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

Chapter 30.

Oh! let me only breathe the air,

The blessed air that’s breath’d by thee;

And, whether on its wings it bear

Healing or death, ’tis sweet to me!

MOORE.

Pathfinder was accustomed to solitude; but, when the Scud had actually disappeared, he was almost overcome with a sense of his loneliness. Never before had he been conscious of his isolated condition in the world; for his feelings had gradually been accustoming themselves to the blandishments and wants of social life; particularly as the last were connected with the domestic affections. Now, all had vanished, as it might be, in one moment; and he was left equally without companions and without hope. Even Chingachgook had left him, though it was but temporarily; still his presence was missed at the precise instant which might be termed the most critical in our hero’s life.

Pathfinder stood leaning on his rifle, in the attitude described in the last chapter, a long time after the Scud had disappeared. The rigidity of his limbs seemed permanent; and none but a man accustomed to put his muscles to the severest proof could have maintained that posture, with its marble-like inflexibility, for so great a length of time. At length he moved away from the spot; the motion of the body being preceded by a sigh that seemed to heave up from the very depths of his bosom.

It was a peculiarity of this extraordinary being that his senses and his limbs, for all practical purposes, were never at fault, let the mind be preoccupied with other interests as much as it might. On the present occasion neither of these great auxiliaries failed him; but, though his thoughts were exclusively occupied with Mabel, her beauty, her preference of Jasper, her tears, and her departure, he moved in a direct line to the spot where June still remained, which was the grave of her husband. The conversation that followed passed in the language of the Tuscaroras, which Pathfinder spoke fluently; but, as that tongue is understood only by the extremely learned, we shall translate it freely into the English; preserving, as far as possible, the tone of thought of each interlocutor, as well as the peculiarities of manner. June had suffered her hair to fall about her face, had taken a seat on a stone which had been dug from the excavation made by the grave, and was hanging over the spot which contained the body of Arrowhead, unconscious of the presence of any other. She believed, indeed, that all had left the island but herself, and the tread of the guide’s moccasined foot was too noiseless rudely to undeceive her.

Pathfinder stood gazing at the woman for several minutes in mute attention. The contemplation of her grief, the recollection of her irreparable loss, and the view of her desolation produced a healthful influence on his own feelings; his reason telling him how much deeper lay the sources of grief in a young wife, who was suddenly and violently deprived of her husband, than in himself.

“Dew-of-June,” he said solemnly, but with an earnestness which denoted the strength of his sympathy, “you are not alone in your sorrow. Turn, and let your eyes look upon a friend.”

“June has no longer any friend!” the woman answered. “Arrowhead has gone to the happy hunting-grounds, and there is no one left to care for June. The Tuscaroras would chase her from their wigwams; the Iroquois are hateful in her eyes, and she could not look at them. No! Leave June to starve over the grave of her husband.”

“This will never do — this will never do. ’Tis ag’in reason and right. You believe in the Manitou, June?”

“He has hid his face from June because he is angry. He has left her alone to die.”

“Listen to one who has had a long acquaintance with red natur’, though he has a white birth and white gifts. When the Manitou of a pale-face wishes to produce good in a pale-face heart He strikes it with grief; for it is in our sorrows, June, that we look with the truest eyes into ourselves, and with the farthest-sighted eyes too, as respects right. The Great Spirit wishes you well, and He has taken away the chief, lest you should be led astray by his wily tongue, and get to be a Mingo in your disposition, as you were already in your company.”

“Arrowhead was a great chief,” returned the woman proudly.

“He had his merits, he had; and he had his demerits, too. But June you are not desarted, nor will you be soon. Let your grief out — let it out, according to natur’, and when the proper time comes I shall have more to say to you.”

Pathfinder now went to his own canoe, and he left the island. In the course of the day June heard the crack of his rifle once or twice; and as the sun was setting he reappeared, bringing her birds ready cooked, and of a delicacy and flavor that might have tempted the appetite of an epicure. This species of intercourse lasted a month, June obstinately refusing to abandon the grave of her husband all that time, though she still accepted the friendly offerings of her protector. Occasionally they met and conversed, Pathfinder sounding the state of the woman’s feelings; but the interviews were short, and far from frequent. June slept in one of the huts, and she laid down her head in security, for she was conscious of the protection of a friend, though Pathfinder invariably retired at night to an adjacent island, where he had built himself a hut.

