James Fenimore Cooper
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The Inland Sea
By James Fenimore Cooper
The plan of this tale suggested itself to the writer many years
since, though the details are altogether of recent invention. The
idea of associating seamen and savages in incidents that might be
supposed characteristic of the Great Lakes having been mentioned
to a Publisher, the latter obtained something like a pledge from
the Author to carry out the design at some future day, which pledge
is now tardily and imperfectly redeemed.
The reader may recognize an old friend under new circumstances in
the principal character of this legend. If the exhibition made of
this old acquaintance, in the novel circumstances in which he now
appears, should be found not to lessen his favor with the Public,
it will be a source of extreme gratification to the writer, since
he has an interest in the individual in question that falls little
short of reality. It is not an easy task, however, to introduce
the same character in four separate works, and to maintain the
peculiarities that are indispensable to identity, without incurring
a risk of fatiguing the reader with sameness; and the present
experiment has been so long delayed quite as much from doubts of
its success as from any other cause. In this, as in every other
undertaking, it must be the "end" that will "crown the work."
The Indian character has so little variety, that it has been my
object to avoid dwelling on it too much on the present occasion;
its association with the sailor, too, it is feared, will be found
to have more novelty than interest.
It may strike the novice as an anachronism to place vessels on
the Ontario in the middle of the eighteenth century; but in this
particular facts will fully bear out all the license of the fiction.
Although the precise vessels mentioned in these pages may never
have existed on that water or anywhere else, others so nearly
resembling them are known to have navigated that inland sea, even
at a period much earlier than the one just mentioned, as to form a
sufficient authority for their introduction into a work of fiction.
It is a fact not generally remembered, however well known it may
be, that there are isolated spots along the line of the great lakes
that date as settlements as far back as many of the older American
towns, and which were the seats of a species of civilization long
before the greater portion of even the older States was rescued
from the wilderness.
Ontario in our own times has been the scene of important naval
evolutions. Fleets have manoeuvered on those waters, which, half
a century ago, were as deserted as waters well can be; and the
day is not distant when the whole of that vast range of lakes will
become the seat of empire, and fraught with all the interests of
human society. A passing glimpse, even though it be in a work of
fiction, of what that vast region so lately was, may help to make
up the sum of knowledge by which alone a just appreciation can be
formed of the wonderful means by which Providence is clearing the
way for the advancement of civilization across the whole American
The turf shall be my fragrant shrine;
My temple, Lord! that arch of thine;
My censer's breath the mountain airs,
And silent thoughts my only prayers.
The sublimity connected with vastness is familiar to every eye. The
most abstruse, the most far-reaching, perhaps the most chastened
of the poet's thoughts, crowd on the imagination as he gazes into
the depths of the illimitable void. The expanse of the ocean is
seldom seen by the novice with indifference; and the mind, even in
the obscurity of night, finds a parallel to that grandeur, which
seems inseparable from images that the senses cannot compass.
With feelings akin to this admiration and awe -- the offspring of
sublimity -- were the different characters with which the action
of this tale must open, gazing on the scene before them. Four
persons in all, -- two of each sex, -- they had managed to ascend a
pile of trees, that had been uptorn by a tempest, to catch a view
of the objects that surrounded them. It is still the practice
of the country to call these spots wind-rows. By letting in the
light of heaven upon the dark and damp recesses of the wood, they
form a sort of oases in the solemn obscurity of the virgin forests
of America. The particular wind-row of which we are writing lay
on the brow of a gentle acclivity; and, though small, it had opened
the way for an extensive view to those who might occupy its upper
margin, a rare occurrence to the traveller in the woods. Philosophy
has not yet determined the nature of the power that so often
lays desolate spots of this description; some ascribing it to the
whirlwinds which produce waterspouts on the ocean, while others
again impute it to sudden and violent passages of streams of the
electric fluid; but the effects in the woods are familiar to all.
On the upper margin of the opening, the viewless influence had
piled tree on tree, in such a manner as had not only enabled the
two males of the party to ascend to an elevation of some thirty
feet above the level of the earth, but, with a little care and
encouragement, to induce their more timid companions to accompany
them. The vast trunks which had been broken and driven by the force
of the gust lay blended like jack-straws; while their branches,
still exhaling the fragrance of withering leaves, were interlaced
in a manner to afford sufficient support to the hands. One tree
had been completely uprooted, and its lower end, filled with earth,
had been cast uppermost, in a way to supply a sort of staging for
the four adventurers, when they had gained the desired distance
from the ground.
The reader is to anticipate none of the appliances of people of
condition in the description of the personal appearances of the
group in question. They were all wayfarers in the wilderness; and
had they not been, neither their previous habits, nor their actual
social positions, would have accustomed them to many of the luxuries
of rank. Two of the party, indeed, a male and female, belonged
to the native owners of the soil, being Indians of the well-known
tribe of the Tuscaroras; while their companions were -- a man, who
bore about him the peculiarities of one who had passed his days
on the ocean, and was, too, in a station little, if any, above that
of a common mariner; and his female associate, who was a maiden of
a class in no great degree superior to his own; though her youth,
sweetness and countenance, and a modest, but spirited mien, lent
that character of intellect and refinement which adds so much to
the charm of beauty in the sex. On the present occasion, her full
blue eye reflected the feeling of sublimity that the scene excited,
and her pleasant face was beaming with the pensive expression with
which all deep emotions, even though they bring the most grateful
pleasure, shadow the countenances of the ingenuous and thoughtful.
And truly the scene was of a nature deeply to impress the imagination
of the beholder. Towards the west, in which direction the faces
of the party were turned, the eye ranged over an ocean of leaves,
glorious and rich in the varied and lively verdure of a generous
vegetation, and shaded by the luxuriant tints which belong to the
forty-second degree of latitude. The elm with its graceful and
weeping top, the rich varieties of the maple, most of the noble
oaks of the American forest, with the broad-leaved linden known in
the parlance of the country as the basswood, mingled their uppermost
branches, forming one broad and seemingly interminable carpet
of foliage which stretched away towards the setting sun, until it
bounded the horizon, by blending with the clouds, as the waves and
the sky meet at the base of the vault of heaven. Here and there,
by some accident of the tempests, or by a caprice of nature, a
trifling opening among these giant members of the forest permitted
an inferior tree to struggle upward toward the light, and to lift
its modest head nearly to a level with the surrounding surface of
verdure. Of this class were the birch, a tree of some account in
regions less favored, the quivering aspen, various generous nut-woods,
and divers others which resembled the ignoble and vulgar, thrown
by circumstances into the presence of the stately and great. Here
and there, too, the tall straight trunk of the pine pierced the
vast field, rising high above it, like some grand monument reared
by art on a plain of leaves.
It was the vastness of the view, the nearly unbroken surface
of verdure, that contained the principle of grandeur. The beauty
was to be traced in the delicate tints, relieved by graduations of
light and shade; while the solemn repose induced the feeling allied
"Uncle," said the wondering, but pleased girl, addressing her male
companion, whose arm she rather touched than leaned on, to steady
her own light but firm footing, "this is like a view of the ocean
you so much love!"
"So much for ignorance, and a girl's fancy, Magnet," --a term of
affection the sailor often used in allusion to his niece's personal
attractions; "no one but a child would think of likening this
handful of leaves to a look at the real Atlantic. You might seize
all these tree-tops to Neptune's jacket, and they would make no
more than a nosegay for his bosom."
"More fanciful than true, I think, uncle. Look thither; it must
be miles on miles, and yet we see nothing but leaves! what could
one behold, if looking at the ocean?"
"More!" returned the uncle, giving an impatient gesture with the
elbow the other touched, for his arms were crossed, and the hands
were thrust into the bosom of a vest of red cloth, a fashion of
the times, -- "more, Magnet! say, rather, what less? Where are
your combing seas, your blue water, your rollers, your breakers,
your whales, or your waterspouts, and your endless motion, in this
bit of a forest, child?"
"And where are your tree-tops, your solemn silence, your fragrant
leaves, and your beautiful green, uncle, on the ocean?"
"Tut, Magnet! if you understood the thing, you would know that
green water is a sailor's bane. He scarcely relishes a greenhorn
"But green trees are a different thing. Hist! that sound is the
air breathing among the leaves!"
"You should hear a nor-wester breathe, girl, if you fancy wind
aloft. Now, where are your gales, and hurricanes, and trades, and
levanters, and such like incidents, in this bit of a forest? And
what fishes have you swimming beneath yonder tame surface?"
"That there have been tempests here, these signs around us plainly
show; and beasts, if not fishes, are beneath those leaves."
"I do not know that," returned the uncle, with a sailor's dogmatism.
"They told us many stories at Albany of the wild animals we should
fall in with, and yet we have seen nothing to frighten a seal. I
doubt if any of your inland animals will compare with a low latitude
"See!" exclaimed the niece, who was more occupied with the sublimity
and beauty of the "boundless wood" than with her uncle's arguments;
"yonder is a smoke curling over the tops of the trees -- can it
come from a house?"
"Ay, ay; there is a look of humanity in that smoke," returned the
old seaman, "which is worth a thousand trees. I must show it to
Arrowhead, who may be running past a port without knowing it. It
is probable there is a caboose where there is a smoke."
As he concluded, the uncle drew a hand from his bosom, touched the
male Indian, who was standing near him, lightly on the shoulder,
and pointed out a thin line of vapor which was stealing slowly out
of the wilderness of leaves, at a distance of about a mile, and
was diffusing itself in almost imperceptible threads of humidity
in the quivering atmosphere. The Tuscarora was one of those
noble-looking warriors oftener met with among the aborigines of this
continent a century since than to-day; and, while he had mingled
sufficiently with the colonists to be familiar with their habits
and even with their language, he had lost little, if any, of the
wild grandeur and simple dignity of a chief. Between him and the
old seaman the intercourse had been friendly, but distant; for the
Indian had been too much accustomed to mingle with the officers of
the different military posts he had frequented not to understand
that his present companion was only a subordinate. So imposing,
indeed, had been the quiet superiority of the Tuscarora's
reserve, that Charles Cap, for so was the seaman named, in his most
dogmatical or facetious moments, had not ventured on familiarity
in an intercourse which had now lasted more than a week. The
sight of the curling smoke, however, had struck the latter like the
sudden appearance of a sail at sea; and, for the first time since
they met, he ventured to touch the warrior, as has been related.
