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HOME > Short Stories > With Rogers on the Frontier > CHAPTER III BULLETS AND BAYONETS
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By the wagoners who had managed to escape the fate which befell their companions Johnson had been warned of the proximity of the French war party, but he somehow formed a very wrong conception of its strength.

Instead of preparing to meet them with his full force his first plan was to send out two detachments of five hundred men each, one going toward Fort Lyman, and the other toward South Bay, with the object of catching the enemy in their retreat.

But Hendrick, the brave and sagacious chief of the Mohawks, expressed his dissent after the dramatic fashion of his race. Picking up a single stick he broke it easily with his hands. Then picking up several, he put them together and showed that they could not be broken thus.

Johnson was shrewd enough to take the hint, and directed that the two detachments be joined in one. Still the old savage shook his head.

"If they are to be killed," said he, "they are too many. If they are to fight, they are too few."

But the commander would make no further change, and the Indian not only ceased his objections, but mounted on a gun carriage and harangued his warriors, exhorting them to fight bravely for their friends, and to show no mercy to their enemies.

The morning was still young when the thousand men, under the command of Ephraim Williams and Colonel Whiting, marched off from the camp in quest of the French, their orders being to intercept their supposed retreat, and if possible find and destroy their canoes.

Seth Allen was with the vanguard, his pulse beating rapidly, and every nerve a-quiver, for he felt it in his bones that there would be plenty of fighting before the day ended.

"I hope the French will wait for us," he said to Elisha Halley, by whom he was walking. "Maybe if they get warning of our advance they will go back to their canoes and we have nothing to follow them with on the water."

Elisha smiled contemptuously as he replied:

"It all depends upon how many they are and what they know about our strength. If they think they outnumber us they will not fail to wait for us, but if we outnumber them they will retreat fast enough. Nevertheless I think we ought to go forward carefully. They might be lying in ambush somewhere ahead."

The Colonials certainly showed a lack of common sense and utter ignorance of strategy in their advance against the enemy, for no scouts were thrown out in front or flank. They pushed on in full security until the sharp eye of old Hendrick detected a sign of danger.

He at once gave warning, but it was too late. The dense thickets on the left suddenly blazed out a deadly fire, and the English fell by scores. The head of the column, as Dieskau afterward boasted, "was doubled up like a pack of cards." The old Mohawk chief's horse, on which he rode because he was so old and fat, was shot under him, and he himself killed with a bayonet as he tried to gain his feet.

Seth had a wonderful escape. The bullets whistled past him on either side, but left him untouched, and he returned the fire with his own gun as best he could in the midst of the fearful confusion.

Although it was his first experience of battle he felt no qualm of fear. On the contrary, all his nervousness vanished, and thinking only how he might fight to the best advantage, he loaded and fired as rapidly as possible.

Presently the voice of Ephraim Williams was heard calling upon his men to follow him to a piece of rising ground on the right, and Seth obeyed the command.

"We must rally, men, or we will all be destroyed." Williams cried as he led them up the slope.

But he had not reached half-way when there came a volley from the bushes that laid him dead. And it was followed close by a hot fire poured in on the right flank.

Then there was a panic. Many fled outright. The whole column recoiled and began to retreat. Its van became the rear, and all the force of the enemy rushed upon it, shouting and screeching.

Seth found himself entangled in a mob of terrified men who had no other thought than to get out of reach of the deadly fire of their assailants; and, although his spirit rebelled against this ignominious flight, he had no alternative than to take part in it.

Happily after a brief interval of confusion Colonel Whiting succeeded in rallying a part of Williams' regiment; and they, adopting Indian tactics, fighting behind trees, and firing and falling back by turns, were able with the aid of the Mohawks to cover the retreat.

"A very handsome retreat they made," was the testimony of Colonel Pomeroy, "and so continued until they came within about three-quarters of a mile of our camp. This was the last fire our men gave our enemies which killed great numbers of them; and they were seen to drop as pigeons."

In the alternate fighting and falling back Seth took his full share, using the tree trunks for cover as cleverly as any of the Indians, and firing and reloading his musket with all possible speed, yet aiming carefully so that his bullets might not be wasted.

The lust of battle had full possession of him. He utterly forgot himself in the deadly business of the moment, and without a quiver of nerve saw white men and red falling beside him and in front of him mortally smitten.

Again and again the leaden messengers of death passed perilously close to him, but he remained unscathed. As the fierce conflict began to slacken somewhat he observed a Colonial, who had not been quick enough in retreat, stumble and fall headlong, and the next instant a stalwart Indian, hideous with war paint, sprang out from the enemy's line and dashed toward the man tomahawk in hand.

Seth had just fired and there was no time to reload. If he would save his helpless countryman it must be by exposing himself to a like fate. Yet he did not hesitate.

Holding his heavy gun in readiness to use as a club, he sprang from behind the tree-trunk which had sheltered him and rushed into the zone of fire.

His action was redeemed from utter recklessness by the heroic impulse which inspired it, and to the credit of the French be it said that they forebore to fire upon him, leaving it to the Indian to deal with him first, and then accomplish what he had set out to do.

