Thus was this place
A happy rural seat of various view.
Mabel was in waiting on the beach, and the canoe was soon launched. Pathfinder carried the party out through the surf in the same skillful manner that he had brought it in; and though Mabel’s color heightened with excitement, and her heart seemed often ready to leap out of her mouth again, they reached the side of the Scud without having received even a drop of spray.
Ontario is like a quick-tempered man, sudden to be angered, and as soon appeased. The sea had already fallen; and though the breakers bounded the shore, far as the eye could reach, it was merely in lines of brightness, that appeared and vanished like the returning waves produced by a stone which had been dropped into a pool. The cable of the Scud was scarcely seen above the water, and Jasper had already hoisted his sails, in readiness to depart as soon as the expected breeze from the shore should fill the canvas.
It was just sunset as the cutter’s mainsail flapped and its stem began to sever the water. The air was light and southerly, and the head of the vessel was kept looking up along the south shore, it being the intention to get to the eastward again as fast as possible. The night that succeeded was quiet; and the rest of those who slept deep and tranquil.
Some difficulty occurred concerning the command of the vessel, but the matter had been finally settled by an amicable compromise. As the distrust of Jasper was far from being appeased, Cap retained a supervisory power, while the young man was allowed to work the craft, subject, at all times, to the control and interference of the old seaman. To this Jasper consented, in preference to exposing Mabel any longer to the dangers of their present situation; for, now that the violence of the elements had ceased, he well knew that the Montcalm would be in search of them. He had the discretion, however, not to reveal his apprehensions on this head; for it happened that the very means he deemed the best to escape the enemy were those which would be most likely to awaken new suspicions of his honesty in the minds of those who held the power to defeat his intentions. In other words, Jasper believed that the gallant young Frenchman, who commanded the ship of the enemy, would quit his anchorage under the fort at Niagara, and stand up the lake, as soon as the wind abated, in order to ascertain the fate of the Scud, keeping midway between the two shores as the best means of commanding a broad view; and that, on his part, it would be expedient to hug one coast or the other, not only to avoid a meeting, but as affording a chance of passing without detection by blending his sails and spars with objects on the land. He preferred the south because it was the weather shore, and because he thought it was that which the enemy would the least expect him to take, though it necessarily led near his settlements, and in front of one of the strongest posts he held in that part of the world.
Of all this, however, Cap was happily ignorant, and the Sergeant’s mind was too much occupied with the details of his military trust to enter into these niceties, which so properly belonged to another profession. No opposition was made, therefore, and before morning Jasper had apparently dropped quietly into all his former authority, issuing his orders freely, and meeting with obedience without hesitation or cavil.
The appearance of day brought all on board on deck again; and, as is usual with adventurers on the water, the opening horizon was curiously examined, as objects started out of the obscurity, and the panorama brightened under the growing light. East, west, and north nothing was visible but water glittering in the rising sun; but southward stretched the endless belt of woods that then held Ontario in a setting of forest verdure. Suddenly an opening appeared ahead, and then the massive walls of a chateau-looking house, with outworks, bastions, blockhouses, and palisadoes, frowned on a headland that bordered the outlet of a broad stream. Just as the fort became visible, a little cloud rose over it, and the white ensign of France was seen fluttering from a lofty flagstaff.
Cap gave an ejaculation as he witnessed this ungrateful exhibition, and he cast a quick suspicious glance at his brother-in-law.
“The dirty tablecloth hung up to air, as my name is Charles Cap!” he muttered; “and we hugging this d —— d shore as if it were our wife and children met on the return from an India v’y’ge! Hark’e, Jasper, are you in search of a cargo of frogs, that you keep so near in to this New France?”
“I hug the land, sir, in the hope of passing the enemy’s ship without being seen, for I think she must be somewhere down here to leeward.”
“Ay, ay, this sounds well, and I hope it may turn out as you say. I trust there is no under-tow here?”
“We are on a weather shore, now,” said Jasper, smiling; “and I think you will admit, Master Cap, that a strong under-tow makes an easy cable: we owe all our lives to the under-tow of this very lake.”
“French flummery!” growled Cap, though he did not care to be heard by Jasper. “Give me a fair, honest, English-Yankee-American tow, above board, and above water too, if I must have a tow at all, and none of your sneaking drift that is below the surface, where one can neither see nor feel. I daresay, if the truth could be come at, that this late escape of ours was all a contrived affair.”
“We have now a good opportunity, at least, to reconnoitre the enemy’s post at Niagara, brother, for such I take this fort to be,” put in the Sergeant. “Let us be all eyes in passing, and remember that we are almost in face of the enemy.”
This advice of the Sergeant needed nothing to enforce it; for the interest and novelty of passing a spot occupied by human beings were of themselves sufficient to attract deep attention in that scene of a vast but deserted nature. The wind was now fresh enough to urge the Scud through the water with considerable velocity, and Jasper eased her helm as she opened the river, and luffed nearly into the mouth of that noble strait, or river, as it is termed. A dull, distant, heavy roar came down through the opening in the banks, swelling on the currents of the air, like the deeper notes of some immense organ, and occasionally seeming to cause the earth itself to tremble.
“That sounds like surf on some long unbroken coast!” exclaimed Cap, as a swell, deeper than common, came to his ears.
“Ay, that is such surf as we have in this quarter of the world,” Pathfinder answered. “There is no under-tow there, Master Cap; but all the water that strikes the rocks stays there, so far as going back again is consarned. That is old Niagara that you hear, or this noble stream tumbling down a mountain.”
“No one will have the impudence to pretend that this fine broad river falls over yonder hills?”
“It does, Master Cap, it does; and all for the want of stairs, or a road to come down by. This is natur’, as we have it up hereaway, though I daresay you beat us down on the ocean. Ah’s me, Mabel! a pleasant hour it would be if we could walk on the shore some ten or fifteen miles up this stream, and gaze on all that God has done there.”
“You have, then, seen these renowned falls, Pathfinder?” the girl eagerly inquired.
