James Fenimore Cooper
Part 4 out of 10
Well, well, man, ye know the Sergeant's answer; and so ye perceive
that my influence, on which ye counted so much, can do nought for
ye. Let us take a glass thegither, Davy, for auld acquaintance
sake; and then ye'll be doing well to remember the party that marches
the morrow, and to forget Mabel Dunham as fast as ever you can."
"Ah, Major! I have always found it easier to forget a wife than
to forget a sweetheart. When a couple are fairly married, all is
settled but the death, as one may say, which must finally part us
all; and it seems to me awfu' irreverent to disturb the departed;
whereas there is so much anxiety and hope and felicity in expectation
like, with the lassie, that it keeps thought alive."
"That is just my idea of your situation, Davy; for I never supposed
you expected any more felicity with either of your wives. Now,
I've heard of fellows who were so stupid as to look forward to
happiness with their wives even beyond the grave. I drink to your
success, or to your speedy recovery from this attack, Lieutenant;
and I admonish you to be more cautious in future, as some of these
violent cases may yet carry you off."
"Many thanks, dear Major; and a speedy termination to an old
courtship, of which I know something. This is real mountain dew,
Lundie, and it warms the heart like a gleam of bonnie Scotland.
As for the men you've just mentioned, they could have had but one
wife a piece; for where there are several, the deeds of the women
themselves may carry them different ways. I think a reasonable
husband ought to be satisfied with passing his allotted time with
any particular wife in this world, and not to go about moping for
things unattainable. I'm infinitely obliged to you, Major Duncan,
for this and all your other acts of friendship; and if you could
but add another, I should think you had not altogether forgotten
the play-fellow of your boyhood."
"Well, Davy, if the request be reasonable, and such as a superior
ought to grant, out with it, man."
"If ye could only contrive a little service for me, down among the
Thousand Isles, for a fortnight or so, I think this matter might
be settled to the satisfaction of all parties. Just remember,
Lundie, the lassie is the only marriageable white female on this
"There is always duty for one in your line at a post, however
small; but this below can be done by the Sergeant as well as by
the Quartermaster-general, and better too."
"But not better than by a regimental officer. There is great waste,
in common, among the orderlies."
"I'll think of it, Muir," said the Major, laughing, "and you shall
have my answer in the morning. Here will be a fine occasion, man,
the morrow, to show yourself off before the lady; you are expert
with the rifle, and prizes are to be won. Make up your mind to
display your skill, and who knows what may yet happen before the
"I'm thinking most of the young men will try their hands in this
"That will they, and some of the old ones too, if you appear. To
keep you in countenance, I'll try a shot or two myself, Davy; and
you know I have some name that way."
"It might, indeed, do good. The female heart, Major Duncan, is
susceptible in many different modes, and sometimes in a way that
the rules of philosophy might reject. Some require a suitor to
sit down before them, as it might be, in a regular siege, and only
capitulate when the place can hold out no longer; others, again,
like to be carried by storm; while there are hussies who can only
be caught by leading them into an ambush. The first is the most
creditable and officer-like process, perhaps; but I must say I
think the last the most pleasing."
"An opinion formed from experience, out of all question. And what
of the storming parties?"
"They may do for younger men, Lundie," returned the Quartermaster,
rising and winking, a liberty that he often took with his commanding
officer on the score of a long intimacy; "every period of life
has its necessities, and at forty-seven it's just as well to trust
a little to the head. I wish you a very good even, Major Duncan,
and freedom from gout, with a sweet and refreshing sleep."
"The same to yourself, Mr. Muir, with many thanks. Remember the
passage of arms for the morrow."
The Quartermaster withdrew, leaving Lundie in his library to reflect
on what had just passed. Use had so accustomed Major Duncan to
Lieutenant Muir and all his traits and humors, that the conduct
of the latter did not strike the former with the same force as it
will probably the reader. In truth, while all men act under one
common law that is termed nature, the varieties in their dispositions,
modes of judging, feelings, and selfishness are infinite.
Compel the hawke to sit that is unmann'd,
Or make the hound, untaught, to draw the deere,
Or bring the free against his will in band,
Or move the sad a pleasant tale to heere,
Your time is lost, and you no whit the neere!
So love ne learnes, of force the heart to knit:
She serves but those that feel sweet fancies' fit.
_Mirror for Magistrates._
It is not often that hope is rewarded by fruition so completely as
the wishes of the young men of the garrison were met by the state
of the weather on the succeeding day. The heats of summer were
little felt at Oswego at the period of which we are writing; for
the shade of the forest, added to the refreshing breezes from the
lake, so far reduced the influence of the sun as to render the
nights always cool and the days seldom oppressive.
It was now September, a month in which the strong gales of the coast
often appear to force themselves across the country as far as the
great lakes, where the inland sailor sometimes feels that genial
influence which characterizes the winds of the ocean invigorating
his frame, cheering his spirits, and arousing his moral force.
Such a day was that on which the garrison of Oswego assembled to
witness what its commander had jocularly called a "passage of arms."
Lundie was a scholar in military matters at least, and it was one
of his sources of honest pride to direct the reading and thoughts
of the young men under his orders to the more intellectual parts of
their profession. For one in his situation, his library was both
good and extensive, and its books were freely lent to all who
desired to use them. Among other whims that had found their way
into the garrison through these means, was a relish for the sort
of amusement in which it was now about to indulge; and around which
some chronicles of the days of chivalry had induced them to throw
a parade and romance not unsuited to the characters and habits
of soldiers, or to the insulated and wild post occupied by this
particular garrison. While so earnestly bent on pleasure, however,
they on whom that duty devolved did not neglect the safety of the
garrison. One standing on the ramparts of the fort, and gazing on
the waste of glittering water that bounded the view all along the
northern horizon, and on the slumbering and seemingly boundless
forest which filled the other half of the panorama, would have
fancied the spot the very abode of peacefulness and security; but
Duncan of Lundie too well knew that the woods might, at any moment,
give up their hundreds, bent on the destruction of the fort and
all it contained; and that even the treacherous lake offered a
highway of easy approach by which his more civilized and scarcely
less wily foes, the French, could come upon him at an unguarded
moment. Parties were sent out under old and vigilant officers, men
who cared little for the sports of the day, to scour the forest;
and one entire company held the fort, under arms, with orders to
maintain a vigilance as strict as if an enemy of superior force
was known to be near. With these precautions, the remainder of
the officers and men abandoned themselves, without apprehension,
to the business of the morning.
The spot selected for the sports was a sort of esplanade, a little
west of the fort, and on the immediate bank of the lake. It had been
cleared of its trees and stumps, that it might answer the purpose
of a parade-ground, as it possessed the advantages of having its
rear protected by the water, and one of its flanks by the works.
Men drilling on it could be attacked, consequently, on two sides
only; and as the cleared space beyond it, in the direction of the
west and south, was large, any assailants would be compelled to
quit the cover of the woods before they could make an approach
sufficiently near to render them dangerous.
Although the regular arms of the regiment were muskets, some fifty
rifles were produced on the present occasion. Every officer had
one as a part of his private provision for amusement; many belonged
to the scouts and friendly Indians, of whom more or less were
always hanging about the fort; and there was a public provision
of them for the use of those who followed the game with the express
object of obtaining supplies. Among those who carried the weapon
were some five or six, who had reputation for knowing how to use
it particularly well -- so well, indeed, as to have given them a
celebrity on the frontier; twice that number who were believed to
be much better than common; and many who would have been thought
expert in almost any situation but the precise one in which they
now happened to be placed.
The distance was a hundred yards, and the weapon was to be used
without a rest; the target, a board, with the customary circular
lines in white paint, having the bull's-eye in the centre. The
first trials in skill commenced with challenges among the more
ignoble of the competitors to display their steadiness and dexterity
in idle competition. None but the common men engaged in this
strife, which had little to interest the spectators, among whom no
officer had yet appeared.
Most of the soldiers were Scotch, the regiment having been raised
at Stirling and its vicinity not many years before, though, as in
the case of Sergeant Dunham, many Americans had joined it since its
arrival in the colonies. As a matter of course, the provincials
were generally the most expert marksmen; and after a desultory
trial of half an hour it was necessarily conceded that a youth who
had been born in the colony of New York, and who coming of Dutch
extraction, was the most expert of all who had yet tried their
skill. It was just as this opinion prevailed that the oldest
captain, accompanied by most of the gentlemen and ladies of the
fort, appeared on the parade. A train of some twenty females of
humbler condition followed, among whom was seen the well-turned
form, intelligent, blooming, animated countenance, and neat,
becoming attire of Mabel Dunham.
Of females who were officially recognized as belonging to the class
of ladies, there were but three in the fort, all of whom were
officers' wives; Mabel being strictly, as had been stated by the
Quartermaster, the only real candidate for matrimony among her sex.
Some little preparation had been made for the proper reception
of the females, who were placed on a low staging of planks near
the immediate bank of the lake. In this vicinity the prizes were
suspended from a post. Great care was taken to reserve the front
seat of the stage for the three ladies and their children; while
Mabel and those who belonged to the non-commissioned officers of
the regiment, occupied the second. The wives and daughters of
the privates were huddled together in the rear, some standing and
some sitting, as they could find room. Mabel, who had already been
admitted to the society of the officers' wives, on the footing of
a humble companion, was a good deal noticed by the ladies in front,
who had a proper appreciation of modest self-respect and gentle
refinement, though they were all fully aware of the value of rank,
more particularly in a garrison.
As soon as this important portion of the spectators had got into
their places, Lundie gave orders for the trial of skill to proceed
in the manner that had been prescribed in his previous orders.
Some eight or ten of the best marksmen of the garrison now took
possession of the stand, and began to fire in succession. Among
them were officers and men indiscriminately placed, nor were the
casual visitors in the fort excluded from the competition.
As might have been expected of men whose amusements and comfortable
subsistence equally depended on skill in the use of their weapons,
it was soon found that they were all sufficiently expert to hit the
bull's-eye, or the white spot in the centre of the target. Others
who succeeded them, it is true, were less sure, their bullets striking
in the different circles that surrounded the centre of the target
without touching it.
