The goblin now the fool alarms,
Hags meet to mumble o’er their charms,
The night-mare rides the dreaming ass,
And fairies trip it on the grass.
The embarkation of so small a party was a matter of no great delay or embarrassment. The whole force confided to the care of Sergeant Dunham consisted of but ten privates and two non-commissioned officers, though it was soon positively known that Mr. Muir was to accompany the expedition. The Quartermaster, however, went as a volunteer, while some duty connected with his own department, as had been arranged between him and his commander, was the avowed object. To these must be added the Pathfinder and Cap, with Jasper and his subordinates, one of whom was a boy. The party, consequently, consisted of less than twenty men, and a lad of fourteen. Mabel and the wife of a common soldier were the only females.
Sergeant Dunham carried off his command in a large bateau, and then returned for his final orders, and to see that his brother-in-law and daughter were properly attended to. Having pointed out to Cap the boat that he and Mabel were to use, he ascended the hill to seek his last interview with Lundie.
It was nearly dark when Mabel found herself in the boat that was to carry her off to the cutter. So very smooth was the surface of the lake, that it was not found necessary to bring the bateaux into the river to receive their freights; but the beach outside being totally without surf, and the water as tranquil as that of a pond, everybody embarked there. When the boat left the land, Mabel would not have known that she was afloat on so broad a sheet of water by any movement which is usual to such circumstances. The oars had barely time to give a dozen strokes, when the boat lay at the cutter’s side.
Jasper was in readiness to receive his passengers; and, as the deck of the Scud was but two or three feet above the water, no difficulty was experienced in getting on board of her. As soon as this was effected, the young man pointed out to Mabel and her companion the accommodations prepared for their reception. The little vessel contained four apartments below, all between decks having been expressly constructed with a view to the transportation of officers and men, with their wives and families. First in rank was what was called the after-cabin, a small apartment that contained four berths, and which enjoyed the advantage of possessing small windows, for the admission of air and light. This was uniformly devoted to females whenever any were on board; and as Mabel and her companion were alone, they had ample accommodation. The main cabin was larger, and lighted from above. It was now appropriated to the Quartermaster, the Sergeant, Cap, and Jasper; the Pathfinder roaming through any part of the cutter he pleased, the female apartment excepted. The corporals and common soldiers occupied the space beneath the main hatch, which had a deck for such a purpose, while the crew were berthed, as usual, in the forecastle. Although the cutter did not measure quite fifty tons, the draft of officers and men was so light, that there was ample room for all on board, there being space enough to accommodate treble the number, if necessary.
As soon as Mabel had taken possession of her own really comfortable cabin, in doing which she could not abstain from indulging in the pleasant reflection that some of Jasper’s favor had been especially manifested in her behalf, she went on deck again. Here all was momentarily in motion; the men were roving to and fro, in quest of their knapsacks and other effects; but method and habit soon reduced things to order, when the stillness on board became even imposing, for it was connected with the idea of future adventure and ominous preparation.
Darkness was now beginning to render objects on shore indistinct, the whole of the land forming one shapeless black outline of even forest summits, to be distinguished from the impending heavens only by the greater light of the sky. The stars, however, soon began to appear in the latter, one after another, in their usual mild, placid lustre, bringing with them that sense of quiet which ordinarily accompanies night. There was something soothing, as well as exciting, in such a scene; and Mabel, who was seated on the quarter-deck, sensibly felt both influences. The Pathfinder was standing near her, leaning, as usual, on his long rifle, and she fancied that, through the growing darkness of the hour, she could trace even stronger lines of thought than usual in his rugged countenance.
“To you, Pathfinder, expeditions like this can be no great novelty,” said she; “though I am surprised to find how silent and thoughtful the men appear to be.”
“We learn this by making war ag’in Indians. Your militia are great talkers and little doers in general; but the soldier who has often met the Mingos learns to know the value of a prudent tongue. A silent army, in the woods, is doubly strong; and a noisy one, doubly weak. If tongues made soldiers, the women of a camp would generally carry the day.”
“But we are neither an army, nor in the woods. There can be no danger of Mingos in the Scud.”
“No one is safe from a Mingo, who does not understand his very natur’; and even then he must act up to his own knowledge, and that closely. Ask Jasper how he got command of this very cutter.”
“And how did he get command?” inquired Mabel, with an earnestness and interest that quite delighted her simple-minded and true-hearted companion, who was never better pleased than when he had an opportunity of saying aught in favor of a friend. “It is honorable to him that he has reached this station while yet so young.”
