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

Chapter 22.

Spectre though I be,

I am not sent to scare thee or deceive;

But in reward of thy fidelity.

WORDSWORTH.

It would be difficult to say which evinced the most satisfaction, when Mabel sprang to her feet and appeared in the centre of the room, our heroine, on finding that her visitor was the wife of Arrowhead, and not Arrowhead himself, or June, at discovering that her advice had been followed, and that the blockhouse contained the person she had so anxiously and almost hopelessly sought. They embraced each other, and the unsophisticated Tuscarora woman laughed in her sweet accents as she held her friend at arm’s length, and made certain of her presence.

“Blockhouse good,” said the young Indian; “got no scalp.”

“It is indeed good, June,” Mabel answered, with a shudder, veiling her eyes at the same time, as if to shut out a view of the horrors she had so lately witnessed. “Tell me, for God’s sake, if you know what has become of my dear uncle! I have looked in all directions without being able to see him.”

“No here in blockhouse?” June asked, with some curiosity.

“Indeed he is not: I am quite alone in this place; Jennie, the woman who was with me, having rushed out to join her husband, and perishing for her imprudence.”

“June know, June see; very bad, Arrowhead no feel for any wife; no feel for his own.”

“Ah, June, your life, at least, is safe!”

“Don’t know; Arrowhead kill me, if he know all.”

“God bless and protect you, June! He will bless and protect you for this humanity. Tell me what is to be done, and if my poor uncle is still living?”

“Don’t know. Saltwater has boat; maybe he go on river.”

“The boat is still on the shore, but neither my uncle nor the Quartermaster is anywhere to be seen.”

“No kill, or June would see. Hide away! Red man hide; no shame for pale-face.”

“It is not the shame that I fear for them, but the opportunity. Your attack was awfully sudden, June!”

“Tuscarora!” returned the other, smiling with exultation at the dexterity of her husband. “Arrowhead great warrior!”

“You are too good and gentle for this sort of life, June; you cannot be happy in such scenes?”

June’s countenance grew clouded, and Mabel fancied there was some of the savage fire of a chief in her frown as she answered —

“Yengeese too greedy, take away all hunting-grounds; chase Six Nation from morning to night; wicked king, wicked people. Pale-face very bad.”

Mabel knew that, even in that distant day, there was much truth in this opinion, though she was too well instructed not to understand that the monarch, in this, as in a thousand other cases, was blamed for acts of which he was most probably ignorant. She felt the justice of the rebuke, therefore, too much to attempt an answer, and her thoughts naturally reverted to her own situation.

“And what am I to do, June?” she demanded. “It cannot be long before your people will assault this building.”

“Blockhouse good — got no scalp.”

“But they will soon discover that it has got no garrison too, if they do not know it already. You yourself told me the number of people that were on the island, and doubtless you learned it from Arrowhead.”

“Arrowhead know,” answered June, holding up six fingers, to indicate the number of the men. “All red men know. Four lose scalp already; two got ’em yet.”

“Do not speak of it, June; the horrid thought curdles my blood. Your people cannot know that I am alone in the blockhouse, but may fancy my uncle and the Quartermaster with me, and may set fire to the building, in order to dislodge them. They tell me that fire is the great danger to such places.”

“No burn blockhouse,” said June quietly.

“You cannot know that, my good June, and I have no means to keep them off.”

“No burn blockhouse. Blockhouse good; got no scalp.”

“But tell me why, June; I fear they will burn it.”

“Blockhouse wet — much rain — logs green — no burn easy. Red man know it — fine t’ing — then no burn it to tell Yengeese that Iroquois been here. Fader come back, miss blockhouse, no found. No, no; Indian too much cunning; no touch anything.”

“I understand you, June, and hope your prediction may be true; for, as regards my dear father, should he escape — perhaps he is already dead or captured, June?”

“No touch fader — don’t know where he gone — water got no trail — red man can’t follow. No burn blockhouse — blockhouse good; got no scalp.”

“Do you think it possible for me to remain here safely until my father returns?”

“Don’t know; daughter tell best when fader come back.” Mabel felt uneasy at the glance of June’s dark eye as she uttered this; for the unpleasant surmise arose that her companion was endeavoring to discover a fact that might be useful to her own people, while it would lead to the destruction of her parent and his party. She was about to make an evasive answer, when a heavy push at the outer door suddenly drew all her thoughts to the immediate danger.

