The Pathfinder, or The Inland Sea, by James Fenimore Cooper

Chapter 10.

Think not I love him, though I ask for him;

’Tis but a peevish boy:— yet he talks well —

But what care I for words?

A week passed in the usual routine of a garrison. Mabel was becoming used to a situation that, at first she had found not only novel, but a little irksome; and the officers and men in their turn, gradually familiarized to the presence of a young and blooming girl, whose attire and carriage had that air of modest gentility about them which she had obtained in the family of her patroness, annoyed her less by their ill-concealed admiration, while they gratified her by the respect which, she was fain to think, they paid her on account of her father; but which, in truth, was more to be attributed to her own modest but spirited deportment, than to any deference for the worthy Sergeant.

Acquaintances made in a forest, or in any circumstances of unusual excitement, soon attain their limits. Mabel found one week’s residence at Oswego sufficient to determine her as to those with whom she might be intimate and those whom she ought to avoid. The sort of neutral position occupied by her father, who was not an officer, while he was so much more than a common soldier, by keeping her aloof from the two great classes of military life, lessened the number of those whom she was compelled to know, and made the duty of decision comparatively easy. Still she soon discovered that there were a few, even among those that could aspire to a seat at the Commandant’s table, who were disposed to overlook the halbert for the novelty of a well-turned figure and of a pretty, winning face; and by the end of the first two or three days she had admirers even among the gentlemen. The Quartermaster, in particular, a middle-aged soldier, who had more than once tried the blessings of matrimony already, but was now a widower, was evidently disposed to increase his intimacy with the Sergeant, though their duties often brought them together; and the youngsters among his messmates did not fail to note that this man of method, who was a Scotsman of the name of Muir, was much more frequent in his visits to the quarters of his subordinate than had formerly been his wont. A laugh, or a joke, in honor of the “Sergeant’s daughter,” however, limited their strictures; though “Mabel Dunham” was soon a toast that even the ensign, or the lieutenant, did not disdain to give.

At the end of the week, Duncan of Lundie sent for Sergeant Dunham, after evening roll-call, on business of a nature that, it was understood, required a personal conference. The old veteran dwelt in a movable hut, which, being placed on trucks, he could order to be wheeled about at pleasure, sometimes living in one part of the area within the fort, and sometimes in another. On the present occasion, he had made a halt near the centre; and there he was found by his subordinate, who was admitted to his presence without any delay or dancing attendance in an ante-chamber. In point of fact, there was very little difference in the quality of the accommodations allowed to the officers and those allowed to the men, the former being merely granted the most room.

“Walk in, Sergeant, walk in, my good friend,” said old Lundie heartily, as his inferior stood in a respectful attitude at the door of a sort of library and bedroom into which he had been ushered; —“walk in, and take a seat on that stool. I have sent for you, man; to discuss anything but rosters and pay-rolls this evening. It is now many years since we have been comrades, and ‘auld lang syne’ should count for something, even between a major and his orderly, a Scot and a Yankee. Sit ye down, man, and just put yourself at your ease. It has been a fine day, Sergeant.”

“It has indeed, Major Duncan,” returned the other, who, though he complied so far as to take the seat, was much too practised not to understand the degree of respect it was necessary to maintain in his manner; “a very fine day, sir, it has been and we may look for more of them at this season.”

“I hope so with all my heart. The crops look well as it is, man, and you’ll be finding that the 55th make almost as good farmers as soldiers. I never saw better potatoes in Scotland than we are likely to have in that new patch of ours.”

“They promise a good yield, Major Duncan; and, in that light, a more comfortable winter than the last.”

“Life is progressive, Sergeant, in its comforts as well as in its need of them. We grow old, and I begin to think it time to retire and settle in life. I feel that my working days are nearly over.”

“The king, God bless him! sir, has much good service in your honor yet.”

“It may be so, Sergeant Dunham, especially if he should happen to have a spare lieutenant-colonelcy left.”

“The 55th will be honored the day that commission is given to Duncan of Lundie, sir.”