“That is it; but he deserved it all, and more. A frigate wouldn’t have been too much to pay for so much spirit and coolness, had there been such a thing on Ontario, as there is not, hows’ever, or likely to be.”
“But Jasper — you have not yet told me how he got the command of the schooner.”
“It is a long story, Mabel, and one your father, the Sergeant, can tell much better than I; for he was present, while I was off on a distant scouting. Jasper is not good at a story, I will own that; I have heard him questioned about this affair, and he never made a good tale of it, although every body knows it was a good thing. The Scud had near fallen into the hands of the French and the Mingos, when Jasper saved her, in a way which none but a quick-witted mind and a bold heart would have attempted. The Sergeant will tell the tale better than I can, and I wish you to question him some day, when nothing better offers.”
Mabel determined to ask her father to repeat the incidents of the affair that very night; for it struck her young fancy that nothing better could well offer than to listen to the praises of one who was a bad historian of his own exploits.
“Will the Scud remain with us when we reach the island?” she asked, after a little hesitation about the propriety of the question; “or shall we be left to ourselves?”
“That’s as may be: Jasper does not often keep the cutter idle when anything is to be done; and we may expect activity on his part. My gifts, however, run so little towards the water and vessels generally, unless it be among rapids and falls and in canoes, that I pretend to know nothing about it. We shall have all right under Jasper, I make no doubt, who can find a trail on Ontario as well as a Delaware can find one on the land.”
“And our own Delaware, Pathfinder — the Big Serpent — why is he not with us to-night?”
“Your question would have been more natural had you said, Why are you here, Pathfinder? The Sarpent is in his place, while I am not in mine. He is out, with two or three more, scouting the lake shores, and will join us down among the islands, with the tidings he may gather. The Sergeant is too good a soldier to forget his rear while he is facing the enemy in front. It’s a thousand pities, Mabel, your father wasn’t born a general, as some of the English are who come among us; for I feel sartain he wouldn’t leave a Frencher in the Canadas a week, could he have his own way with them.”
“Shall we have enemies to face in front?” asked Mabel, smiling, and for the first time feeling a slight apprehension about the dangers of the expedition. “Are we likely to have an engagement?”
“If we have, Mabel, there will be men enough ready and willing to stand between you and harm. But you are a soldier’s daughter, and, we all know, have the spirit of one. Don’t let the fear of a battle keep your pretty eyes from sleeping.”
“I do feel braver out here in the woods, Pathfinder, than I ever felt before amid the weaknesses of the towns, although I have always tried to remember what I owe to my dear father.”
“Ay, your mother was so before you. ‘You will find Mabel, like her mother, no screamer, or a faint-hearted girl, to trouble a man in his need; but one who would encourage her mate, and help to keep his heart up when sorest prest by danger,’ said the Sergeant to me, before I ever laid eyes on that sweet countenance of yours — he did!”
“And why should my father have told you this, Pathfinder?” the girl demanded a little earnestly. “Perhaps he fancied you would think the better of me if you did not believe me a silly coward, as so many of my sex love to make themselves appear.”
Deception, unless it were at the expense of his enemies in the field — nay, concealment of even a thought — was so little in accordance with the Pathfinder’s very nature, that he was not a little embarrassed by this simple question. In such a strait he involuntarily took refuge in a middle course, not revealing that which he fancied ought not to be told, nor yet absolutely concealing it.
“You must know, Mabel,” said he, “that the Sergeant and I are old friends, and have stood side by side — or, if not actually side by side, I a little in advance, as became a scout, and your father with his own men, as better suited a soldier of the king — on many a hard fi’t and bloody day. It’s the way of us skirmishers to think little of the fight when the rifle has done cracking; and at night, around our fires, or on our marches, we talk of the things we love, just as you young women convarse about your fancies and opinions when you get together to laugh over your idees. Now it was natural that the Sergeant, having such a daughter as you, should love her better than anything else, and that he should talk of her oftener than of anything else — while I, having neither daughter, nor sister, nor mother, nor kith, nor kin, nor anything but the Delawares to love, I naturally chimed in, as it were, and got to love you, Mabel, before I ever saw you — yes, I did — just by talking about you so much.”
