James Fenimore Cooper
Part 3 out of 10
Talk of the Mingos and their devilries if you will; but do not
raise a false alarm about bears and wolves."
"Ay, ay, Master Pathfinder, this is all well enough for you,
who probably know the name of every creature you would meet. Use
is everything, and it makes a man bold when he might otherwise be
bashful. I have known seamen in the low latitudes swim for hours
at a time among sharks fifteen or twenty feet long."
"This is extraordinary!" exclaimed Jasper, who had not yet acquired
that material part of his trade, the ability to spin a yarn. "I
have always heard that it was certain death to venture in the water
"I forgot to say, that the lads always took capstan-bars, or gunners'
handspikes, or crows with them, to rap the beasts over the noses
if they got to be troublesome. No, no, I have no liking for bears
and wolves, though a whale, in my eye, is very much the same sort
of fish as a red herring after it is dried and salted. Mabel and
I had better stick to the canoe."
"Mabel would do well to change canoes," added Jasper. "This of
mine is empty, and even Pathfinder will allow that my eye is surer
than his own on the water."
"That I will, cheerfully, boy. The water belongs to your gifts,
and no one will deny that you have improved them to the utmost.
You are right enough in believing that the Sergeant's daughter will
be safer in your canoe than in this; and though I would gladly keep
her near myself, I have her welfare too much at heart not to give
her honest advice. Bring your canoe close alongside, Jasper, and
I will give you what you must consider as a precious treasure."
"I do so consider it," returned the youth, not losing a moment in
complying with the request; when Mabel passed from one canoe to the
other taking her seat on the effects which had hitherto composed
its sole cargo.
As soon as this arrangement was made, the canoes separated a short
distance, and the paddles were used, though with great care to
avoid making any noise. The conversation gradually ceased; and
as the dreaded rift was approached, all became impressed with the
gravity of the moment. That their enemies would endeavor to reach
this point before them was almost certain; and it seemed so little
probable any one should attempt to pass it, in the profound obscurity
which reigned, that Pathfinder was confident parties were on both
sides of the river, in the hope of intercepting them when they
might land. He would not have made the proposal he did had he not
felt sure of his own ability to convert this very anticipation of
success into a means of defeating the plans of the Iroquois. As
the arrangement now stood, however, everything depended on the skill
of those who guided the canoes; for should either hit a rock, if
not split asunder, it would almost certainly be upset, and then
would come not only all the hazards of the river itself, but, for
Mabel, the certainty of falling into the hands of her pursuers.
The utmost circumspection consequently became necessary, and each
one was too much engrossed with his own thoughts to feel a disposition
to utter more than was called for by the exigencies of the case.
At the canoes stole silently along, the roar of the rift became
audible, and it required all the fortitude of Cap to keep his seat,
while these boding sounds were approached, amid a darkness which
scarcely permitted a view of the outlines of the wooded shore and
of the gloomy vault above his head. He retained a vivid impression
of the falls, and his imagination was not now idle in swelling the
dangers of the rift to a level with those of the headlong descent
he had that day made, and even to increase them, under the influence
of doubt and uncertainty. In this, however, the old mariner was
mistaken, for the Oswego Rift and the Oswego Falls are very different
in their characters and violence; the former being no more than
a rapid, that glances among shallows and rocks, while the latter
really deserved the name it bore, as has been already shown.
Mabel certainly felt distrust and apprehension; but her entire
situation was so novel, and her reliance on her guide so great,
that she retained a self-command which might not have existed had
she clearer perceptions of the truth, or been better acquainted
with the helplessness of men when placed in opposition to the power
and majesty of Nature.
"Is that the spot you have mentioned?" she said to
Jasper, when the roar of the rift first came distinctly on her
"It is; and I beg you to have confidence in me. We are not
old acquaintances, Mabel; but we live many days in one, in this
wilderness. I think, already, that I have known you years!"
"And I do not feel as if you were a stranger to me, Jasper. I
have every reliance on your skill, as well as on your disposition
to serve me."
"We shall see, we shall see. Pathfinder is striking the rapids
too near the centre of the river; the bed of the water is closer to
the eastern shore; but I cannot make him hear me now. Hold firmly
to the canoe, Mabel, and fear nothing."
At the next moment the swift current had sucked them into the
rift, and for three or four minutes the awe-struck, rather than the
alarmed, girl saw nothing around her but sheets of glancing foam,
heard nothing but the roar of waters. Twenty times did the canoe
appear about to dash against some curling and bright wave that
showed itself even amid that obscurity; and as often did it glide
away again unharmed, impelled by the vigorous arm of him who
governed its movements. Once, and once only, did Jasper seem to
lose command of his frail bark, during which brief space it fairly
whirled entirely round; but by a desperate effort he brought it again
under control, recovered the lost channel, and was soon rewarded
for all his anxiety by finding himself floating quietly in the
deep water below the rapids, secure from every danger, and without
having taken in enough of the element to serve for a draught.
"All is over, Mabel," the young man cried cheerfully. "The danger
is past, and you may now indeed hope to meet your father this very
"God be praised! Jasper, we shall owe this great happiness to
"The Pathfinder may claim a full share in the merit; but what has
become of the other canoe?"
"I see something near us on the water; is it not the boat of our
A few strokes of the paddle brought Jasper to the side of the object
in question: it was the other canoe, empty and bottom upwards. No
sooner did the young man ascertain this fact, than he began to search
for the swimmers, and, to his great joy, Cap was soon discovered
drifting down with the current; the old seaman preferring the
chances of drowning to those of landing among savages. He was
hauled into the canoe, though not without difficulty, and then the
search ended; for Jasper was persuaded that the Pathfinder would wade
to the shore, the water being shallow, in preference to abandoning
his beloved rifle.
The remainder of the passage was short, though made amid darkness
and doubt. After a short pause, a dull roaring sound was heard,
which at times resembled the mutterings of distant thunder, and then
again brought with it the washing of waters. Jasper announced to
his companions that they now heard the surf of the lake. Low curved
spits of land lay before them, into the bay formed by one of which
the canoe glided, and then it shot up noiselessly upon a gravelly
beach. The transition that followed was so hurried and great, that
Mabel scarcely knew what passed. In the course of a few minutes,
however, sentinels had been passed, a gate was opened, and the
agitated girl found herself in the arms of a parent who was almost
a stranger to her.
A land of love, and a land of light,
Withouten sun, or moon, or night:
Where the river swa'd a living stream,
And the light a pure celestial beam:
The land of vision, it would seem
A still, an everlasting dream.
The rest that succeeds fatigue, and which attends a newly awakened
sense of security, is generally sweet and deep. Such was the fact
with Mabel, who did not rise from her humble pallet -- such a bed
as a sergeant's daughter might claim in a remote frontier post --
until long after the garrison had obeyed the usual summons of the
drums, and had assembled at the morning parade. Sergeant Dunham,
on whose shoulders fell the task of attending to these ordinary
and daily duties, had got through all his morning avocations, and
was beginning to think of his breakfast, before his child left her
room, and came into the fresh air, equally bewildered, delighted,
and grateful, at the novelty and security of her new situation.
At the time of which we are writing, Oswego was one of the extreme
frontier posts of the British possessions on this continent. It
had not been long occupied, and was garrisoned by a battalion of
a regiment which had been originally Scotch, but into which many
Americans had been received since its arrival in this country; all
innovation that had led the way to Mabel's father filling the humble
but responsible situation of the oldest sergeant. A few young
officers also, who were natives of the colonies, were to be found
in the corps. The fort itself, like most works of that character,
was better adapted to resist an attack of savages than to withstand
a regular siege; but the great difficulty of transporting heavy
artillery and other necessaries rendered the occurrence of the latter
a probability so remote as scarcely to enter into the estimate of
the engineers who had planned the defences. There were bastions
of earth and logs, a dry ditch, a stockade, a parade of considerable
extent, and barracks of logs, that answered the double purpose of
dwellings and fortifications. A few light field-pieces stood in
the area of the fort, ready to be conveyed to any point where they
might be wanted, and one or two heavy iron guns looked out from
the summits of the advanced angles, as so many admonitions to the
audacious to respect their power.
When Mabel, quitting the convenient, but comparatively retired hut
where her father had been permitted to place her, issued into the
pure air of the morning, she found herself at the foot of a bastion,
which lay invitingly before her, with a promise of giving a _coup
d'oeil_ of all that had been concealed in the darkness of the
preceding night. Tripping up the grassy ascent, the light-hearted
as well as light-footed girl found herself at once on a point where
the sight, at a few varying glances, could take in all the external
novelties of her new situation.
To the southward lay the forest, through which she had been journeying
so many weary days, and which had proved so full of dangers. It was
separated from the stockade by a belt of open land, that had been
principally cleared of its woods to form the martial constructions
around her. This glacis, for such in fact was its military uses,
might have covered a hundred acres; but with it every sign of civilization
ceased. All beyond was forest; that dense, interminable forest
which Mabel could now picture to herself, through her recollections,
with its hidden glassy lakes, its dark rolling stream, and its
world of nature.
Turning from this view, our heroine felt her cheek fanned by a
fresh and grateful breeze, such as she had not experienced since
quitting the far distant coast. Here a new scene presented itself:
although expected, it was not without a start, and a low exclamation
indicative of pleasure, that the eager eyes of the girl drank in its
beauties. To the north, and east, and west, in every direction,
in short, over one entire half of the novel panorama, lay a field
of rolling waters. The element was neither of that glassy green
which distinguishes the American waters in general, nor yet of the
deep blue of the ocean, the color being of a slightly amber hue,
which scarcely affected its limpidity. No land was to be seen,
with the exception of the adjacent coast, which stretched to the
right and left in an unbroken outline of forest with wide bays and
low headlands or points; still, much of the shore was rocky, and
into its caverns the sluggish waters occasionally rolled, producing
a hollow sound, which resembled the concussions of a distant gun.
