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

Chapter 23.

What had the Eternall Maker need of thee,

The world in his continuall course to keepe,

That doest all things deface? ne lettest see

The beautie of his worke? Indeede in sleepe,

The slouth full body that doth love to steepe

His lustlesse limbs, and drowne his baser mind,

Doth praise thee oft, and oft from Stygian deepe,

Calles thee his goddesse, in his errour blind,

And great dame Nature’s hand-maide, chearing every kinde.

Faerie Queene.

The tranquillity of the previous night was not contradicted by the movements of the day. Although Mabel and June went to every loophole, not a sign of the presence of a living being on the island was at first to be seen, themselves excepted. There was a smothered fire on the spot where M’Nab and his comrades had cooked, as if the smoke which curled upwards from it was intended as a lure to the absent; and all around the huts had been restored to former order and arrangement. Mabel started involuntarily when her eye at length fell on a group of three men, dressed in the scarlet of the 55th, seated on the grass in lounging attitudes, as if they chatted in listless security; and her blood curdled as, on a second look, she traced the bloodless faces and glassy eyes of the dead. They were very near the blockhouse, so near indeed as to have been overlooked at the first eager inquiry, and there was a mocking levity in their postures and gestures, for their limbs were stiffening in different attitudes, intended to resemble life, at which the soul revolted. Still, horrible as these objects were to those near enough to discover the frightful discrepancy between their assumed and their real characters, the arrangement had been made with so much art that it would have deceived a negligent observer at the distance of a hundred yards. After carefully examining the shores of the island, June pointed out to her companion the fourth soldier, seated, with his feet hanging over the water, his back fastened to a sapling, and holding a fishing-rod in his hand. The scalpless heads were covered with the caps, and all appearance of blood had been carefully washed from each countenance.

Mabel sickened at this sight, which not only did so much violence to all her notions of propriety, but which was in itself so revolting and so opposed to natural feeling. She withdrew to a seat, and hid her face in her apron for several minutes, until a low call from June again drew her to a loophole. The latter then pointed out the body of Jennie seemingly standing in the door of a hut, leaning forward as if to look at the group of men, her cap fluttering in the wind, and her hand grasping a broom. The distance was too great to distinguish the features very accurately; but Mabel fancied that the jaw had been depressed, as if to distort the mouth into a sort of horrible laugh.

“June! June!” she exclaimed; “this exceeds all I have ever heard, or imagined as possible, in the treachery and artifices of your people.”

“Tuscarora very cunning,” said June, in a way to show that she rather approved of than condemned the uses to which the dead bodies had been applied. “Do soldier no harm now; do Iroquois good; got the scalp first; now make bodies work. By and by, burn ’em.”

This speech told Mabel how far she was separated from her friend in character; and it was several minutes before she could again address her. But this temporary aversion was lost on June, who set about preparing their simple breakfast, in a way to show how insensible she was to feelings in others which her own habits taught her to discard. Mabel ate sparingly, and her companion, as if nothing had happened. Then they had leisure again for their thoughts, and for further surveys of the island. Our heroine, though devoured with a feverish desire to be always at the loops, seldom went that she did not immediately quit them in disgust, though compelled by her apprehensions to return again in a few minutes, called by the rustling of leaves, or the sighing of the wind. It was, indeed, a solemn thing to look out upon that deserted spot, peopled by the dead in the panoply of the living, and thrown into the attitudes and acts of careless merriment and rude enjoyment. The effect on our heroine was much as if she had found herself an observer of the revelries of demons.

Throughout the livelong day not an Indian nor a Frenchman was to be seen, and night closed over the frightful but silent masquerade, with the steady and unalterable progress with which the earth obeys her laws, indifferent to the petty actors and petty scenes that are in daily bustle and daily occurrence on her bosom. The night was far more quiet than that which had preceded it, and Mabel slept with an increasing confidence; for she now felt satisfied that her own fate would not be decided until the return of her father. The following day he was expected, however, and when our heroine awoke, she ran eagerly to the loops in order to ascertain the state of the weather and the aspect of the skies, as well as the condition of the island. There lounged the fearful group on the grass; the fisherman still hung over the water, seemingly intent on his sport; and the distorted countenance of Jennie glared from out the hut in horrible contortions. But the weather had changed; the wind blew fresh from the southward, and though the air was bland, it was filled with the elements of storm.

“This grows more and more difficult to bear, June,” Mabel said, when she left the window. “I could even prefer to see the enemy than to look any longer on this fearful array of the dead.”

“Hush! Here they come. June thought hear a cry like a warrior’s shout when he take a scalp.”

“What mean you? There is no more butchery! — there can be no more.”

“Saltwater!” exclaimed June, laughing, as she stood peeping through a loophole.

“My dear uncle! Thank God! he then lives! Oh, June, June, you will not let them harm him?

