James Fenimore Cooper
Part 6 out of 10
to their old situation, like. This is human natur'."
"I'll warrant it -- girl-like, and Dunham-like, too. Anything is
better than an old uncle, and everybody knows more than an old
seaman. _This_ is human natur', Master Pathfinder, and d--- me if
I'm the man to sheer a fathom, starboard or port, for all the human
natur' that can be found in a minx of twenty -- ay, or" (lowering
his voice a little) "for all that can be paraded in his Majesty's
55th regiment of foot. I've not been at sea forty years, to come
up on this bit of fresh water to be taught human natur'. How this
gale holds out! It blows as hard at this moment as if Boreas had
just clapped his hand upon the bellows. And what is all this to
leeward?" (rubbing his eyes) -- "land! as sure as my name is Cap
-- and high land, too."
The Pathfinder made no immediate answer; but, shaking his head,
he watched the expression of his companion's face, with a look of
strong anxiety in his own.
"Land, as certain as this is the _Scud!_" repeated Cap; "a lee
shore, and that, too, within a league of us, with as pretty a line
of breakers as one could find on the beach of all Long Island!"
"And is that encouraging? or is it disheartening?" inquired the
"Ha! encouraging -- disheartening! -- why, neither. No, no, there
is nothing encouraging about it; and as for disheartening, nothing
ought to dishearten a seaman. You never get disheartened or afraid
in the woods, my friend?"
"I'll not say that, I'll not say that. When the danger is great,
it is my gift to see it, and know it, and to try to avoid it; else
would my scalp long since have been drying in a Mingo wigwam. On
this lake, however, I can see no trail, and I feel it my duty to
submit; though I think we ought to remember there is such a person
as Mabel Dunham on board. But here comes her father, and he will
naturally feel for his own child."
"We are seriously situated, I believe, brother Cap," said the
Sergeant, when he had reached the spot, "by what I can gather from
the two hands on the forecastle? They tell me the cutter cannot
carry any more sail, and her drift is so great we shall go ashore
in an hour or two. I hope their fears have deceived them?"
Cap made no reply; but he gazed at the land with a rueful face, and
then looked to windward with an expression of ferocity, as if he
would gladly have quarrelled with the weather.
"It may be well, brother," the Sergeant continued, "to send for
Jasper and consult him as to what is to be done. There are no
French here to dread; and, under all circumstances, the boy will
save us from drowning if possible."
"Ay, ay, 'tis these cursed circumstances that have done all the
mischief. But let the fellow come; let him come; a few well-managed
questions will bring the truth out of him, I'll warrant you."
This acquiescence on the part of the dogmatical Cap was no sooner
obtained, than Jasper was sent for. The young man instantly made
his appearance, his whole air, countenance, and mien expressive of
mortification, humility, and, as his observers fancied, rebuked
deception. When he first stepped on deck, Jasper cast one hurried,
anxious glance around, as if curious to know the situation of the
cutter; and that glance sufficed, it would seem, to let him into
the secret of all her perils. At first he looked to windward, as
is usual with every seaman; then he turned round the horizon, until
his eye caught a view of the high lands to leeward, when the whole
truth burst upon him at once.
"I've sent for you, Master Jasper," said Cap, folding his arms, and
balancing his body with the dignity of the forecastle, "in order
to learn something about the haven to leeward. We take it for
granted you do not bear malice so hard as to wish to drown us all,
especially the women; and I suppose you will be man enough to help
us run the cutter into some safe berth until this bit of a gale
has done blowing!"
"I would die myself rather than harm should come to Mabel Dunham,"
the young man earnestly answered.
"I knew it! I knew it!" cried the Pathfinder, clapping his hand
kindly on Jasper's shoulder. "The lad is as true as the best compass
that ever ran a boundary, or brought a man off from a blind trail.
It is a mortal sin to believe otherwise."
"Humph!" ejaculated Cap; "especially the women! As if _they_ were
in any particular danger. Never mind, young man; we shall understand
each other by talking like two plain seamen. Do you know of any
port under our lee?"
"None. There is a large bay at this end of the lake; but it is
unknown to us all, and not easy of entrance."
"And this coast to leeward -- it has nothing particular to recommend
it, I suppose?"
"It is a wilderness until you reach the mouth of the Niagara in
one direction, and Frontenac in the other. North and west, they
tell me, there is nothing but forest and prairies for a thousand
"Thank God! then, there can be no French. Are there many savages,
hereaway, on the land?"
"The Indians are to be found in all directions; though they are
nowhere very numerous. By accident, we might find a party at any
point on the shore; or we might pass months there without seeing
"We must take our chance, then, as to the blackguards; but, to be
frank with you, Master Western, if this little unpleasant matter
about the French had not come to pass, what would you now do with
"I am a much younger sailor than yourself, Master Cap," said Jasper
modestly, "and am hardly fitted to advise you."
"Ay, ay, we all know that. In a common case, perhaps not. But
this is an uncommon case, and a circumstance; and on this bit of
fresh water it has what may be called its peculiarities; and so,
everything considered, you may be fitted to advise even your own
father. At all events, you can speak, and I can judge of your
opinions, agreeably to my own experience."
"I think, sir, before two hours are over, the cutter will have to
"Anchor! -- not out here in the lake?"
"No, sir; but in yonder, near the land."
"You do not mean to say, Master Eau-douce, you would anchor on a
lee shore in a gale of wind?"
"If I would save my vessel, that is exactly what I would do, Master
"Whe-e-e-w! -- this is fresh water, with a vengeance! Hark'e, young
man, I've been a seafaring animal, boy and man, forty-one years,
and I never yet heard of such a thing. I'd throw my ground-tackle
overboard before I would be guilty of so lubberly an act!"
"That is what we do on this lake," modestly replied Jasper, "when
we are hard pressed. I daresay we might do better, had we been
"That you might, indeed! No; no man induces me to commit such a
sin against my own bringing up. I should never dare show my face
inside of Sandy Hook again, had I committed so know-nothing an
exploit. Why, Pathfinder, here, has more seamanship in him than
that comes to. You can go below again, Master Eau-douce."
Jasper quietly bowed and withdrew; still, as he passed down the
ladder, the spectators observed that he cast a lingering anxious
look at the horizon to windward and the land to leeward, and then
disappeared with concern strongly expressed in every lineament of
His still refuted quirks he still repeats;
New-raised objections with new quibbles meets,
Till sinking in the quicksand he defends,
He dies disputing, and the contest ends.
As the soldier's wife was sick in her berth, Mabel Dunham was the
only person in the outer cabin when Jasper returned to it; for, by
an act of grace in the Sergeant, he had been permitted to resume
his proper place in this part of the vessel. We should be ascribing
too much simplicity of character to our heroine, if we said that
she had felt no distrust of the young man in consequence of his
arrest; but we should also be doing injustice to her warmth of
feeling and generosity of disposition, if we did not add, that this
distrust was insignificant and transient. As he now took his seat
near her, his whole countenance clouded with the uneasiness he felt
concerning the situation of the cutter, everything like suspicion
was banished from her mind, and she saw in him only an injured man.
"You let this affair weigh too heavily on your mind, Jasper,"
said she eagerly, or with that forgetfulness of self with which
the youthful of her sex are wont to betray their feelings when a
strong and generous interest has attained the ascendency; "no one
who knows you can, or does, believe you guilty. Pathfinder says
he will pledge his life for you."
"Then you, Mabel," returned the youth, his eyes flashing fire, "do
not look upon me as the traitor your father seems to believe me to
"My dear father is a soldier, and is obliged to act as one. My
father's daughter is not, and will think of you as she ought to
think of a man who has done so much to serve her already."
"Mabel, I'm not used to talking with one like you, or saying all I
think and feel with any. I never had a sister, and my mother died
when I was a child, so that I know little what your sex
most likes to hear -- "
Mabel would have given the world to know what lay behind the teeming
word at which Jasper hesitated; but the indefinable and controlling
sense of womanly diffidence made her suppress her curiosity. She
waited in silence for him to explain his own meaning.
"I wish to say, Mabel," the young man continued, after a pause which
he found sufficiently embarrassing, "that I am unused to the ways
and opinions of one like you, and that you must imagine all I would
Mabel had imagination enough to fancy anything, but there are ideas
and feelings that her sex prefer to have expressed before they yield
them all their own sympathies, and she had a vague consciousness
that these of Jasper might properly be enumerated in the class.
With a readiness that belonged to her sex, therefore, she preferred
changing the discourse to permitting it to proceed any further in
a manner so awkward and so unsatisfactory.
"Tell me one thing, Jasper, and I shall be content," said she,
speaking now with a firmness which denoted confidence, not only
in herself, but in her companion: "you do not deserve this cruel
suspicion which rests upon you?"
"I do not, Mabel!" answered Jasper, looking into her full blue eyes
with an openness and simplicity that might have shaken stronger
distrust. "As I hope for mercy hereafter, I do not!"
"I knew it -- I could have sworn it!" returned the girl warmly.
"And yet my father means well; -- but do not let this matter disturb
"There is so much more to apprehend from another quarter just now,
that I scarcely think of it."
"I do not wish to alarm you, Mabel; but if your uncle could be
persuaded to change his notions about handling the _Scud_: and yet
he is so much more experienced than I am, that he ought, perhaps,
to place more reliance on his own judgment than on mine."
"Do you think the cutter in any danger?" demanded Mabel, quick as
"I fear so; at least she would have been thought in great danger by
us of the lake; perhaps an old seaman of the ocean may have means
of his own to take care of her."
"Jasper, all agree in giving you credit for skill in managing the
_Scud_. You know the lake, you know the cutter; you _must_ be
the best judge of our real situation."
"My concern for you, Mabel, may make me more cowardly than common;
but, to be frank, I see but one method of keeping the cutter from
being wrecked in the course of the next two or three hours, and that
your uncle refuses to take. After all, this may be my ignorance;
for, as he says, Ontario is merely fresh water."
"You cannot believe this will make any difference. Think of my dear
father, Jasper! Think of yourself; of all the lives that depend
on a timely word from you to save them."
"I think of you, Mabel, and that is more, much more, than all the
rest put together!" returned the young man, with a strength of
expression and an earnestness of look that uttered infinitely more
than the words themselves.
Mabel's heart beat quickly, and a gleam of grateful satisfaction
shot across her blushing features; but the alarm was too vivid and
too serious to admit of much relief from happier thoughts. She did
not attempt to repress a look of gratitude, and then she returned
to the feeling which was naturally uppermost.