“And Duncan of Lundie will be honored the day he receives it. But, Sergeant, if you have never had a lieutenant-colonelcy, you have had a good wife, and that is the next thing to rank in making a man happy.”

“I have been married, Major Duncan; but it is now a long time since I have had no drawback on the love I bear his majesty and my duty.”

“What, man! not even the love you bear that active little round-limbed, rosy-cheeked daughter that I have seen in the fort these last few days! Out upon you, Sergeant! old fellow as I am, I could almost love that little lassie myself, and send the lieutenant-colonelcy to the devil.”

“We all know where Major Duncan’s heart is, and that is in Scotland, where a beautiful lady is ready and willing to make him happy, as soon as his own sense of duty shall permit.”

“Ay, hope is ever a far-off thing, Sergeant,” returned the superior, a shade of melancholy passing over his hard Scottish features as he spoke; “and bonnie Scotland is a far-off country. Well, if we have no heather and oatmeal in this region, we have venison for the killing of it and salmon as plenty as at Berwick-upon-Tweed. Is it true, Sergeant, that the men complain of having been over-venisoned and over-pigeoned of late?”

“Not for some weeks, Major Duncan, for neither deer nor birds are so plenty at this season as they have been. They begin to throw their remarks about concerning the salmon, but I trust we shall get through the summer without any serious disturbance on the score of food. The Scotch in the battalion do, indeed, talk more than is prudent of their want of oatmeal, grumbling occasionally of our wheaten bread.”

“Ah, that is human nature, Sergeant! pure, unadulterated Scotch human nature. A cake, man, to say the truth, is an agreeable morsel, and I often see the time when I pine for a bite myself.”

“If the feeling gets to be troublesome, Major Duncan — in the men, I mean, sir, for I would not think of saying so disrespectful a thing to your honor — but if the men ever pine seriously for their natural food, I would humbly recommend that some oatmeal be imported, or prepared in this country for them, and I think we shall hear no more of it. A very little would answer for a cure, sir.”

“You are a wag, Sergeant; but hang me if I am sure you are not right. There may be sweeter things in this world, after all, than oatmeal. You have a sweet daughter, Dunham, for one.”

“The girl is like her mother, Major Duncan, and will pass inspection,” said the Sergeant proudly. “Neither was brought up on anything better than good American flour. The girl will pass inspection, sir.”

“That would she, I’ll answer for it. Well, I may as well come to the point at once, man, and bring up my reserve into the front of the battle. Here is Davy Muir, the quartermaster, disposed to make your daughter his wife, and he has just got me to open the matter to you, being fearful of compromising his own dignity; and I may as well add that half the youngsters in the fort toast her, and talk of her from morning till night.”

“She is much honored, sir,” returned the father stiffly; “but I trust the gentlemen will find something more worthy of them to talk about ere long. I hope to see her the wife of an honest man before many weeks, sir.”

“Yes, Davy is an honest man, and that is more than can be said for all in the quartermaster’s department, I’m thinking, Sergeant,” returned Lundie, with a slight smile. “Well, then may I tell the Cupid-stricken youth that the matter is as good as settled?”

“I thank your honor; but Mabel is betrothed to another.”

“The devil she is! That will produce a stir in the fort; though I’m not sorry to hear it either, for, to be frank with you, Sergeant, I’m no great admirer of unequal matches.”

“I think with your honor, and have no desire to see my daughter an officer’s lady. If she can get as high as her mother was before her, it ought to satisfy any reasonable woman.”

“And may I ask, Sergeant, who is the lucky man that you intend to call son-in-law?”

“The Pathfinder, your honor.”

“Pathfinder!”

“The same, Major Duncan; and in naming him to you, I give you his whole history. No one is better known on this frontier than my honest, brave, true-hearted friend.”

“All that is true enough; but is he, after all, the sort of person to make a girl of twenty happy?”

“Why not, your honor? The man is at the head of his calling. There is no other guide or scout connected with the army who has half the reputation of Pathfinder, or who deserves to have it half as well.”