According to the rules of the day, none could proceed to the second
trial who had failed in the first, and the adjutant of the place,
who acted as master of the ceremonies, or marshal of the day, called
upon the successful adventurers by name to get ready for the next
effort, while he gave notice that those who failed to present
themselves for the shot at the bull's-eye would necessarily be
excluded from all the higher trials. Just at this moment Lundie,
the Quartermaster, and Jasper Eau-douce appeared in the group
at the stand, while the Pathfinder walked leisurely on the ground
without his beloved rifle, for him a measure so unusual, as to
be understood by all present as a proof that he did not consider
himself a competitor for the honors of the day. All made way for
Major Duncan, who, as he approached the stand in a good-humored
way, took his station, levelled his rifle carelessly, and fired.
The bullet missed the required mark by several inches.
"Major Duncan is excluded from the other trials!" proclaimed the
Adjutant, in a voice so strong and confident that all the elder
officers and the sergeants well understood that this failure was
preconcerted, while all the younger gentlemen and the privates felt
new encouragement to proceed on account of the evident impartiality
with which the laws of the sports were administered.
"Now, Master Eau-douce, comes your turn," said Muir; "and if you
do not beat the Major, I shall say that your hand is better skilled
with the oar than with the rifle."
Jasper's handsome face flushed, he stepped upon the stand, cast a
hasty glance at Mabel, whose pretty form he ascertained was bending
eagerly forward as if to note the result, dropped the barrel of his
rifle with but little apparent care into the palm of his left hand,
raised the muzzle for a single instant with exceeding steadiness,
and fired. The bullet passed directly through the centre of the
bull's-eye, much the best shot of the morning, since the others
had merely touched the paint.
"Well performed, Master Jasper," said Muir, as soon as the result
was declared; "and a shot that might have done credit to an older
head and a more experienced eye. I'm thinking, notwithstanding,
there was some of a youngster's luck in it; for ye were no' partic'lar
in the aim ye took. Ye may be quick, Eau-douce, in the movement,
but yer not philosophic nor scientific in yer management of the
weepon. Now, Sergeant Dunham, I'll thank you to request the ladies
to give a closer attention than common; for I'm about to make that
use of the rifle which may be called the intellectual. Jasper would
have killed, I allow; but then there would not have been half the
satisfaction in receiving such a shot as in receiving one that is
All this time the Quartermaster was preparing himself for the
scientific trial; but he delayed his aim until he saw that the eye
of Mabel, in common with those of her companions, was fastened on
him in curiosity. As the others left him room, out of respect
to his rank, no one stood near the competitor but his commanding
officer, to whom he now said in his familiar manner, --
"Ye see, Lundie, that something is to be gained by exciting
a female's curiosity. It's an active sentiment is curiosity, and
properly improved may lead to gentler innovations in the end."
"Very true, Davy; but ye keep us all waiting while ye make your
preparations; and here is Pathfinder drawing near to catch a lesson
from your greater experience."
"Well Pathfinder, and so _you_ have come to get an idea too,
concerning the philosophy of shooting? I do not wish to hide my
light under a bushel, and yer welcome to all ye'll learn. Do ye
no' mean to try a shot yersel', man?"
"Why should I, Quartermaster, why should I? I want none of the
prizes; and as for honor, I have had enough of that, if it's any
honor to shoot better than yourself. I'm not a woman to wear a
"Very true; but ye might find a woman that is precious
in your eyes to wear it for ye, as -- -- "
"Come, Davy," interrupted the Major, "your shot or a retreat. The
Adjutant is getting impatient."
"The Quartermaster's department and the Adjutant's department are
seldom compliable, Lundie; but I'm ready. Stand a little aside,
Pathfinder, and give the ladies an opportunity."
Lieutenant Muir now took his attitude with a good deal of studied
elegance, raised his rifle slowly, lowered it, raised it again,
repeated the manoeuvres, and fired.
"Missed the target altogether!" shouted the man whose duty it was
to mark the bullets, and who had little relish for the Quartermaster's
tedious science. "Missed the target!"
"It cannot be!" cried Muir, his face flushing equally with indignation
and shame; "it cannot be, Adjutant; for I never did so awkward a
thing in my life. I appeal to the ladies for a juster judgment."
"The ladies shut their eyes when you fired!" exclaimed the regimental
wags. "Your preparations alarmed them."
"I will na believe such calumny of the leddies, nor sic' a reproach
on my own skill," returned the Quartermaster, growing more and
more Scotch as he warmed with his feelings; "it's a conspiracy to
rob a meritorious man of his dues."
"It's a dead miss, Muir," said the laughing Lundie; "and ye'll jist
sit down quietly with the disgrace."
"No, no, Major," Pathfinder at length observed; "the Quartermaster
_is_ a good shot for a slow one and a measured distance, though
nothing extr'ornary for real service. He has covered Jasper's
bullet, as will be seen, if any one will take the trouble to examine
The respect for Pathfinder's skill and for his quickness and
accuracy of sight was so profound and general, that, the instant
he made this declaration, the spectators began to distrust their
own opinions, and a dozen rushed to the target in order to ascertain
the fact. There, sure enough, it was found that the Quartermaster's
bullet had gone through the hole made by Jasper's, and that, too,
so accurately as to require a minute examination to be certain of
the circumstance; which, however, was soon clearly established, by
discovering one bullet over the other in the stump against which
the target was placed.
"I told ye, ladies, ye were about to witness the influence of
science on gunnery," said the Quartermaster, advancing towards the
staging occupied by the females. "Major Duncan derides the idea of
mathematics entering into target-shooting; but I tell him philosophy
colors, and enlarges, and improves, and dilates, and explains
everything that belongs to human life, whether it be a shooting-match
or a sermon. In a word, philosophy is philosophy, and that is
saying all that the subject requires."
"I trust you exclude love from the catalogue," observed the wife
of a captain who knew the history of the Quartermaster's marriages,
and who had a woman's malice against the monopolizer of her sex;
"it seems that philosophy has little in common with love."
"You wouldn't say that, madam, if your heart had experienced many
trials. It's the man or the woman that has had many occasions to
improve the affections that can best speak of such matters; and,
believe me, of all love, philosophical is the most lasting, as it
is the most rational."
"You would then recommend experience as an improvement on the
"Your quick mind has conceived the idea at a glance. The happiest
marriages are those in which youth and beauty and confidence on
one side, rely on the sagacity, moderation, and prudence of years
-- middle age, I mean, madam, for I'll no' deny that there is such
a thing as a husband's being too old for a wife. Here is Sergeant
Dunham's charming daughter, now, to approve of such sentiments, I'm
certain; her character for discretion being already well established
in the garrison, short as has been her residence among us."
"Sergeant Dunham's daughter is scarcely a fitting interlocutor in
a discourse between you and me, Lieutenant Muir," rejoined the
captain's lady, with careful respect for her own dignity; "and yonder
is the Pathfinder about to take his chance, by way of changing the
"I protest, Major Duncan, I protest," cried Muir hurrying back
towards the stand, with both arms elevated by way of enforcing
his words, -- "I protest in the strongest terms, gentlemen, against
Pathfinder's being admitted into these sports with Killdeer, which
is a piece, to say nothing of long habit that is altogether out of
proportion for a trial of skill against Government rifles."
"Killdeer is taking its rest, Quartermaster," returned Pathfinder
calmly, "and no one here thinks of disturbing it. I did not think,
myself, of pulling a trigger to-day; but Sergeant Dunham has been
persuading me that I shall not do proper honor to his handsome
daughter, who came in under my care, if I am backward on such an
occasion. I'm using Jasper's rifle, Quartermaster, as you may see,
and that is no better than your own."
Lieutenant Muir was now obliged to acquiesce, and every eye turned
towards the Pathfinder, as he took the required station. The air
and attitude of this celebrated guide and hunter were extremely
fine, as he raised his tall form and levelled the piece, showing
perfect self-command, and a through knowledge of the power of the
human frame as well as of the weapon. Pathfinder was not what is
usually termed a handsome man, though his appearance excited so
much confidence and commanded respect. Tall, and even muscular,
his frame might have been esteemed nearly perfect, were it not for
the total absence of everything like flesh. Whipcord was scarcely
more rigid than his arms and legs, or, at need, more pliable; but the
outlines of his person were rather too angular for the proportion
that the eye most approves. Still, his motions, being natural, were
graceful, and, being calm and regulated, they gave him an air and
dignity that associated well with the idea, which was so prevalent,
of his services and peculiar merits. His honest, open features
were burnt to a bright red, that comported well with the notion of
exposure and hardships, while his sinewy hands denoted force, and
a species of use removed from the stiffening and deforming effects
of labor. Although no one perceived any of those gentler or more
insinuating qualities which are apt to win upon a woman's affections, as
he raised his rifle not a female eye was fastened on him without a
silent approbation of the freedom of his movements and the manliness
of his air. Thought was scarcely quicker than his aim; and, as
the smoke floated above his head, the butt-end of the rifle was
seen on the ground, the hand of the Pathfinder was leaning on the
barrel, and his honest countenance was illuminated by his usual
silent, hearty laugh.
"If one dared to hint at such a thing," cried Major Duncan, "I
should say that the Pathfinder had also missed the target."
"No, no, Major," returned the guide confidently; "that _would_ be
a risky declaration. I didn't load the piece, and can't say what
was in it; but if it was lead, you will find the bullet driving down
those of the Quartermaster and Jasper, else is not my name Pathfinder."
A shout from the target announced the truth of this assertion.
"That's not all, that's not all, boys," called out the guide, who
was now slowly advancing towards the stage occupied by the females;
"if you find the target touched at all, I'll own to a miss. The
Quartermaster cut the wood, but you'll find no wood cut by that
"Very true, Pathfinder, very true," answered Muir, who was lingering
near Mabel, though ashamed to address her particularly in the
presence of the officers' wives. "The Quartermaster did cut the
wood, and by that means he opened a passage for your bullet, which
went through the hole he had made."
"Well, Quartermaster, there goes the nail and we'll see who can
drive it closer, you or I; for, though I did not think of showing
what a rifle can do to-day, now my hand is in, I'll turn my back
to no man that carries King George's commission. Chingachgook is
outlying, or he might force me into some of the niceties of the
art; but, as for you, Quartermaster, if the nail don't stop you,
the potato will."
"You're over boastful this morning, Pathfinder; but you'll find
you've no green boy fresh from the settlements and the towns to
deal with, I will assure ye!"