“June, poor squaw. What warrior t’ink of what she say? Arrowhead bring him here.”

By this time Mabel was at a loop; and, sure enough, there were Cap and the Quartermaster in the hands of the Indians, eight or ten of whom were conducting them to the foot of the block, for, by this capture, the enemy now well knew that there could be no man in the building. Mabel scarcely breathed until the whole party stood ranged directly before the door, when she was rejoiced to see that the French officer was among them. A low conversation followed, in which both the white leader and Arrowhead spoke earnestly to their captives, when the Quartermaster called out to her in a voice loud enough to be heard.

“Pretty Mabel! Pretty Mabel!” said he; “Look out of one of the loopholes, and pity our condition. We are threatened with instant death unless you open the door to the conquerors. Relent, then or we’ll no’ be wearing our scalps half an hour from this blessed moment.”

Mabel thought there were mockery and levity in this appeal, and its manner rather fortified than weakened her resolution to hold the place as long as possible.

“Speak to me, uncle,” said she, with her mouth at a loop, “and tell me what I ought to do.”

“Thank God! thank God!” ejaculated Cap; “the sound of your sweet voice, Magnet, lightens my heart of a heavy load, for I feared you had shared the fate of poor Jennie. My breast has felt the last four-and-twenty hours as if a ton of kentledge had been stowed in it. You ask me what you ought to do, child, and I do not know how to advise you, though you are my own sister’s daughter! The most I can say just now, my poor girl, is most heartily to curse the day you or I ever saw this bit of fresh water.”

“But, uncle, is your life in danger — do you think I ought to open the door?”

“A round turn and two half-hitches make a fast belay; and I would counsel no one who is out of the hands of these devils to unbar or unfasten anything in order to fall into them. As to the Quartermaster and myself, we are both elderly men, and not of much account to mankind in general, as honest Pathfinder would say; and it can make no great odds to him whether he balances the purser’s books this year or the next; and as for myself, why, if I were on the seaboard, I should know what to do, but up here, in this watery wilderness, I can only say, that if I were behind that bit of a bulwark, it would take a good deal of Indian logic to rouse me out of it.”

“You’ll no’ be minding all your uncle says, pretty Mabel,” put in Muir, “for distress is obviously fast unsettling his faculties, and he is far from calculating all the necessities of the emergency. We are in the hands here of very considerate and gentlemanly pairsons, it must be acknowledged, and one has little occasion to apprehend disagreeable violence. The casualties that have occurred are the common incidents of war, and can no’ change our sentiments of the enemy, for they are far from indicating that any injustice will be done the prisoners. I’m sure that neither Master Cap nor myself has any cause of complaint since we have given ourselves up to Master Arrowhead, who reminds me of a Roman or a Spartan by his virtues and moderation; but ye’ll be remembering that usages differ, and that our scalps may be lawful sacrifices to appease the manes of fallen foes, unless you save them by capitulation.”

“I shall do wiser to keep within the blockhouse until the fate of the island is settled,” returned Mabel. “Our enemies can feel no concern on account of one like me, knowing that I can do them no harm, and I greatly prefer to remain here as more befitting my sex and years.”

“If nothing but your convenience were concerned, Mabel, we should all cheerfully acquiesce in your wishes, but these gentlemen fancy that the work will aid their operations, and they have a strong desire to possess it. To be frank with you, finding myself and your uncle in a very peculiar situation, I acknowledge that, to avert consequences, I have assumed the power that belongs to his Majesty’s commission, and entered into a verbal capitulation, by which I have engaged to give up the blockhouse and the whole island. It is the fortune of war, and must be submitted to; so open the door, pretty Mabel, forthwith, and confide yourself to the care of those who know how to treat beauty and virtue in distress. There’s no courtier in Scotland more complaisant than this chief, or who is more familiar with the laws of decorum.”

“No leave blockhouse,” muttered June, who stood at Mabel’s side, attentive to all that passed. “Blockhouse good — got no scalp.”

Our heroine might have yielded but for this appeal; for it began to appear to her that the wisest course would be to conciliate the enemy by concessions instead of exasperating them by resistance. They must know that Muir and her uncle were in their power; that there was no man in the building, and she fancied they might proceed to batter down the door, or cut their way through the logs with axes, if she obstinately refused to give them peaceable admission, since there was no longer any reason to dread the rifle. But the words of June induced her to hesitate, and the earnest pressure of the hand and entreating looks of her companion strengthened a resolution that was faltering.

“No prisoner yet,” whispered June; “let ’em make prisoner before ‘ey take prisoner — talk big; June manage ’em.”

Mabel now began to parley more resolutely with Muir, for her uncle seemed disposed to quiet his conscience by holding his tongue, and she plainly intimated that it was not her intention to yield the building.

“You forget the capitulation, Mistress Mabel,” said Muir; “the honor of one of his Majesty’s servants is concerned, and the honor of his Majesty through his servant. You will remember the finesse and delicacy that belong to military honor?”

