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Rolf in the Woods(Chapter67)

2006-09-08 19:58

  CHAPTER LXVII Sackett's Harbour

  It was hours before Rolf was sure that he had stopped the pursuit, and the thing that finally set his mind at rest was the rising wind that soon was a raging and drifting snow storm. "Oh, blessed storm!" he said in his heart, as he marked all trail disappear within a few seconds of its being made. And he thought: "How I cursed the wind that held me back —— really from being made prisoner. How vexed I was at that ducking in the river, that really saved my despatches from the enemy. How thankful I am now for the storm that a little while back seemed so bitterly cruel."

  That forenoon they struck the big bend of the river and now did not hesitate to use the easy travel on the ice as far as Rensselaer Falls, where, having got their bearings from a settler, they struck across the country through the storm, and at night were encamped some forty miles from Ogdensburg.

  Marvellously few signs of game had they seen in this hard trip; everything that could hide away was avoiding the weather. But in a cedar bottom land near Cranberry Lake they found a "yard" that seemed to be the winter home of hundreds of deer. It extended two or three miles one way a half a mile the other; in spite of the deep snow this was nearly all in beaten paths. The scouts saw at least fifty deer in going through, so, of course, had no difficulty in selecting a young buck for table use.

  The going from there on was of little interest. It was the same old daily battle with the frost, but less rigorous than before, for now the cold winds were behind, and on the 27th of February, nine days after leaving, they trotted into Ticonderoga and reported at the commandant's headquarters.

  The general was still digging entrenchments and threatening to annihilate all Canada. But the contents of the despatches gave him new topics for thought and speech. The part he must play in the proposed descent on Montreal was flattering, but it made the Ticonderoga entrenchments ridiculous.

  For three days Rolf was kept cutting wood, then he went with despatches to Albany.

  Many minor labours, from hog-killing to stable-cleaning and trenching, varied the month of March. Then came the uncertain time of April when it was neither canoeing nor snow-shoeing and all communication from the north was cut off.

  But May, great, glorious May came on, with its inspiring airs and livening influence. Canoes were afloat, the woods were brown beneath and gold above.

  Rolf felt like a young stag in his strength. He was spoiling for a run and volunteered eagerly to carry despatches to Sackett's Harbour. He would go alone, for now one blanket was sufficient bed, and a couple of pounds of dry meat was enough food for each day. A small hatchet would be useful, but his rifle seemed too heavy to carry; as he halted in doubt, a junior officer offered him a pistol instead, and he gladly stuck it in his belt.

  Taller than ever, considerably over six feet now, somewhat lanky, but supple of joint and square of shoulder, he strode with the easy stride of a strong traveller. His colour was up, his blue-gray eyes ablaze as he took the long trail in a crow line across country for Sackett's Harbour. The sentry saluted, and the officer of the day, struck by his figure and his glowing face as much as by the nature of his errand, stopped to shake hands and say, "Well, good luck, Kittering, and may you bring us better news than the last two times."

  Rolf knew how to travel now; he began softly. At a long, easy stride he went for half an hour, then at a swinging trot for a mile or two. Five miles an hour he could make, but there was one great obstacle to speed at this season —— every stream was at flood, all were difficult to cross. The brooks he could wade or sometimes could fell a tree across them, but the rivers were too wide to bridge, too cold and dangerous to swim. In nearly every case he had to make a raft. A good scout takes no chances. A slight raft means a risky passage; a good one, a safe crossing but loss of time in preparations. Fifteen good rafts did Rolf make in that cross-country journey of three days: dry spruce logs he found each time and bound them together with leather-wood and withes of willow. It meant a delay of at least an hour each time; that is five hours each day. But the time was wisely spent. The days were lengthening; he could travel much at dusk. Soon he was among settlements. Rumours he got at a settler's cabin of Sir George Prevost's attack on Sackett's Harbour and the gallant repulse and at morning of the fourth day he came on the hill above Sackett's Harbour —— the same hill where he had stood three months before. It was with something like a clutching of his breath that he gazed; his past experiences suggested dreadful thoughts but no —— thank God, "Old Glory" floated from the pole. He identified himself to the sentinels and the guard, entered the fort at a trot, and reported at headquarters.

  There was joy on every side. At last the tide had turned. Commodore Chauncey, after sweeping Lake Ontario, had made a sudden descent on York (Toronto now) the capital of Upper Canada, had seized and destroyed it. Sir George Prevost, taking advantage of Chauncey's being away, had attacked Sackett's Harbour, but, in spite of the absence of the fleet, the resistance had been so vigorous that in a few days the siege was abandoned.

  There were shot holes in walls and roofs, there were a few wounded in the hospital, the green embankments were torn, and the flag-pole splintered; but the enemy was gone, the starry flag was floating on the wind, and the sturdy little garrison filled with a spirit that grows only in heroes fighting for their homes.

  How joyfully different from Ogdensburg.

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