“I have — yes, I have; and an awful sight I witnessed at that same time. The Sarpent and I were out scouting about the garrison there, when he told me that the traditions of his people gave an account of a mighty cataract in this neighborhood, and he asked me to vary from the line of march a little to look at the wonder. I had heard some marvels consarning the spot from the soldiers of the 60th, which is my nat’ral corps like, and not the 55th, with which I have sojourned so much of late; but there are so many terrible liars in all rijiments that I hardly believed half they had told me. Well, we went; and though we expected to be led by our ears, and to hear some of that awful roaring that we hear to-day, we were disappointed, for natur’ was not then speaking in thunder, as she is this morning. Thus it is in the forest, Master Cap; there being moments when God seems to be walking abroad in power, and then, again, there is a calm over all, as if His spirit lay in quiet along the ‘arth. Well, we came suddenly upon the stream, a short distance above the fall, and a young Delaware, who was in our company, found a bark canoe, and he would push into the current to reach an island that lies in the very centre of the confusion and strife. We told him of his folly, we did; and we reasoned with him on the wickedness of tempting Providence by seeking danger that led to no ind; but the youth among the Delawares are very much the same as the youth among the soldiers, risky and vain. All we could say did not change his mind, and the lad had his way. To me it seems, Mabel, that whenever a thing is really grand and potent, it has a quiet majesty about it, altogether unlike the frothy and flustering manner of smaller matters, and so it was with them rapids. The canoe was no sooner fairly in them, than down it went, as it might be, as one sails through the air on the ‘arth, and no skill of the young Delaware could resist the stream. And yet he struggled manfully for life, using the paddle to the last, like the deer that is swimming to cast the hounds. At first he shot across the current so swiftly, that we thought he would prevail; but he had miscalculated his distance, and when the truth really struck him, he turned the head upstream, and struggled in a way that was fearful to look at. I could have pitied him even had he been a Mingo. For a few moments his efforts were so frantic that he actually prevailed over the power of the cataract; but natur’ has its limits, and one faltering stroke of the paddle set him back, and then he lost ground, foot by foot, inch by inch, until he got near the spot where the river looked even and green, and as if it were made of millions of threads of water, all bent over some huge rock, when he shot backwards like an arrow and disappeared, the bow of the canoe tipping just enough to let us see what had become of him. I met a Mohawk some years later who had witnessed the whole affair from the bed of the stream below, and he told me that the Delaware continued to paddle in the air until he was lost in the mists of the falls.”
“And what became of the poor wretch?” demanded Mabel, who had been strongly interested by the natural eloquence of the speaker.
“He went to the happy hunting-grounds of his people, no doubt; for though he was risky and vain, he was also just and brave. Yes, he died foolishly, but the Manitou of the red-skins has compassion on his creatur’s as well as the God of a Christian.”
A gun at this moment was discharged from a blockhouse near the fort; and the shot, one of light weight, came whistling over the cutter’s mast, an admonition to approach no nearer. Jasper was at the helm, and he kept away, smiling at the same time as if he felt no anger at the rudeness of the salutation. The Scud was now in the current, and her outward set soon carried her far enough to leeward to avoid the danger of a repetition of the shot, and then she quietly continued her course along the land. As soon as the river was fairly opened, Jasper ascertained that the Montcalm was not at anchor in it; and a man sent aloft came down with the report that the horizon showed no sail. The hope was now strong that the artifice of Jasper had succeeded, and that the French commander had missed them by keeping the middle of the lake as he steered towards its head.
All that day the wind hung to the southward, and the cutter continued her course about a league from the land, running six or eight knots the hour in perfectly smooth water. Although the scene had one feature of monotony, the outline of unbroken forest, it was not without its interest and pleasures. Various headlands presented themselves, and the cutter, in running from one to another, stretched across bays so deep as almost to deserve the name of gulfs. But nowhere did the eye meet with the evidences of civilization; rivers occasionally poured their tribute into the great reservoir of the lake, but their banks could be traced inland for miles by the same outlines of trees; and even large bays, that lay embosomed in woods, communicating with Ontario only by narrow outlets, appeared and disappeared, without bringing with them a single trace of a human habitation.
Of all on board, the Pathfinder viewed the scene with the most unmingled delight. His eyes feasted on the endless line of forest, and more than once that day, notwithstanding he found it so grateful to be near Mabel, listening to her pleasant voice, and echoing, in feelings at least, her joyous laugh, did his soul pine to be wandering beneath the high arches of the maples, oaks, and lindens, where his habits had induced him to fancy lasting and true joys were only to be found. Cap viewed the prospect differently; more than once he expressed his disgust at there being no lighthouses, church-towers, beacons, or roadsteads with their shipping. Such another coast, he protested, the world did not contain; and, taking the Sergeant aside, he gravely assured him that the region could never come to anything, as the havens were neglected, the rivers had a deserted and useless look, and that even the breeze had a smell of the forest about it, which spoke ill of its properties.
But the humors of the different individuals in her did not stay the speed of the Scud: when the sun was setting, she was already a hundred miles on her route towards Oswego, into which river Sergeant Dunham now thought it his duty to go, in order to receive any communications that Major Duncan might please to make. With a view to effect this purpose, Jasper continued to hug the shore all night; and though the wind began to fail him towards morning, it lasted long enough to carry the cutter up to a point that was known to be but a league or two from the fort. Here the breeze came out light at the northward, and the cutter hauled a little from the land, in order to obtain a safe offing should it come on to blow, or should the weather again get to be easterly.
When the day dawned, the cutter had the mouth of the Oswego well under the lee, distant about two miles; and just as the morning gun from the fort was fired, Jasper gave the order to ease off the sheets, and to bear up for his port. At that moment a cry from the forecastle drew all eyes towards the point on the eastern side of the outlet, and there, just without the range of shot from the light guns of the works, with her canvas reduced to barely enough to keep her stationary, lay the Montcalm, evidently in waiting for their appearance.
To pass her was impossible, for by filling her sails the French ship could have intercepted them in a few minutes; and the circumstances called for a prompt decision. After a short consultation, the Sergeant again changed his plan, determining to make the best of his way towards the station for which he had been originally destined, trusting to the speed of the Scud to throw the enemy so far astern as to leave no clue to her movements.
The cutter accordingly hauled upon a wind with the least possible delay, with everything set that would draw. Guns were fired from the fort, ensigns shown, and the ramparts were again crowded. But sympathy was all the aid that Lundie could lend to his party; and the Montcalm, also firing four or five guns of defiance, and throwing abroad several of the banners of France, was soon in chase under a cloud of canvas.
For several hours the two vessels were pressing through the water as fast as possible, making short stretches to windward, apparently with a view to keep the port under their lee, the one to enter it if possible, and the other to intercept it in the attempt.
At meridian the French ship was hull down, dead to leeward, the disparity of sailing on a wind being very great, and some islands were near by, behind which Jasper said it would be possible for the cutter to conceal her future movements. Although Cap and the Sergeant, and particularly Lieutenant Muir, to judge by his language, still felt a good deal of distrust of the young man, and Frontenac was not distant, this advice was followed; for time pressed, and the Quartermaster discreetly observed that Jasper could not well betray them without running openly into the enemy’s harbor, a step they could at any time prevent, since the only cruiser of force the French possessed at the moment was under their lee and not in a situation to do them any immediate injury.
Left to himself, Jasper Western soon proved how much was really in him. He weathered upon the islands, passed them, and on coming out to the eastward, kept broad away, with nothing in sight in his wake or to leeward. By sunset again the cutter was up with the first of the islands that lie in the outlet of the lake; and ere it was dark she was running through the narrow channels on her way to the long-sought station. At nine o’clock, however, Cap insisted that they should anchor; for the maze of islands became so complicated and obscure, that he feared, at every opening, the party would find themselves under the guns of a French fort. Jasper consented cheerfully, it being a part of his standing instructions to approach the station under such circumstances as would prevent the men from obtaining any very accurate notions of its position, lest a deserter might betray the little garrison to the enemy.
