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CHAPTER VI ONE OF ROGERS' RANGERS
The approach of darkness stirred the Canadians to even greater efforts than they had hitherto put forth, and after a furious spurt, which perceptibly decreased the distance between them and the fugitives, they halted for a moment to send a volley after them.

Their intentions were of the best from their point of view, but happily they might as well have saved their ammunition, for what with being all out of breath themselves and consequently unable to take steady aim, while their moving targets called for no ordinary markmanship, the bullets went "zip, zip!" harmlessly past the New Englanders, ricochetting over the ice as if they were going on indefinitely.

Seth laughed at the vain attempt to put a stop to their flight.

"It would take better shots than they have in the French army to hit us at this distance," he said, "and those fellows aren't going to have another chance either, for we'll get out of their sight right away. Come along, Reuben, we'll take to the woods."

For some time they had been working toward shore, and now they were so near that a few more swift strokes served to bring them to land at a spot where the trees came close to the lake side.

"Here we are!" cried Seth in a tone of manifest relief. "Off with your skates now, Reuben;" and he hastily unbuckled his own.

"Right glad I am to take them off," said Reuben emphatically, "for I'm dead tired of them."

"They've been our best friends notwithstanding," responded Seth, "and we'll need them again before we get back to the fort."

Then, skates off, they dived into the thick forest, where the shadows were already deepening, and with relief beyond expression realized that they were safe from further pursuit.

The Canadians gave them a parting volley as they disappeared, and Seth, turning round, waved his cap at them derisively.

"Fooled this time!" he cried. "Try again!" And Reuben, whose spirits were restored by the passing away of immediate danger, laughed heartily at his impudence.

They had landed on the west side of the lake, and so long as there was sufficient light left for them to pick their steps with any safety, they kept on southward.

At last, however, the darkness grew too dense, and they too weary to go any farther, so they lay down to rest for the night, rejoicing at their escape, although every bone and muscle ached with fatigue.

They were not disturbed in their slumbers, and, quite refreshed by them, set off at dawn, keeping to the woods for a time, but afterward returning to the ice where they judged they were safe.

The rest of the return journey to the fort was free from excitement, and they had a hearty reception from their comrades, who were in considerable doubt as to whether they should ever see them again.

The commander was greatly pleased at their exploit and at the information they brought back concerning what the French were doing at Ticonderoga.

"They are no doubt going to make a very strong place of it, and the longer they are left undisturbed the harder it will be to take it," he said. "I must send word to General Johnson and urge him to make an attack if possible before the winter is over."

Seth's countenance lighted up at these words. From what he had seen, he had no doubt that with a moderately strong force the new stronghold could be captured with all its garrison, and he keenly relished the prospect of having a share in the enterprise.

But nothing was done after all, and the days dragged by as dully as before, until there appeared upon the scene one morning a man with whom Seth was henceforth to be very closely associated, and through whom he was to find the fullest outlet for his adventurous spirit.

This was Robert Rogers, of New Hampshire, one of the most remarkable and picturesque personalities of his time, who rendered splendid service to the English in his own romantic way.

His career had been a strange one. His boyhood was spent amid the rough surroundings of a frontier village. Growing to manhood, he engaged in some occupation which led him to frequent journeyings in the wilderness between the French and English settlements, and these gave him a good knowledge of both. It also taught him to speak French. Just what the mysterious business was is not precisely known, but in all probability it was a smuggling trade with Canada, the dangers and profits of which alike attracted his daring spirit.

For some time previous to his appearance at Fort William Henry he had been actively employed on a series of excursions into the enemy's territory, which he had conducted with such extraordinary skill and uniform success as to earn for himself a great reputation, and Rogers' Rangers, as his men, chiefly New Hampshire borderers, were called, had come to be more feared by the French than any other part of the provincial force.

Seth had heard so much about him that he had become a veritable hero in his mind, and he had quite determined at the first opportunity to offer himself as a recruit to his company.

His joy may be readily imagined, therefore, when the dull routine of the day was broken in upon by the unexpected approach of a band of men whose whole appearance was so striking that he at once realized that they were no other than the famous Rogers' Rangers.

"Look, Reuben!" he cried to his friend as they stood together on the rude ramparts, whence they had been somewhat disconsolately gazing toward the lake, and wishing that some French or Indians would come into sight by way of variety. "See what's coming; I am sure that's Rogers and his Rangers. How glad I am! I've been waiting to see them this long time!"

The party comprised not more than fifty. They wore a curious sort of woodland uniform appropriate to their methods of operation, and their well-tanned countenances showed plainly enough how much of their life was spent away from the shelter of a roof.

"Fine-looking fellows, aren't they?" Seth exclaimed admiringly, as the newcomers passed through the gate of the fort with quick, steady step, and then came to a halt before the commander, while their leader stepped forward to pay his respects and present his communication.

Major Rogers certainly was a man who could not fail to command attention in any company. In figure he was tall and well knit, every movement manifesting strength and agile ease. With the exception of his nose, which, as is often the case in people of particularly vigorous character, was disproportionately big, his features were good, and he had a clear, bold eye, that expressed his daring spirit, while it took in everything within the range of vision.