“They come!” she exclaimed. “Perhaps, June, it is my uncle or the Quartermaster. I cannot keep out even Mr. Muir at a moment like this.”

“Why no look? plenty loophole, made purpose.”

Mabel took the hint, and, going to one of the downward loops, that had been cut through the logs in the part that overhung the basement, she cautiously raised the little block that ordinarily filled the small hole, and caught a glance at what was passing at the door. The start and changing countenance told her companion that some of her own people were below.

“Red man,” said June, lifting a finger in admonition to be prudent.

“Four; and horrible in their paint and bloody trophies. Arrowhead is among them.”

June had moved to a corner, where several spare rifles had been deposited, and had already taken one into her hand, when the name of her husband appeared to arrest her movements. It was but for an instant, however, for she immediately went to the loop, and was about to thrust the muzzle of the piece through it, when a feeling of natural aversion induced Mabel to seize her arm.

“No, no, no, June!” said the latter; “not against your own husband, though my life be the penalty.”

“No hurt Arrowhead,” returned June, with a slight shudder, “no hurt red man at all. No fire at ’em; only scare.”

Mabel now comprehended the intention of June, and no longer opposed it. The latter thrust the muzzle of the rifle through the loophole; and, taking care to make noise enough to attract attraction, she pulled the trigger. The piece had no sooner been discharged than Mabel reproached her friend for the very act that was intended to serve her.

“You declared it was not your intention to fire,” she said, “and you may have destroyed your own husband.”

“All run away before I fire,” returned June, laughing, and going to another loop to watch the movements of her friends, laughing still heartier. “See! get cover — every warrior. Think Saltwater and Quartermaster here. Take good care now.”

“Heaven be praised! And now, June, I may hope for a little time to compose my thoughts to prayer, that I may not die like Jennie, thinking only of life and the things of the world.”

June laid aside the rifle, and came and seated herself near the box on which Mabel had sunk, under that physical reaction which accompanies joy as well as sorrow. She looked steadily in our heroine’s face, and the latter thought that her countenance had an expression of severity mingled with its concern.

“Arrowhead great warrior,” said the Tuscarora’s wife. “All the girls of tribe look at him much. The pale-face beauty has eyes too?”

“June! — what do these words — that look — imply? what would you say?”

“Why you so ‘fraid June shoot Arrowhead?”

“Would it not have been horrible to see a wife destroy her own husband? No, June, rather would I have died myself.”

“Very sure, dat all?”

“That was all, June, as God is my judge! — and surely that was enough. No, no! there have been sufficient horrors to-day, without increasing them by an act like this. What other motive can you suspect?”

“Don’t know. Poor Tuscarora girl very foolish. Arrowhead great chief, and look all round him. Talk of pale-face beauty in his sleep. Great chief like many wives.”

“Can a chief possess more than one wife, June, among your people?”

“Have as many as he can keep. Great hunter marry often. Arrowhead got only June now; but he look too much, see too much, talk too much of pale-face girl.”

Mabel was conscious of this fact, which had distressed her not a little, in the course of their journey; but it shocked her to hear this allusion, coming, as it did, from the mouth of the wife herself. She knew that habit and opinions made great differences in such matters; but, in addition to the pain and mortification she experienced at being the unwilling rival of a wife, she felt an apprehension that jealousy would be but an equivocal guarantee for her personal safety in her present situation. A closer look at June, however, reassured her; for, while it was easy to trace in the unpractised features of this unsophisticated being the pain of blighted affections, no distrust could have tortured the earnest expression of her honest countenance into that of treachery or hate.

“You will not betray me, June?” Mabel said, pressing the other’s hand, and yielding to an impulse of generous confidence. “You will not give up one of your own sex to the tomahawk?”

“No tomahawk touch you. Arrowhead no let ’em. If June must have sister-wife, love to have you.”

“No, June; my religion, my feelings, both forbid it; and, if I could be the wife of an Indian at all, I would never take the place that is yours in a wigwam.”

