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CHAPTER II A PERILOUS RIDE
In order to a clear understanding of the situation it is necessary at this point to leave the provincial army for a little while and take a glance at what the French were doing.

They were by no means idle. While the British were preparing to attack Crown Point they were preparing to defend it, having first got warning of their purpose from the letters of the unfortunate Braddock found on the battlefield, which information was confirmed by the report of a reconnoitring party that had made its way as far as the Hudson, and returned with the news that Johnson's forces were already on the field.

The Marquis de Vandreuil, Governor of Canada, who on his part had been meditating an expedition for the capture of Oswego, and for this purpose had got together several battalions of regular soldiers under the command of Baron Dieskau, thereupon changed their destination from Lake Ontario to Lake Champlain.

Passing up the Richelieu River these troops embarked in boats and canoes for Crown Point. Their veteran leader knew that the foes with whom he had to deal were not disciplined soldiers, but simply a mob of countrymen, and he never doubted for a moment that he would put them to flight at the first meeting, and keep them going until he had chased them back to Albany. Such, too, was the pleasant conviction of the Marquis de Vandreuil, who wrote to him in this strain:

"Make all haste, for when you return we shall send you to Oswego to execute our first design."

And he had obeyed orders to such good purpose that while Johnson's force lay idle at Lake George he had reached Crown Point at the head of nearly four thousand men, regulars, Canadians, and Indians.

Dieskau had no thought of waiting to be attacked. His troops were commanded to hold themselves ready to move at a moment's notice. The officers were bidden to take nothing with them but one spare shirt, one spare pair of shoes, a blanket, a bearskin, and twelve days' provisions, while the Indians were strictly enjoined not to amuse themselves by taking scalps until the enemy was entirely defeated, since they could kill ten men in the time required to scalp one, a grim injunction that reveals like a lightning flash the barbarity of that border warfare when all the laws of humanity were ignored.

Early in the month of September a scouting party brought in an English prisoner caught near Fort Lyman. He was questioned under threat of being handed over to the Indians for torture if he did not tell the truth, but, nothing daunted, he endeavored to lure the French into a trap by telling them that the English army had fallen back to Albany, leaving only a few hundred men at Fort Lyman, which he said was a place to be easily taken.

Dieskau at once resolved on a rapid movement to seize the fort, and, leaving a part of his force at Ticonderoga, he embarked the rest in canoes, and hurried along through the narrow part of Lake Champlain, stretching southward through the wilderness.

Reaching the lower end of the lake they left their canoes under guard, and began their march through the dense forest toward Fort Lyman. They numbered fifteen hundred in all, and it was concerning their approach that the report had been brought in to the English camp, which Seth Allen was ready to carry to the endangered fort.

"You seem a likely lad," said Johnson when Seth was brought to him, "and will no doubt do as well as any one. You had better take a horse. You will run a better chance of getting through."

Seth was quite willing to make the venture afoot, but he was still better pleased to be mounted, and a little later he galloped away over the rough road on his perilous task with the important letter hidden in his bosom.

For the first time since coming to the camp he felt in good spirits, and he would have whistled to keep himself company had he not known better than to make any more noise than was absolutely necessary.

He fully realized the danger he was running. Capture by the French meant probable torture, and certain death, while the chances were that if perceived by the foe or their merciless allies he would be shot on sight as so many others had been before him.

But this knowledge in no wise clouded his brave young spirit. He was too glad at being allowed to undertake the perilous mission to be concerned about his safety, and with every faculty keen for hint or sign of danger he hastened along the stump-strewn road toward his destination.

A high rate of speed was not possible owing to the roughness of the road, but he made very good progress nevertheless, and one-half the fourteen miles of the way had been covered ere the still solitude through which he was passing gave token of other human life.

Then it was revealed in startling enough fashion, for as Seth rode along carefully through the stumps and roots which were ready to bring his steed to his knees, a shot rang out on his right, followed by a blood-curdling whoop, and a bullet whistled uncomfortably close to his head.

"Now for it!" he exclaimed, bending low over his horse's neck and driving in the spurs.

The willing creature responded with a bound that nearly unseated his rider and then sprang away at the top of his speed, soon leaving the Indian scout far behind.