"My uncle's obstinacy must not be permitted to occasion this
disaster. Go once more on deck, Jasper; and ask my father to come
into the cabin."
While the young man was complying with this request, Mabel sat
listening to the howling of the storm and the dashing of the water
against the cutter, in a dread to which she had hitherto been
a stranger. Constitutionally an excellent sailor, as the term is
used among passengers, she had not hitherto bethought her of any
danger, and had passed her time since the commencement of the gale
in such womanly employments as her situation allowed; but now that
alarm was seriously awakened, she did not fail to perceive that never
before had she been on the water in such a tempest. The minute or
two which elapsed before the Sergeant came appeared an hour, and
she scarcely breathed when she saw him and Jasper descending the
ladder in company. Quick as language could express her meaning,
she acquainted her father with Jasper's opinion of their situation;
and entreated him, if he loved her, or had any regard for his own
life, or for those of his men, to interfere with her uncle, and to
induce him to yield the control of the cutter again to its proper
"Jasper is true, father," added she earnestly; "and if false, he
could have no motive in wrecking us in this distant part of the lake
at the risk of all our lives, his own included. I will pledge my
own life for his truth."
"Ay, this is well enough for a young woman who is frightened," answered
the more phlegmatic parent; "but it might not be so excusable in
one in command of an expedition. Jasper may think the chance of
drowning in getting ashore fully repaid by the chance of escaping
as soon as he reaches the land."
These exclamations were made simultaneously, but they were uttered
in tones expressive of different feelings. In Jasper, surprise
was the emotion uppermost; in Mabel reproach. The old soldier,
however, was too much accustomed to deal frankly with subordinates
to heed either; and after a moment's thought, he continued as if
neither had spoken. "Nor is brother Cap a man likely to submit to
be taught his duty on board a vessel."
"But, father, when all our lives are in the utmost jeopardy!"
"So much the worse. The fair-weather commander is no great matter;
it is when things go wrong that the best officer shows himself in
his true colors. Charles Cap will not be likely to quit the helm
because the ship is in danger. Besides, Jasper Eau-douce, he says
your proposal in itself has a suspicious air about it, and sounds
more like treachery than reason."
"He may think so; but let him send for the pilot and hear
his opinion. It is well known that I have not seen the man since
"This does sound reasonably, and the experiment shall be tried.
Follow me on deck then, that all may be honest and above-board."
Jasper obeyed, and so keen was the interest of Mabel, that she
too ventured as far as the companion-way, where her garments were
sufficiently protected against the violence of the wind and her
person from the spray. Here maiden modesty induced her to remain,
though an absorbed witness of what was passing.
The pilot soon appeared, and there was no mistaking the look of
concern that he cast around at the scene as soon as he was in the
open air. Some rumors of the situation of the _Scud_ had found
their way below, it is true; but in this instance rumor had lessened
instead of magnifying the danger. He was allowed a few minutes
to look about him, and then the question was put as to the course
which he thought it prudent to follow.
"I see no means of saving the cutter but to anchor," he answered
simply, and without hesitation.
"What! out here in the lake?" inquired Cap, as he had previously
done of Jasper.
"No: but closer in; just at the outer line of the breakers."
The effect of this communication was to leave no doubt in the mind
of Cap that there was a secret arrangement between her commander
and the pilot to cast away the _Scud_; most probably with the hope
of effecting their escape. He consequently treated the opinion of
the latter with the indifference he had manifested towards that
of the former.
"I tell you, brother Dunham," said he, in answer to the
remonstrances of the Sergeant against his turning a deaf ear to this
double representation, "that no seaman would give such an opinion
honestly. To anchor on a lee shore in a gale of wind would be an
act of madness that I could never excuse to the underwriters, under
any circumstances, so long as a rag can be set; but to anchor close
to breakers would be insanity."
"His Majesty underwrites the _Scud_, brother, and I am responsible
for the lives of my command. These men are better acquainted with
Lake Ontario than we can possibly be, and I do think their telling
the same tale entitles them to some credit."
"Uncle!" said Mabel earnestly; but a gesture from Jasper induced
the girl to restrain her feelings.
"We are drifting down upon the breakers so rapidly," said the young
man, "that little need be said on the subject. Half an hour must
settle the matter, one way or the other; but I warn Master Cap
that the surest-footed man among us will not be able to keep his
feet an instant on the deck of this low craft, should she fairly
get within them. Indeed I make little doubt that we shall fill
and founder before the second line of rollers is passed."
"And how would anchoring help the matter?" demanded Cap furiously,
as if he felt that Jasper was responsible for the effects of the
gale, as well as for the opinion he had just given.
"It would at least do no harm," Eau-douce mildly replied. "By
bringing the cutter head to sea we should lessen her drift; and
even if we dragged through the breakers, it would be with the least
possible danger. I hope, Master Cap, you will allow the pilot
and myself to _prepare_ for anchoring, since the precaution may do
good, and can do no harm."
"Overhaul your ranges, if you will, and get your anchors clear,
with all my heart. We are now in a situation that cannot be much
affected by anything of that sort. Sergeant, a word with you aft
here, if you please."
Cap led his brother-in-law out of ear-shot; and then, with more of
human feeling in his voice and manner than he was apt to exhibit,
he opened his heart on the subject of their real situation.
"This is a melancholy affair for poor Mabel," said he, blowing his
nose, and speaking with a slight tremor. "You and I, Sergeant,
are old fellows, and used to being near death, if not to actually
dying; our trades fit us for such scenes; but poor Mabel! -- she
is an affectionate and kind-hearted girl, and I had hoped to see
her comfortably settled, and a mother, before my time came. Well,
well! we must take the bad with the good in every v'y'ge; and the
only serious objection that an old seafaring man can with propriety
make to such an event is, that it should happen on this bit of
d----d fresh water."
Sergeant Dunham was a brave man, and had shown his spirit in scenes
that looked much more appalling than this; but on all such occasions
he had been able to act his part against his foes, while here he
was pressed upon by an enemy whom he had no means of resisting.
For himself he cared far less than for his daughter, feeling some
of that self-reliance which seldom deserts a man of firmness who
is in vigorous health, and who has been accustomed to personal
exertions in moments of jeopardy; but as respects Mabel he saw no
means of escape, and, with a father's fondness, he at once determined
that, if either was doomed to perish, he and his daughter must
"Do you think this must come to pass?" he asked of Cap firmly, but
with strong feeling.
"Twenty minutes will carry us into the breakers; and look for
yourself, Sergeant: what chance will even the stoutest man among
us have in that caldron to leeward?"
The prospect was, indeed, little calculated to encourage hope. By
this time the _Scud_ was within a mile of the shore, on which the
gale was blowing at right angles, with a violence that forbade
the idea of showing any additional canvas with a view to claw off.
The small portion of the mainsail actually set, and which merely
served to keep the head of the _Scud_ so near the wind as to prevent
the waves from breaking over her, quivered under the gusts, as if
at each moment the stout threads which held the complicated fabric
together were about to be torn asunder. The drizzle had ceased;
but the air, for a hundred feet above the surface of the lake,
was filled with dazzling spray, which had an appearance not unlike
that of a brilliant mist, while above all the sun was shining
gloriously in a cloudless sky. Jasper had noted the omen, and
had foretold that it announced a speedy termination to the gale,
though the next hour or two must decide their fate. Between the
cutter and the shore the view was still more wild and appalling.
The breakers extended nearly half a mile; while the water within
their line was white with foam, the air above them was so far
filled with vapor and spray as to render the land beyond hazy and
indistinct. Still it could be seen that the latter was high, --
not a usual thing for the shores of Ontario, -- and that it was
covered with the verdant mantle of the interminable forest.
While the Sergeant and Cap were gazing at this scene in silence,
Jasper and his people were actively engaged on the forecastle.
No sooner had the young man received permission to resume his
old employment, than, appealing to some of the soldiers for aid,
he mustered five or six assistants, and set about in earnest the
performance of a duty which had been too long delayed. On these
narrow waters anchors are never stowed in-board, or cables that
are intended for service unbent, and Jasper was saved much of the
labor that would have been necessary in a vessel at sea. The two
bowers were soon ready to be let go, ranges of the cables were
overhauled, and then the party paused to look about them. No changes
for the better had occurred, but the cutter was falling slowly in,
and each instant rendered it more certain that she could not gain
an inch to windward.
One long, earnest survey of the lake ended, Jasper gave new orders
in a similar manner to prove how much he thought that the time
pressed. Two kedges were got on deck, and hawsers were bent to
them; the inner ends of the hawsers were bent, in their turns, to
the crowns of the anchors, and everything was got ready to throw
them overboard at the proper moment. These preparations completed,
Jasper's manner changed from the excitement of exertion to a look
of calm but settled concern. He quitted the forecastle, where the
seas were dashing inboard at every plunge of the vessel, the duty
just mentioned having been executed with the bodies of the crew
frequently buried in the water, and walked to a drier part of the
deck, aft. Here he was met by the Pathfinder, who was standing
near Mabel and the Quartermaster. Most of those on board, with
the exception of the individuals who have already been particularly
mentioned, were below, some seeking relief from physical suffering
on their pallets, and others tardily bethinking them of their sins.
For the first time, most probably, since her keel had dipped into
the limpid waters of Ontario, the voice of prayer was, heard on
board the _Scud_.
"Jasper," commenced his friend, the guide, "I have been of no use
this morning, for my gifts are of little account, as you know, in
a vessel like this; but, should it please God to let the Sergeant's
daughter reach the shore alive, my acquaintance with the forest
may still carry her through in safety to the garrison."
"'Tis a fearful distance thither, Pathfinder!" Mabel rejoined, the
party being so near together that all which was said by one was
overheard by the others. "I am afraid none of us could live to
reach the fort."
"It would be a risky path, Mabel, and a crooked one; though some
of your sex have undergone even more than that in this wilderness.
But, Jasper, either you or I, or both of us, must man this bark
canoe; Mabel's only chance will lie in getting through the breakers
"I would willingly man anything to save Mabel," answered Jasper,
with a melancholy smile; "but no human hand, Pathfinder, could
carry that canoe through yonder breakers in a gale like this. I
have hopes from anchoring, after all; for once before have we saved
the _Scud_ in an extremity nearly as great as this."
"If we are to anchor, Jasper," the Sergeant inquired, "why not do
it at once? Every foot we lose in drifting now would come into
the distance we shall probably drag when the anchors are let go."
