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HOME > Short Stories > With Rogers on the Frontier > CHAPTER IV THE DEFEAT OF DIESKAU
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The men from Massachusetts showed no more sign of giving back before the enemy than had their brethren from the sister provinces. Loading and firing as quickly as their old-fashioned muskets allowed, they poured so deadly a fire into the French ranks that the latter could make no material advance, but were compelled to keep behind cover, and return the fire as best they might.

The conflict had continued in this fashion for nearly an hour with considerable loss of life on both sides, but without definite advantage, when Seth, becoming convinced that an officer in rich uniform, whom he could see at the centre of the French line, was their commander, determined to try if he could not shoot him down, as he reasoned that this would put them in a panic.

So, despite the protests of his companions, to whom alone he revealed his design, he crept through the barricade and began to crawl nearer the enemy. It was an extremely dangerous, not to say reckless proceeding, and those of his own party who observed it considered him as good as lost. Colonel Williams indeed shouted after him:

"Come back there, young man, you're going to your death!"

But, carried away by his great purpose, Seth paid no heed to the command. There was a big tree whose wide-spreading roots offered excellent cover about fifty yards ahead of him, and it was for this he was making, as if he reached it unharmed, he could thence get good aim at the officer he had in mind.

Lying flat on his stomach, he wriggled on slowly, yet steadily. It was as difficult work as it was dangerous, and demanded all his young strength. At any moment he might be perceived by an Iroquois or Canadian, who would make a quick dash forward and despatch him as he lay upon the ground. More than once a random bullet struck the turf uncomfortably near him.

Yet with grim determination he kept on, and at last, when nearly spent with the exertion, reached the roots of the big tree, and curled himself up there into the smallest possible space until his nerves should get steady.

Then with the utmost caution he peered out in quest of the officer.

"Good!" he exclaimed exultantly as he quickly withdrew his head. "He's there still, and I'll have him as sure as my name is Seth Allen."

Resting the gun upon the root and taking aim with the utmost care he pulled the trigger.

But just as he did so Baron Dieskau, for Seth had guessed rightly, made a sudden movement, and the bullet went by him harmlessly.

"Botheration!" growled Seth. "Why couldn't he keep still?" and he hastened to reload.

Warned by the whirr of the bullet, Dieskau stepped behind a tree and remained there for some time, while Seth, chagrined at the result of his first shot, impatiently awaited another chance.

It came a little later when the Baron, angered by the persistent disobedience to command of the Indians and Canadians, forgot his own safety and sprang out from cover to give an order to the regulars, who were fast falling into confusion under the well-directed fire of the English.

"Now then, sir," said Seth, as though he were speaking to his intended victim, "I'll have you this time," and he fired.

As the report rang out, Baron Dieskau staggered and fell to the ground, and Seth was for the moment tempted to spring to his feet and wave his cap triumphantly.

But he held himself in check, and again loaded his musket. The officer had fallen indeed, but he might not be killed, and another shot might be necessary to dispose of him. That this was the case presently became clear, for another officer came galloping to the aid of the wounded one, and Seth, moved by his unselfish devotion, forebore to fire.

But some of his companions were not so considerate, and while the adjutant was attending to the wound from Seth's bullet, the unfortunate commander was again hit in the knee and thigh.

The adjutant, who himself had been wounded, then called for the Canadians to carry Baron Dieskau to the rear, but on seeing this Seth exclaimed:

"Oh, no! You're not going to escape. You must be taken prisoner," and fired at one of the Canadians, bringing him to the ground, and causing the other to seek safety in flight.

The commander thereupon ordered the adjutant to leave him where he lay and to lead the regulars in a last effort against the English camp.

But it was now too late. Johnson's men, singly or in small squads, were already leaping over their barricade and falling upon their antagonists with their hatchets and the butts of their guns. The French and their allies alike fled before the fierce onslaught, and their sorely wounded yet dauntless commander was again shot before he fell into the hands of those who, realizing who he was, carried him off to Johnson, who had himself been wounded earlier in the day.

