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

Chapter 8.

A land of love, and a land of light,

Withouten sun, or moon, or night:

Where the river swa’d a living stream,

And the light a pure celestial beam:

The land of vision, it would seem

A still, an everlasting dream.

Queen’s Wake.

The rest that succeeds fatigue, and which attends a newly awakened sense of security, is generally sweet and deep. Such was the fact with Mabel, who did not rise from her humble pallet — such a bed as a sergeant’s daughter might claim in a remote frontier post — until long after the garrison had obeyed the usual summons of the drums, and had assembled at the morning parade. Sergeant Dunham, on whose shoulders fell the task of attending to these ordinary and daily duties, had got through all his morning avocations, and was beginning to think of his breakfast, before his child left her room, and came into the fresh air, equally bewildered, delighted, and grateful, at the novelty and security of her new situation.

At the time of which we are writing, Oswego was one of the extreme frontier posts of the British possessions on this continent. It had not been long occupied, and was garrisoned by a battalion of a regiment which had been originally Scotch, but into which many Americans had been received since its arrival in this country; all innovation that had led the way to Mabel’s father filling the humble but responsible situation of the oldest sergeant. A few young officers also, who were natives of the colonies, were to be found in the corps. The fort itself, like most works of that character, was better adapted to resist an attack of savages than to withstand a regular siege; but the great difficulty of transporting heavy artillery and other necessaries rendered the occurrence of the latter a probability so remote as scarcely to enter into the estimate of the engineers who had planned the defences. There were bastions of earth and logs, a dry ditch, a stockade, a parade of considerable extent, and barracks of logs, that answered the double purpose of dwellings and fortifications. A few light field-pieces stood in the area of the fort, ready to be conveyed to any point where they might be wanted, and one or two heavy iron guns looked out from the summits of the advanced angles, as so many admonitions to the audacious to respect their power.

When Mabel, quitting the convenient, but comparatively retired hut where her father had been permitted to place her, issued into the pure air of the morning, she found herself at the foot of a bastion, which lay invitingly before her, with a promise of giving a coup d’oeil of all that had been concealed in the darkness of the preceding night. Tripping up the grassy ascent, the light-hearted as well as light-footed girl found herself at once on a point where the sight, at a few varying glances, could take in all the external novelties of her new situation.

To the southward lay the forest, through which she had been journeying so many weary days, and which had proved so full of dangers. It was separated from the stockade by a belt of open land, that had been principally cleared of its woods to form the martial constructions around her. This glacis, for such in fact was its military uses, might have covered a hundred acres; but with it every sign of civilization ceased. All beyond was forest; that dense, interminable forest which Mabel could now picture to herself, through her recollections, with its hidden glassy lakes, its dark rolling stream, and its world of nature.

Turning from this view, our heroine felt her cheek fanned by a fresh and grateful breeze, such as she had not experienced since quitting the far distant coast. Here a new scene presented itself: although expected, it was not without a start, and a low exclamation indicative of pleasure, that the eager eyes of the girl drank in its beauties. To the north, and east, and west, in every direction, in short, over one entire half of the novel panorama, lay a field of rolling waters. The element was neither of that glassy green which distinguishes the American waters in general, nor yet of the deep blue of the ocean, the color being of a slightly amber hue, which scarcely affected its limpidity. No land was to be seen, with the exception of the adjacent coast, which stretched to the right and left in an unbroken outline of forest with wide bays and low headlands or points; still, much of the shore was rocky, and into its caverns the sluggish waters occasionally rolled, producing a hollow sound, which resembled the concussions of a distant gun. No sail whitened the surface, no whale or other fish gambolled on its bosom, no sign of use or service rewarded the longest and most minute gaze at its boundless expanse. It was a scene, on one side, of apparently endless forests, while a waste of seemingly interminable water spread itself on the other. Nature appeared to have delighted in producing grand effects, by setting two of her principal agents in bold relief to each other, neglecting details; the eye turning from the broad carpet of leaves to the still broader field of fluid, from the endless but gentle heavings of the lake to the holy calm and poetical solitude of the forest, with wonder and delight.

