do nothing to defend the colony against the strong force which the Americans were collecting for its invasion. Fortunately this was not the case. Although the Canadians were of French descent and the province had been wrested by arms from France, they for the most part preferred being under English rule to joining the insurgent colonies. They had been in no way oppressed by England, their property had been respected, and above all things no attempt had ever been made to interfere with their religion. In the New England provinces the hard Puritan spirit of the early fathers had never ceased to prevail. Those who had fled from England to obtain freedom of worship had been intolerant persecutors of all religion different from their own. The consequence was that the priests of Canada were wholly opposed to any idea of union with the insurgent colonists. Their influence over the people was great, and although these still objected to the English rule and would have readily taken up arms against it under other circumstances, they had too little sympathy with the New Englanders to join in their movement, which, if successful, would have placed Canada under the rule of the United States instead of that of England.
The upper classes of Canadians were almost to a man loyal to the English connection. They had been well treated and enjoyed a greater state of independence than had been the case under French rule. Moreover, they were for the most part descended from old French families, and their sympathies were entirely opposed to popular insurrection. Thus, when Captain Wilson and his party reached Montreal, they found that, in spite of the paucity of English troops under the command of General Carleton, the position was not so bad as had been feared by General Gage. It was possible, and indeed probable, that Upper Canada might fall into the hands of the Americans, and that even Quebec itself might be captured; but unless the people joined the Americans the success of the latter would be but temporary. With the spring the navigation of the river would be open and re-enforcements would arrive from England. The invaders would then be at a disadvantage. Separated from home by a wide tract of forest-covered country, they would have the greatest difficulty in transporting artillery, ammunition, and stores, and, fighting as an army in invasion, they would be placed in a very different position to that occupied by the colonists fighting on their own ground. It was probable that for a time the tide of invasion would succeed.
The Indians of the Five Nations, as those dwelling near the British frontier at this point were called, had volunteered their services to the general to cross the frontier to recapture Ticonderoga and Crown Point, which had been seized by the Americans, and to carry the war into the colonies. But General Carleton, an exceedingly humane and kind-hearted man, shrank from the horrors that such a warfare would entail upon the colonists. He accepted the services of the Indians as far as the absolute defense of Canada from invasion, but refused to allow them to cross the frontier.
On the arrival of Captain Wilson with his little force he was ordered to march at once to the fort of St. John's, which was held by a party of regular troops.
On arriving at that place the two scouts had been sent down toward Lake Champlain to watch the proceedings of the enemy. Harold had obtained leave from his father to accompany the scouts, and Jake had been permitted to form one of the party. Peter Lambton had grumbled a little at this last addition to the number. He knew Jake's affection for his young master, and the great strength of the negro would have rendered him useful in a hand-to-hand fight, but he was altogether unaccustomed to forest work, and his habit of bursting into fits of laughter on the smallest provocation, as is the manner of his race, enraged the scout to the last degree. Indeed, he had not left the fort above an hour when he turned savagely on the negro.
"Look-ee here," he said, "if that's the way ye're a-going on, the sooner ye turns yer face and tramps back to the fort the better. When you were at Concord it done no harm to make as much noise as a jackass braying whenever you opened that mouth of yours, but it won't do in the forests. It would cost us our har and your wool ef yer were to make that noise with the enemy anywhere within fifteen miles of yer. I aint a-going, if I knows it, to risk my sculp on such a venture as this; still less I aint a-going to see this young chap's life thrown away. His father hez put him in my charge, and I aint a-going to see him sacrificed in no such way. So ye've got to make up yer mind; yer have got to keep that mouth of yours shut tight or yer've got to tramp back to the fort."
Jake gave many promises of silence, and although at first he often raised his voice to a point far exceeding that considered by the hunters safe in the woods, he was each time checked by such a savage growl on the part of Peter, or by a punch in the ribs from Harold, that he quickly fell into the ways of the others and never spoke above a loud whisper.
At a short distance from the fort they were joined by the two Indians, who were also out on a scouting expedition on their own account. They had previously been well known both to Peter and Ephraim. They were warriors of the Seneca tribe, one of the Five Nations. They had now been for two days on the north shore of Lake Champlain. They were sitting round a fire eating a portion of a deer which had been shot by Harold that morning. So far they had seen nothing of the enemy. They knew that 3000 men, under Schuyler and Montgomery, had marched to the other end of the lake. The colonists had been sending proclamations across the frontier to the inhabitants, saying that they were coming as friends to free them from the yoke of England and calling upon them to arise and strike for freedom. They were also in negotiation with some of the chiefs of the Five Nations and with other Indian tribes to induce them to join with them.
"I propose," Peter said when the meal was finished and he had lighted his pipe, "to go down the lake and see what they're doing. Deer Tail here tells me that he knows where there's a canoe. He, Harold, and me will go and reconnoiter a bit; the other three had best wait here till we comes back with news. In course, chief," he continued to the other Indian, after explaining to him in his own language what he intended to do, "you'll be guided by circumstances—you can see a long way down the lake, and ef anything should lead you to think that we're in trouble, you can take such steps as may seem best to you. It's mighty little I should think of the crowd of colonists; but ef, as you say, a number of the warriors of the Five Nations, indignant at the rejection, of their offers by the English general, have gone down and joined the colonists, it'll be a different affair altogether."
