Obrázky stránek
[ocr errors]

the wit to bethink him of the damp wood now when it may serve us all a good turn.”

“ Too much smoke too much cunning,” said Arrowhead, sententiously.

“ That is Gospel truth, Tuscarora, if the Mingoes didn't know that they are near soldiers ; but soldiers commonly think more of their dinner, at a halt, than of their wisdom and danger. No, no; let the boy pile on his logs, and smoke them well too; it will all be laid to the stupidity of some Scotch or Irish blunderer, who is thinking more of his oatmeal or his potatoes, than of Indian sarcumventions or Indian rifles."

And yet I should think, from all we have heard in the towns, that the soldiers on this frontier are used to the artifices of their enemies," said Mabel ; " and become almost as wily as the red-men themselves.”

“ Not they. Experience makes them but little wiser ; and they wheel, and platoon, and battalion it about, here in the forest, just as they did in their parks at home, of which they are all so fond of talking. One red-skin has more cunning in his natur' than a whole regiment from the other side of the water; that is, what I call cunning of the woods. But there is smoke enough, of all conscience, and we had better drop into another cover. The lad has thrown the river on his fire, and there is danger that the Mingos will believe a whole regiment is out.”

While speaking, the Pathfinder permitted his canoe to drift away from the bush by which it had been retained, and in a couple of minutes the bend in the river concealed the smoke and the tree. Fortunately a small indentation in the shore presented itself, within a few yards of the point they had just passed ; and the two canoes glided into it, under the impulsion of the paddles.

A better spot could not have been found for the purpose. The bushes were thick and overhung the water, forming a complete canopy of leaves. There was a small gravelly strand at the bottom of the little bay, where most of the party landed to be more at their ease, and the only position from which they could possibly be seen, was a point on the river directly opposite. There was little danger, however,

66 but it may

of discovery from that quarter, as the thicket there was even denser than common, and the land beyond it was so wet and marshy, as to render it difficult to be trodden.

This is a safe cover,” said the Pathfinder, after he had taken a scrutinising survey of his position; be necessary to make it safer.

Master Cap, I ask nothing of you

but silence, and a quieting of such gifts as you may have got at sea, while the Tuscarora and I make provision for the evil hour.”

The guide then went a short distance into the bushes, accompanied by the Indian, where the two cut off the larger stems of several alders and other bushes, using the utmost care not to make a noise. The ends of these little trees were forced into the mud, outside of the canoes, the depth of the water being very trifling; and in the course of ten minutes a very effectual screen was interposed be. tween them and the principal point of danger. Much ingenuity and readiness were manifested in making this simple arrangement in which the two workmen were essentially favoured by the natural formation of the bank, the indentation in the shore, the shallowness of the water, and the manner in which the tangled bushes dipped into the stream. The Pathfinder had the address to look for bushes which had curved stems, things easily found in such a place; and by cutting them some distance beneath the bend, and permitting the latter to touch the water, the artificial little thicket had not the appearance of growing in the stream, which might have excited suspicion ; but, one passing it, would have thought that the bushes shot out horizontally from the bank before they inclined upwards towards the light. In short, none but an unusually distrustful eye would have been turned for an instant towards the spot, in quest of a hiding-place.

“ This is the best cover I ever yet got into,” said the Pathfinder, with his quiet laugh, after having been on the outside to reconnoitre ; “ the leaves of our new trees fairly touch those of the bushes over our heads. Hist! - yonder comes Eau-douce, wading, like a sensible boy, as he is, to leave his trail in the water ! and we shall soon see whether our cover is good for any thing or not.”

Jasper had, indeed, returned from his duty above ; and missing the canoes, he at once inferred that they had dropped round the next bend in the river, in order to get out of sight of the fire. His habits of caution immediately suggested the expediency of stepping into the water, in order that there might exist no visible communication between the marks left on the shore by the party, and the place where he believed them to have taken refuge below. Should the Canadian Indians return on their own trail, and discover that made by the Pathfinder and the Serpent in their ascent from, and descent to the river, the clue to their movements would cease at the shore, water leaving no prints of footsteps. The young man had, therefore, waded, knee-deep, as far as the point, and was now seen making his way slowly down the margin of the stream, searching curiously for the spot in which the canoes were hid.