At the end of the month, however, the season was getting to be too far advanced to render her situation pleasant to June. The trees had lost their leaves, and the nights were becoming cold and wintry. It was time to depart.

At this moment Chingachgook reappeared. He had a long and confidential interview on the island with his friend. June witnessed their movements, and she saw that her guardian was distressed. Stealing to his side, she endeavored to soothe his sorrow with a woman’s gentleness and with a woman’s instinct.

“Thank you, June, thank you!” he said; “’tis well meant, though it’s useless. But it is time to quit this place. To-morrow we shall depart. You will go with us, for now you’ve got to feel reason.”

June assented in the meek manner of an Indian woman, and she withdrew to pass the remainder of her time near the grave of Arrowhead. Regardless of the hour and the season, the young widow did not pillow her head during the whole of that autumnal night. She sat near the spot that held the remains of her husband, and prayed, in the manner of her people, for his success on the endless path on which he had so lately gone, and for their reunion in the land of the just. Humble and degraded as she would have seemed in the eyes of the sophisticated and unreflecting, the image of God was on her soul, and it vindicated its divine origin by aspirations and feelings that would have surprised those who, feigning more, feel less.

In the morning the three departed, Pathfinder earnest and intelligent in all he did, the Great Serpent silent and imitative, and June meek, resigned, but sorrowful. They went in two canoes, that of the woman being abandoned: Chingachgook led the way, and Pathfinder followed, the course being up stream. Two days they paddled westward, and as many nights they encamped on islands. Fortunately the weather became mild, and when they reached the lake it was found smooth and glassy as a pond. It was the Indian summer, and the calms, and almost the blandness of June, slept in the hazy atmosphere.

On the morning of the third day they passed the mouth of the Oswego, where the fort and the sleeping ensign invited them in vain to enter. Without casting a look aside, Chingachgook paddled past the dark waters of the river, and Pathfinder still followed in silent industry. The ramparts were crowded with spectators; but Lundie, who knew the persons of his old friends, refused to allow them to be even hailed.

It was noon when Chingachgook entered a little bay where the Scud lay at anchor, in a sort of roadstead. A small ancient clearing was on the shore; and near the margin of the lake was a log dwelling, recently and completely, though rudely fitted up. There was an air of frontier comfort and of frontier abundance around the place, though it was necessarily wild and solitary. Jasper stood on the shore; and when Pathfinder landed, he was the first to take him by the hand. The meeting was simple, but very cordial. No questions were asked, it being apparent that Chingachgook had made the necessary explanations. Pathfinder never squeezed his friend’s hand more cordially than in this interview; and he even laughed cordially in his face as he told him how happy and well he appeared.

“Where is she, Jasper? Where is she?” the guide at length whispered, for at first he had seemed to be afraid to trust himself with the question.

“She is waiting for us in the house, my dear friend, where you see that June has already hastened before us.”

“June may use a lighter step to meet Mabel, but she cannot carry a lighter heart. And so, lad, you found the chaplain at the garrison, and all was soon settled?”

“We were married within a week after we left you, and Master Cap departed next day. You have forgotten to inquire about your friend Saltwater.”

“Not I, not I; the Sarpent has told me all that: and then I love to hear so much of Mabel and her happiness, I do. Did the child smile or did she weep when the ceremony was over?”

“She did both, my friend; but —”

“Yes, that’s their natur’, tearful and cheerful. Ah’s me! They are very pleasant to us of the woods; and I do believe I should think all right, whatever Mabel might do. And do you think, Jasper, that she thought of me at all on that joyful occasion?”

“I know she did, Pathfinder; and she thinks of you and talks of you daily, almost hourly. None love you as we do.”

“I know few love me better than yourself, Jasper: Chingachgook is perhaps, now, the only creatur’ of whom I can say that. Well, there’s no use in putting it off any longer; it must be done, and may as well be done at once; so, Jasper, lead the way, and I’ll endivor to look upon her sweet countenance once more.”

Jasper did lead the way, and they were soon in the presence of Mabel. The latter met her late suitor with a bright blush, and her limbs trembled so, she could hardly stand; still her manner was affectionate and frank. During the hour of Pathfinder’s visit (for it lasted no longer, though he ate in the dwelling of his friends), one who was expert in tracing the working of the human mind might have seen a faithful index to the feelings of Mabel in her manner to Pathfinder and her husband. With the latter she still had a little of the reserve that usually accompanies young wedlock; but the tones of her voice were kinder even than common; the glance of her eye was tender, and she seldom looked at him without the glow that tinged her cheeks betraying the existence of feelings that habit and time had not yet soothed into absolute tranquillity. With Pathfinder, all was earnest, sincere, even anxious; but the tones never trembled, the eye never fell; and if the cheek flushed, it was with the emotions that are connected with concern.