The Elk, as the second Seneca chief was called, nodded his assent. In a few words Peter told Harold what had been arranged. Jake looked downcast when he heard that he was not to accompany his master, but as he saw the latter had, since leaving the fort, obeyed without questioning every suggestion of the scout, he offered no remonstrance.
A quarter of an hour later Peter rose, Deer Tail followed his example, and Harold at once took up his rifle and fell in in their steps. There was but little talk in the woods, and the matter having been settled, it did not enter the mind either of Peter or of the Indian to say a word of adieu to their comrades. Harold imitated their example, but gave a nod and a smile to Jake as he started.
Half an hour's tramp took them to the shore of the lake. Here they halted for a minute while the Indian closely examined the locality. With the wonderful power of making their way straight through the forest to the required spot, which seems to be almost an instinct among Indians, Deer Tail had struck the lake within two hundred yards of the point which he aimed at. He led the way along the shore until he came to a spot where a great maple had fallen into the lake; here he turned into the forest again, and in fifty yards came to a clump of bushes; these he pushed aside and pointed to a canoe which was lying hidden among them. Peter joined him, the two lifted the boat out, placed it on their shoulders, and carried it to the lake. There were three paddles in it. Peter motioned Harold to take his place in the stern and steer, while he and the Indian knelt forward and put their paddles in the water.
"Keep her along on the right shore of the lake, about fifty yards from the trees. There's no fear of anyone lurking about near this end."
The canoe was light and well made, and darted quickly over the water under the strokes of the two paddlers. It was late in the afternoon when they started, and before they had gone many miles darkness had fallen. The canoe was run in close to shore, where she lay in the shadow of the trees until morning. Just as the sun rose the redskin and Peter simultaneously dipped their paddles in the water and sent the canoe under the arches of the trees. They had at the same instant caught sight of four canoes making their way along the lake.
"Them's Injuns," Peter whispered. "They're scouting to see if the lake's free. If the general could have got a couple of gunboats up the Sorrel the enemy could never have crossed the lake, and it would have given them a month's work to take their guns round it. It's lucky we were well under the trees or we should have been seen. What had we best do, Deer Tail?"
For two or three minutes the scouts conversed together in the Indian tongue.
"The Seneca agrees with me," Peter said. "It's like enough there are Injuns scouting along both shores. We must lay up here till nightfall. Ef we're seen they'd signal by smoke, and we should have them canoes back again in no time. By their coming I expect the expedition is starting, but it won't do to go back without being sure of it."
The canoe was paddled to a spot where the bushes grew thickly by the bank. It was pushed among these, and the three, after eating some cooked deer's flesh which they had brought with them, prepared to pass the day.
"The Seneca and I'll keep watch by turns," the scout said. "We'll wake you if we want ye."
Harold was by this time sufficiently accustomed to the ways of the woods to obey orders at once without offering to take his turn at watching, as his inclination led him to do, and he was soon sound asleep. It was late in the afternoon when he was awoke by the scout touching him.
"There's some critters coming along the bank," he said in a whisper. "They aint likely to see us, but it's best to be ready."
Harold sat up in the canoe, rifle in hand, and, listening intently, heard a slight sound such as would be produced by the snapping of a twig. Presently he heard upon the other side of the bushes, a few yards distant, a few low words in the Indian tongue. He looked at his companions. They were sitting immovable, each with his rifle directed toward the sound, and Harold thought it would fare badly with any of the passers if they happened to take a fancy to peer through the bushes. The Indians had, however, no reason for supposing that there were any enemies upon the lake, and they consequently passed on without examining more closely the thicket by the shore. Not until it was perfectly dark did Peter give the sign for the continuance of the journey. This time, instead of skirting the lake, the canoe was steered out toward its center. For some time they paddled, and then several lights were seen from ahead.
"I thought so," the scout said. "They've crossed to the Isle La Motte and they're making as many fires as if they war having a sort of picnic at home. We must wait till they burns out, for we daren't go near the place with the water lit up for two or three hundred yards round. It won't be long, for I reckon it must be past eleven o'clock now."
The fires were soon seen to burn down. The paddles were dipped in the water and the canoe approached the island.
"I'd give something," Peter said, "to know whether there's any redskins there. Ef there are, our chance of landing without being seen aint worth talking of; ef there aint we might land a hull fleet; at any rate we must risk it. Now, Harold, the chief and me'll land and find out how many men there are here, and, ef we can, how long they're likely to stop. You keep the canoe about ten yards from shore, in the shadow of the trees, and be ready to move close the instant you hear my call. I'll jest give the croak of a frog. The instant we get in you paddle off without a word. Ef ye hears any shouts and judges as how we've been seen, ye must jest act upon the best of yer judgment."
The boat glided noiselessly up to the shore. All was still there, the encampment being at the other side of the island. The two scouts, red and white, stepped noiselessly on to the land. Harold backed the canoe a few paces with a quick stroke upon the paddle, and seeing close to him a spot where a long branch of a tree dipped into the water, he guided the canoe among the foliage and there sat without movement, listening almost breathlessly.