The quick eye of the Tuscarora instantly caught a sight of the
smoke; and for full a minute he stood, slightly raised on tiptoe,
with distended nostrils, like the buck that scents a taint in the
air, and a gaze as riveted as that of the trained pointer while
he waits his master's aim. Then, falling back on his feet, a low
exclamation, in the soft tones that form so singular a contrast to
its harsher cries in the Indian warrior's voice, was barely audible;
otherwise, he was undisturbed. His countenance was calm, and his
quick, dark, eagle eye moved over the leafy panorama, as if to take
in at a glance every circumstance that might enlighten his mind.
That the long journey they had attempted to make through a broad
belt of wilderness was necessarily attended with danger, both
uncle and niece well knew; though neither could at once determine
whether the sign that others were in their vicinity was the harbinger
of good or evil.
"There must be Oneidas or Tuscaroras near us, Arrowhead," said
Cap, addressing his Indian companion by his conventional English
name; "will it not be well to join company with them, and get a
comfortable berth for the night in their wigwam?"
"No wigwam there," Arrowhead answered in his unmoved manner -- "too
"But Indians must be there; perhaps some old mess-mates of your
own, Master Arrowhead."
"No Tuscarora -- no Oneida -- no Mohawk -- pale-face fire."
"The devil it is? Well, Magnet, this surpasses a seaman's philosophy:
we old sea-dogs can tell a lubber's nest from a mate's hammock; but
I do not think the oldest admiral in his Majesty's fleet can tell
a king's smoke from a collier's."
The idea that human beings were in their vicinity, in that ocean
of wilderness, had deepened the flush on the blooming cheek and
brightened the eye of the fair creature at his side; but she soon
turned with a look of surprise to her relative, and said hesitatingly,
for both had often admired the Tuscarora's knowledge, or, we might
almost say, instinct, --
"A pale-face's fire! Surely, uncle, he cannot know _that_?"
"Ten days since, child, I would have sworn to it; but now I hardly
know what to believe. May I take the liberty of asking, Arrowhead,
why you fancy that smoke, now, a pale-face's smoke, and not a
"Wet wood," returned the warrior, with the calmness with which
the pedagogue might point out an arithmetical demonstration to his
puzzled pupil. "Much wet -- much smoke; much water -- black smoke."
"But, begging your pardon, Master Arrowhead, the smoke is not
black, nor is there much of it. To my eye, now, it is as light
and fanciful a smoke as ever rose from a captain's tea-kettle, when
nothing was left to make the fire but a few chips from the dunnage."
"Too much water," returned Arrowhead, with a slight nod of the
head; "Tuscarora too cunning to make fire with water! Pale-face
too much book, and burn anything; much book, little know."
"Well, that's reasonable, I allow," said Cap, who was no devotee
of learning: "he means that as a hit at your reading, Magnet; for
the chief has sensible notions of things in his own way. How far,
now, Arrowhead, do you make us, by your calculation, from the bit
of a pond that you call the Great Lake, and towards which we have
been so many days shaping our course?"
The Tuscarora looked at the seaman with quiet superiority as he
answered, "Ontario, like heaven; one sun, and the great traveller
will know it."
"Well, I have been a great traveller, I cannot deny; but of all my
v'y'ges this has been the longest, the least profitable, and the
farthest inland. If this body of fresh water is so nigh, Arrowhead,
and so large, one might think a pair of good eyes would find it
out; for apparently everything within thirty miles is to be seen
from this lookout."
"Look," said Arrowhead, stretching an arm before him with quiet
"Uncle, you are accustomed to cry 'Land ho!' but not 'Water ho!'
and you do not see it," cried the niece, laughing, as girls will
laugh at their own idle conceits.
"How now, Magnet! dost suppose that I shouldn't know my native
element if it were in sight?"
"But Ontario is not your native element, dear uncle; for you come
from the salt water, while this is fresh."
"That might make some difference to your young mariner, but none
to the old one. I should know water, child, were I to see it in
"Ontario," repeated Arrowhead, with emphasis, again stretching his
hand towards the north-west.
Cap looked at the Tuscarora, for the first time since their
acquaintance, with something like an air of contempt, though he did
not fail to follow the direction of the chief's eye and arm, both
of which were directed towards a vacant point in the heavens, a
short distance above the plain of leaves.
"Ay, ay; this is much as I expected, when I left the coast in search
of a fresh-water pond," resumed Cap, shrugging his shoulders like
one whose mind was made up, and who thought no more need be said.
"Ontario may be there, or, for that matter, it may be in my
pocket. Well, I suppose there will be room enough, when we reach
it, to work our canoe. But Arrowhead, if there be pale-faces in
our neighborhood, I confess I should like to get within hail of
The Tuscarora now gave a quiet inclination of his head, and the
whole party descended from the roots of the up-torn tree in silence.
When they reached the ground, Arrowhead intimated his intention to
go towards the fire, and ascertain who had lighted it; while he
advised his wife and the two others to return to a canoe, which
they had left in the adjacent stream, and await his return.
"Why, chief, this might do on soundings, and in an offing where
one knew the channel," returned old Cap; "but in an unknown region
like this I think it unsafe to trust the pilot alone too far from
the ship: so, with your leave, we will not part company."
"What my brother want?" asked the Indian gravely, though without
taking offence at a distrust that was sufficiently plain.
"Your company, Master Arrowhead, and no more. I will go with you
and speak these strangers."
The Tuscarora assented without difficulty, and again he directed
his patient and submissive little wife, who seldom turned her full
rich black eye on him but to express equally her respect, her dread,
and her love, to proceed to the boat. But here Magnet raised
a difficulty. Although spirited, and of unusual energy under
circumstances of trial, she was but woman; and the idea of being
entirely deserted by her two male protectors, in the midst of a
wilderness that her senses had just told her was seemingly illimitable,
became so keenly painful, that she expressed a wish to accompany
"The exercise will be a relief, dear sir, after sitting so long in
the canoe," she added, as the rich blood slowly returned to a cheek
that had paled in spite of her efforts to be calm; "and there may
be females with the strangers."
"Come, then, child; it is but a cable's length, and we shall return
an hour before the sun sets."
With this permission, the girl, whose real name was Mabel Dunham,
prepared to be of the party; while the Dew-of-June, as the wife of
Arrowhead was called, passively went her way towards the canoe,
too much accustomed to obedience, solitude, and the gloom of the
forest to feel apprehension.
The three who remained in the wind-row now picked their way around
its tangled maze, and gained the margin of the woods. A few glances
of the eye sufficed for Arrowhead; but old Cap deliberately set
the smoke by a pocket-compass, before he trusted himself within
the shadows of the trees.
"This steering by the nose, Magnet, may do well enough for an Indian,
but your thoroughbred knows the virtue of the needle," said the
uncle, as he trudged at the heels of the light-stepping Tuscarora.
"America would never have been discovered, take my word for it, if
Columbus had been nothing but nostrils. Friend Arrowhead, didst
ever see a machine like this?"
The Indian turned, cast a glance at the compass, which Cap held
in a way to direct his course, and gravely answered, "A pale-face
eye. The Tuscarora see in his head. The Salt-water (for so the
Indian styled his companion) all eye now; no tongue."
"He means, uncle, that we had needs be silent, perhaps he distrusts
the persons we are about to meet."
"Ay, 'tis an Indian's fashion of going to quarters. You perceive
he has examined the priming of his rifle, and it may be as well if
I look to that of my own pistols."
Without betraying alarm at these preparations, to which she had
become accustomed by her long journey in the wilderness, Mabel
followed with a step as elastic as that of the Indian, keeping close
in the rear of her companions. For the first half mile no other
caution beyond a rigid silence was observed; but as the party drew
nearer to the spot where the fire was known to be, much greater
care became necessary.
The forest, as usual, had little to intercept the view below the
branches but the tall straight trunks of trees. Everything belonging
to vegetation had struggled towards the light, and beneath the leafy
canopy one walked, as it might be, through a vast natural vault,
upheld by myriads of rustic columns. These columns or trees,
however, often served to conceal the adventurer, the hunter, or
the foe; and, as Arrowhead swiftly approached the spot where his
practised and unerring senses told him the strangers ought to be,
his footstep gradually became lighter, his eye more vigilant, and
his person was more carefully concealed.
"See, Saltwater," said he exulting, pointing through the vista of
trees; "pale-face fire!"
"By the Lord, the fellow is right!" muttered Cap; "there they are,
sure enough, and eating their grub as quietly as if they were in
the cabin of a three-decker."
"Arrowhead is but half right!" whispered Mabel, "for there are two
Indians and only one white man."
"Pale-faces," said the Tuscarora, holding up two fingers; "red
man," holding up one.
"Well," rejoined Cap, "it is hard to say which is right and which
is wrong. One is entirely white, and a fine comely lad he is, with
an air of respectability about him; one is a red-skin as plain as
paint and nature can make him; but the third chap is half-rigged,
being neither brig nor schooner."
"Pale-faces," repeated Arrowhead, again raising two fingers, "red
man," showing but one.
"He must be right, uncle; for his eye seems never to fail. But
it is now urgent to know whether we meet as friends or foes. They
may be French."
"One hail will soon satisfy us on that head," returned Cap. "Stand
you behind the tree, Magnet, lest the knaves take it into their
heads to fire a broadside without a parley, and I will soon learn
what colors they sail under."
The uncle had placed his two hands to his mouth to form a trumpet,
and was about to give the promised hail, when a rapid movement
from the hand of Arrowhead defeated the intention by deranging the
"Red man, Mohican," said the Tuscarora; "good; pale-faces, Yengeese."
"These are heavenly tidings," murmured Mabel, who little relished
the prospect of a deadly fray in that remote wilderness. "Let us
approach at once, dear uncle, and proclaim ourselves friends."
"Good," said the Tuscarora "red man cool, and know; pale-face
hurried, and fire. Let the squaw go."
"What!" said Cap in astonishment; "send little Magnet ahead as
a lookout, while two lubbers, like you and me, lie-to to
see what sort of a landfall she will make! If I do, I -- "
"It is wisest, uncle," interrupted the generous girl, "and I have
no fear. No Christian, seeing a woman approach alone, would fire
upon her; and my presence will be a pledge of peace. Let me go
forward, as Arrowhead wishes, and all will be well. We are, as
yet, unseen, and the surprise of the strangers will not partake of
"Good," returned Arrowhead, who did not conceal his approbation of
"It has an unseaman-like look," answered Cap; "but, being
in the woods, no one will know it. If you think, Mabel -- "
"Uncle, I know. There is no cause to fear for me; and you are
always nigh to protect me."
