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CHAPTER XXI AN EASY TRIUMPH
Had the neighborhood of Fort Duquesne been overrun with scouts as was that of Ticonderoga, the presence of Seth's party could hardly have remained unknown, but there was not at all the same vigilance exercised, and consequently the venturesome intruders upon hostile ground were able to make their way unchallenged to an eminence afterward called Grant's Hill, where, well hidden by trees and bushes, they could look right down upon the fort.

Now the Indians had been reporting to the English commander that the French were very strong, in fact that their numbers quite equalled if they did not surpass his, but after Seth had scrutinized the place he exclaimed:

"Those rascally Indians have been lying, as usual. The French are nothing like as strong as we are. If our men were only here now we could take the fort easily. What a pity they're not! And at the rate they're getting ahead they won't be here for months. If only Colonel Washington had his way things would be different. But it's the old story. I'm sick of the slow way they have of doing things."

He had good reason to feel impatient. The work of road-making through the dense forest was exceedingly heavy and tedious. Over the main range of the Alleganies, hewing, digging, blasting, laying fascines and gabions to support the track along the sides of steep declivities, or worming their way like moles through the jungle of swamp and forest, the soldiers toiled at their tremendous task while the weeks went by, whereas if the Braddock route had been followed their progress would have been comparatively rapid.

Not satisfied with having got a very good idea of the French fortress and of the strength of its garrison, Seth had it in mind to take back with him a prisoner or two, as Major Rogers was wont to do whenever possible, and so, instead of setting out at once on the return journey, he moved from the hill and lay in ambush by the road leading northward from the fort.

"We mustn't be in a hurry to let our presence be known," he told his men. "If the French get the alarm we may be cut off and captured. So we'll keep as quiet as possible until we see a good chance of taking a prisoner."

They had not long to wait, for that same afternoon appeared a small party of soldiers sent out by the Commandant de Leignerie to see if there were any signs of the approach of the reinforcements and provisions which he expected from Canada, and which were now overdue.

They were in a gay mood, joking and laughing with each other, being evidently well pleased at getting away from the confinement of the fort for a little outing.

"Let them go on a bit," whispered Seth to his men waiting for the signal to rush upon the unsuspecting soldiers. "The farther they are from the fort the better. We'll follow them close."

Not until they had gone another mile was the command given, and then the Rangers dashed out of the woods upon the startled Frenchmen with such suddenness that they had not time to lift their guns to their shoulders, and were easily made prisoners, with one exception.

This was the officer in charge of them, a stalwart youth with a sinister countenance, who whipped out his sword at the first alarm, and made a slash at Seth that would have cleft his skull, had he not cleverly parried it with the barrel of his musket.

Before the Frenchman could recover himself for another stroke Seth drove the muzzle of his musket into his ribs, knocking the wind out of him so that he went down in a heap on the road, groaning with pain.

If Seth's object had been to kill, the whole party might have been despatched without difficulty, but it was not in his heart to take their lives when they were at his mercy. Even the officer who had come pretty near putting an end to him he had no thought of doing away with.

Yet now that he had the prisoners he was in a considerable quandary as to their disposition, for they were too many to take them all back with him, while if he set some of them free they would of course make all haste back to the fort and rouse the garrison to pursuit.

After puzzling over the problem for some minutes he saw no other way out of the difficulty than to adopt the expedient of releasing all but two of the soldiers, on their taking oath not to return to the fort for twenty-four hours, which would allow the Rangers ample time to get beyond all possibility of pursuit.

The two prisoners he retained were the officer and one of the soldiers, with whom he now hastened back, feeling, as he well might, well satisfied with the success of his enterprise.

The officer proved sulkily silent, and no information could be extracted from him, but the soldier made amends by being very communicative, and freely answering Seth's questions, whereby it was made clear that Fort Duquesne would prove an easy conquest if the attack upon it could only be made promptly.

When Colonel Washington heard this, he was all the more put out that his advice in regard to the route had not been adopted.

"It is really too bad," he said, his troubled countenance showing how deep was his concern, "that Brigadier Forbes should have been persuaded to take the longest way to the fort. But it is too late now to change the plan. We must only carry it out as best we can. I am sure that when he hears your report he will feel bound to admit that my counsel should have been followed."

Seth had by this time come to have such an admiration for Washington that he was ready to accept unquestioningly any opinion he might hold, and it made him quite wrathy to think that the views of so able a leader should not prevail.

He showed this spirit so plainly in presenting his report as to bring upon himself a sharp rebuke from the commander-in-chief, who, being a somewhat testy Scotchman with a good opinion of himself, did not take kindly to having his wisdom questioned by a mere youth.

"You presume too much, young sir," he said, in a tone of manifest irritation. "Your business is simply to give an accurate report of what you had ascertained. You have nothing to do with what we may see fit to determine upon."

Seth flushed deeply, and was tempted to retort that when what he had learned went to show so plainly that no time should be lost he felt bound to say so, but his better sense prevailed, and he accepted the reproof in silence.

Thenceforward the tedious work of piercing the wilderness went steadily on, but it was well into November ere the English force had got near enough to Fort Duquesne to prepare for striking the first blow.

Washington had opened the way by cutting a road to within a day's march of the fort, and in order that the advance might be as rapid as possible, no artill............
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