“And now you have seen me,” returned the smiling girl, whose unmoved and natural manner proved how little she was thinking of anything more than parental or fraternal regard, “you are beginning to see the folly of forming friendships for people before you know anything about them, except by hearsay.”
“It wasn’t friendship — it isn’t friendship, Mabel, that I feel for you. I am the friend of the Delawares, and have been so from boyhood; but my feelings for them, or for the best of them, are not the same as those I got from the Sergeant for you; and, especially, now that I begin to know you better. I’m sometimes afeared it isn’t wholesome for one who is much occupied in a very manly calling, like that of a guide or scout, or a soldier even, to form friendships for women — young women in particular — as they seem to me to lessen the love of enterprise, and to turn the feelings away from their gifts and natural occupations.”
“You surely do not mean, Pathfinder, that a friendship for a girl like me would make you less bold, and more unwilling to meet the French than you were before?”
“Not so, not so. With you in danger, for instance, I fear I might become foolhardy; but before we became so intimate, as I may say, I loved to think of my scoutings, and of my marches, and outlyings, and fights, and other adventures: but now my mind cares less about them; I think more of the barracks, and of evenings passed in discourse, of feelings in which there are no wranglings and bloodshed, and of young women, and of their laughs and their cheerful, soft voices, their pleasant looks and their winning ways. I sometimes tell the Sergeant that he and his daughter will be the spoiling of one of the best and most experienced scouts on the lines.”
“Not they, Pathfinder; they will try to make that which is already so excellent, perfect. You do not know us, if you think that either wishes to see you in the least changed. Remain as at present, the same honest, upright, conscientious, fearless, intelligent, trustworthy guide that you are, and neither my dear father nor myself can ever think of you differently from what we now do.”
It was too dark for Mabel to note the workings of the countenance of her listener; but her own sweet face was turned towards him, as she spoke with an energy equal to her frankness, in a way to show how little embarrassed were her thoughts, and how sincere were her words. Her countenance was a little flushed, it is true; but it was with earnestness and truth of feeling, though no nerve thrilled, no limb trembled, no pulsation quickened. In short, her manner and appearance were those of a sincere-minded and frank girl, making such a declaration of good-will and regard for one of the other sex as she felt that his services and good qualities merited, without any of the emotion that invariably accompanies the consciousness of an inclination which might lead to softer disclosures.
The Pathfinder was too unpractised, however, to enter into distinctions of this kind, and his humble nature was encouraged by the directness and strength of the words he had just heard. Unwilling, if not unable, to say any more, he walked away, and stood leaning on his rifle and looking up at the stars for full ten minutes in profound silence.
In the meanwhile the interview on the bastion, to which we have already alluded, took place between Lundie and the Sergeant.
“Have the men’s knapsacks been examined?” demanded Major Duncan, after he had cast his eye at a written report, handed to him by the Sergeant, but which it was too dark to read.
“All, your honor; and all are right.”
“The ammunition — arms?”
“All in order, Major Duncan, and fit for any service.”
“You have the men named in my own draft, Dunham?”
“Without an exception, sir. Better men could not be found in the regiment.”
“You have need of the best of our men, Sergeant. This experiment has now been tried three times; always under one of the ensigns, who have flattered me with success, but have as often failed. After so much preparation and expense, I do not like to abandon the project entirely; but this will be the last effort; and the result will mainly depend on you and on the Pathfinder.”
“You may count on us both, Major Duncan. The duty you have given us is not above our habits and experience, and I think it will be well done. I know that the Pathfinder will not be wanting.”
“On that, indeed, it will be safe to rely. He is a most extraordinary man, Dunham — one who long puzzled me; but who, now that I understand him, commands as much of my respect as any general in his majesty’s service.”
“I was in hopes, sir, that you would come to look at the proposed marriage with Mabel as a thing I ought to wish and forward.”
“As for that, Sergeant, time will show,” returned Lundie, smiling; though here, too, the obscurity concealed the nicer shades of expression; “one woman is sometimes more difficult to manage than a whole regiment of men. By the way, you know that your would-be son-in-law, the Quartermaster, will be of the party; and I trust you will at least give him an equal chance in the trial for your daughter’s smiles.”
“If respect for his rank, sir, did not cause me to do this, your honor’s wish would be sufficient.”
“I thank you, Sergeant. We have served much together, and ought to value each other in our several stations. Understand me, however, I ask no more for Davy Muir than a clear field and no favor. In love, as in war, each man must gain his own victories. Are you certain that the rations have been properly calculated?”