"I know that well, Quartermaster; I know that well, and shall not
deny your experience. You've lived many years on the frontiers,
and I've heard of you in the colonies, and among the Indians, too,
quite a human life ago."
"Na, na," interrupted Muir in his broadest Scotch, "this is injustice,
man. I've no' lived so very long, neither."
"I'll do you justice, Lieutenant, even if you get the best in
the potato trial. I say you've passed a good human life, for a
soldier, in places where the rifle is daily used, and I know you
are a creditable and ingenious marksman; but then you are not a
true rifle-shooter. As for boasting, I hope I'm not a vain talker
about my own exploits; but a man's gifts are his gifts, and it's
flying in the face of Providence to deny them. The Sergeant's
daughter, here, shall judge between us, if you have the stomach
to submit to so pretty a judge."
The Pathfinder had named Mabel as the arbiter because he admired
her, and because, in his eyes, rank had little or no value; but
Lieutenant Muir shrank at such a reference in the presence of the
wives of the officers. He would gladly keep himself constantly
before the eyes and the imagination of the object of his wishes;
but he was still too much under the influence of old prejudices,
and perhaps too wary, to appear openly as her suitor, unless he
saw something very like a certainty of success. On the discretion
of Major Duncan he had a full reliance, and he apprehended no
betrayal from that quarter; but he was quite aware, should it ever
get abroad that he had been refused by the child of a non-commissioned
officer, he would find great difficulty in making his approaches
to any other woman of a condition to which he might reasonably
aspire. Notwithstanding these doubts and misgivings, Mabel looked
so prettily, blushed so charmingly, smiled so sweetly, and altogether
presented so winning a picture of youth, spirit, modesty, and beauty,
that he found it exceedingly tempting to be kept so prominently
before her imagination, and to be able to address her freely.
"You shall have it your own way, Pathfinder," he answered, as
soon as his doubts had settled down into determination; "let the,
Sergeant's daughter -- his charming daughter, I should have termed
her -- be the umpire then; and to her we will both dedicate the
prize, that one or the other must certainly win. Pathfinder must
be humored, ladies, as you perceive, else, no doubt, we should have
had the honor to submit ourselves to one of your charming society."
A call for the competitors now drew the Quartermaster and his
adversary away, and in a few moments the second trial of skill
commenced. A common wrought nail was driven lightly into the target,
its head having been first touched with paint, and the marksman
was required to hit it, or he lost his chances in the succeeding
trials. No one was permitted to enter, on this occasion, who had
already failed in the essay against the bull's-eye.
There might have been half a dozen aspirants for the honors of
this trial; one or two, who had barely succeeded in touching the
spot of paint in the previous strife, preferring to rest their
reputations there, feeling certain that they could not succeed in
the greater effort that was now exacted of them. The first three
adventurers failed, all coming very near the mark, but neither
touching it. The fourth person who presented himself was the
Quartermaster, who, after going through his usual attitudes, so
far succeeded as to carry away a small portion of the head of the
nail, planting his bullet by the side of its point. This was not
considered an extraordinary shot, though it brought the adventurer
within the category.
"You've saved your bacon, Quartermaster, as they say in the
settlements of their creaturs," cried Pathfinder, laughing; "but
it would take a long time to build a house with a hammer no better
than yours. Jasper, here, will show you how a nail is to be started,
or the lad has lost some of his steadiness of hand and sartainty
of eye. You would have done better yourself, Lieutenant, had you
not been so much bent on soldierizing your figure. Shooting is a
natural gift, and is to be exercised in a natural way."
"We shall see, Pathfinder; I call that a pretty attempt at a nail;
and I doubt if the 55th has another hammer, as you call it, that
can do just the same thing over again."
"Jasper is not in the 55th, but there goes his rap."
As the Pathfinder spoke, the bullet of Eau-douce hit the nail
square, and drove it into the target, within an inch of the head.
"Be all ready to clench it, boys!" cried out Pathfinder, stepping
into his friend's tracks the instant they were vacant. "Never mind
a new nail; I can see that, though the paint is gone, and what I can
see I can hit, at a hundred yards, though it were only a mosquito's
eye. Be ready to clench!"
The rifle cracked, the bullet sped its way, and the head of the nail
was buried in the wood, covered by the piece of flattened lead.
"Well, Jasper, lad," continued Pathfinder, dropping the butt-end
of his rifle to the ground, and resuming the discourse, as if he
thought nothing of his own exploit, "you improve daily. A few
more tramps on land in my company, and the best marksman on the
frontiers will have occasion to look keenly when he takes his
stand ag'in you. The Quartermaster is respectable, but he will
never get any farther; whereas you, Jasper, have the gift, and may
one day defy any who pull trigger."
"Hoot, hoot!" exclaimed Muir; "do you call hitting the head of the
nail respectable only, when it's the perfection of the art? Any
one the least refined and elevated in sentiment knows that the
delicate touches denote the master; whereas your sledge-hammer
blows come from the rude and uninstructed. If 'a miss is as good
as a mile,' a hit ought to be better, Pathfinder, whether it wound
"The surest way of settling this rivalry will be to make another
trial," observed Lundie, "and that will be of the potato. You're
Scotch, Mr. Muir, and might fare better were it a cake or a thistle;
but frontier law has declared for the American fruit, and the potato
it shall be."
As Major Duncan manifested some impatience of manner, Muir had
too much tact to delay the sports any longer with his discursive
remarks, but judiciously prepared himself for the next appeal. To
say the truth, the Quartermaster had little or no faith in his
own success in the trial of skill that was to follow, nor would
he have been so free in presenting himself as a competitor at all
had he anticipated it would have been made; but Major Duncan, who
was somewhat of a humorist in his own quiet Scotch way, had secretly
ordered it to be introduced expressly to mortify him; for, a laird
himself, Lundie did not relish the notion that one who might claim
to be a gentleman should bring discredit on his caste by forming
an unequal alliance. As soon as everything was prepared, Muir was
summoned to the stand, and the potato was held in readiness to be
thrown. As the sort of feat we are about to offer to the reader,
however, may be new to him, a word in explanation will render the
matter more clear. A potato of large size was selected, and given
to one who stood at the distance of twenty yards from the stand.
At the word "heave!" which was given by the marksman, the vegetable
was thrown with a gentle toss into the air, and it was the business
of the adventurer to cause a ball to pass through it before it
reached the ground.
The Quartermaster, in a hundred experiments, had once succeeded in
accomplishing this difficult feat; but he now essayed to perform it
again, with a sort of blind hope that was fated to be disappointed.
The potato was thrown in the usual manner, the rifle was discharged,
but the flying target was untouched.
"To the right-about, and fall out, Quartermaster," said Lundie,
smiling at the success of the artifice. "The honor of the silken
calash will lie between Jasper Eau-douce and Pathfinder."
"And how is the trial to end, Major?" inquired the latter. "Are
we to have the two-potato trial, or is it to be settled by centre
"By centre and skin, if there is any perceptible difference;
otherwise the double shot must follow."
"This is an awful moment to me, Pathfinder," observed Jasper, as
he moved towards the stand, his face actually losing its color in
intensity of feeling.
Pathfinder gazed earnestly at the young man; and then, begging
Major Duncan to have patience for a moment, he led his friend out
of the hearing of all near him before he spoke.
"You seem to take this matter to heart, Jasper?" the hunter remarked,
keeping his eyes fastened on those of the youth.
"I must own, Pathfinder, that my feelings were never before so much
bound up in success."
"And do you so much crave to outdo me, an old and tried friend?
-- and that, as it might be, in my own way? Shooting is my gift,
boy, and no common hand can equal mine."
"I know it -- I know it, Pathfinder; but yet -- "
"But what, Jasper, boy? -- speak freely; you talk to a friend."
The young man compressed his lips, dashed a hand across his eye,
and flushed and paled alternately, like a girl confessing her love.
Then, squeezing the other's hand, he said calmly, like one whose
manhood has overcome all other sensations, "I would lose an arm,
Pathfinder, to be able to make an offering of that calash to Mabel
The hunter dropped his eyes to the ground, and as he walked slowly
back towards the stand, he seemed to ponder deeply on what he had
"You never could succeed in the double trial, Jasper!" he suddenly
"Of that I am certain, and it troubles me."
"What a creature is mortal man! He pines for things which are
not of his gift and treats the bounties of Providence lightly. No
matter, no matter. Take your station, Jasper, for the Major is
waiting; and harken, lad, -- I must touch the skin, for I could
not show my face in the garrison with less than that."
"I suppose I must submit to my fate," returned Jasper, flushing
and losing his color as before; "but I will make the effort, if I
"What a thing is mortal man!" repeated Pathfinder, falling back to
allow his friend room to take his arm; "he overlooks his own gifts,
and craves those of another!"
The potato was thrown, Jasper fired, and the shout that followed
preceded the announcement of the fact that he had driven his bullet
through its centre, or so nearly so as to merit that award.
"Here is a competitor worthy of you, Pathfinder," cried Major Duncan
with delight, as the former took his station; "and we may look to
some fine shooting in the double trial."
"What a thing is mortal man!" repeated the hunter, scarcely seeming
to notice what was passing around him, so much were his thoughts
absorbed in his own reflections. "Toss!"
The potato was tossed, the rifle cracked, -- it was remarked just
as the little black ball seemed stationary in the air, for the
marksman evidently took unusual heed to his aim, -- and then a look
of disappointment and wonder succeeded among those who caught the
"Two holes in one?" called out the Major.
"The skin, the skin!" was the answer; "only the skin!"
"How's this, Pathfinder? Is Jasper Eau-douce to carry off the
honors of the day?"
"The calash is his," returned the other, shaking his head and
walking quietly away from the stand. "What a creature is mortal
man! never satisfied with his own gifts, but for ever craving that
which Providence denies!"
As Pathfinder had not buried his bullet in the potato, but had cut
through the skin, the prize was immediately adjudged to Jasper.
The calash was in the hands of the latter when the Quartermaster
approached, and with a polite air of cordiality he wished his
successful rival joy of his victory.