Jasper drew nearer to the Sergeant, and took his hand, pressing
it earnestly, and in a way to denote strong, almost uncontrollable
"Sergeant Dunham," said he solemnly, "you are a good man, though you
have treated me harshly in this business. You love your daughter?"
"That you cannot doubt, Eau-douce," returned the Sergeant huskily.
"Will you give her -- give us all -- the only chance for life that
"What would you have me do, boy, what would you have me do? I have
acted according to my judgment hitherto, - what would you have me
"Support me against Master Cap for five minutes, and all that man
can do towards saving the _Scud_ shall be done."
The Sergeant hesitated, for he was too much of a disciplinarian
to fly in the face of regular orders. He disliked the appearance
of vacillation, too; and then he had a profound respect for his
kinsman's seamanship. While he was deliberating, Cap came from
the post he had some time occupied, which was at the side of the
man at the helm, and drew nigh the group.
"Master Eau-douce," said he, as soon as near enough to be heard,
"I have come to inquire if you know any spot near by where this
cutter can be beached? The moment has arrived when we are driven
to this hard alternative."
That instant of indecision on the part of Cap secured the triumph
of Jasper. Looking at the Sergeant, the young man received a nod
that assured him of all he asked, and he lost not one of those
moments that were getting to be so very precious.
"Shall I take the helm," he inquired of Cap, "and see if we can
reach a creek that lies to leeward?"
"Do so, do so," said the other, hemming to clear his throat; for
he felt oppressed by a responsibility that weighed all the heavier
on his shoulders on account of his ignorance. "Do so, Eau-douce,
since, to be frank with you, I can see nothing better to be done.
We must beach or swamp."
Jasper required no more; springing aft, he soon had the tiller
in his own hands. The pilot was prepared for what was to follow;
and, at a sign from his young commander, the rag of sail that had
so long been set was taken in. At that moment, Jasper, watching
his time, put the helm up; the head of a staysail was loosened
forward, and the light cutter, as if conscious she was now under the
control of familiar hands, fell off, and was soon in the trough of
the sea. This perilous instant was passed in safety, and at the next
moment the little vessel appeared flying down toward the breakers
at a rate that threatened instant destruction. The distances had
become so short, that five or six minutes sufficed for all that
Jasper wished, and he put the helm down again, when the bows of
the _Scud_ came up to the wind, notwithstanding the turbulence of
the waters, as gracefully as the duck varies its line of direction
on the glassy pond. A sign from Jasper set all in motion on the
forecastle, and a kedge was thrown from each bow. The fearful
nature of the drift was now apparent even to Mabel's eyes, for the
two hawsers ran out like tow-lines. As soon as they straightened
to a slight strain, both anchors were let go, and cable was given
to each, nearly to the better-ends. It was not a difficult task
to snub so light a craft with ground-tackle of a quality better
than common; and in less than ten minutes from the moment when
Jasper went to the helm, the _Scud_ was riding, head to sea, with
the two cables stretched ahead in lines that resembled bars of
"This is not well done, Master Jasper!" angrily exclaimed Cap, as
soon as he perceived the trick which had been played him; "this is
not well done, sir. I order you to cut, and to beach the cutter
without a moment's delay."
No one, however, seemed disposed to comply with this order; for so
long as Eau-douce saw fit to command, his own people were disposed
to obey. Finding that the men remained passive, Cap, who believed
they were in the utmost peril, turned fiercely to Jasper, and
renewed his remonstrances.
"You did not head for your pretended creek," added he, after
dealing in some objurgatory remarks that we do not deem it necessary
to record, "but steered for that bluff, where every soul on board
would have been drowned, had we gone ashore."
"And you wish to cut, and put every soul ashore at that very spot!"
Jasper retorted, a little drily.
"Throw a lead-line overboard, and ascertain the drift!" Cap now
roared to the people forward. A sign from Jasper sustaining this
order, it was instantly obeyed. All on deck watched, with nearly
breathless interest, the result of the experiment. The lead was
no sooner on the bottom, than the line tended forward, and in about
two minutes it was seen that the cutter had drifted her length
dead in towards the bluff. Jasper looked gravely, for he well knew
nothing would hold the vessel did she get within the vortex of the
breakers, the first line of which was appearing and disappearing
about a cable's length directly under their stern.
"Traitor!" exclaimed Cap, shaking a finger at the young commander,
though passion choked the rest. "You must answer for this with
your life!" he added after a short pause. "If I were at the head
of this expedition, Sergeant, I would hang him at the end of the
main-boom, lest he escape drowning."
"Moderate your feelings, brother; be more moderate, I beseech you;
Jasper appears to have done all for the best, and matters may not
be so bad as you believe them."
"Why did he not run for the creek he mentioned? -- why has he brought
us here, dead to windward of that bluff, and to a spot where even
the breakers are only of half the ordinary width, as if in a hurry
to drown all on board?"
"I headed for the bluff, for the precise reason that the breakers
are so narrow at this spot," answered Jasper mildly, though his
gorge had risen at the language the other held.
"Do you mean to tell an old seaman like me that this cutter could
live in those breakers?"
"I do not, sir. I think she would fill and swamp if driven into
the first line of them; I am certain she would never reach the
shore on her bottom, if fairly entered. I hope to keep her clear
of them altogether."
"With a drift of her length in a minute?"
"The backing of the anchors does not yet fairly tell, nor do I even
hope that _they_ will entirely bring her up."
"On what, then, do you rely? To moor a craft, head and stern, by
faith, hope, and charity?"
"No, sir, I trust to the under-tow. I headed for the bluff because
I knew that it was stronger at that point than at any other, and
because we could get nearer in with the land without entering the
This was said with spirit, though without any particular show of
resentment. Its effect on Cap was marked, the feeling that was
uppermost being evidently that of surprise.
"Under-tow!" he repeated; "who the devil ever heard of saving a
vessel from going ashore by the under-tow?"
"This may never happen on the ocean, sir," Jasper answered modestly;
"but we have known it to happen here."
"The lad is right, brother," put in the Sergeant; "for, though I
do not well understand it, I have often heard the sailors of the
lake speak of such a thing. We shall do well to trust to Jasper
in this strait."
Cap grumbled and swore; but, as there was no remedy, he was compelled
to acquiesce. Jasper, being now called on to explain what he meant
by the under-tow, gave this account of the matter. The water that
was driven up on the shore by the gale was necessarily compelled
to find its level by returning to the lake by some secret channels.
This could not be done on the surface, where both wind and waves
were constantly urging it towards the land, and it necessarily
formed a sort of lower eddy, by means of which it flowed back again
to its ancient and proper bed. This inferior current had received
the name of the under-tow, and, as it would necessarily act on the
bottom of a vessel which drew as much water as the _Scud_, Jasper
trusted to the aid of this reaction to keep his cables from parting.
In short, the upper and lower currents would, in a manner, counteract
Simple and ingenious as was this theory, however, as yet there
was little evidence of its being reduced to practice. The drift
continued; though, as the kedges and hawsers with which the anchors
were backed took the strains, it became sensibly less. At length
the man at the lead announced the joyful intelligence that the
anchors had ceased to drag, and that the vessel had brought up!
At this precise moment the first line of breakers was about a
hundred feet astern of the _Scud_, even appearing to approach much
nearer as the foam vanished and returned on the raging surges.
Jasper sprang forward, and, casting a glance over the bows, he
smiled in triumph, as he pointed exultingly to the cables. Instead
of resembling bars of iron in rigidity, as before, they were curving
downwards, and to a seaman's senses it was evident that the cutter
rose and fell on the seas as they came in with the ease of a ship
in a tides-way, when the power of the wind is relieved by the
counteracting pressure of the water.
"'Tis the under-tow!" he exclaimed with delight, fairly bounding
along the deck to steady the helm, in order that the cutter might
ride still easier. "Providence has placed us directly in its
current, and there is no longer any danger."
"Ay, ay, Providence is a good seaman," growled Cap, "and often
helps lubbers out of difficulty. Under-tow or upper-tow, the gale
has abated; and, fortunately for us all, the anchors have met with
good holding-ground. Then this d----d fresh water has an unnatural
way with it."
Men are seldom inclined to quarrel with good fortune, but it is
in distress that they grow clamorous and critical. Most on board
were disposed to believe that they had been saved from shipwreck by
the skill and knowledge of Jasper, without regarding the opinions
of Cap, whose remarks were now little heeded.
There was half an hour of uncertainty and doubt, it is true, during
which period the lead was anxiously watched; and then a feeling
of security came over all, and the weary slept without dreaming of
It is to be all made of sighs and tears;
It is to be all made of faith and service;
It is to be all made of phantasy;
All made of passion, and all made of wishes;
All adoration, duty, and observance;
All humbleness, all patience, and impatience;
All purity, all trial, all observance.
It was near noon when the gale broke; and then its force abated as
suddenly as its violence had arisen. In less than two hours after
the wind fell, the surface of the lake, though still agitated,
was no longer glittering with foam; and in double that time, the
entire sheet presented the ordinary scene of disturbed water, that
was unbroken by the violence of a tempest. Still the waves came
rolling incessantly towards the shore, and the lines of breakers
remained, though the spray had ceased to fly; the combing of
the swells was more moderate, and all that there was of violence
proceeded from the impulsion of wind which had abated.
As it was impossible to make head against the sea that was still
up, with the light opposing air that blew from the eastward,
all thoughts of getting under way that afternoon were abandoned.
Jasper, who had now quietly resumed the command of the _Scud_,
busied himself, however, in heaving-up the anchors, which were
lifted in succession; the kedges that backed them were weighed, and
everything was got in readiness for a prompt departure, as soon as
the state of the weather would allow. In the meantime, they who
had no concern with these duties sought such means of amusement as
their peculiar circumstances allowed.
As is common with those who are unused to the confinement of a
vessel, Mabel cast wistful eyes towards the shore; nor was it long
before she expressed a wish that it were possible to land. The
Pathfinder was near her at the time, and he assured her that nothing
would be easier, as they had a bark canoe on deck, which was the
best possible mode of conveyance to go through a surf. After the
usual doubts and misgivings, the Sergeant was appealed to; his
opinion proved to be favorable, and preparations to carry the whim
into effect were immediately made.