“I’ll answer for it, Major Duncan; but if they were not, we cannot suffer with two such hunters as Pathfinder and the Serpent in company.”
“That will never do, Dunham,” interrupted Lundie sharply; “and it comes of your American birth and American training. No thorough soldier ever relies on anything but his commissary for supplies; and I beg that no part of my regiment may be the first to set an example to the contrary.”
“You have only to command, Major Duncan, to be obeyed; and yet, if I might presume, sir —”
“Speak freely, Sergeant; you are talking with a friend.”
“I was merely about to say that I find even the Scotch soldiers like venison and birds quite as well as pork, when they are difficult to be had.”
“That may be very true; but likes and dislikes have nothing to do with system. An army can rely on nothing but its commissaries. The irregularity of the provincials has played the devil with the king’s service too often to be winked at any longer.”
“General Braddock, your honor, might have been advised by Colonel Washington.”
“Out upon your Washington! You’re all provincials together, man, and uphold each other as if you were of a sworn confederacy.”
“I believe his majesty has no more loyal subjects than the Americans, your honor.”
“In that, Dunham, I’m thinking you’re right; and I have been a little too warm, perhaps. I do not consider you a provincial, however, Sergeant; for though born in America, a better soldier never shouldered a musket.”
“And Colonel Washington, your honor?”
“Well! — and Colonel Washington may be a useful subject too. He is the American prodigy; and I suppose I may as well give him all the credit you ask. You have no doubt of the skill of this Jasper Eau-douce?”
“The boy has been tried, sir, and found equal to all that can be required of him.”
“He has a French name, and has passed much of his boyhood in the French colonies; has he French blood in his veins, Sergeant?”
“Not a drop, your honor. Jasper’s father was an old comrade of my own, and his mother came of an honest and loyal family in this very province.”
“How came he then so much among the French, and whence his name? He speaks the language of the Canadas, too, I find.”
“That is easily explained, Major Duncan. The boy was left under the care of one of our mariners in the old war, and he took to the water like a duck. Your honor knows that we have no ports on Ontario that can be named as such, and he naturally passed most of his time on the other side of the lake, where the French have had a few vessels these fifty years. He learned to speak their language, as a matter of course, and got his name from the Indians and Canadians, who are fond of calling men by their qualities, as it might be.”
“A French master is but a poor instructor for a British sailor, notwithstanding.”
“I beg your pardon, sir: Jasper Eau-douce was brought up under a real English seaman, one that had sailed under the king’s pennant, and may be called a thorough-bred; that is to say, a subject born in the colonies, but none the worse at his trade, I hope, Major Duncan, for that.”
“Perhaps not, Sergeant, perhaps not; nor any better. This Jasper behaved well, too, when I gave him the command of the Scud; no lad could have conducted himself more loyally or better.”
“Or more bravely, Major Duncan. I am sorry to see, sir, that you have doubts as to the fidelity of Jasper.”
“It is the duty of the soldier who is entrusted with the care of a distant and important post like this, Dunham, never to relax in his vigilance. We have two of the most artful enemies that the world has ever produced, in their several ways, to contend with — the Indians and the French — and nothing should be overlooked that can lead to injury.”
“I hope your honor considers me fit to be entrusted with any particular reason that may exist for doubting Jasper, since you have seen fit to entrust me with this command.”
“It is not that I doubt you, Dunham, that I hesitate to reveal all I may happen to know; but from a strong reluctance to circulate an evil report concerning one of whom I have hitherto thought well. You must think well of the Pathfinder, or you would not wish to give him your daughter?”
“For the Pathfinder’s honesty I will answer with my life, sir,” returned the Sergeant firmly, and not without a dignity of manner that struck his superior. “Such a man doesn’t know how to be false.”
“I believe you are right, Dunham; and yet this last information has unsettled all my old opinions. I have received an anonymous communication, Sergeant, advising me to be on my guard against Jasper Western, or Jasper Eau-douce, as he is called, who, it alleges, has been bought by the enemy, and giving me reason to expect that further and more precise information will soon be sent.”
“Letters without signatures to them, sir, are scarcely to be regarded in war.”
“Or in peace, Dunham. No one can entertain a lower opinion of the writer of an anonymous letter, in ordinary matters, than myself; the very act denotes cowardice, meanness, and baseness; and it usually is a token of falsehood, as well as of other vices. But in matters of war it is not exactly the same thing. Besides, several suspicious circumstances have been pointed out to me.”