"Well, take one of the pistols, then -- "
"Nay, I had better rely on my youth and feebleness," said the girl,
smiling, while her color heightened under her feelings. "Among
Christian men, a woman's best guard is her claim to their protection.
I know nothing of arms, and wish to live in ignorance of them."
The uncle desisted; and, after receiving a few cautious instructions
from the Tuscarora, Mabel rallied all her spirit, and advanced
alone towards the group seated near the fire. Although the heart
of the girl beat quick, her step was firm, and her movements,
seemingly, were without reluctance. A death-like silence reigned
in the forest, for they towards whom she approached were too much
occupied in appeasing their hunger to avert their looks for an
instant from the important business in which they were all engaged.
When Mabel, however, had got within a hundred feet of the fire,
she trod upon a dried stick, and the trifling noise produced by
her light footstep caused the Mohican, as Arrowhead had pronounced
the Indian to be, and his companion, whose character had been
thought so equivocal, to rise to their feet, as quick as thought.
Both glanced at the rifles that leaned against a tree; and then
each stood without stretching out an arm, as his eyes fell on the
form of the girl. The Indian uttered a few words to his companion,
and resumed his seat and his meal as calmly as if no interruption
had occurred. On the contrary, the white man left the fire, and
came forward to meet Mabel.
The latter saw, as the stranger approached that she was about to be
addressed by one of her own color, though his dress was so strange
a mixture of the habits of the two races, that it required a near
look to be certain of the fact. He was of middle age; but there
was an open honesty, a total absence of guile, in his face, which
otherwise would not have been thought handsome, that at once assured
Magnet she was in no danger. Still she paused.
"Fear nothing, young woman," said the hunter, for such his attire
would indicate him to be; "you have met Christian men in the wilderness,
and such as know how to treat all kindly who are disposed to peace
and justice. I am a man well known in all these parts, and perhaps
one of my names may have reached your ears. By the Frenchers and
the red-skins on the other side of the Big Lakes, I am called La
Longue Carabine; by the Mohicans, a just-minded and upright tribe,
what is left of them, Hawk Eye; while the troops and rangers along
this side of the water call me Pathfinder, inasmuch as I have never
been known to miss one end of the trail, when there was a Mingo,
or a friend who stood in need of me, at the other."
This was not uttered boastfully, but with the honest confidence
of one who well knew that by whatever name others might have heard
of him, who had no reason to blush at the reports. The effect on
Mabel was instantaneous. The moment she heard the last _sobriquet_
she clasped her hands eagerly and repeated the word "Pathfinder!"
"So they call me, young woman, and many a great lord has got a
title that he did not half so well merit; though, if truth be said,
I rather pride myself in finding my way where there is no path,
than in finding it where there is. But the regular troops are by
no means particular, and half the time they don't know the difference
between a trail and a path, though one is a matter for the eye,
while the other is little more than scent."
"Then you are the friend my father promised to send to meet us?"
"If you are Sergeant Dunham's daughter, the great Prophet of the
Delawares never uttered more truth."
"I am Mabel; and yonder, hid by the trees, are my uncle, whose name
is Cap, and a Tuscarora called Arrowhead. We did not hope to meet
you until we had nearly reached the shores of the lake."
"I wish a juster-minded Indian had been your guide," said Pathfinder;
"for I am no lover of the Tuscaroras, who have travelled too
far from the graves of their fathers always to remember the Great
Spirit; and Arrowhead is an ambitious chief. Is the Dew-of-June
"His wife accompanies us, and a humble and mild creature she is."
"Ay, and true-hearted; which is more than any who know him will say
of Arrowhead. Well, we must take the fare that Providence bestows,
while we follow the trail of life. I suppose worse guides might
have been found than the Tuscarora; though he has too much Mingo
blood for one who consorts altogether with the Delawares."
"It is, then, perhaps, fortunate we have met," said Mabel.
"It is not misfortunate, at any rate; for I promised the Sergeant
I would see his child safe to the garrison, though I died for it.
We expected to meet you before you reached the Falls, where we have
left our own canoe; while we thought it might do no harm to come
up a few miles, in order to be of service if wanted. It is lucky
we did, for I doubt if Arrowhead be the man to shoot the current."
"Here come my uncle and the Tuscarora, and our parties can now join."
As Mabel concluded, Cap and Arrowhead, who saw that the conference
was amicable, drew nigh; and a few words sufficed to let them know
as much as the girl herself had learned from the strangers. As
soon as this was done, the party proceeded towards the two who
still remained near the fire.
Yea! long as Nature's humblest child
Hath kept her temple undefiled
By simple sacrifice,
Earth's fairest scenes are all his own,
He is a monarch and his throne
Is built amid the skies!
The Mohican continued to eat, though the second white man rose,
and courteously took off his cap to Mabel Dunham. He was young,
healthful, and manly in appearance; and he wore a dress which,
while it was less rigidly professional than that of the uncle, also
denoted one accustomed to the water. In that age, real seamen
were a class entirely apart from the rest of mankind, their ideas,
ordinary language, and attire being as strongly indicative of
their calling as the opinions, speech, and dress of a Turk denote
a Mussulman. Although the Pathfinder was scarcely in the prime of
life, Mabel had met him with a steadiness that may have been the
consequence of having braced her nerves for the interview; but when
her eyes encountered those of the young man at the fire, they fell
before the gaze of admiration with which she saw, or fancied she
saw, he greeted her. Each, in truth, felt that interest in the
other which similarity of age, condition, mutual comeliness, and
their novel situation would be likely to inspire in the young and
"Here," said Pathfinder, with an honest smile bestowed on Mabel,
"are the friends your worthy father has sent to meet you. This is
a great Delaware; and one who has had honors as well as troubles
in his day. He has an Indian name fit for a chief, but, as the
language is not always easy for the inexperienced to pronounce we
naturally turn it into English, and call him the Big Sarpent. You
are not to suppose, however, that by this name we wish to say that
he is treacherous, beyond what is lawful in a red-skin; but that he
is wise, and has the cunning which becomes a warrior. Arrowhead,
there, knows what I mean."
While the Pathfinder was delivering this address, the two Indians
gazed on each other steadily, and the Tuscarora advanced and spoke
to the other in an apparently friendly manner.
"I like to see this," continued Pathfinder; "the salutes of two
red-skins in the woods, Master Cap, are like the hailing of friendly
vessels on the ocean. But speaking of water, it reminds me of my
young friend, Jasper Western here, who can claim to know something
of these matters, seeing that he has passed his days on Ontario."
"I am glad to see you, friend," said Cap, giving the young fresh-water
sailor a cordial grip; "though you must have something still to
learn, considering the school to which you have been sent. This
is my niece Mabel; I call her Magnet, for a reason she never dreams
of, though you may possibly have education enough to guess at it,
having some pretentions to understand the compass, I suppose."
"The reason is easily comprehended," said the young man, involuntarily
fastening his keen dark eye, at the same time, on the suffused face
of the girl; "and I feel sure that the sailor who steers by your
Magnet will never make a bad landfall."
"Ha! you do make use of some of the terms, I find, and that with
propriety; though, on the whole, I fear you have seen more green
than blue water."
"It is not surprising that we should get some of the phrases which
belong to the land; for we are seldom out of sight of it twenty-four
hours at a time."
"More's the pity, boy, more's the pity! A very little land ought
to go a great way with a seafaring man. Now, if the truth were
known, Master Western, I suppose there is more or less land all
round your lake."
"And, uncle, is there not more or less land around the ocean?"
said Magnet quickly; for she dreaded a premature display of the
old seaman's peculiar dogmatism, not to say pedantry.
"No, child, there is more or less ocean all round the land;
that's what I tell the people ashore, youngster. They are living,
as it might be, in the midst of the sea, without knowing it; by
sufferance, as it were, the water being so much the more powerful
and the largest. But there is no end to conceit in this world:
for a fellow who never saw salt water often fancies he knows more
than one who has gone round the Horn. No, no, this earth is pretty
much an island; and all that can be truly said not to be so is
Young Western had a profound deference for a mariner of the ocean,
on which he had often pined to sail; but he had also a natural
regard for the broad sheet on which he had passed his life, and
which was not without its beauties in his eyes.
"What you say, sir," he answered modestly, "may be true as to the
Atlantic; but we have a respect for the land up here on Ontario."
"That is because you are always land-locked," returned Cap, laughing
heartily; "but yonder is the Pathfinder, as they call him, with
some smoking platters, inviting us to share in his mess; and I will
confess that one gets no venison at sea. Master Western, civility
to girls, at your time of life, comes as easy as taking in the
slack of the ensign halyards; and if you will just keep an eye to
her kid and can, while I join the mess of the Pathfinder and our
Indian friends, I make no doubt she will remember it."
Master Cap uttered more than he was aware of at the time. Jasper
Western did attend to the wants of Mabel, and she long remembered
the kind, manly attention of the young sailor at this their first
interview. He placed the end of a log for a seat, obtained for
her a delicious morsel of the venison, gave her a draught of pure
water from the spring, and as he sat near her, fast won his way to
her esteem by his gentle but frank manner of manifesting his care;
homage that woman always wishes to receive, but which is never so
flattering or so agreeable as when it comes from the young to those
of their own age -- from the manly to the gentle. Like most of
those who pass their time excluded from the society of the softer
sex, young Western was earnest, sincere, and kind in his attentions,
which, though they wanted a conventional refinement, which, perhaps,
Mabel never missed, had those winning qualities that prove very
sufficient as substitutes. Leaving these two unsophisticated young
people to become acquainted through their feelings, rather than
their expressed thoughts, we will turn to the group in which the
uncle had already become a principal actor.
The party had taken their places around a platter of venison steaks,
which served for the common use, and the discourse naturally partook
of the characters of the different individuals which composed
it. The Indians were silent and industrious the appetite of the
aboriginal American for venison being seemingly inappeasable, while
the two white men were communicative, each of the latter being
garrulous and opinionated in his way. But, as the dialogue will
put the reader in possession of certain facts that may render the
succeeding narrative more clear, it will be well to record it.
"There must be satisfaction in this life of yours, no doubt, Mr.
Pathfinder," continued Cap, when the hunger of the travellers was
so far appeased that they began to pick and choose among the savory
morsels; "it has some of the chances and luck that we seamen like;
and if ours is all water, yours is all land."