“Very true, Sergeant; but is the reputation of a scout exactly the sort of renown to captivate a girl’s fancy?”

“Talking of girls’ fancies, sir, is in my humble opinion much like talking of a recruit’s judgment. If we were to take the movements of the awkward squad, sir, as a guide, we should never form a decent line in battalion, Major Duncan.”

“But your daughter has nothing awkward about her: for a genteeler girl of her class could not be found in old Albion itself. Is she of your way of thinking in this matter? — though I suppose she must be, as you say she is betrothed.”

“We have not yet conversed on the subject, your honor; but I consider her mind as good as made up, from several little circumstances which might be named.”

“And what are these circumstances, Sergeant?” asked the Major, who began to take more interest than he had at first felt on the subject. “I confess a little curiosity to know something about a woman’s mind, being, as you know, a bachelor myself.”

“Why, your honor, when I speak of the Pathfinder to the girl, she always looks me full in the face; chimes in with everything I say in his favor, and has a frank open way with her, which says as much as if she half considered him already as a husband.”

“Hum! and these signs, you think, Dunham, are faithful tokens of your daughter’s feelings?”

“I do, your honor, for they strike me as natural. When I find a man, sir, who looks me full in the face, while he praises an officer — for, begging your honor’s pardon, the men will sometimes pass their strictures on their betters — and when I find a man looking me in the eyes as he praises his captain, I always set it down that the fellow is honest, and means what he says.”

“Is there not some material difference in the age of the intended bridegroom and that of his pretty bride, Sergeant?”

“You are quite right, sir; Pathfinder is well advanced towards forty, and Mabel has every prospect of happiness that a young woman can derive from the certainty of possessing an experienced husband. I was quite forty myself, your honor, when I married her mother.”

“But will your daughter be as likely to admire a green hunting-shirt, such as that our worthy guide wears, with a fox-skin cap, as the smart uniform of the 55th?”

“Perhaps not, sir; and therefore she will have the merit of self-denial, which always makes a young woman wiser and better.”

“And are you not afraid that she may be left a widow while still a young woman? what between wild beasts, and wilder savages, Pathfinder may be said to carry his life in his hand.”

“‘Every bullet has its billet,’ Lundie,” for so the Major was fond of being called in his moments of condescension, and when not engaged in military affairs; “and no man in the 55th can call himself beyond or above the chances of sudden death. In that particular, Mabel would gain nothing by a change. Besides, sir, if I may speak freely on such a subject, I much doubt if ever Pathfinder dies in battle, or by any of the sudden chances of the wilderness.”

“And why so, Sergeant?” asked the Major. “He is a soldier, so far as danger is concerned, and one that is much more than usually exposed; and, being free of his person, why should he expect to escape when others do not?”

“I do not believe, your honor, that the Pathfinder considers his own chances better than any one’s else, but the man will never die by a bullet. I have seen him so often handling his rifle with as much composure as if it were a shepherd’s crook, in the midst of the heaviest showers of bullets, and under so many extraordinary circumstances, that I do not think Providence means he should ever fall in that manner. And yet, if there be a man in his Majesty’s dominions who really deserves such a death, it is Pathfinder.”

“We never know, Sergeant,” returned Lundie, with a countenance grave with thought; “and the less we say about it, perhaps, the better. But will your daughter — Mabel, I think, you call her — will Mabel be as willing to accept one who, after all, is a mere hanger-on of the army, as to take one from the service itself? There is no hope of promotion for the guide, Sergeant.”

“He is at the head of his corps already, your honor. In short, Mabel has made up her mind on this subject; and, as your honor has had the condescension to speak to me about Mr. Muir, I trust you will be kind enough to say that the girl is as good as billeted for life.”

“Well, well, this is your own matter, and, now — Sergeant Dunham!”

“Your honor,” said the other, rising, and giving the customary salute.