Mabel Dunham, though unsophisticated, like most of her countrywomen of that period, and ingenuous and frank as any warm-hearted and sincere-minded girl well could be, was not altogether without a feeling for the poetry of this beautiful earth of ours. Although she could scarcely be said to be educated at all, for few of her sex at that day and in this country received much more than the rudiments of plain English instruction, still she had been taught much more than was usual for young women in her own station in life; and, in one sense certainly, she did credit to her teaching. The widow of a field-officer, who formerly belonged to the same regiment as her father, had taken the child in charge at the death of its mother; and under the care of this lady Mabel had acquired some tastes and many ideas which otherwise might always have remained strangers to her. Her situation in the family had been less that of a domestic than of a humble companion, and the results were quite apparent in her attire, her language, her sentiments, and even in her feelings, though neither, perhaps, rose to the level of those which would properly characterize a lady. She had lost the less refined habits and manners of one in her original position, without having quite reached a point that disqualified her for the situation in life that the accidents of birth and fortune would probably compel her to fill. All else that was distinctive and peculiar in her belonged to natural character.

With such antecedents it will occasion the reader no wonder if he learns that Mabel viewed the novel scene before her with a pleasure far superior to that produced by vulgar surprise. She felt its ordinary beauties as most would have felt them, but she had also a feeling for its sublimity — for that softened solitude, that calm grandeur, and eloquent repose, which ever pervades broad views of natural objects yet undisturbed by the labors and struggles of man.

“How beautiful!” she exclaimed, unconscious of speaking, as she stood on the solitary bastion, facing the air from the lake, and experiencing the genial influence of its freshness pervading both her body and her mind. “How very beautiful! and yet how singular!”

The words, and the train of her ideas, were interrupted by a touch of a finger on her shoulder, and turning, in the expectation of seeing her father, Mabel found Pathfinder at her side. He was leaning quietly on his long rifle, and laughing in his quiet manner, while, with an outstretched arm, he swept over the whole panorama of land and water.

“Here you have both our domains,” said he — “Jasper’s and mine. The lake is for him, and the woods are for me. The lad sometimes boasts of the breadth of his dominions; but I tell him my trees make as broad a plain on the face of this ‘arth as all his water. Well, Mabel, you are fit for either; for I do not see that fear of the Mingos, or night-marches, can destroy your pretty looks.”

“It is a new character for the Pathfinder to appear in, to compliment a silly girl.”

“Not silly, Mabel; no, not in the least silly. The Sergeant’s daughter would do discredit to her worthy father, were she to do or say anything that could be called silly.”

“Then she must take care and not put too much faith in treacherous, flattering words. But, Pathfinder, I rejoice to see you among us again; for, though Jasper did not seem to feel much uneasiness, I was afraid some accident might have happened to you and your friend on that frightful rift.”

“The lad knows us both, and was sartain that we should not drown, which is scarcely one of my gifts. It would have been hard swimming of a sartainty, with a long-barrelled rifle in the hand; and what between the game, and the savages and the French, Killdeer and I have gone through too much in company to part very easily. No, no; we waded ashore, the rift being shallow enough for that with small exceptions, and we landed with our arms in our hands. We had to take our time for it, on account of the Iroquois, I will own; but, as soon as the skulking vagabonds saw the lights that the Sergeant sent down to your canoe, we well understood they would decamp, since a visit might have been expected from some of the garrison. So it was only sitting patiently on the stones for an hour, and all the danger was over. Patience is the greatest of virtues in a woodsman.”

“I rejoice to hear this, for fatigue itself could scarcely make me sleep, for thinking of what might befall you.”

“Lord bless your tender little heart, Mabel! but this is the way with all you gentle ones. I must say, on my part, however, that I was right glad to see the lanterns come down to the waterside, which I knew to be a sure sign of your safety. We hunters and guides are rude beings; but we have our feelings and our idees, as well as any general in the army. Both Jasper and I would have died before you should have come to harm — we would.”

“I thank you for all you did for me, Pathfinder; from the bottom of my heart, I thank you; and, depend on it, my father shall know it. I have already told him much, but have still a duty to perform on this subject.”

“Tush, Mabel! The Sergeant knows what the woods be, and what men — true red men — be, too. There is little need to tell him anything about it. Well, now you have met your father, do you find the honest old soldier the sort of person you expected to find?”