June made no answer, but she looked gratified, and even grateful. She knew that few, perhaps no Indian girl within the circle of Arrowhead’s acquaintance, could compare with herself in personal attractions; and, though it might suit her husband to marry a dozen wives, she knew of no one, beside Mabel, whose influence she could really dread. So keen an interest, however, had she taken in the beauty, winning manners, kindness, and feminine gentleness of our heroine, that when jealousy came to chill these feelings, it had rather lent strength to that interest; and, under its wayward influence, had actually been one of the strongest of the incentives that had induced her to risk so much in order to save her imaginary rival from the consequences of the attack that she so well knew was about to take place. In a word, June, with a wife’s keenness of perception, had detected Arrowhead’s admiration of Mabel; and, instead of feeling that harrowing jealousy that might have rendered her rival hateful, as would have been apt to be the case with a woman unaccustomed to defer to the superior rights of the lordly sex, she had studied the looks and character of the pale-face beauty, until, meeting with nothing to repel her own feelings, but everything to encourage them, she had got to entertain an admiration and love for her, which, though certainly very different, was scarcely less strong than that of her husband’s . Arrowhead himself had sent her to warn Mabel of the coming danger, though he was ignorant that she had stolen upon the island in the rear of the assailants, and was now intrenched in the citadel along with the object of their joint care. On the contrary, he supposed, as his wife had said, that Cap and Muir were in the blockhouse with Mabel, and that the attempt to repel him and his companions had been made by the men.

“June sorry the Lily”— for so the Indian, in her poetical language, had named our heroine —“June sorry the Lily no marry Arrowhead. His wigwam big, and a great chief must get wives enough to fill it.”

“I thank you, June, for this preference, which is not according to the notion of us white women,” returned Mabel, smiling in spite of the fearful situation in which she was placed; “but I may not, probably never shall, marry at all.”

“Must have good husband,” said June; “marry Eau-douce, if don’t like Arrowhead.”

“June! this is not a fit subject for a girl who scarcely knows if she is to live another hour or not. I would obtain some signs of my dear uncle’s being alive and safe, if possible.”

“June go see.”

“Can you? — will you? — would it be safe for you to be seen on the island? is your presence known to the warriors, and would they be pleased to find a woman on the war-path with them?”

All this Mabel asked in rapid connection, fearing that the answer might not be as she wished. She had thought it extraordinary that June should be of the party, and, improbable as it seemed, she had fancied that the woman had covertly followed the Iroquois in her own canoe, and had got in their advance, merely to give her the notice which had probably saved her life. But in all this she was mistaken, as June, in her imperfect manner, now found means to let her know.

Arrowhead, though a chief, was in disgrace with his own people, and was acting with the Iroquois temporarily, though with a perfect understanding. He had a wigwam, it is true, but was seldom in it; feigning friendship for the English, he had passed the summer ostensibly in their service, while he was, in truth, acting for the French, and his wife journeyed with him in his many migrations, most of the distances being passed over in canoes. In a word, her presence was no secret, her husband seldom moving without her. Enough of this to embolden Mabel to wish that her friend might go out, to ascertain the fate of her uncle, did June succeed in letting the other know; and it was soon settled between them that the Indian woman should quit the blockhouse with that object the moment a favorable opportunity offered.

They first examined the island, as thoroughly as their position would allow, from the different loops, and found that its conquerors were preparing for a feast, having seized upon the provisions of the English and rifled the huts. Most of the stores were in the blockhouse; but enough were found outside to reward the Indians for an attack that had been attended by so little risk. A party had already removed the dead bodies, and Mabel saw that their arms were collected in a pile near the spot chosen for the banquet. June suggested that, by some signs which she understood, the dead themselves were carried into a thicket and either buried or concealed from view. None of the more prominent objects on the island, however, were disturbed, it being the desire of the conquerors to lure the party of the Sergeant into an ambush on its return. June made her companion observe a man in a tree, a look-out, as she said, to give timely notice of the approach of any boat, although, the departure of the expedition being so recent, nothing but some unexpected event would be likely to bring it back so soon. There did not appear to be any intention to attack the blockhouse immediately; but every indication, as understood by June, rather showed that it was the intention of the Indians to keep it besieged until the return of the Sergeant’s party, lest, the signs of an assault should give a warning to eyes as practised as those of Pathfinder. The boat, however, had been secured, and was removed to the spot where the canoes of the Indians were hid in the bushes.