It was late in the afternoon when the final rout took place, and all through that night the shattered French force continued its flight through the forest, reaching their canoes the following day in a deplorable condition, for they had left their knapsacks behind, and were spent with fatigue and famine.

Great were the rejoicings in the English camp. The Colonials felt as proud of themselves as if they had already accomplished all that which they had set out to do, and their commander was so pleased that he was in no hurry to make a further move. He was content to hold his own position, which he proceeded to strengthen by making a solid breastwork around the camp and building a fort on a rising ground by the lake.

But this was just where he erred. He should have followed up his success with the utmost promptitude, and had he done so it is altogether probable that Ticonderoga, if not, indeed, Crown Point, could have been taken from the enemy.

The men from Massachusetts were eager to push on, and Seth, who had by no means got his fill of fighting, would not have hesitated to tell General Johnson in plain language what in his opinion ought to be done, but as the great man was confined to his tent by his wound, and could not even attend the councils of war that were held, leaving them to Colonel Lyman, who was second in command, he had to content himself by speaking out his mind in camp, which he did with decided frankness and force.

Then followed a miserable period of inaction that came near sickening Seth of the whole business. Although reinforcements arrived until by October there were some thirty-six hundred men in the camp, after various prolonged councils it was decided to be unwise to proceed against the French. Yet the little army lay more than a month longer at the lake, while the discontent and disgust of the men increased daily under the rains, frosts, and snows of a dreary November, until at last some of them, throwing off all discipline, went away in squads without any pretence of asking leave.

Seth's companion was one of these, and he strove hard to persuade the young fellow to join him. But Seth resolutely refused.

"No, I'll stay right here," he replied, with a touch of temper in his tone. "And you ought to do the same. We're not done with the French. If we don't go against them, they'll be sure to come back, and then there'll be need of us all."

"Oh! as for that," responded Wilcox, "they'll not be back before spring, and we can get here first easily enough, and be ready to meet them."

But Seth was not to be tempted. He let Wilcox and others go away, and when at last it was decided that the forts should be garrisoned by a certain number of men from each province, and that the rest of the army should be permitted to return to their homes, he promptly offered himself for garrison duty.

It would probably be dull, dreary work, but he preferred it to going back to what had once been his happy home, but now fraught with such harrowing associations, and so he settled down to the monotonous routine of helping to keep guard at the hastily built and by no means impregnable fort.

As the days dragged by almost without incident, Seth again grew restless, and set himself to consider how he might find some diversion. By this time winter had fully set in, and the basin of the lake was covered with ice. Seth was a strong and expert skater, and whiled away many an afternoon speeding over the glassy surface or working out figures upon it.

In this amusement several others of the little garrison joined him, and one in particular, Reuben Thayer, from Connecticut, made the exercise more interesting by rivalling Seth in feats of skill and speed.

These two quite outshone their companions, and this served as a bond of friendship between them, neither being at all jealous of the other's proficiency.

One bright, clear day, when the ice was in superb condition, a daring design flashed into Seth's mind, which he made haste to share with his friend.

"How would you like to take a good long skate, Reuben?" he asked in a significant tone, which caused the other to guess that the question had a purpose behind it.

Reuben gave him a searching glance as he replied:

"That depends. Which way were you thinking of going?"

Seth paused long enough before answering to give special emphasis to his words, although he took care to utter them in a tone of well-feigned carelessness.

"Oh, up north! There's nothing to see at this end of the lake."

A smile of intelligence broke over Reuben's homely countenance. The answer was just what he expected, and he was quite ready to share its spirit.

"How far north might you be thinking of going, Seth?" he inquired.

"Until it seems best to turn back, if we don't want to stay there for good," responded Seth, returning the smile of comprehension.

"Very good. I'm willing to go with you. Shall we ask any of the others to join us?"

"No, Reuben, I think we'd better not. If anything happens, we'll have only ourselves to think about, and none of the rest can skate alongside of us anyway."

In saying this Seth was not making a mere empty boast, for in truth both he and Reuben could easily distance anybody else in the garrison.

So the two friends made it up between them that they would vary the monotony of their lives by undertaking the perilous enterprise of a scout on skates in the direction of Crown Point.

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