James Fenimore Cooper
Part 2 out of 10
seen making his way slowly down the margin of the stream, searching
curiously for the spot in which the canoes were hid.
It was in the power of those behind the bushes, by placing their
eyes near the leaves, to find many places to look through while one
at a little distance lost this advantage. To those who watched his
motions from behind their cover, and they were all in the canoes,
it was evident that Jasper was totally at a loss to imagine where
the Pathfinder had secreted himself. When fairly round the curvature
in the shore, and out of sight of the fire he had lighted above,
the young man stopped and began examining the bank deliberately
and with great care. Occasionally he advanced eight or ten paces,
and then halted again, to renew the search. The water being much
shallower than common, he stepped aside, in order to walk with
greater ease to himself and came so near the artificial plantation
that he might have touched it with his hand. Still he detected
nothing, and was actually passing the spot when Pathfinder made an
opening beneath the branches, and called to him in a low voice to
"This is pretty well," said the Pathfinder, laughing; "though pale-face
eyes and red-skin eyes are as different as human spy-glasses. I
would wager, with the Sergeant's daughter here, a horn of powder
against a wampum-belt for her girdle, that her father's rijiment
should march by this embankment of ours and never find out the
fraud! But if the Mingoes actually get down into the bed of the
river where Jasper passed, I should tremble for the plantation.
It will do for their eyes, even across the stream, however, and
will not be without its use."
"Don't you think, Master Pathfinder, that it would be wisest, after
all," said Cap, "to get under way at once, and carry sail hard down
stream, as soon as we are satisfied that these rascals are fairly
astern of us? We seamen call a stern chase a long chase."
"I wouldn't move from this spot until we hear from the Sarpent
with the Sergeant's pretty daughter here in our company, for all
the powder in the magazine of the fort below. Sartain captivity or
sartain death would follow. If a tender fa'n, such as the maiden
we have in charge, could thread the forest like old deer, it might,
indeed, do to quit the canoes; for by making a circuit we could
reach the garrison before morning."
"Then let it be done," said Mabel, springing to her feet under
the sudden impulse of awakened energy. "I am young, active, used
to exercise, and could easily out-walk my dear uncle. Let no one
think me a hindrance. I cannot bear that all your lives should be
exposed on my account."
"No, no, pretty one; we think you anything but a hindrance or
anything that is unbecoming, and would willingly run twice this
risk to do you and the honest Sergeant a service. Do I not speak
your mind, Eau-douce?"
"To do _her_ a service!" said Jasper with emphasis. "Nothing shall
tempt me to desert Mabel Dunham until she is safe in her father's
"Well said, lad; bravely and honestly said, too; and I join in it,
heart and hand. No, no! you are not the first of your sex I have
led through the wilderness, and never but once did any harm befall
any of them: -- that was a sad day, certainly, but its like may
never come again."
Mabel looked from one of her protectors to the other, and her fine
eyes swam in tears. Frankly placing a hand in that of each, she
answered them, though at first her voice was choked, "I have no
right to expose you on my account. My dear father will thank you,
I thank you, God will reward you; but let there be no unnecessary
risk. I can walk far, and have often gone miles on some girlish
fancy; why not now exert myself for my life? -- nay, for your
"She is a true dove, Jasper" said the Pathfinder, neither relinquishing
the hand he held until the girl herself, in native modesty, saw
fit to withdraw it, "and wonderfully winning! We get to be rough,
and sometimes even hard-hearted, in the woods, Mabel; but the sight
of one like you brings us back again to our young feelings, and
does us good for the remainder of our days. I daresay Jasper here
will tell you the same; for, like me in the forest, the lad sees
but few such as yourself on Ontario, to soften his heart and remind
him of love for his kind. Speak out now, Jasper, and say if it is
"I question if many like Mabel Dunham are to be found anywhere,"
returned the young man gallantly, an honest sincerity glowing in
his face that spoke more eloquently than his tongue; "you need not
mention the woods and lakes to challenge her equals, but I would
go into settlements and towns."
"We had better leave the canoes," Mabel hurriedly rejoined; "for
I feel it is no longer safe to be here."
"You can never do it; you can never do it. It would be a march of
more than twenty miles, and that, too, of tramping over brush and
roots, and through swamps, in the dark; the trail of such a party
would be wide, and we might have to fight our way into the garrison
after all. We will wait for the Mohican."
Such appearing to be the decision of him to whom all, in their
present strait, looked up for counsel, no more was said on the
subject. The whole party now broke up into groups: Arrowhead and
his wife sitting apart under the bushes, conversing in a low tone,
though the man spoke sternly, and the woman answered with the
subdued mildness that marks the degraded condition of a savage's
wife. Pathfinder and Cap occupied one canoe, chatting of their
different adventures by sea and land; while Jasper and Mabel
sat in the other, making greater progress in intimacy in a single
hour than might have been effected under other circumstances in a
twelvemonth. Notwithstanding their situation as regards the enemy,
the time flew by swiftly, and the young people, in particular,
were astonished when Cap informed them how long they had been thus
"If one could smoke, Master Pathfinder," observed the old sailor,
"this berth would be snug enough; for, to give the devil his due,
you have got the canoes handsomely landlocked, and into moorings
that would defy a monsoon. The only hardship is the denial of
"The scent of the tobacco would betray us; and where is the use of
taking all these precautions against the Mingo's eyes, if we are
to tell him where the cover is to be found through the nose? No,
no; deny your appetites; and learn one virtue from a red-skin, who
will pass a week without eating even, to get a single scalp. Did
you hear nothing, Jasper?"
"The Serpent is coming."
"Then let us see if Mohican eyes are better than them of a lad who
follows the water."
The Mohican had indeed made his appearance in the same direction as
that by which Jasper had rejoined his friends. Instead of coming
directly on, however, no sooner did he pass the bend, where he was
concealed from any who might be higher up stream, than he moved
close under the bank; and, using the utmost caution, got a position
where he could look back, with his person sufficiently concealed
by the bushes to prevent its being seen by any in that quarter.
"The Sarpent sees the knaves!" whispered Pathfinder. "As I'm a
Christian white man, they have bit at the bait, and have ambushed
Here a hearty but silent laugh interrupted his words, and nudging
Cap with his elbow, they all continued to watch the movements of
Chingachgook in profound stillness. The Mohican remained stationary
as the rock on which he stood full ten minutes; and then it was
apparent that something of interest had occurred within his view,
for he drew back with a hurried manner, looked anxiously and keenly
along the margin of the stream, and moved quickly down it, taking
care to lose his trail in the shallow water. He was evidently in
a hurry and concerned, now looking behind him, and then casting
eager glances towards every spot on the shore where he thought a
canoe might be concealed.
"Call him in," whispered Jasper, scarcely able to restrain his
impatience, -- "call him in, or it will be too late! See! he is
actually passing us."
"Not so, not so, lad; nothing presses, depend on it;" returned his
companion, "or the Sarpent would begin to creep. The Lord help
us and teach us wisdom! I _do_ believe even Chingachgook, whose
sight is as faithful as the hound's scent, overlooks us, and will
not find out the ambushment we have made!"
This exultation was untimely; for the words were no sooner spoken
than the Indian, who had actually got several feet lower down the
stream than the artificial cover, suddenly stopped; fastened a
keen-riveted glance among the transplanted bushes; made a few hasty
steps backward; and, bending his body and carefully separating
the branches, he appeared among them.
"The accursed Mingos!" said Pathfinder, as soon as his friend was
near enough to be addressed with prudence.
"Iroquois," returned the sententious Indian.
"No matter, no matter; Iroquois, devil, Mingo, Mengwes, or furies
-- all are pretty much the same. I call all rascals Mingos. Come
hither, chief, and let us convarse rationally."
When their private communication was over, Pathfinder rejoined the
rest, and made them acquainted with all he had learned.
The Mohican had followed the trail of their enemies some distance
towards the fort, until the latter caught a sight of the smoke of
Jasper's fire, when they instantly retraced their steps. It now
became necessary for Chingachgook, who ran the greatest risk of
detection, to find a cover where he could secrete himself until
the party might pass. It was perhaps fortunate for him that the
savages were so intent on this recent discovery, that they did not
bestow the ordinary attention on the signs of the forest. At all
events, they passed him swiftly, fifteen in number, treading lightly
in each other's footsteps; and he was enabled again to get into
their rear. After proceeding to the place where the footsteps
of Pathfinder and the Mohican had joined the principal trail, the
Iroquois had struck off to the river, which they reached just as
Jasper had disappeared behind the bend below. The smoke being now
in plain view, the savages plunged into the woods and endeavored to
approach the fire unseen. Chingachgook profited by this occasion
to descend to the water, and to gain the bend in the river also,
which he thought had been effected undiscovered. Here he paused,
as has been stated, until he saw his enemies at the fire, where
their stay, however, was very short.
Of the motives of the Iroquois the Mohican could judge only by their
acts. He thought they had detected the artifice of the fire, and
were aware that it had been kindled with a view to mislead them;
for, after a hasty examination of the spot, they had separated,
some plunging again into the woods, while six or eight had followed
the footsteps of Jasper along the shore, and come down the stream
towards the place where the canoes had landed. What course they
might take on reaching that spot was only to be conjectured; for
the Serpent had felt the emergency to be too pressing to delay
looking for his friends any longer. From some indications that
were to be gathered from their gestures, however, he thought it
probable that their enemies might follow down in the margin of the
stream, but could not be certain.
As the Pathfinder related these facts to his companions, the
professional feelings of the two other white men came uppermost,
and both naturally reverted to their habits, in quest of the means
"Let us run out the canoes at once," said Jasper eagerly; "the
current is strong, and by using the paddles vigorously we shall
soon be beyond the reach of these scoundrels!"
"And this poor flower, that first blossomed in the clearings --
shall it wither in the forest?" objected his friend, with a poetry
which he had unconsciously imbibed by his long association with
"We must all die first," answered the youth, a generous color
mounting to his temples; "Mabel and Arrowhead's wife may lie down
in the canoes, while we do our duty, like men, on our feet."
"Ay, you are active at the paddle and the oar, Eau-douce, I will
allow, but an accursed Mingo is more active at his mischief; the
canoes are swift, but a rifle bullet is swifter."
"It is the business of men, engaged as we have been by
a confiding father, to run this risk -- "
"But it is not their business to overlook prudence."