June now announced her intention to join her friends, the moment being particularly favorable for her to quit the blockhouse. Mabel felt some distrust as they descended the ladder; but at the next instant she was ashamed of the feeling, as unjust to her companion and unworthy of herself, and by the time they both stood on the ground her confidence was restored. The process of unbarring the door was conducted with the utmost caution, and when the last bar was ready to be turned June took her station near the spot where the opening must necessarily be. The bar was just turned free of the brackets, the door was opened merely wide enough to allow her body to pass, and June glided through the space. Mabel closed the door again, with a convulsive movement; and as the bar turned into its place, her heart beat audibly. She then felt secure; and the two other bars were turned down in a more deliberate manner. When all was fast again, she ascended to the first floor, where alone she could get a glimpse of what was going on without.

Long and painfully melancholy hours passed, during which Mabel had no intelligence from June. She heard the yells of the savages, for liquor had carried them beyond the bounds of precaution; and occasionally caught glimpses of their mad orgies through the loops; and at all times was conscious of their fearful presence by sounds and sights that would have chilled the blood of one who had not so lately witnessed scenes so much more terrible. Toward the middle of the day, she fancied she saw a white man on the island, though his dress and wild appearance at first made her take him for a newly-arrived savage. A view of his face, although it was swarthy naturally, and much darkened by exposure, left no doubt that her conjecture was true; and she felt as if there was now one of a species more like her own present, and one to whom she might appeal for succor in the last emergency. Mabel little knew, alas! how small was the influence exercised by the whites over their savage allies, when the latter had begun to taste of blood; or how slight, indeed, was the disposition to divert them from their cruelties.

The day seemed a month by Mabel’s computation, and the only part of it that did not drag were the minutes spent in prayer. She had recourse to this relief from time to time; and at each effort she found her spirit firmer, her mind more tranquil, and her resignation more confirmed. She understood the reasoning of June, and believed it highly probable that the blockhouse would be left unmolested until the return of her father, in order to entice him into an ambuscade, and she felt much less apprehension of immediate danger in consequence; but the future offered little ground of hope, and her thoughts had already begun to calculate the chances of her captivity. At such moments, Arrowhead and his offensive admiration filled a prominent place in the background: for our heroine well knew that the Indians usually carried off to their villages, for the purposes of adoption, such captives as they did not slay; and that many instances had occurred in which individuals of her sex had passed the remainder of their lives in the wigwams of their conquerors. Such thoughts as these invariably drove her to her knees and to her prayers.

While the light lasted the situation of our heroine was sufficiently alarming; but as the shades of evening gradually gathered over the island, it became fearfully appalling. By this time the savages had wrought themselves up to the point of fury, for they had possessed themselves of all the liquor of the English; and their outcries and gesticulations were those of men truly possessed by evil spirits. All the efforts of their French leader to restrain them were entirely fruitless, and he had wisely withdrawn to an adjacent island, where he had a sort of bivouac, that he might keep at a safe distance from friends so apt to run into excesses. Before quitting the spot, however, this officer, at great risk to his own life, had succeeded in extinguishing the fire, and in securing the ordinary means to relight it. This precaution he took lest the Indians should burn the blockhouse, the preservation of which was necessary to the success of his future plans. He would gladly have removed all the arms also, but this he found impracticable, the warriors clinging to their knives and tomahawks with the tenacity of men who regarded a point of honor as long as a faculty was left; and to carry off the rifles, and leave behind him the very weapons that were generally used on such occasions, would have been an idle expedient. The extinguishing of the fire proved to be the most prudent measure; for no sooner was the officer’s back turned than one of the warriors in fact proposed to fire the blockhouse. Arrowhead had also withdrawn from the group of drunkards as soon as he found that they were losing their senses, and had taken possession of a hut, where he had thrown himself on the straw, and sought the rest that two wakeful and watchful nights had rendered necessary. It followed that no one was left among the Indians to care for Mabel, if, indeed, any knew of her existence at all; and the proposal of the drunkard was received with yells of delight by eight or ten more as much intoxicated and habitually as brutal as himself.