“I know enough, Mr. Muir, to understand that you have no command in this expedition, and therefore can have no right to yield the blockhouse; and I remember, moreover, to have heard my dear father say that a prisoner loses all his authority for the time being.”

“Rank sophistry, pretty Mabel, and treason to the king, as well as dishonoring his commission and discrediting his name. You’ll no’ be persevering in your intentions, when your better judgment has had leisure to reflect and to make conclusions on matters and circumstances.”

“Ay,” put in Cap, “this is a circumstance, and be d —— d to it!”

“No mind what’e uncle say,” ejaculated June, who was occupied in a far corner of the room. “Blockhouse good — got no scalp.”

“I shall remain as I am, Mr. Muir, until I get some tidings of my father. He will return in the course of the next ten days.”

“Ah, Mabel, this artifice will no’ deceive the enemy, who, by means that would be unintelligible, did not our suspicions rest on an unhappy young man with too much plausibility, are familiar with all our doings and plans, and well know that the sun will not set before the worthy Sergeant and his companions will be in their power. Aweel! Submission to Providence is truly a Christian virtue!”

“Mr. Muir, you appear to be deceived in the strength of this work, and to fancy it weaker than it is. Do you desire to see what I can do in the way of defence, if so disposed?”

“I dinna mind if I do,” answered the Quartermaster, who always grew Scotch as he grew interested.

“What do you think of that, then? Look at the loop of the upper story!”

As soon as Mabel had spoken, all eyes were turned upward, and beheld the muzzle of a rifle cautiously thrust through a hole, June having resorted again to a ruse which had already proved so successful. The result did not disappoint expectation. No sooner did the Indians catch a sight of the fatal weapon than they leaped aside, and in less than a minute every man among them had sought a cover. The French officer kept his eye on the barrel of the piece in order to ascertain that it was not pointed in his particular direction, and he coolly took a pinch of snuff. As neither Muir nor Cap had anything to apprehend from the quarter in which the others were menaced, they kept their ground.

“Be wise, my pretty Mabel, be wise!” exclaimed the former; “and no’ be provoking useless contention. In the name of all the kings of Albin, who have ye closeted with you in that wooden tower that seemeth so bloody-minded? There is necromancy about this matter, and all our characters may be involved in the explanation.”

“What do you think of the Pathfinder, Master Muir, for a garrison to so strong a post?” cried Mabel, resorting to an equivocation which the circumstances rendered very excusable. “What will your French and Indian companions think of the aim of the Pathfinder’s rifle?”

“Bear gently on the unfortunate, pretty Mabel, and do not confound the king’s servants — may Heaven bless him and all his royal lineage! — with the king’s enemies. If Pathfinder be indeed in the blockhouse, let him speak, and we will hold our negotiations directly with him. He knows us as friends, and we fear no evil at his hands, and least of all to myself; for a generous mind is apt to render rivalry in a certain interest a sure ground of respect and amity, since admiration of the same woman proves a community of feeling and tastes.”

The reliance on Pathfinder’s friendship did not extend beyond the Quartermaster and Cap, however, for even the French officer, who had hitherto stood his ground so well, shrank back at the sound of the terrible name. So unwilling, indeed, did this individual, a man of iron nerves, and one long accustomed to the dangers of the peculiar warfare in which he was engaged, appear to remain exposed to the assaults of Killdeer, whose reputation throughout all that frontier was as well established as that of Marlborough in Europe, that he did not disdain to seek a cover, insisting that his two prisoners should follow him. Mabel was too glad to be rid of her enemies to lament the departure of her friends, though she kissed her hand to Cap through the loop, and called out to him in terms of affection as he moved slowly and unwillingly away.

The enemy now seemed disposed to abandon all attempts on the blockhouse for the present; and June, who had ascended to a trap in the roof, whence the best view was to be obtained, reported that the whole party had assembled to eat, on a distant and sheltered part of the island, where Muir and Cap were quietly sharing in the good things which were going, as if they had no concern on their minds. This information greatly relieved Mabel, and she began to turn her thoughts again to the means of effecting her own escape, or at least of letting her father know of the danger that awaited him. The Sergeant was expected to return that afternoon, and she knew that a moment gained or lost might decide his fate.

Three or four hours flew by. The island was again buried in a profound quiet, the day was wearing away, and yet Mabel had decided on nothing. June was in the basement, preparing their frugal meal, and Mabel herself had ascended to the roof, which was provided with a trap that allowed her to go out on the top of the building, whence she commanded the best view of surrounding objects that the island possessed; still it was limited, and much obstructed by the tops of trees. The anxious girl did not dare to trust her person in sight, knowing well that the unrestrained passions of some savage might induce him to send a bullet through her brain. She merely kept her head out of the trap, therefore, whence, in the course of the afternoon, she made as many surveys of the different channels about the island as “Anne, sister Anne,” took of the environs of the castle of Blue Beard.