The party which was to land consisted of Sergeant Dunham, his
daughter, and the Pathfinder. Accustomed to the canoe, Mabel took
her seat in the centre with great steadiness, her father was placed
in the bows, while the guide assumed the office of conductor, by
steering in the stern. There was little need of impelling the canoe
by means of the paddle, for the rollers sent it forward at moments
with a violence that set every effort to govern its movements
at defiance. More than once, before the shore was reached, Mabel
repented of her temerity, but Pathfinder encouraged her, and really
manifested so much self-possession, coolness, and strength of arm
himself, that even a female might have hesitated about owning all
her apprehensions. Our heroine was no coward; and while she felt
the novelty of her situation, in landing through a surf, she also
experienced a fair proportion of its wild delight. At moments,
indeed, her heart was in her mouth, as the bubble of a boat floated
on the very crest of a foaming breaker, appearing to skim the water
like a swallow, and then she flushed and laughed, as, left by the
glancing element, they appeared to linger behind as if ashamed of
having been outdone in the headlong race. A few minutes sufficed
for this excitement; for though the distance between the cutter and
the land considerably exceeded a quarter of a mile, the intermediate
space was passed in a very few minutes.
On landing, the Sergeant kissed his daughter kindly, for he was so
much of a soldier as always to feel more at home on _terra firma_
than when afloat; and, taking his gun, he announced his intention
to pass an hour in quest of game.
"Pathfinder will remain near you, girl, and no doubt he will tell
you some of the traditions of this part of the world, or some of
his own experiences with the Mingos."
The guide laughed, promised to have a care of Mabel, and in a few
minutes the father had ascended a steep acclivity and disappeared
in the forest. The others took another direction, which, after a
few minutes of a sharp ascent also, brought them to a small naked
point on the promontory, where the eye overlooked an extensive and
very peculiar panorama. Here Mabel seated herself on a fragment of
fallen rock to recover her breath and strength, while her companion,
on whose sinews no personal exertion seemed to make any impression,
stood at her side, leaning in his own and not ungraceful manner on
his long rifle. Several minutes passed, and neither spoke; Mabel,
in particular, being lost in admiration of the view.
The position the two had obtained was sufficiently elevated to
command a wide reach of the lake, which stretched away towards
the north-east in a boundless sheet, glittering beneath the rays
of an afternoon's sun, and yet betraying the remains of that
agitation which it had endured while tossed by the late tempest.
The land set bounds to its limits in a huge crescent, disappearing
in distance towards the south-east and the north. Far as the eye
could reach, nothing but forest was visible, not even a solitary sign
of civilization breaking in upon the uniform and grand magnificence
of nature. The gale had driven the _Scud_ beyond the line of
those forts with which the French were then endeavoring to gird
the English North American possessions; for, following the channels
of communication between the great lakes, their posts were on the
banks of the Niagara, while our adventurers had reached a point
many leagues westward of that celebrated strait. The cutter rode
at single anchor, without the breakers, resembling some well-imagined
and accurately-executed toy, intended rather for a glass case
than for struggles with the elements which she had so lately gone
through, while the canoe lay on the narrow beach, just out of
reach of the waves that came booming upon the land, a speck upon
"We are very far here from human habitations!" exclaimed Mabel,
when, after a long survey of the scene, its principal peculiarities
forced themselves on her active and ever brilliant imagination;
"this is indeed being on a frontier."
"Have they more sightly scenes than this nearer the sea and around
their large towns?" demanded Pathfinder, with an interest he was
apt to discover in such a subject.
"I will not say that: there is more to remind one of his fellow-beings
there than here; less, perhaps, to remind one of God."
"Ay, Mabel, that is what my own feelings say. I am but a poor
hunter, I know, untaught and unlarned; but God is as near me, in
this my home, as he is near the king in his royal palace."
"Who can doubt it?" returned Mabel, looking from the view up into
the hard-featured but honest face of her companion, though not
without surprise at the energy of his manner. "One feels nearer
to God in such a spot, I think, than when the mind is distracted
by the objects of the towns."
"You say all I wish to say myself, Mabel, but in so much plainer
speech, that you make me ashamed of wishing to let others know
what I feel on such matters. I have coasted this lake in search of
skins afore the war, and have been here already; not at this very
spot, for we landed yonder, where you may see the blasted
oak that stands above the cluster of hemlocks -- "
"How, Pathfinder, can you remember all these trifles so accurately?"
"These are our streets and houses, our churches and palaces. Remember
them, indeed! I once made an appointment with the Big Sarpent, to
meet at twelve o'clock at noon, near the foot of a certain pine,
at the end of six months, when neither of us was within three hundred
miles of the spot. The tree stood, and stands still, unless the
judgment of Providence has lighted on that too, in the midst of the
forest, fifty miles from any settlement, but in a most extraordinary
neighborhood for beaver."
"And did you meet at that very spot and hour?"
"Does the sun rise and set? When I reached the tree, I found the
Sarpent leaning against its trunk with torn leggings and muddied
moecassins. The Delaware had got into a swamp, and it worried him
not a little to find his way out of it; but as the sun which comes
over the eastern hills in the morning goes down behind the western
at night, so was he true to time and place. No fear of Chingachgook
when there is either a friend or an enemy in the case. He is
equally sartain with each."
"And where is the Delaware now? why is he not with us to-day?"
"He is scouting on the Mingo trail, where I ought to have been too,
but for a great human infirmity."
"You seem above, beyond, superior to all infirmity, Pathfinder; I
never yet met with a man who appeared to be so little liable to
the weaknesses of nature."
"If you mean in the way of health and strength, Mabel, Providence
has been kind to me; though I fancy the open air, long hunts,
active scoutings, forest fare, and the sleep of a good conscience,
may always keep the doctors at a distance. But I am human after
all; yes, I find I'm very human in some of my feelings."
Mabel looked surprised, and it would be no more than delineating
the character of her sex, if we added that her sweet countenance
expressed a good deal of curiosity, too, though her tongue was more
"There is something bewitching in this wild life of yours, Pathfinder,"
she exclaimed, a tinge of enthusiasm mantling her cheeks. "I find
I'm fast getting to be a frontier girl, and am coming to love all
this grand silence of the woods. The towns seem tame to me; and,
as my father will probably pass the remainder of his days here,
where he has already lived so long, I begin to feel that I should
be happy to continue with him, and not to return to the seashore."
"The woods are never silent, Mabel, to such as understand their
meaning. Days at a time have I travelled them alone, without
feeling the want of company; and, as for conversation, for such
as can comprehend their language, there is no want of rational and
"I believe you are happier when alone, Pathfinder, than when mingling
with your fellow-creatures."
"I will not say that, I will not say exactly that. I have seen
the time when I have thought that God was sufficient for me in
the forest, and that I have craved no more than His bounty and His
care. But other feelings have got uppermost, and I suppose natur'
will have its way. All other creatur's mate, Mabel, and it was
intended man should do so too."
"And have you never bethought you of seeking a wife, Pathfinder,
to share your fortunes?" inquired the girl, with the directness
and simplicity that the pure of heart and the undesigning are the
most apt to manifest, and with that feeling of affection which is
inbred in her sex. "To me it seems you only want a home to return
to from your wanderings to render your life completely happy. Were
I a man, it would be my delight to roam through these forests at
will, or to sail over this beautiful lake."
"I understand you, Mabel; and God bless you for thinking of the
welfare of men as humble as we are. We have our pleasures, it
is true, as well as our gifts, but we might be happier; yes, I do
think we might be happier."
"Happier! in what way, Pathfinder? In this pure air, with these
cool and shaded forests to wander through, this lovely lake to
gaze at and sail upon, with clear consciences, and abundance for
all their real wants, men ought to be nothing less than as perfectly
happy as their infirmities will allow."
"Every creatur' has its gifts, Mabel, and men have theirs," answered
the guide, looking stealthily at his beautiful companion, whose
cheeks had flushed and eyes brightened under the ardor of feelings
excited by the novelty of her striking situation; "and all must
obey them. Do you see yonder pigeon that is just alightin' on the
beach --here in a line with the fallen chestnut?"
"Certainly; it is the only thing stirring with life in it, besides
ourselves, that is to be seen in this vast solitude."
"Not so, Mabel, not so; Providence makes nothing that lives to live
quite alone. Here is its mate, just rising on the wing; it has
been feeding near the other beach, but it will not long be separated
from its companion."
"I understand you, Pathfinder," returned Mabel, smiling sweetly,
though as calmly as if the discourse was with her father. "But
a hunter may find a mate, even in this wild region. The Indian
girls are affectionate and true, I know; for such was the wife of
Arrowhead, to a husband who oftener frowned than smiled."
"That would never do, Mabel, and good would never come of it.
Kind must cling to kind, and country to country, if one would find
happiness. If, indeed, I could meet with one like you, who would
consent to be a hunter's wife, and who would not scorn my ignorance
and rudeness, then, indeed, would all the toil of the past appear
like the sporting of the young deer, and all the future like
"One like me! A girl of my years and indiscretion would hardly
make a fit companion for the boldest scout and surest hunter on
"Ah, Mabel! I fear me that I have been improving a red-skin's gifts
with a pale-face's natur'? Such a character would insure a wife
in an Indian village."
"Surely, surely, Pathfinder, you would not think of choosing one so
ignorant, so frivolous, so vain, and so inexperienced as I for your
wife?" Mabel would have added, "and as young;" but an instinctive
feeling of delicacy repressed the words.
"And why not, Mabel? If you are ignorant of frontier usages, you
know more than all of us of pleasant anecdotes and town customs:
as for frivolous, I know not what it means; but if it signifies
beauty, ah's me! I fear it is no fault in my eyes. Vain you are
not, as is seen by the kind manner in which you listen to all my
idle tales about scoutings and trails; and as for experience, that
will come with years. Besides, Mabel, I fear men think little of
these matters when they are about to take wives: I do."
"Pathfinder, your words, -- your looks: -- surely all this is meant
in trifling; you speak in pleasantry?"
"To me it is always agreeable to be near you, Mabel; and I should
sleep sounder this blessed night than I have done for a week past,
could I think that you find such discourse as pleasant as I do."
We shall not say that Mabel Dunham had not believed herself
a favorite with the guide. This her quick feminine sagacity had
early discovered; and perhaps she had occasionally thought there
had mingled with his regard and friendship some of that manly
tenderness which the ruder sex must be coarse, indeed, not to show
on occasions to the gentler; but the idea that he seriously sought
her for his wife had never before crossed the mind of the spirited
and ingenuous girl. Now, however, a gleam of something like the
truth broke in upon her imagination, less induced by the words of
her companion, perhaps, than by his manner. Looking earnestly into
the rugged, honest countenance of the scout, Mabel's own features
became concerned and grave; and when she spoke again, it was with
a gentleness of manner that attracted him to her even more powerfully
than the words themselves were calculated to repel.