No sail whitened the surface, no whale or other fish gambolled on
its bosom, no sign of use or service rewarded the longest and most
minute gaze at its boundless expanse. It was a scene, on one
side, of apparently endless forests, while a waste of seemingly
interminable water spread itself on the other. Nature appeared to
have delighted in producing grand effects, by setting two of her
principal agents in bold relief to each other, neglecting details;
the eye turning from the broad carpet of leaves to the still broader
field of fluid, from the endless but gentle heavings of the lake
to the holy calm and poetical solitude of the forest, with wonder
Mabel Dunham, though unsophisticated, like most of her countrywomen
of that period, and ingenuous and frank as any warm-hearted and
sincere-minded girl well could be, was not altogether without a
feeling for the poetry of this beautiful earth of ours. Although
she could scarcely be said to be educated at all, for few of her
sex at that day and in this country received much more than the
rudiments of plain English instruction, still she had been taught
much more than was usual for young women in her own station in life;
and, in one sense certainly, she did credit to her teaching. The
widow of a field-officer, who formerly belonged to the same regiment
as her father, had taken the child in charge at the death of its
mother; and under the care of this lady Mabel had acquired some
tastes and many ideas which otherwise might always have remained
strangers to her. Her situation in the family had been less that
of a domestic than of a humble companion, and the results were
quite apparent in her attire, her language, her sentiments, and
even in her feelings, though neither, perhaps, rose to the level
of those which would properly characterize a lady. She had lost
the less refined habits and manners of one in her original position,
without having quite reached a point that disqualified her for the
situation in life that the accidents of birth and fortune would
probably compel her to fill. All else that was distinctive and
peculiar in her belonged to natural character.
With such antecedents it will occasion the reader no wonder if he
learns that Mabel viewed the novel scene before her with a pleasure
far superior to that produced by vulgar surprise. She felt its
ordinary beauties as most would have felt them, but she had also a
feeling for its sublimity -- for that softened solitude, that calm
grandeur, and eloquent repose, which ever pervades broad views of
natural objects yet undisturbed by the labors and struggles of man.
"How beautiful!" she exclaimed, unconscious of speaking, as she
stood on the solitary bastion, facing the air from the lake, and
experiencing the genial influence of its freshness pervading both
her body and her mind. "How very beautiful! and yet how singular!"
The words, and the train of her ideas, were interrupted by a
touch of a finger on her shoulder, and turning, in the expectation
of seeing her father, Mabel found Pathfinder at her side. He was
leaning quietly on his long rifle, and laughing in his quiet manner,
while, with an outstretched arm, he swept over the whole panorama
of land and water.
"Here you have both our domains," said he, -- "Jasper's and mine.
The lake is for him, and the woods are for me. The lad sometimes
boasts of the breadth of his dominions; but I tell him my trees
make as broad a plain on the face of this 'arth as all his water.
Well, Mabel, you are fit for either; for I do not see that fear of
the Mingos, or night-marches, can destroy your pretty looks."
"It is a new character for the Pathfinder to appear in, to compliment
a silly girl."
"Not silly, Mabel; no, not in the least silly. The Sergeant's
daughter would do discredit to her worthy father, were she to do
or say anything that could be called silly."
"Then she must take care and not put too much faith in treacherous,
flattering words. But, Pathfinder, I rejoice to see you among us
again; for, though Jasper did not seem to feel much uneasiness, I
was afraid some accident might have happened to you and your friend
on that frightful rift."
"The lad knows us both, and was sartain that we should not drown,
which is scarcely one of my gifts. It would have been hard swimming
of a sartainty, with a long-barrelled rifle in the hand; and what
between the game, and the savages and the French, Killdeer and
I have gone through too much in company to part very easily. No,
no; we waded ashore, the rift being shallow enough for that with
small exceptions, and we landed with our arms in our hands. We had
to take our time for it, on account of the Iroquois, I will own;
but, as soon as the skulking vagabonds saw the lights that the
Sergeant sent down to your canoe, we well understood they would
decamp, since a visit might have been expected from some of the
garrison. So it was only sitting patiently on the stones for an
hour, and all the danger was over. Patience is the greatest of
virtues in a woodsman."
"I rejoice to hear this, for fatigue itself could scarcely make me
sleep, for thinking of what might befall you."
"Lord bless your tender little heart, Mabel! but this is the way
with all you gentle ones. I must say, on my part, however, that
I was right glad to see the lanterns come down to the waterside,
which I knew to be a sure sign of _your_ safety. We hunters and
guides are rude beings; but we have our feelings and our idees,
as well as any general in the army. Both Jasper and I would have
died before you should have come to harm -- we would."
"I thank you for all you did for me, Pathfinder; from the bottom
of my heart, I thank you; and, depend on it, my father shall know
it. I have already told him much, but have still a duty to perform
on this subject."
"Tush, Mabel! The Sergeant knows what the woods be, and what
men -- true red men -- be, too. There is little need to tell him
anything about it. Well, now you have met your father, do you find
the honest old soldier the sort of person you expected to find ?"
"He is my own dear father, and received me as a soldier and a father
should receive a child. Have you known him long, Pathfinder?"
"That is as people count time. I was just twelve when the Sergeant
took me on my first scouting, and that is now more than twenty
years ago. We had a tramping time of it; and, as it was before
your day, you would have had no father, had not the rifle been one
of my natural gifts."
"It is too simple for many words. We were ambushed, and the Sergeant
got a bad hurt, and would have lost his scalp, but for a sort of
inbred turn I took to the weapon. We brought him off, however,
and a handsomer head of hair, for his time of life, is not to be
found in the rijiment than the Sergeant carries about with him this
"You saved my father's life, Pathfinder!" exclaimed Mabel,
unconsciously, though warmly, taking one of his hard, sinewy hands
into both her own. "God bless you for this, too, among your other
"Nay, I did not say that much, though I believe I did save his scalp.
A man might live without a scalp, and so I cannot say I saved his
life. Jasper may say that much consarning you; for without his eye
and arm the canoe would never have passed the rift in safety on a
night like the last. The gifts of the lad are for the water, while
mine are for the hunt and the trail. He is yonder, in the cove
there, looking after the canoes, and keeping his eye on his beloved
little craft. To my eye, there is no likelier youth in these parts
than Jasper Western."
For the first time since she had left her room, Mabel now turned
her eyes beneath her, and got a view of what might be called the
foreground of the remarkable picture she had been studying with
so much pleasure. The Oswego threw its dark waters into the lake,
between banks of some height; that on its eastern side being bolder
and projecting farther north than that on its western. The fort
was on the latter, and immediately beneath it were a few huts of
logs, which, as they could not interfere with the defence of the
place, had been erected along the strand for the purpose of receiving
and containing such stores as were landed, or were intended to
be embarked, in the communications between the different ports on
the shores of Ontario. Two low, curved, gravelly points had been
formed with surprising regularity by the counteracting forces of
the northerly winds and the swift current, and, inclining from the
storms of the lake, formed two coves within the river: that on
the western side was the most deeply indented; and, as it also had
the most water, it formed a sort of picturesque little port for
the post. It was along the narrow strand that lay between the
low height of the fort and the water of this cove, that the rude
buildings just mentioned had been erected.
Several skiffs, bateaux, and canoes were hauled up on the shore, and
in the cove itself lay the little craft from which Jasper obtained
his claim to be considered a sailor. She was cutter-rigged, might
have been of forty tons burthen, was so neatly constructed and
painted as to have something of the air of a vessel of war, though
entirely without quarters, and rigged and sparred with so scrupulous
a regard to proportions and beauty, as well as fitness and judgment,
as to give her an appearance that even Mabel at once distinguished
to be gallant and trim. Her mould was admirable, for a wright
of great skill had sent her drafts from England, at the express
request of the officer who had caused her to be constructed; her
paint dark, warlike, and neat; and the long coach-whip pennant that
she wore at once proclaimed her to be the property of the king.
Her name was the _Scud_.
"That, then, is the vessel of Jasper!" said Mabel, who associated
the master of the little craft very naturally with the cutter
itself. "Are there many others on this lake?"
"The Frenchers have three: one of which, they tell me, is a real
ship, such as are used on the ocean; another a brig; and a third
is a cutter, like the _Scud_ here, which they call the _Squirrel_,
in their own tongue, however; and which seems to have a natural
hatred of our own pretty boat, for Jasper seldom goes out that the
_Squirrel_ is not at his heels."
"And is Jasper one to run from a Frenchman, though he appears in
the shape of a squirrel, and that, too, on the water?"
"Of what use would valor be without the means of turning it to
account? Jasper is a brave boy, as all on this frontier know; but
he has no gun except a little howitzer, and then his crew consists
only of two men besides himself, and a boy. I was with him in
one of his trampooses, and the youngster was risky enough, for
he brought us so near the enemy that rifles began to talk; but
the Frenchers carry cannon and ports, and never show their faces
outside of Frontenac, without having some twenty men, besides
their _Squirrel_, in their cutter. No, no; this _Scud_ was built
for flying, and the major says he will not put her in a fighting
humor by giving her men and arms, lest she should take him at his
word, and get her wings clipped. I know little of these things,
for my gifts are not at all in that way; but I see the reason of
the thing --I see its reason, though Jasper does not."
"Ah! Here is my uncle, none the worse for his swim, coming to look
at this inland sea."
Sure enough, Cap, who had announced his approach by a couple of
lusty hems, now made his appearance on the bastion, where, after
nodding to his niece and her companion, he made a deliberate survey
of the expanse of water before him. In order to effect this at
his ease, the mariner mounted on one of the old iron guns, folded
his arms across his breast, and balanced his body, as if he felt
the motion of a vessel. To complete the picture, he had a short
pipe in his mouth.
"Well, Master Cap," asked the Pathfinder innocently, for he did
not detect the expression of contempt that was gradually settling
on the features of the other; "is it not a beautiful sheet, and
fit to be named a sea?"
"This, then, is what you call your lake?" demanded Cap, sweeping
the northern horizon with his pipe. "I say, is this really your
"Sartain; and, if the judgment of one who has lived on the shores
of many others can be taken, a very good lake it is."
"Just as I expected. A pond in dimensions, and a scuttle-butt in
taste. It is all in vain to travel inland, in the hope of seeing
anything either full-grown or useful. I knew it would turn out
just in this way."
"What is the matter with Ontario, Master Cap? It is large, and
fair to look at, and pleasant enough to drink, for those who can't
get at the water of the springs."
"Do you call this large?" asked Cap, again sweeping the air with the
pipe. "I will just ask you what there is large about it? Didn't
Jasper himself confess that it was only some twenty leagues from
shore to shore?"