The Iroquois, when he saw the youth coming at him, gave a grunt of contempt and raised his tomahawk menacingly. But Seth kept right on until he had got within striking distance, when whirling his gun around his head he aimed a terrible blow at his opponent.

The latter sprang aside to evade it, and as he did so his foot caught in a hidden root and he fell forward on his knees. Ere he could recover himself the butt of Seth's musket took him in the back of the head, and over he went like a log, the tomahawk flying from his nerveless grasp.

While this was happening, the fallen colonial had got to his feet again and was looking about in a bewildered way, having lost his bearings and not knowing in which direction to continue the flight interrupted by his fall.

"Here, come with me," cried Seth, grasping his arm. "Bend as low as you can and run for your life."

The fellow obeyed instantly and the two of them made all haste back to their own lines, followed by a volley from the enemy which happily, however, did neither of them any harm.

Seth's gallant feat won the admiration of all who beheld it, and the profound gratitude of the man to whom he had rendered such timely succor, and who proved to be from his own province.

When Dieskau saw that the English had really rallied, and were returning the fire of his men with deadly effect, he ordered a halt and had the trumpet sounded to collect his scattered men, with the purpose of pressing forward in good order so as to make the most of the advantage already gained.

Had he been able to do so he could hardly have failed to gain a complete victory over Johnson, but fortunately for the latter, the Iroquois, who had lost many of their braves, became sullen and unmanageable, and the French Canadians, whose veteran leader, Legardeur de St. Pierre, had been killed, showed signs of wavering, and it was not until after considerable delay that the advance was made with the regulars leading the way.

Meantime in Johnson's camp there had been great anxiety and no little confusion. About an hour after Williams had marched out with his thousand men the sound of heavy firing was heard in the distance, and as it grew nearer and louder those in the camp realized that their comrades, instead of pursuing a flying foe, were themselves in retreat.

Johnson at once set about preparations for defence which should have been made long before. A barricade constructed of wagons, inverted bateaux, and tree trunks was hurriedly made along the front of the camp, and three cannons were planted so as to sweep the road, while a fourth was dragged up to the ridge of the hill.

In the midst of this confusion the defeated party began to come in. First, scared fugitives, both white and red; then gangs of men bringing the wounded, and finally the main body marching in good order down the road. Among these was Seth, very much out of humor at having to turn his back on the enemy, and hoping in his heart that they would have the courage to attack the camp.

"If we hadn't been such fools as to walk right into the trap they laid for us," he said to the man he had rescued as they marched together, "we'd not be running from them now, but they'd be running from us, and thinking only how far it was to Crown Point."

"You're just right," emphatically responded the other, whose name was John Wilcox. "There ought to have been scouts ahead of us to give us warning. I don't know what our colonel was thinking about when he let us go on like that, as if there were no French within twenty miles of us."

But of course it is always easy to be wise after the event, and now that the blunder had been committed, and had cost so dearly, it only remained to make the best of what was certainly a very serious situation.

Accordingly five hundred men were detailed to guard the flanks of the camp, while the remainder took up their position behind the wagons, or lay flat behind the logs and upturned bateaux, the Massachusetts men being on the right and the Connecticut men on the left. Not counting the Indians the actual fighting force numbered about seventeen hundred, the majority of them being rustics, who had never been under fire until that morning.

They were hardly settled at their posts when Seth's keen eyes caught the flash of bayonets through the boughs, and a minute later the white-coated regulars of France came into view, marching steadily down the road in serried array. At the same time a terrific burst of war-whoops rose on either side of them, and in the words of Pomeroy to his wife, "the Canadians and Indians helter-skelter, the woods full of them, came running with undaunted courage right clown the hill upon us, expecting to make us flee."

But in this they were greatly mistaken, for although some of the Colonials grew uneasy, their officers, sword in hand, threatened instant death to any who should attempt to leave their posts, and not one of them made a move.

Seth could not help admiring the steadiness shown by the regulars in their advance. Dieskau certainly had them well in hand, but the rest of his force, both red and white, scattered through the woods shouting, whooping, and firing from behind trees.

Well was it indeed for the English that their opponents as a whole did not display the same good discipline as the French, for had they done so the result would have been disastrous; but when only the regulars obeyed orders their attack lost much of its force and gave Captain Eyre, who commanded the artillery, a chance to open upon them with grape, which he did so effectually as to break up their orderly array and compel them to take to cover.

The firing on both sides now became general, and soon waxed so furious that to quote again Pomeroy's graphic words, "The hail stones from heaven were never much thicker than the bullets," yet, as he proudly added, "Blessed be God, that did not in the least daunt or disturb us."

Seth's position was on the right flank, and as Dieskau first directed his attack against the left and centre, he was for a time simply a spectator of the struggle.

But when the commander of the French found he was being so stoutly withstood, he turned his attention to the right and tried to force it.

"Ah, ha!" exclaimed Seth in a tone of satisfaction, "it is our turn now. We will give them all they want."


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