The Scud was brought to in a small retired bay, where it would have been difficult to find her by daylight, and where she was perfectly concealed at night, when all but a solitary sentinel on deck sought their rest. Cap had been so harassed during the previous eight-and-forty hours, that his slumbers were long and deep; nor did he awake from his first nap until the day was just beginning to dawn. His eyes were scarcely open, however, when his nautical instinct told him that the cutter was under way. Springing up, he found the Scud threading the islands again, with no one on deck but Jasper and the pilot, unless the sentinel be excepted, who had not in the least interfered with movements that he had every reason to believe were as regular as they were necessary.
“How’s this, Master Western?” demanded Cap, with sufficient fierceness for the occasion; “are you running us into Frontenac at last, and we all asleep below, like so many mariners waiting for the ‘sentry go’?”
“This is according to orders, Master Cap, Major Duncan having commanded me never to approach the station unless at a moment when the people were below; for he does not wish there should be more pilots in those waters than the king has need of.”
“Whe-e-e-w! a pretty job I should have made of running down among these bushes and rocks with no one on deck! Why, a regular York branch could make nothing of such a channel.”
“I always thought, sir,” said Jasper, smiling, “you would have done better had you left the cutter in my hands until she had safely reached her place of destination.”
“We should have done it, Jasper, we should have done it, had it not been for a circumstance; these circumstances are serious matters, and no prudent man will overlook them.”
“Well, sir, I hope there is now an end of them. We shall arrive in less than an hour if the wind holds, and then you’ll be safe from any circumstances that I can contrive.”
Cap was obliged to acquiesce; and, as everything around him had the appearance of Jasper’s being sincere, there was not much difficulty in making up his mind to submit. It would not have been easy indeed for a person the most sensitive on the subject of circumstances to fancy that the Scud was anywhere in the vicinity of a port so long established and so well known on the frontiers as Frontenac. The islands might not have been literally a thousand in number, but they were so numerous and small as to baffle calculation, though occasionally one of larger size than common was passed. Jasper had quitted what might have been termed the main channel, and was winding his way, with a good stiff breeze and a favorable current, through passes that were sometimes so narrow that there appeared to be barely room sufficient for the Scud’s spars to clear the trees, while at other moments he shot across little bays, and buried the cutter again amid rocks, forests, and bushes. The water was so transparent that there was no occasion for the lead, and being of very equal depth, little risk was actually run, though Cap, with his maritime habits, was in a constant fever lest they should strike.
“I give it up, I give it up, Pathfinder!” the old seaman at length exclaimed, when the little vessel emerged in safety from the twentieth of these narrow inlets through which she had been so boldly carried; “this is defying the very nature of seamanship, and sending all its laws and rules to the d —-l!”
“Nay, nay, Saltwater, ’tis the perfection of the art. You perceive that Jasper never falters, but, like a hound with a true nose, he runs with his head high as if he had a strong scent. My life on it, the lad brings us out right in the ind, as he would have done in the beginning had we given him leave.”
“No pilot, no lead, no beacons, buoys, or lighthouses, no —”
“Trail,” interrupted Pathfinder; “for that to me is the most mysterious part of the business. Water leaves no trail, as every one knows; and yet here is Jasper moving ahead as boldly as if he had before his eyes the prints of the moccasins on leaves as plainly as we can see the sun in the heaven.”
“D—-me, if I believe there is even any compass!”
“Stand by to haul down the jib,” called out Jasper, who merely smiled at the remarks of his companion. “Haul down — starboard your helm — starboard hard — so — meet her — gently there with the helm — touch her lightly — now jump ashore with the fast, lad — no, heave; there are some of our people ready to take it.”
All this passed so quickly as barely to allow the spectator time to note the different evolutions, ere the Scud had been thrown into the wind until her mainsail shivered, next cast a little by the use of the rudder only, and then she set bodily alongside of a natural rocky quay, where she was immediately secured by good fasts run to the shore. In a word, the station was reached, and the men of the 55th were greeted by their expecting comrades, with the satisfaction which a relief usually brings.
Mabel sprang up on the shore with a delight which she did not care to express; and her father led his men after her with an alacrity which proved how wearied he had become of the cutter. The station, as the place was familiarly termed by the soldiers of the 55th, was indeed a spot to raise expectations of enjoyment among those who had been cooped up so long in a vessel of the dimensions of the Scud. None of the islands were high, though all lay at a sufficient elevation above the water to render them perfectly healthy and secure. Each had more or less of wood; and the greater number at that distant day were clothed with the virgin forest. The one selected by the troops for their purpose was small, containing about twenty acres of land, and by some of the accidents of the wilderness it had been partly stripped of its trees, probably centuries before the period of which we are writing, and a little grassy glade covered nearly half its surface.
The shores of Station Island were completely fringed with bushes, and great care had been taken to preserve them, as they answered as a screen to conceal the persons and things collected within their circle. Favored by this shelter, as well as by that of several thickets of trees and different copses, some six or eight low huts had been erected to be used as quarters for the officer and his men, to contain stores, and to serve the purposes of kitchen, hospital, etc. These huts were built of logs in the usual manner, had been roofed by bark brought from a distance, lest the signs of labor should attract attention, and, as they had now been inhabited some months, were as comfortable as dwellings of that description usually ever get to be.
At the eastern extremity of the island, however, was a small, densely-wooded peninsula, with a thicket of underbrush so closely matted as nearly to prevent the possibility of seeing across it, so long as the leaves remained on the branches. Near the narrow neck that connected this acre with the rest of the island, a small blockhouse had been erected, with some attention to its means of resistance. The logs were bullet-proof, squared and jointed with a care to leave no defenceless points; the windows were loopholes, the door massive and small, and the roof, like the rest of the structure, was framed of hewn timber, covered properly with bark to exclude the rain. The lower apartment as usual contained stores and provisions; here indeed the party kept all their supplies; the second story was intended for a dwelling, as well as for the citadel, and a low garret was subdivided into two or three rooms, and could hold the pallets of some ten or fifteen persons. All the arrangements were exceedingly simple and cheap, but they were sufficient to protect the soldiers against the effects of a surprise. As the whole building was considerably less than forty feet high, its summit was concealed by the tops of the trees, except from the eyes of those who had reached the interior of the island. On that side the view was open from the upper loops, though bushes even there, more or less, concealed the base of the wooden tower.