"Nay, we have water too, in our journeyings and marches," returned
his white companion; "we bordermen handle the paddle and the spear
almost as much as the rifle and the hunting-knife."
"Ay; but do you handle the brace and the bow-line, the wheel and
the lead-line, the reef-point and the top-rope? The paddle is a
good thing, out of doubt, in a canoe; but of what use is it in the
"Nay, I respect all men in their callings, and I can believe the
things you mention have their uses. One who has lived, like myself,
in company with many tribes, understands differences in usages.
The paint of a Mingo is not the paint of a Delaware; and he who
should expect to see a warrior in the dress of a squaw might be
disappointed. I am not yet very old, but I have lived in the woods,
and have some acquaintance with human natur'. I never believe much
in the learning of them that dwell in towns, for I never yet met
with one that had an eye for a rifle or a trail."
"That's my manner of reasoning, Master Pathfinder, to a yarn.
Walking about streets, going to church of Sundays, and hearing
sermons, never yet made a man of a human being. Send the boy out
upon the broad ocean, if you wish to open his eyes, and let him
look upon foreign nations, or what I call the face of nature, if
you wish him to understand his own character. Now, there is my
brother-in-law, the Sergeant: he is as good a fellow as ever broke
a biscuit, in his way; but what is he, after all? Why, nothing
but a soldier. A sergeant, to be sure, but that is a sort of a
soldier, you know. When he wished to marry poor Bridget, my sister,
I told the girl what he was, as in duty bound, and what she might
expect from such a husband; but you know how it is with girls when
their minds are jammed by an inclination. It is true, the Sergeant
has risen in his calling, and they say he is an important man at
the fort; but his poor wife has not lived to see it all, for she
has now been dead these fourteen years."
"A soldier's calling is honorable, provided he has fi't only on
the side of right," returned the Pathfinder; "and as the Frenchers
are always wrong, and his sacred Majesty and these colonies are
always right, I take it the Sergeant has a quiet conscience as well
as a good character. I have never slept more sweetly than when I
have fi't the Mingos, though it is the law with me to fight always
like a white man and never like an Indian. The Sarpent, here, has
his fashions, and I have mine; and yet have we fi't side by side
these many years; without either thinking a hard thought consarning
the other's ways. I tell him there is but one heaven and one hell,
notwithstanding his traditions, though there are many paths to
"That is rational; and he is bound to believe you, though, I fancy,
most of the roads to the last are on dry land. The sea is what my
poor sister Bridget used to call a 'purifying place,' and one is
out of the way of temptation when out of sight of land. I doubt
if as much can be said in favor of your lakes up hereaway."
"That towns and settlements lead to sin, I will allow; but our lakes
are bordered by the forests, and one is every day called upon to
worship God in such a temple. That men are not always the same,
even in the wilderness, I must admit for the difference between
a Mingo and a Delaware is as plain to be seen as the difference
between the sun and the moon. I am glad, friend Cap, that we have
met, however, if it be only that you may tell the Big Sarpent here
that there are lakes in which the water is salt. We have been
pretty much of one mind since our acquaintance began, and if the
Mohican has only half the faith in me that I have in him, he believes
all that I have told him touching the white men's ways and natur's
laws; but it has always seemed to me that none of the red-skins
have given as free a belief as an honest man likes to the accounts
of the Big Salt Lakes, and to that of their being rivers that flow
"This comes of getting things wrong end foremost," answered Cap,
with a condescending nod. "You have thought of your lakes and rifts
as the ship; and of the ocean and the tides as the boat. Neither
Arrowhead nor the Serpent need doubt what you have said concerning
both, though I confess myself to some difficulty in swallowing the
tale about there being inland seas at all, and still more that
there is any sea of fresh water. I have come this long journey as
much to satisfy my own eyes concerning these facts, as to oblige
the Sergeant and Magnet, though the first was my sister's husband,
and I love the last like a child."
"You are wrong, friend Cap, very wrong, to distrust the power of
God in any thing," returned Pathfinder earnestly. "They that live
in the settlements and the towns have confined and unjust opinions
consarning the might of His hand; but we, who pass our time in His
very presence, as it might be, see things differently -- I mean,
such of us as have white natur's. A red-skin has his notions, and
it is right that it should be so; and if they are not exactly the
same as a Christian white man's, there is no harm in it. Still,
there are matters which belong altogether to the ordering of God's
providence; and these salt and fresh-water lakes are some of them.
I do not pretend to account for these things, but I think it the
duty of all to believe in them."
"Hold on there, Master Pathfinder," interrupted Cap, not without
some heat; "in the way of a proper and manly faith, I will turn
my back on no one, when afloat. Although more accustomed to make
all snug aloft, and to show the proper canvas, than to pray when
the hurricane comes, I know that we are but helpless mortals at
times, and I hope I pay reverence where reverence is due. All I
mean to say is this: that, being accustomed to see water in large
bodies salt, I should like to taste it before I can believe it to
"God has given the salt lick to the deer; and He has given to man,
red-skin and white, the delicious spring at which to slake his
thirst. It is unreasonable to think that He may not have given
lakes of pure water to the west, and lakes of impure water to the
Cap was awed, in spite of his overweening dogmatism, by the earnest
simplicity of the Pathfinder, though he did not relish the idea
of believing a fact which, for many years, he had pertinaciously
insisted could not be true. Unwilling to give up the point and,
at the same time, unable to maintain it against a reasoning to
which he was unaccustomed, and which possessed equally the force
of truth, faith, and probability, he was glad to get rid of the
subject by evasion.
"Well, well, friend Pathfinder," said he, "we will leave the
argument where it is; and we can try the water when we once reach
it. Only mark my words -- I do not say that it may not be fresh on
the surface; the Atlantic is sometimes fresh on the surface, near
the mouths of great rivers; but, rely on it, I shall show you a way
of tasting the water many fathoms deep, of which you never dreamed;
and then we shall know more about it."
The guide seemed content to let the matter rest, and the conversation
"We are not over-conceited consarning our gifts," observed the
Pathfinder, after a short pause, "and well know that such
as live in the towns, and near the sea -- "
"On the sea," interrupted Cap.
"On the sea, if you wish it, friend -- have opportunities which do
not befall us of the wilderness. Still, we know our own callings,
and they are what I consider natural callings, and are not parvarted
by vanity and wantonness. Now, my gifts are with the rifle, and
on a trail, and in the way of game and scouting; for, though I can
use the spear and the paddle, I pride not myself on either. The
youth Jasper, there, who is discoursing with the Sergeant's daughter,
is a different cratur'; for he may be said to breathe the water, as
it might be, like a fish. The Indians and Frenchers of the north
shore call him Eau-douce, on account of his gifts in this particular.
He is better at the oar, and the rope too, than in making fires on
"There must be something about these gifts of which you speak, after
all," said Cap. "Now this fire, I will acknowledge, has overlaid
all my seamanship. Arrowhead, there, said the smoke came from a
pale-face's fire, and that is a piece of philosophy which I hold
to be equal to steering in a dark night by the edges of the sand."
"It's no great secret," returned Pathfinder, laughing with great
inward glee, though habitual caution prevented the emission of any
noise. "Nothing is easier to us who pass our time in the great
school of Providence than to larn its lessons. We should be as
useless on a trail, or in carrying tidings through the wilderness,
as so many woodchucks, did we not soon come to a knowledge of these
niceties. Eau-douce, as we call him, is so fond of the water, that
he gathered a damp stick or two for our fire; and wet will bring
dark smoke, as I suppose even you followers of the sea must know.
It's no great secret, though all is mystery to such as doesn't
study the Lord and His mighty ways with humility and thankfulness."
"That must be a keen eye of Arrowhead's to see so slight a difference."
"He would be but a poor Indian if he didn't. No, no; it is war-time,
and no red-skin is outlying without using his senses. Every skin
has its own natur', and every natur' has its own laws, as well as
its own skin. It was many years before I could master all these
higher branches of a forest education; for red-skin knowledge
doesn't come as easy to white-skin natur', as what I suppose is
intended to be white-skin knowledge; though I have but little of
the latter, having passed most of my time in the wilderness."
"You have been a ready scholar, Master Pathfinder, as is seen by
your understanding these things so well. I suppose it would be
no great matter for a man regularly brought up to the sea to catch
these trifles, if he could only bring his mind fairly to bear upon
"I don't know that. The white man has his difficulties in getting
red-skin habits, quite as much as the Indian in getting white-skin
ways. As for the real natur', it is my opinion that neither can
actually get that of the other."
"And yet we sailors, who run about the world so much, say there is
but one nature, whether it be in the Chinaman or a Dutchman. For
my own part, I am much of that way of thinking too; for I have
generally found that all nations like gold and silver, and most
men relish tobacco."
"Then you seafaring men know little of the red-skins. Have you
ever known any of your Chinamen who could sing their death-songs,
with their flesh torn with splinters and cut with knives, the fire
raging around their naked bodies, and death staring them in the
face? Until you can find me a Chinaman, or a Christian man, that
can do all this, you cannot find a man with a red-skin natur', let
him look ever so valiant, or know how to read all the books that
were ever printed."
"It is the savages only that play each other such hellish tricks,"
said Master Cap, glancing his eyes about him uneasily at the
apparently endless arches of the forest. "No white man is ever
condemned to undergo these trials."
"Nay, therein you are again mistaken," returned the Pathfinder,
coolly selecting a delicate morsel of the venison as his _bonne
bouche_; "for though these torments belong only to the red-skin
natur', in the way of bearing them like braves, white-skin natur'
may be, and often has been, agonized by them."
"Happily," said Cap, with an effort to clear his throat, "none
of his Majesty's allies will be likely to attempt such damnable
cruelties on any of his Majesty's loyal subjects. I have not
served much in the royal navy, it is true; but I have served, and
that is something; and, in the way of privateering and worrying
the enemy in his ships and cargoes, I've done my full share. But
I trust there are no French savages on this side the lake, and I
think you said that Ontario is a broad sheet of water?"
"Nay, it is broad in our eyes," returned Pathfinder, not caring
to conceal the smile which lighted a face which had been burnt by
exposure to a bright red; "though I mistrust that some may think
it narrow; and narrow it is, if you wish it to keep off the foe.
Ontario has two ends, and the enemy that is afraid to cross it will
be certain to come round it."
"Ah! that comes of your d----d fresh-water ponds!" growled Cap,
hemming so loudly as to cause him instantly to repent the indiscretion.
"No man, now, ever heard of a pirate or a ship getting round one
end of the Atlantic!"