Ere many minutes had elapsed he heard footsteps coming along the shore. They stopped when near him. Three or four minutes passed without the slightest sound, and then a voice said, in tones which the speaker had evidently tried to lower, but which were distinctly audible in the canoe:
"I tell yer, redskin, it seems to me as how you've brought us here on a fool's errand. I don't see no signs of a canoe, and it aint likely that the British would be along the lake here, seeing as how there's a score of canoes with your people in them scouting ahead."
"I heard canoe," another voice said, "first at other end of the island and then coming along here."
"And ef yer did," the first speaker said, "likely enough it was one of the canoes of your people."
"No," the Indian answered. "If canoe come back with news, would have come straight to fires."
"Well, it aint here, anyway," the first speaker said, "and I don't believe yer ever heard a canoe at all. It's enough to make a man swear to be called up jest as we were making ourselves comfortable for the night on account of an Injun's fancies. I wonder at the general's listening to them. However, we've got our orders to go round the island and see ef there's any canoe on either shore; so we'd better be moving, else we shall not get to sleep before morning."
Harold held his breath as the group passed opposite to him. Fortunately the trunk of the tree grew from the very edge of the water, and there were several bushes growing round it, so that at this point the men had to make a slight detour inland. Harold felt thankful indeed that he had taken the precaution of laying his canoe among the thick foliage, for although the night was dark it would have been instantly seen had it been lying on the surface of the lake. Even as it was, a close inspection might have detected it, but the eyes of the party were fixed on the shore, as it was there, if at all, that they expected to find an empty canoe lying.
Harold was uneasy at the discovery that there were still some redskins on the island. It was possible, of course, that the one he had heard might be alone as a scout, but it was more likely that others of the tribe were also there.
After landing, Peter and the Seneca made their way across the island to the side facing the American shore. Creeping cautiously along, they found a large number of flat-bottomed boats, in which the Americans had crossed from the mainland, and which were, Peter thought, capable of carrying 2000 men. They now made their way toward the spot where the forces were encamped. The fires had burned low, but round a few of them men were still sitting and talking. Motioning to the Seneca to remain quiet, Peter sauntered cautiously out on to the clearing where the camp was formed. He had little fear of detection, for he wore no uniform, and his hunter's dress afforded no index to the party to which he was attached.
A great portion of the Americans were still in their ordinary attire, it having been impossible to furnish uniforms for so great a number of men as had been suddenly called to arms throughout the colonies.
From the arbors of boughs which had been erected in all directions, he judged that the force had been already some days upon the island. But large numbers of men were sleeping in the open air, and picking his way cautiously among them, he threw himself down at a short distance from one of the fires by which three or four men were sitting.
For some time they talked of camp matters, the shortness of food, and want of provisions.
"It is bad here," one said presently; "it will be worse when we move forward. Schuyler will be here tomorrow with the rest of the army, and we are to move down to Isle-aux-Noix, at the end of the lake, and I suppose we shall land at once and march against St. John's. There are only a couple of hundred Britishers there, and we shall make short work of them."
"The sooner the better, I say," another speaker remarked. "I am ready enough to fight, but I hate all this waiting about. I want to get back to my farm again."
"You are in a hurry, you are," the other said. "You don't suppose we are going to take Canada in a week's time, do you. Even if the Canadians join us, and by what I hear that aint so sartin after all, we shall have to march down to Quebec, and that's no child's play. I know the country there. It is now September 4. Another month and the winter will be upon us, and a Canadian winter is no joke, I can tell you."
"The more reason for not wasting any more time," the other one grumbled. "If Montgomery had his way we should go at them quickly enough, but Schuyler is always delaying. He has kept us waiting now since the 17th of last month. We might have been halfway to Quebec by this time."
"Yes," the other said, "if the Britishers had run away as we came; but we have got St. John's and Fort Chamblee to deal with, and they may hold out some time. However, the sooner we begin the job the sooner it will be over, and I am heartily glad that we move tomorrow."
Peter had now obtained the information he required, and rising to his feet again, with a grumbling remark as to the hardness of the ground, he sauntered away toward the spot where he had left the Indian. Just as he did so a tall figure came out from an arbor close by. A fire was burning just in front, and Peter saw that he was a tall and handsome man of about forty years of age. He guessed at once that he was in the presence of the colonial leader.
"You are, like myself," the newcomer said, "unable to sleep, I suppose?"
"Yes, general," Peter answered. "I found I could not get off, and so I thought I'd stretch my legs in the wood a bit. They're lying so tarnal thick down there by the fires, one can't move without treading on 'em."
"Which regiment do you belong to?"
"The Connecticut," Peter replied, for he knew by report that a regiment from this province formed part of the expedition.
"As good men as any I have," the general said cordially. "Their only fault is that they are in too great a hurry to attack the enemy."
"I agree with the rest, general," Peter said. "It's dull work wasting our time here when we're wanted at home. I enlisted for six months, and the sooner the time's up the better, say I."
"You have heard nothing moving?" the general asked. "One of the Chippewas told me that he heard a canoe out in the lake. Ah! here he is."