“He is my own dear father, and received me as a soldier and a father should receive a child. Have you known him long, Pathfinder?”

“That is as people count time. I was just twelve when the Sergeant took me on my first scouting, and that is now more than twenty years ago. We had a tramping time of it; and, as it was before your day, you would have had no father, had not the rifle been one of my natural gifts.”

“Explain yourself.”

“It is too simple for many words. We were ambushed, and the Sergeant got a bad hurt, and would have lost his scalp, but for a sort of inbred turn I took to the weapon. We brought him off, however, and a handsomer head of hair, for his time of life, is not to be found in the rijiment than the Sergeant carries about with him this blessed day.”

“You saved my father’s life, Pathfinder!” exclaimed Mabel, unconsciously, though warmly, taking one of his hard, sinewy hands into both her own. “God bless you for this, too, among your other good acts!”

“Nay, I did not say that much, though I believe I did save his scalp. A man might live without a scalp, and so I cannot say I saved his life. Jasper may say that much consarning you; for without his eye and arm the canoe would never have passed the rift in safety on a night like the last. The gifts of the lad are for the water, while mine are for the hunt and the trail. He is yonder, in the cove there, looking after the canoes, and keeping his eye on his beloved little craft. To my eye, there is no likelier youth in these parts than Jasper Western.”

For the first time since she had left her room, Mabel now turned her eyes beneath her, and got a view of what might be called the foreground of the remarkable picture she had been studying with so much pleasure. The Oswego threw its dark waters into the lake, between banks of some height; that on its eastern side being bolder and projecting farther north than that on its western. The fort was on the latter, and immediately beneath it were a few huts of logs, which, as they could not interfere with the defence of the place, had been erected along the strand for the purpose of receiving and containing such stores as were landed, or were intended to be embarked, in the communications between the different ports on the shores of Ontario. Two low, curved, gravelly points had been formed with surprising regularity by the counteracting forces of the northerly winds and the swift current, and, inclining from the storms of the lake, formed two coves within the river: that on the western side was the most deeply indented; and, as it also had the most water, it formed a sort of picturesque little port for the post. It was along the narrow strand that lay between the low height of the fort and the water of this cove, that the rude buildings just mentioned had been erected.

Several skiffs, bateaux, and canoes were hauled up on the shore, and in the cove itself lay the little craft from which Jasper obtained his claim to be considered a sailor. She was cutter-rigged, might have been of forty tons burthen, was so neatly constructed and painted as to have something of the air of a vessel of war, though entirely without quarters, and rigged and sparred with so scrupulous a regard to proportions and beauty, as well as fitness and judgment, as to give her an appearance that even Mabel at once distinguished to be gallant and trim. Her mould was admirable, for a wright of great skill had sent her drafts from England, at the express request of the officer who had caused her to be constructed; her paint dark, warlike, and neat; and the long coach-whip pennant that she wore at once proclaimed her to be the property of the king. Her name was the Scud.

“That, then, is the vessel of Jasper!” said Mabel, who associated the master of the little craft very naturally with the cutter itself. “Are there many others on this lake?”

“The Frenchers have three: one of which, they tell me, is a real ship, such as are used on the ocean; another a brig; and a third is a cutter, like the Scud here, which they call the Squirrel, in their own tongue, however; and which seems to have a natural hatred of our own pretty boat, for Jasper seldom goes out that the Squirrel is not at his heels.”

“And is Jasper one to run from a Frenchman, though he appears in the shape of a squirrel, and that, too, on the water?”

“Of what use would valor be without the means of turning it to account? Jasper is a brave boy, as all on this frontier know; but he has no gun except a little howitzer, and then his crew consists only of two men besides himself, and a boy. I was with him in one of his trampooses, and the youngster was risky enough, for he brought us so near the enemy that rifles began to talk; but the Frenchers carry cannon and ports, and never show their faces outside of Frontenac, without having some twenty men, besides their Squirrel, in their cutter. No, no; this Scud was built for flying, and the major says he will not put her in a fighting humor by giving her men and arms, lest she should take him at his word, and get her wings clipped. I know little of these things, for my gifts are not at all in that way; but I see the reason of the thing — I see its reason, though Jasper does not.”