The object being purely defence, care had been taken to place the blockhouse so near an opening in the limestone rock that formed the base of the island as to admit of a bucket being dropped into the water, in order to obtain that great essential in the event of a siege. In order to facilitate this operation, and to enfilade the base of the building, the upper stories projected several feet beyond the lower in the manner usual to blockhouses, and pieces of wood filled the apertures cut in the log flooring, which were intended as loops and traps. The communications between the different stories were by means of ladders. If we add that these blockhouses were intended as citadels for garrisons or settlements to retreat to, in the cases of attacks, the general reader will obtain a sufficiently correct idea of the arrangements it is our wish to explain.
But the situation of the island itself formed its principal merit as a military position. Lying in the midst of twenty others, it was not an easy matter to find it; since boats might pass quite near, and, by glimpses caught through the openings, this particular island would be taken for a part of some other. Indeed, the channels between the islands which lay around the one we have been describing were so narrow that it was even difficult to say which portions of the land were connected, or which separated, even as one stood in the centre, with the express desire of ascertaining the truth. The little bay in particular, which Jasper used as a harbor, was so embowered with bushes and shut in with islands, that, the sails of the cutter being lowered, her own people on one occasion had searched for hours before they could find the Scud, in their return from a short excursion among the adjacent channels in quest of fish. In short, the place was admirably adapted to its present objects, and its natural advantages had been as ingeniously improved as economy and the limited means of a frontier post would very well allow.
The hour which succeeded the arrival of the Scud was one of hurried excitement. The party in possession had done nothing worthy of being mentioned, and, wearied with their seclusion, they were all eager to return to Oswego. The Sergeant and the officer he came to relieve had no sooner gone through the little ceremonies of transferring the command, than the latter hurried on board the Scud with his whole party; and Jasper, who would gladly have passed the day on the island, was required to get under way forthwith, the wind promising a quick passage up the river and across the lake. Before separating, however, Lieutenant Muir, Cap, and the Sergeant had a private conference with the ensign who had been relieved, in which the last was made acquainted with the suspicions that existed against the fidelity of the young sailor. Promising due caution, the officer embarked, and in less than three hours from the time when she had arrived the cutter was again in motion.
Mabel had taken possession of a hut; and with female readiness and skill she made all the simple little domestic arrangements of which the circumstances would admit, not only for her own comfort, but for that of her father. To save labor, a mess-table was prepared in a hut set apart for that purpose, where all the heads of the detachment were to eat, the soldier’s wife performing the necessary labor. The hut of the Sergeant, which was the best on the island, being thus freed from any of the vulgar offices of a household, admitted of such a display of womanly taste, that, for the first time since her arrival on the frontier, Mabel felt proud of her home. As soon as these important duties were discharged, she strolled out on the island, taking a path which led through the pretty glade, and which conducted to the only point not covered with bushes. Here she stood gazing at the limpid water, which lay with scarcely a ruffle on it at her feet, musing on the novel situation in which she was placed, and permitting a pleasing and deep excitement to steal over her feelings, as she remembered the scenes through which she had so lately passed, and conjectured those which still lay veiled in the future.
“You’re a beautiful fixture, in a beautiful spot, Mistress Mabel,” said David Muir, suddenly appearing at her elbow; “and I’ll no’ engage you’re not just the handsomest of the two.”
“I will not say, Mr. Muir, that compliments on my person are altogether unwelcome, for I should not gain credit for speaking the truth, perhaps,” answered Mabel with spirit; “but I will say that if you would condescend to address to me some remarks of a different nature, I may be led to believe you think I have sufficient faculties to understand them.”
“Hoot! your mind, beautiful Mabel, is polished just like the barrel of a soldier’s musket, and your conversation is only too discreet and wise for a poor d —-l who has been chewing birch up here these four years on the lines, instead of receiving it in an application that has the virtue of imparting knowledge. But you are no’ sorry, I take it, young lady, that you’ve got your pretty foot on terra firma once more.”
“I thought so two hours since, Mr. Muir; but the Scud looks so beautiful as she sails through these vistas of trees, that I almost regret I am no longer one of her passengers.”
As Mabel ceased speaking, she waved her handkerchief in return to a salutation from Jasper, who kept his eyes fastened on her form until the white sails of the cutter had swept round a point, and were nearly lost behind its green fringe of leaves.
“There they go, and I’ll no’ say ‘joy go with them;’ but may they have the luck to return safely, for without them we shall be in danger of passing the winter on this island; unless, indeed, we have the alternative of the castle at Quebec. Yon Jasper Eau-douce is a vagrant sort of a lad, and they have reports of him in the garrison that it pains my very heart to hear. Your worthy father, and almost as worthy uncle, have none of the best opinion of him.”
“I am sorry to hear it, Mr. Muir; I doubt not that time will remove all their distrust.”
“If time would only remove mine, pretty Mabel,” rejoined the Quartermaster in a wheedling tone, “I should feel no envy of the commander-in-chief. I think if I were in a condition to retire, the Sergeant would just step into my shoes.”
“If my dear father is worthy to step into your shoes, Mr. Muir,” returned the girl, with malicious pleasure, “I’m sure that the qualification is mutual, and that you are every way worthy to step into his.”
“The deuce is in the child! you would not reduce me to the rank of a non-commissioned officer, Mabel?”
“No, indeed, sir; I was not thinking of the army at all as you spoke of retiring. My thoughts were more egotistical, and I was thinking how much you reminded me of my dear father, by your experience, wisdom, and suitableness to take his place as the head of a family.”
“As its bridegroom, pretty Mabel, but not as its parent or natural chief. I see how it is with you, loving your repartee, and brilliant with wit. Well, I like spirit in a young woman, so it be not the spirit of a scold. This Pathfinder is all extraordinair, Mabel, if truth may be said of the man.”
“Truth should be said of him or nothing. Pathfinder is my friend — my very particular friend, Mr. Muir, and no evil can be said of him in my presence that I shall not deny.”
“I shall say nothing evil of him, I can assure you, Mabel; but, at the same time, I doubt if much good can be said in his favor.”
“He is at least expert with the rifle,” returned Mabel, smiling. “That you cannot deny.”
“Let him have all the credit of his exploits in that way if you please; but he is as illiterate as a Mohawk.”
“He may not understand Latin, but his knowledge of Iroquois is greater than that of most men, and it is the more useful language of the two in this part of the world.”
“If Lundie himself were to call on me for an opinion which I admire more, your person or your wit, beautiful and caustic Mabel, I should be at a loss to answer. My admiration is so nearly divided between them, that I often fancy this is the one that bears off the palm, and then the other! Ah! the late Mrs. Muir was a paragon in that way also.”
“The latest Mrs. Muir, did you say, sir?” asked Mabel, looking up innocently at her companion.
“Hoot, hoot! That is some of Pathfinder’s scandal. Now I daresay that the fellow has been trying to persuade you, Mabel, that I have had more than one wife already.”
“In that case his time would have been thrown away, sir, as everybody knows that you have been so unfortunate as to have had four.”