The sun had actually set; no intelligence had been received from the boats, and Mabel ascended to the roof to take a last look, hoping that the party would arrive in the darkness; which would at least prevent the Indians from rendering their ambuscade so fatal as it might otherwise prove, and which possibly might enable her to give some more intelligible signal, by means of fire, than it would otherwise be in her power to do. Her eye had turned carefully round the whole horizon, and she was just on the point of drawing in her person, when an object that struck her as new caught her attention. The islands lay grouped so closely, that six or eight different channels or passages between them were in view; and in one of the most covered, concealed in a great measure by the bushes of the shore, lay what a second look assured her was a bark canoe. It contained a human being beyond a question. Confident that if an enemy her signal could do no harm, and; if a friend, that it might do good, the eager girl waved a little flag towards the stranger, which she had prepared for her father, taking care that it should not be seen from the island.

Mabel had repeated her signal eight or ten times in vain, and she began to despair of its being noticed, when a sign was given in return by the wave of a paddle, and the man so far discovered himself as to let her see it was Chingachgook. Here, then, at last, was a friend; one, too, who was able, and she doubted not would be willing to aid her. From that instant her courage and her spirits revived. The Mohican had seen her; must have recognized her, as he knew that she was of the party; and no doubt, as soon as it was sufficiently dark, he would take the steps necessary to release her. That he was aware of the presence of the enemy was apparent by the great caution he observed, and she had every reliance on his prudence and address. The principal difficulty now existed with June; for Mabel had seen too much of her fidelity to her own people, relieved as it was by sympathy for herself, to believe she would consent to a hostile Indian’s entering the blockhouse, or indeed to her leaving it, with a view to defeat Arrowhead’s plans. The half-hour which succeeded the discovery of the presence of the Great Serpent was the most painful of Mabel Dunham’s life. She saw the means of effecting all she wished, as it might be within reach of her hand, and yet it eluded her grasp. She knew June’s decision and coolness, notwithstanding all her gentleness and womanly feeling; and at last she came reluctantly to the conclusion that there was no other way of attaining her end than by deceiving her tried companion and protector. It was revolting to one so sincere and natural, so pure of heart, and so much disposed to ingenuousness as Mabel Dunham, to practise deception on a friend like June; but her own father’s life was at stake, her companion would receive no positive injury, and she had feelings and interests directly touching herself which would have removed greater scruples.

As soon as it was dark, Mabel’s heart began to beat with increased violence; and she adopted and changed her plan of proceeding at least a dozen times in a single hour. June was always the source of her greatest embarrassment; for she did not well see, first, how she was to ascertain when Chingachgook was at the door, where she doubted not he would soon appear; and, secondly, how she was to admit him, without giving the alarm to her watchful companion. Time pressed, however; for the Mohican might come and go away again, unless she was ready to receive him. It would be too hazardous to the Delaware to remain long on the island; and it became absolutely necessary to determine on some course, even at the risk of choosing one that was indiscreet. After running over various projects in her mind, therefore, Mabel came to her companion, and said, with as much calmness as she could assume —

“Are you not afraid, June, now your people believe Pathfinder is in the blockhouse, that they will come and try to set it on fire?”

“No t’ink such t’ing. No burn blockhouse. Blockhouse good; got no scalp.”

“June, we cannot know. They hid because they believed what I told them of Pathfinder’s being with us.”

“Believe fear. Fear come quick, go quick. Fear make run away; wit make come back. Fear make warrior fool, as well as young girl.”

Here June laughed, as her sex is apt to laugh when anything particularly ludicrous crosses their youthful fancies.

“I feel uneasy, June; and wish you yourself would go up again to the roof and look out upon the island, to make certain that nothing is plotting against us; you know the signs of what your people intend to do better than I.”

“June go, Lily wish; but very well know that Indian sleep; wait for ‘e fader. Warrior eat, drink, sleep, all time, when don’t fight and go on war-trail. Den never sleep, eat, drink — never feel. Warrior sleep now.”

“God send it may be so! but go up, dear June, and look well about you. Danger may come when we least expect it.”

June arose, and prepared to ascend to the roof; but she paused, with her foot on the first round of the ladder. Mabel’s heart beat so violently that she was fearful its throbs would be heard; and she fancied that some gleamings of her real intentions had crossed the mind of her friend. She was right in part, the Indian woman having actually stopped to consider whether there was any indiscretion in what she was about to do. At first the suspicion that Mabel intended to escape flashed across her mind; then she rejected it, on the ground that the pale-face had no means of getting off the island, and that the blockhouse was much the most secure place she could find. The next thought was, that Mabel had detected some sign of the near approach of her father. This idea, too, lasted but an instant; for June entertained some such opinion of her companion’s ability to understand symptoms of this sort — symptoms that had escaped her own sagacity — as a woman of high fashion entertains of the accomplishments of her maid. Nothing else in the same way offering, she began slowly to mount the ladder.