"You and I should understand each other, Pathfinder," said she with
an earnest sincerity; "nor should there be any cloud between us.
You are too upright and frank to meet with anything but sincerity
and frankness in return. Surely, surely, all this means nothing,
-- has no other connection with your feelings than such a friendship
as one of your wisdom and character would naturally feel for a girl
"I believe it's all nat'ral, Mabel, yes; I do: the Sergeant tells
me he had such feelings towards your own mother, and I think I've
seen something like it in the young people I have from time to
time guided through the wilderness. Yes, yes, I daresay it's all
nat'ral enough, and that makes it come so easy, and is a great
comfort to me."
"Pathfinder, your words make me uneasy. Speak plainer, or change
the subject for ever. You do not, cannot mean that -- you cannot
wish me to understand" -- even the tongue of the spirited Mabel
faltered, and she shrank, with maiden shame, from adding what she
wished so earnestly to say. Rallying her courage, however, and
determined to know all as soon and as plainly as possible, after a
moment's hesitation, she continued, -- "I mean, Pathfinder, that
you do not wish me to understand that you seriously think of me as
"I do, Mabel; that's it, that's just it; and you have put the
matter in a much better point of view than I with my forest gifts
and frontier ways would ever be able to do. The Sergeant and
I have concluded on the matter, if it is agreeable to you, as he
thinks is likely to be the case; though I doubt my own power to
please one who deserves the best husband America can produce."
Mabel's countenance changed from uneasiness to surprise; and then,
by a transition still quicker, from surprise to pain.
"My father!" she exclaimed, -- "my dear father has thought of my
becoming your wife, Pathfinder?"
"Yes, he has, Mabel, he has, indeed. He has even thought such a
thing might be agreeable to you, and has almost encouraged me to
fancy it might be true."
"But you yourself, -- you certainly can care nothing whether this
singular expectation shall ever be realized or not?"
"I mean, Pathfinder, that you have talked of this match more to
oblige my father than anything else; that your feelings are no way
concerned, let my answer be what it may?"
The scout looked earnestly into the beautiful face of Mabel, which
had flushed with the ardor and novelty of her sensations, and it
was not possible to mistake the intense admiration that betrayed
itself in every lineament of his ingenuous countenance.
"I have often thought myself happy, Mabel, when ranging the woods
on a successful hunt, breathing the pure air of the hills, and
filled with vigor and health; but I now know that it has all been
idleness and vanity compared with the delight it would give me to
know that you thought better of me than you think of most others."
"Better of you! -- I do, indeed, think better of you, Pathfinder,
than of most others: I am not certain that I do not think better
of you than of any other; for your truth, honesty, simplicity,
justice, and courage are scarcely equalled by any of earth."
"Ah, Mabel, these are sweet and encouraging words from you! and
the Sergeant, after all, was not so near wrong as I feared."
"Nay, Pathfinder, in the name of all that is sacred and just, do not
let us misunderstand each other in a matter of so much importance.
While I esteem, respect, nay, reverence you, almost as much as I
reverence my own dear father, it is impossible that I should
ever become your wife -- that I -- "
The change in her companion's countenance was so sudden and so
great, that the moment the effect of what she had uttered became
visible in the face of the Pathfinder, Mabel arrested her own words,
notwithstanding her strong desire to be explicit, the reluctance
with which she could at any time cause pain being sufficient of
itself to induce the pause. Neither spoke for some time, the shade
of disappointment that crossed the rugged lineaments of the hunter
amounting so nearly to anguish as to frighten his companion, while
the sensation of choking became so strong in the Pathfinder that
he fairly griped his throat, like one who sought physical relief
for physical suffering. The convulsive manner in which his fingers
worked actually struck the alarmed girl with a feeling of awe.
"Nay, Pathfinder," Mabel eagerly added, the instant she could
command her voice, -- "I may have said more than I mean; for all
things of this nature are possible, and women, they say, are never
sure of their own minds. What I wish you to understand is, that
it is not likely that you and I should ever think of each other as
man and wife ought to think of each other."
"I do not -- I shall never think in that way again, Mabel," gasped
forth the Pathfinder, who appeared to utter his words like one just
raised above the pressure of some suffocating substance. "No, no,
I shall never think of you, or any one else, again in that way."
"Pathfinder, dear Pathfinder, understand me; do not attach more
meaning to my words than I do myself: a match like that would be
unwise, unnatural, perhaps."
"Yes, unnat'ral -- ag'in natur'; and so I told the Sergeant, but
he _would_ have it otherwise."
"Pathfinder! oh, this is worse than I could have imagined! Take
my hand, excellent Pathfinder, and let me see that you do not hate
me. For God's sake, smile upon me again."
"Hate you, Mabel! Smile upon you! Ah's me!"
"Nay, give me your hand; your hardy, true, and manly hand -- both,
both, Pathfinder! for I shall not be easy until I feel certain that
we are friends again, and that all this has been a mistake."
"Mabel!" said the guide, looking wistfully into the face of the
generous and impetuous girl, as she held his two hard and sunburnt
hands in her own pretty and delicate fingers, and laughing in his
own silent and peculiar manner, while anguish gleamed over lineaments
which seemed incapable of deception, even while agitated with
emotions so conflicting, -- "Mabel! the Sergeant was wrong."
The pent-up feelings could endure no more, and the tears rolled
down the cheeks of the scout like rain. His fingers again worked
convulsively at his throat; and his breast heaved, as if it possessed
a tenant of which it would be rid, by any effort, however desperate.
"Pathfinder! Pathfinder!" Mabel almost shrieked; "anything but
this, anything but this! Speak to me, Pathfinder! Smile again,
say one kind word, anything to prove you can forgive me."
"The Sergeant was wrong!" exclaimed the guide, laughing amid his
agony, in a way to terrify his companion by the unnatural mixture
of anguish and light-heartedness. "I knew it, I knew it, and said
it; yes, the Sergeant was wrong after all."
"We can be friends, though we cannot be man and wife," continued
Mabel, almost as much disturbed as her companion, scarcely knowing
what she said; "we can always be friends, and always will."
"I thought the Sergeant was mistaken," resumed the Pathfinder, when
a great effort had enabled him to command himself, "for I did not
think my gifts were such as would please the fancy of a town-bred
girl. It would have been better, Mabel, had he not over-persuaded
me into a different notion; and it might have been better, too,
had you not been so pleasant and confiding like; yes, it would."
"If I thought any error of mine had raised false expectations
in you, Pathfinder, however unintentionally on my part, I should
never forgive myself; for, believe me, I would rather endure pain
in my own feelings than you should suffer."
"That's just it, Mabel, that's just it. These speeches and opinions,
spoken in so soft a voice, and in a way I'm so unused to in the
woods, have done the mischief. But I now see plainly, and begin
to understand the difference between us better, and will strive to
keep down thought, and to go abroad again as I used to do, looking
for the game and the inimy. Ah's me, Mabel! I have indeed been
on a false trail since we met."
"In a little while you will forget all this, and think of me as a
friend, who owes you her life."
"This may be the way in the towns, but I doubt if it's nat'ral to
the woods. With us, when the eye sees a lovely sight, it is apt
to keep it long in view, or when the mind takes in an upright and
proper feeling, it is loath to part with it."
"You will forget it all, when you come seriously to recollect that
I am altogether unsuited to be your wife."
"So I told the Sergeant; but he would have it otherwise. I knew you
was too young and beautiful for one of middle age, like myself, and
who never was comely to look at even in youth; and then your ways
have not been my ways; nor would a hunter's cabin be a fitting
place for one who was edicated among chiefs, as it were. If
I were younger and comelier though, like Jasper Eau-douce -- "
"Never mind Jasper Eau-douce," interrupted Mabel impatiently; "we
can talk of something else."
"Jasper is a worthy lad, Mabel; ay, and a comely," returned the
guileless guide, looking earnestly at the girl, as if he distrusted
her judgment in speaking slightingly of his friend. "Were I only
half as comely as Jasper Western, my misgivings in this affair would
not have been so great, and they might not have been so true."
"We will not talk of Jasper Western," repeated Mabel, the color
mounting to her temples; "he may be good enough in a gale, or on
the lake, but he is not good enough to talk of here."
"I fear me, Mabel, he is better than the man who is likely to be
your husband, though the Sergeant says that never can take place.
But the Sergeant was wrong once, and he may be wrong twice."
"And who is likely to be my husband, Pathfinder! This is scarcely
less strange than what has just passed between us."
"I know it is nat'ral for like to seek like, and for them that
have consorted much with officers' ladies to wish to be officers'
ladies themselves. But, Mabel; I may speak plainly to you, I know;
and I hope my words will not give you pain; for, now I understand
what it is to be disappointed in such feelings, I wouldn't wish to
cause even a Mingo sorrow on this head. But happiness is not always
to be found in a marquee, any more than in a tent; and though the
officers' quarters may look more tempting than the rest of the
barracks, there is often great misery between husband and wife
inside of their doors."
"I do not doubt it in the least, Pathfinder; and, did it rest with
me to decide, I would sooner follow you to some cabin in the woods,
and share your fortune, whether it might be better or worse, than
go inside the door of any officer I know, with an intention of
remaining there as its master's wife."
"Mabel, this is not what Lundie hopes, or Lundie thinks."
"And what care I for Lundie? He is major of the 55th, and may
command his men to wheel and march about as he pleases; but he
cannot compel me to wed the greatest or the meanest of his mess.
Besides, what can you know of Lundie's wishes on such a subject?"
"From Lundie's own mouth. The Sergeant had told him that he wished
me for a son-in-law; and the Major, being an old and a true friend,
conversed with me on the subject. He put it to me plainly, whether
it would not be more ginerous in me to let an officer succeed,
than to strive to make you share a hunter's fortune. I owned the
truth, I did; and that was, that I thought it might; but when he
told me that the Quartermaster would be his choice, I would not
abide by the conditions. No, no, Mabel; I know Davy Muir well,
and though he may make you a lady, be can never make you a happy
woman, or himself a gentleman."
"My father has been very wrong if he has said or done aught to
cause you sorrow, Pathfinder; and so great is my respect for you,
so sincere my friendship, that were it not for one -- I mean that
no person need fear Lieutenant Muir's influence with me -- I would
rather remain as I am to my dying day than become a lady at the
cost of being his wife."