"But, uncle," interposed Mabel, "no land is to be seen, except here
on our own coast. To me it looks exactly like the ocean."
"This bit of a pond look like the ocean! Well, Magnet, that from
a girl who has had real seamen in her family is downright nonsense.
What is there about it, pray, that has even the outline of a sea
"Why, there is water -- water -- water -- nothing but water, for
miles on miles -- far as the eye can see."
"And isn't there water -- water -- water -- nothing but water for
miles on miles in your rivers, that you have been canoeing through,
too? -- Ay, and 'as far as the eye can see,' in the bargain?"
"Yes, uncle, but the rivers have their banks, and there are trees
along them, and they are narrow."
"And isn't this a bank where we stand? Don't these soldiers call
this the bank of the lake? And aren't there trees in thousands?
And aren't twenty leagues narrow enough of all conscience? Who
the devil ever heard of the banks of the ocean, unless it might be
the banks that are under water?"
"But, uncle, we cannot see across this lake, as we can see across
"There you are out, Magnet. Aren't the Amazon and Oronoco and La
Plata rivers, and can you see across them? Hark'e Pathfinder, I
very much doubt if this stripe of water here be even a lake; for to
me it appears to be only a river. You are by no means particular
about your geography, I find, up here in the woods."
"There _you_ are out, Master Cap. There is a river, and a noble
one too, at each end of it; but this is old Ontario before you;
and, though it is not my gift to live on a lake, to my judgment
there are few better than this."
"And, uncle, if we stood on the beach at Rockaway, what more should
we see than we now behold? There is a shore on one side, or banks
there, and trees too, as well as those which are here."
"This is perverseness, Magnet, and young girls should steer clear
of anything like obstinacy. In the first place, the ocean has
coasts, but no banks, except the Grand Banks, as I tell you, which
are out of sight of land; and you will not pretend that this bank
is out of sight of land, or even under water?"
As Mabel could not very plausibly set up this extravagant opinion,
Cap pursued the subject, his countenance beginning to discover
the triumph of a successful disputant.
"And then them trees bear no comparison to these trees. The coasts
of the ocean have farms and cities and country-seats, and, in some
parts of the world, castles and monasteries and lighthouses -- ay,
ay -- lighthouses, in particular, on them; not one of all which
things is to be seen here. No, no, Master Pathfinder; I never heard
of an ocean that hadn't more or less lighthouses on it; whereas,
hereaway there is not even a beacon."
"There is what is better, there is what is better; a forest and
noble trees, a fit temple of God."
"Ay, your forest may do for a lake; but of what use would an
ocean be if the earth all around it were forest? Ships would be
unnecessary, as timber might be floated in rafts, and there would
be an end of trade, and what would a world be without trade? I am
of that philosopher's opinion who says human nature was invented
for the purposes of trade. Magnet, I am astonished that you should
think this water even looks like sea-water! Now, I daresay that
there isn't such a thing as a whale in all your lake, Master
"I never heard of one, I will confess; but I am no judge of animals
that live in the water, unless it be the fishes of the rivers and
"Nor a grampus, nor a porpoise even? not so much as a poor devil
of a shark?"
"I will not take it on myself to say there is either. My gifts
are not in that way, I tell you, Master Cap."
"Nor herring, nor albatross, nor flying-fish?" continued Cap, who
kept his eye fastened on the guide, in order to see how far he
might venture. "No such thing as a fish that can fly, I daresay?"
"A fish that can fly! Master Cap, Master Cap, do not think, because
we are mere borderers, that we have no idees of natur', and what she
has been pleased to do. I know there are squirrels that can fly -- "
"A squirrel fly! -- The devil, Master Pathfinder! Do you suppose
that you have got a boy on his first v'y'ge up here among you?"
"I know nothing of your v'y'ges, Master Cap, though I suppose them
to have been many; for as for what belongs to natur' in the woods,
what I have seen I may tell, and not fear the face of man."
"And do you wish me to understand that you have seen a squirrel
"If you wish to understand the power of God, Master Cap, you will
do well to believe that, and many other things of a like natur',
for you may be quite sartain it is true."
"And yet, Pathfinder," said Mabel, looking so prettily and sweetly
even while she played with the guide's infirmity, that he forgave
her in his heart, "you, who speak so reverently of the power of
the Deity, appear to doubt that a fish can fly."
"I have not said it, I have not said it; and if Master Cap is ready
to testify to the fact, unlikely as it seems, I am willing to try
to think it true. I think it every man's duty to believe in the
power of God, however difficult it may be."
"And why isn't my fish as likely to have wings as your squirrel?"
demanded Cap, with more logic than was his wont. "That fishes do
and can fly is as true as it is reasonable."
"Nay, that is the only difficulty in believing the story," rejoined
the guide. "It seems unreasonable to give an animal that lives in
the water wings, which seemingly can be of no use to it."
"And do you suppose that the fishes are such asses as to fly about
under water, when they are once fairly fitted out with wings?"
"Nay, I know nothing of the matter; but that fish should fly in
the air seems more contrary to natur' still, than that they should
fly in their own element -- that in which they were born and brought
up, as one might say."
"So much for contracted ideas, Magnet. The fish fly out of water
to run away from their enemies in the water; and there you see not
only the fact, but the reason for it."
"Then I suppose it must be true," said the guide quietly. "How
long are their flights?"
"Not quite as far as those of pigeons, perhaps; but far enough to
make an offing. As for those squirrels of yours, we'll say no more
about them, friend Pathfinder, as I suppose they were mentioned
just as a make-weight to the fish, in favor of the woods. But
what is this thing anchored here under the hill?"
"That is the cutter of Jasper, uncle," said Mabel hurriedly; "and
a very pretty vessel I think it is. Its name, too, is the _Scud_."
"Ay, it will do well enough for a lake, perhaps, but it's no great
affair. The lad has got a standing bowsprit, and who ever saw a
cutter with a standing bowsprit before?"
"But may there not be some good reason for it, on a lake like this,
"Sure enough -- I must remember this is not the ocean, though it
does look so much like it."
"Ah, uncle! Then Ontario does look like the ocean, after all?"
"In your eyes, I mean, and those of Pathfinder; not in the least in
mine, Magnet. Now you might set me down out yonder, in the middle
of this bit of a pond, and that, too, in the darkest night that
ever fell from the heavens, and in the smallest canoe, and I could
tell you it was only a lake. For that matter, the _Dorothy_" (the
name of his vessel) "would find it out as quick as I could myself.
I do not believe that brig would make more than a couple of short
stretches, at the most, before she would perceive the difference
between Ontario and the old Atlantic. I once took her down into
one of the large South American bays, and she behaved herself as
awkwardly as a booby would in a church with the congregation in a
hurry. And Jasper sails that boat? I must have a cruise with the
lad, Magnet, before I quit you, just for the name of the thing. It
would never do to say I got in sight of this pond, and went away
without taking a trip on it."
"Well well, you needn't wait long for that," returned Pathfinder;
"for the Sergeant is about to embark with a party to relieve a post
among the Thousand Islands; and as I heard him say he intended that
Mabel should go along, you can join the company too."
"Is this true, Magnet?"
"I believe it is," returned the girl, a flush so imperceptible as
to escape the observation of her companions glowing on her cheeks;
"though I have had so little opportunity to talk with my dear
father that I am not quite certain. Here he comes, however, and
you can inquire of himself."
Notwithstanding his humble rank, there was something in the mien
and character of Sergeant Dunham that commanded respect: of a tall,
imposing figure, grave and saturnine disposition, and accurate and
precise in his acts and manner of thinking, even Cap, dogmatical
and supercilious as he usually was with landsmen, did not presume
to take the same liberties with the old soldier as he did with his
other friends. It was often remarked that Sergeant Dunham received
more true respect from Duncan of Lundie, the Scotch laird who
commanded the post, than most of the subalterns; for experience
and tried services were of quite as much value in the eyes of the
veteran major as birth and money. While the Sergeant never even
hoped to rise any higher, he so far respected himself and his
present station as always to act in a way to command attention;
and the habit of mixing so much with inferiors, whose passions
and dispositions he felt it necessary to restrain by distance and
dignity, had so far colored his whole deportment, that few were
altogether free from its influence. While the captains treated him
kindly and as an old comrade, the lieutenants seldom ventured to
dissent from his military opinions; and the ensigns, it was remarked,
actually manifested a species of respect that amounted to something
very like deference. It is no wonder, then, that the announcement
of Mabel put a sudden termination to the singular dialogue we have
just related, though it had been often observed that the Pathfinder
was the only man on that frontier, beneath the condition of a
gentleman, who presumed to treat the Sergeant at all as an equal,
or even with the cordial familiarity of a friend.
"Good morrow, brother Cap," said the Sergeant giving the military
salute, as he walked, in a grave, stately manner, on the bastion.
"My morning duty has made me seem forgetful of you and Mabel; but
we have now an hour or two to spare, and to get acquainted. Do
you not perceive, brother, a strong likeness on the girl to her we
have so long lost?"
"Mabel is the image of her mother, Sergeant, as I have always said,
with a little of your firmer figure; though, for that matter, the
Caps were never wanting in spring and activity."
Mabel cast a timid glance at the stern, rigid countenance of her
father, of whom she had ever thought, as the warm-hearted dwell on
the affection of their absent parents; and, as she saw that the
muscles of his face were working, notwithstanding the stiffness
and method of his manner, her very heart yearned to throw herself
on his bosom and to weep at will. But he was so much colder in
externals, so much more formal and distant than she had expected
to find him, that she would not have dared to hazard the freedom,
even had they been alone.
"You have taken a long and troublesome journey, brother, on my
account; and we will try to make you comfortable while you stay
"I hear you are likely to receive orders to lift your anchor,
Sergeant, and to shift your berth into a part of the world where
they say there are a thousand islands."
"Pathfinder, this is some of your forgetfulness?"
"Nay, nay, Sergeant, I forgot nothing; but it did not seem to me
necessary to hide your intentions so very closely from your own
flesh and blood."
"All military movements ought to be made with as little conversation
as possible," returned the Sergeant, tapping the guide's shoulder
in a friendly, but reproachful manner. "You have passed too much
of your life in front of the French not to know the value of silence.