"But now you've got the calash, lad, it's of no use to you," he
added; "it will never make a sail, nor even an ensign. I'm thinking,
Eau-douce, you'd no' be sorry to see its value in good siller of
"Money cannot buy it, Lieutenant," returned Jasper, whose eye
lighted with all the fire of success and joy. "I would rather
have won this calash than have obtained fifty new suits of sails
for the _Scud!_"
"Hoot, hoot, lad! you are going mad like all the rest of them. I'd
even venture to offer half a guinea for the trifle rather than it
should lie kicking about in the cabin of your cutter, and in the
end become an ornament for the head of a squaw."
Although Jasper did not know that the wary Quartermaster had not
offered half the actual cost of the prize, he heard the proposition
with indifference. Shaking his head in the negative, he advanced
towards the stage, where his approach excited a little commotion,
the officers' ladies, one and all, having determined to accept the
present, should the gallantry of the young sailor induce him to
offer it. But Jasper's diffidence, no less than admiration for
another, would have prevented him from aspiring to the honor of
complimenting any whom he thought so much his superiors.
"Mabel," said he, "this prize is for you, unless -- "
"Unless what, Jasper?" answered the girl, losing her own bashfulness
in the natural and generous wish to relieve his embarrassment,
though both reddened in a way to betray strong feeling.
"Unless you may think too indifferently of it, because it is offered
by one who may have no right to believe his gift will be accepted."
"I do accept it, Jasper; and it shall be a sign of the danger I
have passed in your company, and of the gratitude I feel for your
care of me -- your care, and that of the Pathfinder."
"Never mind me, never mind me!" exclaimed the latter; "this is
Jasper's luck, and Jasper's gift: give him full credit for both.
My turn may come another day; mine and the Quartermaster's, who
seems to grudge the boy the calash; though what _he_ can want of
it I cannot understand, for he has no wife."
"And has Jasper Eau-douce a wife? Or have you a wife yoursel',
Pathfinder? I may want it to help to get a wife, or as a memorial
that I have had a wife, or as proof how much I admire the sex, or
because it is a female garment, or for some other equally respectable
motive. It's not the unreflecting that are the most prized by
the thoughtful, and there is no surer sign that a man made a good
husband to his first consort, let me tell you all, than to see him
speedily looking round for a competent successor. The affections
are good gifts from Providence, and they that have loved one
faithfully prove how much of this bounty has been lavished upon
them by loving another as soon as possible."
"It may be so, it may be so. I am no practitioner in such things,
and cannot gainsay it. But Mabel here, the Sergeant's daughter,
will give you full credit for the words. Come, Jasper, although
our hands are out, let us see what the other lads can do with the
Pathfinder and his companions retired, for the sports were about
to proceed. The ladies, however, were not so much engrossed with
rifle-shooting as to neglect the calash. It passed from hand
to hand; the silk was felt, the fashion criticized, and the work
examined, and divers opinions were privately ventured concerning
the fitness of so handsome a thing passing into the possession of
a non-commissioned officer's child.
"Perhaps you will be disposed to sell that calash, Mabel, when it
has been a short time in your possession?" inquired the captain's
lady. "Wear it, I should think, you never can."
"I may not wear it, madam," returned our heroine modestly; "but I
should not like to part with it either."
"I daresay Sergeant Dunham keeps you above the necessity of selling
your clothes, child; but, at the same time, it is money thrown
away to keep an article of dress you can never wear."
"I should be unwilling to part with the gift of a friend."
"But the young man himself will think all the better of you for
your prudence after the triumph of the day is forgotten. It is a
pretty and a becoming calash, and ought not to be thrown away."
"I've no intention to throw it away, ma'am; and, if you please,
would rather keep it."
"As you will, child; girls of your age often overlook the real
advantages. Remember, however, if you do determine to dispose of
the thing, that it is bespoke, and that I will not take it if you
ever even put it on your own head."
"Yes, ma'am," said Mabel, in the meekest voice imaginable, though
her eyes looked like diamonds, and her cheeks reddened to the
tints of two roses, as she placed the forbidden garment over her
well-turned shoulders, where she kept it a minute, as if to try
its fitness, and then quietly removed it again.
The remainder of the sports offered nothing of interest. The
shooting was reasonably good; but the trials were all of a scale
lower than those related, and the competitors were soon left to
themselves. The ladies and most of the officers withdrew, and the
remainder of the females soon followed their example. Mabel was
returning along the low flat rocks that line the shore of the lake,
dangling her pretty calash from a prettier finger, when Pathfinder
met her. He carried the rifle which he had used that day; but
his manner had less of the frank ease of the hunter about it than
usual, while his eye seemed roving and uneasy. After a few unmeaning
words concerning the noble sheet of water before them, he turned
towards his companion with strong interest in his countenance, and
"Jasper earned that calash for you, Mabel, without much trial of
"It was fairly done, Pathfinder."
"No doubt, no doubt. The bullet passed neatly through the potato,
and no man could have done more; though others might have done as
"But no one did as much!" exclaimed Mabel, with an animation that
she instantly regretted; for she saw by the pained look of the guide
that he was mortified equally by the remark and by the feeling with
which it was uttered.
"It is true, it is true, Mabel, no one did as much then; but -- yet
there is no reason I should deny my gifts which come from Providence
-- yes, yes; no one did as much there, but you shall know what
_can_ be done here. Do you observe the gulls that are flying over
"Certainly, Pathfinder; there are too many to escape notice."
"Here, where they cross each other in sailing about," he added,
cocking and raising his rifle; "the two -- the two. Now look!"
The piece was presented quick as thought, as two of the birds came
in a line, though distant from each other many yards; the report
followed, and the bullet passed through the bodies of both victims.
No sooner had the gulls fallen into the lake, than Pathfinder
dropped the butt-end of the rifle, and laughed in his own peculiar
manner, every shade of dissatisfaction and mortified pride having
left his honest face.
"That is something, Mabel, that is something; although I have no
calash to give you! But ask Jasper himself; I'll leave it all to
Jasper, for a truer tongue and heart are not in America."
"Then it was not Jasper's fault that he gained the prize?"
"Not it. He did his best, and he did well. For one that has water
gifts, rather than land gifts, Jasper is uncommonly expert, and a
better backer no one need wish, ashore or afloat. But it was my
fault, Mabel, that he got the calash; though it makes no difference
-- it makes no difference, for the thing has gone to the right
"I believe I understand you, Pathfinder," said Mabel, blushing in
spite of herself, "and I look upon the calash as the joint gift of
yourself and Jasper."
"That would not be doing justice to the lad, neither. He won the
garment, and had a right to give it away. The most you may think,
Mabel, is to believe that, had I won it, it would have gone to the
"I will remember that, Pathfinder, and take care that others know
your skill, as it has been proved upon the poor gulls in my presence."
"Lord bless you, Mabel! there is no more need of your talking in
favor of my shooting on this frontier, than of your talking about
the water in the lake or the sun in the heavens. Everybody knows
what I can do in that way, and your words would be thrown away, as
much as French would be thrown away on an American bear."
"Then you think that Jasper knew you were giving him this advantage,
of which he had so unhandsomely availed himself?" said Mabel,
the color which had imparted so much lustre to her eyes gradually
leaving her face, which became grave and thoughtful.
"I do not say that, but very far from it. We all forget things that
we have known, when eager after our wishes. Jasper is satisfied
that I can pass one bullet through two potatoes, as I sent my bullet
through the gulls; and he knows no other man on the frontier can
do the same thing. But with the calash before his eyes, and the
hope of giving it to you, the lad was inclined to think better
of himself, just at that moment, perhaps, than he ought. No, no,
there's nothing mean or distrustful about Jasper Eau-douce, though
it is a gift natural to all young men to wish to appear well in
the eyes of handsome young women."
"I'll try to forget all, but the kindness you've both shown to a poor
motherless girl," said Mabel, struggling to keep down emotions she
scarcely knew how to account for herself. "Believe me, Pathfinder,
I can never forget all you have already done for me -- you and Jasper;
and this new proof of your regard is not thrown away. Here, here
is a brooch that is of silver, and I offer it as a token that I
owe you life or liberty."
"What shall I do with this, Mabel?" asked the bewildered hunter,
holding the simple trinket in his hand. "I have neither buckle
nor button about me, for I wear nothing but leathern strings, and
them of good deer-skins. It's pretty to the eye, but it is prettier
far on the spot it came from than it can be about me."
"Nay, put it in your hunting-shirt; it will become it well.
Remember, Pathfinder, that it is a token of friendship between us,
and a sign that I can never forget you or your services."
Mabel then smiled an adieu; and, bounding up the bank, she was soon
lost to view behind the mound of the fort.
Lo! dusky masses steal in dubious sight,
Along the leaguer'd wall, and bristling bank,
Of the arm'd river; while with straggling light,
The stars peep through the vapor, dim and dank.
A few hours later Mabel Dunham was on the bastion that overlooked
the river and the lake, seemingly in deep thought. The evening
was calm and soft, and the question had arisen whether the party
for the Thousand Islands would be able to get out that night or
not, on account of the total absence of wind. The stores, arms,
and ammunition were already shipped, and even Mabel's effects
were on board; but the small draft of men that was to go was still
ashore, there being no apparent prospect of the cutter's getting
under way. Jasper had warped the _Scud_ out of the cove, and so
far up the stream as to enable him to pass through the outlet of the
river whenever he chose; but there he still lay, riding at single
anchor. The drafted men were lounging about the shore of the cove,
undecided whether or not to pull off.
The sports of the morning had left a quiet in the garrison which
was in harmony with the whole of the beautiful scene, and Mabel
felt its influence on her feelings, though probably too little
accustomed to speculate on such sensations to be aware of the
cause. Everything near appeared lovely and soothing, while the
solemn grandeur of the silent forest and placid expanse of the
lake lent a sublimity that other scenes might have wanted. For the
first time, Mabel felt the hold that the towns and civilization
had gained on her habits sensibly weakened; and the warm-hearted
girl began to think that a life passed amid objects such as those
around her might be happy. How far the experience of the last days
came in aid of the calm and holy eventide, and contributed towards
producing that young conviction, may be suspected, rather than
affirmed, in this early portion of our legend.
"A charming sunset, Mabel!" said the hearty voice of her uncle,
so close to the ear of our heroine as to cause her to start, -- "a
charming sunset, girl, for a fresh-water concern, though we should
think but little of it at sea."