If he were the only one to discover Seth it would be well enough, but that was hardly to be hoped for. The very fact of his presence implied the proximity of the French as Seth thoroughly understood, and at any moment others might show themselves.

On he rode, glancing anxiously to right and left, yet keeping a close watch on his horse. Again and again the animal stumbled over a root, but, thanks to Seth's skill in the saddle, did not go down, and the remaining distance to Fort Lyman was rapidly being decreased, when once more peril appeared in the path.

This time it was a small party of Canadians out on scouting duty, and they were right in the rider's road. He must either turn back, or go on to apparently certain capture.

For an instant Seth was at a loss which course to pursue. Then with that quickness of decision which was characteristic of him he determined upon a desperate expedient.

Reining in his horse he approached the Canadians at a walk as if he meant to surrender, whereby they were thrown off their guard. Counting upon an easy capture they dropped their guns which they had been holding in readiness to fire, and as Seth came up called out to him in jeering tones that he was their prisoner.

By way of response Seth, now within a few yards of them, clapped spurs to his horse, and drove him right into the centre of the little group.

This sudden and unexpected action took them completely by surprise. With oaths and angry exclamations they threw themselves out of the way of the horse, which ere they could recover and take aim with their guns, was many yards away galloping furiously along the road.

A scattering volley followed the fugitive, but not one of the leaden messengers touched him as he crouched over the horse's neck, and only one hit the animal, inflicting a slight wound in the hind quarter that simply served to quicken its speed.

For the rest of the way Seth did not spare his steed. Taking chances every minute of a fall that might mean the rendering of one or both of them helpless, he galloped on until at last the welcome sight of Fort Lyman gladdened his eyes, and presently he pulled up the panting creature which had borne him so well at the gate that was quickly opened to receive him.

Colonel Blanchard thanked him warmly for the warning message, and bade him stay at the fort until it would be safe for him to return to Lake George.

Immediately all possible preparations for defence were made at Fort Lyman, and full of anxiety its garrison awaited the expected attack.

But the days went by without bringing any sign of the enemy, and Seth again began to grow impatient. The confinement of the fort became irksome to his liberty-loving nature. He felt sure that there was plenty to be done at Lake George, and chafed at waiting in idleness inside the fort, where there was nothing to occupy the long hours.

Had the garrison known the reason for the non-appearance of the enemy they might not only have rested with easy minds, but might even have taken the field on their own account, as all danger of attack had passed for a time. The change of plan on the part of the French had been brought about in this way.

They had made their way through the forest until they were within three miles of Fort Lyman, and there as they halted for the night a dozen wagons came along the road from Lake George. They were in charge of mutinous drivers who had left the English camp without orders, little dreaming the punishment that waited their misconduct. Several of them were shot, two were captured, and the remainder escaped into the woods with the Indians at their heels.

The two captives on being questioned, told a very different story from the prisoner taken by the scouting party a few days previously. According to them, instead of the English having fallen back upon Albany, they were encamped in large force at Lake George.

When the Indians heard this they held a council and decided that they would not attack the fort which they thought well supplied with cannon, but they were quite willing to go against the camp at the lake.

All remonstrances went for nothing. They were not to be moved from their resolution, and Baron Dieskau had perforce to alter his plan of campaign. Now he was not only young but daring to rashness, and burning with eagerness to emulate the recent victory over Braddock. According to the reports the enemy greatly outnumbered him, but his Canadian advisers had assured him that the English colonial militia were the worst troops on the face of the earth.

"The more there are of them, the more we shall kill," he said with complacent confidence to his Canadian and Indian allies, and in the morning the order was given to leave Fort Lyman alone, and to march to the lake.

In the mean time Seth Allen, made desperate by delay, in spite of the efforts of his friends to restrain him, left the fort, and, by making a wide detour, succeeded in reaching the camp in safety, although almost every foot of the way thither had been fraught with perils.

Here he found the whole place astir, for an advance against the French was about to take place. Congratulating himself upon having arrived in time to take part in it Seth carefully examined his fighting gear, to make sure that everything was in readiness for active service.
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