“Peste! you are a woodsman indeed!”
“I believe that these woods are swarming with Iroquois, although we have had the good fortune to miss them. So great a chief as Brown Moose would not start on the path with a small following nor for a small object. They must mean mischief upon the Richelieu. You are not sorry now that you did not bring madame?”
“I thank God for it!”
“The woods will not be safe, I fear, until the partridge berries are out once more. You must stay at Sainte Marie until then, unless the seigneur can spare men to guard you.”
“I had rather stay there forever than expose my wife to such devils.”
“Ay, devils they are, if ever devils walked upon earth. You winced, monsieur, when I took Brown Moose’s scalp, but when you have seen as much of the Indians as I have done your heart will be as hardened as mine. And now we are on the very borders of the clearing, and the blockhouse lies yonder among the clump of maples. They do not keep very good watch, for I have been expecting during these last ten minutes to hear the qui vive. You did not come as near to Sainte Marie unchallenged, and yet De Lannes is as old a soldier as La Noue. We can scarce see now, but yonder, near the river, is where he exercises his men.”
“He does so now,” said Amos. “I see a dozen of them drawn up in a line at their drill.”
“No sentinels, and all the men at drill!” cried Du Lhut in contempt. “It is as you say, however, for I can see them myself with their ranks open, and each as stiff and straight as a pine stump. One would think to see them stand so still that there was not an Indian nearer than Orange. We shall go across to them, and by Saint Anne, I shall tell their commander what I think of his arrangements.”
Du Lhut advanced from the bushes as he spoke, and the four men crossed the open ground in the direction of the line of men who waited silently for them in the dim twilight. They were within fifty paces, and yet none of them had raised hand or voice to challenge their approach. There was something uncanny in the silence, and a change came over Du Lhut’s face as he peered in front of him. He craned his head round and looked up the river.
“My God!” he screamed. “Look at the fort!” They had cleared the clump of trees, and the outline of the blockhouse should have shown up in front of them. There was no sign of it. It was gone!
THE MEN OF BLOOD.
So unexpected was the blow that even De Lhut, hardened from his childhood to every shock and danger, stood shaken and dismayed. Then, with an oath, he ran at the top of his speed towards the line of figures, his companions following at his heels.