"I do not think you would say that which you do not feel, Mabel,"
returned Pathfinder earnestly.
"Not at such a moment, on such a subject, and least of all to you.
No; Lieutenant Muir may find wives where he can -- my name shall
never be on his catalogue."
"Thank you, thank you for that, Mabel, for, though there is no
longer any hope for me, I could never be happy were you to take
to the Quartermaster. I feared the commission might count for
something, I did; and I know the man. It is not jealousy that
makes me speak in this manner, but truth, for I know the man. Now,
were you to fancy a desarving youth, one like Jasper Western,
for instance -- "
"Why always mention Jasper Eau-douce, Pathfinder? he can have no
concern with our friendship; let us talk of yourself, and of the
manner in which you intend to pass the winter."
"Ah's me! -- I'm little worth at the best, Mabel, unless it may
be on a trail or with the rifle; and less worth now that I have
discovered the Sergeant's mistake. There is no need, therefore,
of talking of me. It has been very pleasant to me to be near you
so long, and even to fancy that the Sergeant was right; but that
is all over now. I shall go down the lake with Jasper, and then
there will be business to occupy us, and that will keep useless
thoughts out of the mind."
"And you will forget this -- forget me -- no, not forget me, either,
Pathfinder; but you will resume your old pursuits, and cease to
think a girl of sufficient importance to disturb your peace?"
"I never knowed it afore, Mabel; but girls are of more account in
this life than I could have believed. Now, afore I knowed you,
the new-born babe did not sleep more sweetly than I used; my head
was no sooner on the root, or the stone, or mayhap on the skin, than
all was lost to the senses, unless it might be to go over in the
night the business of the day in a dream like; and there I lay
till the moment came to be stirring, and the swallows were not
more certain to be on the wing with the light, than I to be afoot
at the moment I wished to be. All this seemed a gift, and might
be calculated on even in the midst of a Mingo camp; for I've been
outlying in my time, in the very villages of the vagabonds."
"And all this will return to you, Pathfinder, for one so upright
and sincere will never waste his happiness on a mere fancy. You
will dream again of your hunts, of the deer you have slain, and of
the beaver you have taken."
"Ah's me, Mabel, I wish never to dream again! Before we met,
I had a sort of pleasure in following up the hounds, in fancy, as
it might be; and even in striking a trail of the Iroquois -- nay,
I've been in skrimmages and ambushments, in thought like, and found
satisfaction in it, according to my gifts; but all those things
have lost their charms since I've made acquaintance with you. Now,
I think no longer of anything rude in my dreams; but the very last
night we stayed in the garrison I imagined I had a cabin in a grove
of sugar maples, and at the root of every tree was a Mabel Dunham,
while the birds among the branches sang ballads instead of the notes
that natur' gave, and even the deer stopped to listen. I tried to
shoot a fa'n, but Killdeer missed fire, and the creatur' laughed
in my face, as pleasantly as a young girl laughs in her merriment,
and then it bounded away, looking back as if expecting me to follow."
"No more of this, Pathfinder; we'll talk no more of these things,"
said Mabel, dashing the tears from her eyes: for the simple, earnest
manner in which this hardy woodsman betrayed the deep hold she had
taken of his feelings nearly proved too much for her own generous
heart. "Now, let us look for my father; he cannot be distant, as
I heard his gun quite near."
"The Sergeant was wrong -- yes, he was wrong, and it's of no avail
to attempt to make the dove consort with the wolf."
"Here comes my dear father," interrupted Mabel. "Let us look
cheerful and happy, Pathfinder, as such good friends ought to look,
and keep each other's secrets."
A pause succeeded; the Sergeant's foot was heard crushing the dried
twigs hard by, and then his form appeared shoving aside the bushes
of a copse just near. As he issued into the open ground, the old
soldier scrutinized his daughter and her companion, and speaking
good-naturedly, he said, "Mabel, child, you are young and light
of foot --look for a bird that I've shot that fell just beyond the
thicket of young hemlocks on the shore; and, as Jasper is showing
signs of an intention of getting under way, you need not take the
trouble to clamber up this hill again, but we will meet you on the
beach in a few minutes."
Mabel obeyed, bounding down the hill with the elastic step of
youth and health. But, notwithstanding the lightness of her steps,
the heart of the girl was heavy, and no sooner was she hid from
observation by the thicket, than she threw herself on the root of
a tree and wept as if her heart would break. The Sergeant watched
her until she disappeared, with a father's pride, and then turned
to his companion with a smile as kind and as familiar as his habits
would allow him to use towards any.
"She has her mother's lightness and activity, my friend, with
somewhat of her father's force," said he. "Her mother was not quite
so handsome, I think myself; but the Dunhams were always thought
comely, whether men or women. Well, Pathfinder, I take it for granted
you've not overlooked the opportunity, but have spoken plainly to
the girl? women like frankness in matters of this sort."
"I believe Mabel and I understand each other at last, Sergeant,"
returned the other, looking another way to avoid the soldier's
"So much the better. Some people fancy that a little doubt and
uncertainty makes love all the livelier; but I am one of those
who think the plainer the tongue speaks the easier the mind will
comprehend. Was Mabel surprised?"
"I fear she was, Sergeant; I fear she was taken quite by surprise
-- yes, I do."
"Well, well, surprises in love are like an ambush in war, and
quite as lawful; though it is not so easy to tell when a woman is
surprised, as to tell when it happens to an enemy. Mabel did not
run away, my worthy friend, did she?"
"No, Sergeant, Mabel did not try to escape; _that_ I can say with
a clear conscience."
"I hope the girl was too willing, neither! Her mother was
shy and coy for a month, at least; but frankness, after all, is a
recommendation in a man or woman."
"That it is, that it is; and judgment, too."
"You are not to look for too much judgment in a young creature of
twenty, Pathfinder, but it will come with experience. A mistake
in you or me, for instance, might not be so easily overlooked;
but in a girl of Mabel's years, one is not to strain at a gnat lest
they swallow a camel."
The reader will remember that Sergeant Dunham was not a Hebrew
The muscles of the listener's face twitched as the Sergeant was
thus delivering his sentiments, though the former had now recovered
a portion of that stoicism which formed so large a part of his
character, and which he had probably imbibed from long association
with the Indians. His eyes rose and fell, and once a gleam shot
athwart his hard features as if he were about to indulge in his
peculiar laugh; but the joyous feeling, if it really existed, was
as quickly lost in a look allied to anguish. It was this unusual
mixture of wild and keen mental agony with native, simple joyousness,
which had most struck Mabel, who, in the interview just related,
had a dozen times been on the point of believing that her suitor's
heart was only lightly touched, as images of happiness and humor
gleamed over a mind that was almost infantile in its simplicity
and nature; an impression, however, which was soon driven away by
the discovery of emotions so painful and so deep, that they seemed
to harrow the very soul.
"You say true, Sergeant," Pathfinder answered; "a mistake in one
like you is a more serious matter."
"You will find Mabel sincere and honest in the end; give her but
a little time."
"Ah's me, Sergeant!"
"A man of your merits would make an impression on a rock, give him
"Sergeant Dunham, we are old fellow-campaigners --that is, as
campaigns are carried on here in the wilderness; and we have done
so many kind acts to each other that we can afford to be candid --
what has caused you to believe that a girl like Mabel could ever
fancy one so rude as I am?"
"What? -- why, a variety of reasons, and good reasons too, my
friend. Those same acts of kindness, perhaps, and the campaigns
you mention; moreover, you are my sworn and tried comrade."
"All this sounds well, so far as you and I are consarned; but they
do not touch the case of your pretty daughter. She may think these
very campaigns have destroyed the little comeliness I may once
have had; and I am not quite sartain that being an old friend of
her father would lead any young maiden's mind into a particular
affection for a suitor. Like loves like, I tell you, Sergeant;
and my gifts are not altogether the gifts of Mabel Dunham."
"These are some of your old modest qualms, Pathfinder, and will
do you no credit with the girl. Women distrust men who distrust
themselves, and take to men who distrust nothing. Modesty is
a capital thing in a recruit, I grant you; or in a young subaltern
who has just joined, for it prevents his railing at the non-commissioned
officers before he knows what to rail at; I'm not sure it is out
of place in a commissary or a parson, but it's the devil and all
when it gets possession of a real soldier or a lover. Have as little
to do with it as possible, if you would win a woman's heart. As
for your doctrine that like loves like, it is as wrong as possible
in matters of this sort. If like loved like, women would love one
another, and men also. No, no, like loves dislike," -- the Sergeant
was merely a scholar of the camp, -- "and you have nothing to fear
from Mabel on that score. Look at Lieutenant Muir; the man has had
five wives already, they tell me, and there is no more modesty in
him than there is in a cat-o'-nine-tails."
"Lieutenant Muir will never be the husband of Mabel Dunham, let
him ruffle his feathers as much as he may."
"That is a sensible remark of yours, Pathfinder; for my mind is made
up that you shall be my son-in-law. If I were an officer myself,
Mr. Muir might have some chance; but time has placed one door between
my child and myself, and I don't intend there shall be that of a
"Sergeant, we must let Mabel follow her own fancy; she is young
and light of heart, and God forbid that any wish of mine should lay
the weight of a feather on a mind that is all gaiety now, or take
one note of happiness from her laughter!"
"Have you conversed freely with the girl?" the Sergeant demanded
quickly, and with some asperity of manner.
Pathfinder was too honest to deny a truth plain as that which the
answer required, and yet too honorable to betray Mabel, and expose
her to the resentment of one whom he well knew to be stern in his
"We have laid open our minds," he said; "and though Mabel's is one
that any man might love to look at, I find little there, Sergeant,
to make me think any better of myself."
"The girl has not dared to refuse you -- to refuse her father's
Pathfinder turned his face away to conceal the look of anguish that
consciousness told him was passing athwart it, but he continued
the discourse in his own quiet, manly tones.
"Mabel is too kind to refuse anything, or to utter harsh words to
a dog. I have not put the question in a way to be downright refused,
"And did you expect my daughter to jump into your arms before you
asked her? She would not have been her mother's child had she
done any such thing, nor do I think she would have been mine. The
Dunhams like plain dealing as well as the king's majesty; but they
are no jumpers. Leave me to manage this matter for you, Pathfinder,
and there shall be no unnecessary delay. I'll speak to Mabel myself
this very evening, using your name as principal in the affair."