"And is not nature the same on shore or at sea -- on a lake like
this or on the ocean? Does not the sun shine on all alike, dear
uncle; and can we not feel gratitude for the blessings of Providence
as strongly on this remote frontier as in our own Manhattan?"
"The girl has fallen in with some of her mother's books. Is
not nature the same, indeed! Now, Mabel, do you imagine that the
nature of a soldier is the same as that of a seafaring man? You've
relations in both callings, and ought to be able to answer."
"But uncle, I mean human nature."
"So do I, girl; the human nature of a seaman, and the human nature
of one of these fellows of the 55th, not even excepting your
own father. Here have they had a shooting-match -- target-firing
I should call it -- this day, and what a different thing has it
been from a target-firing afloat! There we should have sprung our
broadside, sported with round shot, at an object half a mile off,
at the very nearest; and the potatoes, if there happened to be any
on board, as very likely would not have been the case, would have
been left in the cook's coppers. It may be an honorable calling,
that of a soldier, Mabel; but an experienced hand sees many follies
and weaknesses in one of these forts. As for that bit of a lake,
you know my opinion of it already, and I wish to disparage nothing.
No real seafarer disparages anything; but, d--- me, if I regard
this here Ontario, as they call it, as more than so much water in
a ship's scuttle-butt. Now, look you here, Mabel, if you wish to
understand the difference between the ocean and a lake, I can make
you comprehend it with a single look: this is what one may call
a calm, seeing that there is no wind; though, to own the truth,
I do not think the calms are as calm as them we get outside -- "
"Uncle, there is not a breath of air. I do not think it possible
for the leaves to be more immovably still than those of the entire
forest are at this very moment."
"Leaves! what are leaves, child? there are no leaves at sea. If
you wish to know whether it is a dead calm or not, try a mould
candle, -- your dips flaring too much, --and then you may be certain
whether there is or is not any wind. If you were in a latitude
where the air was so still that you found a difficulty in stirring
it to draw it in in breathing, you might fancy it a calm. People
are often on a short allowance of air in the calm latitudes. Here,
again, look at that water! It is like milk in a pan, with no more
motion now than there is in a full hogshead before the bung is
started. On the ocean the water is never still, let the air be as
quiet as it may."
"The water of the ocean never still, Uncle Cap? not even in a calm?"
"Bless your heart, no, child! The ocean breathes like a living
being, and its bosom is always heaving, as the poetizers call it,
though there be no more air than is to be found in a siphon. No
man ever saw the ocean still like this lake; but it heaves and sets
as if it had lungs."
"And this lake is not absolutely still, for you perceive there is
a little ripple on the shore, and you may even hear the surf plunging
at moments against the rocks."
"All d----d poetry! Lake Ontario is no more the Atlantic than a
Powles Hook periagila is a first-rate. That Jasper, notwithstanding,
is a fine lad, and wants instruction only to make a man of him."
"Do you think him ignorant, uncle?" answered Mabel, prettily adjusting
her hair, in order to do which she was obliged, or fancied she was
obliged, to turn away her face. "To me Jasper Eau-douce appears
to know more than most of the young men of his class. He has read
but little, for books are not plenty in this part of the world; but
he has thought much, as least so it seems to me, for one so young."
"He is ignorant, as all must be who navigate an inland water like
this. No, no, Mabel; we both owe something to Jasper and the
Pathfinder, and I have been thinking how I can best serve them, for
I hold ingratitude to be the vice of a hog; for treat the animal
to your own dinner, and he would eat you for the dessert."
"Very true, dear uncle; we ought indeed to do all we can to express
our proper sense of the services of both these brave men."
"Spoken like your mother's daughter, girl, and in a way to do credit
to the Cap family. Now, I've hit upon a traverse that will just
suit all parties; and, as soon as we get back from this little
expedition down the lake among them there Thousand Islands, and I
am ready to return, it is my intention to propose it."
"Dearest uncle! this is so considerate in you, and will be so just!
May I ask what your intentions are?"
"I see no reason for keeping them a secret from you, Mabel, though
nothing need be said to your father about them; for the Sergeant has
his prejudices, and might throw difficulties in the way. Neither
Jasper nor his friend Pathfinder can ever make anything hereabouts,
and I propose to take both with me down to the coast, and get them
fairly afloat. Jasper would find his sea-legs in a fortnight, and
a twelvemonth's v'y'ge would make him a man. Although Pathfinder
might take more time, or never get to be rated able, yet one could
make something of him too, particularly as a look-out, for he has
unusually good eyes."
"Uncle, do you think either would consent to this?" said Mabel
"Do I suppose them simpletons? What rational being would neglect
his own advancement? Let Jasper alone to push his way, and the
lad may yet die the master of some square-rigged craft."
"And would he be any the happier for it, dear uncle? How much
better is it to be the master of a square-rigged craft than to be
master of a round-rigged craft?"
"Pooh, pooh, Magnet! You are just fit to read lectures about
ships before some hysterical society; you don't know what you are
talking about; leave these things to me, and they'll be properly
managed. Ah! Here is the Pathfinder himself, and I may just as
well drop him a hint of my benevolent intentions as regards himself.
Hope is a great encourager of our exertions."
Cap nodded his head, and then ceased to speak, while the hunter
approached, not with his usual frank and easy manner, but in a way
to show that he was slightly embarrassed, if not distrustful of
"Uncle and niece make a family party," said Pathfinder, when near
the two, "and a stranger may not prove a welcome companion?"
"You are no stranger, Master Pathfinder," returned Cap, "and no one
can be more welcome than yourself. We were talking of you but a
moment ago, and when friends speak of an absent man, he can guess
what they have said."
"I ask no secrets. Every man has his enemies, and I have mine,
though I count neither you, Master Cap, nor pretty Mabel here among
the number. As for the Mingos, I will say nothing, though they
have no just cause to hate me."
"That I'll answer for, Pathfinder! for you strike my fancy as being
well-disposed and upright. There is a method, however, of getting
away from the enmity of even these Mingos; and if you choose to take
it, no one will more willingly point it out than myself, without
a charge for my advice either."
"I wish no enemies, Saltwater," for so the Pathfinder had begun
to call Cap, having, insensibly to himself, adopted the term,
by translating the name given him by the Indians in and about the
fort, -- "I wish no enemies. I'm as ready to bury the hatchet with
the Mingos as with the French, though you know that it depends on
One greater than either of us so to turn the heart as to leave a
man without enemies."
"By lifting your anchor, and accompanying me down to the coast,
friend Pathfinder, when we get back from this short cruise on
which we are bound, you will find yourself beyond the sound of the
war-whoop, and safe enough from any Indian bullet."
"And what should I do on the salt water? Hunt in your towns? Follow
the trails of people going and coming from market, and ambush dogs
and poultry? You are no friend to my happiness, Master Cap, if
you would lead me out of the shades of the woods to put me in the
sun of the clearings."
"I did not propose to leave you in the settlements, Pathfinder, but
to carry you out to sea, where a man can only be said to breathe
freely. Mabel will tell you that such was my intention, before a
word was said on the subject."
"And what does Mabel think would come of such a change? She knows
that a man has his gifts, and that it is as useless to pretend
to others as to withstand them that come from Providence. I am
a hunter, and a scout, or a guide, Saltwater, and it is not in me
to fly so much in the face of Heaven as to try to become anything
else. Am I right, Mabel, or are you so much a woman as to wish to
see a natur' altered?"
"I would wish to see no change in you, Pathfinder," Mabel answered,
with a cordial sincerity and frankness that went directly to the
hunter's heart; "and much as my uncle admires the sea, and great
as is all the good that he thinks may come of it, I could not wish
to see the best and noblest hunter of the woods transformed into
an admiral. Remain what you are, my brave friend, and you need
fear nothing short of the anger of God."
"Do you hear this, Saltwater? do you hear what the Sergeant's
daughter is saying, and she is much too upright, and fair-minded,
and pretty, not to think what she says. So long as she is satisfied
with me as I am, I shall not fly in the face of the gifts of
Providence, by striving to become anything else. I may seem useless
here in a garrison; but when we get down among the Thousand Islands,
there may be an opportunity to prove that a sure rifle is sometimes
"You are then to be of our party?" said Mabel, smiling so frankly
and so sweetly on the guide that he would have followed her to the
end of the earth. "I shall be the only female, with the exception
of one soldier's wife, and shall feel none the less secure,
Pathfinder, because you will be among our protectors."
"The Sergeant would do that, Mabel, though you were not of his kin.
No one will overlook you. I should think your uncle here would
like an expedition of this sort, where we shall go with sails, and
have a look at an inland sea?"
"Your inland sea is no great matter, Master Pathfinder, and I
expect nothing from it. I confess, however, I should like to know
the object of the cruise; for one does not wish to be idle, and my
brother-in-law, the Sergeant, is as close-mouthed as a freemason.
Do you know, Mabel, what all this means?"
"Not in the least, uncle. I dare not ask my father any questions
about his duty, for he thinks it is not a woman's business; and all
I can say is, that we are to sail as soon as the wind will permit,
and that we are to be absent a month."
"Perhaps Master Pathfinder can give me a useful hint; for a v'y'ge
without an object is never pleasant to an old sailor."
"There is no great secret, Saltwater, concerning our port and object,
though it is forbidden to talk much about either in the garrison.
I am no soldier, however, and can use my tongue as I please, though
as little given as another to idle conversation, I hope; still, as
we sail so soon, and you are both to be of the party, you may as
well be told where you are to be carried. You know that there are
such things as the Thousand Islands, I suppose, Master Cap?"
"Ay, what are so called hereaway, though I take it for granted that
they are not real islands, such as we fall in with on the ocean;
and that the thousand means some such matter as two or three."
"My eyes are good, and yet have I often been foiled in trying to
count them very islands."
"Ay, ay, I've known people who couldn't count beyond a certain
number. Your real land-birds never know their own roosts, even
in a landfall at sea. How many times have I seen the beach, and
houses, and churches, when the passengers have not been able to
see anything but water! I have no idea that a man can get fairly
out of sight of land on fresh water. The thing appears to me to
be irrational and impossible."
"You don't know the lakes, Master Cap, or you would not say that.
Before we get to the Thousand Islands, you will have other notions
of what natur' has done in this wilderness."
"I have my doubts whether you have such a thing as a real island
in all this region."
"We'll show you hundreds of them; not exactly a thousand, perhaps,
but so many that eye cannot see them all, nor tongue count them."