"Prudence! a man may carry his prudence so far as to forget his
The group was standing on the narrow strand, the Pathfinder leaning
on his rifle, the butt of which rested on the gravelly beach,
while both his hands clasped the barrel at the height of his own
shoulders. As Jasper threw out this severe and unmerited imputation,
the deep red of his comrade's face maintained its hue unchanged,
though the young man perceived that the fingers grasped the iron of
the gun with the tenacity of a vice. Here all betrayal of emotion
"You are young and hot-headed," returned Pathfinder, with a
dignity that impressed his listeners with a keen sense of his moral
superiority; "but my life has been passed among dangers of this
sort, and my experience and gifts are not to be mastered by the
impatience of a boy. As for courage, Jasper, I will not send back
an angry and unmeaning word to meet an angry and an unmeaning word;
for I know that you are true in your station and according to your
knowledge; but take the advice of one who faced the Mingos when you
were a child, and know that their cunning is easier sarcumvented
by prudence than outwitted by foolishness."
"I ask your pardon, Pathfinder," said the repentant Jasper, eagerly
grasping the hand that the other permitted him to seize; "I ask your
pardon, humbly and sincerely. 'Twas a foolish, as well as wicked
thing to hint of a man whose heart, in a good cause, is known to
be as firm as the rocks on the lake shore."
For the first time the color deepened on the cheek of the Pathfinder,
and the solemn dignity which he had assumed, under a purely natural
impulse, disappeared in the expression of the earnest simplicity
inherent in all his feelings. He met the grasp of his young friend
with a squeeze as cordial as if no chord had jarred between them,
and a slight sternness that had gathered about his eye disappeared
in a look of natural kindness.
"'Tis well, Jasper," he answered, laughing; "I bear no ill-will, nor
shall any one on my behalf. My natur' is that of a white man, and
that is to bear no malice. It might have been ticklish work to have
said half as much to the Sarpent here, though he is a Delaware,
for color will have its way -- "
A touch on his shoulder caused the speaker to cease. Mabel was
standing erect in the canoe, her light, but swelling form bent
forward in an attitude of graceful earnestness, her finger on her
lips, her head averted, her spirited eyes riveted on an opening
in the bushes, and one arm extended with a fishing-rod, the end of
which had touched the Pathfinder. The latter bowed his head to a
level with a look-out near which he had intentionally kept himself
and then whispered to Jasper, --
"The accursed Mingos! Stand to your arms, my men, but lay quiet
as the corpses of dead trees!"
Jasper advanced rapidly, but noiselessly, to the canoe, and with a
gentle violence induced Mabel to place herself in such an attitude
as concealed her entire body, though it would have probably exceeded
his means to induce the girl so far to lower her head that she could
not keep her gaze fastened on their enemies. He then took his own
post near her, with his rifle cocked and poised, in readiness to
fire. Arrowhead and Chingachgook crawled to the cover, and lay in
wait like snakes, with their arms prepared for service, while the
wife of the former bowed her head between her knees, covered it
with her calico robe, and remained passive and immovable. Cap
loosened both his pistols in their belt, but seemed quite at a
loss what course to pursue. The Pathfinder did not stir. He had
originally got a position where he might aim with deadly effect
through the leaves, and where he could watch the movements of his
enemies; and he was far too steady to be disconcerted at a moment
It was truly an alarming instant. Just as Mabel touched the shoulder
of her guide, three of the Iroquois had appeared in the water, at
the bend of the river, within a hundred yards of the cover, and
halted to examine the stream below. They were all naked to the
waist, armed for an expedition against their foes, and in their
warpaint. It was apparent that they were undecided as to the
course they ought to pursue in order to find the fugitives. One
pointed down the river, a second up the stream, and the third
towards the opposite bank. They evidently doubted.
Death is here and death is there,
Death is busy everywhere.
It was a breathless moment. The only clue the fugitives possessed
to the intentions of their pursuers was in their gestures and the
indications which escaped them in the fury of disappointment. That
a party had returned already, on their own footsteps, by land, was
pretty certain; and all the benefit expected from the artifice of
the fire was necessarily lost. But that consideration became of
little moment just then; for the party was menaced with an immediate
discovery by those who had kept on a level with the river. All the
facts presented themselves clearly, and as it might be by intuition,
to the mind of Pathfinder, who perceived the necessity of immediate
decision and of being in readiness to act in concert. Without
making any noise, therefore, he managed to get the two Indians and
Jasper near him, when he opened his communications in a whisper.
"We must be ready, we must be ready," he said. "There are but
three of the scalping devils, and we are five, four of whom may be
set down as manful warriors for such a skrimmage. Eau-douce, do
you take the fellow that is painted like death; Chingachgook, I
give you the chief; and Arrowhead must keep his eye on the young
one. There must be no mistake, for two bullets in the same body
would be sinful waste, with one like the Sergeant's daughter in
danger. I shall hold myself in resarve against accident, lest a
fourth reptile appear, for one of your hands may prove unsteady.
By no means fire until I give the word; we must not let the crack
of the rifle be heard except in the last resort, since all the rest
of the miscreants are still within hearing. Jasper, boy, in case
of any movement behind us on the bank, I trust to you to run out the
canoe with the Sergeant's daughter, and to pull for the garrison,
by God's leave."
The Pathfinder had no sooner given these directions than the near
approach of their enemies rendered profound silence necessary. The
Iroquois in the river were slowly descending the stream; keeping
of necessity near the bushes which overhung the water, while the
rustling of leaves and the snapping of twigs soon gave fearful
evidence that another party was moving along the bank, at an equally
graduated pace; and directly abreast of them. In consequence of the
distance between the bushes planted by the fugitives and the true
shore, the two parties became visible to each other when opposite
that precise point. Both stopped, and a conversation ensued, that
may be said to have passed directly over the heads of those who
were concealed. Indeed, nothing sheltered the travellers but the
branches and leaves of plants, so pliant that they yielded to every
current of air, and which a puff of wind a little stronger than
common would have blown away. Fortunately the line of sight carried
the eyes of the two parties of savages, whether they stood in the
water or on the land, above the bushes, and the leaves appeared
blended in a way to excite no suspicion. Perhaps the very boldness
of the expedient alone prevented an immediate exposure. The
conversation which took place was conducted earnestly, but in guarded
tones, as if those who spoke wished to defeat the intentions of
any listeners. It was in a dialect that both the Indian warriors
beneath, as well as the Pathfinder, understood. Even Jasper
comprehended a portion of what was said.
"The trail is washed away by the water!" said one from below,
who stood so near the artificial cover of the fugitives, that he
might have been struck by the salmon-spear that lay in the bottom
of Jasper's canoe. "Water has washed it so clear that a Yengeese
hound could not follow."
"The pale-faces have left the shore in their canoes," answered the
speaker on the bank.
"It cannot be. The rifles of our warriors below are certain."
The Pathfinder gave a significant glance at Jasper, and he clinched
his teeth in order to suppress the sound of his own breathing.
"Let my young men look as if their eyes were eagles'," said the
eldest warrior among those who were wading in the river. "We have
been a whole moon on the war-path, and have found but one scalp.
There is a maiden among them, and some of our braves want wives."
Happily these words were lost on Mabel; but Jasper's frown became
deeper, and his face fiercely flushed.
The savages now ceased speaking, and the party which was concealed
heard the slow and guarded movements of those who were on the
bank, as they pushed the bushes aside in their wary progress. It
was soon evident that the latter had passed the cover; but the
group in the water still remained, scanning the shore with eyes that
glared through their war-paint like coals of living fire. After
a pause of two or three minutes, these three began also to descend
the stream, though it was step by step, as men move who look
for an object that has been lost. In this manner they passed the
artificial screen, and Pathfinder opened his mouth in that hearty
but noiseless laugh that nature and habit had contributed to render
a peculiarity of the man. His triumph, however, was premature;
for the last of the retiring party, just at this moment casting a
look behind him, suddenly stopped; and his fixed attitude and steady
gaze at once betrayed the appalling fact that some neglected bush
had awakened his suspicions.
It was perhaps fortunate for the concealed that the warrior who
manifested these fearful signs of distrust was young, and had still
a reputation to acquire. He knew the importance of discretion
and modesty in one of his years, and most of all did he dread the
ridicule and contempt that would certainly follow a false alarm.
Without recalling any of his companions, therefore, he turned on
his own footsteps; and, while the others continued to descend the
river, he cautiously approached the bushes, on which his looks
were still fastened, as by a charm. Some of the leaves which were
exposed to the sun had drooped a little, and this slight departure
from the usual natural laws had caught the quick eyes of the Indian;
for so practised and acute do the senses of the savage become, more
especially when he is on the war-path, that trifles apparently of
the most insignificant sort often prove to be clues to lead him
to his object.
The trifling nature of the change which had aroused the suspicion
of this youth was an additional motive for not acquainting his
companions with his discovery. Should he really detect anything,
his glory would be the greater for being unshared; and should he
not, he might hope to escape that derision which the young Indian
so much dreads. Then there were the dangers of an ambush and
a surprise, to which every warrior of the woods is keenly alive,
to render his approach slow and cautious. In consequence of the
delay that proceeded from these combined causes, the two parties
had descended some fifty or sixty yards before the young savage
was again near enough to the bushes of the Pathfinder to touch them
with his hand.
Notwithstanding their critical situation, the whole party behind
the cover had their eyes fastened on the working countenance of the
young Iroquois, who was agitated by conflicting feelings. First
came the eager hope of obtaining success where some of the most
experienced of his tribe had failed, and with it a degree of
glory that had seldom fallen to the share of one of his years or a
brave on his first war-path; then followed doubts, as the drooping
leaves seemed to rise again and to revive in the currents of air;
and distrust of hidden danger lent its exciting feeling to keep
the eloquent features in play. So very slight, however, had been
the alteration produced by the heat on the bushes of which the
stems were in the water, that when the Iroquois actually laid his
hand on the leaves, he fancied that he had been deceived. As no
man ever distrusts strongly without using all convenient means of
satisfying his doubts, however, the young warrior cautiously pushed
aside the branches and advanced a step within the hiding-place,
when the forms of the concealed party met his gaze, resembling so
many breathless statues. The low exclamation, the slight start,
and the glaring eye, were hardly seen and heard, before the
arm of Chingachgook was raised, and the tomahawk of the Delaware
descended on the shaven head of his foe. The Iroquois raised his
hands frantically, bounded backward, and fell into the water, at
a spot where the current swept the body away, the struggling limbs
still tossing and writhing in the agony of death. The Delaware
made a vigorous but unsuccessful attempt to seize an arm, with the
hope of securing the scalp; but the bloodstained waters whirled
down the current, carrying with them their quivering burden.
All this passed in less than a minute, and the events were so sudden
and unexpected, that men less accustomed than the Pathfinder and
his associates to forest warfare would have been at a loss how to
"There is not a moment to lose," said Jasper, tearing aside the
bushes, as he spoke earnestly, but in a suppressed voice. "Do as
I do, Master Cap, if you would save your niece; and you, Mabel,
lie at your length in the canoe."
