« PředchozíPokračovat »
quent language of night in a wilderness. The air sighed through ten thousand trees, the water rippled, and at places even roared along the shores; and now and then was heard the creaking of a branch, or a trunk, as it rubbed against some object similar to itself, under the vibrations of a nicely balanced body. All living sounds had ceased. Once, it is true, the Pathfinder fancied he heard the howl of a distant wolf, of which a few prowled through these woods; but it was a transient and doubtful cry, that might possibly have been attributed to the imagination. When he desired his companions, however, to cease talking, in the manner just mentioned, his vigilant ear had caught the peculiar sound that is made by the parting of a dried branch of a tree, and which, if his senses did not deceive him, came from the western shore. All who are accustomed to that particular sound will understand how readily the ear receives it, and how easy it is to distinguish the tread which breaks the branch from every other noise of the forest.
"There is the footstep of a man on the bank,” said Pathfinder to Jasper, speaking in neither a whisper nor yet in a voice loud enough to be heard at any distance. "Can the accursed Iroquois have crossed the river already, with their arms, and without a boat?"
"It may be the Delaware. He would follow us of course down this bank, and would know where to look for us. Let me draw closer in to the shore, and reconnoitre."
"Go, boy, but be light with the paddle, and, on no account, venture ashore on an onsartainty."
"Is this prudent?" demanded Mabel, with an impetuosity that rendered her incautious in modulating her sweet voice. Very imprudent, if you speak so loud, fair one. I like your voice, which is soft and pleasing, after listening so long to the tones of men; but it must not be heard too much, or too freely, just now. Your father, the honest Sergeant, will tell you, when you see him, that silence is a double virtue on a trail. Go, Jasper, and do justice to your own character for prudence."
Ten anxious minutes succeeded the disappearance of the canoe of Jasper, which glided away from that of the Pathfinder so noiselessly, that it had been swallowed up in the gloom before Mabel allowed herself to believe the young man would really venture alone, on a service that struck her imagination as singularly dangerous. During this time, the party continued to float with the current, no one speaking, and it might almost be said, no one breathing, so strong was the general desire to catch the minutest sound that should come from the shore. But the same solemn, we might indeed say sublime, quiet reigned as before; the wash
ing of the water, as it piled up against some slight obstruction, and the sighing of the trees, alone interrupting the slumbers of the forest. At the end of the period mentioned, the snapping of dried branches were again faintly heard, and the Pathfinder fancied that the sound of smothered voices reached him.
"I may be mistaken," he said, "for the thoughts often fancy what the heart wishes; but these were notes like the low tones of the Delaware."
'Do the dead of the savages ever walk?" demanded Cap.
"Ay, and run, too, in their happy hunting-grounds, but nowhere else. A red-skin finishes with the 'arth, after the breath quits the body. It is not one of his gifts to linger around his wigwam, when his hour has passed."
"I see some object on the water," whispered Mabel, whose eye had not ceased to dwell on the body of gloom, with close intensity, since the disappearance of Jasper.
"It is the canoe," returned the guide, greatly relieved. must be safe, or we should have heard from the lad."
In another minute the two canoes, which became visible to those they carried, only as they drew near each other, again floated side by side, and the form of Jasper was recognised at the stern of his own boat. The figure of a second man was seated in the bow; and as the young sailor so wielded his paddle as to bring the face of his companion near the eyes of the Pathfinder and Mabel, they both recognised the person of the Delaware.
"Chingachgook-my brother!" said the guide, in the dialect of the other's people, a tremour shaking his voice that betrayed the strength of his feelings-"Chief of the Mohicans! my heart is very glad. Often have we passed through blood and strife together, but I was afraid it was never to be so again."
Hugh!—The Mingos are squaws!-Three of their scalps hang at my girdle. They do not know how to strike the Great Serpent of the Delawares. Their hearts have no blood; and their thoughts are on their return path, across the waters of the Great Lake."
"Have you been among them, chief? and what has become of the warrior who was in the river ?"
"He has turned into a fish, and lies as the bottom with the eels! Let his brothers bait their hooks for him. Pathfinder, I have counted the enemy, and have touched their rifles."
"Ah! I thought he would be venturesome!" exclaimed the guide, in English. "The risky fellow has been in the midst of them, and has brought us back their whole history. Speak, Chingachgook, and I will make our friends as knowing as ourselves."
The Delaware now related in a low earnest manner the substance of all his discoveries, since he was last seen struggling with
his foe in the river. Of the fate of his antagonist he said no more, it not being usual for a warrior to boast in his more direct and useful narratives. As soon as he had conquered in that fearful strife, however, he swam to the eastern shore, landed with caution, and wound his way in amongst the Iroquois, concealed by the darkness, undetected, and, in the main, even unsuspected. Once, indeed, he had been questioned; but answering that he was Arrowhead, no further inquiries were made. By the passing remarks, he soon ascertained that the party was out expressly to intercept Mabel and her uncle, concerning whose rank, however, they had evidently been deceived. He also ascertained enough to justify the suspicion that Arrowhead had betrayed them to their enemies, for some motive that it was not now easy to reach, as he had not yet received the reward of his services.
Pathfinder communicated no more of this intelligence to his companions than he thought might relieve their apprehensions, intimating, at the same time, that now was the moment for exertion, the Iroquois not having yet entirely recovered from the confusion created by their losses.