"I'll engage, when the truth comes to be known, they'll turn out to
be nothing but peninsulas, or promontories; or continents; though
these are matters, I daresay, of which you know little or nothing.
But, islands or no islands, what is the object of the cruise, Master
"There can be no harm in giving you some idea of what we are going
to do. Being so old a sailor, Master Cap, you've heard, no doubt,
of such a port as Frontenac?"
"Who hasn't? I will not say I've ever been inside the harbor, but
I've frequently been off the place."
"Then you are about to go upon ground with which you are acquainted.
These great lakes, you must know, make a chain, the water passing
out of one into the other, until it reaches Erie, which is a sheet
off here to the westward, as large as Ontario itself. Well, out of
Erie the water comes, until it reaches a low mountain like, over
the edge of which it passes."
"I should like to know how the devil it can do that?"
"Why, easy enough, Master Cap," returned Pathfinder, laughing,
"seeing that it has only to fall down hill. Had I said the water
went _up_ the mountain, there would have been natur' ag'in it; but
we hold it no great matter for water to run down hill -- that is,
"Ay, ay, but you speak of the water of a lake's coming down the
side of a mountain; it's in the teeth of reason, if reason has any
"Well, well, we will not dispute the point; but what I've seen
I've seen. After getting into Ontario, all the water of _all_ the
lakes passes down into the sea by a river; and in the narrow part
of the sheet, where it is neither river nor lake, lie the islands
spoken of. Now Frontenac is a post of the Frenchers above these
same islands; and, as they hold the garrison below, their stores
and ammunition are sent up the river to Frontenac, to be forwarded
along the shores of this and the other lakes, in order to enable
the enemy to play his devilries among the savages, and to take
"And will our presence prevent these horrible acts?" demanded Mabel,
"It may or it may not, as Providence wills. Lundie, as they call
him, he who commands this garrison, sent a party down to take
a station among the islands, to cut off some of the French boats;
and this expedition of ours will be the second relief. As yet
they've not done much, though two bateaux loaded with Indian goods
have been taken; but a runner came in last week, and brought such
tidings that the Major is about to make a last effort to circumvent
the knaves. Jasper knows the way, and we shall be in good hands,
for the Sergeant is prudent, and of the first quality at an
ambushment; yes, he is both prudent and alert."
"Is this all?" said Cap contemptuously; "by the preparations and
equipments, I had thought there was a forced trade in the wind,
and that an honest penny might be turned by taking an adventure.
I suppose there are no shares in your fresh-water prize-money?"
"I take it for granted the king gets all in these soldiering parties,
and ambushments, as you call them."
"I know nothing about that, Master Cap. I take my share of the
lead and powder if any falls into our hands, and say nothing to the
king about it. If any one fares better, it is not I; though it is
time I did begin to think of a house and furniture and a home."
Although the Pathfinder did not dare to look at Mabel while he made
this direct allusion to his change of life, he would have given the
world to know whether she was listening, and what was the expression
of her countenance. Mabel little suspected the nature of the
allusion, however; and her countenance was perfectly unembarrassed
as she turned her eyes towards the river, where the appearance of
some movement on board the _Scud_ began to be visible.
"Jasper is bringing the cutter out," observed the guide, whose look
was drawn in the same direction by the fall of some heavy article
on the deck. "The lad sees the signs of wind, no doubt, and wishes
to be ready for it."
"Ay, now we shall have an opportunity of learning seamanship,"
returned Cap, with a sneer. "There is a nicety in getting a craft
under her canvas that shows the thoroughbred mariner as much as
anything else. It's like a soldier buttoning his coat, and one
can see whether he begins at the top or the bottom."
"I will not say that Jasper is equal to your seafarers below,"
observed Pathfinder, across whose upright mind an unworthy feeling
of envy or of jealousy never passed; "but he is a bold boy, and
manages his cutter as skillfully as any man can desire, on this
lake at least. You didn't find him backwards at the Oswego Falls,
Master Cap, where fresh water contrives to tumble down hill with
Cap made no other answer than a dissatisfied ejaculation, and
then a general silence followed, all on the bastion studying the
movements of the cutter with the interest that was natural to their
own future connection with the vessel. It was still a dead calm,
the surface of the lake literally glittering with the last rays
of the sun. The _Scud_ had been warped up to a kedge that lay a
hundred yards above the points of the outlet, where she had room
to manoeuvre in the river which then formed the harbor of Oswego.
But the total want of air prevented any such attempt, and it was
soon evident that the light vessel was to be taken through the
passage under her sweeps. Not a sail was loosened; but as soon
as the kedge was tripped, the heavy fall of the sweeps was heard,
when the cutter, with her head up stream, began to sheer towards
the centre of the current; on reaching which, the efforts of the
men ceased, and she drifted towards the outlet. In the narrow
pass itself her movement was rapid, and in less than five minutes
the _Scud_ was floating outside of the two low gravelly points which
intercepted the waves of the lake. No anchor was let go, but the
vessel continued to set off from the land, until her dark hull
was seen resting on the glossy surface of the lake, full a quarter
of a mile beyond the low bluff which formed the eastern extremity
of what might be called the outer harbor or roadstead. Here the
influence of the river current ceased, and she became, virtually,
"She seems very beautiful to me, uncle," said Mabel, whose gaze had
not been averted from the cutter for a single moment while it had
thus been changing its position; "I daresay you can find faults in
her appearance, and in the way she is managed; but to my ignorance
both are perfect."
"Ay, ay; she drops down with a current well enough, girl, and
so would a chip. But when you come to niceties, all old tar like
myself has no need of spectacles to find fault."
"Well, Master Cap," put in the guide, who seldom heard anything to
Jasper's prejudice without manifesting a disposition to interfere,
"I've heard old and experienced saltwater mariners confess that
the _Scud_ is as pretty a craft as floats. I know nothing of such
matters myself; but one may have his own notions about a ship,
even though they be wrong notions; and it would take more than one
witness to persuade me Jasper does not keep his boat in good order."
"I do not say that the cutter is downright lubberly, Master
Pathfinder; but she has faults, and great faults."
"And what are they, uncle? If he knew them, Jasper would be glad
to mend them."
"What are they? Why, fifty; ay, for that matter a hundred. Very
material and manifest faults."
"Do name them, sir, and Pathfinder will mention them to his friend."
"Name them! it is no easy matter to call off the stars, for the
simple reason that they are so numerous. Name them, indeed! Why,
my pretty niece, Miss Magnet, what do you think of that main-boom
now? To my ignorant eyes, it is topped at least a foot too high;
and then the pennant is foul; and -- and -- ay, d--- me, if there
isn't a topsail gasket adrift; and it wouldn't surprise me at all
if there should be a round turn in that hawser, if the kedge were
to be let go this instant. Faults indeed! No seaman could look
at her a moment without seeing that she is as full of faults as a
servant who has asked for his discharge."
"This may be very true, uncle, though I much question if Jasper knows
of them. I do not think he would suffer these things, Pathfinder,
if they were once pointed out to him."
"Let Jasper manage his own cutter, Mabel. His gift lies that-a-way,
and I'll answer for it, no one can teach him how to keep the _Scud_
out of the hands of the Frontenackers or their devilish Mingo
friends. Who cares for round turns in kedges, and for hawsers
that are topped too high, Master Cap, so long as the craft sails
well, and keeps clear of the Frenchers? I will trust Jasper
against all the seafarers of the coast, up here on the lakes; but
I do not say he has any gift for the ocean, for there he has never
Cap smiled condescendingly, but he did not think it necessary to
push his criticisms any further just as that moment. By this time
the cutter had begun to drift at the mercy of the currents of the
lake, her head turning in all directions, though slowly, and not
in a way to attract particular attention. Just at this moment
the jib was loosened and hoisted, and presently the canvas swelled
towards the land, though no evidences of air were yet to be seen on
the surface of the water. Slight, however, as was the impulsion,
the light hull yielded; and in another minute the _Scud_ was seen
standing across the current of the river with a movement so easy
and moderate as to be scarcely perceptible. When out of the stream,
she struck an eddy and shot up towards the land, under the eminence
where the fort stood, when Jasper dropped his kedge.
"Not lubberly done," muttered Cap in a sort of soliloquy, -- "not
over lubberly, though he should have put his helm a-starboard
instead of a-port; for a vessel ought always to come-to with her
head off shore, whether she is a league from the land or only a
cable's length, since it has a careful look, and looks are something
in this world."
"Jasper is a handy lad," suddenly observed Sergeant Dunham at his
brother-in-law's elbow; "and we place great reliance on his skill
in our expeditions. But come, one and all, we have but half an hour
more of daylight to embark in, and the boats will be ready for us
by the time we are ready for them."
On this intimation the whole party separated, each to find those
trifles which had not been shipped already. A few taps of the drum
gave the necessary signal to the soldiers, and in a minute all were
The goblin now the fool alarms,
Hags meet to mumble o'er their charms,
The night-mare rides the dreaming ass,
And fairies trip it on the grass.
The embarkation of so small a party was a matter of no great delay
or embarrassment. The whole force confided to the care of Sergeant
Dunham consisted of but ten privates and two non-commissioned
officers, though it was soon positively known that Mr. Muir was
to accompany the expedition. The Quartermaster, however, went as
a volunteer, while some duty connected with his own department,
as had been arranged between him and his commander, was the avowed
object. To these must be added the Pathfinder and Cap, with
Jasper and his subordinates, one of whom was a boy. The party,
consequently, consisted of less than twenty men, and a lad of
fourteen. Mabel and the wife of a common soldier were the only
Sergeant Dunham carried off his command in a large bateau, and then
returned for his final orders, and to see that his brother-in-law
and daughter were properly attended to. Having pointed out to Cap
the boat that he and Mabel were to use, he ascended the hill to
seek his last interview with Lundie.
It was nearly dark when Mabel found herself in the boat that was
to carry her off to the cutter. So very smooth was the surface
of the lake, that it was not found necessary to bring the bateaux
into the river to receive their freights; but the beach outside
being totally without surf, and the water as tranquil as that of
a pond, everybody embarked there. When the boat left the land,
Mabel would not have known that she was afloat on so broad a sheet
of water by any movement which is usual to such circumstances. The
oars had barely time to give a dozen strokes, when the boat lay
at the cutter's side.