The words were scarcely uttered when, seizing the bow of the light
boat he dragged it along the shore, wading himself, while Cap
aided behind, keeping so near the bank as to avoid being seen by
the savages below, and striving to gain the turn in the river above
him which would effectually conceal the party from the enemy. The
Pathfinder's canoe lay nearest to the bank, and was necessarily the
last to quit the shore. The Delaware leaped on the narrow strand
and plunged into the forest, it being his assigned duty to watch
the foe in that quarter, while Arrowhead motioned to his white
companion to seize the bow of the boat and to follow Jasper. All
this was the work of an instant; but when the Pathfinder reached the
current that was sweeping round the turn, he felt a sudden change
in the weight he was dragging, and, looking back, he found that
both the Tuscarora and his wife had deserted him. The thought of
treachery flashed upon his mind, but there was no time to pause,
for the wailing shout that arose from the party below proclaimed
that the body of the young Iroquois had floated as low as the spot
reached by his friends. The report of a rifle followed; and then
the guide saw that Jasper, having doubled the bend in the river,
was crossing the stream, standing erect in the stern of the canoe,
while Cap was seated forward, both propelling the light boat
with vigorous strokes of the paddles. A glance, a thought, and
an expedient followed each other quickly in one so trained in the
vicissitudes of the frontier warfare. Springing into the stern of
his own canoe, he urged it by a vigorous shove into the current,
and commenced crossing the stream himself, at a point so much
lower than that of his companions as to offer his own person for a
target to the enemy, well knowing that their keen desire to secure
a scalp would control all other feelings.
"Keep well up the current, Jasper," shouted the gallant guide,
as he swept the water with long, steady, vigorous strokes of the
paddle; "keep well up the current, and pull for the alder bushes
opposite. Presarve the Sergeant's daughter before all things, and
leave these Mingo knaves to the Sarpent and me."
Jasper flourished his paddle as a signal of understanding, while
shot succeeded shot in quick succession, all now being aimed at
the solitary man in the nearest canoe.
"Ay, empty your rifles like simpletons as you are," said the
Pathfinder, who had acquired a habit of speaking when alone, from
passing so much of his time in the solitude of the forest; "empty
your rifles with an unsteady aim, and give me time to put yard upon
yard of river between us. I will not revile you like a Delaware
or a Mohican; for my gifts are a white man's gifts, and not an
Indian's; and boasting in battle is no part of a Christian warrior;
but I may say here, all alone by myself, that you are little better
than so many men from the town shooting at robins in the orchards.
That was well meant," throwing back his head, as a rifle bullet cut
a lock of hair from his temple; "but the lead that misses by an
inch is as useless as the lead that never quits the barrel. Bravely
done, Jasper! the Sergeant's sweet child must be saved, even if
we go in without our own scalps."
By this time the Pathfinder was in the centre of the river, and
almost abreast of his enemies, while the other canoe, impelled by
the vigorous arms of Cap and Jasper, had nearly gained the opposite
shore at the precise spot that had been pointed out to them. The
old mariner now played his part manfully; for he was on his proper
element, loved his niece sincerely, had a proper regard for
his own person, and was not unused to fire, though his experience
certainly lay in a very different species of warfare. A few strokes
of the paddles were given, and the canoe shot into the bushes,
Mabel was hurried to land by Jasper, and for the present all three
of the fugitives were safe.
Not so with the Pathfinder: his hardy self-devotion had brought him
into a situation of unusual exposure, the hazards of which were
much increased by the fact that, just as he drifted nearest to
the enemy the party on the shore rushed down the bank and joined
their friends who still stood in the water. The Oswego was about
a cable's length in width at this point, and, the canoe being in
the centre, the object was only a hundred yards from the rifles that
were constantly discharged at it; or, at the usual target distance
for that weapon.
In this extremity the steadiness and skill of the Pathfinder did
him good service. He knew that his safety depended altogether
on keeping in motion; for a stationary object at that distance,
would have been hit nearly every shot. Nor was motion of itself
sufficient; for, accustomed to kill the bounding deer, his enemies
probably knew how to vary the line of aim so as to strike him, should
he continue to move in any one direction. He was consequently
compelled to change the course of the canoe, -- at one moment
shooting down with the current, with the swiftness of an arrow;
and at the next checking its progress in that direction, to glance
athwart the stream. Luckily the Iroquois could not reload their
pieces in the water, and the bushes that everywhere fringed the
shore rendered it difficult to keep the fugitive in view when on
the land. Aided by these circumstances, and having received the
fire of all his foes, the Pathfinder was gaining fast in distance,
both downwards and across the current, when a new danger suddenly,
if not unexpectedly, presented itself, by the appearance of the
party that had been left in ambush below with a view to watch the
These were the savages alluded to in the short dialogue already
related. They were no less than ten in number; and, understanding
all the advantages of their bloody occupation, they had posted
themselves at a spot where the water dashed among rocks and over
shallows, in a way to form a rapid which, in the language of the
country, is called a rift. The Pathfinder saw that, if he entered
this rift, he should be compelled to approach a point where the
Iroquois had posted themselves, for the current was irresistible,
and the rocks allowed no other safe passage, while death or
captivity would be the probable result of the attempt. All his
efforts, therefore, were turned toward reaching the western shore,
the foe being all on the eastern side of the river; but the exploit
surpassed human power, and to attempt to stem the stream would at
once have so far diminished the motion of the canoe as to render
aim certain. In this exigency the guide came to a decision with
his usual cool promptitude, making his preparations accordingly.
Instead of endeavoring to gain the channel, he steered towards
the shallowest part of the stream, on reaching which he seized his
rifle and pack, leaped into the water, and began to wade from rock
to rock, taking the direction of the western shore. The canoe
whirled about in the furious current, now rolling over some slippery
stone, now filling, and then emptying itself, until it lodged on
the shore, within a few yards of the spot where the Iroquois had
In the meanwhile the Pathfinder was far from being out of danger;
for the first minute, admiration of his promptitude and daring,
which are so high virtues in the mind of an Indian, kept his
enemies motionless; but the desire of revenge, and the cravings
for the much-prized trophy, soon overcame this transient feeling,
and aroused them from their stupor. Rifle flashed after rifle,
and the bullets whistled around the head of the fugitive, amid the
roar of the waters. Still he proceeded like one who bore a charmed
life; for, while his rude frontier garments were more than once
cut, his skin was not razed.
As the Pathfinder, in several instances, was compelled to wade in
water which rose nearly to his arms, while he kept his rifle and
ammunition elevated above the raging current, the toil soon fatigued
him, and he was glad to stop at a large stone, or a small rock,
which rose so high above the river that its upper surface was dry.
On this stone he placed his powder-horn, getting behind it himself,
so as to have the advantage of a partial cover for his body. The
western shore was only fifty feet distant, but the quiet, swift,
dark current that glanced through the interval sufficiently showed
that here he would be compelled to swim.
A short cessation in the firing now took place on the part of the
Indians, who gathered about the canoe, and, having found the paddles,
were preparing to cross the river.
"Pathfinder," called a voice from among the bushes, at the point
nearest to the person addressed, on the western shore.
"What would you have, Jasper?"
"Be of good heart -- friends are at hand, and not a single Mingo
shall cross without suffering for his boldness. Had you not better
leave the rifle on the rock, and swim to us before the rascals can
"A true woodsman never quits his piece while he has any powder
in his horn or a bullet in his pouch. I have not drawn a trigger
this day, Eau-douce, and shouldn't relish the idea of parting with
those reptiles without causing them to remember my name. A little
water will not harm my legs; and I see that blackguard, Arrowhead,
among the scamps, and wish to send him the wages he has so faithfully
earned. You have not brought the Sergeant's daughter down here in
a range with their bullets, I hope, Jasper?"
"She is safe for the present at least; though all depends on our
keeping the river between us and the enemy. They must know our
weakness now; and, should they cross, no doubt some of their party
will be left on the other side."
"This canoeing touches your gifts rather than mine, boy, though I
will handle a paddle with the best Mingo that ever struck a salmon.
If they cross below the rift, why can't we cross in the still water
above, and keep playing at dodge and turn with the wolves?"
"Because, as I have said, they will leave a party on the other
shore; and then, Pathfinder, would you expose Mabel, to the rifles
of the Iroquois?"
"The Sergeant's daughter must be saved," returned the guide, with
calm energy. "You are right, Jasper; she has no gift to authorize
her in offering her sweet face and tender body to a Mingo rifle.
What can be done, then? They must be kept from crossing for an
hour or two, if possible, when we must do our best in the darkness."
"I agree with you, Pathfinder, if it can be effected; but are we
strong enough for such a purpose?"
"The Lord is with us, boy, the Lord is with us; and it is unreasonable
to suppose that one like the Sergeant's daughter will be altogether
abandoned by Providence in such a strait. There is not a boat
between the falls and the garrison, except these two canoes, to
my sartain knowledge; and I think it will go beyond red-skin gifts
to cross in the face of two rifles like these of yourn and mine. I
will not vaunt, Jasper; but it is well known on all this frontier
that Killdeer seldom fails."
"Your skill is admitted by all, far and near, Pathfinder; but a
rifle takes time to be loaded; nor are you on the land, aided by
a good cover, where you can work to the advantage you are used to.
If you had our canoe, might you not pass to the shore with a dry
"Can an eagle fly, Jasper?" returned the other, laughing in his
usual manner, and looking back as he spoke. But it would be unwise
to expose yourself on the water; for them miscreants are beginning
to bethink them again of powder and bullets."
"It can be done without any such chances. Master Cap has gone up
to the canoe, and will cast the branch of a tree into the river to
try the current, which sets from the point above in the direction
of your rock. See, there it comes already; if it float fairly, you
must raise your arm, when the canoe will follow. At all events,
if the boat should pass you, the eddy below will bring it up, and
I can recover it."
While Jasper was still speaking, the floating branch came in sight;
and, quickening its progress with the increasing velocity of the
current, it swept swiftly down towards the Pathfinder, who seized
it as it was passing, and held it in the air as a sign of success.
Cap understood the signal, and presently the canoe was launched into
the stream, with a caution and an intelligence that the habits of
the mariner had fitted him to observe. It floated in the same direction
as the branch, and in a minute was arrested by the Pathfinder.
"This has been done with a frontier man's judgment Jasper," said
the guide, laughing; "but you have your gifts, which incline most
to the water, as mine incline to the woods. Now let them Mingo
knaves cock their rifles and get rests, for this is the last chance
they are likely to have at a man without a cover."
"Nay, shove the canoe towards the shore, quartering the current,
and throw yourself into it as it goes off," said Jasper eagerly.
"There is little use in running any risk."