This was the fearful moment for Mabel. The Indians, in their present condition, were reckless of any rifles that the blockhouse might hold, though they did retain dim recollections of its containing living beings, an additional incentive to their enterprise; and they approached its base whooping and leaping like demons. As yet they were excited, not overcome by the liquor they had drunk. The first attempt was made at the door, against which they ran in a body; but the solid structure, which was built entirely of logs, defied their efforts. The rush of a hundred men with the same object would have been useless. This Mabel, however, did not know; and her heart seemed to leap into her mouth as she heard the heavy shock at each renewed effort. At length, when she found that the door resisted these assaults as if it were of stone, neither trembling nor yielding, and only betraying its not being a part of the wall by rattling a little on its heavy hinges, her courage revived, and she seized the first moment of a cessation to look down through the loop, in order, if possible, to learn the extent of her danger. A silence, for which it was not easy to account, stimulated her curiosity; for nothing is so alarming to those who are conscious of the presence of imminent danger, as to be unable to trace its approach.

Mabel found that two or three of the Iroquois had been raking the embers, where they had found a few small coals, and with these they were endeavoring to light a fire. The interest with which they labored, the hope of destroying, and the force of habit, enabled them to act intelligently and in unison, so long as their fell object was kept in view. A white man would have abandoned the attempt to light a fire in despair, with coals that came out of the ashes resembling sparks; but these children of the forest had many expedients that were unknown to civilization. By the aid of a few dry leaves, which they alone knew where to seek, a blaze was finally kindled, and then the addition of a few light sticks made sure of the advantage that had been obtained. When Mabel stooped down over the loop, the Indians were making a pile of brush against the door, and as she remained gazing at their proceedings, she saw the twigs ignite, the flame dart from branch to branch, until the whole pile was cracking and snapping under a bright blaze. The Indians now gave a yell of triumph, and returned to their companions, well assured that the work of destruction was commenced. Mabel remained looking down, scarcely able to tear herself away from the spot, so intense and engrossing was the interest she felt in the progress of the fire. As the pile kindled throughout, however, the flames mounted, until they flashed so near her eyes as to compel her to retreat. Just as she reached the opposite side of the room, to which she had retired in her alarm, a forked stream shot up through the loophole, the lid of which she had left open, and illuminated the rude apartment, with Mabel and her desolation. Our heroine now naturally enough supposed that her hour was come; for the door, the only means of retreat, had been blocked up by the brush and fire, with hellish ingenuity, and she addressed herself, as she believed, for the last time to her Maker in prayer. Her eyes were closed, and for more than a minute her spirit was abstracted; but the interests of the world too strongly divided her feelings to be altogether suppressed; and when they involuntarily opened again, she perceived that the streak of flame was no longer flaring in the room, though the wood around the little aperture had kindled, and the blaze was slowly mounting under the impulsion of a current of air that sucked inward. A barrel of water stood in a corner; and Mabel, acting more by instinct than by reason, caught up a vessel, filled it, and, pouring it on the wood with a trembling hand, succeeded in extinguishing the fire at that particular spot. The smoke prevented her from looking down again for a couple of minutes; but when she did her heart beat high with delight and hope at finding that the pile of blazing brush had been overturned and scattered, and that water had been thrown on the logs of the door, which were still smoking though no longer burning.

“Who is there?” said Mabel, with her mouth at the loop. “What friendly hand has a merciful Providence sent to my succor?”

A light footstep was audible below, and one of those gentle pushes at the door was heard, which just moved the massive beams on the hinges.

“Who wishes to enter? Is it you, dear, dear uncle?”

“Saltwater no here. St. Lawrence sweet water,” was the answer. “Open quick; want to come in.”

The step of Mabel was never lighter, or her movements more quick and natural, than while she was descending the ladder and turning the bars, for all her motions were earnest and active. This time she thought only of her escape, and she opened the door with a rapidity which did not admit of caution. Her first impulse was to rush into the open air, in the blind hope of quitting the blockhouse; but June repulsed the attempt, and entering, she coolly barred the door again before she would notice Mabel’s eager efforts to embrace her.

“Bless you! bless you, June!” cried our heroine most fervently; “you are sent by Providence to be my guardian angel!”

“No hug so tight,” answered the Tuscarora woman. “Pale-face woman all cry, or all laugh. Let June fasten door.”

Mabel became more rational, and in a few minutes the two were again in the upper room, seated as before, hand in hand, all feeling of distrust between them being banished.