It was in the power of those behind the bushes, by placing their eyes near the leaves, to find many places to look through, while one at a little distance lost this advantage. To those who watched his motions from behind their cover, and they were all in the canoes, it was evident that Jasper was totally at a loss to imagine where the Pathfinder had secreted himself. When fairly round the curvature in the shore, and out of sight of the fire he had lighted above, the young man stopped and began examining the bank deliberately and with great care. Occasionally, he advanced eight or ten paces, and then halted again, to renew the search. The water being much shallower than common, he stepped aside, in order to walk with greater case to himself, and came so near the artificial plantation that he might have touched it with his hand. Still he detected nothing, and was actually passing the spot when Pathfinder made an opening beneath the branches and called to him in a low voice, to enter.

“ This is pretty well,” said the Pathfinder, laughing; though pale-face eyes and red-skin eyes are as different as human spy-glasses. I would wager, with the Sergeant's daughter, here, a horn of powder against a wampum-belt for her girdle, that her father's rijiment should march by this embankment of ours, and never find out the fraud ! But, if the Mingoes actually get down into the bed of the river where Jasper passed, I should tremble for the plantation. It will do for their eyes, even across the stream, however, and will not be without its use."

“ Don't you think, Master Pathfinder, that it would be wisest, after all,” said Cap, to get under way at once, and carry sail hard down stream, as soon as we are satisfied that these rascals are fairly astern of us? We seamen call a stern chase a long chase.”

“ I wouldn't move from this spot, until we hear from the Sarpent, with the Sergeant's pretty daughter here in our company, for all the powder in the magazine of the fort below. Sartain captivity or sartain death would follow. If a tender fa'n, such as the maiden we have in charge, could thread the forest like old deer, it might, indeed, do to quit the canoes ; for, by making a circuit we could reach the garrison before morning.”

« Then let it be done,” said Mabel, springing to her feet, under the sudden impulse of awakened energy. “I am young, active, used to exercise, and could easily outwalk my dear uncle. Let no one think me a hindrance. I cannot bear that all your lives should be exposed on my account.”

“ No, no, pretty one; we think you any thing but a hindrance or anything that is unbecoming, and would willingly run twice this risk to do you and the honest Sergeant a service. Do I not speak your mind, Eau-douce ?”

66 To do her a service !” said Jasper with emphasis. Nothing shall tempt me to desert Mabel Dunham until she is safe in her father's arms.

“ Well said, lad ; bravely and honestly said, too; and I join in it, heart and hand. No, no ! you are not the first of your sex I have led through the wilderness, and never but once did any harm befall any of them: sad day, certainly ; but its like may never come again."

Mabel looked from one of her protectors to the other, and her fine eyes swam in tears. Frankly placing a hand in that of each, she answered them, though at first her voice was choked :

“ I have no right to expose you on my account. My dear father will thank

you, I thank you, God

[ocr errors]

that was a


will reward you ; but let there be no unnecessary risk. 1 can walk far, and have often gone miles on some girlish fancy; why not now exert myself for my life? nay, for your precious lives ?”

“ She is a true dove, Jasper," said the Pathfinder, neither relinquishing the hand he held until the girl herself, in native modesty, saw fit to withdraw it, “and wonderfully winning! We get to be rough, and sometimes even hard-hearted, in the woods, Mabel ; but the sight of one like you brings us back again to our young feelings, and does us good for the remainder of our days. I dare say Jasper here will tell you the same; for, like me in the forest, the lad sees but few such as yourself on Ontario, to soften bis heart, and remind him of love for his kind. Speak out, now, Jasper, and say if it is not so."

“ I question if many like Mabel Dunham are to be found anywhere," returned the young man gallantly, an honest sincerity glowing in his face, that spoke more eloquently than his tongue ;

you need not mention woods and lakes to challenge her equals, but I would go into the settlements and towns."

- We had better leave the canoes,” Mabel hurriedly rejoined ; “ for I feel it is no longer safe to be here.”

“ You can never do it ; you can never do it. It would be a march of more than twenty miles, and that too of tramping over brush and roots, and through swamps, in the dark; the trail of such a party would be wide, and we might have to fight our way into the garrison, after all. We will wait for the Mohican."

Such appearing to be the decision of him to whom all, in their present strait, looked up for counsel, no more was said on the subject. The whole party now broke up into groups; Arrowhead and his wife sitting apart under the bushes, conversing in a low tone, though the man spoke sternly, and the woman answered with the subdued mildness that marks the degraded condition of a savage's wife. Pathfinder and Cap occupied one canoe, chatting of their different adventures by sea and land; while Jasper and Mabel sat in the other, making greater progress in intimacy in a single hour that might have been effected under other

« PředchozíPokračovat »