At length the moment came when Pathfinder must go his way. Chingachgook had already abandoned the canoes, and was posted on the margin of the woods, where a path led into the forest. Here he calmly waited to be joined by his friend. As soon as the latter was aware of this fact, he rose in a solemn manner and took his leave.

“I’ve sometimes thought that my own fate has been a little hard,” he said; “but that of this woman, Mabel, has shamed me into reason.”

“June remains, and lives with me,” eagerly interrupted our heroine.

“So I comprehend it. If anybody can bring her back from her grief, and make her wish to live, you can do it, Mabel; though I’ve misgivings about even your success. The poor creatur’ is without a tribe, as well as without a husband, and it’s not easy to reconcile the feelings to both losses. Ah’s me! — what have I to do with other people’s miseries and marriages, as if I hadn’t affliction enough of my own? Don’t speak to me, Mabel — don’t speak to me, Jasper — let me go my way in peace, and like a man. I’ve seen your happiness, and that is a great deal, and I shall be able to bear my own sorrow all the better for it. No — I’ll never kiss you ag’in, Mabel, I’ll never kiss you ag’in. Here’s my hand, Jasper — squeeze it, boy, squeeze it; no fear of its giving way, for it’s the hand of a man; — and now, Mabel, do you take it — nay, you must not do this,"— preventing Mabel from kissing it and bathing it in her tears — “you must not do this —”

“Pathfinder,” asked Mabel, “when shall we see you again?”

“I’ve thought of that, too; yes, I’ve thought of that, I have. If the time should ever come when I can look upon you altogether as a sister, Mabel, or a child — it might be better to say a child, since you’re young enough to be my daughter — depend on it I’ll come back; for it would lighten my very heart to witness your gladness. But if I cannot — farewell — farewell — the Sergeant was wrong — yes, the Sergeant was wrong!”

This was the last the Pathfinder ever uttered to the ears of Jasper Western and Mabel Dunham. He turned away, as if the words choked him, and was quickly at the side of his friend. As soon as the latter saw him approach, he shouldered his own burthen, and glided in among the trees, without waiting to be spoken to. Mabel, her husband, and June all watched the form of the Pathfinder, in the hope of receiving a parting gesture, or a stolen glance of the eye; but he did not look back. Once or twice they thought they saw his head shake, as one trembles in bitterness of spirit; and a toss of the hand was given, as if he knew that he was watched; but a tread, whose vigor no sorrow could enfeeble, soon bore him out of view, and was lost in the depths of the forest.

Neither Jasper nor his wife ever beheld the Pathfinder again. They remained for another year on the banks of Ontario; and then the pressing solicitations of Cap induced them to join him in New York, where Jasper eventually became a successful and respected merchant. Thrice Mabel received valuable presents of furs at intervals of years; and her feelings told her whence they came, though no name accompanied the gift. Later in life still, when the mother of several youths, she had occasion to visit the interior; and found herself on the banks of the Mohawk, accompanied by her sons, the eldest of whom was capable of being her protector. On that occasion she observed a man in a singular guise, watching her in the distance, with an intentness that induced her to inquire into his pursuits and character. She was told he was the most renowned hunter of that portion of the State — it was after the Revolution — a being of great purity of character and of as marked peculiarities; and that he was known in that region of country by the name of the Leatherstocking. Further than this Mrs. Western could not ascertain; though the distant glimpse and singular deportment of this unknown hunter gave her a sleepless night, and cast a shade of melancholy over her still lovely face, that lasted many a day.

As for June, the double loss of husband and tribe produced the effect that Pathfinder had foreseen. She died in the cottage of Mabel, on the shores of the lake; and Jasper conveyed her body to the island, where he interred it by the side of that of Arrowhead.

Lundie lived to marry his ancient love, and retired a war-worn and battered veteran; but his name has been rendered illustrious in our own time by the deeds of a younger brother, who succeeded to his territorial title, which, however, was shortly after merged in one earned by his valor on the ocean.

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