But no matter; the thing must soon be known, and there is no great
use in trying now to conceal it. We shall embark a relief party
shortly for a post on the lake, though I do not say it is for the
Thousand Islands, and I may have to go with it; in which case I
intend to take Mabel to make my broth for me; and I hope, brother,
you will not despise a soldier's fare for a month or so."
"That will depend on the manner of marching. I have no love for
woods and swamps."
"We shall sail in the _Scud_; and, indeed, the whole service, which
is no stranger to us, is likely enough to please one accustomed to
"Ay, to salt-water if you will, but not to lake-water. If you
have no person to handle that bit of a cutter for you, I have no
objection to ship for the v'y'ge, notwithstanding; though I shall
look on the whole affair as so much time thrown away, for I consider
it an imposition to call sailing about this pond going to sea."
"Jasper is every way able to manage the _Scud_, brother Cap; and in
that light I cannot say that we have need of your services, though
we shall be glad of your company. You cannot return to the settlement
until a party is sent in, and that is not likely to happen until
after my return. Well, Pathfinder, this is the first time I ever
knew men on the trail of the Mingos and you not at their head."
"To be honest with you, Sergeant," returned the guide, not without
a little awkwardness of manner, and a perceptible difference in
the hue of a face that had become so uniformly red by exposure,
"I have not felt that it was my gift this morning. In the first
place, I very well know that the soldiers of the 55th are not the
lads to overtake Iroquois in the woods; and the knaves did not
wait to be surrounded when they knew that Jasper had reached the
garrison. Then a man may take a little rest after a summer of hard
work, and no impeachment of his goodwill. Besides, the Sarpent
is out with them; and if the miscreants are to be found at all,
you may trust to his inmity and sight: the first being stronger,
and the last nearly, if not quite as good as my own. He loves
the skulking vagabonds as little as myself; and, for that matter,
I may say that my own feelings towards a Mingo are not much more
than the gifts of a Delaware grafted on a Christian stock. No, no,
I thought I would leave the honor this time, if honor there is to
be, to the young ensign that commands, who, if he don't lose his
scalp, may boast of his campaign in his letters to his mother when
he gets in. I thought I would play idler once in my life."
"And no one has a better right, if long and faithful service entitles
a man to a furlough," returned the Sergeant kindly. "Mabel will
think none the worse of you for preferring her company to the trail
of the savages; and, I daresay, will be happy to give you a part
of her breakfast if you are inclined to eat. You must not think,
girl, however, that the Pathfinder is in the habit of letting
prowlers around the fort beat a retreat without hearing the crack
of his rifle."
"If I thought she did, Sergeant, though not much given to showy and
parade evolutions, I would shoulder Killdeer and quit the garrison
before her pretty eyes had time to frown. No, no; Mabel knows me
better, though we are but new acquaintances, for there has been no
want of Mingos to enliven the short march we have already made in
"It would need a great deal of testimony, Pathfinder, to make
me think ill of you in any way, and more than all in the way you
mention," returned Mabel, coloring with the sincere earnestness
with which she endeavored to remove any suspicion to the contrary
from his mind. "Both father and daughter, I believe, owe you their
lives, and believe me, that neither will ever forget it."
"Thank you, Mabel, thank you with all my heart. But I will not
take advantage of your ignorance neither, girl, and therefore shall
say, I do not think the Mingos would have hurt a hair of your head,
had they succeeded by their devilries and contrivances in getting
you into their hands. My scalp, and Jasper's, and Master Cap's
there, and the Sarpent's too, would sartainly have been smoked;
but as for the Sergeant's daughter, I do not think they would have
hurt a hair of her head."
"And why should I suppose that enemies, known to spare neither women
nor children, would have shown more mercy to me than to another?
I feel, Pathfinder, that I owe you my life."
"I say nay, Mabel; they wouldn't have had the heart to hurt you.
No, not even a fiery Mingo devil would have had the heart to hurt
a hair of your head. Bad as I suspect the vampires to be, I do
not suspect them of anything so wicked as that. They might have
wished you, nay, forced you to become the wife of one of their chiefs,
and that would be torment enough to a Christian young woman; but
beyond that I do not think even the Mingos themselves would have
"Well, then, I shall owe my escape from this great misfortune to
you," said Mabel, taking his hard hand into her own frankly and
cordially, and certainly in a way to delight the honest guide.
"To me it would be a lighter evil to be killed than to become the
wife of an Indian."
"That is her gift, Sergeant," exclaimed Pathfinder, turning to his
old comrade with gratification written on every lineament of his
honest countenance, "and it will have its way. I tell the Sarpent
that no Christianizing will ever make even a Delaware a white man;
nor any whooping and yelling convert a pale-face into a red-skin.
That is the gift of a young woman born of Christian parents, and
it ought to be maintained."
"You are right, Pathfinder; and so far as Mabel Dunham is concerned,
it _shall_ be maintained. But it is time to break your fasts; and
if you will follow me, brother Cap, I will show you how we poor
soldiers live here on a distant frontier."
Now, my co-mates and partners in exile,
Hath not old custom made this life more sweet
Than that of painted pomp? Are not these woods
More free from peril than the envious court?
Here feel we but the penalty of Adam.
_As You Like It._
Sergeant Dunham made no empty vaunt when he gave the promise
conveyed in the closing words of the last chapter. Notwithstanding
the remote frontier position of the post they who lived at it
enjoyed a table that, in many respects, kings and princes might
have envied. At the Period of our tale, and, indeed, for half a
century later, the whole of that vast region which has been called
the West, or the new countries since the war of the revolution,
lay a comparatively unpeopled desert, teeming with all the living
productions of nature that properly belonged to the climate, man
and the domestic animals excepted. The few Indians that roamed
its forests then could produce no visible effects on the abundance
of the game; and the scattered garrisons, or occasional hunters,
that here and there were to be met with on that vast surface, had
no other influence than the bee on the buckwheat field, or the
humming-bird on the flower.
The marvels that have descended to our own times, in the way of
tradition, concerning the quantities of beasts, birds, and fishes
that were then to be met with, on the shores of the great lakes in
particular, are known to be sustained by the experience of living
men, else might we hesitate about relating them; but having been
eye-witnesses of some of these prodigies, our office shall be
discharged with the confidence that certainty can impart. Oswego
was particularly well placed to keep the larder of an epicure
amply supplied. Fish of various sorts abounded in its river, and
the sportsman had only to cast his line to haul in a bass or some
other member of the finny tribe, which then peopled the waters, as
the air above the swamps of this fruitful latitude are known to be
filled with insects. Among others was the salmon of the lakes, a
variety of that well-known species, that is scarcely inferior to
the delicious salmon of northern Europe. Of the different migratory
birds that frequent forests and waters, there was the same affluence,
hundreds of acres of geese and ducks being often seen at a time in
the great bays that indent the shores of the lake. Deer, bears,
rabbits, and squirrels, with divers other quadrupeds, among which
was sometimes included the elk, or moose, helped to complete the
sum of the natural supplies on which all the posts depended, more
or less, to relieve the unavoidable privations of their remote
In a place where viands that would elsewhere be deemed great luxuries
were so abundant, no one was excluded from their enjoyment. The
meanest individual at Oswego habitually feasted on game that would
have formed the boast of a Parisian table; and it was no more
than a healthful commentary on the caprices of taste, and of the
waywardness of human desires, that the very diet which in other
scenes would have been deemed the subject of envy and repinings got
to pall on the appetite. The coarse and regular food of the army,
which it became necessary to husband on account of the difficulty
of transportation, rose in the estimation of the common soldier;
and at any time he would cheerfully desert his venison, and ducks,
and pigeons, and salmon, to banquet on the sweets of pickled pork,
stringy turnips, and half-cooked cabbage.
The table of Sergeant Dunham, as a matter of course, partook
of the abundance and luxuries of the frontier, as well as of its
privations. A delicious broiled salmon smoked on a homely platter,
hot venison steaks sent up their appetizing odors, and several
dishes of cold meats, all of which were composed of game, had been
set before the guests, in honor of the newly arrived visitors, and
in vindication of the old soldier's hospitality.
"You do not seem to be on short allowance in this quarter of the
world, Sergeant," said Cap, after he had got fairly initiated into
the mysteries of the different dishes; "your salmon might satisfy
"It fails to do it, notwithstanding, brother Cap; for among two or
three hundred of the fellows that we have in this garrison there
are not half a dozen who will not swear that the fish is unfit to
be eaten. Even some of the lads, who never tasted venison except
as poachers at home, turn up their noses at the fattest haunches
that we get here."
"Ay, that is Christian natur'," put in Pathfinder; "and I must say
it is none to its credit. Now, a red-skin never repines, but is
always thankful for the food he gets, whether it be fat or lean,
venison or bear, wild turkey's breast or wild goose's wing. To
the shame of us white men be it said, that we look upon blessings
without satisfaction, and consider trifling evils as matters of
"It is so with the 55th, as I can answer, though I cannot say as
much for their Christianity," returned the Sergeant. "Even the
major himself, old Duncan of Lundie, will sometimes swear that an
oatmeal cake is better fare than the Oswego bass, and sigh for a
swallow of Highland water, when, if so minded, he has the whole of
Ontario to quench his thirst in."
"Has Major Duncan a wife and children?" asked Mabel, whose thoughts
naturally turned towards her own sex in her new situation.
"Not he, girl; though they do say that he has a betrothed at home.
The lady, it seems, is willing to wait, rather than suffer the
hardships of service in this wild region; all of which, brother Cap,
is not according to my notions of a woman's duties. Your sister
"I hope, Sergeant, you do not think of Mabel for a soldier's wife,"
returned Cap gravely. "Our family has done its share in that way
already, and it's high time that the sea was again remembered."
"I do not think of finding a husband for the girl in the 55th, or
any other regiment, I can promise you, brother; though I do think
it getting to be time that the child were respectably married."
"'Tis not their gifts, Sergeant, to talk of these matters in so open
a manner," said the guide; "for I've seen it verified by experience,
that he who would follow the trail of a virgin's good-will must
not go shouting out his thoughts behind her. So, if you please,
we will talk of something else."
"Well, then, brother Cap, I hope that bit of a cold roasted pig is
to your mind; you seem to fancy the food."