“Now tell me, June,” Mabel commenced as soon as she had given and received one warm embrace, “have you seen or heard aught of my poor uncle?”

“Don’t know. No one see him; no one hear him; no one know anyt’ing. Saltwater run into river, I t’ink, for I no find him. Quartermaster gone too. I look, and look, and look; but no see’ em, one, t’other, nowhere.”

“Blessed be God! They must have escaped, though the means are not known to us. I thought I saw a Frenchman on the island, June.”

“Yes: French captain come, but he go away too. Plenty of Indian on island.”

“Oh, June, June, are there no means to prevent my beloved father from falling into the hands of his enemies?”

“Don’t know; t’ink dat warriors wait in ambush, and Yengeese must lose scalp.”

“Surely, surely, June, you, who have done so much for the daughter, will not refuse to help the father?”

“Don’t know fader, don’t love fader. June help her own people, help Arrowhead — husband love scalp.”

“June, this is not yourself. I cannot, will not believe that you wish to see our men murdered!”

June turned her dark eyes quietly on Mabel; and for a moment her look was stern, though it was soon changed into one of melancholy compassion.

“Lily, Yengeese girl?” she said, as one asks a question.

“Certainly, and as a Yengeese girl I would save my countrymen from slaughter.”

“Very good, if can. June no Yengeese, June Tuscarora — got Tuscarora husband — Tuscarora heart — Tuscarora feeling — all over Tuscarora. Lily wouldn’t run and tell French that her fader was coming to gain victory?”

“Perhaps not,” returned Mabel, pressing a hand on a brain that felt bewildered — “perhaps not; but you serve me, aid me — have saved me, June! Why have you done this, if you only feel as a Tuscarora?”

“Don’t only feel as Tuscarora; feel as girl, feel as squaw. Love pretty Lily, and put it in my bosom.”

Mabel melted into tears, and she pressed the affectionate creature to her heart. It was near a minute before she could renew the discourse, but then she succeeded in speaking more calmly and with greater coherence.

“Let me know the worst, June,” said she. “To-night your people are feasting; what do they intend to do to-morrow?”

“Don’t know; afraid to see Arrowhead, afraid to ask question; t’ink hide away till Yengeese come back.”

“Will they not attempt anything against the blockhouse? You have seen what they can threaten if they will.”

“Too much rum. Arrowhead sleep, or no dare; French captain gone away, or no dare. All go to sleep now.”

“And you think I am safe for this night, at least?”

“Too much rum. If Lily like June, might do much for her people.”

“I am like you, June, if a wish to serve my countrymen can make a resemblance with one as courageous as yourself.”

“No, no, no!” muttered June in a low voice; “no got heart, and June no let you, if had. June’s moder prisoner once, and warriors got drunk; moder tomahawked ’em all. Such de way red skin women do when people in danger and want scalp.”

“You say what is true,” returned Mabel, shuddering, and unconsciously dropping June’s hand. “I cannot do that. I have neither the strength, the courage, nor the will to dip my hands in blood.”

“T’ink that too; then stay where you be — blockhouse good — got no scalp.”

“You believe, then, that I am safe here, at least until my father and his people return?”

“Know so. No dare touch blockhouse in morning. Hark! all still now — drink rum till head fall down, and sleep like log.”

“Might I not escape? Are there not several canoes on the island? Might I not get one, and go and give my father notice of what has happened?”

“Know how to paddle?” demanded June, glancing her eye furtively at her companion.

“Not so well as yourself, perhaps; but enough to get out of sight before morning.”

“What do then? — couldn’t paddle six — ten — eight mile!”

“I do not know; I would do much to warn my father, and the excellent Pathfinder, and all the rest, of the danger they are in.”

“Like Pathfinder?”

“All like him who know him — you would like him, nay, love him, if you only knew his heart!”

“No like him at all. Too good rifle — too good eye — too much shoot Iroquois and June’s people. Must get his scalp if can.”

“And I must save it if I can, June. In this respect, then, we are opposed to each other. I will go and find a canoe the instant they are all asleep, and quit the island.”

“No can — June won’t let you. Call Arrowhead.”

“June! you would not betray me — you could not give me up after all you have done for me?”