Just as she reached the upper floor, a lucky thought suggested itself to our heroine; and, by expressing it in a hurried but natural manner, she gained a great advantage in executing her projected scheme.

“I will go down,” she said, “and listen by the door, June, while you are on the roof; and we will thus be on our guard, at the same time, above and below.”

Though June thought this savored of unnecessary caution, well knowing that no one could enter the building unless aided from within, nor any serious danger menace them from the exterior without giving sufficient warning, she attributed the proposition to Mabel’s ignorance and alarm; and, as it was made apparently with frankness, it was received without distrust. By these means our heroine was enabled to descend to the door, as her friend ascended to the roof. The distance between the two was now too great to admit of conversation; and for three or four minutes one was occupied in looking about her as well as the darkness would allow, and the other in listening at the door with as much intentness as if all her senses were absorbed in the single faculty of hearing.

June discovered nothing from her elevated stand; the obscurity indeed almost forbade the hope of such a result; but it would not be easy to describe the sensation with which Mabel thought she perceived a slight and guarded push against the door. Fearful that all might not be as she wished, and anxious to let Chingachgook know that she was near, she began, though in tremulous and low notes, to sing. So profound was the stillness of the moment that the sound of the unsteady warbling ascended to the roof and in a minute June began to descend. A slight tap at the door was heard immediately after. Mabel was bewildered, for there was no time to lose. Hope proved stronger than fear; and with unsteady hands she commenced unbarring the door. The moccasin of June was heard on the floor above her when only a single bar was turned. The second was released as her form reached half-way down the lower ladder.

“What you do?” exclaimed June angrily. “Run away — mad — leave blockhouse; blockhouse good.” The hands of both were on the last bar, and it would have been cleared from the fastenings but for a vigorous shove from without, which jammed the wood. A short struggle ensued, though both were disinclined to violence. June would probably have prevailed, had not another and a more vigorous push from without forced the bar past the trifling impediment that held it, when the door opened. The form of a man was seen to enter; and both the females rushed up the ladder, as if equally afraid of the consequences. The stranger secured the door; and, first examining the lower room with great care, he cautiously ascended the ladder. June, as soon as it became dark, had closed the loops of the principal floor, and lighted a candle. By means of this dim taper, then, the two females stood in expectation, waiting to ascertain the person of their visitor, whose wary ascent of the ladder was distinctly audible, though sufficiently deliberate. It would not be easy to say which was the more astonished on finding, when the stranger had got through the trap, that Pathfinder stood before them.

“God be praised!” Mabel exclaimed, for the idea that the blockhouse would be impregnable with such a garrison at once crossed her mind. “O Pathfinder! what has become of my father?”

“The Sergeant is safe as yet, and victorious; though it is not in the gift of man to say what will be the ind of it. Is not that the wife of Arrowhead skulking in the corner there?”

“Speak not of her reproachfully, Pathfinder; I owe her my life, my present security. Tell me what has happened to my father’s party — why you are here; and I will relate all the horrible events that have passed upon this island.”

“Few words will do the last, Mabel; for one used to Indian devilries needs but little explanations on such a subject. Everything turned out as we had hoped with the expedition; for the Sarpent was on the look-out, and he met us with all the information heart could desire. We ambushed three boats, druv’ the Frenchers out of them, got possession and sunk them, according to orders, in the deepest part of the channel; and the savages of Upper Canada will fare badly for Indian goods this winter. Both powder and ball, too, will be scarcer among them than keen hunters and active warriors may relish. We did not lose a man or have even a skin barked; nor do I think the inimy suffered to speak of. In short, Mabel, it has been just such an expedition as Lundie likes; much harm to the foe, and little harm to ourselves.”

“Ah, Pathfinder, I fear, when Major Duncan comes to hear the whole of the sad tale, he will find reason to regret he ever undertook the affair.”

“I know what you mean, I know what you mean; but by telling my story straight you will understand it better. As soon as the Sergeant found himself successful, he sent me and the Sarpent off in canoes to tell you how matters had turned out, and he is following with the two boats, which, being so much heavier, cannot arrive before morning. I parted from Chingachgook this forenoon, it being agreed that he should come up one set of channels, and I another, to see that the path was clear. I’ve not seen the chief since.”

Mabel now explained the manner in which she had discovered the Mohican, and her expectation that he would yet come to the blockhouse.

“Not he, not he! A regular scout will never get behind walls or logs so long as he can keep the open air and find useful employment. I should not have come myself, Mabel, but I promised the Sergeant to comfort you and to look after your safety. Ah’s me! I reconnoitred the island with a heavy heart this forenoon; and there was a bitter hour when I fancied you might be among the slain.”