“Only three, as sure as my name is David Muir. The fourth is pure scandal — or rather, pretty Mabel, she is yet in petto, as they say at Rome; and that means, in matters of love, in the heart, my dear.”
“Well, I’m glad I’m not that fourth person, in petto, or in anything else, as I should not like to be a scandal.”
“No fear of that, charming Mabel; for were you the fourth, all the others would be forgotten, and your wonderful beauty and merit would at once elevate you to be the first. No fear of your being the fourth in any thing.”
“There is consolation in that assurance, Mr. Muir,” said Mabel, laughing, “whatever there may be in your other assurance; for I confess I should prefer being even a fourth-rate beauty to being a fourth wife.”
So saying she tripped away, leaving the Quartermaster to meditate on his success. Mabel had been induced to use her female means of defence thus freely, partly because her suitor had of late been so pointed as to stand in need of a pretty strong repulse, and partly on account of his innuendoes against Jasper and the Pathfinder. Though full of spirit and quick of intellect, she was not naturally pert; but on the present occasion she thought circumstances called for more than usual decision. When she left her companion, therefore, she believed she was now finally released from attentions which she thought as ill-bestowed as they were certainly disagreeable. Not so, however, with David Muir; accustomed to rebuffs, and familiar with the virtue of perseverance, he saw no reason to despair, though the half-menacing, half-self-satisfied manner in which he shook his head towards the retreating girl might have betrayed designs as sinister as they were determined. While he was thus occupied, the Pathfinder approached, and got within a few feet of him unseen.
“’Twill never do, Quartermaster, ’twill never do,” commenced the latter, laughing in his noiseless way; “she is young and active, and none but a quick foot can overtake her. They tell me you are her suitor, if you are not her follower.”
“And I hear the same of yourself, man, though the presumption would be so great that I scarcely can think it true.”
“I fear you’re right, I do; yes, I fear you’re right; — when I consider myself, what I am, how little I know, and how rude my life has been, I altogether distrust my claim, even to think a moment of one so tutored, and gay, and light of heart, and delicate —”
“You forget handsome,” coarsely interrupted Muir.
“And handsome, too, I fear,” returned the meek and self-abased guide; “I might have said handsome at once, among her other qualities; for the young fa’n, just as it learns to bound, is not more pleasant to the eye of the hunter than Mabel is lovely in mine. I do indeed fear that all the thoughts I have harbored about her are vain and presumptuous.”
“If you think this, my friend, of your own accord and natural modesty, as it might be, my duty to you as an old fellow-campaigner compels me to say —”
“Quartermaster,” interrupted the other, regarding his companion keenly, “you and I have lived together much behind the ramparts of forts, but very little in the open woods or in front of the enemy.”
“Garrison or tent, it all passes for part of the same campaign, you know, Pathfinder; and then my duty keeps me much within sight of the storehouses, greatly contrary to my inclinations, as ye may well suppose, having yourself the ardor of battle in your temperament. But had ye heard what Mabel had just been saying of you, ye’d no think another minute of making yourself agreeable to the saucy and uncompromising hussy.”
Pathfinder looked earnestly at the lieutenant, for it was impossible he should not feel an interest in what might be Mabel’s opinion; but he had too much of the innate and true feeling of a gentleman to ask to hear what another had said of him. Muir, however, was not to be foiled by this self-denial and self-respect; for, believing he had a man of great truth and simplicity to deal with, he determined to practise on his credulity, as one means of getting rid of his rivalry. He therefore pursued the subject, as soon as he perceived that his companion’s self-denial was stronger than his curiosity.
“You ought to know her opinion, Pathfinder,” he continued; “and I think every man ought to hear what his friends and acquaintances say of him: and so, by way of proving my own regard for your character and feelings, I’ll just tell you in as few words as possible. You know that Mabel has a wicked, malicious way with them eyes of her own, when she has a mind to be hard upon one’s feelings.”
“To me her eyes, Lieutenant Muir, have always seemed winning and soft, though I will acknowledge that they sometimes laugh; yes, I have known them to laugh, and that right heartily, and with downright goodwill.”
“Well, it was just that then; her eyes were laughing with all their might, as it were; and in the midst of all her fun, she broke out with an exclamation to this effect:— I hope ’twill no’ hurt your sensibility, Pathfinder?”
“I will not say Quartermaster, I will not say. Mabel’s opinion of me is of no more account than that of most others.”
“Then I’ll no’ tell ye, but just keep discretion on the subject; and why should a man be telling another what his friends say of him, especially when they happen to say that which may not be pleasant to hear? I’ll not add another word to this present communication.”
“I cannot make you speak, Quartermaster, if you are not so minded, and perhaps it is better for me not to know Mabel’s opinion, as you seem to think it is not in my favor. Ah’s me! if we could be what we wish to be, instead of being only what we are, there would be a great difference in our characters and knowledge and appearance. One may be rude and coarse and ignorant, and yet happy, if he does not know it; but it is hard to see our own failings in the strongest light, just as we wish to hear the least about them.”
“That’s just the rationale, as the French say, of the matter; and so I was telling Mabel, when she ran away and left me. You noticed the manner in which she skipped off as you approached?”
“It was very observable,” answered Pathfinder, drawing a long breath and clenching the barrel of his rifle as if the fingers would bury themselves in the iron.
“It was more than observable — it was flagrant; that’s just the word, and the dictionary wouldn’t supply a better, after an hour’s search. Well, you must know, Pathfinder — for I cannot reasonably deny you the gratification of hearing this — so you must know the minx bounded off in that manner in preference to hearing what I had to say in your justification.”
“And what could you find to say in my behalf, Quartermaster?”
“Why, d’ye understand, my friend, I was ruled by circumstances, and no’ ventured indiscreetly into generalities, but was preparing to meet particulars, as it might be, with particulars. If you were thought wild, half-savage, or of a frontier formation, I could tell her, ye know, that it came of the frontier, wild and half-savage life ye’d led; and all her objections must cease at once, or there would be a sort of a misunderstanding with Providence.”
“And did you tell her this, Quartermaster?”
“I’ll no’ swear to the exact words, but the idea was prevalent in my mind, ye’ll understand. The girl was impatient, and would not hear the half I had to say; but away she skipped, as ye saw with your own eyes, Pathfinder, as if her opinion were fully made up, and she cared to listen no longer. I fear her mind may be said to have come to its conclusion?”
“I fear it has indeed, Quartermaster, and her father, after all, is mistaken. Yes, yes; the Sergeant has fallen into a grievous error.”
“Well, man, why need ye lament, and undo all the grand reputation ye’ve been so many weary years making? Shoulder the rifle that ye use so well, and off into the woods with ye, for there’s not the female breathing that is worth a heavy heart for a minute, as I know from experience. Tak’ the word of one who knows the sax, and has had two wives, that women, after all, are very much the sort of creatures we do not imagine them to be. Now, if you would really mortify Mabel, here is as glorious an occasion as any rejected lover could desire.”