At that moment five or six men, headed by an Indian, issued from the wood close by. It was too late for Peter to try to withdraw, but he stepped aside a pace or two as the party approached.
"Well, have you found anything?" the general asked.
"No find," the Chippewa said shortly.
"I don't believe as there ever was a canoe there," the man who followed him said. "It was jest a fancy of the Injun's."
"No fancy," the Indian asserted angrily. "Canoe there. No find."
"It might have been one of our own canoes," Montgomery said in a conciliatory tone. "The Indians are seldom mistaken. Still, if no one has landed it matters not either way."
"Only as we have had a tramp for nothing," the colonist said. "However, there's time for a sleep yet. Hullo!" he exclaimed as his eye fell on Peter Lambton. "What, Peter! Why, how did you get here? Why, I thought as how——General," he exclaimed, sharply turning to Montgomery, "this man lives close to me at Concord. He's a royalist, he is, and went into Boston and joined the corps they got up there!"
"Seize him!" Montgomery shouted, but it was too late.
As the man had turned to speak to the general, Peter darted into the wood. The Chippewa, without waiting to hear the statement of the colonist, at once divined the state of things, and uttering his war-whoop dashed after the fugitive. Two or three of the colonists instantly followed, and a moment later three or four Indians who had been lying on the ground leaped up and darted like phantoms into the wood.
The general no sooner grasped the facts than he shouted an order for pursuit, and a number of the men most accustomed to frontier work at once followed the first party of pursuers. Others would have done the same, but Montgomery shouted that no more should go, as they would only be in the others' way, and there could not be more than two or three spies on the island.
After the Chippewa's first war-cry there was silence for the space of a minute in the forest. Then came a wild scream, mingled with another Indian yell; a moment later the leading pursuers came upon the body of the Chippewa. His skull had been cleft with a tomahawk and the scalp was gone.
As they were clustered round the body two or three of the Indians ran up. They raised the Indian wail as they saw their comrade and with the rest took up the pursuit.
Peter and the Seneca were now far among the trees, and as their pursuers had nothing to guide them, they reached the spot where they had left the canoe unmolested.
On the signal being given, Harold instantly paddled to the shore. Not a word was spoken until the canoe was well out in the lake. Occasional shots were heard on shore as the pursuers fired at objects which they thought were men. Presently a loud Indian cry rose from the shore.
"They see us," Peter said. "We're out of shot and can take it easy." The redskin said a few words. "You're right, chief. The chief says," he explained to Harold, "that as there are redskins on the island they have probably some canoes. The moon's jest getting up beyond that hill, and it'll be light enough to see us half across the lake. It would not matter if the water was free; but what with Injuns prowling along the shores and out on the lake, we shall have to use our wits to save our har. Look!" he exclaimed two or three minutes later as two columns of bright flame at a short distance from them shot up at the end of the island. "They're Injun signals. As far as they can be seen Injuns will know that there are enemies on the lake. Now, paddle your hardest, Harold, and do you, chief, keep your eyes and your ears open for sights and sounds."
Under the steady strokes of the three paddles the bark canoe sped rapidly over the water. When the moon was fairly above the edge of the hill they halted for a moment and looked back. The two columns of fire still blazed brightly on the island, which was now three miles astern, and two dark spots could be seen on the water about halfway between them and it.
"You can paddle, my lads," Peter Lambton said to the distant foes, "but you'll never ketch us. I wouldn't heed you if it weren't for the other varmint ahead."
He stood up in the canoe and looked anxiously over the lake.
"It's all clear as far as I can see at present," he said.
"Can't we land, Peter, and make our way back on foot?"
"Bless you," Peter said, "there aint a native along the shore there but has got his eye on this canoe. We might as well take her straight back to the island as try to land. Better; for we should get a few hours before they tried and shot us there, while the Injuns would not give us a minute. No, we must just keep to the water; and now paddle on again, but take it quietly. It's no odds to let them varmints behind gain on us a little. You needn't think about them. When the danger comes we shall want every ounce of our strength."
For half an hour they paddled steadily on. The pursuing canoes were now less than a mile behind them.
"I'd give a good deal," muttered the scout, "for a few black clouds over the moon; we'd make for shore then and risk it. It will be getting daylight before long. Ah!" he exclaimed, pausing suddenly as the chief stopped rowing, "a canoe on each side is rowing out to cut us off."
Harold was now paddling forward, while the scout had the place at the stern. The former was surprised to feel the canoe shooting off from its former course at right angles toward the shore; then, curving still more round, they began to paddle back along the lake. The canoes which had been pursuing them were nearly abreast of each other. They had embarked from opposite sides of the island, but they had been gradually drawing together, although still some distance apart, when Peter turned his canoe. Seeing his maneuver, both turned to head him off, but by so doing they occupied an entirely different position in relation to each other, one canoe being nearly half a mile nearer to them than the other.
"Take it easy," Peter said. "These varmints will cut us off and we've got to fight, but we can cripple the one nearest to us before the other comes up."
The boats were now darting over the water in a line which promised to bring the leading canoe almost in collision with that of Peter. When within two hundred yards of each other Peter ceased rowing.