Ambitious and determined, by no means uneducated, and so skilled in wood-craft as to be a match for the subtlest Indian, he possessed every qualification for the especially perilous but important work he had entered into so heartily, and there was not a part of the provincial force which could have been less easily done without than his battalion of Rangers.

Great was the satisfaction at Fort William when Major Rogers announced that he had come by the orders of General Johnson to take up his quarters there for the present and to devote, himself to the task of keeping as close a watch as possible upon the operations of the enemy at Ticonderoga and Crown Point.

From Commander Glasier down every member of the garrison did his best to show his hospitality, and they indulged in a general carouse that night which would have given the French a fine opportunity to storm the fort if they had only been aware of the condition of their foes.

Seth lost no time in making up to Major Rogers. It was not his way to let the grass grow under his feet, and accordingly the first chance he saw of a word with the great man alone he seized the opportunity.

Now it happened that the occasion was not an altogether propitious one, because the major, having drunk rather deeply the previous night, and told stories, and sung songs until the small hours, as a natural consequence felt somewhat out of sorts—in fact, like a bear with a sore head.

Consequently when Seth, approaching him, said in a modest enough tone:

"I am Seth Allen from Massachusetts, sir, and I would like to speak with you for a few moments."

The Major, fixing upon him his penetrating glance, and seeing what a mere youth he was despite his stalwart frame, replied gruffly:

"Well, young man, and what do you want of me?"

The manifest ill-humor of the tone brought the color to Seth's cheeks; but he was not to be checked by it, and he came at once to the point by responding:

"I want to join your Rangers, sir."

The famous scout looked him over from head to foot and then broke into a laugh that was so clearly contemptuous as to make Seth thrill with indignation, although he strove not to show it in his countenance.

"You want to join my Rangers, eh? And what good would such a youngster as you be to me? I want only men who can stand anything and are not afraid of anything."

Seth was too eager to gain his end to allow his temper to stand in his way, and so keeping himself under control he asked quietly:

"May I tell you what I did last month?"

There was something so firm yet respectful in his tone and prepossessing in his appearance that the Major began to relent a little, and to feel that he was hardly giving the young fellow fair treatment, so in a much milder way he answered:

"Very well, I'll listen. Come over here and we'll sit down," and he led the way to a sheltered corner of the fort.

When they were seated, Seth told about his scouting expedition with Reuben and what they had observed, and then, encouraged by the attention with which his narration was received, went on to express his own views as to what might be done if only the provincial authorities would act quickly and not wait until the French had made their position so strong that it would be out of the question to overcome them.

As he talked in his simple, frank way, Rogers was studying intently not only his face but his form, and from the different expression which gradually stole over his strong, stern features, it might be judged that he was being moved to change his mind concerning the speaker.

He listened in silence save for an occasional sharp query that went to the mark like a well-aimed arrow, and when Seth had finished seemed to be lost in reflection for so long a space that Seth began to get apprehensive as to the result of the interview.

At length, fixing his piercing eyes upon the New Englander, he asked him in a voice so deep that it sounded hardly human:

"Is everything you have just told me the simple truth, or have you made up some of it?"

The flush deepened upon Seth's cheek and mounted to the roots of his hair. For one whose nature was so perfectly straightforward to be suspected of falsehood could not fail to hurt, and it made him wince; but he did his best to hide the fact, yet his tone was not altogether free from a touch of feeling as he replied:

"The simple truth, sir. I have made up nothing."

truth

"THE SIMPLE TRUTH, SIR! I HAVE MADE UP NOTHING."

"Then, young man, you'll do!" exclaimed Rogers, with a sudden energy that made him start. "You're just what I want for my Rangers." And so saying, he gave him a heavy clap on the back with his big hand by way of emphasizing his decision.

"Oh, I'm so glad!" cried Seth, springing to his feet, and fairly dancing in his delight. "I'm sick to death of poking about this fort doing nothing."

"Well, I reckon you won't have much chance to complain of that while you work for me," said Rogers dryly, and thus the matter was settled.

Seth's outfit of weapons was so complete that it needed no additions, and his dress required but little alteration to make it sufficiently similar to that of the Rangers.

His reception by his new associates was not unanimously cordial. Some of the older ones rather resented his being so young, and did not hesitate to find fault with the Major's judgment; but other were more kindly disposed, and made Seth welcome in their own hearty fashion.

The coming of the Rangers and the thrilling stories they had to tell of their perilous experiences proved a great boon to the garrison, and they were in no hurry to have them set off again. They were consequently well pleased when it was decided that the Rangers should make Fort William Henry their headquarters for the present.

No sooner had he been made a Ranger than Seth began to long for an outing with them, but it was not until the middle of January that the opportunity came.

Then to his joy Major Rogers selected him as one of a party of seventeen to reconnoitre the French forts.

They set out on skates, and made such good speed that ere night fell they had reached the part of the lake where it narrows greatly before joining its waters with those of Lake Champlain.

Here they halted for some hours in order to rest and eat, and then, in spite of the darkness, which troubled them little, for they seemed to be able to find their way through it without difficulty, they made a detour around Fort Ticonderoga, and went into ambush by the forest road connecting it with Crown Point.

Here with guns ready for instant use they waited to see what might pass along the road.
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