“The last wish I have, Lieutenant, would be to mortify Mabel.”
“Well, ye’ll come to that in the end, notwithstanding; for it’s human nature to desire to give unpleasant feelings to them that give unpleasant feelings to us. But a better occasion never offered to make your friends love you, than is to be had at this very moment, and that is the certain means of causing one’s enemies to envy us.”
“Quartermaster, Mabel is not my inimy; and if she was, the last thing I could desire would be to give her an uneasy moment.”
“Ye say so, Pathfinder, ye say so, and I daresay ye think so; but reason and nature are both against you, as ye’ll find in the end. Ye’ve heard the saying ‘love me, love my dog:’ well, now, that means, read backwards, ‘don’t love me, don’t love my dog.’ Now, listen to what is in your power to do. You know we occupy an exceedingly precarious and uncertain position here, almost in the jaws of the lion, as it were?”
“Do you mean the Frenchers by the lion, and this island as his jaws, Lieutenant?”
“Metaphorically only, my friend, for the French are no lions, and this island is not a jaw — unless, indeed, it may prove to be, what I greatly fear may come true, the jaw-bone of an ass.”
Here the Quartermaster indulged in a sneering laugh, that proclaimed anything but respect and admiration for his friend Lundie’s sagacity in selecting that particular spot for his operations.
“The post is as well chosen as any I ever put foot in,” said Pathfinder, looking around him as one surveys a picture.
“I’ll no’ deny it, I’ll no’ deny it. Lundie is a great soldier, in a small way; and his father was a great laird, with the same qualification. I was born on the estate, and have followed the Major so long that I’ve got to reverence all he says and does: that’s just my weakness, ye’ll know, Pathfinder. Well, this post may be the post of an ass, or of a Solomon, as men fancy; but it’s most critically placed, as is apparent by all Lundie’s precautions and injunctions. There are savages out scouting through these Thousand Islands and over the forest, searching for this very spot, as is known to Lundie himself, on certain information; and the greatest service you can render the 55th is to discover their trails and lead them off on a false scent. Unhappily Sergeant Dunham has taken up the notion that the danger is to be apprehended from up-stream, because Frontenac lies above us; whereas all experience tells us that Indians come on the side which is most contrary to reason, and, consequently, are to be expected from below. Take your canoe, therefore, and go down-stream among the islands, that we may have notice if any danger approaches from that quarter.”
“The Big Sarpent is on the look-out in that quarter; and as he knows the station well, no doubt he will give us timely notice, should any wish to sarcumvent us in that direction.”
“He is but an Indian, after all, Pathfinder; and this is an affair that calls for the knowledge of a white man. Lundie will be eternally grateful to the man who shall help this little enterprise to come off with flying colors. To tell you the truth, my friend, he is conscious it should never have been attempted; but he has too much of the old laird’s obstinacy about him to own an error, though it be as manifest as the morning star.”
The Quartermaster then continued to reason with his companion, in order to induce him to quit the island without delay, using such arguments as first suggested themselves, sometimes contradicting himself, and not unfrequently urging at one moment a motive that at the next was directly opposed by another. The Pathfinder, simple as he was, detected these flaws in the Lieutenant’s philosophy, though he was far from suspecting that they proceeded from a desire to clear the coast of Mabel’s suitor. He did not exactly suspect the secret objects of Muir, but he was far from being blind to his sophistry. The result was that the two parted, after a long dialogue, unconvinced, and distrustful of each other’s motives, though the distrust of the guide, like all that was connected with the man, partook of his own upright, disinterested, and ingenuous nature.
A conference that took place soon after between Sergeant Dunham and the Lieutenant led to more consequences. When it was ended, secret orders were issued to the men, the blockhouse was taken possession of, the huts were occupied, and one accustomed to the movements of soldiers might have detected that an expedition was in the wind. In fact, just as the sun was setting, the Sergeant, who had been much occupied at what was called the harbor, came into his own hut, followed by Pathfinder and Cap; and as he took his seat at the neat table which Mabel had prepared for him, he opened the budget of his intelligence.
“You are likely to be of some use here, my child,” the old soldier commenced, “as this tidy and well-ordered supper can testify; and I trust, when the proper moment arrives, you will show yourself to be the descendant of those who know how to face their enemies.”
“You do not expect me, dear father, to play Joan of Arc, and to lead the men to battle?”
“Play whom, child? Did you ever hear of the person Mabel mentions, Pathfinder?”
“Not I, Sergeant; but what of that? I am ignorant and unedicated, and it is too great a pleasure to me to listen to her voice, and take in her words, to be particular about persons.”
“I know her,” said Cap decidedly; “she sailed a privateer out of Morlaix in the last war; and good cruises she made of them.”
Mabel blushed at having inadvertently made an allusion that went beyond her father’s reading, to say nothing of her uncle’s dogmatism, and, perhaps, a little at the Pathfinder’s simple, ingenuous earnestness; but she did not forbear the less to smile.
“Why, father, I am not expected to fall in with the men, and to help defend the island?”
“And yet women have often done such things in this quarter of the world, girl, as our friend, the Pathfinder here, will tell you. But lest you should be surprised at not seeing us when you awake in the morning, it is proper that I now tell you we intend to march in the course of this very night.”
“We, father! and leave me and Jennie on this island alone?”
“No, my daughter; not quite as unmilitary as that. We shall leave Lieutenant Muir, brother Cap, Corporal M’Nab, and three men to compose the garrison during our absence. Jennie will remain with you in this hut, and brother Cap will occupy my place.”
“And Mr. Muir?” said Mabel, half unconscious of what she uttered, though she foresaw a great deal of unpleasant persecution in the arrangement.
“Why, he can make love to you, if you like it, girl; for he is an amorous youth, and, having already disposed of four wives, is impatient to show how much he honors their memories by taking a fifth.”
“The Quartermaster tells me,” said Pathfinder innocently, “that when a man’s feelings have been harassed by so many losses, there is no wiser way to soothe them than by ploughing up the soil anew, in such a manner as to leave no traces of what have gone over it before.”
“Ay, that is just the difference between ploughing and harrowing,” returned the Sergeant, with a grim smile. “But let him tell Mabel his mind, and there will be an end of his suit. I very well know that my daughter will never be the wife of Lieutenant Muir.”
This was said in a way that was tantamount to declaring that no daughter of his ever should become the wife of the person in question. Mabel had colored, trembled, half laughed, and looked uneasy; but, rallying her spirit, she said, in a voice so cheerful as completely to conceal her agitation, “But, father, we might better wait until Mr. Muir manifests a wish that your daughter would have him, or rather a wish to have your daughter, lest we get the fable of sour grapes thrown into our faces.”
“And what is that fable, Mabel?” eagerly demanded Pathfinder, who was anything but learned in the ordinary lore of white men. “Tell it to us, in your own pretty way; I daresay the Sergeant never heard it.”