“Such as is fit for an orderly to hear, your honor?”
“Certainly, one in whom I confide as much as in yourself Dunham. It is said, for instance, that your daughter and her party were permitted to escape the Iroquois, when they came in, merely to give Jasper credit with me. I am told that the gentry at Frontenac will care more for the capture of the Scud, with Sergeant Dunham and a party of men, together with the defeat of our favorite plan, than for the capture of a girl and the scalp of her uncle.”
“I understand the hint, sir, but I do not give it credit. Jasper can hardly be true, and Pathfinder false; and, as for the last, I would as soon distrust your honor as distrust him.”
“It would seem so, Sergeant; it would indeed seem so. But Jasper is not the Pathfinder, after all; and I will own, Dunham, I should put more faith in the lad if he didn’t speak French.”
“It’s no recommendation in my eyes, I assure your honor; but the boy learned it by compulsion, as it were, and ought not to be condemned too hastily for the circumstance, by your honor’s leave.”
“It’s a d —— d lingo, and never did any one good — at least no British subject; for I suppose the French themselves must talk together in some language or other. I should have much more faith in this Jasper, did he know nothing of their language. This letter has made me uneasy; and, were there another to whom I could trust the cutter, I would devise some means to detain him here. I have spoken to you already of a brother-in-law, who goes with you, Sergeant, and who is a sailor?”
“A real seafaring man, your honor, and somewhat prejudiced against fresh water. I doubt if he could be induced to risk his character on a lake, and I’m certain he never could find the station.”
“The last is probably true, and then, the man cannot know enough of this treacherous lake to be fit for the employment. You will have to be doubly vigilant, Dunham. I give you full powers; and should you detect this Jasper in any treachery, make him a sacrifice at once to offended justice.”
“Being in the service of the crown, your honor, he is amenable to martial law.”
“Very true; then iron him, from his head to his heels, and send him up here in his own cutter. That brother-in-law of yours must be able to find the way back, after he has once travelled the road.”
“I make no doubt, Major Duncan, we shall be able to do all that will be necessary should Jasper turn out as you seem to anticipate; though I think I would risk my life on his truth.”
“I like your confidence — it speaks well for the fellow; but that infernal letter! there is such an air of truth about it; nay, there is so much truth in it, touching other matters.”
“I think your honor said it wanted the name at the bottom; a great omission for an honest man to make.”
“Quite right, Dunham, and no one but a rascal, and a cowardly rascal in the bargain, would write an anonymous letter on private affairs. It is different, however, in war; despatches are feigned, and artifice is generally allowed to be justifiable.”
“Military manly artifices, sir, if you will; such as ambushes, surprises, feints, false attacks, and even spies; but I never heard of a true soldier who could wish to undermine the character of an honest young man by such means as these.”
“I have met with many strange events, and some stranger people, in the course of my experience. But fare you well, Sergeant; I must detain you no longer. You are now on your guard, and I recommend to you untiring vigilance. I think Muir means shortly to retire; and, should you fully succeed in this enterprise, my influence will not be wanting in endeavoring to put you in the vacancy, to which you have many claims.”
“I humbly thank your honor,” coolly returned the Sergeant, who had been encouraged in this manner any time for the twenty preceding years, “and hope I shall never disgrace my station, whatever it may be. I am what nature and Providence have made me, and hope I’m satisfied.”
“You have not forgotten the howitzer?”
“Jasper took it on board this morning, sir.”
“Be wary, and do not trust that man unnecessarily. Make a confidant of Pathfinder at once; he may be of service in detecting any villainy that may be stirring. His simple honesty will favor his observation by concealing it. He must be true.”
“For him, sir, my own head shall answer, or even my rank in the regiment. I have seen him too often tried to doubt him.”
“Of all wretched sensations, Dunham, distrust, where one is compelled to confide, is the most painful. You have bethought you of the spare flints?”
“A sergeant is a safe commander for all such details, your honor.”
“Well, then, give me your hand, Dunham. God bless you! and may you be successful! Muir means to retire — by the way, let the man have an equal chance with your daughter, for it may facilitate future operations about the promotion. One would retire more cheerfully with such a companion as Mabel, than in cheerless widowhood, and with nothing but oneself to love — and such a self, too, as Davy’s!”