"Ay, ay; give me civilized grub if I must eat," returned
the pertinacious seaman. "Venison is well enough for your inland
sailors, but we of the ocean like a little of that which we
Here Pathfinder laid down his knife and fork, and indulged in a
hearty laugh, though in his always silent manner; then he asked,
with a little curiosity in his manner, --
"Don't, you miss the skin, Master Cap? don't you miss the skin?"
"It would have been better for its jacket, I think myself, Pathfinder;
but I suppose it is a fashion of the woods to serve up shoats in
"Well, well, a man may go round the 'arth and not know everything.
If you had had the skinning of that pig, Master Cap, it would have
left you sore hands. The cratur' is a hedgehog!"
"Blast me, if I thought it wholesome natural pork either!" returned
Cap. "But then I believed even a pig might lose some of its good
qualities up hereaway in the woods."
"If the skinning of it, brother, does not fall to my duty. Pathfinder,
I hope you didn't find Mabel disobedient on the march?"
"Not she, not she. If Mabel is only half as well satisfied with
Jasper and Pathfinder as the Pathfinder and Jasper are satisfied
with her, Sergeant, we shall be friends for the remainder of our
As the guide spoke, he turned his eyes towards the blushing girl,
with a sort of innocent desire to know her opinion; and then, with
an inborn delicacy, which proved he was far superior to the vulgar
desire to invade the sanctity of feminine feeling, he looked at
his plate, and seemed to regret his own boldness.
"Well, well, we must remember that women are not men, my friend,"
resumed the Sergeant, "and make proper allowances for nature and
education. A recruit is not a veteran. Any man knows that it takes
longer to make a good soldier than it takes to make anything else."
"This is new doctrine, Sergeant," said Cap with some spirit.
"We old seamen are apt to think that six soldiers, ay, and capital
soldiers too, might be made while one sailor is getting his
"Ay, brother Cap, I've seen something of the opinions which seafaring
men have of themselves," returned the brother-in-law, with a smile
as bland as comported with his saturnine features; "for I was many
years one of the garrison in a seaport. You and I have conversed
on the subject before and I'm afraid we shall never agree. But
if you wish to know what the difference is between a real soldier
and man in what I should call a state of nature, you have only to
look at a battalion of the 55th on parade this afternoon, and then,
when you get back to York, examine one of the militia regiments
making its greatest efforts."
"Well, to my eye, Sergeant, there is very little difference, not
more than you'll find between a brig and a snow. To me they seem
alike: all scarlet, and feathers, and powder, and pipeclay."
"So much, sir, for the judgment of a sailor," returned the Sergeant
with dignity; "but perhaps you are not aware that it requires a
year to teach a true soldier how to eat?"
"So much the worse for him. The militia know how to eat at starting;
for I have often heard that, on their marches, they commonly eat
all before them, even if they do nothing else."
"They have their gifts, I suppose, like other men," observed
Pathfinder, with a view to preserve the peace, which was evidently
in some danger of being broken by the obstinate predilection of
each of the disputants in favor of his own calling; "and when a
man has his gift from Providence, it is commonly idle to endeavor
to bear up against it. The 55th, Sergeant, is a judicous regiment
in the way of eating, as I know from having been so long in its
company, though I daresay militia corps could be found that would
outdo them in feats of that natur' too."
"Uncle;" said Mabel, "if you have breakfasted, I will thank you to
go out upon the bastion with me again. We have neither of us half
seen the lake, and it would be hardly seemly for a young woman
to be walking about the fort, the first day of her arrival, quite
Cap understood the motive of Mabel; and having, at the bottom,
a hearty friendship for his brother-in-law, he was willing enough
to defer the argument until they had been longer together, for the
idea of abandoning it altogether never crossed the mind of one so
dogmatical and obstinate. He accordingly accompanied his niece,
leaving Sergeant Dunham and his friend, the Pathfinder, alone together.
As soon as his adversary had beat a retreat, the Sergeant, who did
not quite so well understand the manoeuvre of his daughter, turned
to his companion, and, with a smile which was not without triumph,
he remarked, --
"The army, Pathfinder, has never yet done itself justice in the way
of asserting its rights; and though modesty becomes a man, whether
he is in a red coat or a black one, or, for that matter, in his
shirt-sleeves, I don't like to let a good opportunity slip of saying
a word in its behalf. Well, my friend," laying his own hand on one
of the Pathfinder's, and giving it a hearty squeeze, "how do you
like the girl?"
"You have reason to be proud of her, Sergeant. I have seen many of
her sex, and some that were great and beautiful; but never before
did I meet with one in whom I thought Providence had so well
balanced the different gifts."
"And the good opinion, I can tell you, Pathfinder, is mutual. She
told me last night all about your coolness, and spirit, and kindness,
-- particularly the last, for kindness counts for more than half
with females, my friend, --and the first inspection seems to give
satisfaction on both sides. Brush up the uniform, and pay a little
more attention to the outside, Pathfinder, and you will have the
girl heart and hand."
"Nay, nay, Sergeant, I've forgotten nothing that you have told
me, and grudge no reasonable pains to make myself as pleasant in
the eyes of Mabel as she is getting to be in mine. I cleaned and
brightened up Killdeer this morning as soon as the sun rose; and,
in my judgment, the piece never looked better than it does at this
"That is according to your hunting notions, Pathfinder; but firearms
should sparkle and glitter in the sun, and I never yet could see
any beauty in a clouded barrel."
"Lord Howe thought otherwise, Sergeant; and he was accounted a good
"Very true; his lordship had all the barrels of his regiment darkened,
and what good came of it? You can see his 'scutcheon hanging in
the English church at Albany. No, no, my worthy friend, a soldier
should be a soldier, and at no time ought he to be ashamed or afraid
to carry about him the signs and symbols of his honorable trade.
Had you much discourse with Mabel, Pathfinder, as you came along
in the canoe?"
"There was not much opportunity, Sergeant, and then I found myself
so much beneath her in idees, that I was afraid to speak of much
beyond what belonged to my own gifts."
"Therein you are partly right and partly wrong, my friend. Women
love trifling discourse, though they like to have most of it to
themselves. Now you know I'm a man that do not loosen my tongue at
every giddy thought; and yet there were days when I could see that
Mabel's mother thought none the worse of me because I descended a
little from my manhood. It is true, I was twenty-two years younger
then than I am to-day; and, moreover, instead of being the oldest
sergeant in the regiment, I was the youngest. Dignity is commanding
and useful, and there is no getting on without it, as respects
the men; but if you would be thoroughly esteemed by a woman, it is
necessary to condescend a little on occasions."
"Ah's me, Sergeant, I sometimes fear it will never do."
"Why do you think so discouragingly of a matter on which I thought
both our minds were made up?"
"We did agree, if Mabel should prove what you told me she was, and
if the girl could fancy a rude hunter and guide, that I should quit
some of my wandering ways, and try to humanize my mind down to a
wife and children. But since I have seen the girl, I will own that
many misgivings have come over me."
"How's this?" interrupted the Sergeant sternly; "did I not understand
you to say that you were pleased? -- and is Mabel a young woman to
"Ah, Sergeant, it is not Mabel that I distrust, but myself. I am
but a poor ignorant woodsman, after all; and perhaps I'm not, in
truth, as good as even you and I may think me."
"If you doubt your own judgment of yourself, Pathfinder, I beg you
will not doubt mine. Am I not accustomed to judge men's character?
and am I often deceived? Ask Major Duncan, sir, if you desire any
assurances in this particular."
"But, Sergeant, we have long been friends; have fi't side by side
a dozen times, and have done each other many services. When this
is the case, men are apt to think over kindly of each other; and
I fear me that the daughter may not be so likely to view a plain
ignorant hunter as favorably as the father does."
"Tut, tut, Pathfinder! You don't know yourself, man, and may put
all faith in my judgment. In the first place you have experience;
and, as all girls must want that, no prudent young woman would
overlook such a qualification. Then you are not one of the coxcombs
that strut about when they first join a regiment; but a man who
has seen service, and who carries the marks of it on his person
and countenance. I daresay you have been under fire some thirty or
forty times, counting all the skirmishes and ambushes that you've
"All of that, Sergeant, all of that; but what will it avail in
gaining the good-will of a tender-hearted young female?"
"It will gain the day. Experience in the field is as good in love
as in war. But you are as honest-hearted and as loyal a subject
as the king can boast of -- God bless him!"
"That may be too; but I'm afeared I'm too rude and too old and too
wild like to suit the fancy of such a young and delicate girl as
Mabel, who has been unused to our wilderness ways, and may think
the settlements better suited to her gifts and inclinations."
"These are new misgivings for you, my friend; and I wonder they
were never paraded before."
"Because I never knew my own worthlessness, perhaps, until I saw
Mabel. I have travelled with some as fair, and have guided them
through the forest, and seen them in their perils and in their
gladness; but they were always too much above me to make me think
of them as more than so many feeble ones I was bound to protect
and defend. The case is now different. Mabel and I are so nearly
alike, that I feel weighed down with a load that is hard to bear,
at finding us so unlike. I do wish, Sergeant, that I was ten
years younger, more comely to look at, and better suited to please
a handsome young woman's fancy."
"Cheer up, my brave friend, and trust to a father's knowledge
of womankind. Mabel half loves you already, and a fortnight's
intercourse and kindness, down among the islands yonder will close
ranks with the other half. The girl as much as told me this herself
"Can this be so, Sergeant?" said the guide, whose meek and modest
nature shrank from viewing himself in colors so favorable. "Can
this be truly so? I am but a poor hunter and Mabel, I see, is
fit to be an officer's lady. Do you think the girl will consent
to quit all her beloved settlement usages, and her visitings and
church-goings, to dwell with a plain guide and hunter up hereaway
in the woods? Will she not in the end, crave her old ways, and a
"A better man, Pathfinder, would be hard to find," returned
the father. "As for town usages, they are soon forgotten in the
freedom of the forest, and Mabel has just spirit enough to dwell
on a frontier. I've not planned this marriage, my friend, without
thinking it over, as a general does his campaign. At first, I
thought of bringing you into the regiment, that you might succeed
me when I retire, which must be sooner or later; but on reflection,
Pathfinder, I think you are scarcely fitted for the office. Still,
if not a soldier in all the meanings of the word, you are a soldier
in its best meaning, and I know that you have the good-will of every
officer in the corps. As long as I live, Mabel can dwell with me,
and you will always have a home when you return from your scoutings
"This is very pleasant to think of, Sergeant, if the girl can only
come into our wishes with good-will. But, ah's me! It does not
seem that one like myself can ever be agreeable in her handsome
eyes. If I were younger, and more comely, now, as Jasper Western
is, for instance, there might be a chance -- yes, then, indeed,
there might be some chance."