“Just so,” returned June, making a backward gesture with her hand, and speaking with a warmth and earnestness Mabel had never witnessed in her before. “Call Arrowhead in loud voice. One call from wife wake a warrior up. June no let Lily help enemy — no let Indian hurt Lily.”

“I understand you, June, and feel the nature and justice of your sentiments; and, after all, it were better that I should remain here, for I have most probably overrated my strength. But tell me one thing: if my uncle comes in the night, and asks to be admitted, you will let me open the door of the blockhouse that he may enter?”

“Sartain — he prisoner here, and June like prisoner better than scalp; scalp good for honor, prisoner good for feeling. But Saltwater hide so close, he don’t know where he be himself.”

Here June laughed in her girlish, mirthful way, for to her scenes of violence were too familiar to leave impressions sufficiently deep to change her natural character. A long and discursive dialogue now followed, in which Mabel endeavored to obtain clearer notions of her actual situation, under a faint hope that she might possibly be enabled to turn some of the facts she thus learned to advantage. June answered all her interrogatories simply, but with a caution which showed she fully distinguished between that which was immaterial and that which might endanger the safety or embarrass the future operations of her friends. The substance of the information she gave may be summed up as follows.

Arrowhead had long been in communication with the French, though this was the first occasion on which he had entirely thrown aside the mask. He no longer intended to trust himself among the English, for he had discovered traces of distrust, particularly in Pathfinder; and, with Indian bravado, he now rather wished to blazon than to conceal his treachery. He had led the party of warriors in the attack on the island, subject, however, to the supervision of the Frenchman who has been mentioned, though June declined saying whether he had been the means of discovering the position of a place which had been thought to be so concealed from the enemy or not. On this point she would say nothing; but she admitted that she and her husband had been watching the departure of the Scud at the time they were overtaken and captured by the cutter. The French had obtained their information of the precise position of the station but very recently; and Mabel felt a pang when she thought that there were covert allusions of the Indian woman which would convey the meaning that the intelligence had come from a pale-face in the employment of Duncan of Lundie. This was intimated, however, rather than said; and when Mabel had time to reflect on her companion’s words, she found room to hope that she had misunderstood her, and that Jasper Western would yet come out of the affair freed from every injurious imputation.

June did not hesitate to confess that she had been sent to the island to ascertain the precise number and the occupations of those who had been left on it, though she also betrayed in her naive way that the wish to serve Mabel had induced her principally to consent to come. In consequence of her report, and information otherwise obtained, the enemy was aware of precisely the force that could be brought against them. They also knew the number of men who had gone with Sergeant Dunham, and were acquainted with the object he had in view, though they were ignorant of the spot where he expected to meet the French boats. It would have been a pleasant sight to witness the eager desire of each of these two sincere females to ascertain all that might be of consequence to their respective friends; and yet the native delicacy with which each refrained from pressing the other to make revelations which would have been improper, as well as the sensitive, almost intuitive, feeling with which each avoided saying aught that might prove injurious to her own nation. As respects each other, there was perfect confidence; as regarded their respective people, entire fidelity. June was quite as anxious as Mabel could be on any other point to know where the Sergeant had gone and when he was expected to return; but she abstained from putting the question, with a delicacy that would have done honor to the highest civilization; nor did she once frame any other inquiry in a way to lead indirectly to a betrayal of the much-desired information on that particular point: though when Mabel of her own accord touched on any matter that might by possibility throw a light on the subject, she listened with an intentness which almost suspended respiration.

In this manner the hours passed away unheeded, for both were too much interested to think of rest. Nature asserted her rights, however, towards morning; and Mabel was persuaded to lie down on one of the straw beds provided for the soldiers, where she soon fell into a deep sleep. June lay near her and a quiet reigned on the whole island as profound as if the dominion of the forest had never been invaded by man.

When Mabel awoke the light of the sun was streaming in through the loopholes, and she found that the day was considerably advanced. June still lay near her, sleeping as tranquilly as if she reposed on — we will not say “down,” for the superior civilization of our own times repudiates the simile — but on a French mattress, and as profoundly as if she had never experienced concern. The movements of Mabel, notwithstanding, soon awakened one so accustomed to vigilance; and then the two took a survey of what was passing around them by means of the friendly apertures.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/c/cooper/james_fenimore/pathfinder/chapter22.html

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