“I hope, sir, my child will make a prudent choice, and I think her mind is already pretty much made up in favor of Pathfinder. Still she shall have fair play, though disobedience is the next crime to mutiny.”
“Have all the ammunition carefully examined and dried as soon as you arrive; the damp of the lake may affect it. And now, once more, farewell, Sergeant. Beware of that Jasper, and consult with Muir in any difficulty. I shall expect you to return, triumphant, this day month.”
“God bless your honor! If anything should happen to me, I trust to you, Major Duncan, to care for an old soldier’s character.”
“Rely on me, Dunham — you will rely on a friend. Be vigilant: remember you will be in the very jaws of the lion; — pshaw! of no lion neither; but of treacherous tigers: in their very jaws, and beyond support. Have the flints counted and examined in the morning — and — farewell, Dunham, farewell!”
The Sergeant took the extended hand of his superior with proper respect, and they finally parted; Lundie hastening into his own movable abode, while the other left the fort, descended to the beach, and got into a boat.
It is not to be supposed that Sergeant Dunham, after he had parted from his commanding officer, was likely to forget the injunctions he had received. He thought highly of Jasper in general; but distrust had been insinuated between his former confidence and the obligations of duty; and, as he now felt that everything depended on his own vigilance, by the time the boat reached the side of the Scud he was in a proper humor to let no suspicious circumstance go unheeded, or any unusual movement in the young sailor pass without its comment. As a matter of course, he viewed things in the light suited to his peculiar mood; and his precautions, as well as his distrust, partook of the habits, opinions, and education of the man.
The Scud’s kedge was lifted as soon as the boat with the Sergeant, who was the last person expected, was seen to quit the shore, and the head of the cutter was cast to the eastward by means of the sweeps. A few vigorous strokes of the latter, in which the soldiers aided, now sent the light craft into the line or the current that flowed from the river, when she was suffered to drift into the offing again. As yet there was no wind, the light and almost imperceptible air from the lake, that had existed previously to the setting of the sun, having entirely failed.
All this time an unusual quiet prevailed in the cutter. It appeared as if those on board of her felt that they were entering upon an uncertain enterprise, in the obscurity of night; and that their duty, the hour, and the manner of their departure lent a solemnity to their movements. Discipline also came in aid of these feelings. Most were silent; and those who did speak spoke seldom and in low voices. In this manner the cutter set slowly out into the lake, until she had got as far as the river current would carry her, when she became stationary, waiting for the usual land-breeze. An interval of half an hour followed, during the whole of which time the Scud lay as motionless as a log, floating on the water. While the little changes just mentioned were occurring in the situation of the vessel, notwithstanding the general quiet that prevailed, all conversation had not been repressed; for Sergeant Dunham, having first ascertained that both his daughter and her female companion were on the quarter-deck, led the Pathfinder to the after-cabin, where, closing the door with great caution, and otherwise making certain that he was beyond the reach of eavesdroppers, he commenced as follows:—
“It is now many years, my friend, since you began to experience the hardships and dangers of the woods in my company.”
“It is, Sergeant; yes it is. I sometimes fear I am too old for Mabel, who was not born until you and I had fought the Frenchers as comrades.”
“No fear on that account, Pathfinder. I was near your age before I prevailed on the mind of her mother; and Mabel is a steady, thoughtful girl, one that will regard character more than anything else. A lad like Jasper Eau-douce, for instance, will have no chance with her, though he is both young and comely.”
“Does Jasper think of marrying?” inquired the guide, simply but earnestly.
“I should hope not — at least, not until he has satisfied every one of his fitness to possess a wife.”
“Jasper is a gallant boy, and one of great gifts in his way; he may claim a wife as well as another.”
“To be frank with you, Pathfinder, I brought you here to talk about this very youngster. Major Duncan has received some information which has led him to suspect that Eau-douce is false, and in the pay of the enemy; I wish to hear your opinion on the subject.”
“I say, the Major suspects Jasper of being a traitor — a French spy — or, what is worse, of being bought to betray us. He has received a letter to this effect, and has been charging me to keep an eye on the boy’s movements; for he fears we shall meet with enemies when we least suspect it, and by his means.”
“Duncan of Lundie has told you this, Sergeant Dunham?”
“He has indeed, Pathfinder; and, though I have been loath to believe anything to the injury of Jasper, I have a feeling which tells me I ought to distrust him. Do you believe in presentiments, my friend?
“In what, Sergeant?”