"Mayhap the ocean has no ends?"
"That it hasn't; nor sides, nor bottom. The nation which is snugly
moored on one of its coasts need fear nothing from the one anchored
abeam, let it be ever so savage, unless it possesses the art of
ship building. No, no! the people who live on the shores of the
Atlantic need fear but little for their skins or their scalps. A
man may lie down at night in those regions, in the hope of finding
the hair on his head in the morning, unless he wears a wig."
"It isn't so here. I don't wish to flurry the young woman, and
therefore I will be in no way particular, though she seems pretty
much listening to Eau-douce, as we call him; but without the
edication I have received, I should think it at this very moment,
a risky journey to go over the very ground that lies between us
and the garrison, in the present state of this frontier. There
are about as many Iroquois on this side of Ontario as there are
on the other. It is for this very reason, friend Cap, that the
Sergeant has engaged us to come out and show you the path."
"What! do the knaves dare to cruise so near the guns of one of his
"Do not the ravens resort near the carcass of the deer, though the
fowler is at hand? They come this-a-way, as it might be, naturally.
There are more or less whites passing between the forts and the
settlements, and they are sure to be on their trails. The Sarpent
has come up one side of the river, and I have come up the other,
in order to scout for the outlying rascals, while Jasper brought
up the canoe, like a bold-hearted sailor as he is. The Sergeant
told him, with tears in his eyes, all about his child, and how his
heart yearned for her, and how gentle and obedient she was, until
I think the lad would have dashed into a Mingo camp single-handed,
rather than not a-come."
"We thank him, and shall think the better of him for his readiness;
though I suppose the boy has run no great risk, after all."
"Only the risk of being shot from a cover, as he forced the canoe
up a swift rift, or turned an elbow in the stream, with his eyes
fastened on the eddies. Of all the risky journeys, that on an
ambushed river is the most risky, in my judgment, and that risk
has Jasper run."
"And why the devil has the Sergeant sent for me to travel a hundred
and fifty miles in this outlandish manner? Give me an offing, and
the enemy in sight, and I'll play with him in his own fashion, as
long as he pleases, long bows or close quarters; but to be shot
like a turtle asleep is not to my humor. If it were not for little
Magnet there, I would tack ship this instant, make the best of my
way back to York, and let Ontario take care of itself, salt water
or fresh water."
"That wouldn't mend the matter much, friend mariner, as the road
to return is much longer, and almost as bad as the road to go on.
Trust to us, and we will carry you through safely, or lose our
Cap wore a tight solid queue, done up in eelskin, while the top
of his head was nearly bald; and he mechanically passed his hand
over both as if to make certain that each was in its right place.
He was at the bottom, however, a brave man, and had often faced
death with coolness, though never in the frightful forms in which
it presented itself under the brief but graphic picture of his
companion. It was too late to retreat; and he determined to put
the best face on the matter, though he could not avoid muttering
inwardly a few curses on the indiscretion with which his brother-in-law,
the Sergeant, had led him into his present dilemma.
"I make no doubt, Master Pathfinder," he answered, when these
thoughts had found time to glance through his mind, "that we shall
reach port in safety. What distance may we now be from the fort?"
"Little more than fifteen miles; and swift miles too, as the river
runs, if the Mingos let us go clear."
"And I suppose the woods will stretch along starboard and larboard,
"I mean that we shall have to pick our way through these damned
"Nay, nay, you will go in the canoe, and the Oswego has been cleared
of its flood-wood by the troops. It will be floating down stream,
and that, too, with a swift current."
"And what the devil is to prevent these minks of which you speak
from shooting us as we double a headland, or are busy in steering
clear of the rocks?"
"The Lord! -- He who has so often helped others in greater
difficulties. Many and many is the time that my head would have
been stripped of hair, skin, and all, hadn't the Lord fi't of my
side. I never go into a skrimmage, friend mariner, without thinking
of this great ally, who can do more in battle than all the battalions
of the 60th, were they brought into a single line."
"Ay, ay, this may do well enough for a scouter; but we seamen like
our offing, and to go into action with nothing in our minds but
the business before us -- plain broadside and broadside work, and
no trees or rocks to thicken the water."
"And no Lord too, I dare to say, if the truth were known. Take
my word for it, Master Cap, that no battle is the worse fi't for
having the Lord on your side. Look at the head of the Big Sarpent,
there; you can see the mark of a knife all along by his left ear:
now nothing but a bullet from this long rifle of mine saved his scalp
that day; for it had fairly started, and half a minute more would
have left him without the war-lock. When the Mohican squeezes my
hand, and intermates that I befriended him in that matter, I tell
him no; it was the Lord who led me to the only spot where execution
could be done, or his necessity be made known, on account of the
smoke. Sartain, when I got the right position, I finished the
affair of my own accord. For a friend under the tomahawk is apt
to make a man think quick and act at once, as was my case, or the
Sarpent's spirit would be hunting in the happy land of his people
at this very moment."
"Come, come, Pathfinder, this palaver is worse than being skinned
from stem to stem; we have but a few hours of sun, and had better
be drifting down this said current of yours while we may. Magnet
dear, are you not ready to get under way?"
Magnet started, blushed brightly, and made her preparations for
immediate departure. Not a syllable of the discourse just related
had she heard; for Eau-douce, as young Jasper was oftener called
than anything else, had been filling her ears with a description
of the yet distant part towards which she was journeying, with
accounts of her father, whom she had not seen since a child, and
with the manner of life of those who lived in the frontier garrisons.
Unconsciously she had become deeply interested, and her thoughts
had been too intently directed to these matters to allow any of
the less agreeable subjects discussed by those so near to reach
her ears. The bustle of departure put an end to the conversation,
and, the baggage of the scouts or guides being trifling, in a few
minutes the whole party was ready to proceed. As they were about
to quit the spot, however, to the surprise of even his fellow-guides,
Pathfinder collected a quantity of branches and threw them upon the
embers of the fire, taking care even to see that some of the wood
was damp, in order to raise as dark and dense a smoke as possible.
"When you can hide your trail, Jasper," said he, "a smoke at leaving
an encampment may do good instead of harm. If there are a dozen
Mingos within ten miles of us, some of 'em are on the heights, or
in the trees, looking out for smokes; let them see this, and much
good may it do them. They are welcome to our leavings."
"But may they not strike and follow on our trail?" asked the youth,
whose interest in the hazard of his situation had much increased
since the meeting with Magnet. "We shall leave a broad path to
"The broader the better; when there, it will surpass Mingo cunning,
even, to say which way the canoe has gone - up stream or down.
Water is the only thing in natur' that will thoroughly wash out
a trail, and even water will not always do it when the scent is
strong. Do you not see, Eau-douce, that if any Mingos have seen
our path below the falls, they will strike off towards this smoke,
and that they will naturally conclude that they who began by going
up stream will end by going up stream. If they know anything,
they now know a party is out from the fort, and it will exceed even
Mingo wit to fancy that we have come up here just for the pleasure
of going back again, and that, too, the same day, and at the risk
of our scalps."
"Certainly," added Jasper, who was talking apart with the Pathfinder,
as they moved towards the wind-row, "they cannot know anything
about the Sergeant's daughter, for the greatest secrecy has been
observed on her account."
"And they will learn nothing here," returned Pathfinder, causing
his companion to see that he trod with the utmost care on the
impression left on the leaves by the little foot of Mabel; "unless
this old salt-water fish has been taking his niece about in the
wind-row, like a fa'n playing by the side of the old doe."
"Buck, you mean, Pathfinder."
"Isn't he a queerity? Now I can consort with such a sailor as
yourself, Eau-douce, and find nothing very contrary in our gifts,
though yours belong to the lakes and mine to the woods. Hark'e,
Jasper," continued the scout, laughing in his noiseless manner;
"suppose we try the temper of his blade and run him over the falls?"
"And what would be done with the pretty niece in the meanwhile?"
"Nay, nay, no harm shall come to her; she must walk round the
portage, at any rate; but you and I can try this Atlantic oceaner,
and then all parties will become better acquainted. We shall find
out whether his flint will strike fire; and he may come to know
something of frontier tricks."
Young Jasper smiled, for he was not averse to fun, and had been a
little touched by Cap's superciliousness; but Mabel's fair face,
light, agile form, and winning smiles, stood like a shield between
her uncle and the intended experiment.
"Perhaps the Sergeant's daughter will be frightened," said he.
"Not she, if she has any of the Sergeant's spirit in her. She
doesn't look like a skeary thing, at all. Leave it to me, then,
Eau-douce, and I will manage the affair alone."
"Not you, Pathfinder; you would only drown both. If the canoe goes
over, I must go in it."
"Well, have it so, then: shall we smoke the pipe of agreement on
Jasper laughed, nodded his head by way of consent, and then the
subject was dropped, as the party had reached the canoe so often
mentioned, and fewer words had determined much greater things
between the parties.
Before these fields were shorn and till'd,
Full to the brim our rivers flow'd;
The melody of waters fill'd
The fresh and boundless wood;
And torrents dash'd, and rivulets play'd,
And fountains spouted in the shade.
It is generally known that the waters which flow into the southern
side of Ontario are, in general, narrow, sluggish, and deep.
There are some exceptions to this rule, for many of the rivers
have rapids, or, as they are termed in the language of the region,
"rifts," and some have falls. Among the latter was the particular
stream on which our adventurers were now journeying. The Oswego
is formed by the junction of the Oneida and the Onondaga, both of
which flow from lakes; and it pursues its way, through a gently
undulating country, some eight or ten miles, until it reaches the
margin of a sort of natural terrace, down which it tumbles some
ten or fifteen feet, to another level, across which it glides with
the silent, stealthy progress of deep water, until it throws its
tribute into the broad receptacle of the Ontario. The canoe in
which Cap and his party had travelled from Fort Stanwix, the last
military station of the Mohawk, lay by the side of this river,
and into it the whole party now entered, with the exception of
Pathfinder, who remained on the land, in order to shove the light
"Let her starn drift down stream, Jasper," said the man of the woods
to the young mariner of the lake, who had dispossessed Arrowhead
of his paddle and taken his own station as steersman; "let it go
down with the current. Should any of these infarnals, the Mingos,
strike our trail, or follow it to this point they will not fail to
look for the signs in the mud; and if they discover that we have
left the shore with the nose of the canoe up stream, it is a natural
belief to think we went up stream."