"I love to stand up face to face with my enemies like a man, while
they set me the example," returned the Pathfinder proudly. "I am
not a red-skin born, and it is more a white man's gifts to fight
openly than to lie in ambushment."
"True, boy, true; the Sergeant's daughter must be saved; and, as
you say, foolish risks only become boys. Think you that you can
catch the canoe where you stand?"
"There can be no doubt, if you give a vigorous push."
Pathfinder made the necessary effort; the light bark shot across
the intervening space, and Jasper seized it as it came to land.
To secure the canoe, and to take proper positions in the cover,
occupied the friends but a moment, when they shook hands cordially,
like those who had met after a long separation.
"Now, Jasper, we shall see if a Mingo of them all dares cross the
Oswego in the teeth of Killdeer! You are handier with the oar and
the paddle and the sail than with the rifle, perhaps; but you have
a stout heart and a steady hand, and them are things that count in
"Mabel will find me between her and her enemies," said Jasper
"Yes, yes, the Sergeant's daughter must be protected. I like you,
boy, on your own account; but I like you all the better that you
think of one so feeble at a moment when there is need of all your
manhood. See, Jasper! Three of the knaves are actually getting
into the canoe! They must believe we have fled, or they would not
surely venture so much, directly in the very face of Killdeer."
Sure enough the Iroquois did appear bent on venturing across
the stream; for, as the Pathfinder and his friends now kept their
persons strictly concealed, their enemies began to think that the
latter had taken to flight. Such a course was that which most white
men would have followed; but Mabel was under the care of those who
were much too well skilled in forest warfare to neglect to defend
the only pass that, in truth, now offered even a probable chance
As the Pathfinder had said, three warriors were in the canoe, two
holding their rifles at a poise, as they knelt in readiness to aim
the deadly weapons, and the other standing erect in the stern to
wield the paddle. In this manner they left the shore, having had
the precaution to haul the canoe, previously to entering it, so
far up the stream as to have got into the comparatively still water
above the rift. It was apparent at a glance that the savage who
guided the boat was skilled in the art; for the long steady sweep
of his paddle sent the light bark over the glassy surface of the
tranquil river as if it were a feather floating in air.
"Shall I fire?" demanded Jasper in a whisper, trembling with
eagerness to engage.
"Not yet, boy, not yet. There are but three of them, and if Master
Cap yonder knows how to use the popguns he carries in his belt, we
may even let them land, and then we shall recover the canoe."
"But Mabel -- ?"
"No fear for the Sergeant's daughter. She is safe in the hollow
stump, you say, with the opening judgmatically hid by the brambles.
If what you tell me of the manner in which you concealed the trail
be true, the sweet one might lie there a month and laugh at the
"We are never certain. I wish we had brought her nearer to our
"What for, Eau-douce? To place her pretty little head and leaping
heart among flying bullets? No, no: she is better where she is,
because she is safer."
"We are never certain. We thought ourselves safe behind the bushes,
and yet you saw that we were discovered."
"And the Mingo imp paid for his curiosity, as these knaves are
about to do."
The, Pathfinder ceased speaking; for at that instant the sharp
report of a rifle was heard, when the Indian in the stern of the
canoe leaped high into the air, and fell into the water, holding
the paddle in his hand. A small wreath of smoke floated out from
among the bushes of the eastern shore, and was soon absorbed by
"That is the Sarpent hissing!" exclaimed the Pathfinder exultingly.
"A bolder or a truer heart never beat in the breast of a Delaware.
I am sorry that he interfered; but he could not have known our
The canoe had no sooner lost its guide than it floated with the
stream, and was soon sucked into the rapids of the rift. Perfectly
helpless, the two remaining savages gazed wildly about them, but
could offer no resistance to the power of the element. It was
perhaps fortunate for Chingachgook that the attention of most of
the Iroquois was intently given to the situation of those in the
boat, else would his escape have been to the last degree difficult,
if not totally impracticable. But not a foe moved, except to
conceal his person behind some cover; and every eye was riveted on
the two remaining adventurers. In less time than has been necessary
to record these occurrences, the canoe was whirling and tossing
in the rift, while both the savages had stretched themselves in
its bottom, as the only means of preserving the equilibrium. This
natural expedient soon failed them; for, striking a rock, the
light draft rolled over, and the two warriors were thrown into the
river. The water is seldom deep on a rift, except in particular
places where it may have worn channels; and there was little to
be apprehended from drowning, though their arms were lost; and the
two savages were fain to make the best of their way to the friendly
shore, swimming and wading as circumstances required. The canoe
itself lodged on a rock in the centre of the stream, where for the
moment it became useless to both parties.
"Now is our time, Pathfinder," cried Jasper, as the two Iroquois
exposed most of their persons while wading in the shallowest part
of the rapids: "the fellow up stream is mine, and you can take the
So excited had the young man become by all the incidents of the
stirring scene, that the bullet sped from his rifle as he spoke,
but uselessly, as it would seem, for both the fugitives tossed
their arms in disdain. The Pathfinder did not fire.
"No, no, Eau-douce," he answered; "I do not seek blood without a
cause; and my bullet is well leathered and carefully driven down,
for the time of need. I love no Mingo, as is just, seeing how
much I have consorted with the Delawares, who are their mortal and
natural enemies; but I never pull trigger on one of the miscreants
unless it be plain that his death will lead to some good end. The
deer never leaped that fell by my hand wantonly. By living much
alone with God in the wilderness a man gets to feel the justice
of such opinions. One life is sufficient for our present wants;
and there may yet be occasion to use Killdeer in behalf of the
Sarpent, who has done an untimorsome thing to let them rampant
devils so plainly know that he is in their neighborhood. As I'm
a wicked sinner, there is one of them prowling along the bank this
very moment, like one of the boys of the garrison skulking behind
a fallen tree to get a shot at a squirrel!"
As the Pathfinder pointed with his finger while speaking, the
quick eye of Jasper soon caught the object towards which it was
directed. One of the young warriors of the enemy, burning with a
desire to distinguish himself, had stolen from his party towards
the cover in which Chingachgook had concealed himself; and as the
latter was deceived by the apparent apathy of his foes, as well as
engaged in some further preparations of his own, he had evidently
obtained a position where he got a sight of the Delaware. This
circumstance was apparent by the arrangements the Iroquois was
making to fire, for Chingachgook himself was not visible from the
western side of the river. The rift was at a bend in the Oswego,
and the sweep of the eastern shore formed a curve so wide that
Chingachgook was quite near to his enemies in a straight direction,
though separated by several hundred feet on the land, owing to
which fact air lines brought both parties nearly equidistant from
the Pathfinder and Jasper. The general width of the river being
a little less than two hundred yards, such necessarily was about
the distance between his two observers and the skulking Iroquois.
"The Sarpent must be thereabouts," observed Pathfinder, who never
turned his eye for an instant from the young warrior; "and yet he
must be strangely off his guard to allow a Mingo devil to get his
stand so near, with manifest signs of bloodshed in his heart."
"See!" interrupted Jasper -- "there is the body of the Indian the
Delaware shot! It has drifted on a rock, and the current has forced
the head and face above the water."
"Quite likely, boy, quite likely. Human natur' is little better
than a log of driftwood, when the life that was breathed into its
nostrils is departed. That Iroquois will never harm any one more;
but yonder skulking savage is bent on taking the scalp of my best
and most tried friend."
The Pathfinder suddenly interrupted himself by raising his rifle,
a weapon of unusual length, with admirable precision, and firing
the instant it had got its level. The Iroquois on the opposite
shore was in the act of aiming when the fatal messenger from Killdeer
arrived. His rifle was discharged, it is true, but it was with the
muzzle in the air, while the man himself plunged into the bushes,
quite evidently hurt, if not slain.
"The skulking reptyle brought it on himself," muttered Pathfinder
sternly, as, dropping the butt of his rifle, he carefully commenced
reloading it. "Chingachgook and I have consorted together since
we were boys, and have fi't in company on the Horican, the Mohawk,
the Ontario, and all the other bloody passes between the country of
the Frenchers and our own; and did the foolish knave believe that
I would stand by and see my best friend cut off in an ambushment?"
"We have served the Sarpent as good a turn as he served us. Those
rascals are troubled, Pathfinder, and are falling back into their
covers, since they find we can reach them across the river."
"The shot is no great matter, Jasper, no great matter. Ask any
of the 60th, and they can tell you what Killdeer can do, and has
done, and that, too, when the bullets were flying about our heads
like hailstones. No, no! this is no great matter, and the unthoughtful
vagabond drew it down on himself."
"Is that a dog, or a deer, swimming towards this shore?" Pathfinder
started, for sure enough an object was crossing the stream, above
the rift, towards which, however, it was gradually setting by the
force of the current. A second look satisfied both the observers
that it was a man, and an Indian, though so concealed as at first
to render it doubtful. Some stratagem was apprehended, and the
closest attention was given to the movements of the stranger.
"He is pushing something before him as he swims, and his head
resembles a drifting bush," said Jasper.
"'Tis Indian devilry, boy; but Christian honesty shall circumvent
As the man slowly approached, the observers began to doubt the
accuracy of their first impressions, and it was only when two-thirds
of the stream were passed that the truth was really known.
"The Big Sarpent, as I live!" exclaimed Pathfinder, looking at his
companion, and laughing until the tears came into his eyes with
pure delight at the success of the artifice. "He has tied bushes
to his head, so as to hide it, put the horn on top, lashed the
rifle to that bit of log he is pushing before him, and has come
over to join his friends. Ah's me! The times and times that he
and I have cut such pranks, right in the teeth of Mingos raging
for our blood, in the great thoroughfare round and about Ty!"
"It may not be the Serpent after all, Pathfinder; I can see no
feature that I remember."
"Feature! Who looks for features in an Indian? No, no, boy; 'tis
the paint that speaks, and none but a Delaware would wear that
paint: them are his colors, Jasper, just as your craft on the lake
wears St. George's Cross, and the Frenchers set their tablecloths
to fluttering in the wind, with all the stains of fish-bones and
venison steaks upon them. Now, you see the eye, lad, and it is
the eye of a chief. But, Eau-douce, fierce as it is in battle, and
glassy as it looks from among the leaves," -- here the Pathfinder
laid his fingers lightly but impressively on his companion's
arm, -- "I have seen it shed tears like rain. There is a soul and
a heart under that red skin, rely on it; although they are a soul
and a heart with gifts different from our own."
"No one who is acquainted with the chief ever doubted that."
"I _know_ it," returned the other proudly, "for I have consorted
with him in sorrow and in joy: in one I have found him a man,
however stricken; in the other, a chief who knows that the women
of his tribe are the most seemly in light merriment. But hist!