"Now," he said, "Harold, see if you can pick one of them fellows off. It's no easy matter, traveling at the pace they are. You fire first."
Harold took a steady aim and fired. A yell of derision told that he had missed. The Indians stopped paddling. There was a flash and a ball struck the canoe. At the same moment Peter fired.
"There's one down!" he exclaimed.
The Seneca fired, but without result; and the three unwounded Indians in the canoe—for it had contained four men—replied with a volley.
Harold felt a burning sensation, as if a hot iron passed across his arm.
"Hit, boy?" Peter asked anxiously as he gave a short exclamation.
"Nothing to speak of," Harold replied.
"The varmints are lying by, waiting for' the other canoe. Paddle straight at 'em."
The Indians at once turned the boat and paddled to meet their companions, who were fast approaching.
"Now," Peter exclaimed, "we've got 'em in a line—a steady aim this time."
The three rifles spoke out; one of the Indians fell into the boat and the paddle of another was struck from his grasp.
"Now," the scout shouted, "paddle away! We've got 'em all fairly behind us."
Day broke just as they were again abreast of the island. One canoe was following closely, two others were a mile and a half behind, while the one with which they had been engaged had made for the shore.
"What do you mean to do?" Harold asked Peter.
"I mean to run as close as I can round the end of the island, and then make for the place where they must have embarked on the mainland. They may have seen the signal fires there, but will not know what has been going on. So now row your best. We must leave the others as far behind as possible."
For the first time since they started the three paddlers exerted themselves to the utmost. They had little fear that there were any more canoes on the island, for, had there been, they would have joined in the chase. It was only necessary to keep so far from the end of the island as would take them out of reach of the fire. Several shots were discharged as they passed, but these fell short as the canoe shot along at its highest rate of speed, every stroke taking it further from its nearest pursuer.
At the end of an hour's paddling this canoe was a mile and a half behind. Its rowers had apparently somewhat abated their speed in order to allow the other two boats to draw up to them, for the result of the encounter between their comrades and the fugitives had not been of a nature to encourage them to undertake a single-handed contest with them.
IN THE FOREST.
"See, Peter!" Harold exclaimed; "there is a whole fleet of boats ahead."
"I sees 'em," Peter said, "and have seed 'em for the last quarter of an hour. It's Schuyler, with the rest of what they calls their army. Steer a little out of the course; we must pass close by 'em. They won't suspect nothing wrong and will suppose we are merely carrying a message."
In half an hour they were abreast of the flotilla, consisting of flatboats laden with troops. With them were two or three Indian canoes. Peter steered so as to pass at a distance of a hundred and fifty yards. They rowed less strongly now, but still vigorously. There was a shout from the boat.
"All well on the island?"
"All well," Peter shouted back, waving his hand, and without further word the canoe passed on. "There! do you hear that?" Peter exclaimed. "They're firing shots from the canoes to call their attention. The chances are they won't hear them, for the rattle of their oars and the talking and the row they're making are enough to drown the sound of a cannon. Now put it on again as hard as you can. Another hour will take us to the landing place."
They could see, when the flotilla came up to the pursuing boats, that the canoes which accompanied it turned their heads and joined in the pursuit, but they were now near three miles ahead and there was no chance whatever of their being overtaken. They slackened their speed slightly as they approached the land, and rowed up to the landing place without any signs of extraordinary haste. A few men were loitering about.
"What's the news from the island?" one asked as they landed.
"All well there," Peter said.
"Did you see anything of Schuyler?"
"Yes, we met him about halfway across."
"What have you come for?"
"General Montgomery says that no spare flints have been sent over for the firelocks."
"I'll swear that some went," one of the men exclaimed, "for I packed a sack of them myself in one of the boats."
"I s'pose they have been mislaid," Peter said. "Perhaps some of the stores have got heaped over 'em. Ef you are quite sartin, we have had our journey for nothing."
"As sartin as life," the man replied. "I'll swear to the sackful of flints; and tarnation heavy they was, too."
"Well, then, I need not trouble about it further," Peter said. "We'll take a rest and paddle back in an hour or two. Was there any marks on the sack, so as I may tell the general how to look for it?"
"Marks!" the man repeated. "Why, it had 'Flints' written on it in big black letters six inches long. It must turn up, anyhow. They'll find it when they come to shift the stores."
Then, accompanied by his two companions, Peter strolled quietly through the little village. Stopping at a small store, he purchased some flour and tea; then he followed the road inland and was soon out of sight of the village; he stopped for a moment and then shook his head.
"It's no use trying to hide our trail here," he said. "The road's an inch thick in dust, and do what we will they'll be able to see where we turn off. It's our legs as we have got to trust to for a bit. We've got a good half hour's start of the canoes; they were a long three miles behind when we struck the shore."
Leaving the road, he led the way with a long, swinging stride across the cultivated land. Twenty minutes' walk took them into the forest, which extended from the shore of the lake many miles inland.
"Take off your boots, Harold," he said as he entered the wood. "Them heels will leave marks that a redskin could pick up at a run. Now tread, as near as you can, in the exact spot where the Seneca has trodden before you. He'll follow in my track, and you may be sure that I'll choose the hardest bits of ground I can come across. There, the varmints are on shore!"