“You have been told it is my intention to send you down among the Thousand Islands for the next month. All the old subalterns have had their tours of duty in that quarter — all that I like to trust at least; and it has at length come to your turn. Lieutenant Muir, it is true, claims his right; but, being quartermaster, I do not like to break up well-established arrangements. Are the men drafted?”

“Everything is ready, your honor. The draft is made, and I understood that the canoe which got in last night brought a message to say that the party already below is looking out for the relief.”

“It did; and you must sail the day after to-morrow, if not to-morrow night. It will be wise, perhaps, to sail in the dark.”

“So Jasper thinks, Major Duncan; and I know no one more to be depended on in such an affair than young Jasper Western.”

“Young Jasper Eau-douce!” said Lundie, a slight smile gathering around his usually stern mouth. “Will that lad be of your party, Sergeant?”

“Your honor will remember that the Scud never quits port without him.”

“True; but all general rules have their exceptions. Have I not seen a seafaring person about the fort within the last few days?”

“No doubt, your honor; it is Master Cap, a brother-in-law of mine, who brought my daughter from below.”

“Why not put him in the Scud for this cruise, Sergeant, and leave Jasper behind? Your brother-in-law would like the variety of a fresh-water cruise, and you would enjoy more of his company.”

“I intended to ask your honor’s permission to take him along; but he must go as a volunteer. Jasper is too brave a lad to be turned out of his command without a reason, Major Duncan; and I’m afraid brother Cap despises fresh water too much to do duty on it.”

“Quite right, Sergeant, and I leave all this to your own discretion. Eau-douce must retain his command, on second thoughts. You intend that Pathfinder shall also be of the party?”

“If your honor approves of it. There will be service for both the guides, the Indian as well as the white man.”

“I think you are right. Well, Sergeant, I wish you good luck in the enterprise; and remember the post is to be destroyed and abandoned when your command is withdrawn. It will have done its work by that time, or we shall have failed entirely, and it is too ticklish a position to be maintained unnecessarily. You can retire.”

Sergeant Dunham gave the customary salute, turned on his heels as if they had been pivots, and had got the door nearly drawn to after him, when he was suddenly recalled.

“I had forgotten, Sergeant, the younger officers have begged for a shooting match, and to-morrow has been named for the day. All competitors will be admitted, and the prizes will be a silver-mounted powder horn, a leathern flask ditto,” reading from a piece of paper, “as I see by the professional jargon of this bill, and a silk calash for a lady. The latter is to enable the victor to show his gallantry by making an offering of it to her he best loves.”

“All very agreeable, your honor, at least to him that succeeds. Is the Pathfinder to be permitted to enter?”

“I do not well see how he can be excluded, if he choose to come forward. Latterly, I have observed that he takes no share in these sports, probably from a conviction of his own unequalled skill.”

“That’s it, Major Duncan; the honest fellow knows there is not a man on the frontier who can equal him, and he does not wish to spoil the pleasure of others. I think we may trust to his delicacy in anything, sir. Perhaps it may be as well to let him have his own way?”

“In this instance we must, Sergeant. Whether he will be as successful in all others remains to be seen. I wish you good evening, Dunham.”

The Sergeant now withdrew, leaving Duncan of Lundie to his own thoughts: that they were not altogether disagreeable was to be inferred from the smiles which occasionally covered a countenance hard and martial in its usual expression, though there were moments in which all its severe sobriety prevailed. Half an hour might have passed, when a tap at the door was answered by a direction to enter. A middle-aged man, in the dress of an officer, but whose uniform wanted the usual smartness of the profession, made his appearance, and was saluted as “Mr. Muir.”

“I have come sir, at your bidding, to know my fortune,” said the Quartermaster, in a strong Scotch accent, as soon as he had taken the seat which was proffered to him. “To say the truth to you, Major Duncan, this girl is making as much havoc in the garrison as the French did before Ty: I never witnessed so general a rout in so short a time!”