“Ah! Here is my uncle, none the worse for his swim, coming to look at this inland sea.”

Sure enough, Cap, who had announced his approach by a couple of lusty hems, now made his appearance on the bastion, where, after nodding to his niece and her companion, he made a deliberate survey of the expanse of water before him. In order to effect this at his ease, the mariner mounted on one of the old iron guns, folded his arms across his breast, and balanced his body, as if he felt the motion of a vessel. To complete the picture, he had a short pipe in his mouth.

“Well, Master Cap,” asked the Pathfinder innocently, for he did not detect the expression of contempt that was gradually settling on the features of the other; “is it not a beautiful sheet, and fit to be named a sea?”

“This, then, is what you call your lake?” demanded Cap, sweeping the northern horizon with his pipe. “I say, is this really your lake?”

“Sartain; and, if the judgment of one who has lived on the shores of many others can be taken, a very good lake it is.”

“Just as I expected. A pond in dimensions, and a scuttle-butt in taste. It is all in vain to travel inland, in the hope of seeing anything either full-grown or useful. I knew it would turn out just in this way.”

“What is the matter with Ontario, Master Cap? It is large, and fair to look at, and pleasant enough to drink, for those who can’t get at the water of the springs.”

“Do you call this large?” asked Cap, again sweeping the air with the pipe. “I will just ask you what there is large about it? Didn’t Jasper himself confess that it was only some twenty leagues from shore to shore?”

“But, uncle,” interposed Mabel, “no land is to be seen, except here on our own coast. To me it looks exactly like the ocean.”

“This bit of a pond look like the ocean! Well, Magnet, that from a girl who has had real seamen in her family is downright nonsense. What is there about it, pray, that has even the outline of a sea on it?”

“Why, there is water — water — water — nothing but water, for miles on miles — far as the eye can see.”

“And isn’t there water — water — water — nothing but water for miles on miles in your rivers, that you have been canoeing through, too? — Ay, and ‘as far as the eye can see,’ in the bargain?”

“Yes, uncle, but the rivers have their banks, and there are trees along them, and they are narrow.”

“And isn’t this a bank where we stand? Don’t these soldiers call this the bank of the lake? And aren’t there trees in thousands? And aren’t twenty leagues narrow enough of all conscience? Who the devil ever heard of the banks of the ocean, unless it might be the banks that are under water?”

“But, uncle, we cannot see across this lake, as we can see across a river.”

“There you are out, Magnet. Aren’t the Amazon and Oronoco and La Plata rivers, and can you see across them? Hark’e Pathfinder, I very much doubt if this stripe of water here be even a lake; for to me it appears to be only a river. You are by no means particular about your geography, I find, up here in the woods.”

“There you are out, Master Cap. There is a river, and a noble one too, at each end of it; but this is old Ontario before you; and, though it is not my gift to live on a lake, to my judgment there are few better than this.”

“And, uncle, if we stood on the beach at Rockaway, what more should we see than we now behold? There is a shore on one side, or banks there, and trees too, as well as those which are here.”

“This is perverseness, Magnet, and young girls should steer clear of anything like obstinacy. In the first place, the ocean has coasts, but no banks, except the Grand Banks, as I tell you, which are out of sight of land; and you will not pretend that this bank is out of sight of land, or even under water?”

As Mabel could not very plausibly set up this extravagant opinion, Cap pursued the subject, his countenance beginning to discover the triumph of a successful disputant.

“And then them trees bear no comparison to these trees. The coasts of the ocean have farms and cities and country-seats, and, in some parts of the world, castles and monasteries and lighthouses — ay, ay — lighthouses, in particular, on them; not one of all which things is to be seen here. No, no, Master Pathfinder; I never heard of an ocean that hadn’t more or less lighthouses on it; whereas, hereaway there is not even a beacon.”

“There is what is better, there is what is better; a forest and noble trees, a fit temple of God.”