“Presentiments — a sort of secret foreknowledge of events that are about to happen. The Scotch of our regiment are great sticklers for such things; and my opinion of Jasper is changing so fast, that I begin to fear there must be some truth in their doctrines.”
“But you’ve been talking with Duncan of Lundie concerning Jasper, and his words have raised misgivings.”
“Not it, not so in the least; for, while conversing with the Major, my feelings were altogether the other way; and I endeavored to convince him all I could that he did the boy injustice. But there is no use in holding out against a presentiment, I find; and I fear there is something in the suspicion after all.”
“I know nothing of presentiments, Sergeant; but I have known Jasper Eau-douce since he was a boy, and I have as much faith in his honesty as I have in my own, or that of the Sarpent himself.”
“But the Serpent, Pathfinder, has his tricks and ambushes in war as well as another.”
“Ay, them are his nat’ral gifts, and are such as belong to his people. Neither red-skin nor pale-face can deny natur’; but Chingachgook is not a man to feel a presentiment against.”
“That I believe; nor should I have thought ill of Jasper this very morning. It seems to me, Pathfinder, since I’ve taken up this presentiment, that the lad does not bustle about his deck naturally, as he used to do; but that he is silent and moody and thoughtful, like a man who has a load on his conscience.”
“Jasper is never noisy; and he tells me noisy ships are generally ill-worked ships. Master Cap agrees in this too. No, no; I will believe naught against Jasper until I see it. Send for your brother, Sergeant, and let us question him in this matter; for to sleep with distrust of one’s friend in the heart is like sleeping with lead there. I have no faith in your presentiments.”
The Sergeant, although he scarcely knew himself with what object, complied, and Cap was summoned to join in the consultation. As Pathfinder was more collected than his companion, and felt so strong a conviction of the good faith of the party accused, he assumed the office of spokesman.
“We have asked you to come down, Master Cap,” he commenced, “in order to inquire if you have remarked anything out of the common way in the movements of Eau-douce this evening.”
“His movements are common enough, I daresay, for fresh water, Master Pathfinder, though we should think most of his proceedings irregular down on the coast.”
“Yes, yes; we know you will never agree with the lad about the manner the cutter ought to be managed; but it is on another point we wish your opinion.”
The Pathfinder then explained to Cap the nature of the suspicions which the Sergeant entertained, and the reasons why they had been excited, so far as the latter had been communicated by Major Duncan.
“The youngster talks French, does he?” said Cap.
“They say he speaks it better than common,” returned the Sergeant gravely. “Pathfinder knows this to be true.”
“I’ll not gainsay it,” answered the guide; “at least, they tell me such is the fact. But this would prove nothing ag’in a Mississauga, and, least of all, ag’in one like Jasper. I speak the Mingo dialect myself, having learnt it while a prisoner among the reptyles; but who will say I am their friend? Not that I am an enemy, either, according to Indian notions; though I am their enemy, I will admit, agreeable to Christianity.”
“Ay Pathfinder; but Jasper did not get his French as a prisoner: he took it in his boyhood, when the mind is easily impressed, and gets its permanent notions; when nature has a presentiment, as it were, which way the character is likely to incline.”
“A very just remark,” added Cap, “for that is the time of life when we all learn the catechism, and other moral improvements. The Sergeant’s observation shows that he understands human nature, and I agree with him perfectly; it is a damnable thing for a youngster, up here, on this bit of fresh water, to talk French. If it were down on the Atlantic, now, where a seafaring man has occasion sometimes to converse with a pilot, or a linguister, in that language, I should not think so much of it — though we always look with suspicion, even there, at a shipmate who knows too much of the tongue; but up here, on Ontario, I hold it to be a most suspicious circumstance.”
“But Jasper must talk in French to the people on the other shore,” said Pathfinder, “or hold his tongue, as there are none but French to speak to.”
“You don’t mean to tell me, Pathfinder, that France lies hereaway, on the opposite coast?” cried Cap, jerking a thumb over his shoulder in the direction of the Canadas; “that one side of this bit of fresh water is York, and the other France?”
“I mean to tell you this is York, and that is Upper Canada; and that English and Dutch and Indian are spoken in the first, and French and Indian in the last. Even the Mingos have got many of the French words in their dialect, and it is no improvement, neither.”
“Very true: and what sort of people are the Mingos, my friend?” inquired the Sergeant, touching the other on his shoulder, by way of enforcing a remark, the inherent truth of which sensibly increased its value in the eyes of the speaker: “no one knows them better than yourself, and I ask you what sort of a tribe are they?”