Jasper was in readiness to receive his passengers; and, as the
deck of the _Scud_ was but two or three feet above the water, no
difficulty was experienced in getting on board of her. As soon
as this was effected, the young man pointed out to Mabel and her
companion the accommodations prepared for their reception. The
little vessel contained four apartments below, all between decks
having been expressly constructed with a view to the transportation
of officers and men, with their wives and families. First in
rank was what was called the after-cabin, a small apartment that
contained four berths, and which enjoyed the advantage of possessing
small windows, for the admission of air and light. This was
uniformly devoted to females whenever any were on board; and as
Mabel and her companion were alone, they had ample accommodation.
The main cabin was larger, and lighted from above. It was now
appropriated to the Quartermaster, the Sergeant, Cap, and Jasper;
the Pathfinder roaming through any part of the cutter he pleased,
the female apartment excepted. The corporals and common soldiers
occupied the space beneath the main hatch, which had a deck
for such a purpose, while the crew were berthed, as usual, in the
forecastle. Although the cutter did not measure quite fifty tons,
the draft of officers and men was so light, that there was ample
room for all on board, there being space enough to accommodate
treble the number, if necessary.
As soon as Mabel had taken possession of her own really comfortable
cabin, in doing which she could not abstain from indulging in the
pleasant reflection that some of Jasper's favor had been especially
manifested in her behalf, she went on deck again. Here all was
momentarily in motion; the men were roving to and fro, in quest
of their knapsacks and other effects; but method and habit soon
reduced things to order, when the stillness on board became even
imposing, for it was connected with the idea of future adventure
and ominous preparation.
Darkness was now beginning to render objects on shore indistinct,
the whole of the land forming one shapeless black outline of even
forest summits, to be distinguished from the impending heavens only
by the greater light of the sky. The stars, however, soon began to
appear in the latter, one after another, in their usual mild, placid
lustre, bringing with them that sense of quiet which ordinarily
accompanies night. There was something soothing, as well as exciting,
in such a scene; and Mabel, who was seated on the quarter-deck,
sensibly felt both influences. The Pathfinder was standing near
her, leaning, as usual, on his long rifle, and she fancied that,
through the growing darkness of the hour, she could trace even
stronger lines of thought than usual in his rugged countenance.
"To you, Pathfinder, expeditions like this can be no great novelty,"
said she; "though I am surprised to find how silent and thoughtful
the men appear to be."
"We learn this by making war ag'in Indians. Your militia are great
talkers and little doers in general; but the soldier who has often
met the Mingos learns to know the value of a prudent tongue. A
silent army, in the woods, is doubly strong; and a noisy one,
doubly weak. If tongues made soldiers, the, women of a camp would
generally carry the day."
"But we are neither an army, nor in the woods. There can be no
danger of Mingos in the _Scud_."
"No one is safe from a Mingo, who does not understand his very
natur'; and even then he must act up to his own knowledge, and that
closely. Ask Jasper how he got command of this very cutter."
"And how _did_ he get command?" inquired Mabel, with an earnestness
and interest that quite delighted her simple-minded and true-hearted
companion, who was never better pleased than when he had an
opportunity of saying aught in favor of a friend. "It is honorable
to him that he has reached this station while yet so young."
"That is it; but he deserved it all, and more. A frigate wouldn't
have been too much to pay for so much spirit and coolness, had
there been such a thing on Ontario, as there is not, hows'ever, or
likely to be."
"But Jasper -- you have not yet told me how he got the command of
"It is a long story, Mabel, and one your father, the Sergeant, can
tell much better than I; for he was present, while I was off on a
distant scouting. Jasper is not good at a story, I will own that;
I have heard him questioned about this affair, and he never made
a good tale of it, although every body knows it was a good thing.
The _Scud_ had near fallen into the hands of the French and the
Mingos, when Jasper saved her, in a way which none but a quick-witted
mind and a bold heart would have attempted. The Sergeant will tell
the tale better than I can, and I wish you to question him some
day, when nothing better offers."
Mabel determined to ask her father to repeat the incidents of the
affair that very night; for it struck her young fancy that nothing
better could well offer than to listen to the praises of one who
was a bad historian of his own exploits.
"Will the _Scud_ remain with us when we reach the island?" she asked,
after a little hesitation about the propriety of the question; "or
shall we be left to ourselves?"
"That's as may be: Jasper does not often keep the cutter idle when
anything is to be done; and we may expect activity on his part.
My gifts, however, run so little towards the water and vessels
generally, unless it be among rapids and falls and in canoes, that
I pretend to know nothing about it. We shall have all right under
Jasper, I make no doubt, who can find a trail on Ontario as well
as a Delaware can find one on the land."
"And our own Delaware, Pathfinder -- the Big Serpent --why is he
not with us to-night?"
"Your question would have been more natural had you said, Why are
_you_ here, Pathfinder? The Sarpent is in his place, while I am
not in mine. He is out, with two or three more, scouting the lake
shores, and will join us down among the islands, with the tidings he
may gather. The Sergeant is too good a soldier to forget his rear
while he is facing the enemy in front. It's a thousand pities,
Mabel, your father wasn't born a general, as some of the English are
who come among us; for I feel sartain he wouldn't leave a Frencher
in the Canadas a week, could he have his own way with them."
"Shall we have enemies to face in front?" asked Mabel, smiling, and
for the first time feeling a slight apprehension about the dangers
of the expedition. "Are we likely to have an engagement?"
"If we have, Mabel, there will be men enough ready and willing
to stand between you and harm. But you are a soldier's daughter,
and, we all know, have the spirit of one. Don't let the fear of
a battle keep your pretty eyes from sleeping."
"I do feel braver out here in the woods, Pathfinder, than I ever
felt before amid the weaknesses of the towns, although I have always
tried to remember what I owe to my dear father."
"Ay, your mother was so before you. 'You will find Mabel, like her
mother, no screamer, or a faint-hearted girl, to trouble a man in
his need; but one who would encourage her mate, and help to keep
his heart up when sorest prest by danger,' said the Sergeant to
me, before I ever laid eyes on that sweet countenance of yours, --
"And why should my father have told you this, Pathfinder?" the girl
demanded a little earnestly. "Perhaps he fancied you would think
the better of me if you did not believe me a silly coward, as so
many of my sex love to make themselves appear."
Deception, unless it were at the expense of his enemies in the
field, -- nay, concealment of even a thought, -- was so little in
accordance with the Pathfinder's very nature, that he was not a
little embarrassed by this simple question. In such a strait he
involuntarily took refuge in a middle course, not revealing that
which he fancied ought not to be told, nor yet absolutely concealing
"You must know, Mabel," said he, "that the Sergeant and I are old
friends, and have stood side by side -- or, if not actually side
by side, I a little in advance, as became a scout, and your father
with his own men, as better suited a soldier of the king -- on
many a hard fi't and bloody day. It's the way of us skirmishers to
think little of the fight when the rifle has done cracking; and at
night, around our fires, or on our marches, we talk of the things
we love, just as you young women convarse about your fancies and
opinions when you get together to laugh over your idees. Now it
was natural that the Sergeant, having such a daughter as you, should
love her better than anything else, and that he should talk of her
oftener than of anything else, -- while I, having neither daughter,
nor sister, nor mother, nor kith, nor kin, nor anything but the
Delawares to love, I naturally chimed in, as it were, and got to
love you, Mabel, before I ever saw you -- yes, I did -- just by
talking about you so much."
"And now you _have_ seen me," returned the smiling girl, whose
unmoved and natural manner proved how little she was thinking of
anything more than parental or fraternal regard, "you are beginning
to see the folly of forming friendships for people before you know
anything about them, except by hearsay."
"It wasn't friendship -- it isn't friendship, Mabel, that I feel
for you. I am the friend of the Delawares, and have been so from
boyhood; but my feelings for them, or for the best of them, are not
the same as those I got from the Sergeant for you; and, especially,
now that I begin to know you better. I'm sometimes afeared it isn't
wholesome for one who is much occupied in a very manly calling,
like that of a guide or scout, or a soldier even, to form friendships
for women, -- young women in particular, -- as they seem to me to
lessen the love of enterprise, and to turn the feelings away from
their gifts and natural occupations."
"You surely do not mean, Pathfinder, that a friendship for a girl
like me would make you less bold, and more unwilling to meet the
French than you were before?"
"Not so, not so. With you in danger, for instance, I fear I might
become foolhardy; but before we became so intimate, as I may say,
I loved to think of my scoutings, and of my marches, and outlyings,
and fights, and other adventures: but now my mind cares less
about them; I think more of the barracks, and of evenings passed
in discourse, of feelings in which there are no wranglings
and bloodshed, and of young women, and of their laughs and their
cheerful, soft voices, their pleasant looks and their winning
ways. I sometimes tell the Sergeant that he and his daughter will
be the spoiling of one of the best and most experienced scouts on
"Not they, Pathfinder; they will try to make that which is already
so excellent, perfect. You do not know us, if you think that either
wishes to see you in the least changed. Remain as at present,
the same honest, upright, conscientious, fearless, intelligent,
trustworthy guide that you are, and neither my dear father nor
myself can ever think of you differently from what we now do."
It was too dark for Mabel to note the workings of the countenance
of her listener; but her own sweet face was turned towards him, as
she spoke with an energy equal to her frankness, in a way to show
how little embarrassed were her thoughts, and how sincere were her
words. Her countenance was a little flushed, it is true; but it
was with earnestness and truth of feeling, though no nerve thrilled,
no limb trembled, no pulsation quickened. In short, her manner and
appearance were those of a sincere-minded and frank girl, making
such a declaration of good-will and regard for one of the other sex
as she felt that his services and good qualities merited, without
any of the emotion that invariably accompanies the consciousness
of an inclination which might lead to softer disclosures.
The Pathfinder was too unpractised, however, to enter into
distinctions of this kind, and his humble nature was encouraged
by the directness and strength of the words he had just heard.
Unwilling, if not unable, to say any more, he walked away, and
stood leaning on his rifle and looking up at the stars for full
ten minutes in profound silence.
In the meanwhile the interview on the bastion, to which we have
already alluded, took place between Lundie and the Sergeant.