“By what lucky accident were you prevented from paddling up boldly to the island and from falling into the hands of the enemy?”

“By such an accident, Mabel, as Providence employs to tell the hound where to find the deer and the deer how to throw off the hound. No, no! these artifices and devilries with dead bodies may deceive the soldiers of the 55th and the king’s officers; but they are all lost upon men who have passed their days in the forest. I came down the channel in face of the pretended fisherman; and, though the riptyles have set up the poor wretch with art, it was not ingenious enough to take in a practysed eye. The rod was held too high, for the 55th have learned to fish at Oswego, if they never knew how before; and then the man was too quiet for one who got neither prey nor bite. But we never come in upon a post blindly; and I have lain outside a garrison a whole night, because they had changed their sentries and their mode of standing guard. Neither the Sarpent nor myself would be likely to be taken in by these clumsy contrivances, which were most probably intended for the Scotch, who are cunning enough in some particulars, though anything but witches when Indian sarcumventions are in the wind.”

“Do you think my father and his men may yet be deceived?” said Mabel quickly.

“Not if I can prevent it, Mabel. You say the Sarpent is on the look-out too; so there is a double chance of our succeeding in letting him know his danger; though it is by no means sartain by which channel the party may come.”

“Pathfinder,” said our heroine solemnly, for the frightful scenes she had witnessed had clothed death with unusual horrors — “Pathfinder, you have professed love for me, a wish to make me your wife?”

“I did ventur’ to speak on that subject, Mabel, and the Sergeant has even lately said that you are kindly disposed; but I am not a man to persecute the thing I love.”

“Hear me, Pathfinder, I respect you, honor you, revere you; save my father from this dreadful death, and I can worship you. Here is my hand, as a solemn pledge for my faith, when you come to claim it.”

“Bless you, bless you, Mabel; this is more than I desarve — more, I fear, than I shall know how to profit by as I ought. It was not wanting, however, to make me sarve the Sergeant. We are old comrades, and owe each other a life; though I fear me, Mabel, being a father’s comrade is not always the best recommendation with a daughter.”

“You want no other recommendation than your own acts — your courage, your fidelity. All that you do and say, Pathfinder, my reason approves, and the heart will, nay, it shall follow.”

“This is a happiness I little expected this night; but we are in God’s hands, and He will protect us in His own way. These are sweet words, Mabel; but they were not wanting to make me do all that man can do in the present circumstances; they will not lessen my endeavors, neither.”

“Now we understand each other, Pathfinder,” Mabel added hoarsely, “let us not lose one of the precious moments, which may be of incalculable value. Can we not get into your canoe and go and meet my father?”

“That is not the course I advise. I don’t know by which channel the Sergeant will come, and there are twenty; rely on it, the Sarpent will be winding his way through them all. No, no! my advice is to remain here. The logs of this blockhouse are still green, and it will not be easy to set them on fire; and I can make good the place, bating a burning, ag’in a tribe. The Iroquois nation cannot dislodge me from this fortress, so long as we can keep the flames off it. The Sergeant is now ‘camped on some island, and will not come in until morning. If we hold the block, we can give him timely warning, by firing rifles, for instance; and should he determine to attack the savages, as a man of his temper will be very likely to do, the possession of this building will be of great account in the affair. No, no! my judgment says remain, if the object be to sarve the Sergeant, though escape for our two selves will be no very difficult matter.”

“Stay,” murmured Mabel, “stay, for God’s sake, Pathfinder! Anything, everything to save my father!”

“Yes, that is natur’. I am glad to hear you say this, Mabel, for I own a wish to see the Sergeant fairly supported. As the matter now stands, he has gained himself credit; and, could he once drive off these miscreants, and make an honorable retreat, laying the huts and block in ashes, no doubt, Lundie would remember it and sarve him accordingly. Yes, yes, Mabel, we must not only save the Sergeant’s life, but we must save his reputation.”

“No blame can rest on my father on account of the surprise of this island.”

“There’s no telling, there’s no telling; military glory is a most unsartain thing. I’ve seen the Delawares routed, when they desarved more credit than at other times when they’ve carried the day. A man is wrong to set his head on success of any sort, and worst of all on success in war. I know little of the settlements, or of the notions that men hold in them; but up hereaway even the Indians rate a warrior’s character according to his luck. The principal thing with a soldier is never to be whipt; nor do I think mankind stops long to consider how the day was won or lost. For my part, Mabel, I make it a rule when facing the inimy to give him as good as I can send, and to try to be moderate after a defeat, little need be said on that score, as a flogging is one of the most humbling things in natur’. The parsons preach about humility in the garrison; but if humility would make Christians, the king’s troops ought to be saints, for they’ve done little as yet this war but take lessons from the French, beginning at Fort du Quesne and ending at Ty.”

“My father could not have suspected that the position of the island was known to the enemy,” resumed Mabel, whose thoughts were running on the probable effect of the recent events on the Sergeant.