It is too much like the people of the settlements to pour soft
speeches into another's ear; and the Sarpent has keen senses. He
knows I love him, and that I speak well of him behind his back; but
a Delaware has modesty in his inmost natur', though he will brag
like a sinner when tied to a stake."
The Serpent now reached the shore, directly in the front of his two
comrades, with whose precise position he must have been acquainted
before leaving the eastern side of the river, and rising from the
water he shook himself like a dog, and made the usual exclamation
These, as they change, Almighty Father, these,
Are but the varied God.
As the chief landed he was met by the Pathfinder, who addressed
him in the language of the warrior's people: "Was it well done,
Chingachgook," said he reproachfully, "to ambush a dozen Mingos
alone? Killdeer seldom fails me, it is true; but the Oswego makes a
distant mark, and that miscreant showed little more than his head
and shoulders above the bushes, and an onpractysed hand and eye
might have failed. You should have thought of this, chief -- you
should have thought of this!"
"The Great Serpent is a Mohican warrior -- he sees only his enemies
when he is on the war-path, and his fathers have struck the Mingos
from behind, since the waters began to run."
"I know your gifts, I know your gifts, and respect them too. No
man shall hear me complain that a red-skin obsarved red-skin natur'.
But prudence as much becomes a warrior as valor; and had not the
Iroquois devils been looking after their friends who were in the
water, a hot trail they would have made of yourn."
"What is the Delaware about to do?" exclaimed Jasper, who observed
at that moment that the chief had suddenly left the Pathfinder
and advanced to the water's edge, apparently with an intention of
again entering the river. "He will not be so mad as to return to
the other shore for any trifle he may have forgotten?"
"Not he, not he; he is as prudent as he is brave, in the main, though
so forgetful of himself in the late ambushment. Hark'e, Jasper,"
leading the other a little aside, just as they heard the Indian's
plunge into the water, --"hark'e, lad; Chingachgook is not a
Christian white man, like ourselves, but a Mohican chief, who has
his gifts and traditions to tell him what he ought to do; and he
who consorts with them that are not strictly and altogether of his
own kind had better leave natur' and use to govern his comrades.
A king's soldier will swear and he will drink, and it is of little
use to try to prevent him; a gentleman likes his delicacies, and
a lady her feathers and it does not avail much to struggle against
either; whereas an Indian's natur' and gifts are much stronger
than these, and no doubt were bestowed by the Lord for wise ends,
though neither you nor me can follow them in all their windings."
"What does this mean? See, the Delaware is swimming towards the
body that is lodged on the rock? Why does he risk this?"
"For honor and glory and renown, as great gentlemen quit their quiet
homes beyond seas -- where, as they tell me, heart has nothing left
to wish for; that is, such hearts as can be satisfied in a clearing
-- to come hither to live on game and fight the Frenchers."
"I understand you -- your friend has gone to secure the scalp."
"'Tis his gift, and let him enjoy it. We are white men, and cannot
mangle a dead enemy; but it is honor in the eyes of a red-skin
to do so. It may seem singular to you, Eau-douce, but I've known
white men of great name and character manifest as remarkable idees
consarning their honor, I have."
"A savage will be a savage, Pathfinder, let him keep what company
"It is well for us to say so, lad; but, as I tell you, white honor
will not always conform to reason or to the will of God. I have
passed days thinking of these matters, out in the silent woods,
and I have come to the opinion, boy, that, as Providence rules all
things, no gift is bestowed without some wise and reasonable end."
"The Serpent greatly exposes himself to the enemy, in order to get
his scalp! This may lose us the day."
"Not in his mind, Jasper. That one scalp has more honor in it,
according to the Sarpent's notions of warfare, than a field covered
with slain, that kept the hair on their heads. Now, there was the
fine young captain of the 60th that threw away his life in trying
to bring off a three-pounder from among the Frenchers in the last
skrimmage we had; he thought he was sarving honor; and I have known
a young ensign wrap himself up in his colors, and go to sleep in
his blood, fancying that he was lying on something softer even than
"Yes, yes; one can understand the merit of not hauling down an
"And these are Chingachgook's colors -- he will keep them to show
his children's children -- " Here the Pathfinder interrupted
himself, shook his head in melancholy, and slowly added, "Ah's
me! no shoot of the old Mohican stem remains! He has no children
to delight with his trophies; no tribe to honor by his deeds; he
is a lone man in this world, and yet he stands true to his training
and his gifts! There is something honest and respectable in these,
you must allow, Jasper."
Here a great outcry from the Iroquois was succeeded by the quick
reports of their rifles, and so eager did the enemy become, in the
desire to drive the Delaware back from his victim, that a dozen
rushed into the river, several of whom even advanced near a hundred
feet into the foaming current, as if they actually meditated a
serious sortie. But Chingachgook continued unmoved, as he remained
unhurt by the missiles, accomplishing his task with the dexterity
of long habit. Flourishing his reeking trophy, he gave the war-whoop
in its most frightful intonations, and for a minute the arches of
the silent woods and the deep vista formed by the course of the
river echoed with cries so terrific that Mabel bowed her head in
irrepressible fear, while her uncle for a single instant actually
"This surpasses all I have heard from the wretches," Jasper exclaimed,
stopping his ears, equally in horror and disgust.
"'Tis their music, boy; their drum and fife; their trumpets and
clarions. No doubt they love those sounds; for they stir up in them
fierce feelings, and a desire for blood," returned the Pathfinder,
totally unmoved. "I thought them rather frightful when a mere
youngster; but they have become like the whistle of the whippoorwill
or the song of the cat-bird in my ear now. All the screeching
reptyles that could stand between the falls and the garrison would
have no effect on my narves at this time of day. I say it not in
boasting, Jasper; for the man that lets in cowardice through the
ears must have but a weak heart at the best; sounds and outcries
being more intended to alarm women and children than such as scout
the forest and face the foe. I hope the Sarpent is now satisfied,
for here he comes with the scalp at his belt."
Jasper turned away his head as the Delaware rose from the water,
in pure disgust at his late errand; but the Pathfinder regarded his
friend with the philosophical indifference of one who had made up
his mind to be indifferent to things he deemed immaterial. As
the Delaware passed deeper into the bushes with a view to wring
his trifling calico dress and to prepare his rifle for service, he
gave one glance of triumph at his companions, and then all emotion
connected with the recent exploit seemed to cease.
"Jasper," resumed the guide, "step down to the station of Master
Cap, and ask him to join us: we have little time for a council, and
yet our plans must be laid quickly, for it will not be long before
them Mingos will be plotting our ruin."
The young man complied; and in a few minutes the four were assembled
near the shore, completely concealed from the view of their
enemies, while they kept a vigilant watch over the proceedings of
the latter, in order to consult on their own future movements.
By this time the day had so far advanced as to leave but a few
minutes between the passing light and an obscurity that promised
to be even deeper than common. The sun had already set and the
twilight of a low latitude would soon pass into the darkness of
deep night. Most of the hopes of the party rested on this favorable
circumstance, though it was not without its dangers also, as the
very obscurity which would favor their escape would be as likely
to conceal the movements of their wily enemies.
"The moment has come, men," Pathfinder commenced, "when our plans
must be coolly laid, in order that we may act together, and with
a right understanding of our errand and gifts. In an hour's time
these woods will be as dark as midnight; and if we are ever to
gain the garrison, it must be done under favor of this advantage.
What say you, Master Cap? for, though none of the most experienced
in combats and retreats in the woods, your years entitle you to
speak first in a matter like this and in a council."
"Well, in my judgment, all we have to do is to go on board the canoe
when it gets to be so dark the enemy's lookouts can't see us, and
run for the haven, as wind and tide will allow."
"That is easily said, but not so easily done," returned the guide.
"We shall be more exposed in the river than by following the woods;
and then there is the Oswego rift below us, and I am far from
sartain that Jasper himself can carry a boat safely through it in
the dark. What say you, lad, as to your own skill and judgment?"
"I am of Master Cap's opinion about using the canoe. Mabel is too
tender to walk through swamps and among roots of trees in such a
night as this promises to be, and then I always feel myself stouter
of heart and truer of eye when afloat than when ashore."
"Stout of heart you always be, lad, and I think tolerably true of
eye for one who has lived so much in broad sunshine and so little
in the woods. Ah's me! The Ontario has no trees, or it would be
a plain to delight a hunter's heart! As to your opinion, friends,
there is much for and much against it. For it, it may be
said water leaves no trail -- "
"What do you call the wake?" interrupted the pertinacious and
"Go on," said Jasper; "Master Cap thinks he is on the ocean
-- water leaves no trail -- "
"It leaves none, Eau-douce, hereaway, though I do not pretend to
say what it may leave on the sea. Then a canoe is both swift and
easy when it floats with the current, and the tender limbs of the
Sergeant's daughter will be favored by its motion. But, on the
other hand, the river will have no cover but the clouds in the
heavens; the rift is a ticklish thing for boats to venture into,
even by daylight; and it is six fairly measured miles, by water,
from this spot to the garrison. Then a trail on land is not easy
to be found in the dark. I am troubled, Jasper, to say which way
we ought to counsel and advise."
"If the Serpent and myself could swim into the river and bring off
the other canoe," the young sailor replied, "it would seem to me
that our safest course would be the water."
"If, indeed! and yet it might easily be done, as soon as it is
a little darker. Well, well, I am not sartain it will not be the
best. Though, were we only a party of men, it would be like a
hunt to the lusty and brave to play at hide-and-seek with yonder
miscreants on the other shore, Jasper," continued the guide, into
whose character there entered no ingredient which belonged to vain
display or theatrical effect, "will you undertake to bring in the
"I will undertake anything that will serve and protect Mabel,
"That is an upright feeling, and I suppose it is natur'. The
Sarpent, who is nearly naked already, can help you; and this will
be cutting off one of the means of them devils to work their harm."
This material point being settled, the different members of the
party prepared themselves to put the project in execution. The
shades of evening fell fast upon the forest; and by the time all was
ready for the attempt, it was found impossible to discern objects
on the opposite shore. Time now pressed; for Indian cunning could
devise so many expedients for passing so narrow a stream, that the
Pathfinder was getting impatient to quit the spot. While Jasper
and his companion entered the river, armed with nothing but their
knives and the Delaware's tomahawk, observing the greatest caution
not to betray their movements, the guide brought Mabel from her
place of concealment, and, bidding her and Cap proceed along the
shore to the foot of the rapids, he got into the canoe that remained
in his possession, in order to carry it to the same place.
This was easily effected. The canoe was laid against the bank,
and Mabel and her uncle entered it, taking their seats as usual;
while the Pathfinder, erect in the stern, held by a bush, in order
to prevent the swift stream from sweeping them down its current.