“Ay, your forest may do for a lake; but of what use would an ocean be if the earth all around it were forest? Ships would be unnecessary, as timber might be floated in rafts, and there would be an end of trade, and what would a world be without trade? I am of that philosopher’s opinion who says human nature was invented for the purposes of trade. Magnet, I am astonished that you should think this water even looks like sea-water! Now, I daresay that there isn’t such a thing as a whale in all your lake, Master Pathfinder?”

“I never heard of one, I will confess; but I am no judge of animals that live in the water, unless it be the fishes of the rivers and the brooks.”

“Nor a grampus, nor a porpoise even? not so much as a poor devil of a shark?”

“I will not take it on myself to say there is either. My gifts are not in that way, I tell you, Master Cap.”

“Nor herring, nor albatross, nor flying-fish?” continued Cap, who kept his eye fastened on the guide, in order to see how far he might venture. “No such thing as a fish that can fly, I daresay?”

“A fish that can fly! Master Cap, Master Cap, do not think, because we are mere borderers, that we have no idees of natur’, and what she has been pleased to do. I know there are squirrels that can fly —”

“A squirrel fly! — The devil, Master Pathfinder! Do you suppose that you have got a boy on his first v’y’ge up here among you?”

“I know nothing of your v’y’ges, Master Cap, though I suppose them to have been many; for as for what belongs to natur’ in the woods, what I have seen I may tell, and not fear the face of man.”

“And do you wish me to understand that you have seen a squirrel fly?”

“If you wish to understand the power of God, Master Cap, you will do well to believe that, and many other things of a like natur’, for you may be quite sartain it is true.”

“And yet, Pathfinder,” said Mabel, looking so prettily and sweetly even while she played with the guide’s infirmity, that he forgave her in his heart, “you, who speak so reverently of the power of the Deity, appear to doubt that a fish can fly.”

“I have not said it, I have not said it; and if Master Cap is ready to testify to the fact, unlikely as it seems, I am willing to try to think it true. I think it every man’s duty to believe in the power of God, however difficult it may be.”

“And why isn’t my fish as likely to have wings as your squirrel?” demanded Cap, with more logic than was his wont. “That fishes do and can fly is as true as it is reasonable.”

“Nay, that is the only difficulty in believing the story,” rejoined the guide. “It seems unreasonable to give an animal that lives in the water wings, which seemingly can be of no use to it.”

“And do you suppose that the fishes are such asses as to fly about under water, when they are once fairly fitted out with wings?”

“Nay, I know nothing of the matter; but that fish should fly in the air seems more contrary to natur’ still, than that they should fly in their own element — that in which they were born and brought up, as one might say.”

“So much for contracted ideas, Magnet. The fish fly out of water to run away from their enemies in the water; and there you see not only the fact, but the reason for it.”

“Then I suppose it must be true,” said the guide quietly. “How long are their flights?”

“Not quite as far as those of pigeons, perhaps; but far enough to make an offing. As for those squirrels of yours, we’ll say no more about them, friend Pathfinder, as I suppose they were mentioned just as a make-weight to the fish, in favor of the woods. But what is this thing anchored here under the hill?”

“That is the cutter of Jasper, uncle,” said Mabel hurriedly; “and a very pretty vessel I think it is. Its name, too, is the Scud.”

“Ay, it will do well enough for a lake, perhaps, but it’s no great affair. The lad has got a standing bowsprit, and who ever saw a cutter with a standing bowsprit before?”

“But may there not be some good reason for it, on a lake like this, uncle?”

“Sure enough — I must remember this is not the ocean, though it does look so much like it.”

“Ah, uncle! Then Ontario does look like the ocean, after all?”

“In your eyes, I mean, and those of Pathfinder; not in the least in mine, Magnet. Now you might set me down out yonder, in the middle of this bit of a pond, and that, too, in the darkest night that ever fell from the heavens, and in the smallest canoe, and I could tell you it was only a lake. For that matter, the Dorothy“ (the name of his vessel) “would find it out as quick as I could myself. I do not believe that brig would make more than a couple of short stretches, at the most, before she would perceive the difference between Ontario and the old Atlantic. I once took her down into one of the large South American bays, and she behaved herself as awkwardly as a booby would in a church with the congregation in a hurry. And Jasper sails that boat? I must have a cruise with the lad, Magnet, before I quit you, just for the name of the thing. It would never do to say I got in sight of this pond, and went away without taking a trip on it.”