"That for Jasper Eau-douce, and every younker of them in or
about the fort!" returned the Sergeant, snapping his fingers. "If
not actually a younger, you are a younger-looking, ay, and
a better-looking man than the _Scud's_ master - "
"Anan?" said Pathfinder, looking up at his companion with an
expression of doubt, as if he did not understand his meaning.
"I say if not actually younger in days and years, you look more
hardy and like whipcord than Jasper, or any of them; and there
will be more of you, thirty years hence, than of all of them put
together. A good conscience will keep one like you a mere boy all
"Jasper has as clear a conscience as any youth I know, Sergeant,
and is as likely to wear on that account as any in the colony."
"Then you are my friend," squeezing the other's hand, "my tried,
sworn, and constant friend."
"Yes, we have been friends, Sergeant, near twenty years before
Mabel was born."
"True enough; before Mabel was born, we were well-tried friends;
and the hussy would never dream of refusing to marry a man who
was her father's friend before she was born."
"We don't know, Sergeant, we don't know. Like loves like. The
young prefer the young for companions, and the old the old."
"Not for wives, Pathfinder; I never knew an old man, now, who had
an objection to a young wife. Then you are respected and esteemed
by every officer in the fort, as I have said already, and it will
please her fancy to like a man that every one else likes."
"I hope I have no enemies but the Mingos," returned the guide,
stroking down his hair meekly and speaking thoughtfully. "I've tried
to do right, and that ought to make friends, though it sometimes
"And you may be said to keep the best company; for even old Duncan
of Lundie is glad to see you, and you pass hours in his society.
Of all the guides, he confides most in you."
"Ay, even greater than he is have marched by my side for days, and
have conversed with me as if I were their brother; but, Sergeant,
I have never been puffed up by their company, for I know that
the woods often bring men to a level who would not be so in the
"And you are known to be the greatest rifle shot that ever pulled
trigger in all this region."
"If Mabel could fancy a man for that, I might have no great reason
to despair; and yet, Sergeant, I sometimes think that it is all as
much owing to Killdeer as to any skill of my own. It is sartainly
a wonderful piece, and might do as much in the hands of another."
"That is your own humble opinion of yourself, Pathfinder; but we
have seen too many fail with the same weapon, and you succeed too
often with the rifles of other men, to allow me to agree with you.
We will get up a shooting match in a day or two, when you can show
your skill, and when Mabel will form some judgment concerning your
"Will that be fair, Sergeant? Everybody knows that Killdeer seldom
misses; and ought we to make a trial of this sort when we all know
what must be the result?"
"Tut, tut, man! I foresee I must do half this courting for you.
For one who is always inside of the smoke in a skirmish, you are
the faintest-hearted suitor I ever met with. Remember, Mabel comes
of a bold stock; and the girl will be as likely to admire a man as
her mother was before her."
Here the Sergeant arose, and proceeded to attend to his never-ceasing
duties, without apology; the terms on which the guide stood with
all in the garrison rendering this freedom quite a matter of course.
The reader will have gathered from the conversation just related,
one of the plans that Sergeant Dunham had in view in causing his
daughter to be brought to the frontier. Although necessarily much
weaned from the caresses and blandishments that had rendered his
child so dear to him during the first year or two of his widowerhood,
he had still a strong but somewhat latent love for her. Accustomed
to command and to obey, without being questioned himself or
questioning others, concerning the reasonableness of the mandates,
he was perhaps too much disposed to believe that his daughter would
marry the man he might select, while he was far from being disposed
to do violence to her wishes. The fact was; few knew the Pathfinder
intimately without secretly believing him to be one of extraordinary
qualities. Ever the same, simple-minded, faithful, utterly without
fear, and yet prudent, foremost in all warrantable enterprises, or
what the opinion of the day considered as such, and never engaged
in anything to call a blush to his cheek or censure on his acts,
it was not possible to live much with this being and not feel respect
and admiration for him which had no reference to his position in
life. The most surprising peculiarity about the man himself was
the entire indifference with which he regarded all distinctions
which did not depend on personal merit. He was respectful to his
superiors from habit; but had often been known to correct their
mistakes and to reprove their vices with a fearlessness that proved
how essentially he regarded the more material points, and with a
natural discrimination that appeared to set education at defiance. In
short, a disbeliever in the ability of man to distinguish between
good and evil without the aid of instruction, would have been
staggered by the character of this extraordinary inhabitant of
the frontier. His feelings appeared to possess the freshness and
nature of the forest in which he passed so much of his time; and
no casuist could have made clearer decisions in matters relating to
right and wrong; and yet he was not without his prejudices, which,
though few, and colored by the character and usages of the individual,
were deep-rooted, and almost formed a part of his nature. But the
most striking feature about the moral organization of Pathfinder
was his beautiful and unerring sense of justice. This noble trait
-- and without it no man can be truly great, with it no man other
than respectable -- probably had its unseen influence on all who
associated with him; for the common and unprincipled brawler of the
camp had been known to return from an expedition made in his company
rebuked by his sentiments, softened by his language, and improved
by his example. As might have been expected, with so elevated
a quality his fidelity was like the immovable rock; treachery in
him was classed among the things which are impossible; and as he
seldom retired before his enemies, so was he never known, under any
circumstances that admitted of an alternative, to abandon a friend.
The affinities of such a character were, as a matter of course,
those of like for like. His associates and intimates, though more
or less determined by chance, were generally of the highest order
as to moral propensities; for he appeared to possess a species of
instinctive discrimination, which led him, insensibly to himself,
most probably, to cling closest to those whose characters would best
reward his friendship. In short, it was said of the Pathfinder,
by one accustomed to study his fellows, that he was a fair example
of what a just-minded and pure man might be, while untempted by
unruly or ambitious desires, and left to follow the bias of his
feelings, amid the solitary grandeur and ennobling influences of a
sublime nature; neither led aside by the inducements which influence
all to do evil amid the incentives of civilization, nor forgetful
of the Almighty Being whose spirit pervades the wilderness as well
as the towns.
Such was the man whom Sergeant Dunham had selected as the husband
of Mabel. In making this choice, he had not been as much governed
by a clear and judicious view of the merits of the individual,
perhaps, as by his own likings; still no one knew the Pathfinder
so intimately as himself without always conceding to the honest
guide a high place in his esteem on account of these very virtues.
That his daughter could find any serious objections to the match
the old soldier did not apprehend; while, on the other hand, he saw
many advantages to himself in dim perspective, connected with the
decline of his days, and an evening of life passed among descendants
who were equally dear to him through both parents. He had first
made the proposition to his friend, who had listened to it kindly,
but who, the Sergeant was now pleased to find, already betrayed
a willingness to come into his own views that was proportioned to
the doubts and misgivings proceeding from his humble distrust of
Think not I love him, though I ask for him;
'Tis but a peevish boy: -- yet he talks well --
But what care I for words?
A week passed in the usual routine of a garrison. Mabel was becoming
used to a situation that, at first she had found not only novel,
but a little irksome; and the officers and men in their turn,
gradually familiarized to the presence of a young and blooming
girl, whose attire and carriage had that air of modest gentility
about them which she had obtained in the family of her patroness,
annoyed her less by their ill-concealed admiration, while they
gratified her by the respect which, she was fain to think, they
paid her on account of her father; but which, in truth, was more
to be attributed to her own modest but spirited deportment, than
to any deference for the worthy Sergeant.
Acquaintances made in a forest, or in any circumstances of unusual
excitement, soon attain their limits. Mabel found one week's
residence at Oswego sufficient to determine her as to those with
whom she might be intimate and those whom she ought to avoid. The
sort of neutral position occupied by her father, who was not an
officer, while he was so much more than a common soldier, by keeping
her aloof from the two great classes of military life, lessened the
number of those whom she was compelled to know, and made the duty
of decision comparatively easy. Still she soon discovered that
there were a few, even among those that could aspire to a seat at
the Commandant's table, who were disposed to overlook the halbert
for the novelty of a well-turned figure and of a pretty, winning
face; and by the end of the first two or three days she had admirers
even among the gentlemen. The Quartermaster, in particular, a
middle-aged soldier, who had more than once tried the blessings of
matrimony already, but was now a widower, was evidently disposed
to increase his intimacy with the Sergeant, though their duties
often brought them together; and the youngsters among his messmates
did not fail to note that this man of method, who was a Scotsman
of the name of Muir, was much more frequent in his visits to the
quarters of his subordinate than had formerly been his wont. A
laugh, or a joke, in honor of the "Sergeant's daughter," however,
limited their strictures; though "Mabel Dunham" was soon a toast
that even the ensign, or the lieutenant, did not disdain to give.
At the end of the week, Duncan of Lundie sent for Sergeant Dunham,
after evening roll-call, on business of a nature that, it was
understood, required a personal conference. The old veteran dwelt
in a movable hut, which, being placed on trucks, he could order
to be wheeled about at pleasure, sometimes living in one part of
the area within the fort, and sometimes in another. On the present
occasion, he had made a halt near the centre; and there he was
found by his subordinate, who was admitted to his presence without
any delay or dancing attendance in an ante-chamber. In point
of fact, there was very little difference in the quality of the
accommodations allowed to the officers and those allowed to the
men, the former being merely granted the most room.
"Walk in, Sergeant, walk in, my good friend," said old Lundie
heartily, as his inferior stood in a respectful attitude at the door
of a sort of library and bedroom into which he had been ushered;
-- "walk in, and take a seat on that stool. I have sent for you,
man; to discuss anything but rosters and pay-rolls this evening. It
is now many years since we have been comrades, and 'auld lang syne'
should count for something, even between a major and his orderly,
a Scot and a Yankee. Sit ye down, man, and just put yourself at
your ease. It has been a fine day, Sergeant."