Several minutes of intense and breathless expectation followed,
while they awaited the results of the bold attempt of their comrades.
It will be understood that the two adventurers were compelled to
swim across a deep and rapid channel before they could reach a part
of the rift that admitted of wading. This portion of the enterprise
was soon effected; and Jasper and the Serpent struck the bottom
side by side at the same instant. Having secured firm footing,
they took hold of each other's hands, and waded slowly and with
extreme caution in the supposed direction of the canoe. But the
darkness was already so deep that they soon ascertained they were
to be but little aided by the sense of sight, and that their search
must be conducted on that species of instinct which enables the
woodsman to find his way when the sun is hid, no stars appear, and
all would seem chaos to one less accustomed to the mazes of the
forest. Under these circumstances, Jasper submitted to be guided
by the Delaware, whose habits best fitted him to take the lead.
Still it was no easy matter to wade amid the roaring element at
that hour, and retain a clear recollection of the localities. By
the time they believed themselves to be in the centre of the
stream, the two shores were discernible merely by masses of obscurity
denser than common, the outlines against the clouds being barely
distinguishable by the ragged tops of the trees. Once or twice
the wanderers altered their course, in consequence of unexpectedly
stepping into deep water; for they knew that the boat had lodged
on the shallowest part of the rift. In short, with this fact for
their compass, Jasper and his companion wandered about in the water
for nearly a quarter of an hour; and at the end of that period,
which began to appear interminable to the young man, they found
themselves apparently no nearer the object of their search than
they had been at its commencement. Just as the Delaware was about
to stop, in order to inform his associate that they would do well
to return to the land, in order to take a fresh departure, he saw
the form of a man moving about in the water, almost within reach
of his arm. Jasper was at his side, and he at once understood that
the Iroquois were engaged on the same errand as he was himself.
"Mingo!" he uttered in Jasper's ear. "The Serpent will show his
brother how to be cunning."
The young sailor caught a glimpse of the figure at that instant,
and the startling truth also flashed on his mind. Understanding
the necessity of trusting all to the Delaware chief, he kept back,
while his friend moved cautiously in the direction in which the
strange form had vanished. In another moment it was seen again,
evidently moving towards themselves. The waters made such an uproar
that little was to be apprehended from ordinary sounds, and the
Indian, turning his head, hastily said, "Leave it to the cunning
of the Great Serpent."
"Hugh!" exclaimed the strange savage, adding, in the language of
his people, "The canoe is found, but there were none to help me.
Come, let us raise it from the rock."
"Willingly," answered Chingachgook, who understood the dialect.
"Lead; we will follow."
The stranger, unable to distinguish between voices and accents amid
the raging of the rapid, led the way in the necessary direction;
and, the two others keeping close at his heels, all three speedily
reached the canoe. The Iroquois laid hold of one end, Chingachgook
placed himself in the centre, and Jasper went to the opposite
extremity, as it was important that the stranger should not detect
the presence of a pale-face, a discovery that might be made by
the parts of the dress the young man still wore, as well as by the
general appearance of his head.
"Lift," said the Iroquois in the sententious manner of his race;
and by a trifling effort the canoe was raised from the rock, held
a moment in the air to empty it, and then placed carefully on the
water in its proper position. All three held it firmly, lest it
should escape from their hands under the pressure of the violent
current, while the Iroquois, who led, of course, being at the
upper end of the boat, took the direction of the eastern shore,
or towards the spot where his friends waited his return.
As the Delaware and Jasper well knew there must be several more
of the Iroquois on the rift, from the circumstance that their own
appearance had occasioned no surprise in the individual they had
met, both felt the necessity of extreme caution. Men less bold and
determined would have thought that they were incurring too great a
risk by thus venturing into the midst of their enemies; but these
hardy borderers were unacquainted with fear, were accustomed to
hazards, and so well understood the necessity of at least preventing
their foes from getting the boat, that they would have cheerfully
encountered even greater risks to secure their object. So
all-important to the safety of Mabel, indeed, did Jasper deem the
possession or the destruction of this canoe, that he had drawn
his knife, and stood ready to rip up the bark, in order to render
the boat temporarily unserviceable, should anything occur to compel
the Delaware and himself to abandon their prize.
In the meantime, the Iroquois, who led the way, proceeded slowly
through the water in the direction of his own party, still grasping
the canoe, and dragging his reluctant followers in his train.
Once Chingachgook raised his tomahawk, and was about to bury it
in the brain of his confiding and unsuspicious neighbor; but the
probability that the death-cry or the floating body might give the
alarm induced that wary chief to change his purpose. At the next
moment he regretted this indecision, for the three who clung to
the canoe suddenly found themselves in the centre of a party of no
less than four others who were in quest of it.
After the usual brief characteristic exclamations of satisfaction, the
savages eagerly laid hold of the canoe, for all seemed impressed
with the necessity of securing this important boat, the one side in
order to assail their foes, and the other to secure their retreat.
The addition to the party, however, was so unlooked-for, and so
completely gave the enemy the superiority, that for a few moments
the ingenuity and address of even the Delaware were at fault. The
five Iroquois, who seemed perfectly to understand their errand,
pressed forward towards their own shore, without pausing to converse;
their object being in truth to obtain the paddles, which they had
previously secured, and to embark three or four warriors, with all
their rifles and powder-horns, the want of which had alone prevented
their crossing the river by swimming as soon as it was dark.
In this manner, the body of friends and foes united reached the
margin of the eastern channel, where, as in the case of the western,
the river was too deep to be waded. Here a short pause succeeded,
it being necessary to determine the manner in which the canoe was
to be carried across. One of the four who had just reached the
boat was a chief; and the habitual deference which the American
Indian pays to merit, experience, and station kept the others
silent until this individual had spoken.
The halt greatly added to the danger of discovering the presence
of Jasper, in particular, who, however, had the precaution to throw
the cap he wore into the bottom of the canoe. Being without his
jacket and shirt, the outline of his figure, in the obscurity, would
now be less likely to attract observation. His position, too, at
the stern of the canoe a little favored his concealment, the Iroquois
naturally keeping their looks directed the other way. Not so with
Chingachgook. This warrior was literally in the midst of his most
deadly foes, and he could scarcely move without touching one of
them. Yet he was apparently unmoved, though he kept all his senses
on the alert, in readiness to escape, or to strike a blow at the
proper moment. By carefully abstaining from looking towards those
behind him, he lessened the chances of discovery, and waited with
the indomitable patience of an Indian for the instant when he should
be required to act.
"Let all my young men but two, one at each end of the canoe, cross
and get their arms," said the Iroquois chief. "Let the two push
over the boat."
The Indians quietly obeyed, leaving Jasper at the stern, and the
Iroquois who had found the canoe at the bow of the light craft,
Chingachgook burying himself so deep in the river as to be passed
by the others without detection. The splashing in the water, the
tossing arms, and the calls of one to another, soon announced that
the four who had last joined the party were already swimming. As
soon as this fact was certain, the Delaware rose, resumed his former
station, and began to think the moment for action was come.
One less habitually under self-restraint than this warrior would
probably have now aimed his meditated blow; but Chingachgook knew
there were more Iroquois behind him on the rift, and he was a warrior
much too trained and experienced to risk anything unnecessarily.
He suffered the Indian at the bow of the canoe to push off into
the deep water, and then all three were swimming in the direction of
the eastern shore. Instead, however, of helping the canoe across
the swift current, no sooner did the Delaware and Jasper find
themselves within the influence of its greatest force than both
began to swim in a way to check their farther progress across the
stream. Nor was this done suddenly, or in the incautious manner in
which a civilized man would have been apt to attempt the artifice,
but warily, and so gradually that the Iroquois at the bow fancied
at first he was merely struggling against the strength of the
current. Of course, while acted on by these opposing efforts, the
canoe drifted down stream, and in about a minute it was floating
in still deeper water at the foot of the rift. Here, however, the
Iroquois was not slow in finding that something unusual retarded
their advance, and, looking back; he first learned that he was
resisted by the efforts of his companions.
That second nature which grows up through habit instantly told
the young Iroquois that he was alone with enemies. Dashing the
water aside, he sprang at the throat of Chingachgook, and the two
Indians, relinquishing their hold of the canoe, seized each other
like tigers. In the midst of the darkness of that gloomy night, and
floating in an element so dangerous to man when engaged in deadly
strife, they appeared to forget everything but their fell animosity
and their mutual desire to conquer.
Jasper had now complete command of the canoe, which flew off like
a feather impelled by the breath under the violent reaction of the
struggles of the two combatants. The first impulse of the youth
was to swim to the aid of the Delaware, but the importance of
securing the boat presented itself with tenfold force, while he
listened to the heavy breathings of the warriors as they throttled
each other, and he proceeded as fast as possible towards the
western shore. This he soon reached; and after a short search he
succeeded in discovering the remainder of the party and in procuring
his clothes. A few words sufficed to explain the situation in
which he had left the Delaware and the manner in which the canoe
had been obtained.
When those who had been left behind had heard the explanations of
Jasper, a profound stillness reigned among them, each listening
intently in the vain hope of catching some clue to the result
of the fearful struggle that had just taken place, if it were not
still going on in the water. Nothing was audible beyond the steady
roar of the rushing river; it being a part of the policy of their
enemies on the opposite shore to observe the most deathlike stillness.
"Take this paddle, Jasper," said Pathfinder calmly, though the
listeners thought his voice sounded more melancholy than usual,
"and follow with your own canoe. It is unsafe for us to remain
"But the Serpent?"
"The Great Sarpent is in the hands of his own Deity, and will live
or die, according to the intentions of Providence. We can do him
no good, and may risk too much by remaining here in idleness, like
women talking over their distresses. This darkness is very precious."
A loud, long, piercing yell came from the shore, and cut short the
words of the guide.
"What is the meaning of that uproar, Master Pathfinder?" demanded
Cap. "It sounds more like the outcries of devils than anything
that can come from the throats of Christians and men."
"Christians they are not, and do not pretend to be, and do not
wish to be; and in calling them devils you have scarcely misnamed
them. That yell is one of rejoicing, and it is as conquerors they
have given it. The body of the Sarpent, no doubt, dead or alive,
is in their power.
"And we!" exclaimed Jasper, who felt a pang of generous regret, as
the idea that he might have averted the calamity presented itself
to his mind, had he not deserted his comrade.
"We can do the chief no good, lad, and must quit this spot as fast
"Without one attempt to rescue him? -- without even knowing whether
he be dead or living?"
"Jasper is right," said Mabel, who could speak, though her voice
sounded huskily and smothered; "I have no fears, uncle, and will
stay here until we know what has become of our friend."
"This seems reasonable, Pathfinder," put in Cap. "Your true seaman
cannot well desert a messmate; and I am glad to find that motives
so correct exist among those fresh-water people."
