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CHAPTER XXII AT CLOSE GRIPS WITH DEATH
Major Rogers' force on this occasion was the largest he had thus far commanded, comprising as it did a big body of Connecticut men, and a small detachment of regulars, chiefly light infantry, bringing the total up to seven hundred in all.

They marched through the forest to where Whitehall now stands, and thence made their way up Wood Creek to old Fort Anne, long abandoned and falling into decay. Here in the already overgrown clearing that surrounded the ruin they encamped.

Up to this time Rogers had observed his usual caution, commanding silence on the march, and forbidding fires at night, but having discovered no signs of the enemy, and led into over-confidence, perhaps, by the unusual strength of his party, he was rash enough to accept a wager with one of the officers of the light infantry as to which was the best marksman, and the following morning was set for the trial of skill.

When Seth learned of this he was much troubled, for although he had not come upon any trace of the enemy, he somehow had a conviction that they were not far away, and he ventured to suggest to his chief that it might not be wise to have musket firing until the neighborhood had been more thoroughly examined.

But the Major took his remonstrance amiss.

"When I wish your advice I will ask you for it, young man," he said, with an asperity of tone that made Seth's countenance redden. "I am quite sure there are no French or Indians within cannon sound of us, so you need give yourself no concern about what I propose to do."

Seth knew that it was vain to argue the matter, and said no more, although the foreboding of approaching disaster grew stronger through the night.

Soon after daylight the shooting match took place, and Major Rogers proved an easy victor, but the triumph, which evidently gave him great satisfaction, was obtained at a fearful cost, for the sound of the shots reached the ears of a large band of French and Indians under command of the famous partisan Marin, who at once took steps to reconnoitre and ambuscade his reckless enemy.

All around the old fort the forest had formerly been cut down and burned, but during the long years of neglect the opening thus made became overgrown with bushes and saplings so densely as to be impassable save where a narrow Indian path traversed it.

Along this path Major Rogers and his men were forced to march in single file, and so soon as the shooting contest was settled they slung their packs and set out.

The Connecticut men were in the lead, then came the regulars, and the Rangers brought up the rear.

Never in his life before had Seth felt so depressed in spirits, although he could in no wise account to himself for it.

"I'm sure there's trouble coming," he said to the Ranger who walked next him. "I do wish they hadn't been firing at the mark. The sound of their guns will go far this still morning."

The words had hardly left his lips when the noise of rapid firing came over the tops of the bushes, and he exclaimed excitedly:

"I knew it! I knew it! The French have ambushed us. Quick now to the front!"

And he dashed off through the brushwood, followed by his men. They had, of course, great difficulty in making their way, although the yells of Indians mingling with the reports of the muskets made clear to them that Seth's surmise as to what had taken place was correct, and they were wild to get to the assistance of their imperilled comrades.

What had happened was this: When the head of the line emerged from the tangled shrubbery, and was about to enter the forest there broke forth a horrid chorus of savage yells, and suddenly the place became alive with Indians.

One of them, a huge Caughnawaga chief, with uplifted hatchet sprang at the foremost of the English, who threw up his gun, and pulled trigger. But unhappily it missed fire, and the next moment he fell with cloven skull.

Then the firing began. The French and the Indians, lying across the path in a semicircle, had the double advantage of surprise and of position, and the Connecticut men at first fell back among the bushes in disorder, but presently rallied, and held their opponents in check until the regulars and Rangers could force their way through the thickets to their support.

So dense was the brushwood that it was only after much loss of time and with great difficulty that the English were able to assume some kind of order in front of the enemy, and even then each man was forced to fight for himself as best he could.

The fulfilment of his foreboding cast no spell over Seth's courage. He plunged into the conflict as though he bore a charmed life, and many an Indian fell at the crack of his gun.

Yet with the wisdom of the true woodsman he did not expose himself unnecessarily, but took advantage to the utmost of such cover as their position afforded.

The fusillade continued for nearly two hours with heavy loss on both sides, but without the combatants coming to close quarters, as the French evidently feared a hand-to-hand struggle, and the English leaders, having no idea of the actual strength of their assailants, did not deem it prudent to attempt to charge upon them.

The fierce and bloody conflict was at its height when Seth, moving forward to get a better position for shooting, suddenly found himself face to face with three Indians, who had crept upon him through the underbrush.

His gun was empty, and he had no time to reload it, but he felled one of the savages with the butt, and was about to treat another in the same fashion when the third sprang at him and tripping him cleverly, flung him heavily to the ground, where both threw themselves on him, and pinned him fast.

They were powerful braves, and, although Seth struggled frantically to free himself, they soon had his hands bound with thongs which hurt cruelly, and rendered him helpless.

Then, each seizing an arm, they rushed him to the rear of their own line, where they lashed him to a tree so that he could not move a limb.

All this time Seth had not spoken. He knew how vain was ............
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