"I'd rather not, I'd rather not, Sergeant. Leave the matter to
Mabel and me, and I think all will come right in the ind. Young
girls are like timorsome birds; they do not over-relish being hurried
or spoken harshly to nither. Leave the matter to Mabel and me."
"On one condition I will, my friend; and that is, that you will
promise me, on the honor of a scout, that you will put the matter
plainly to Mabel the first suitable opportunity, and no mincing of
"I will ask her, Sergeant, on condition that you promise not to
meddle in the affair -- yes, I will promise to ask Mabel whether
she will marry me, even though she laugh in my face at my doing
so, on that condition."
Sergeant Dunham gave the desired promise very cheerfully; for he
had completely wrought himself up into the belief that the man
he so much esteemed himself must be acceptable to his daughter.
He had married a woman much younger than himself, and he saw no
unfitness in the respective years of the intended couple. Mabel
was educated so much above him, too, that he was not aware of the
difference which actually existed between the parent and child in
this respect. It followed that Sergeant Dunham was not altogether
qualified to appreciate his daughter's tastes, or to form a very
probable conjecture what would be the direction taken by those
feelings which oftener depend on impulses and passion than on reason.
Still, the worthy soldier was not so wrong in his estimate of the
Pathfinder's chances as might at first appear. Knowing all the
sterling qualities of the man, his truth, integrity of purpose,
courage, self-devotion, disinterestedness, it was far from
unreasonable to suppose that qualities like these would produce a
deep impression on any female heart; and the father erred principally
in fancying that the daughter might know as it might be by intuition
what he himself had acquired by years of intercourse and adventure.
As Pathfinder and his military friend descended the hill to the shore
of the lake, the discourse did not flag. The latter continued to
persuade the former that his diffidence alone prevented complete
success with Mabel, and that he had only to persevere in order to
prevail. Pathfinder was much too modest by nature, and had been too
plainly, though so delicately, discouraged in the recent interview
to believe all he heard; still the father used so many arguments
which seemed plausible, and it was so grateful to fancy that the
daughter might yet be his, that the reader is not to be surprised
when he is told that this unsophisticated being did not view Mabel's
recent conduct in precisely the light in which he may be inclined
to view it himself. He did not credit all that the Sergeant told
him, it is true; but he began to think virgin coyness and ignorance
of her own feelings might have induced Mabel to use the language
"The Quartermaster is no favorite," said Pathfinder in answer to
one of his companion's remarks. "Mabel will never look on him as
more than one who has had four or five wives already."
"Which is more than his share. A man may marry twice without
offence to good morals and decency, I allow! but four times is an
"I should think even marrying once what Master Cap calls a
circumstance," put in Pathfinder, laughing in his quiet way, for
by this time his spirits had recovered some of their buoyancy.
"It is, indeed, my friend, and a most solemn circumstance too. If
it were not that Mabel is to be your wife, I would advise you to
remain single. But here is the girl herself, and discretion is
"Ah's me, Sergeant, I fear you are mistaken!"
Thus was this place
A happy rural seat of various view.
Mabel was in waiting on the beach, and the canoe was soon launched.
Pathfinder carried the party out through the surf in the same
skillful manner that he had brought it in; and though Mabel's color
heightened with excitement, and her heart seemed often ready to
leap out of her mouth again, they reached the side of the _Scud_
without having received even a drop of spray.
Ontario is like a quick-tempered man, sudden to be angered, and as
soon appeased. The sea had already fallen; and though the breakers
bounded the shore, far as the eye could reach, it was merely in
lines of brightness, that appeared and vanished like the returning
waves produced by a stone which had been dropped into a pool. The
cable of the _Scud_ was scarcely seen above the water, and Jasper
had already hoisted his sails, in readiness to depart as soon as
the expected breeze from the shore should fill the canvas.
It was just sunset as the cutter's mainsail flapped and its stem
began to sever the water. The air was light and southerly, and
the head of the vessel was kept looking up along the south shore,
it being the intention to get to the eastward again as fast
as possible. The night that succeeded was quiet; and the rest of
those who slept deep and tranquil.
Some difficulty occurred concerning the command of the vessel, but
the matter had been finally settled by an amicable compromise. As
the distrust of Jasper was far from being appeased, Cap retained
a supervisory power, while the young man was allowed to work the
craft, subject, at all times, to the control and interference of
the old seaman. To this Jasper consented, in preference to exposing
Mabel any longer to the dangers of their present situation; for,
now that the violence of the elements had ceased, he well knew that
the _Montcalm_ would be in search of them. He had the discretion,
however, not to reveal his apprehensions on this head; for it
happened that the very means he deemed the best to escape the enemy
were those which would be most likely to awaken new suspicions of
his honesty in the minds of those who held the power to defeat
his intentions. In other words, Jasper believed that the gallant
young Frenchman, who commanded the ship of the enemy, would quit
his anchorage under the fort at Niagara, and stand up the lake,
as soon as the wind abated, in order to ascertain the fate of the
_Scud_, keeping midway between the two shores as the best means
of commanding a broad view; and that, on his part, it would be
expedient to hug one coast or the other, not only to avoid a meeting,
but as affording a chance of passing without detection by blending
his sails and spars with objects on the land. He preferred the
south because it was the weather shore, and because he thought it
was that which the enemy would the least expect him to take, though
it necessarily led near his settlements, and in front of one of
the strongest posts he held in that part of the world.
Of all this, however, Cap was happily ignorant, and the Sergeant's
mind was too much occupied with the details of his military trust
to enter into these niceties, which so properly belonged to another
profession. No opposition was made, therefore, and before morning
Jasper had apparently dropped quietly into all his former authority,
issuing his orders freely, and meeting with obedience without
hesitation or cavil.
The appearance of day brought all on board on deck again; and,
as is usual with adventurers on the water, the opening horizon
was curiously examined, as objects started out of the obscurity,
and the panorama brightened under the growing light. East, west,
and north nothing was visible but water glittering in the rising
sun; but southward stretched the endless belt of woods that then
held Ontario in a setting of forest verdure. Suddenly an opening
appeared ahead, and then the massive walls of a chateau-looking
house, with outworks, bastions, blockhouses, and palisadoes, frowned
on a headland that bordered the outlet of a broad stream. Just
as the fort became visible, a little cloud rose over it, and the
white ensign of France was seen fluttering from a lofty flagstaff.
Cap gave an ejaculation as he witnessed this ungrateful exhibition,
and he cast a quick suspicious glance at his brother-in-law.
"The dirty tablecloth hung up to air, as my name is Charles Cap!"
he muttered; "and we hugging this d----d shore as if it were our
wife and children met on the return from an India v'y'ge! Hark'e,
Jasper, are you in search of a cargo of frogs, that you keep so
near in to this New France?"
"I hug the land, sir, in the hope of passing the enemy's ship without
being seen, for I think she must be somewhere down here to leeward."
"Ay, ay, this sounds well, and I hope it may turn out as you say.
I trust there is no under-tow here?"
"We are on a weather shore, now," said Jasper, smiling; "and I think
you will admit, Master Cap, that a strong under-tow makes an easy
cable: we owe all our lives to the under-tow of this very lake."
"French flummery!" growled Cap, though he did not care to be heard
by Jasper. "Give me a fair, honest, English-Yankee-American tow,
above board, and above water too, if I must have a tow at all, and
none of your sneaking drift that is below the surface, where one
can neither see nor feel. I daresay, if the truth could be come
at, that this late escape of ours was all a contrived affair."
"We have now a good opportunity, at least, to reconnoitre the enemy's
post at Niagara, brother, for such I take this fort to be," put
in the Sergeant. "Let us be all eyes in passing, and remember that
we are almost in face of the enemy."
This advice of the Sergeant needed nothing to enforce it; for the
interest and novelty of passing a spot occupied by human beings
were of themselves sufficient to attract deep attention in that
scene of a vast but deserted nature. The wind was now fresh enough
to urge the _Scud_ through the water with considerable velocity,
and Jasper eased her helm as she opened the river, and luffed nearly
into the mouth of that noble strait, or river, as it is termed.
A dull, distant, heavy roar came down through the opening in the
banks, swelling on the currents of the air, like the deeper notes
of some immense organ, and occasionally seeming to cause the earth
itself to tremble.
"That sounds like surf on some long unbroken coast!" exclaimed Cap,
as a swell, deeper than common, came to his ears.
"Ay, that is such surf as we have in this quarter of the world,"
Pathfinder answered. "There is no under-tow there, Master Cap; but
all the water that strikes the rocks stays there, so far as going
back again is consarned. That is old Niagara that you hear, or
this noble stream tumbling down a mountain."
"No one will have the impudence to pretend that this fine broad
river falls over yonder hills?"
"It does, Master Cap, it does; and all for the want of stairs, or
a road to come down by. This is natur', as we have it up hereaway,
though I daresay you beat us down on the ocean. Ah's me, Mabel!
a pleasant hour it would be if we could walk on the shore some ten
or fifteen miles up this stream, and gaze on all that God has done
"You have, then, seen these renowned falls, Pathfinder?" the girl
"I have -- yes, I have; and an awful sight I witnessed at that
same time. The Sarpent and I were out scouting about the garrison
there, when he told me that the traditions of his people gave an
account of a mighty cataract in this neighborhood, and he asked
me to vary from the line of march a little to look at the wonder.