"Tut! tut!" returned the impatient guide, forcing the canoe into
the stream as he spoke; "ye know nothing and ye fear nothing. If
ye value your lives, think of reaching the garrison, and leave the
Delaware in the hands of Providence. Ah's me! the deer that goes
too often to the lick meets the hunter at last!"
And is this -- Yarrow? -- this the stream
Of which my fancy cherish'd
So faithfully a waking dream?
An image that hath perish'd?
Oh that some minstrel's harp were near,
To utter notes of gladness,
And chase this silence from the air,
That fills my heart with sadness.
THE scene was not without its sublimity, and the ardent, generous-minded
Mabel felt her blood thrill in her veins and her cheeks flush, as
the canoe shot into the strength of the stream, to quit the spot.
The darkness of the night had lessened, by the dispersion of the
clouds; but the overhanging woods rendered the shore so obscure,
that the boats floated down the current in a belt of gloom
that effectually secured them from detection. Still, there was
necessarily a strong feeling of insecurity in all on board them;
and even Jasper, who by this time began to tremble, in behalf of
the girl, at every unusual sound that arose from the forest, kept
casting uneasy glances around him as he drifted on in company.
The paddle was used lightly, and only with exceeding care; for the
slightest sound in the breathing stillness of that hour and place
might apprise the watchful ears of the Iroquois of their position.
All these accessories added to the impressive grandeur of
her situation, and contributed to render the moment much the most
exciting which had ever occurred in the brief existence of Mabel
Dunham. Spirited, accustomed to self-reliance, and sustained by
the pride of considering herself a soldier's daughter, she could
hardly be said to be under the influence of fear, yet her heart
often beat quicker than common, her fine blue eye lighted with an
exhibition of a resolution that was wasted in the darkness, and her
quickened feelings came in aid of the real sublimity that belonged
to the scene and to the incidents of the night.
"Mabel!" said the suppressed voice of Jasper, as the two canoes
floated so near each other that the hand of the young man held
them together, "you have no dread? You trust freely to our care
and willingness to protect you?"
"I am a soldier's daughter, as you know, Jasper Western, and ought
to be ashamed to confess fear."
"Rely on me -- on us all. Your uncle, Pathfinder, the Delaware,
were the poor fellow here, I myself, will risk everything rather
than harm should reach you."
"I believe you, Jasper," returned the girl, her hand unconsciously
playing in the water. "I know that my uncle loves me, and
will never think of himself until he has first thought of me; and
I believe you are all my father's friends, and would willingly
assist his child. But I am not so feeble and weak-minded as you
may think; for, though only a girl from the towns, and, like most
of that class, a little disposed to see danger where there is none,
I promise you, Jasper, no foolish fears of mine shall stand in the
way of your doing your duty."
"The Sergeant's daughter is right, and she is worthy of being honest
Thomas Dunham's child," put in the Pathfinder. "Ah's me, pretty
one! many is the time that your father and I have scouted and
marched together on the flanks and rear of the enemy, in nights
darker than this, and that, too, when we did not know but the next
moment would lead us into a bloody ambushment. I was at his side
when he got the wound in his shoulder; and the honest fellow will
tell you, when you meet, the manner in which we contrived to cross
the river which lay in our rear, in order to save his scalp."
"He has told me," said Mabel, with more energy perhaps than her
situation rendered prudent. "I have his letters, in which he has
mentioned all that, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart
for the service. God will remember it, Pathfinder; and there is
no gratitude that you can ask of the daughter which she will not
cheerfully repay for her father's life."
"Ay, that is the way with all your gentle and pure-hearted creatures.
I have seen some of you before, and have heard of others. The
Sergeant himself has talked to me of his own young days, and of
your mother, and of the manner in which he courted her, and of all
the crossings and disappointments, until he succeeded at last."
"My mother did not live long to repay him for what he did to win
her," said Mabel, with a trembling lip.
"So he tells me. The honest Sergeant has kept nothing back; for,
being so many years my senior, he has looked on me, in our many
scoutings together, as a sort of son."
"Perhaps, Pathfinder," observed Jasper, with a huskiness in his
voice that defeated the attempt at pleasantry, "he would be glad
to have you for one in reality."
"And if he did, Eau-douce, where would be the sin of it? He knows
what I am on a trail or a scout, and he has seen me often face to
face with the Frenchers. I have sometimes thought, lad, that we
all ought to seek for wives; for the man that lives altogether in
the woods, and in company with his enemies or his prey, gets to
lose some of the feeling of kind in the end. It is not easy to
dwell always in the presence of God and not feel the power of His
goodness. I have attended church-sarvice in the garrisons, and
tried hard, as becomes a true soldier, to join in the prayers;
for, though no enlisted sarvant of the king, I fight his battles and
sarve his cause, and so I have endeavored to worship garrison-fashion,
but never could raise within me the solemn feelings and true
affection that I feel when alone with God in the forest. There I
seem to stand face to face with my Master; all around me is fresh
and beautiful, as it came from His hand; and there is no nicety
or doctrine to chill the feelings. No no; the woods are the true
temple after all, for there the thoughts are free to mount higher
even than the clouds."
"You speak the truth, Master Pathfinder," said Cap, "and a truth
that all who live much in solitude know. What, for instance,
is the reason that seafaring men in general are so religious and
conscientious in all they do, but the fact that they are so often
alone with Providence, and have so little to do with the wickedness
of the land. Many and many is the time that I have stood my watch,
under the equator perhaps, or in the Southern Ocean, when the nights
are lighted up with the fires of heaven; and that is the time, I
can tell you, my hearties, to bring a man to his bearings in the
way of his sins. I have rattled down mine again and again under
such circumstances, until the shrouds and lanyards of conscience
have fairly creaked with the strain. I agree with you, Master
Pathfinder, therefore, in saying, if you want a truly religious
man, go to sea, or go into the woods."
"Uncle, I thought seamen had little credit generally for their
respect for religion?"
"All d----d slander, girl; for all the essentials of Christianity
the seaman beats the landsman hand-over-hand."
"I will not answer for all this, Master Cap," returned Pathfinder;
"but I daresay some of it may be true. I want no thunder and
lightning to remind me of my God, nor am I as apt to bethink on
most of all His goodness in trouble and tribulations as on a calm,
solemn, quiet day in a forest, when His voice is heard in the
creaking of a dead branch or in the song of a bird, as much in my
ears at least as it is ever heard in uproar and gales. How is it
with you, Eau-douce? you face the tempests as well as Master Cap,
and ought to know something of the feelings of storms."
"I fear that I am too young and too inexperienced to be able to
say much on such a subject," modestly answered Jasper.
"But you have your feelings!" said Mabel quickly. "You cannot --
no one can live among such scenes without feeling how much they
ought to trust in God!"
"I shall not belie my training so much as to say I do not sometimes
think of these things, but I fear it is not so often or so much as
"Fresh water," resumed Cap pithily; "you are not to expect too
much of the young man, Mabel. I think they call you sometimes by
a name which would insinuate all this: Eau-de-vie, is it not?"
"Eau-douce," quietly replied Jasper, who from sailing on the
lake had acquired a knowledge of French, as well as of several of
the Indian dialects. "It is a name the Iroquois have given me to
distinguish me from some of my companions who once sailed upon the
sea, and are fond of filling the ears of the natives with stories
of their great salt-water lakes."
"And why shouldn't they? I daresay they do the savages no harm.
Ay, ay, Eau-deuce; that must mean the white brandy, which may well
enough be called the deuce, for deuced stuff it is!"
"The signification of Eau-douce is sweet-water, and it is the
manner in which the French express fresh-water," rejoined Jasper,
a little nettled.
"And how the devil do they make water out of Eau-in-deuce, when
it means brandy in Eau-de-vie? Besides, among seamen, Eau always
means brandy; and Eau-de-vie, brandy of a high proof. I think
nothing of your ignorance, young man; for it is natural to your
situation, and cannot be helped. If you will return with me, and
make a v'y'ge or two on the Atlantic, it will serve you a good
turn the remainder of your days; and Mabel there, and all the other
young women near the coast, will think all the better of you should
you live to be as old as one of the trees in this forest."
"Nay, nay," interrupted the single-hearted and generous guide;
"Jasper wants not for friends in this region, I can assure you; and
though seeing the world, according to his habits, may do him good
as well as another, we shall think none the worse of him if he never
quits us. Eau-douce or Eau-de-vie, he is a brave, true-hearted
youth, and I always sleep as soundly when he is on the watch as
if I was up and stirring myself; ay, and for that matter, sounder
too. The Sergeant's daughter here doesn't believe it necessary for
the lad to go to sea in order to make a man of him, or one who is
worthy to be respected and esteemed."
Mabel made no reply to this appeal, and she even looked towards the
western shore, although the darkness rendered the natural movements
unnecessary to conceal her face. But Jasper felt that there was a
necessity for his saying something, the pride of youth and manhood
revolting at the idea of his being in a condition not to command the
respect of his fellows or the smiles of his equals of the other
sex. Still he was unwilling to utter aught that might be considered
harsh to the uncle of Mabel; and his self-command was perhaps more
creditable than his modesty and spirit.
"I pretend not to things I don't possess," he said, "and lay no
claim to any knowledge of the ocean or of navigation. We steer by
the stars and the compass on these lakes, running from headland
to headland; and having little need of figures and calculations,
make no use of them. But we have our claims notwithstanding, as
I have often heard from those who have passed years on the ocean.
In the first place, we have always the land aboard, and much of the
time on a lee-shore, and that I have frequently heard makes hardy
sailors. Our gales are sudden and severe, and we are compelled
to run for our ports at all hours."
"You have your leads," interrupted Cap.
"They are of little use, and are seldom cast."
"I have heard of such things, but confess I never saw one."
"Oh! deuce, with a vengeance. A trader, and no deep-sea! Why,
boy, you cannot pretend to be anything of a mariner. Who the
devil ever heard of a seaman without his deep-sea?"
"I do not pretend to any particular skill, Master Cap."
"Except in shooting falls, Jasper, except in shooting falls and
rifts," said Pathfinder, coming to the rescue; "in which business
even you, Master Cap, must allow he has some handiness. In my
judgment, every man is to be esteemed or condemned according to his
gifts; and if Master Cap is useless in running the Oswego Falls,
I try to remember that he is useful when out of sight of land; and
if Jasper be useless when out of sight of land, I do not forget
that he has a true eye and steady hand when running the falls."
"But Jasper is not useless -- would not be useless when out of
sight of land," said Mabel, with a spirit and energy that caused
her clear sweet voice to be startling amid the solemn stillness of
that extraordinary scene. "No one can be useless there who can do
so much here, is what I mean; though, I daresay, he is not as well
acquainted with ships as my uncle."