As he spoke an angry yell rose from the distant village. At a long, steady pace, which taxed to the utmost Harold's powers as a walker, they kept their way through the woods, not pursuing a straight course, but turning, winding, and zigzagging every few minutes. Harold could not but feel impatient at what seemed to him such a loss of time, especially when a yell from the edge of the wood told that the Indians had traced them thus far—showed, too, that they were far nearer than before. But, as Peter, afterward explained to him, all this turning and winding made it necessary for the Indians to follow every step, as they would an animal, to guess the direction they had taken. The weather had been dry and the ground was hard; therefore the most experienced trapper would be obliged to proceed very slowly on the trail and would frequently be for a time at fault; whereas, had they continued in a straight line, the Indians could have followed at a run, contenting themselves with seeing the trail here and there. They came across two or three little streams running down toward the lake. These they followed, in some cases up, in others down, for a considerable distance, leaving the bed where the bushes grew thick and hid the marks of their feet as they stepped out from the water. Harold would gladly have gone at a run, but Peter never quickened his pace. He knew that the Indians could not pick up the trail at a rate faster than that at which they were going, and that great delay would be caused at each of the little streams, as it would be uncertain whether they had passed up or down.
As the time passed the Indian yells, which had, when they first entered the wood, sounded so alarmingly near, died away, and a perfect stillness reigned in the forest. It was late in the afternoon before Peter halted.
"We can rest now," he said. "It'll be hours before the critters can be here. Now let us have some tea."
He began to look for some dried sticks. Harold offered to assist.
"You sit down," the scout said. "A nice sort of fire we should get with sticks of your picking up! Why, we should have a smoke that would bring all the Injuns in the woods on to us. No, the sticks as the Seneca and me'll pick up won't give as much smoke as you can put in a teacup; but I wouldn't risk even that if we was nigh the lake, for it might be seen by any redskins out in a canoe. But we are miles back from the lake, and there aint no other open space where they could get a view over the tree-tops."
Harold watched the Indian and the scout collecting dry leaves and sticks, and took particular notice, for future use, of the kinds which they selected. A light was struck with a flint and steel, and soon a bright blaze sprang up, without, so far as Harold could see, the slightest smoke being given off. Then the hunter produced some food from his wallet, and a tin pot. He had at the last spring they passed filled a skin which hung on his shoulder with water, and this was soon boiling over the fire. A handful of tea was thrown in and the pot removed. Some flour, mixed with water, was placed on a small iron plate, which was put on the red-hot ashes. A few cakes were baked, and with these, the cold venison, and the tea an ample meal was made.
After nearly an hour's halt they again proceeded on their way. A consultation had taken place between Peter and the Seneca as to the best course to be pursued. They could, without much difficulty or risk, have continued the way through the woods beyond the lake, but it was important that they should reach the other side by the evening of the following day, to give warning of the intended attack by the Americans. There were, they knew, other redskins in the woods besides those on their trail, and the nearer they approached the shore the greater the danger. They had determined that they would at all hazards endeavor to obtain another canoe and cross the lake. Until nightfall they continued their course, and then, knowing that their trail could no longer be followed, they made down to the lake. They were many miles distant from it, and Harold was completely worn out when at last he saw a gleam of water through the trees. He was not yet to rest. Entering the lake, they began wading through it at a few feet from the edge.
After an hour's walking thus they entered the bushes, which thickly covered the shore, and made their way through these until they came to a spot sufficiently open for them to lie down; and Harold, wrapping himself in the blanket which he carried over his shoulder, was sound asleep in less than a minute. When he woke the sun was shining brightly.
"Get up, youngster! We're in luck," the scout said. "Here's a canoe with two of the varmints making toward the shore. By the way they're going they'll land not far off."
The scout led the way, crawling on his hands and knees, to the water's edge, to where the Seneca was sitting watching the canoe through a cover of green leaves. The course that the boat was taking would lead it to a point some three hundred yards from where they were sitting.
"We shall have no difficulty in managing them," Harold said, and grasped his rifle eagerly.
"Not too fast," Peter said. "The chances are that the varmints have friends on shore. Like enough they have been out fishing."
The shore formed a slight sweep at this point, and the bushes in which they were hidden occupied the point at one extremity. In the center of the little bay there was a spot clear from bushes; to this the canoe was directed. As it approached the shore two other Indians appeared at the water's edge. One of them asked a question, and in reply a paddler held up a large bunch of fish.
"Just as I thought. Like enough there are a dozen of them there," said Peter.
On reaching the shore the men sprang out, taking their fish with them. The canoe was fastened by its head-rope to the bushes, and the Indians moved a short distance inland.
"There is their smoke," Peter said, indicating a point some thirty feet from the lake, but so slight was it that, even when it was pointed out to him, Harold could hardly make out the light mist rising from among the bushes. Presently he looked round for the Seneca, but the Indian had disappeared.
"He's gone scouting," Peter said in answer to Harold's question. "Ef there are only four of them it would be an easy job, but I expect there's more of the red varmints there."
In ten minutes the Seneca returned as noiselessly as he had gone. He opened his hand and all the fingers twice; the third time he showed only three fingers.