Mabel repeated the well-known fable, and, as her suitor had desired, in her own pretty way, which was a way to keep his eyes riveted on her face, and the whole of his honest countenance covered with a smile.
“That was like a fox!” cried Pathfinder, when she had ceased; “ay, and like a Mingo, too, cunning and cruel; that is the way with both the riptyles. As to grapes, they are sour enough in this part of the country, even to them that can get at them, though I daresay there are seasons and times and places where they are sourer to them that can’t. I should judge, now, my scalp is very sour in Mingo eyes.”
“The sour grapes will be the other way, child, and it is Mr. Muir who will make the complaint. You would never marry that man, Mabel?”
“Not she,” put in Cap; “a fellow who is only half a soldier after all. The story of them there grapes is quite a circumstance.”
“I think little of marrying any one, dear father and dear uncle, and would rather talk about it less, if you please. But, did I think of marrying at all, I do believe a man whose affections have already been tried by three or four wives would scarcely be my choice.”
The Sergeant nodded at the guide, as much as to say, You see how the land lies; and then he had sufficient consideration for his daughter’s feelings to change the subject.
“Neither you nor Mabel, brother Cap,” he resumed, “can have any legal authority with the little garrison I leave behind on the island; but you may counsel and influence. Strictly speaking, Corporal M’Nab will be the commanding officer, and I have endeavored to impress him with a sense of his dignity, lest he might give way too much to the superior rank of Lieutenant Muir, who, being a volunteer, can have no right to interfere with the duty. I wish you to sustain the Corporal, brother Cap; for should the Quartermaster once break through the regulations of the expedition, he may pretend to command me, as well as M’Nab.”
“More particularly, should Mabel really cut him adrift while you are absent. Of course, Sergeant, you’ll leave everything that is afloat under my care? The most d —— ble confusion has grown out of misunderstandings between commanders-in-chief, ashore and afloat.”
“In one sense, brother, though in a general way, the Corporal is commander-in-chief. The Corporal must command; but you can counsel freely, particularly in all matters relating to the boats, of which I shall leave one behind to secure your retreat, should there be occasion. I know the Corporal well; he is a brave man and a good soldier; and one that may be relied on, if the Santa Cruz can be kept from him. But then he is a Scotchman, and will be liable to the Quartermaster’s influence, against which I desire both you and Mabel to be on your guard.”
“But why leave us behind, dear father? I have come thus far to be a comfort to you, and why not go farther?”
“You are a good girl, Mabel, and very like the Dunhams. But you must halt here. We shall leave the island to-morrow, before the day dawns, in order not to be seen by any prying eyes coming from our cover, and we shall take the two largest boats, leaving you the other and one bark canoe. We are about to go into the channel used by the French, where we shall lie in wait, perhaps a week, to intercept their supply-boats, which are about to pass up on their way to Frontenac, loaded, in particular, with a heavy amount of Indian goods.”
“Have you looked well to your papers, brother?” Cap anxiously demanded. “Of course you know a capture on the high seas is piracy, unless your boat is regularly commissioned, either as a public or a private armed cruiser.”
“I have the honor to hold the Colonel’s appointment as sergeant-major of the 55th,” returned the other, drawing himself up with dignity, “and that will be sufficient even for the French king. If not, I have Major Duncan’s written orders.”
“No papers, then, for a warlike cruiser?”
“They must suffice, brother, as I have no other. It is of vast importance to his Majesty’s interests, in this part of the world, that the boats in question should be captured and carried into Oswego. They contain the blankets, trinkets, rifles, ammunition, in short, all the stores with which the French bribe their accursed savage allies to commit their unholy acts, setting at nought our holy religion and its precepts, the laws of humanity, and all that is sacred and dear among men. By cutting off these supplies we shall derange their plans, and gain time on them; for the articles cannot be sent across the ocean again this autumn.”
“But, father, does not his Majesty employ Indians also?” asked Mabel, with some curiosity.
“Certainly, girl, and he has a right to employ them — God bless him! It’s a very different thing whether an Englishman or a Frenchman employs a savage, as everybody can understand.”
“But, father, I cannot see that this alters the case. If it be wrong in a Frenchman to hire savages to fight his enemies, it would seem to be equally wrong in an Englishman. You will admit this, Pathfinder?”
“It’s reasonable, it’s reasonable; and I have never been one of them that has raised a cry ag’in the Frenchers for doing the very thing we do ourselves. Still it is worse to consort with a Mingo than to consort with a Delaware. If any of that just tribe were left, I should think it no sin to send them out ag’in the foe.”
“And yet they scalp and slay young and old, women and children!”
“They have their gifts, Mabel, and are not to be blamed for following them; natur’ is natur’, though the different tribes have different ways of showing it. For my part I am white, and endeavor to maintain white feelings.”
“This is all unintelligible to me,” answered Mabel. “What is right in King George, it would seem, ought to be right in King Louis.”
As all parties, Mabel excepted, seemed satisfied with the course the discussion had taken, no one appeared to think it necessary to pursue the subject. Supper was no sooner ended than the Sergeant dismissed his guests, and then held a long and confidential dialogue with his daughter. He was little addicted to giving way to the gentler emotions, but the novelty of his present situation awakened feelings that he was unused to experience. The soldier or the sailor, so long as he acts under the immediate supervision of a superior, thinks little of the risks he runs, but the moment he feels the responsibility of command, all the hazards of his undertaking begin to associate themselves in his mind: with the chances of success or failure. While he dwells less on his own personal danger, perhaps, than when that is the principal consideration, he has more lively general perceptions of all the risks, and submits more to the influence of the feelings which doubt creates. Such was now the case with Sergeant Dunham, who, instead of looking forward to victory as certain, according to his usual habits, began to feel the possibility that he might be parting with his child for ever.
Never before had Mabel struck him as so beautiful as she appeared that night. Possibly she never had displayed so many engaging qualities to her father; for concern on his account had begun to be active in her breast; and then her sympathies met with unusual encouragement through those which had been stirred up in the sterner bosom of the veteran. She had never been entirely at her ease with her parent, the great superiority of her education creating a sort of chasm, which had been widened by the military severity of manner he had acquired by dealing so long with beings who could only be kept in subjection by an unremitted discipline. On the present occasion, however, the conversation between the father and daughter became more confidential than usual, until Mabel rejoiced to find that it was gradually becoming endearing, a state of feeling that the warm-hearted girl had silently pined for in vain ever since her arrival.
“Then mother was about my height?” Mabel said, as she held one of her father’s hands in both her own, looking up into his face with humid eyes. “I had thought her taller.”
“That is the way with most children who get a habit of thinking of their parents with respect, until they fancy them larger and more commanding than they actually are. Your mother, Mabel, was as near your height as one woman could be to another.”
“And her eyes, father?”
“Her eyes were like thine, child, too; blue and soft, and inviting like, though hardly so laughing.”