“Surely, Davy, you don’t mean to persuade me that your young and unsophisticated heart is in such a flame, after one week’s ignition? Why, man, this is worse than the affair in Scotland, where it was said the heat within was so intense that it just burnt a hole through your own precious body, and left a place for all the lassies to peer in at, to see what the combustible material was worth.”

“Ye’ll have your own way, Major Duncan; and your father and mother would have theirs before ye, even if the enemy were in the camp. I see nothing so extraordinar’ in young people following the bent of their inclinations and wishes.”

“But you’ve followed yours so often, Davy, that I should think by this time it had lost the edge of novelty. Including that informal affair in Scotland, when you were a lad, you’ve been married four times already.”

“Only three, Major, as I hope to get another wife. I’ve not yet had my number: no, no; only three.”

“I’m thinking, Davy, you don’t include the first affair I mentioned; that in which there was no parson.”

“And why should I Major? The courts decided that it was no marriage; and what more could a man want? The woman took advantage of a slight amorous propensity that may be a weakness in my disposition, perhaps, and inveigled me into a contract which was found to be illegal.”

“If I remember right, Muir, there were thought to be two sides to that question, in the time of it?”

“It would be but an indifferent question, my dear Major, that hadn’t two sides to it; and I’ve known many that had three. But the poor woman’s dead, and there was no issue; so nothing came of it after all. Then, I was particularly unfortunate with my second wife; I say second, Major, out of deference to you, and on the mere supposition that the first was a marriage at all; but first or second, I was particularly unfortunate with Jeannie Graham, who died in the first lustrum, leaving neither chick nor chiel behind her. I do think, if Jeannie had survived, I never should have turned my thoughts towards another wife.”

“But as she did not, you married twice after her death; and are desirous of doing so a third time.”

“The truth can never justly be gainsaid, Major Duncan, and I am always ready to avow it. I’m thinking, Lundie, you are melancholar this fine evening?”

“No, Muir, not melancholy absolutely; but a little thoughtful, I confess. I was looking back to my boyish days, when I, the laird’s son, and you, the parson’s, roamed about our native hills, happy and careless boys, taking little heed to the future; and then have followed some thoughts, that may be a little painful, concerning that future as it has turned out to be.”

“Surely, Lundie, ye do not complain of yer portion of it. You’ve risen to be a major, and will soon be a lieutenant-colonel, if letters tell the truth; while I am just one step higher than when your honored father gave me my first commission, and a poor deevil of a quartermaster.”

“And the four wives?”

“Three, Lundie; three only that were legal, even under our own liberal and sanctified laws.”

“Well, then, let it be three. Ye know, Davy,” said Major Duncan, insensibly dropping into the pronunciation and dialect of his youth, as is much the practice with educated Scotchmen as they warm with a subject that comes near the heart — “ye know, Davy, that my own choice has long been made, and in how anxious and hope-wearied a manner I’ve waited for that happy hour when I can call the woman I’ve so long loved a wife; and here have you, without fortune, name, birth, or merit — I mean particular merit —”

“Na, na; dinna say that, Lundie. The Muirs are of gude bluid.”

“Well, then, without aught but bluid, ye’ve wived four times —”

“I tall ye but thrice, Lundie. Ye’ll weaken auld friendship if ye call it four.”

“Put it at yer own number, Davy; and it’s far more than yer share. Our lives have been very different, on the score of matrimony, at least; you must allow that, my old friend.”

“And which do you think has been the gainer, Major, speaking as frankly thegither as we did when lads?”

“Nay, I’ve nothing to conceal. My days have passed in hope deferred, while yours have passed in —”

“Not in hope realized, I give you mine honor, Major Duncan,” interrupted the Quartermaster. “Each new experiment I have thought might prove an advantage; but disappointment seems the lot of man. Ah! this is a vain world of ours, Lundie, it must be owned; and in nothing vainer than in matrimony.”

“And yet you are ready to put your neck into the noose for the fifth time?”

“I desire to say, it will be but the fourth, Major Duncan,” said the Quartermaster positively; then, instantly changing the expression of his face to one of boyish rapture, he added, “But this Mabel Dunham is a rara avis! Our Scotch lassies are fair and pleasant; but it must be owned these colonials are of surpassing comeliness.”