"Thirteen," Peter said. "Too many of them even for a sudden onslaught."
The Indian said a few words to Peter; the latter nodded, and Deer Tail again quietly stole away.
"He's going to steal the boat," Peter said. "It's a risky job, for where it lies it can be seen by 'em as they sit. Now, you and me must be ready with our shooting irons to cover him, if need be. Ef he's found out before he gets the boat he'll take to the woods and lead them away from us; but ef he's fairly in the boat, then we must do our best for him. Ef the wust comes to the wust, I reckon we can hold these bushes agin 'em for some time; but in the end I don't disguise from ye, youngster, they'll beat us."
Harold now sat intently watching the canoe. It seemed an age to him before he saw a hand emerge from the bushes and take hold of the head-rope. The motion given to the canoe was so slight as to be almost imperceptible; it seemed as if it was only drifting gently before the slight breeze which was creeping over the surface of the lake. Half its length had disappeared from the open space, when an Indian appeared by the edge of the water. He looked at the canoe, looked over the lake, and withdrew again. The hand had disappeared in the bushes on his approach. The movement of the canoe, slight as it was, had caught his eye, but, satisfied that it was caused only by the wind, he had returned to his fire again. The hand appeared again through the bushes, and the canoe was drawn along until hidden from the sight of those sitting by the fire. Again the watchful Indian appeared, but the boat was lying quietly by the bushes at the full length of its head-rope. He stooped down to see that this was securely fastened and again retired. Harold held his breath, expecting that every moment the presence of the Seneca would be discovered. Scarcely had the Indian disappeared than the Seneca crawled out from the bushes. With a sweep of his knife he cut the rope of the canoe and noiselessly entered it, and as he did so gave a shove with his foot, which sent it dancing along the shore toward the spot where Harold and his companion were hidden. Then he seized the paddle, and in half a dozen strokes brought it within reach of them. Harold and Peter stepped into it; as they did so there was a sudden shout. The Indian had again strolled down to look at the canoe, whose movements, slight as they had been, had appeared suspicious to him. He now, to his astonishment, saw it at the point with two white men and an Indian on board. He had left his gun behind him and, uttering his war-cry, bounded back for it.
"Round the p'int, quick!" Peter exclaimed. "They'll riddle us in the open."
Two strokes took the canoe round the projecting point of bushes, and she then darted along the shore, driven by the greatest efforts of which the three paddlers were capable. Had the shore been open the Indians would have gained upon them, but they were unable to force their way through the thick bushes at anything like the rate at which the canoe was flying over the water. The first start was upward of a hundred yards, and this was increased by fifty before the Indians, arriving at the point, opened fire. The distance was beyond anything like an accurate range with Indian guns. Several bullets struck the water round the canoe.
"Now steer out," Peter said as the firing suddenly ceased. "They're making a detour among the bushes, and 'll come down ahead of us if we keep near the shore."
Two or three more shots were fired, but without effect, and the canoe soon left the shore far behind.
"Now," Peter said, "I think we're safe. It's not likely they've another canoe anywhere near on this side, as most of 'em would have gone with the expedition. Ef the firing has been heard it will not attract much attention, being on this side, and I see nothing in the way of a boat out in the lake. Still, these redskins' eyes can see 'most any distance. Now, chief," he went on to the Indian in his native language, "the young un and I'll lie down at the bottom of the boat; do you paddle quietly and easily, as ef you were fishing. The canoe with a single Indian in it will excite no suspicion, and even ef you see other canoes, you had better keep on in that way unless you see that any of 'em are intending to overhaul you."
The chief nodded assent. Peter and Harold stretched themselves at full length in the canoe, and the Indian paddled quietly and steadily on. For an hour not a word was spoken in the canoe. Harold several times dozed off to sleep. At last the Seneca spoke:
"Many boats out on water—American army."
Harold was about to raise his head to look out when Peter exclaimed: "Lie close, Harold! Ef a head were shown now it would be wuss than ef we had sat up all the time. We know there are Injun canoes with the flats, and they may be watching us now. We may be a long way off, but there's no saying how far a redskin's eyes can carry. Can you see where they are going to, chief?" he asked the Seneca. "Are they heading for Isle-aux-Noix, as we heard 'em say they were going to do?"
The Seneca nodded.
"Going to island."
"Then," Peter said, "the sooner we're across the lake the better."
The Seneca again spoke, and after a consultation with Peter laid in his paddle.
"What is he doing now?" Harold asked.
"Our coarse lies pretty near the same way as theirs," Peter said. "The island is but a short distance from the shore, near the mouth of the Sorrel, so where we're going would take us right across their line. We fooled them yesterday, but are not likely to do it again to-day. So the chief has stopped paddling and makes as if he were fishing. I doubt whether it will succeed, for he would hardly be fishing so far out. But we'll soon see. It's better so than to turn and paddle in any other direction, as that would be sure to excite their suspicions."