“That is true; nor do I well see how the Frenchers found it out. The spot is well chosen, and it is not an easy matter, even for one who has travelled the road to and from it, to find it again. There has been treachery, I fear; yes, yes, there must have been treachery.”

“Oh, Pathfinder! can this be?”

“Nothing is easier, Mabel, for treachery comes as nat’ral to some men as eating. Now when I find a man all fair words I look close to his deeds; for when the heart is right, and really intends to do good, it is generally satisfied to let the conduct speak instead of the tongue.”

“Jasper Western is not one of these,” said Mabel impetuously. “No youth can be more sincere in his manner, or less apt to make the tongue act for the head.”

“Jasper Western! tongue and heart are both right with that lad, depend on it, Mabel; and the notion taken up by Lundie, and the Quartermaster, and the Sergeant, and your uncle too, is as wrong as it would be to think that the sun shone by night and the stars shone by day. No, no; I’ll answer for Eau-douce’s honesty with my own scalp, or, at need, with my own rifle.”

“Bless you, bless you, Pathfinder!” exclaimed Mabel, extending her own hand and pressing the iron fingers of her companion, under a state of feeling that far surpassed her own consciousness of its strength. “You are all that is generous, all that is noble! God will reward you for it.”

“Ah, Mabel, I fear me, if this be true, I should not covet such a wife as yourself; but would leave you to be sued for by some gentleman of the garrison, as your desarts require.”

“We will not talk of this any more to-night,” Mabel answered in a voice so smothered as to seem nearly choked. “We must think less of ourselves just now, Pathfinder, and more of our friends. But I rejoice from my soul that you believe Jasper innocent. Now let us talk of other things — ought we not to release June?”

“I’ve been thinking about the woman; for it will not be safe to shut our eyes and leave hers open, on this side of the blockhouse door. If we put her in the upper room, and take away the ladder, she’ll be a prisoner at least.”

“I cannot treat one thus who has saved my life. It would be better to let her depart, for I think she is too much my friend to do anything to harm me.”

“You do not know the race, Mabel, you do not know the race. It’s true she’s not a full-blooded Mingo, but she consorts with the vagabonds, and must have larned some of their tricks. What is that?”

“It sounds like oars; some boat is passing through the channel.”

Pathfinder closed the trap that led to the lower room, to prevent June from escaping, extinguished the candle, and went hastily to a loop, Mabel looking over his shoulder in breathless curiosity. These several movements consumed a minute or two; and by the time the eye of the scout had got a dim view of things without, two boats had swept past and shot up to the shore, at a spot some fifty yards beyond the block, where there was a regular landing. The obscurity prevented more from being seen; and Pathfinder whispered to Mabel that the new-comers were as likely to be foes as friends, for he did not think her father could possibly have arrived so soon. A number of men were now seen to quit the boats, and then followed three hearty English cheers, leaving no further doubts of the character of the party. Pathfinder sprang to the trap, raised it, glided down the ladder, and began to unbar the door, with an earnestness that proved how critical he deemed the moment. Mabel had followed, but she rather impeded than aided his exertions, and but a single bar was turned when a heavy discharge of rifles was heard. They were still standing in breathless suspense, as the war-whoop rang in all the surrounding thickets. The door now opened, and both Pathfinder and Mabel rushed into the open air. All human sounds had ceased. After listening half a minute, however, Pathfinder thought he heard a few stifled groans near the boats; but the wind blew so fresh, and the rustling of the leaves mingled so much with the murmurs of the passing air, that he was far from certain. But Mabel was borne away by her feelings, and she rushed by him, taking the way towards the boats.

“This will not do, Mabel,” said the scout in an earnest but low voice, seizing her by an arm; “this will never do. Sartain death would follow, and that without sarving any one. We must return to the block.”

“Father! my poor, dear, murdered father!” said the girl wildly, though habitual caution, even at that trying moment, induced her to speak low. “Pathfinder, if you love me, let me go to my dear father.”

“This will not do, Mabel. It is singular that no one speaks; no one returns the fire from the boats; and I have left Killdeer in the block! But of what use would a rifle be when no one is to be seen?”

At that moment the quick eye of Pathfinder, which, while he held Mabel firmly in his grasp, had never ceased to roam over the dim scene, caught an indistinct view of five or six dark crouching forms, endeavoring to steal past him, doubtless with the intention of intercepting the retreat to the blockhouse. Catching up Mabel, and putting her under an arm, as if she were an infant, the sinewy frame of the woodsman was exerted to the utmost, and he succeeded in entering the building. The tramp of his pursuers seemed immediately at his heels. Dropping his burden, he turned, closed the door, and had fastened one bar, as a rush against the solid mass threatened to force it from the hinges. To secure the other bars was the work of an instant.