“Mine will never laugh again, dearest father, if you do not take care of yourself in this expedition.”
“Thank you, Mabel — hem — thank you, child; but I must do my duty. I wish I had seen you comfortably married before we left Oswego; my mind would be easier.”
“Married! — to whom, father?”
“You know the man I wish you to love. You may meet with many gayer, and many dressed in finer clother; but with none with so true a heart and just a mind.”
“I know of none; in these particulars Pathfinder has few equals at least.”
“But I need not marry at all. You are single, and I can remain to take care of you.”
“God bless you, Mabel! I know you would, and I do not say that the feeling is not right, for I suppose it is; and yet I believe there is another that is more so.”
“What can be more right than to honor one’s parents?”
“It is just as right to honor one’s husband, my dear child.”
“But I have no husband, father.”
“Then take one as soon as possible, that you may have a husband to honor. I cannot live for ever, Mabel, but must drop off in the course of nature ere long, if I am not carried off in the course of war. You are young, and may yet live long; and it is proper that you should have a male protector, who can see you safe through life, and take care of you in age, as you now wish to take care of me.”
“And do you think, father,” said Mabel, playing with his sinewy fingers with her own little hands, and looking down at them, as if they were subjects of intense interest, though her lips curled in a slight smile as the words came from them — “and do you think, father, that Pathfinder is just the man to do this? Is he not, within ten or twelve years, as old as yourself?”
“What of that? His life has been one of moderation and exercise, and years are less to be counted, girl, than constitution. Do you know another more likely to be your protector?”
Mabel did not; at least another who had expressed a desire to that effect, whatever might have been her hopes and her wishes.
“Nay, father, we are not talking of another, but of the Pathfinder,” she answered evasively. “If he were younger, I think it would be more natural for me to think of him for a husband.”
“’Tis all in the constitution, I tell you, child; Pathfinder is a younger man than half our subalterns.”
“He is certainly younger than one, sir — Lieutenant Muir.”
Mabel’s laugh was joyous and light-hearted, as if just then she felt no care.
“That he is — young enough to be his grandson; he is younger in years, too. God forbid, Mabel, that you should ever become an officer’s lady, at least until you are an officer’s daughter!”
“There will be little fear of that, father, if I marry Pathfinder,” returned the girl, looking up archly in the Sergeant’s face again.
“Not by the king’s commission, perhaps, though the man is even now the friend and companion of generals. I think I could die happy, Mabel, if you were his wife.”
“’Tis a sad thing to go into battle with the weight of an unprotected daughter laid upon the heart.”
“I would give the world to lighten yours of its load, my dear sir.”
“It might be done,” said the Sergeant, looking fondly at his child; “though I could not wish to put a burthen on yours in order to do so.”
The voice was deep and tremulous, and never before had Mabel witnessed such a show of affection in her parent. The habitual sternness of the man lent an interest to his emotions which they might otherwise have wanted, and the daughter’s heart yearned to relieve the father’s mind.
“Father, speak plainly!” she cried, almost convulsively.
“Nay, Mabel, it might not be right; your wishes and mine may be very different.”
“I have no wishes — know nothing of what you mean. Would you speak of my future marriage?”
“If I could see you promised to Pathfinder — know that you were pledged to become his wife, let my own fate be what it might, I think I could die happy. But I will ask no pledge of you, my child; I will not force you to do what you might repent. Kiss me, Mabel, and go to your bed.”
Had Sergeant Dunham exacted of Mabel the pledge that he really so much desired, he would have encountered a resistance that he might have found it difficult to overcome; but, by letting nature have its course, he enlisted a powerful ally on his side, and the warm-hearted, generous-minded Mabel was ready to concede to her affections much more than she would ever have yielded to menace. At that touching moment she thought only of her parent, who was about to quit her, perhaps for ever; and all of that ardent love for him, which had possibly been as much fed by the imagination as by anything else, but which had received a little check by the restrained intercourse of the last fortnight, now returned with a force that was increased by pure and intense feeling. Her father seemed all in all to her, and to render him happy there was no proper sacrifice which she was not ready to make. One painful, rapid, almost wild gleam of thought shot across the brain of the girl, and her resolution wavered; but endeavoring to trace the foundation of the pleasing hope on which it was based, she found nothing positive to support it. Trained like a woman to subdue her most ardent feelings, her thoughts reverted to her father, and to the blessings that awaited the child who yielded to a parent’s wishes.
“Father,” she said quietly, almost with a holy calm, “God blesses the dutiful daughter.”
“He will, Mabel; we have the Good Book for that.”
“I will marry whomever you desire.”
“Nay, nay, Mabel, you may have a choice of your own —”
“I have no choice; that is, none have asked me to have a choice, but Pathfinder and Mr. Muir; and between them, neither of us would hesitate. No, father; I will marry whomever you may choose.”
“Thou knowest my choice, beloved child; none other can make thee as happy as the noble-hearted guide.”
“Well, then, if he wish it, if he ask me again — for, father, you would not have me offer myself, or that any one should do that office for me,” and the blood stole across the pallid cheeks of Mabel as she spoke, for high and generous resolutions had driven back the stream of life to her heart; “no one must speak to him of it; but if he seek me again, and, knowing all that a true girl ought to tell the man she marries, he then wishes to make me his wife, I will be his.”
“Bless you, my Mabel! God in heaven bless you, and reward you as a pious daughter deserves to be rewarded!”
“Yes, father, put your mind at peace; go on this expedition with a light heart, and trust in God. For me you will have now no care. In the spring — I must have a little time, father — but in the spring I will marry Pathfinder, if that noble-hearted hunter shall then desire it.”
“Mabel, he loves you as I loved your mother. I have seen him weep like a child when speaking of his feelings towards you.”
“Yes, I believe it; I’ve seen enough to satisfy me that he thinks better of me than I deserve; and certainly the man is not living for whom I have more respect than for Pathfinder; not even for you, dear father.”
“That is as it should be, child, and the union will be blessed. May I not tell Pathfinder this?”
“I would rather you would not, father. Let it come of itself, come naturally.” The smile that illuminated Mabel’s handsome face was angelic, as even her parent thought, though one better practised in detecting the passing emotions, as they betray themselves in the countenance, might have traced something wild and unnatural in it. “No, no, we must let things take their course; father, you have my solemn promise.”
“That will do, that will do, Mabel, now kiss me. God bless and protect you, girl! you are a good daughter.”
Mabel threw herself into her father’s arms — it was the first time in her life — and sobbed on his bosom like an infant. The stern soldier’s heart was melted, and the tears of the two mingled; but Sergeant Dunham soon started, as if ashamed of himself, and, gently forcing his daughter from him, he bade her good-night, and sought his pallet. Mabel went sobbing to the rude corner that had been prepared for her reception; and in a few minutes the hut was undisturbed by any sound, save the heavy breathing of the veteran.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:49