This direction was followed; and, giving a vigorous shove, the
Pathfinder, who was in the flower of his strength and activity, made
a leap, landing lightly, and without disturbing its equilibrium,
in the bow of the canoe. As soon as it had reached the centre of
the river or the strength of the current, the boat was turned, and
it began to glide noiselessly down the stream.
The vessel in which Cap and his niece had embarked for their
long and adventurous journey was one of the canoes of bark which
the Indians are in the habit of constructing, and which, by their
exceeding lightness and the ease with which they are propelled,
are admirably adapted to a navigation in which shoals, flood-wood,
and other similar obstructions so often occur. The two men
who composed its original crew had several times carried it, when
emptied of its luggage, many hundred yards; and it would not have
exceeded the strength of a single man to lift its weight. Still
it was long, and, for a canoe, wide; a want of steadiness being
its principal defect in the eyes of the uninitiated. A few hours
practice, however, in a great measure remedied this evil, and both
Mabel and her uncle had learned so far to humor its movements,
that they now maintained their places with perfect composure; nor
did the additional weight of the three guides tax its power in any
particular degree, the breath of the rounded bottom allowing the
necessary quantity of water to be displaced without bringing the
gunwale very sensibly nearer to the surface of the stream. Its
workmanship was neat; the timbers were small, and secured by
thongs; and the whole fabric, though it was so slight to the eye,
was probably capable of conveying double the number of persons
which it now contained.
Cap was seated on a low thwart, in the centre of the canoe; the
Big Serpent knelt near him. Arrowhead and his wife occupied places
forward of both, the former having relinquished his post aft. Mabel
was half reclining behind her uncle, while the Pathfinder and
Eau-douce stood erect, the one in the bow, and the other in the
stern, each using a paddle, with a long, steady, noiseless sweep. The
conversation was carried on in low tones, all the party beginning
to feel the necessity of prudence, as they drew nearer to the
outskirts of the fort, and had no longer the cover of the woods.
The Oswego, just at that place, was a deep dark stream of no great
width, its still, gloomy-looking current winding its way among
overhanging trees, which, in particular spots, almost shut out
the light of the heavens. Here and there some half-fallen giant of
the forest lay nearly across its surface, rendering care necessary
to avoid the limbs; and most of the distance, the lower branches
and leaves of the trees of smaller growth were laved by its waters.
The picture so beautifully described by our own admirable poet,
and which we have placed at the head of this chapter, was here
realized; the earth fattened by the decayed vegetation of centuries,
and black with loam, the stream that filled the banks nearly to
overflowing, and the "fresh and boundless wood," being all as visible
to the eye as the pen of Bryant has elsewhere vividly presented them
to the imagination. In short, the entire scene was one of a rich
and benevolent nature, before it had been subjected to the uses and
desires of man; luxuriant, wild, full of promise, and not without
the charm of the picturesque, even in its rudest state. It will
be remembered that this was in the year 175-, or long before even
speculation had brought any portion of western New York within the
bounds of civilization. At that distant day there were two great
channels of military communication between the inhabited portion
of the colony of New York and the frontiers which lay adjacent
to the Canadas, -- that by Lakes Champlain and George, and that by
means of the Mohawk, Wood Creek, the Oneida, and the rivers we have
been describing. Along both these lines of communication military
posts had been established, though there existed a blank space of
a hundred miles between the last fort at the head of the Mohawk
and the outlet of the Oswego, which embraced most of the distance
that Cap and Mabel had journeyed under the protection of Arrowhead.
"I sometimes wish for peace again," said the Pathfinder, "when one
can range the forest without searching for any other enemy than
the beasts and fishes. Ah's me! many is the day that the Sarpent,
there, and I have passed happily among the streams, living on
venison, salmon, and trout without thought of a Mingo or a scalp!
I sometimes wish that them blessed days might come back, for it is
not my real gift to slay my own kind. I'm sartain the Sergeant's
daughter don't think me a wretch that takes pleasure in preying on
As this remark, a sort of half interrogatory, was made, Pathfinder
looked behind him; and, though the most partial friend could
scarcely term his sunburnt and hard features handsome, even Mabel
thought his smile attractive, by its simple ingenuousness and the
uprightness that beamed in every lineament of his honest countenance.
"I do not think my father would have sent one like those you
mention to see his daughter through the wilderness," the young
woman answered, returning the smile as frankly as it was given,
but much more sweetly.
"That he wouldn't; the Sergeant is a man of feeling, and many is the
march and the fight that we have had -- stood shoulder to shoulder
in, as _he_ would call it -- though I always keep my limbs free
when near a Frencher or a Mingo."
"You are, then, the young friend of whom my father has spoken so
often in his letters?"
"His _young_ friend -- the Sergeant has the advantage of me by thirty
years; yes, he is thirty years my senior, and as many my better."
"Not in the eyes of the daughter, perhaps, friend Pathfinder;"
put in Cap, whose spirits began to revive when he found the water
once more flowing around him. "The thirty years that you mention
are not often thought to be an advantage in the eyes of girls of
Mabel colored; and, in turning aside her face to avoid the looks
of those in the bow of the canoe, she encountered the admiring gaze
of the young man in the stern. As a last resource, her spirited
but soft blue eyes sought refuge in the water. Just at this moment
a dull, heavy sound swept up the avenue formed by the trees, borne
along by a light air that hardly produced a ripple on the water.
"That sounds pleasantly," said Cap, pricking up his ears like a
dog that hears a distant baying; "it is the surf on the shores of
your lake, I suppose?"
"Not so -- not so," answered the Pathfinder; "it is merely this
river tumbling over some rocks half a mile below us."
"Is there a fall in the stream?" demanded Mabel, a still brighter
flush glowing in her face.
"The devil! Master Pathfinder, or you, Mr. Eau-douce" (for so Cap
began to style Jasper), "had you not better give the canoe a sheer,
and get nearer to the shore? These waterfalls have generally rapids
above them, and one might as well get into the Maelstrom at once
as to run into their suction."
"Trust to us, friend Cap," answered Pathfinder; "we are but
fresh-water sailors, it is true, and I cannot boast of being much
even of that; but we understand rifts and rapids and cataracts;
and in going down these we shall do our endeavors not to disgrace
"In going down!" exclaimed Cap. "The devil, man! you do not dream
of going down a waterfall in this egg shell of bark!"
"Sartain; the path lies over the falls, and it is much easier to
shoot them than to unload the canoe and to carry that and all it
contains around a portage of a mile by hand."
Mabel turned her pallid countenance towards the young man in the
stern of the canoe; for, just at that moment, a fresh roar of the
fall was borne to her ears by a new current of the air, and it
really sounded terrific, now that the cause was understood.
"We thought that, by landing the females and the two Indians,"
Jasper quietly observed, "we three white men, all of whom are used
to the water, might carry the canoe over in safety, for we often
shoot these falls."
"And we counted on you, friend mariner, as a mainstay," said
Pathfinder, winking to Jasper over his shoulder; "for you are
accustomed to see waves tumbling about; and without some one to
steady the cargo, all the finery of the Sergeant's daughter might
be washed into the river and be lost."
Cap was puzzled. The idea of going over a waterfall was, perhaps,
more serious in his eyes than it would have been in those of one
totally ignorant of all that pertained to boats; for he understood
the power of the element, and the total feebleness of man when
exposed to its fury. Still his pride revolted at the thought of
deserting the boat, while others not only steadily, but coolly,
proposed to continue in it. Notwithstanding the latter feeling,
and his innate as well as acquired steadiness in danger, he would
probably have deserted his post; had not the images of Indians
tearing scalps from the human head taken so strong hold of his
fancy as to induce him to imagine the canoe a sort of sanctuary.
"What is to be done with Magnet?" he demanded, affection for his
niece raising another qualm in his conscience. "We cannot allow
Magnet to land if there are enemy's Indians near?"
"Nay, no Mingo will be near the portage, for that is a spot too
public for their devilries," answered the Pathfinder confidently.
"Natur' is natur', and it is an Indian's natur' to be found where
he is least expected. No fear of him on a beaten path; for he
wishes to come upon you when unprepared to meet him, and the fiery
villains make it a point to deceive you, one way or another. Sheer
in, Eau-douce, and we will land the Sergeant's daughter on the end
of that log, where she can reach the shore with a dry foot."
The injunction was obeyed, and in a few minutes the whole party
had left the canoe, with the exception of Pathfinder and the two
sailors. Notwithstanding his professional pride, Cap would have
gladly followed; but he did not like to exhibit so unequivocal a
weakness in the presence of a fresh-water sailor.
"I call all hands to witness," said he, as those who had landed
moved away, "that I do not look on this affair as anything more than
canoeing in the woods. There is no seamanship in tumbling over a
waterfall, which is a feat the greatest lubber can perform as well
as the oldest mariner."
"Nay, nay, you needn't despise the Oswego Falls, neither," put in
Pathfinder; "for, thought they may not be Niagara, nor the Genessee,
nor the Cahoos, nor Glenn's, nor those on the Canada, they are
narvous enough for a new beginner. Let the Sergeant's daughter stand
on yonder rock, and she will see the manner in which we ignorant
backwoodsmen get over a difficulty that we can't get under. Now,
Eau-douce, a steady hand and a true eye, for all rests on you,
seeing that we can count Master Cap for no more than a passenger."
The canoe was leaving the shore as he concluded, while Mabel went
hurriedly and trembling to the rock that had been pointed out,
talking to her companion of the danger her uncle so unnecessarily
ran, while her eyes were riveted on the agile and vigorous form
of Eau-douce, as he stood erect in the stern of the light boat,
governing its movements. As soon, however, as she reached a point
where she got a view of the fall, she gave an involuntary but
suppressed scream, and covered her eyes. At the next instant, the
latter were again free, and the entranced girl stood immovable as
a statue, a scarcely breathing observer of all that passed. The
two Indians seated themselves passively on a log, hardly looking
towards the stream, while the wife of Arrowhead came near Mabel,
and appeared to watch the motions of the canoe with some such
interest as a child regards the leaps of a tumbler.
As soon as the boat was in the stream, Pathfinder sank on his
knees, continuing to use the paddle, though it was slowly, and in
a manner not to interfere with the efforts of his companion. The
latter still stood erect; and, as he kept his eye on some object
beyond the fall, it was evident that he was carefully looking for
the spot proper for their passage.
"Farther west, boy; farther west," muttered Pathfinder; "there
where you see the water foam. Bring the top of the dead oak in a
line with the stem of the blasted hemlock."