We shall find them at the rift, I make no manner of doubt," he continued ; and there it will be our fate to pass them, or to fall into their hands. The distance to the garrison will then be so short, that I have been thinking of the plan of landing with Mabel, myself, that I may take her in, by some of the by-ways, and leave the canoes to their chances in the rapids."
"It will never succeed, Pathfinder," eagerly interrupted Jasper. "Mabel is not strong enough to tramp the woods in a night like this. Put her in my skiff, and I will lose my life, or carry her through the rift safely, dark as it is."
No doubt you will, lad; no one doubts your willingness to do anything to serve the Sergeant's daughter; but it must be the eye of Providence, and not your own, that will take you safely through the Oswego rift in a night like this."
66 And who will lead her safely to the garrison if she land? Is not the night as dark on shore as on the water? or do you think I know less of my calling than you know of yours?"
Spiritedly said, lad; but if I should lose my way in the dark -and I believe no man can say truly that such a thing ever yet happened to me-but, if I should lose my way, no other harm would come of it than to pass a night in the forest; whereas a false turn of the paddle, or a broad sheer of the canoe, would put you and the young woman into the river, out of which it is more than probable the Sergeant's daughter would never come alive."
“I will leave it to Mabel herself; I am certain that she will feel more secure in the canoe."
"I have great confidence in you both," answered the girl; "and have no doubts that either will do all he can to prove to my father how much he values him; but I confess I should not like to quit the canoe, with the certainty we have of there being enemies like those we have seen, in the forest. But my uncle can decide for me in this matter."
I have no liking for the woods," said Cap; "while one has a clear drift like this on the river. Besides, Master Pathfinder, to say nothing of the savages, you overlook the sharks."
"Sharks! who ever heard of sharks in the wilderness?"
"Ay! sharks, or bears, or wolves-no matter what you call a thing, so it has the mind and power to bite."
Lord, lord, man, do you dread any creatur', that is to be found in the American forest? A catamount is a skeary animal, I will allow, but then it is nothing in the hands of a practised hunter. Talk of the Mingos, and their devilries, if you will; but do not raise a false alarm-about bears and wolves."
"Ay, ay, Master Pathfinder, this is all well enough for you, who probably know the name of every creature you would meet. Use is everything, and it makes a man bold when he might otherwise be bashful. I have known seamen in the low latitudes swim for hours at a time, among sharks fifteen or twenty feet long, and think no more of what they were doing, than a countryman thinks of whom he is amongst, when he comes out of a church-door of a Sunday afternoon.
"This is extraordinary!" exclaimed Jasper, who, in good sooth, had not yet acquired that material part of his trade, the ability to spin a yarn. "I have always heard that it was certain death to venture in the water among sharks?"
"I forgot to say, that the lads always took capstan-bars, or gunners' handspikes, or crows with them, to rap the beasts over the noses, if they got to be troublesome. No, no, I have no liking for bears and wolves, though a whale, in my eye, is very much the same sort of fish as a red-herring, after it is dried and salted. Mabel and I had better stick to the canoe.'
"Mabel would do well to change canoes," added Jasper. "This of mine is empty, and even Pathfinder will allow that my eye is surer than his own, on the water."
"That I will, cheerfully, boy. The water belongs to your gifts, and no one will deny that you have improved them to the utmost. You are right enough in believing that the Sergeant's daughter will be safer in your canoe than in this; and, though I would gladly keep her near myself, I have her welfare too much at heart, not to give her honest advice. Bring your canoe close alongside, Jasper, and I will give you what you must consider as a precious treasure,'
"I do so consider it," returned the youth, not losing a moment in complying with the request; when Mabel passed from one canoe to the other, taking her seat on the effects which had hitherto composed its sole cargo.
As soon as this arrangement was made, the canoes separated a short distance, and the paddles were used, though with great care to avoid making any noise. The conversation gradually ceased and as the dreaded rift was approached, all became impressed with the gravity of the moment. That their enemies would endeavour to reach this point before them was almost certain; and it seemed so little probable any one should attempt to pass it, in the profound obscurity which reigned, that Pathfinder was confident parties were on both sides of the river, in the hope of intercepting them when they might land. He would not have made the proposal he did, had he not felt sure of his own ability to convert this very anticipation of success into a means of defeating the plans of the Iroquois. As the arrangement now stood, however, everything depended on the skill of those who guided the canoes; for should either hit a rock, if not split asunder, it would almost certainly be upset, and then would come not only all the hazards of the river itself, but, for Mabel, the certainty of falling into the hands of her pursuers. The utmost circumspection consequently became necessary, and each one was too much engrossed with his own thoughts, to feel a disposition to utter more than was called for by the exigencies of the case.
As the canoes stole silently along, the roar of the rift became audible, and it required all the fortitude of Cap to keep his seat; while these boding sounds were approached, amid a darkness that scarcely permitted a view of the outlines of the wooded shore, and of the gloomy vault above his head. He retained a vivid impression of the falls, and his imagination was not now idle in swelling the dangers of the rift to a level with those of the headlong descent he had that day made, and even to increase them, under the influence of doubt and uncertainty. In this, however, the old mariner was mistaken, for the Oswego rift and the Oswego falls are very different in their characters and violence; the former being no more than a rapid, that glances among shallows and rocks, while the latter really deserved the name it bore, as has been already shown.
Mabel certainly felt distrust and apprehension; but her entire situation was so novel, and her reliance on her guide so great, that she retained a self-command that might not have existed had she clearer perceptions of the truth, or been better acquainted with the helplessness of men, when placed in opposition to the power and majesty of Nature.