“Well well, you needn’t wait long for that,” returned Pathfinder; “for the Sergeant is about to embark with a party to relieve a post among the Thousand Islands; and as I heard him say he intended that Mabel should go along, you can join the company too.”

“Is this true, Magnet?”

“I believe it is,” returned the girl, a flush so imperceptible as to escape the observation of her companions glowing on her cheeks; “though I have had so little opportunity to talk with my dear father that I am not quite certain. Here he comes, however, and you can inquire of himself.”

Notwithstanding his humble rank, there was something in the mien and character of Sergeant Dunham that commanded respect: of a tall, imposing figure, grave and saturnine disposition, and accurate and precise in his acts and manner of thinking, even Cap, dogmatical and supercilious as he usually was with landsmen, did not presume to take the same liberties with the old soldier as he did with his other friends. It was often remarked that Sergeant Dunham received more true respect from Duncan of Lundie, the Scotch laird who commanded the post, than most of the subalterns; for experience and tried services were of quite as much value in the eyes of the veteran major as birth and money. While the Sergeant never even hoped to rise any higher, he so far respected himself and his present station as always to act in a way to command attention; and the habit of mixing so much with inferiors, whose passions and dispositions he felt it necessary to restrain by distance and dignity, had so far colored his whole deportment, that few were altogether free from its influence. While the captains treated him kindly and as an old comrade, the lieutenants seldom ventured to dissent from his military opinions; and the ensigns, it was remarked, actually manifested a species of respect that amounted to something very like deference. It is no wonder, then, that the announcement of Mabel put a sudden termination to the singular dialogue we have just related, though it had been often observed that the Pathfinder was the only man on that frontier, beneath the condition of a gentleman, who presumed to treat the Sergeant at all as an equal, or even with the cordial familiarity of a friend.

“Good morrow, brother Cap,” said the Sergeant giving the military salute, as he walked, in a grave, stately manner, on the bastion. “My morning duty has made me seem forgetful of you and Mabel; but we have now an hour or two to spare, and to get acquainted. Do you not perceive, brother, a strong likeness on the girl to her we have so long lost?”

“Mabel is the image of her mother, Sergeant, as I have always said, with a little of your firmer figure; though, for that matter, the Caps were never wanting in spring and activity.”

Mabel cast a timid glance at the stern, rigid countenance of her father, of whom she had ever thought, as the warm-hearted dwell on the affection of their absent parents; and, as she saw that the muscles of his face were working, notwithstanding the stiffness and method of his manner, her very heart yearned to throw herself on his bosom and to weep at will. But he was so much colder in externals, so much more formal and distant than she had expected to find him, that she would not have dared to hazard the freedom, even had they been alone.

“You have taken a long and troublesome journey, brother, on my account; and we will try to make you comfortable while you stay among us.”

“I hear you are likely to receive orders to lift your anchor, Sergeant, and to shift your berth into a part of the world where they say there are a thousand islands.”

“Pathfinder, this is some of your forgetfulness?”

“Nay, nay, Sergeant, I forgot nothing; but it did not seem to me necessary to hide your intentions so very closely from your own flesh and blood.”

“All military movements ought to be made with as little conversation as possible,” returned the Sergeant, tapping the guide’s shoulder in a friendly, but reproachful manner. “You have passed too much of your life in front of the French not to know the value of silence. But no matter; the thing must soon be known, and there is no great use in trying now to conceal it. We shall embark a relief party shortly for a post on the lake, though I do not say it is for the Thousand Islands, and I may have to go with it; in which case I intend to take Mabel to make my broth for me; and I hope, brother, you will not despise a soldier’s fare for a month or so.”

“That will depend on the manner of marching. I have no love for woods and swamps.”

“We shall sail in the Scud; and, indeed, the whole service, which is no stranger to us, is likely enough to please one accustomed to the water.”

“Ay, to salt-water if you will, but not to lake-water. If you have no person to handle that bit of a cutter for you, I have no objection to ship for the v’y’ge, notwithstanding; though I shall look on the whole affair as so much time thrown away, for I consider it an imposition to call sailing about this pond going to sea.”