"Ay, bolster each other up in your ignorance," returned Cap with
a sneer. "We seamen are so much out-numbered when ashore that it
is seldom we get our dues; but when you want to be defended, or
trade is to be carried on, there is outcry enough for us."
"But, uncle, landsmen do not come to attack our coasts; so that
seamen only meet seamen."
"So much for ignorance! Where are all the enemies that have landed
in this country, French and English, let me inquire, niece?"
"Sure enough, where are they?" ejaculated Pathfinder. "None can
tell better than we who dwell in the woods, Master Cap. I have
often followed their line of march by bones bleaching in the rain,
and have found their trail by graves, years after they and their
pride had vanished together. Generals and privates, they lay
scattered throughout the land, so many proofs of what men are when
led on by their love of great names and the wish to be more than
"I must say, Master Pathfinder, that you sometimes utter opinions
that are a little remarkable for a man who lives by the rifle;
seldom snuffing the air but he smells gunpowder, or turning out of
his berth but to bear down on an enemy."
"If you think I pass my days in warfare against my kind, you know
neither me nor my history. The man that lives in the woods and on
the frontiers must take the chances of the things among which he
dwells. For this I am not accountable, being but an humble and
powerless hunter and scout and guide. My real calling is to hunt
for the army, on its marches and in times of peace; although I
am more especially engaged in the service of one officer, who is
now absent in the settlements, where I never follow him. No, no;
bloodshed and warfare are not my real gifts, but peace and mercy.
Still, I must face the enemy as well as another; and as for a
Mingo, I look upon him as man looks on a snake, a creatur' to be
put beneath the heel whenever a fitting occasion offers."
"Well, well; I have mistaken your calling, which I had thought
as regularly warlike as that of a ship's gunner. There is my
brother-in-law, now; he has been a soldier since he was sixteen,
and he looks upon his trade as every way as respectable as that of
a seafaring man, a point I hardly think it worth while to dispute
"My father has been taught to believe that it is honorable to carry
arms," said Mabel, "for his father was a soldier before him."
"Yes, yes," resumed the guide; "most of the Sergeant's gifts are
martial, and he looks at most things in this world over the barrel
of his musket. One of his notions, now, is to prefer a king's piece
to a regular, double-sighted, long-barrelled rifle. Such conceits
will come over men from long habit; and prejudice is, perhaps, the
commonest failing of human natur'."
While the desultory conversation just related had been carried on
in subdued voices, the canoes were dropping slowly down with the
current within the deep shadows of the western shore, the paddles
being used merely to preserve the desired direction and proper
positions. The strength of the stream varied materially, the water
being seemingly still in places, while in other reaches it flowed
at a rate exceeding two or even three miles in the hour. On the
rifts it even dashed forward with a velocity that was appalling to
the unpractised eye. Jasper was of opinion that they might drift
down with the current to the mouth of the river in two hours from
the time they left the shore, and he and the Pathfinder had agreed
on the expediency of suffering the canoes to float of themselves
for a time, or at least until they had passed the first dangers
of their new movement. The dialogue had been carried on in voices,
too, guardedly low; for though the quiet of deep solitude reigned
in that vast and nearly boundless forest, nature was speaking
with her thousand tongues in the eloquent language of night in a
wilderness. The air sighed through ten thousand trees, the water
rippled, and at places even roared along the shores; and now and
then was heard the creaking of a branch or a trunk, as it rubbed
against some object similar to itself, under the vibrations of a
nicely balanced body. All living sounds had ceased. Once, it is
true, the Pathfinder fancied he heard the howl of a distant wolf,
of which a few prowled through these woods; but it was a transient
and doubtful cry, that might possibly have been attributed to the
imagination. When he desired his companions, however, to cease
talking, his vigilant ear had caught the peculiar sound which is
made by the parting of a dried branch of a tree and which, if his
senses did not deceive him, came from the western shore. All who
are accustomed to that particular sound will understand how readily
the ear receives it, and how easy it is to distinguish the tread
which breaks the branch from every other noise of the forest.
"There is the footstep of a man on the bank," said Pathfinder
to Jasper, speaking in neither a whisper nor yet in a voice loud
enough to be heard at any distance. "Can the accursed Iroquois have
crossed the river already, with their arms, and without a boat?"
"It may be the Delaware. He would follow us, of course down this
bank, and would know where to look for us. Let me draw closer into
the shore, and reconnoitre."
"Go boy but be light with the paddle, and on no account venture
ashore on an onsartainty."
"Is this prudent?" demanded Mabel, with an impetuosity that rendered
her incautious in modulating her sweet voice.
"Very imprudent, if you speak so loud, fair one. I like your
voice, which is soft and pleasing, after the listening so long to
the tones of men; but it must not be heard too much, or too freely,
just now. Your father, the honest Sergeant, will tell you, when
you meet him, that silence is a double virtue on a trail. Go,
Jasper, and do justice to your own character for prudence."
Ten anxious minutes succeeded the disappearance of the canoe of
Jasper, which glided away from that of the Pathfinder so noiselessly,
that it had been swallowed up in the gloom before Mabel allowed
herself to believe the young man would really venture alone on
a service which struck her imagination as singularly dangerous.
During this time, the party continued to float with the current,
no one speaking, and, it might almost be said, no one breathing,
so strong was the general desire to catch the minutest sound that
should come from the shore. But the same solemn, we might, indeed,
say sublime, quiet reigned as before; the washing of the water,
as it piled up against some slight obstruction, and the sighing of
the trees, alone interrupting the slumbers of the forest. At the
end of the period mentioned, the snapping of dried branches was
again faintly heard, and the Pathfinder fancied that the sound of
smothered voices reached him.
"I may be mistaken," he said, "for the thoughts often fancy what
the heart wishes; but these were notes like the low tones of the
"Do the dead of the savages ever walk?" demanded Cap.
"Ay, and run too, in their happy hunting-grounds, but nowhere
else. A red-skin finishes with the 'arth, after the breath quits
the body. It is not one of his gifts to linger around his wigwam
when his hour has passed."
"I see some object on the water," whispered Mabel, whose eye had
not ceased to dwell on the body of gloom, with close intensity,
since the disappearance of Jasper.
"It is the canoe," returned the guide, greatly relieved. "All must
be safe, or we should have heard from the lad."
In another minute the two canoes, which became visible to those
they carried only as they drew near each other, again floated side
by side, and the form of Jasper was recognized at the stern of his
own boat. The figure of a second man was seated in the bow; and,
as the young sailor so wielded his paddle as to bring the face of
his companion near the eyes of the Pathfinder and Mabel, they both
recognized the person of the Delaware.
"Chingachgook -- my brother!" said the guide in the dialect of
the other's people, a tremor shaking his voice that betrayed the
strength of his feelings. "Chief of the Mohicans! My heart is very
glad. Often have we passed through blood and strife together, but
I was afraid it was never to be so again."
"Hugh! The Mingos are squaws! Three of their scalps hang at my
girdle. They do not know how to strike the Great Serpent of the
Delawares. Their hearts have no blood; and their thoughts are on
their return path, across the waters of the Great Lake."
"Have you been among them, chief? and what has become of the warrior
who was in the river?"
"He has turned into a fish, and lies at the bottom with the eels!
Let his brothers bait their hooks for him. Pathfinder, I have
counted the enemy, and have touched their rifles."
"Ah, I thought he would be venturesome!" exclaimed the guide in
English. "The risky fellow has been in the midst of them, and has
brought us back their whole history. Speak, Chingachgook, and I
will make our friends as knowing as ourselves."
The Delaware now related in a low earnest manner the substance of
all his discoveries, since he was last seen struggling with his
foe in the river. Of the fate of his antagonist he said no more,
it not being usual for a warrior to boast in his more direct and
useful narratives. As soon as he had conquered in that fearful
strife, however, he swam to the eastern shore, landed with caution,
and wound his way in amongst the Iroquois, concealed by the darkness,
undetected, and, in the main, even unsuspected. Once, indeed, he
had been questioned; but answering that he was Arrowhead, no further
inquiries were made. By the passing remarks, he soon ascertained
that the party was out expressly to intercept Mabel and her uncle,
concerning whose rank, however, they had evidently been deceived.
He also ascertained enough to justify the suspicion that Arrowhead
had betrayed them to their enemies, for some motive that it was
not now easy to reach, as he had not yet received the reward of
Pathfinder communicated no more of this intelligence to his companions
than he thought might relieve their apprehensions, intimating, at
the same time, that now was the moment for exertion, the Iroquois
not having yet entirely recovered from the confusion created by
"We shall find them at the rift, I make no manner of doubt,"
continued he; "and there it will be our fate to pass them, or to
fall into their hands. The distance to the garrison will then be
so short, that I have been thinking of a plan of landing with Mabel
myself, that I may take her in, by some of the by-ways, and leave
the canoes to their chances in the rapids."
"It will never succeed, Pathfinder," eagerly interrupted Jasper.
"Mabel is not strong enough to tramp the woods in a night like
this. Put her in my skiff, and I will lose my life, or carry her
through the rift safely, dark as it is."
"No doubt you will, lad; no one doubts your willingness to do
anything to serve the Sergeant's daughter; but it must be the eye
of Providence, and not your own, that will take you safely through
the Oswego rift in a night like this."
"And who will lead her safely to the garrison if she land? Is not
the night as dark on shore as on the water? or do you think I know
less of my calling than you know of yours?"
"Spiritedly said, lad; but if I should lose my way in the dark
-- and I believe no man can say truly that such a thing ever yet
happened to me -- but, if I _should_ lose my way, no other harm
would come of it than to pass a night in the forest; whereas a
false turn of the paddle, or a broad sheer of the canoe, would put
you and the young woman into the river, out of which it is more
than probable the Sergeant's daughter would never come alive."
"I will leave it to Mabel herself; I am certain that she will feel
more secure in the canoe."
"I have great confidence in you both," answered the girl; "and have
no doubts that either will do all he can to prove to my father how
much he values him; but I confess I should not like to quit the
canoe, with the certainty we have of there being enemies like those
we have seen in the forest. But my uncle can decide for me in
"I have no liking for the woods," said Cap, "while one has a clear
drift like this on the river. Besides, Master Pathfinder, to say
nothing of the savages, you overlook the sharks."
"Sharks! Who ever heard of sharks in the wilderness?"
"Ay! Sharks, or bears, or wolves -- no matter what you call a
thing, so it has the mind and power to bite."
"Lord, lord, man! Do you dread any creatur' that is to be found
in the American forest? A catamount is a skeary animal, I will
allow, but then it is nothing in the hands of a practysed hunter.
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