Mabel now ascended to the first floor, while Pathfinder remained as a sentinel below. Our heroine was in that state in which the body exerts itself, apparently without the control of the mind. She relighted the candle mechanically, as her companion had desired, and returned with it below, where he was waiting her reappearance. No sooner was Pathfinder in possession of the light than he examined the place carefully, to make certain no one was concealed in the fortress, ascending to each floor in succession, after assuring himself that he left no enemy in his rear. The result was the conviction that the blockhouse now contained no one but Mabel and himself, June having escaped. When perfectly convinced on this material point, Pathfinder rejoined our heroine in the principal apartment, setting down the light and examining the priming of Killdeer before he seated himself.

“Our worst fears are realized!” said Mabel, to whom the hurry and excitement of the last five minutes appeared to contain the emotions of a life. “My beloved father and all his party are slain or captured!”

“We don’t know that — morning will tell us all. I do not think the affair so settled as that, or we should hear the vagabond Mingos yelling out their triumph around the blockhouse. Of one thing we may be sartain; if the inimy has really got the better, he will not be long in calling upon us to surrender. The squaw will let him into the secret of our situation; and, as they well know the place cannot be fired by daylight, so long as Killdeer continues to desarve his reputation, you may depend on it that they will not be backward in making their attempt while darkness helps them.”

“Surely I hear a groan!”

“’Tis fancy, Mabel; when the mind gets to be skeary, especially a woman’s mind, she often concaits things that have no reality. I’ve known them that imagined there was truth in dreams.”

“Nay, I am not deceived; there is surely one below, and in pain.”

Pathfinder was compelled to own that the quick senses of Mabel had not deceived her. He cautioned her, however, to repress her feelings; and reminded her that the savages were in the practice of resorting to every artifice to attain their ends, and that nothing was more likely than that the groans were feigned with a view to lure them from the blockhouse, or, at least, to induce them to open the door.

“No, no, no!” said Mabel hurriedly; “there is no artifice in those sounds, and they come from anguish of body, if not of spirit. They are fearfully natural.”

“Well, we shall soon know whether a friend is there or not. Hide the light again, Mabel, and I will speak the person from a loop.”

Not a little precaution was necessary, according to Pathfinder’s judgment and experience, in performing even this simple act; for he had known the careless slain by their want of proper attention to what might have seemed to the ignorant supererogatory means of safety. He did not place his mouth to the loop itself, but so near it that he could be heard without raising his voice, and the same precaution was observed as regards his ear.

“Who is below?” Pathfinder demanded, when his arrangements were made to his mind. “Is any one in suffering? If a friend, speak boldly, and depend on our aid.”

“Pathfinder!” answered a voice that both Mabel and the person addressed at once knew to be the Sergeant’s — “Pathfinder, in the name of God, tell me what has become of my daughter.”

“Father, I am here, unhurt, safe! and oh that I could think the same of you!”

The ejaculation of thanksgiving that followed was distinctly audible to the two, but it was clearly mingled with, a groan of pain.

“My worst forebodings are realized!” said Mabel with a sort of desperate calmness. “Pathfinder, my father must be brought within the block, though we hazard everything to do it.”

“This is natur’, and it is the law of God. But, Mabel, be calm, and endivor to be cool. All that can be effected for the Sergeant by human invention shall be done. I only ask you to be cool.”

“I am, I am, Pathfinder. Never in my life was I more calm, more collected, than at this moment. But remember how perilous may be every instant; for Heaven’s sake, what we do, let us do without delay.”

Pathfinder was struck with the firmness of Mabel’s tones, and perhaps he was a little deceived by the forced tranquillity and self-possession she had assumed. At all events, he did not deem any further explanations necessary, but descended forthwith, and began to unbar the door. This delicate process was conducted with the usual caution, but, as he warily permitted the mass of timber to swing back on the hinges, he felt a pressure against it, that had nearly induced him to close it again. But, catching a glimpse of the cause through the crack, the door was permitted to swing back, when the body of Sergeant Dunham, which was propped against it, fell partly within the block. To draw in the legs and secure the fastenings occupied the Pathfinder but a moment. Then there existed no obstacle to their giving their undivided care to the wounded man.

Mabel, in this trying scene, conducted herself with the sort of unnatural energy that her sex, when aroused, is apt to manifest. She got the light, administered water to the parched lips of her father, and assisted Pathfinder in forming a bed of straw for his body and a pillow of clothes for his head. All this was done earnestly, and almost without speaking; nor did Mabel shed a tear, until she heard the blessings of her father murmured on her head for this tenderness and care. All this time Mabel had merely conjectured the condition of her parent. Pathfinder, however, had shown greater attention to the physical danger of the Sergeant. He had ascertained that a rifle-ball had passed through the body of the wounded man; and he was sufficiently familiar with injuries of this nature to be certain that the chances of his surviving the hurt were very trifling, if any.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/c/cooper/james_fenimore/pathfinder/chapter23.html

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