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Northwest Passage (Book I--Rogers' Rangers)

Northwest Passage (Book I--Rogers' Rangers)(1940)


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After his expulsion from Harvard for making an insulting sketch of the president of the college, young Langdon Towne returns to his home in Portsmouth, New Hampshire in 1759 and announces to his sweetheart, Elizabeth Browne, that he is going to be a great artist. Forced to flee from the wealthy and powerful rogue Wiseman Clagett, whom he has also insulted, Langdon and his friend "Hunk" Marriner meet Major Robert Rogers. Rogers, who is about to undertake a dangerous mission to annihilate a tribe of warring Indians, wants Langdon to join his rangers as mapmaker, but is only able to sign up him and Hunk by getting them drunk on his favorite drink, hot-buttered rum. Stealthily launching their boats on the smooth surface of Lake Champlain, the rangers begin their punitive mission to the Indian village at St. Francis along the St. Lawrence River, moving carefully through the rough terrain and trying to avoid the hostile Indians who have aligned themselves with the French in their war against the British. When they discover French ships at the mouth of the river, the rangers are forced to portage their boats by foot and then trudge through swamps, bogs and rapids until they finally reach their destination. At St. Francis, the rangers swoop down upon the Indians, who have been massacring the white settlers, and in the bloody battle, Langdon is seriously wounded. The Indians defeated, the rangers begin the long and grueling trip to Fort Wentworth with the wounded Lagndon hobbling behind, aided by an Indian boy and an embittered white woman, Jennie Coit, who had been adopted by the Indians and hates the English. For days they march with only handfuls of dried corn to keep them alive, until the starving men vote to break up into hunting parties and meet at Eagle Mountain. With little success in their attempts to fish and capture game, when the men reconvene, their ranks have dwindled from one hundred and fifty to fifty. Despite their discouragement, the men bravely continue on, encouraged by Rogers, who promises them that there will be ample food at Fort Wentworth. As they approach the fort, Rogers runs ahead and discovers that the soldiers have gone, leaving nothing behind. Though at the point of desperation himself, Rogers tries to rally his men by telling them how much better off they are than some biblical figures who fasted for even longer than they. As the men start to rally, the British arrive, carrying ample food and supplies. Their mission completed and their stomachs filled, Rogers and his rangers march on in search of the Northwest Passage to the Pacific Ocean, while Langdon remains behind with Elizabeth, who plans to go with him to London while he trains to be a great artist. As Rogers marches away, Langdon tells Elizabeth that the world will remember Rogers through his paintings.