“Jasper is no Mingo, Sergeant.”
“He speaks French, and he might as well be, in that particular. Brother Cap, can you recollect no movement of this unfortunate young man, in the way of his calling, that would seem to denote treachery?”
“Not distinctly, Sergeant, though he has gone to work wrong-end foremost half his time. It is true that one of his hands coiled a rope against the sun, and he called it querling a rope, too, when I asked him what he was about; but I am not certain that anything was meant by it; though, I daresay, the French coil half their running rigging the wrong way, and may call it ‘querling it down,’ too, for that matter. Then Jasper himself belayed the end of the jib-halyards to a stretcher in the rigging, instead of bringing it to the mast, where they belong, at least among British sailors.”
“I daresay Jasper may have got some Canada notions about working his craft, from being so much on the other side,” Pathfinder interposed; “but catching an idee, or a word, isn’t treachery and bad faith. I sometimes get an idee from the Mingos themselves; but my heart has always been with the Delawares. No, no, Jasper is true; and the king might trust him with his crown, just as he would trust his eldest son, who, as he is to wear it one day, ought to be the last man to wish to steal it.”
“Fine talking, fine talking!” said Cap; “all fine talking, Master Pathfinder, but d —— d little logic. In the first place, the king’s majesty cannot lend his crown, it being contrary to the laws of the realm, which require him to wear it at all times, in order that his sacred person may be known, just as the silver oar is necessary to a sheriff’s officer afloat. In the next place, it’s high treason, by law, for the eldest son of his majesty ever to covet the crown, or to have a child, except in lawful wedlock, as either would derange the succession. Thus you see, friend Pathfinder that in order to reason truly, one must get under way, as it might be, on the right tack. Law is reason, and reason is philosophy, and philosophy is a steady drag; whence it follows that crowns are regulated by law, reason, and philosophy.”
“I know little of all this; Master Cap; but nothing short of seeing and feeling will make me think Jasper Western a traitor.”
“There you are wrong again, Pathfinder; for there is a way of proving a thing much more conclusively than either seeing or feeling, or by both together; and that is by a circumstance.”
“It may be so in the settlements; but it is not so here on the lines.”
“It is so in nature, which is monarch over all. There was a circumstance, just after we came on board this evening, that is extremely suspicious, and which may be set down at once as a makeweight against this lad. Jasper bent on the king’s ensign with his own hands; and, while he pretended to be looking at Mabel and the soldier’s wife, giving directions about showing them below here, and a that, he got the flag union down!”
“That might have been accident,” returned the Sergeant, “for such a thing has happened to myself; besides, the halyards lead to a pulley, and the flag would have come right, or not, according to the manner in which the lad hoisted it.”
“A pulley!” exclaimed Cap, with strong disgust; “I wish, Sergeant Dunham, I could prevail on you to use proper terms. An ensign-halyard-block is no more a pulley than your halberd is a boarding-pike. It is true that by hoisting on one part, another part would go uppermost; but I look upon that affair of the ensign, now you have mentioned your suspicions, as a circumstance, and shall bear it in mind. I trust supper is not to be overlooked, however, even if we have a hold full of traitors.”
“It will be duly attended to, brother Cap; but I shall count on you for aid in managing the Scud, should anything occur to induce me to arrest Jasper.”
“I’ll not fail you, Sergeant; and in such an event you’ll probably learn what this cutter can really perform; for, as yet, I fancy it is pretty much matter of guesswork.”
“Well, for my part,” said Pathfinder, drawing a heavy sigh, “I shall cling to the hope of Jasper’s innocence, and recommend plain dealing, by asking the lad himself, without further delay, whether he is or is not a traitor. I’ll put Jasper Western against all the presentiments and circumstances in the colony.”
“That will never do,” rejoined the Sergeant. “The responsibility of this affair rests with me, and I request and enjoin that nothing be said to any one without my knowledge. We will all keep watchful eyes about us, and take proper note of circumstances.”
“Ay, ay! circumstances are the things after all,” returned Cap. “One circumstance is worth fifty facts. That I know to be the law of the realm. Many a man has been hanged on circumstances.”
The conversation now ceased, and, after a short delay, the whole party returned to the deck, each individual disposed to view the conduct of the suspected Jasper in the manner most suited to his own habits and character.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:49