Eau-douce made no answer; for the canoe was in the centre of the
stream, with its head pointed towards the fall, and it had already
begun to quicken its motion by the increased force of the current.
At that moment Cap would cheerfully have renounced every claim to
glory that could possibly be acquired by the feat, to have been
safe again on shore. He heard the roar of the water, thundering,
as it might be, behind a screen, but becoming more and more
distinct, louder and louder, and before him he saw its line cutting
the forest below, along which the green and angry element seemed
stretched and shining, as if the particles were about to lose their
principle of cohesion.
"Down with your helm, down with your helm, man!" he exclaimed,
unable any longer to suppress his anxiety, as the canoe glided
towards the edge of the fall.
"Ay, ay, down it is sure enough," answered Pathfinder, looking
behind him for a single instant, with his silent, joyous laugh, --
"down we go, of a sartinty! Heave her starn up, boy; farther up
with her starn!"
The rest was like the passage of the viewless wind. Eau-douce
gave the required sweep with his paddle, the canoe glanced into
the channel, and for a few seconds it seemed to Cap that he was
tossing in a caldron. He felt the bow of the canoe tip, saw the
raging, foaming water careering madly by his side, was sensible
that the light fabric in which he floated was tossed about like an
egg-shell, and then, not less to his great joy than to his surprise,
he discovered that it was gliding across the basin of still water
below the fall, under the steady impulse of Jasper's paddle.
The Pathfinder continued to laugh; but he arose from his knees, and,
searching for a tin pot and a horn spoon, he began deliberately to
measure the water that had been taken in the passage.
"Fourteen spoonfuls, Eau-douce; fourteen fairly measured spoonfuls.
I have, you must acknowledge, known you to go down with only ten."
"Master Cap leaned so hard up stream," returned Jasper seriously,
"that I had difficulty in trimming the canoe."
"It may be so; no doubt it _was_ so, since you say it; but I have
known you go over with only ten."
Cap now gave a tremendous hem, felt for his queue as if to ascertain
its safety, and then looked back in order to examine the danger
he had gone through. His safety is easily explained. Most of the
river fell perpendicularly ten or twelve feet; but near its centre
the force of the current had so far worn away the rock as to permit
the water to shoot through a narrow passage, at an angle of about
forty or forty five degrees. Down this ticklish descent the canoe
had glanced, amid fragments of broken rock, whirlpools, foam, and
furious tossings of the element, which an uninstructed eye would
believe menaced inevitable destruction to an object so fragile.
But the very lightness of the canoe had favored its descent; for,
borne on the crest of the waves, and directed by a steady eye and
an arm full of muscle, it had passed like a feather from one pile
of foam to another, scarcely permitting its glossy side to be wetted.
There were a few rocks to be avoided, the proper direction was to
be rigidly observed, and the fierce current did the rest. (1)
(1) Lest the reader suppose we are dealing purely in fiction, the
writer will add that he has known a long thirty-two pounder carried
over these same falls in perfect safety.
To say that Cap was astonished would not be expressing half his
feelings; he felt awed: for the profound dread of rocks which most
seamen entertain came in aid of his admiration of the boldness of
the exploit. Still he was indisposed to express all he felt, lest
it might be conceding too much in favor of fresh water and inland
navigation; and no sooner had he cleared his throat with the
afore-said hem, than he loosened his tongue in the usual strain
"I do not gainsay your knowledge of the channel, Master Eau-douce,
and, after all, to know the channel in such a place is the main
point. I have had cockswains with me who could come down that
shoot too, if they only knew the channel."
"It isn't enough to know the channel," said Pathfinder; "it needs
narves and skill to keep the canoe straight, and to keep her clear
of the rocks too. There isn't another boatman in all this region
that can shoot the Oswego, but Eau-douce there, with any sartainty;
though, now and then, one has blundered through. I can't do it
myself unless by means of Providence, and it needs Jasper's hand
and eye to make sure of a dry passage. Fourteen spoonfuls, after
all, are no great matter, though I wish it had been but ten, seeing
that the Sergeant's daughter was a looker-on."
"And yet you conned the canoe; you told him how to head and how to
"Human frailty, master mariner; that was a little of white-skin
natur'. Now, had the Sarpent, yonder, been in the boat, not a word
would he have spoken or thought would he have given to the public.
An Indian knows how to hold his tongue; but we white folk fancy
we are always wiser than our fellows. I'm curing myself fast of
the weakness, but it needs time to root up the tree that has been
growing more than thirty years."
"I think little of this affair, sir; nothing at all to speak my
mind freely. It's a mere wash of spray to shooting London Bridge
which is done every day by hundreds of persons, and often by the
most delicate ladies in the land. The king's majesty has shot the
bridge in his royal person."
"Well, I want no delicate ladies or king's majesties (God bless
'em!) in the canoe, in going over these falls; for a boat's breadth,
either way, may make a drowning matter of it. Eau-douce, we shall
have to carry the Sergeant's brother over Niagara yet, to show
him what may be done in a frontier."
"The devil! Master Pathfinder, you must be joking now! Surely it
is not possible for a bark canoe to go over that mighty cataract?"
"You never were more mistaken, Master Cap, in your life. Nothing
is easier and many is the canoe I have seen go over it with my own
eyes; and if we both live I hope to satisfy you that the feat can
be done. For my part, I think the largest ship that ever sailed on
the ocean might be carried over, could she once get into the rapids."
Cap did not perceive the wink which Pathfinder exchanged with
Eau-douce, and he remained silent for some time; for, sooth to
say, he had never suspected the possibility of going down Niagara,
feasible as the thing must appear to every one on a second thought,
the real difficulty existing in going up it.
By this time the party had reached the place where Jasper had left
his own canoe, concealed in the bushes, and they all re-embarked;
Cap, Jasper, and his niece in one boat and Pathfinder, Arrowhead,
and the wife of the latter in the other. The Mohican had already
passed down the banks of the river by land, looking cautiously and
with the skill of his people for the signs of an enemy.
The cheek of Mabel did not recover all its bloom until the canoe was
again in the current, down which it floated swiftly, occasionally
impelled by the paddle of Jasper. She witnessed the descent of
the falls with a degree of terror which had rendered her mute; but
her fright had not been so great as to prevent admiration of the
steadiness of the youth who directed the movement from blending
with the passing terror. In truth, one much less sensitive might
have had her feelings awakened by the cool and gallant air with
which Eau-douce had accomplished this clever exploit. He had
stood firmly erect, notwithstanding the plunge; and to those on
the shore it was evident that, by a timely application of his skill
and strength, the canoe had received a sheer which alone carried it
clear of a rock over which the boiling water was leaping in _jets
d'eau_, -- now leaving the brown stone visible, and now covering
it with a limpid sheet, as if machinery controlled the play of
the element. The tongue cannot always express what the eyes view;
but Mabel saw enough, even in that moment of fear, to blend for
ever in her mind the pictures presented by the plunging canoe and
the unmoved steersman. She admitted that insidious feeling which
binds woman so strongly to man, by feeling additional security
in finding herself under his care; and, for the first time since
leaving Fort Stanwix, she was entirely at her ease in the frail
bark in which she travelled. As the other canoe kept quite near
her own, however, and the Pathfinder, by floating at her side, was
most in view, the conversation was principally maintained with that
person; Jasper seldom speaking unless addressed, and constantly
exhibiting a wariness in the management of his own boat, which might
have been remarked by one accustomed to his ordinarily confident,
"We know too well a woman's gifts to think of carrying the Sergeant's
daughter over the falls," said Pathfinder, looking at Mabel, while
he addressed her uncle; "though I've been acquainted with some of
her sex that would think but little of doing the thing."
"Mabel is faint-hearted, like her mother," returned Cap; "and you
did well, friend, to humor her weakness. You will remember the
child has never been at sea."
"No, no, it was easy to discover that; by your own fearlessness,
any one might have seen how little you cared about the matter.
I went over once with a raw hand, and he jumped out of the canoe
just as it tipped, and you many judge what a time he had of it."
"What became of the poor fellow?" asked Cap, scarcely knowing
how to take the other's manner, which was so dry, while it was so
simple, that a less obtuse subject than the old sailor might well
have suspected its sincerity. "One who has passed the place knows
how to feel for him."
"He was a _poor_ fellow, as you say; and a poor frontierman too,
though he came out to show his skill among us ignoranters. What
became of him? Why, he went down the falls topsy-turvey like, as
would have happened to a court-house or a fort."
"If it should jump out of at canoe," interrupted Jasper, smiling,
thought he was evidently more disposed than his friend to let the
passage of the falls be forgotten.
"The boy is right," rejoined Pathfinder, laughing in Mabel's face,
the canoes being now so near that they almost touched; "he is
sartainly right. But you have not told us what you think of the
leap we took?"
"It was perilous and bold," said Mabel; "while looking at it, I
could have wished that it had not been attempted, though, now it
is over, I can admire its boldness and the steadiness with which
it was made."
"Now, do not think that we did this thing to set ourselves off in
female eyes. It may be pleasant to the young to win each other's
good opinions by doing things which may seem praiseworthy and bold;
but neither Eau-douce nor myself is of that race. My natur' has
few turns in it, and is a straight natur'; nor would it be likely
to lead me into a vanity of this sort while out on duty. As
for Jasper, he would sooner go over the Oswego Falls, without a
looker-on, than do it before a hundred pair of eyes. I know the
lad well from much consorting, and I am sure he is not boastful or
Mabel rewarded the scout with a smile, which served to keep the
canoes together for some time longer; for the sight of youth and
beauty was so rare on that remote frontier, that even the rebuked
and self-mortified feelings of this wanderer of the forest were
sensibly touched by the blooming loveliness of the girl.
"We did it for the best," Pathfinder continued; "'twas all for the
best. Had we waited to carry the canoe across the portage, time
would have been lost, and nothing is so precious as time when you
are mistrustful of Mingos."
"But we have little to fear now. The canoes move swiftly, and two
hours, you have said, will carry us down to the fort."
"It shall be a cunning Iroquois who hurts a hair of your head, pretty
one; for all here are bound to the Sergeant, and most, I think, to
yourself, to see you safe from harm. Ha, Eau-douce! what is that
in the river, at the lower turn, yonder, beneath the bushes, -- I
mean standing on the rock?"
"'Tis the Big Serpent, Pathfinder; he is making signs to us in a
way I don't understand."