“Jasper is every way able to manage the Scud, brother Cap; and in that light I cannot say that we have need of your services, though we shall be glad of your company. You cannot return to the settlement until a party is sent in, and that is not likely to happen until after my return. Well, Pathfinder, this is the first time I ever knew men on the trail of the Mingos and you not at their head.”

“To be honest with you, Sergeant,” returned the guide, not without a little awkwardness of manner, and a perceptible difference in the hue of a face that had become so uniformly red by exposure, “I have not felt that it was my gift this morning. In the first place, I very well know that the soldiers of the 55th are not the lads to overtake Iroquois in the woods; and the knaves did not wait to be surrounded when they knew that Jasper had reached the garrison. Then a man may take a little rest after a summer of hard work, and no impeachment of his goodwill. Besides, the Sarpent is out with them; and if the miscreants are to be found at all, you may trust to his inmity and sight: the first being stronger, and the last nearly, if not quite as good as my own. He loves the skulking vagabonds as little as myself; and, for that matter, I may say that my own feelings towards a Mingo are not much more than the gifts of a Delaware grafted on a Christian stock. No, no, I thought I would leave the honor this time, if honor there is to be, to the young ensign that commands, who, if he don’t lose his scalp, may boast of his campaign in his letters to his mother when he gets in. I thought I would play idler once in my life.”

“And no one has a better right, if long and faithful service entitles a man to a furlough,” returned the Sergeant kindly. “Mabel will think none the worse of you for preferring her company to the trail of the savages; and, I daresay, will be happy to give you a part of her breakfast if you are inclined to eat. You must not think, girl, however, that the Pathfinder is in the habit of letting prowlers around the fort beat a retreat without hearing the crack of his rifle.”

“If I thought she did, Sergeant, though not much given to showy and parade evolutions, I would shoulder Killdeer and quit the garrison before her pretty eyes had time to frown. No, no; Mabel knows me better, though we are but new acquaintances, for there has been no want of Mingos to enliven the short march we have already made in company.”

“It would need a great deal of testimony, Pathfinder, to make me think ill of you in any way, and more than all in the way you mention,” returned Mabel, coloring with the sincere earnestness with which she endeavored to remove any suspicion to the contrary from his mind. “Both father and daughter, I believe, owe you their lives, and believe me, that neither will ever forget it.”

“Thank you, Mabel, thank you with all my heart. But I will not take advantage of your ignorance neither, girl, and therefore shall say, I do not think the Mingos would have hurt a hair of your head, had they succeeded by their devilries and contrivances in getting you into their hands. My scalp, and Jasper’s, and Master Cap’s there, and the Sarpent’s too, would sartainly have been smoked; but as for the Sergeant’s daughter, I do not think they would have hurt a hair of her head.”

“And why should I suppose that enemies, known to spare neither women nor children, would have shown more mercy to me than to another? I feel, Pathfinder, that I owe you my life.”

“I say nay, Mabel; they wouldn’t have had the heart to hurt you. No, not even a fiery Mingo devil would have had the heart to hurt a hair of your head. Bad as I suspect the vampires to be, I do not suspect them of anything so wicked as that. They might have wished you, nay, forced you to become the wife of one of their chiefs, and that would be torment enough to a Christian young woman; but beyond that I do not think even the Mingos themselves would have gone.”

“Well, then, I shall owe my escape from this great misfortune to you,” said Mabel, taking his hard hand into her own frankly and cordially, and certainly in a way to delight the honest guide. “To me it would be a lighter evil to be killed than to become the wife of an Indian.”

“That is her gift, Sergeant,” exclaimed Pathfinder, turning to his old comrade with gratification written on every lineament of his honest countenance, “and it will have its way. I tell the Sarpent that no Christianizing will ever make even a Delaware a white man; nor any whooping and yelling convert a pale-face into a red-skin. That is the gift of a young woman born of Christian parents, and it ought to be maintained.”

“You are right, Pathfinder; and so far as Mabel Dunham is concerned, it shall be maintained. But it is time to break your fasts; and if you will follow me, brother Cap, I will show you how we poor soldiers live here on a distant frontier.”

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