"Have the men's knapsacks been examined?" demanded Major Duncan,
after he had cast his eye at a written report, handed to him by
the Sergeant, but which it was too dark to read.
"All, your honor; and all are right."
"The ammunition -- arms?"
"All in order, Major Duncan, and fit for any service."
"You have the men named in my own draft, Dunham?"
"Without an exception, sir. Better men could not be found in the
"You have need of the best of our men, Sergeant. This experiment
has now been tried three times; always under one of the ensigns,
who have flattered me with success, but have as often failed.
After so much preparation and expense, I do not like to abandon the
project entirely; but this will be the last effort; and the result
will mainly depend on you and on the Pathfinder."
"You may count on us both, Major Duncan. The duty you have given
us is not above our habits and experience, and I think it will be
well done. I know that the Pathfinder will not be wanting."
"On that, indeed, it will be safe to rely. He is a most extraordinary man,
Dunham -- one who long puzzled me; but who, now that I understand
him, commands as much of my respect as any general in his majesty's
"I was in hopes, sir, that you would come to look at the proposed
marriage with Mabel as a thing I ought to wish and forward."
"As for that, Sergeant, time will show," returned Lundie, smiling;
though here, too, the obscurity concealed the nicer shades of
expression; "one woman is sometimes more difficult to manage than
a whole regiment of men. By the way, you know that your would-be
son-in-law, the Quartermaster, will be of the party; and I trust
you will at least give him an equal chance in the trial for your
"If respect for his rank, sir, did not cause me to do this, your
honor's wish would be sufficient."
"I thank you, Sergeant. We have served much together, and ought to
value each other in our several stations. Understand me, however,
I ask no more for Davy Muir than a clear field and no favor. In
love, as in war, each man must gain his own victories. Are you
certain that the rations have been properly calculated?"
"I'll answer for it, Major Duncan; but if they were not, we cannot
suffer with two such hunters as Pathfinder and the Serpent in
"That will never do, Dunham," interrupted Lundie sharply; "and it
comes of your American birth and American training. No thorough
soldier ever relies on anything but his commissary for supplies;
and I beg that no part of my regiment may be the first to set an
example to the contrary."
"You have only to command, Major Duncan, to be obeyed;
and yet, if I might presume, sir -- "
"Speak freely, Sergeant; you are talking with a friend."
"I was merely about to say that I find even the Scotch soldiers like
venison and birds quite as well as pork, when they are difficult
to be had."
"That may be very true; but likes and dislikes have nothing to do
with system. An army can rely on nothing but its commissaries.
The irregularity of the provincials has played the devil with the
king's service too often to be winked at any longer."
"General Braddock, your honor, might have been advised by Colonel
"Out upon your Washington! You're all provincials together, man,
and uphold each other as if you were of a sworn confederacy."
"I believe his majesty has no more loyal subjects than the Americans,
"In that, Dunham, I'm thinking you're right; and I have been a
little too warm, perhaps. I do not consider _you_ a provincial,
however, Sergeant; for though born in America, a better soldier
never shouldered a musket."
"And Colonel Washington, your honor?"
"Well! -- and Colonel Washington may be a useful subject too. He
is the American prodigy; and I suppose I may as well give him all
the credit you ask. You have no doubt of the skill of this Jasper
"The boy has been tried, sir, and found equal to all that can be
required of him."
"He has a French name, and has passed much of his boyhood in the
French colonies; has he French blood in his veins, Sergeant?"
"Not a drop, your honor. Jasper's father was an old comrade of
my own, and his mother came of an honest and loyal family in this
"How came he then so much among the French, and whence his name?
He speaks the language of the Canadas, too, I find."
"That is easily explained, Major Duncan. The boy was left under
the care of one of our mariners in the old war, and he took to
the water like a duck. Your honor knows that we have no ports on
Ontario that can be named as such, and he naturally passed most
of his time on the other side of the lake, where the French have
had a few vessels these fifty years. He learned to speak their
language, as a matter of course, and got his name from the Indians
and Canadians, who are fond of calling men by their qualities, as
it might be."
"A French master is but a poor instructor for a British sailor,
"I beg your pardon, sir: Jasper Eau-douce was brought up under a
real English seaman, one that had sailed under the king's pennant,
and may be called a thorough-bred; that is to say, a subject born
in the colonies, but none the worse at his trade, I hope, Major
Duncan, for that."
"Perhaps not, Sergeant, perhaps not; nor any better. This Jasper
behaved well, too, when I gave him the command of the _Scud_; no
lad could have conducted himself more loyally or better."
"Or more bravely, Major Duncan. I am sorry to see, sir, that you
have doubts as to the fidelity of Jasper."
"It is the duty of the soldier who is entrusted with the care of
a distant and important post like this, Dunham, never to relax in
his vigilance. We have two of the most artful enemies that the
world has ever produced, in their several ways, to contend with,
-- the Indians and the French, -- and nothing should be overlooked
that can lead to injury."
"I hope your honor considers me fit to be entrusted with any
particular reason that may exist for doubting Jasper, since you
have seen fit to entrust me with this command."
"It is not that I doubt you, Dunham, that I hesitate to reveal all
I may happen to know; but from a strong reluctance to circulate an
evil report concerning one of whom I have hitherto thought well.
You must think well of the Pathfinder, or you would not wish to
give him your daughter?"
"For the Pathfinder's honesty I will answer with my life, sir,"
returned the Sergeant firmly, and not without a dignity of manner
that struck his superior. "Such a man doesn't know how to be
"I believe you are right, Dunham; and yet this last information
has unsettled all my old opinions. I have received an anonymous
communication, Sergeant, advising me to be on my guard against Jasper
Western, or Jasper Eau-douce, as he is called, who, it alleges,
has been bought by the enemy, and giving me reason to expect that
further and more precise information will soon be sent."
"Letters without signatures to them, sir, are scarcely to be regarded
"Or in peace, Dunham. No one can entertain a lower opinion of the
writer of an anonymous letter, in ordinary matters, than myself;
the very act denotes cowardice, meanness, and baseness; and it
usually is a token of falsehood, as well as of other vices. But
in matters of war it is not exactly the same thing. Besides,
several suspicious circumstances have been pointed out to me."
"Such as is fit for an orderly to hear, your honor?"
"Certainly, one in whom I confide as much as in yourself Dunham.
It is said, for instance, that your daughter and her party were
permitted to escape the Iroquois, when they came in, merely to give
Jasper credit with me. I am told that the gentry at Frontenac will
care more for the capture of the _Scud_, with Sergeant Dunham and
a party of men, together with the defeat of our favorite plan, than
for the capture of a girl and the scalp of her uncle."
"I understand the hint, sir, but I do not give it credit. Jasper
can hardly be true, and Pathfinder false; and, as for the last, I
would as soon distrust your honor as distrust him."
"It would seem so, Sergeant; it would indeed seem so. But Jasper
is not the Pathfinder, after all; and I will own, Dunham, I should
put more faith in the lad if he didn't speak French."
"It's no recommendation in my eyes, I assure your honor; but
the boy learned it by compulsion, as it were, and ought not to be
condemned too hastily for the circumstance, by your honor's leave."
"It's a d----d lingo, and never did any one good -- at least
no British subject; for I suppose the French themselves must talk
together in some language or other. I should have much more faith
in this Jasper, did he know nothing of their language. This letter
has made me uneasy; and, were there another to whom I could trust
the cutter, I would devise some means to detain him here. I have
spoken to you already of a brother-in-law, who goes with you,
Sergeant, and who is a sailor?"
"A real seafaring man, your honor, and somewhat prejudiced against
fresh water. I doubt if he could be induced to risk his character
on a lake, and I'm certain he never could find the station."
"The last is probably true, and then, the man cannot know enough
of this treacherous lake to be fit for the employment. You will
have to be doubly vigilant, Dunham. I give you full powers; and
should you detect this Jasper in any treachery, make him a sacrifice
at once to offended justice."
"Being in the service of the crown, your honor, he is amenable to
"Very true; then iron him, from his head to his heels, and send
him up here in his own cutter. That brother-in-law of yours must
be able to find the way back, after he has once travelled the
"I make no doubt, Major Duncan, we shall be able to do all that
will be necessary should Jasper turn out as you seem to anticipate;
though I think I would risk my life on his truth."
"I like your confidence -- it speaks well for the fellow; but that
infernal letter! there is such an air of truth about it; nay, there
is so much truth in it, touching other matters."
"I think your honor said it wanted the name at the bottom; a great
omission for an honest man to make."
"Quite right, Dunham, and no one but a rascal, and a cowardly
rascal in the bargain, would write an anonymous letter on private
affairs. It is different, however, in war; despatches are feigned,
and artifice is generally allowed to be justifiable."
"Military manly artifices, sir, if you will; such as ambushes,
surprises, feints, false attacks, and even spies; but I never
heard of a true soldier who could wish to undermine the character
of an honest young man by such means as these."
"I have met with many strange events, and some stranger people, in
the course of my experience. But fare you well, Sergeant; I must
detain you no longer. You are now on your guard, and I recommend
to you untiring vigilance. I think Muir means shortly to retire;
and, should you fully succeed in this enterprise, my influence will
not be wanting in endeavoring to put you in the vacancy, to which
you have many claims."
"I humbly thank your honor," coolly returned the Sergeant, who had
been encouraged in this manner any time for the twenty preceding
years, "and hope I shall never disgrace my station, whatever it
may be. I am what nature and Providence have made me, and hope
"You have not forgotten the howitzer?"
"Jasper took it on board this morning, sir."
"Be wary, and do not trust that man unnecessarily. Make a confidant of
Pathfinder at once; he may be of service in detecting any villainy
that may be stirring. His simple honesty will favor his observation
by concealing it. He _must_ be true."
"For him, sir, my own head shall answer, or even my rank in the
regiment. I have seen him too often tried to doubt him."
"Of all wretched sensations, Dunham, distrust, where one is compelled
to confide, is the most painful. You have bethought you of the
"A sergeant is a safe commander for all such details, your honor."
"Well, then, give me your hand, Dunham. God bless you! and may
you be successful! Muir means to retire, --by the way, let the man
have an equal chance with your daughter, for it may facilitate future
operations about the promotion. One would retire more cheerfully
with such a companion as Mabel, than in cheerless widowhood, and with
nothing but oneself to love, -- and such a self, too, as Davy's!"
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