"'Tis the Sarpent, as sure as I'm a white man, and he wishes us to
drop in nearer to his shore. Mischief is brewing, or one of his
deliberation and steadiness would never take this trouble. Courage,
all! We are men, and must meet devilry as becomes our color and
our callings. Ah, I never knew good come of boasting! And here,
just as I was vaunting of our safety, comes danger to give me the
Art, stryving to compare
With nature, did an arber greene dispred,
Fram'd of wanton yvie flowing fayre,
Through which the fragrant eglantines did spred.
The Oswego, below the falls, is a more rapid, unequal stream than
it is above them. There are places where the river flows in the
quiet stillness of deep water, but many shoals and rapids occur;
and at that distant day, when everything was in its natural state,
some of the passes were not altogether without hazard. Very little
exertion was required on the part of those who managed the canoes,
except in those places where the swiftness of the current and the
presence of the rocks required care; then, indeed, not only vigilance,
but great coolness, readiness, and strength of arm became necessary,
in order to avoid the dangers. Of all this the Mohican was aware,
and he had judiciously selected a spot where the river flowed
tranquilly to intercept the canoes, in order to make his communication
without hazard to those he wished to speak.
The Pathfinder had no sooner recognized the form of his red friend,
than, with a strong sweep of his paddle, he threw the head of his
own canoe towards the shore, motioning for Jasper to follow. In a
minute both boats were silently drifting down the stream, within
reach of the bushes that overhung the water, all observing a profound
silence; some from alarm, and others from habitual caution. As
the travellers drew nearer the Indian, he made a sign for them to
stop; and then he and Pathfinder had a short but earnest conference.
"The Chief is not apt to see enemies in a dead log," observed the
white man to his red associate; "why does he tell us to stop?"
"Mingos are in the woods."
"That we have believed these two days: does the chief know it?"
The Mohican quietly held up the head of a pipe formed of stone.
"It lay on a fresh trail that led towards the garrison," - for so
it was the usage of that frontier to term a military work, whether
it was occupied or not.
"That may be the bowl of a pipe belonging to a soldier. Many use
the red-skin pipes."
"See," said the Big Serpent, again holding the thing he had found
up to the view of his friend.
The bowl of the pipe was of soap-stone, and was carved with great
care and with a very respectable degree of skill; in its centre
was a small Latin cross, made with an accuracy which permitted no
doubt of its meaning.
"That does foretell devilry and wickedness," said the Pathfinder,
who had all the provincial horror of the holy symbol in question
which then pervaded the country, and which became so incorporated
with its prejudices, by confounding men with things, as to have
left its traces strong enough on the moral feeling of the community
to be discovered even at the present hour; "no Indian who had not
been parvarted by the cunning priests of the Canadas would dream
of carving a thing like that on his pipe. I'll warrant ye, the
knave prays to the image every time he wishes to sarcumvent the
innocent, and work his fearful wickedness. It looks fresh, too,
"The tobacco was burning when I found it."
"That is close work, chief. Where was the trail?"
The Mohican pointed to a spot not a hundred yards from that where
The matter now began to look very serious, and the two principal
guides conferred apart for several minutes, when both ascended the
bank, approached the indicated spot, and examined the trail with
the utmost care. After this investigation had lasted a quarter
of an hour, the white man returned alone, his red friend having
disappeared in the forest.
The ordinary expression of the countenance of the Pathfinder was
that of simplicity, integrity, and sincerity, blended in an air
of self-reliance which usually gave great confidence to those who
found themselves under his care; but now a look of concern cast a
shade over his honest face, that struck the whole party.
"What cheer, Master Pathfinder?" demanded Cap, permitting a voice
that was usually deep, loud, and confident to sink into the cautious
tones that better suited the dangers of the wilderness. "Has the
enemy got between us and our port?"
"Have any of these painted scaramouches anchored off the harbor
towards which we are running, with the hope of cutting us off in
"It may be all as you say, friend Cap, but I am none the wiser
for your words; and in ticklish times the plainer a man makes his
English the easier he is understood. I know nothing of ports and
anchors; but there is a direful Mingo trail within a hundred yards
of this very spot, and as fresh as venison without salt. If one of
the fiery devils has passed, so have a dozen; and, what is worse,
they have gone down towards the garrison, and not a soul crosses
the clearing around it that some of their piercing eyes will not
discover, when sartain bullets will follow."
"Cannot this said fort deliver a broadside, and clear everything
within the sweep of its hawse?"
"Nay, the forts this-a-way are not like forts in the settlements,
and two or three light cannon are all they have down at the mouth
of the river; and then, broadsides fired at a dozen outlying Mingoes,
lying behind logs and in a forest, would be powder spent in vain.
We have but one course, and that is a very nice one. We are
judgmatically placed here, both canoes being hid by the high bank
and the bushes, from all eyes, except those of any lurker directly
opposite. Here, then, we may stay without much present fear; but
how to get the bloodthirsty devils up the stream again? Ha! I
have it, I have it! if it does no good, it can do no harm. Do you
see the wide-topped chestnut here, Jasper, at the last turn in the
river -- on our own side of the stream, I mean?"
"That near the fallen pine?"
"The very same. Take the flint and tinderbox, creep along the bank,
and light a fire at that spot; maybe the smoke will draw them above
us. In the meanwhile, we will drop the canoes carefully down beyond
the point below, and find another shelter. Bushes are plenty, and
covers are easily to be had in this region, as witness the many
"I will do it, Pathfinder," said Jasper, springing to the shore.
"In ten minutes the fire shall be lighted."
"And, Eau-douce, use plenty of damp wood this time," half whispered
the other, laughing heartily, in his own peculiar manner; "when
smoke is wanted, water helps to thicken it."
The young man was soon off, making his way rapidly towards the
desired point. A slight attempt of Mabel to object to the risk
was disregarded, and the party immediately prepared to change its
position, as it could be seen from the place where Jasper intended
to light his fire. The movement did not require haste, and it
was made leisurely and with care. The canoes were got clear of
the bushes, then suffered to drop down with the stream until they
reached the spot where the chestnut, at the foot of which Jasper
was to light the fire, was almost shut out from view, when they
stopped, and every eye was turned in the direction of the adventurer.
"There goes the smoke!" exclaimed the Pathfinder, as a current of
air whirled a little column of the vapor from the land, allowing
it to rise spirally above the bed of the river. "A good flint, a
small bit of steel, and plenty of dry leaves makes a quick fire.
I hope Eau-douce will have the wit to bethink him of the damp wood
now when it may serve us all a good turn."
"Too much smoke -- too much cunning," said Arrowhead sententiously.
"That is gospel truth, Tuscarora, if the Mingoes didn't know that
they are near soldiers; but soldiers commonly think more of their
dinner at a halt than of their wisdom and danger. No, no; let the
boy pile on his logs, and smoke them well too; it will all be laid
to the stupidity of some Scotch or Irish blunderer, who is thinking
more of his oatmeal or his potatoes than of Indian sarcumventions
or Indian rifles."
"And yet I should think, from all we have heard in the towns, that
the soldiers on this frontier are used to the artifices of their
enemies," said Mabel, "and become almost as wily as the red men
"Not they. Experience makes them but little wiser; and they wheel,
and platoon, and battalion it about, here in the forest, just as
they did in their parks at home, of which they are all so fond of
talking. One red-skin has more cunning in his natur' than a whole
regiment from the other side of the water; that is, what I call
cunning of the woods. But there is smoke enough, of all conscience,
and we had better drop into another cover. The lad has thrown
the river on his fire, and there is danger that the Mingoes will
believe a whole regiment is out."
While speaking, the Pathfinder permitted his canoe to drift away
from the bush by which it had been retained, and in a couple of
minutes the bend in the river concealed the smoke and the tree.
Fortunately a small indentation in the shore presented itself,
within a few yards of the point they had just passed; and the two
canoes glided into it, under the impulsion of the paddles.
A better spot could not have been found for the purpose. The bushes
were thick, and overhung the water, forming a complete canopy of
leaves. There was a small gravelly strand at the bottom of the
little bay, where most of the party landed to be more at their ease,
and the only position from which they could possibly be seen was
a point on the river directly opposite. There was little danger,
however, of discovery from that quarter, as the thicket there was
even denser than common, and the land beyond it was so wet and
marshy as to render it difficult to be trodden.
"This is a safe cover," said the Pathfinder, after he had taken a
scrutinizing survey of his position; "but it may be necessary to
make it safer. Master Cap, I ask nothing of you but silence, and
a quieting of such gifts as you may have got at sea, while the
Tuscarora and I make provision for the evil hour."
The guide then went a short distance into the bushes, accompanied
by the Indian, where the two cut off the larger stems of several
alders and other bushes, using the utmost care not to make a noise.
The ends of these little trees were forced into the mud, outside
of the canoes, the depth of the water being very trifling; and in
the course of ten minutes a very effectual screen was interposed
between them and the principal point of danger. Much ingenuity
and readiness were manifested in making this simple arrangement,
in which the two workmen were essentially favored by the natural
formation of the bank, the indentation in the shore, the shallowness
of the water, and the manner in which the tangled bushes dipped
into the stream. The Pathfinder had the address to look for bushes
which had curved stems, things easily found in such a place; and
by cutting them some distance beneath the bend, and permitting the
latter to touch the water, the artificial little thicket had not
the appearance of growing in the stream, which might have excited
suspicion; but one passing it would have thought that the bushes
shot out horizontally from the bank before they inclined upwards
towards the light. In short, none but an unusually distrustful
eye would have been turned for an instant towards the spot in quest
of a hiding-place.
"This is the best cover I ever yet got into," said the Pathfinder,
with his quiet laugh, after having been on the outside to reconnoitre;
"the leaves of our new trees fairly touch those of the bushes over
our heads. Hist! -- yonder comes Eau-douce, wading, like a sensible
boy, as he is, to leave his trail in the water; and we shall soon
see whether our cover is good for anything or not."
Jasper had indeed returned from his duty above; and missing the
canoes, he at once inferred that they had dropped round the next
bend in the river, in order to get out of sight of the fire. His
habits of caution immediately suggested the expediency of stepping
into the water, in order that there might exist no visible
communication between the marks left on the shore by the party
and the place where he believed them to have taken refuge below.
Should the Canadian Indians return on their own trail, and discover
that made by the Pathfinder and the Serpent in their ascent from
and descent to the river, the clue to their movements would cease
at the shore, water leaving no prints of footsteps. The young man
had therefore waded, knee-deep, as far as the point, and was now
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