“You will do well to recollect your commission and blood, Davy. I believe all four of your wives —”

“I wish my dear Lundie, ye’d be more accurate in yer arithmetic. Three times one make three.”

“All three, then, were what might be termed gentlewomen?”

“That’s just it, Major. Three were gentlewomen, as you say, and the connections were suitable.”

“And the fourth being the daughter of my father’s gardener, the connection was unsuitable. But have you no fear that marrying the child of a non-commissioned officer, who is in the same corps with yourself, will have the effect to lessen your consequence in the regiment?”

“That’s just been my weakness through life, Major Duncan; for I’ve always married without regard to consequences. Every man has his besetting sin, and matrimony, I fear, is mine. And now that we have discussed what may be called the principles of the connection, I will just ask if you did me the favor to speak to the Sergeant on the trifling affair?”

“I did, David; and am sorry to say, for your hopes, that I see no great chance of your succeeding.”

“Not succeeding! An officer, and a quartermaster in the bargain, and not succeed with a sergeant’s daughter!”

“It’s just that, Davy.”

“And why not, Lundie? Will ye have the goodness to answer just that?”

“The girl is betrothed. Hand plighted, word passed, love pledged — no, hang me if I believe that either; but she is betrothed.”

“Well, that’s an obstacle, it must be avowed, Major, though it counts for little if the heart is free.”

“Quite true; and I think it probable the heart is free in this case; for the intended husband appears to be the choice of the father rather than of the daughter.”

“And who may it be, Major?” asked the Quartermaster, who viewed the whole matter with the philosophy and coolness acquired by use. “I do not recollect any plausible suitor that is likely to stand in my way.”

“No, you are the only plausible suitor on the frontier, Davy. The happy man is Pathfinder.”

“Pathfinder, Major Duncan!”

“No more, nor any less, David Muir. Pathfinder is the man; but it may relieve your jealousy a little to know that, in my judgment at least, it is a match of the father’s rather than of the daughter’s seeking.”

“I thought as much!” exclaimed the Quartermaster, drawing a long breath, like one who felt relieved; “it’s quite impossible that with my experience in human nature —”

“Particularly hu-woman’s nature, David.”

“Ye will have yer joke, Lundie, let who will suffer. But I did not think it possible I could be deceived as to the young woman’s inclinations, which I think I may boldly pronounce to be altogether above the condition of Pathfinder. As for the individual himself — why, time will show.”

“Now, tell me frankly, Davy Muir,” said Lundie, stepping short in his walk, and looking the other earnestly in the face with a comical expression of surprise, that rendered the veteran’s countenance ridiculously earnest — “do you really suppose a girl like the daughter of Sergeant Dunham can take a serious fancy to a man of your years and appearance, and experience, I might add?”

“Hout, awa’, Lundie! ye dinna know the sax, and that’s the reason yer unmarried in yer forty-fifth year. It’s a fearfu’ time ye’ve been a bachelor, Major!”

“And what may be your age, Lieutenant Muir, if I may presume to ask so delicate a question?”

“Forty-seven; I’ll no’ deny it, Lundie; and if I get Mabel, there’ll be just a wife for every twa lustrums. But I didna think Sergeant Dunham would be so humble minded as to dream of giving that sweet lass of his to one like the Pathfinder.”

“There’s no dream about it, Davy; the man is as serious as a soldier about to be flogged.”

“Well, well, Major, we are auld friends,"— both ran into the Scotch or avoided it, as they approached or drew away from their younger days, in the dialogue — “and ought to know how to take and give a joke, off duty. It is possible the worthy man has not understood my hints, or he never would have thought of such a thing. The difference between an officer’s consort and a guide’s woman is as vast as that between the antiquity of Scotland and the antiquity of America. I’m auld blood, too, Lundie.”