The fleet of boats had already passed the spot where the canoe would have crossed had she been going directly across the lake when she was first seen, and was therefore now ahead of it. The great flotilla kept on as if the canoe with its single occupant in its rear had not excited suspicion. The Seneca, however, knew that sharp eyes must be upon him. The manner in which the canoe had baffled pursuit the day before must have inflicted a severe blow upon the pride of the Indians, and although, having driven them off the lake, they could have no reason for suspecting that their foes could have obtained a fresh canoe, the Seneca knew that their vigilance would not sleep for a moment. Therefore, although bending over the side of the canoe as if watching his lines, his eyes were never off the boats.
"There are canoes making for the shore both ways," he said at last. "It is time that my white brother should take the paddle."
Peter and Harold at once sat up in the boat and looked round the lake, which at this point was about ten miles wide. The canoe was four miles from the eastern side; the flotilla was a mile further up the lake and the same distance nearer to the western shore. Four or five canoes were detaching themselves from the flotilla, apparently rowing direct for the shore. It would have been easy for the canoe to have regained the eastern side long before she could have been cut off, but here they might find the Chippewas. The Indians whose boat they had taken would assuredly follow along the shores of the lake in hopes that something might occur to drive them back. Besides, had they landed there, they would be unable to carry in time the news of the approaching attack upon St. John's. For the same reason it was important to land up the lake near the Canadian end.
Peter rapidly took in the situation. He saw that it was possible, and only just possible, to reach the shore at a point opposite to that at which they now were before the hostile canoes could cut them off from it. If they headed them there they would be obliged to run down to the other end of the lake before effecting a landing, while he could not calculate on being able to beat all the canoes, most of which carried four paddlers, who would strain every nerve to retrieve their failure of the previous day.
Not a word was spoken as the boat darted through the water. Harold, unaccustomed to judge distances, could form no idea whether the distant canoes would or would not intercept them. At present both seemed to him to be running toward the shore on nearly parallel courses, and the shorter distance that the Indians would have to row seemed to place them far ahead. The courses, however, were not parallel, as the Indians were gradually turning their canoes to intercept the course of that which they were pursuing. As the minutes went by and the boats converged more and more toward the same point, Harold saw how close the race would be. After twenty minutes' hard paddling the boats were within a quarter of a mile of each other, and the courses which they were respectively taking seemed likely to bring them together at about a quarter of a mile from the shore. There were three Indian canoes, and these kept well together. So close did the race appear that Harold expected every moment to see Peter sweep the head of the canoe round and make a stern chase of it by running down the lake. This Peter had no intention of doing. The canoes, he saw, traveled as fast as his own and could each spare a man to fire occasionally, while he and his companions would be obliged to continue paddling. Better accustomed to judge distances than Harold, he was sure, at the speed at which they were going, he would be able to pass somewhat ahead of his foes.
"Row all you know, Harold," he said. "Now, chief, send her along."
Harold had been rowing to the utmost of his strength, but he felt by the way the canoe quivered at every stroke that his companions were only now putting out their extreme strength. The boat seemed to fly through the water, and he began to think for the first time that the canoe would pass ahead of their pursuers. The latter were clearly also conscious of the fact, for they now turned their boats' heads more toward the shore, so that the spot where the lines would meet would be close to the shore itself. The canoes were now within two hundred yards of each other. The Indians were nearer to the shore, but the oblique line that they were following would give them about an equal distance to row to the point for which both were making. Harold could not see that there was the slightest difference in the rate at which they were traveling. It seemed to him that the four canoes would all arrive precisely at the same moment at the land, which was now some five or six hundred yards distant.
Another two minutes' paddling, and when the canoes were but seventy or eighty yards apart, Peter, with a sweep with his paddle, turned the boat's head nearly half round and made obliquely for the shore, so throwing his pursuers almost astern of him. The shore was but three hundred yards distant; they were but fifty ahead of their pursuers. The latter gave a loud yell at seeing the change in the position in the chase. They had, of course, foreseen the possibility of such a movement, but had been powerless to prevent it. But they were prepared, for on the instant one man in each canoe dropped his paddle and, standing up, fired. It is a difficult thing to take aim when standing in a canoe dancing under the vigorous strokes of three paddlers. It was the more difficult since the canoes were at the moment sweeping round to follow the movement of the chase. The three balls whistled closely round the canoe, but no one was hit.
The loss of three paddlers for even so short a time checked the pace of the canoes. The Indians saw that they could not hope to overtake their foes, whose canoe was now but a few lengths from shore. They dropped their paddles, and each man seized his rifle. Another moment, and the nine pieces would have poured their fire into the canoe about fifty yards ahead of them, when from the bushes on the shore three puffs of smoke shot out, and three of the Indians fell, one of them upsetting his boat in his fall. A yell of surprise and dismay broke from them, the guns were thrown down, the paddles grasped again, and the heads of the canoes turned from the shore. The Indians in the overturned boat did not wait to right it, but scrambled into the other canoes, and both were soon paddling at the top of their speed from the shore, not without further damage, for the guns in the bushes again spoke out, and Peter and the Seneca added their fire the instant they leaped from the boat to shore, and another of the Indians was seen to fall. Harold was too breathless when he reached the bank to be able to fire. He raised his gun, but his hands trembled with the exertion that he had undergone, and the beating of his heart and his short, panting breath rendered it impossible for him to take a steady aim. A minute later Jake burst his way through the bushes.