"It has indeed, Major Duncan," returned the other, who, though he
complied so far as to take the seat, was much too practised not to
understand the degree of respect it was necessary to maintain in
his manner; "a very fine day, sir, it has been and we may look for
more of them at this season."
"I hope so with all my heart. The crops look well as it is, man,
and you'll be finding that the 55th make almost as good farmers
as soldiers. I never saw better potatoes in Scotland than we are
likely to have in that new patch of ours."
"They promise a good yield, Major Duncan; and, in that light, a
more comfortable winter than the last."
"Life is progressive, Sergeant, in its comforts as well as in its
need of them. We grow old, and I begin to think it time to retire
and settle in life. I feel that my working days are nearly over."
"The king, God bless him! sir, has much good service in your honor
"It may be so, Sergeant Dunham, especially if he should happen to
have a spare lieutenant-colonelcy left."
"The 55th will be honored the day that commission is given to Duncan
of Lundie, sir."
"And Duncan of Lundie will be honored the day he receives it. But,
Sergeant, if you have never had a lieutenant-colonelcy, you have
had a good wife, and that is the next thing to rank in making a
"I have been married, Major Duncan; but it is now a long time since
I have had no drawback on the love I bear his majesty and my duty."
"What, man! not even the love you bear that active little round-limbed,
rosy-cheeked daughter that I have seen in the fort these last few
days! Out upon you, Sergeant! old fellow as I am, I could almost
love that little lassie myself, and send the lieutenant-colonelcy
to the devil."
"We all know where Major Duncan's heart is, and that is in Scotland,
where a beautiful lady is ready and willing to make him happy, as
soon as his own sense of duty shall permit."
"Ay, hope is ever a far-off thing, Sergeant," returned the superior,
a shade of melancholy passing over his hard Scottish features as
he spoke; "and bonnie Scotland is a far-off country. Well, if we
have no heather and oatmeal in this region, we have venison for
the killing of it and salmon as plenty as at Berwick-upon-Tweed.
Is it true, Sergeant, that the men complain of having been
over-venisoned and over-pigeoned of late?"
"Not for some weeks, Major Duncan, for neither deer nor birds are
so plenty at this season as they have been. They begin to throw
their remarks about concerning the salmon, but I trust we shall get
through the summer without any serious disturbance on the score of
food. The Scotch in the battalion do, indeed, talk more than is
prudent of their want of oatmeal, grumbling occasionally of our
"Ah, that is human nature, Sergeant! pure, unadulterated Scotch
human nature. A cake, man, to say the truth, is an agreeable
morsel, and I often see the time when I pine for a bite myself."
"If the feeling gets to be troublesome, Major Duncan, --in the
men, I mean, sir, for I would not think of saying so disrespectful
a thing to your honor, -- but if the men ever pine seriously for
their natural food, I would humbly recommend that some oatmeal
be imported, or prepared in this country for them, and I think we
shall hear no more of it. A very little would answer for a cure,
"You are a wag, Sergeant; but hang me if I am sure you are not
right. There may be sweeter things in this world, after all, than
oatmeal. You have a sweet daughter, Dunham, for one."
"The girl is like her mother, Major Duncan, and will pass inspection,"
said the Sergeant proudly. "Neither was brought up on anything
better than good American flour. The girl will pass inspection,
"That would she, I'll answer for it. Well, I may as well come to
the point at once, man, and bring up my reserve into the front of
the battle. Here is Davy Muir, the quartermaster, disposed to make
your daughter his wife, and he has just got me to open the matter
to you, being fearful of compromising his own dignity; and I may as
well add that half the youngsters in the fort toast her, and talk
of her from morning till night."
"She is much honored, sir," returned the father stiffly; "but
I trust the gentlemen will find something more worthy of them to
talk about ere long. I hope to see her the wife of an honest man
before many weeks, sir."
"Yes, Davy is an honest man, and that is more than can be said for
all in the quartermaster's department, I'm thinking, Sergeant,"
returned Lundie, with a slight smile. "Well, then may I tell the
Cupid-stricken youth that the matter is as good as settled?"
"I thank your honor; but Mabel is betrothed to another."
"The devil she is! That will produce a stir in the fort; though I'm
not sorry to hear it either, for, to be frank with you, Sergeant,
I'm no great admirer of unequal matches."
"I think with your honor, and have no desire to see my daughter an
officer's lady. If she can get as high as her mother was before
her, it ought to satisfy any reasonable woman."
"And may I ask, Sergeant, who is the lucky man that you intend to
"The Pathfinder, your honor."
"The same, Major Duncan; and in naming him to you, I give you his
whole history. No one is better known on this frontier than my
honest, brave, true-hearted friend."
"All that is true enough; but is he, after all, the sort of person
to make a girl of twenty happy?"
"Why not, your honor? The man is at the head of his calling.
There is no other guide or scout connected with the army who has
half the reputation of Pathfinder, or who deserves to have it half
"Very true, Sergeant; but is the reputation of a scout exactly the
sort of renown to captivate a girl's fancy?"
"Talking of girls' fancies, sir, is in my humble opinion much like
talking of a recruit's judgment. If we were to take the movements
of the awkward squad, sir, as a guide, we should never form a decent
line in battalion, Major Duncan."
"But your daughter has nothing awkward about her: for a genteeler
girl of her class could not be found in old Albion itself. Is she
of your way of thinking in this matter? -- though I suppose she
must be, as you say she is betrothed."
"We have not yet conversed on the subject, your honor; but I consider
her mind as good as made up, from several little circumstances
which might be named."
"And what are these circumstances, Sergeant?" asked the Major,
who began to take more interest than he had at first felt on the
subject. "I confess a little curiosity to know something about a
woman's mind, being, as you know, a bachelor myself."
"Why, your honor, when I speak of the Pathfinder to the girl, she
always looks me full in the face; chimes in with everything I say
in his favor, and has a frank open way with her, which says as much
as if she half considered him already as a husband."
"Hum! and these signs, you think, Dunham, are faithful tokens of
your daughter's feelings?"
"I do, your honor, for they strike me as natural. When I find a
man, sir, who looks me full in the face, while he praises an officer,
-- for, begging your honor's pardon, the men will sometimes pass
their strictures on their betters, - and when I find a man looking
me in the eyes as he praises his captain, I always set it down that
the fellow is honest, and means what he says."
"Is there not some material difference in the age of the intended
bridegroom and that of his pretty bride, Sergeant?"
"You are quite right, sir; Pathfinder is well advanced towards
forty, and Mabel has every prospect of happiness that a young woman
can derive from the certainty of possessing an experienced husband.
I was quite forty myself, your honor, when I married her mother."
"But will your daughter be as likely to admire a green hunting-shirt,
such as that our worthy guide wears, with a fox-skin cap, as the
smart uniform of the 55th?"
"Perhaps not, sir; and therefore she will have the merit of
self-denial, which always makes a young woman wiser and better."
"And are you not afraid that she may be left a widow while still a
young woman? what between wild beasts, and wilder savages, Pathfinder
may be said to carry his life in his hand."
"'Every bullet has its billet,' Lundie," for so the Major was
fond of being called in his moments of condescension, and when
not engaged in military affairs; "and no man in the 55th can call
himself beyond or above the chances of sudden death. In that
particular, Mabel would gain nothing by a change. Besides, sir,
if I may speak freely on such a subject, I much doubt if ever
Pathfinder dies in battle, or by any of the sudden chances of the
"And why so, Sergeant?" asked the Major. "He is a soldier, so
far as danger is concerned, and one that is much more than usually
exposed; and, being free of his person, why should he expect to
escape when others do not?"
"I do not believe, your honor, that the Pathfinder considers his
own chances better than any one's else, but the man will never die
by a bullet. I have seen him so often handling his rifle with as
much composure as if it were a shepherd's crook, in the midst of
the heaviest showers of bullets, and under so many extraordinary
circumstances, that I do not think Providence means he should ever
fall in that manner. And yet, if there be a man in his Majesty's
dominions who really deserves such a death, it is Pathfinder."
"We never know, Sergeant," returned Lundie, with a countenance grave
with thought; "and the less we say about it, perhaps, the better.
But will your daughter --Mabel, I think, you call her -- will Mabel
be as willing to accept one who, after all, is a mere hanger-on
of the army, as to take one from the service itself? There is no
hope of promotion for the guide, Sergeant."
"He is at the head of his corps already, your honor. In short,
Mabel has made up her mind on this subject; and, as your honor has
had the condescension to speak to me about Mr. Muir, I trust you
will be kind enough to say that the girl is as good as billeted
"Well, well, this is your own matter, and, now -- Sergeant Dunham!"
"Your honor," said the other, rising, and giving the customary
"You have been told it is my intention to send you down among the
Thousand Islands for the next month. All the old subalterns have
had their tours of duty in that quarter -- all that I like to
trust at least; and it has at length come to your turn. Lieutenant
Muir, it is true, claims his right; but, being quartermaster, I do
not like to break up well-established arrangements. Are the men
"Everything is ready, your honor. The draft is made, and I understood
that the canoe which got in last night brought a message to say
that the party already below is looking out for the relief."
"It did; and you must sail the day after to-morrow, if not to-morrow
night. It will be wise, perhaps, to sail in the dark."
"So Jasper thinks, Major Duncan; and I know no one more to be
depended on in such an affair than young Jasper Western."
"Young Jasper Eau-douce!" said Lundie, a slight smile gathering
around his usually stern mouth. "Will that lad be of your party,
"Your honor will remember that the _Scud_ never quits port without
"True; but all general rules have their exceptions. Have I not
seen a seafaring person about the fort within the last few days?"
"No doubt, your honor; it is Master Cap, a brother-in-law of mine,
who brought my daughter from below."
"Why not put him in the _Scud_ for this cruise, Sergeant, and leave
Jasper behind? Your brother-in-law would like the variety of a
fresh-water cruise, and you would enjoy more of his company."
"I intended to ask your honor's permission to take him along; but
he must go as a volunteer. Jasper is too brave a lad to be turned
out of his command without a reason, Major Duncan; and I'm afraid
brother Cap despises fresh water too much to do duty on it."
"Quite right, Sergeant, and I leave all this to your own discretion.
Eau-douce must retain his command, on second thoughts. You intend
that Pathfinder shall also be of the party?"