I had heard some marvels consarning the spot from the soldiers of
the 60th, which is my nat'ral corps like, and not the 55th, with
which I have sojourned so much of late; but there are so many
terrible liars in all rijiments that I hardly believed half they
had told me. Well, we went; and though we expected to be led by our
ears, and to hear some of that awful roaring that we hear to-day,
we were disappointed, for natur' was not then speaking in thunder,
as she is this morning. Thus it is in the forest, Master Cap;
there being moments when God seems to be walking abroad in power,
and then, again, there is a calm over all, as if His spirit lay in
quiet along the 'arth. Well, we came suddenly upon the stream, a
short distance above the fall, and a young Delaware, who was in
our company, found a bark canoe, and he would push into the current
to reach an island that lies in the very centre of the confusion
and strife. We told him of his folly, we did; and we reasoned
with him on the wickedness of tempting Providence by seeking danger
that led to no ind; but the youth among the Delawares are very much
the same as the youth among the soldiers, risky and vain. All we
could say did not change his mind, and the lad had his way. To me
it seems, Mabel, that whenever a thing is really grand and potent,
it has a quiet majesty about it, altogether unlike the frothy
and flustering manner of smaller matters, and so it was with them
rapids. The canoe was no sooner fairly in them, than down it went,
as it might be, as one sails through the air on the 'arth, and no
skill of the young Delaware could resist the stream. And yet he
struggled manfully for life, using the paddle to the last, like the
deer that is swimming to cast the hounds. At first he shot across
the current so swiftly, that we thought he would prevail; but he
had miscalculated his distance, and when the truth really struck
him, he turned the head upstream, and struggled in a way that
was fearful to look at. I could have pitied him even had he been
a Mingo. For a few moments his efforts were so frantic that he
actually prevailed over the power of the cataract; but natur' has
its limits, and one faltering stroke of the paddle set him back,
and then he lost ground, foot by foot, inch by inch, until he got
near the spot where the river looked even and green, and as if it
were made of millions of threads of water, all bent over some huge
rock, when he shot backwards like an arrow and disappeared, the bow
of the canoe tipping just enough to let us see what had become of
him. I met a Mohawk some years later who had witnessed the whole
affair from the bed of the stream below, and he told me that the
Delaware continued to paddle in the air until he was lost in the
mists of the falls."
"And what became of the poor wretch?" demanded Mabel, who had been
strongly interested by the natural eloquence of the speaker.
"He went to the happy hunting-grounds of his people, no doubt; for
though he was risky and vain, he was also just and brave. Yes, he
died foolishly, but the Manitou of the red-skins has compassion on
his creatur's as well as the God of a Christian."
A gun at this moment was discharged from a blockhouse near the
fort; and the shot, one of light weight, came whistling over the
cutter's mast, an admonition to approach no nearer. Jasper was at
the helm, and he kept away, smiling at the same time as if he felt
no anger at the rudeness of the salutation. The _Scud_ was now
in the current, and her outward set soon carried her far enough to
leeward to avoid the danger of a repetition of the shot, and then
she quietly continued her course along the land. As soon as the
river was fairly opened, Jasper ascertained that the _Montcalm_
was not at anchor in it; and a man sent aloft came down with the
report that the horizon showed no sail. The hope was now strong
that the artifice of Jasper had succeeded, and that the French
commander had missed them by keeping the middle of the lake as he
steered towards its head.
All that day the wind hung to the southward, and the cutter continued
her course about a league from the land, running six or eight
knots the hour in perfectly smooth water. Although the scene had
one feature of monotony, the outline of unbroken forest, it was not
without its interest and pleasures. Various headlands presented
themselves, and the cutter, in running from one to another, stretched
across bays so deep as almost to deserve the name of gulfs. But
nowhere did the eye meet with the evidences of civilization;
rivers occasionally poured their tribute into the great reservoir
of the lake, but their banks could be traced inland for miles by
the same outlines of trees; and even large bays, that lay embosomed
in woods, communicating with Ontario only by narrow outlets, appeared
and disappeared, without bringing with them a single trace of a
Of all on board, the Pathfinder viewed the scene with the most
unmingled delight. His eyes feasted on the endless line of forest,
and more than once that day, notwithstanding he found it so grateful
to be near Mabel, listening to her pleasant voice, and echoing,
in feelings at least, her joyous laugh, did his soul pine to be
wandering beneath the high arches of the maples, oaks, and lindens,
where his habits had induced him to fancy lasting and true joys
were only to be found. Cap viewed the prospect differently; more
than once he expressed his disgust at there being no lighthouses,
church-towers, beacons, or roadsteads with their shipping. Such
another coast, he protested, the world did not contain; and, taking
the Sergeant aside, he gravely assured him that the region could
never come to anything, as the havens were neglected, the rivers
had a deserted and useless look, and that even the breeze had a
smell of the forest about it, which spoke ill of its properties.
But the humors of the different individuals in her did not stay
the speed of the _Scud_: when the sun was setting, she was already
a hundred miles on her route towards Oswego, into which river
Sergeant Dunham now thought it his duty to go, in order to receive
any communications that Major Duncan might please to make. With
a view to effect this purpose, Jasper continued to hug the shore
all night; and though the wind began to fail him towards morning,
it lasted long enough to carry the cutter up to a point that was
known to be but a league or two from the fort. Here the breeze
came out light at the northward, and the cutter hauled a little
from the land, in order to obtain a safe offing should it come on
to blow, or should the weather again get to be easterly.
When the day dawned, the cutter had the mouth of the Oswego well
under the lee, distant about two miles; and just as the morning
gun from the fort was fired, Jasper gave the order to ease off the
sheets, and to bear up for his port. At that moment a cry from
the forecastle drew all eyes towards the point on the eastern side
of the outlet, and there, just without the range of shot from the
light guns of the works, with her canvas reduced to barely enough
to keep her stationary, lay the _Montcalm_, evidently in waiting
for their appearance.
To pass her was impossible, for by filling her sails the French ship
could have intercepted them in a few minutes; and the circumstances
called for a prompt decision. After a short consultation, the
Sergeant again changed his plan, determining to make the best of his
way towards the station for which he had been originally destined,
trusting to the speed of the _Scud_ to throw the enemy so far astern
as to leave no clue to her movements.
The cutter accordingly hauled upon a wind with the least possible
delay, with everything set that would draw. Guns were fired from
the fort, ensigns shown, and the ramparts were again crowded. But
sympathy was all the aid that Lundie could lend to his party; and
the _Montcalm_, also firing four or five guns of defiance, and
throwing abroad several of the banners of France, was soon in chase
under a cloud of canvas.
For several hours the two vessels were pressing through the water
as fast as possible, making short stretches to windward, apparently
with a view to keep the port under their lee, the one to enter it
if possible, and the other to intercept it in the attempt.
At meridian the French ship was hull down, dead to leeward, the
disparity of sailing on a wind being very great, and some islands
were near by, behind which Jasper said it would be possible for
the cutter to conceal her future movements. Although Cap and
the Sergeant, and particularly Lieutenant Muir, to judge by his
language, still felt a good deal of distrust of the young man,
and Frontenac was not distant, this advice was followed; for time
pressed, and the Quartermaster discreetly observed that Jasper
could not well betray them without running openly into the enemy's
harbor, a step they could at any time prevent, since the only
cruiser of force the French possessed at the moment was under their
lee and not in a situation to do them any immediate injury.
Left to himself, Jasper Western soon proved how much was really
in him. He weathered upon the islands, passed them, and on coming
out to the eastward, kept broad away, with nothing in sight in his
wake or to leeward. By sunset again the cutter was up with the
first of the islands that lie in the outlet of the lake; and ere
it was dark she was running through the narrow channels on her way
to the long-sought station. At nine o'clock, however, Cap insisted
that they should anchor; for the maze of islands became so complicated
and obscure, that he feared, at every opening, the party would
find themselves under the guns of a French fort. Jasper consented
cheerfully, it being a part of his standing instructions to approach
the station under such circumstances as would prevent the men from
obtaining any very accurate notions of its position, lest a deserter
might betray the little garrison to the enemy.
The _Scud_ was brought to in a small retired bay, where it would
have been difficult to find her by daylight, and where she was
perfectly concealed at night, when all but a solitary sentinel on
deck sought their rest. Cap had been so harassed during the previous
eight-and-forty hours, that his slumbers were long and deep; nor
did he awake from his first nap until the day was just beginning
to dawn. His eyes were scarcely open, however, when his nautical
instinct told him that the cutter was under way. Springing up, he
found the _Scud_ threading the islands again, with no one on deck
but Jasper and the pilot, unless the sentinel be excepted, who had
not in the least interfered with movements that he had every reason
to believe were as regular as they were necessary.
"How's this, Master Western?" demanded Cap, with sufficient fierceness
for the occasion; "are you running us into Frontenac at last, and
we all asleep below, like so many mariners waiting for the 'sentry
"This is according to orders, Master Cap, Major Duncan having
commanded me never to approach the station unless at a moment when
the people were below; for he does not wish there should be more
pilots in those waters than the king has need of."
"Whe-e-e-w! a pretty job I should have made of running down among
these bushes and rocks with no one on deck! Why, a regular York
branch could make nothing of such a channel."
"I always thought, sir," said Jasper, smiling, "you would have done
better had you left the cutter in my hands until she had safely
reached her place of destination."
"We should have done it, Jasper, we should have done it, had it not
been for a circumstance; these circumstances are serious matters,
and no prudent man will overlook them."
"Well, sir, I hope there is now an end of them. We shall arrive in
less than an hour if the wind holds, and then you'll be safe from
any circumstances that I can contrive."
Cap was obliged to acquiesce; and, as everything around him had the
appearance of Jasper's being sincere, there was not much difficulty
in making up his mind to submit. It would not have been easy indeed
for a person the most sensitive on the subject of circumstances
to fancy that the _Scud_ was anywhere in the vicinity of a port so
long established and so well known on the frontiers as Frontenac.
The islands might not have been literally a thousand in number, but
they were so numerous and small as to baffle calculation, though
occasionally one of larger size than common was passed. Jasper
had quitted what might have been termed the main channel, and was
winding his way, with a good stiff breeze and a favorable current,
through passes that were sometimes so narrow that there appeared
to be barely room sufficient for the _Scud's_ spars to clear the
trees, while at other moments he shot across little bays, and buried
the cutter again amid rocks, forests, and bushes. The water was
so transparent that there was no occasion for the lead, and being
of very equal depth, little risk was actually run, though Cap,
with his maritime habits, was in a constant fever lest they should
"I give it up, I give it up, Pathfinder!" the old seaman at length
exclaimed, when the little vessel emerged in safety from the
twentieth of these narrow inlets through which she had been so
boldly carried; "this is defying the very nature of seamanship,
and sending all its laws and rules to the d---l!"
"Nay, nay, Saltwater, 'tis the perfection of the art. You perceive
that Jasper never falters, but, like a hound with a true nose, he
runs with his head high as if he had a strong scent. My life on
it, the lad brings us out right in the ind, as he would have done
in the beginning had we given him leave."
"No pilot, no lead, no beacons, buoys, or lighthouses, no -- "
"Trail," interrupted Pathfinder; "for that to me is the most
mysterious part of the business. Water leaves no trail, as every
one knows; and yet here is Jasper moving ahead as boldly as if he
had before his eyes the prints of the moccasins on leaves as plainly
as we can see the sun in the heaven."
"D--- me, if I believe there is even any compass!"
"Stand by to haul down the jib," called out Jasper, who merely
Back to Full Books