“Take my word for it Davy, your antiquity will do you no good in this affair; and as for your blood, it is not older than your bones. Well, well, man, ye know the Sergeant’s answer; and so ye perceive that my influence, on which ye counted so much, can do nought for ye. Let us take a glass thegither, Davy, for auld acquaintance sake; and then ye’ll be doing well to remember the party that marches the morrow, and to forget Mabel Dunham as fast as ever you can.”

“Ah, Major! I have always found it easier to forget a wife than to forget a sweetheart. When a couple are fairly married, all is settled but the death, as one may say, which must finally part us all; and it seems to me awfu’ irreverent to disturb the departed; whereas there is so much anxiety and hope and felicity in expectation like, with the lassie, that it keeps thought alive.”

“That is just my idea of your situation, Davy; for I never supposed you expected any more felicity with either of your wives. Now, I’ve heard of fellows who were so stupid as to look forward to happiness with their wives even beyond the grave. I drink to your success, or to your speedy recovery from this attack, Lieutenant; and I admonish you to be more cautious in future, as some of these violent cases may yet carry you off.”

“Many thanks, dear Major; and a speedy termination to an old courtship, of which I know something. This is real mountain dew, Lundie, and it warms the heart like a gleam of bonnie Scotland. As for the men you’ve just mentioned, they could have had but one wife a piece; for where there are several, the deeds of the women themselves may carry them different ways. I think a reasonable husband ought to be satisfied with passing his allotted time with any particular wife in this world, and not to go about moping for things unattainable. I’m infinitely obliged to you, Major Duncan, for this and all your other acts of friendship; and if you could but add another, I should think you had not altogether forgotten the play-fellow of your boyhood.”

“Well, Davy, if the request be reasonable, and such as a superior ought to grant, out with it, man.”

“If ye could only contrive a little service for me, down among the Thousand Isles, for a fortnight or so, I think this matter might be settled to the satisfaction of all parties. Just remember, Lundie, the lassie is the only marriageable white female on this frontier.”

“There is always duty for one in your line at a post, however small; but this below can be done by the Sergeant as well as by the Quartermaster-general, and better too.”

“But not better than by a regimental officer. There is great waste, in common, among the orderlies.”

“I’ll think of it, Muir,” said the Major, laughing, “and you shall have my answer in the morning. Here will be a fine occasion, man, the morrow, to show yourself off before the lady; you are expert with the rifle, and prizes are to be won. Make up your mind to display your skill, and who knows what may yet happen before the Scud sails.”

“I’m thinking most of the young men will try their hands in this sport, Major!”

“That will they, and some of the old ones too, if you appear. To keep you in countenance, I’ll try a shot or two myself, Davy; and you know I have some name that way.”

“It might, indeed, do good. The female heart, Major Duncan, is susceptible in many different modes, and sometimes in a way that the rules of philosophy might reject. Some require a suitor to sit down before them, as it might be, in a regular siege, and only capitulate when the place can hold out no longer; others, again, like to be carried by storm; while there are hussies who can only be caught by leading them into an ambush. The first is the most creditable and officer-like process, perhaps; but I must say I think the last the most pleasing.”

“An opinion formed from experience, out of all question. And what of the storming parties?”

“They may do for younger men, Lundie,” returned the Quartermaster, rising and winking, a liberty that he often took with his commanding officer on the score of a long intimacy; “every period of life has its necessities, and at forty-seven it’s just as well to trust a little to the head. I wish you a very good even, Major Duncan, and freedom from gout, with a sweet and refreshing sleep.”

“The same to yourself, Mr. Muir, with many thanks. Remember the passage of arms for the morrow.”

The Quartermaster withdrew, leaving Lundie in his library to reflect on what had just passed. Use had so accustomed Major Duncan to Lieutenant Muir and all his traits and humors, that the conduct of the latter did not strike the former with the same force as it will probably the reader. In truth, while all men act under one common law that is termed nature, the varieties in their dispositions, modes of judging, feelings, and selfishness are infinite.

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Last updated Thursday, March 13, 2014 at 21:40