"If your honor approves of it. There will be service for both the
guides, the Indian as well as the white man."
"I think you are right. Well, Sergeant, I wish you good luck in the
enterprise; and remember the post is to be destroyed and abandoned
when your command is withdrawn. It will have done its work by that
time, or we shall have failed entirely, and it is too ticklish a
position to be maintained unnecessarily. You can retire."
Sergeant Dunham gave the customary salute, turned on his heels as
if they had been pivots, and had got the door nearly drawn to after
him, when he was suddenly recalled.
"I had forgotten, Sergeant, the younger officers have begged for
a shooting match, and to-morrow has been named for the day. All
competitors will be admitted, and the prizes will be a silver-mounted
powder horn, a leathern flask ditto," reading from a piece of
paper, "as I see by the professional jargon of this bill, and a
silk calash for a lady. The latter is to enable the victor to show
his gallantry by making an offering of it to her he best loves."
"All very agreeable, your honor, at least to him that succeeds.
Is the Pathfinder to be permitted to enter?"
"I do not well see how he can be excluded, if he choose to come
forward. Latterly, I have observed that he takes no share in these
sports, probably from a conviction of his own unequalled skill."
"That's it, Major Duncan; the honest fellow knows there is not
a man on the frontier who can equal him, and he does not wish to
spoil the pleasure of others. I think we may trust to his delicacy
in anything, sir. Perhaps it may be as well to let him have his
"In this instance we must, Sergeant. Whether he will be as successful
in all others remains to be seen. I wish you good evening, Dunham."
The Sergeant now withdrew, leaving Duncan of Lundie to his own
thoughts: that they were not altogether disagreeable was to be
inferred from the smiles which occasionally covered a countenance
hard and martial in its usual expression, though there were moments
in which all its severe sobriety prevailed. Half an hour might
have passed, when a tap at the door was answered by a direction to
enter. A middle-aged man, in the dress of an officer, but whose
uniform wanted the usual smartness of the profession, made his
appearance, and was saluted as "Mr. Muir."
"I have come sir, at your bidding, to know my fortune," said the
Quartermaster, in a strong Scotch accent, as soon as he had taken
the seat which was proffered to him. "To say the truth to you,
Major Duncan, this girl is making as much havoc in the garrison as
the French did before Ty: I never witnessed so general a rout in
so short a time!"
"Surely, Davy, you don't mean to persuade me that your young and
unsophisticated heart is in such a flame, after one week's ignition?
Why, man, this is worse than the affair in Scotland, where it
was said the heat within was so intense that it just burnt a hole
through your own precious body, and left a place for all the lassies
to peer in at, to see what the combustible material was worth."
"Ye'll have your own way, Major Duncan; and your father and mother
would have theirs before ye, even if the enemy were in the camp.
I see nothing so extraordinar' in young people following the bent
of their inclinations and wishes."
"But you've followed yours so often, Davy, that I should think by
this time it had lost the edge of novelty. Including that informal
affair in Scotland, when you were a lad, you've been married four
"Only three, Major, as I hope to get another wife. I've not yet
had my number: no, no; only three."
"I'm thinking, Davy, you don't include the first affair I mentioned;
that in which there was no parson."
"And why should I Major? The courts decided that it was no marriage;
and what more could a man want? The woman took advantage of a
slight amorous propensity that may be a weakness in my disposition,
perhaps, and inveigled me into a contract which was found to be
"If I remember right, Muir, there were thought to be two sides to
that question, in the time of it?"
"It would be but an indifferent question, my dear Major, that hadn't
two sides to it; and I've known many that had three. But the poor
woman's dead, and there was no issue; so nothing came of it after
all. Then, I was particularly unfortunate with my second wife;
I say second, Major, out of deference to you, and on the mere
supposition that the first was a marriage at all; but first or
second, I was particularly unfortunate with Jeannie Graham, who
died in the first lustrum, leaving neither chick nor chiel behind
her. I do think, if Jeannie had survived, I never should have
turned my thoughts towards another wife."
"But as she did not, you married twice after her death; and are
desirous of doing so a third time."
"The truth can never justly be gainsaid, Major Duncan, and I am
always ready to avow it. I'm thinking, Lundie, you are melancholar
this fine evening?"
"No, Muir, not melancholy absolutely; but a little thoughtful, I
confess. I was looking back to my boyish days, when I, the laird's
son, and you, the parson's, roamed about our native hills, happy
and careless boys, taking little heed to the future; and then have
followed some thoughts, that may be a little painful, concerning
that future as it has turned out to be."
"Surely, Lundie, ye do not complain of yer portion of it. You've
risen to be a major, and will soon be a lieutenant-colonel, if
letters tell the truth; while I am just one step higher than when
your honored father gave me my first commission, and a poor deevil
of a quartermaster."
"And the four wives?"
"Three, Lundie; three only that were legal, even under our own
liberal and sanctified laws."
"Well, then, let it be three. Ye know, Davy," said Major Duncan,
insensibly dropping into the pronunciation and dialect of his youth,
as is much the practice with educated Scotchmen as they warm with
a subject that comes near the heart, -- "ye know, Davy, that my
own choice has long been made, and in how anxious and hope-wearied
a manner I've waited for that happy hour when I can call the woman
I've so long loved a wife; and here have you, without fortune,
name, birth, or merit -- I mean particular merit -- "
"Na, na; dinna say that, Lundie. The Muirs are of gude bluid."
"Well, then, without aught but bluid, ye've wived four times -- "
"I tall ye but thrice, Lundie. Ye'll weaken auld friendship if ye
call it four."
"Put it at yer own number, Davy; and it's far more than yer share.
Our lives have been very different, on the score of matrimony, at
least; you must allow that, my old friend."
"And which do you think has been the gainer, Major, speaking as
frankly thegither as we did when lads?"
"Nay, I've nothing to conceal. My days have passed in
hope deferred, while yours have passed in -- "
"Not in hope realized, I give you mine honor, Major Duncan,"
interrupted the Quartermaster. "Each new experiment I have thought
might prove an advantage; but disappointment seems the lot of
man. Ah! this is a vain world of ours, Lundie, it must be owned;
and in nothing vainer than in matrimony."
"And yet you are ready to put your neck into the noose for the
"I desire to say, it will be but the fourth, Major Duncan," said the
Quartermaster positively; then, instantly changing the expression
of his face to one of boyish rapture, he added, "But this Mabel
Dunham is a _rara avis!_ Our Scotch lassies are fair and pleasant;
but it must be owned these colonials are of surpassing comeliness."
"You will do well to recollect your commission and blood,
Davy. I believe all four of your wives -- "
"I wish my dear Lundie, ye'd be more accurate in yer arithmetic.
Three times one make three."
"All three, then, were what might be termed gentlewomen?"
"That's just it, Major. Three were gentlewomen, as you say, and
the connections were suitable."
"And the fourth being the daughter of my father's gardener, the
connection was unsuitable. But have you no fear that marrying
the child of a non-commissioned officer, who is in the same corps
with yourself, will have the effect to lessen your consequence in
"That's just been my weakness through life, Major Duncan; for I've
always married without regard to consequences. Every man has his
besetting sin, and matrimony, I fear, is mine. And now that we
have discussed what may be called the principles of the connection,
I will just ask if you did me the favor to speak to the Sergeant
on the trifling affair?"
"I did, David; and am sorry to say, for your hopes, that I see no
great chance of your succeeding."
"Not succeeding! An officer, and a quartermaster in the bargain,
and not succeed with a sergeant's daughter!"
"It's just that, Davy."
"And why not, Lundie? Will ye have the goodness to answer just
"The girl is betrothed. Hand plighted, word passed, love pledged,
-- no, hang me if I believe that either; but she is betrothed."
"Well, that's an obstacle, it must be avowed, Major, though it
counts for little if the heart is free."
"Quite true; and I think it probable the heart is free in this case;
for the intended husband appears to be the choice of the father
rather than of the daughter."
"And who may it be, Major?" asked the Quartermaster, who viewed
the whole matter with the philosophy and coolness acquired by use.
"I do not recollect any plausible suitor that is likely to stand
in my way."
"No, you are the only _plausible_ suitor on the frontier, Davy.
The happy man is Pathfinder."
"Pathfinder, Major Duncan!"
"No more, nor any less, David Muir. Pathfinder is the man; but it
may relieve your jealousy a little to know that, in my judgment at
least, it is a match of the father's rather than of the daughter's
"I thought as much!" exclaimed the Quartermaster, drawing a
long breath, like one who felt relieved; "it's quite impossible
that with my experience in human nature - "
"Particularly hu-woman's nature, David."
"Ye will have yer joke, Lundie, let who will suffer. But I did
not think it possible I could be deceived as to the young woman's
inclinations, which I think I may boldly pronounce to be altogether
above the condition of Pathfinder. As for the individual himself
-- why, time will show."
"Now, tell me frankly, Davy Muir," said Lundie, stepping short in
his walk, and looking the other earnestly in the face with a comical
expression of surprise, that rendered the veteran's countenance
ridiculously earnest, --"do you really suppose a girl like the
daughter of Sergeant Dunham can take a serious fancy to a man of
your years and appearance, and experience, I might add?"
"Hout, awa', Lundie! ye dinna know the sax, and that's the reason
yer unmarried in yer forty-fifth year. It's a fearfu' time ye've
been a bachelor, Major!"
"And what may be your age, Lieutenant Muir, if I may presume to
ask so delicate a question?"
"Forty-seven; I'll no' deny it, Lundie; and if I get Mabel, there'll
be just a wife for every twa lustrums. But I didna think Sergeant
Dunham would be so humble minded as to dream of giving that sweet
lass of his to one like the Pathfinder."
"There's no dream about it, Davy; the man is as serious as a soldier
about to be flogged."
"Well, well, Major, we are auld friends," -- both ran into the
Scotch or avoided it, as they approached or drew away from their
younger days, in the dialogue, -- "and ought to know how to take
and give a joke, off duty. It is possible the worthy man has
not understood my hints, or he never would have thought of such a
thing. The difference between an officer's consort and a guide's
woman is as vast as that between the antiquity of Scotland and the
antiquity of America. I'm auld blood, too, Lundie."
"Take my word for it Davy, your antiquity will do you no good in
this affair; and as for your blood, it is not older than your bones.
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