Obrázky stránek
[ocr errors]

circumstances in a twelvemonth. Notwithstanding their situation as regards the enemy, the time flew by swiftly, and the young people, in particular, were astonished when Cap informed them how long they had been thus occupied.

If one could smoke, Master Pathfinder,” observed the old sailor, “ this berth would be snug enough ; for, to give the devil his due, you have got the canoes handsomely land-locked, and into moorings that would defy a monsoon. The only hardship is the denial of the pipe.”

“ The scent of the tobacco would betray us; and where is the use of taking all these precautions against the Mingo's eyes, if we are to tell him where the cover is to be found through the nose ? No, no; deny your appetites; and learn one virtue from a red-skin, who will pass a week without eating even, to get a single scalp. Did you hear nothing, Jasper ?"

“ The Serpent is coming.”

“ Then let us see if Mohican eyes are better than them of a lad who follows the water."

The Mohican had indeed made his appearance in the same direction as that by which Jasper had rejoined his friends. Instead of coming directly on, however, no sooner did he pass the bend, where he was concealed from

any who might be higher up stream, than he moved close under the bank; and, using the utmost caution, got a position where he could look back, with his person sufficiently concealed by the bushes to prevent its being seen by any in that quarter.

“ The Sarpent sees the knaves !” whispered Pathfinder. As I'm a Christian white man, they have bit at the bait, and have ambushed the smoke!”

Here a hearty but silent laugh interrupted his words, and nudging Cap with his elbow, they all continued to watch the movements of Chingachgook in profound still

The Mohican remained stationary as the rock on which he stood, full ten minutes; and then it was apparent that something of interest had occurred within his view, for he drew back with a hurried manner, looked anxiously and keenly along the margin of the stream, and moved quickly down it, taking care to lose his trail in the shallow water. He was evidently in a hurry and concerned, now looking behind him, and then casting eager glances towards every spot on the shore, where he thought a canoe might be concealed.


“ Call him in,” whispered Jasper, scarcely able to restrain his impatience ; “call him in, or it will be too late. See ! he is actually passing us."

“ Not so, not so, lad; nothing presses, depend on it,” returned his companion," or the Sarpent would begin to creep. The Lord help us and teach us wisdom ! I do believe even Chingachgook, whose sight is as faithful as the hound's scent, overlooks us, and will not find out the ambushment we have made !”

This exultation was untimely ; for the words were no sooner spoken than the Indian, who had actually got several feet lower down the stream than the artificial cover, suddenly stopped ; fastened a keen-rivetted glance among the transplanted bushes ; made a few hasty steps backward ; and bending his body and carefully separating the branches, he appeared among them.

The accursed Mingos !”said Pathfinder, as soon as his friend was near enough to be addressed with prudence.

Iroquois,” returned the sententious Indian.

“ No matter, no matter; Iroquois, devil, Mingo, Mengwes, or furies all are pretty much the same. I call all rascals, Mingos. Come hither, chief, and let us convarse rationally:

When their private communication was over, Pathfinder rejoined the rest, and made them acquainted with all he had learned.

The Mohican had followed the trail of their enemies some distance towards the fort, until the latter caught a sight of the smoke of Jasper's fire, when they instantly retraced their steps. It now became necessary for Chingachgook, who ran the greatest risk of detection, to find a cover where he could secrete himself, until the party might pass. It was, perhaps, fortunate for him, that the savages were so intent on this recent discovery, that they did not bestow the ordinary attention on the signs of the forest.

At all events, they passed him swiftly, fifteen in number, treading lightly

in each others' footsteps ; and he was enabled again to get into their rear. After proceeding to the place where the footsteps of Pathfinder and the Mohican had joined the principal trail, the Iroquois had struck off to the river, which they reached just as Jasper had disappeared behind the bend below. The smoke being now in plain view, the savages plunged into the woods, and endeavoured to approach the fire unseen. Chingachgook profited by this occasion to descend to the water, and to gain the bend in the river also, which he thought had been effected undiscovered. Here he paused, as has been stated, until he saw his enemies at the fire, where their stay, however, was very short.

Of the motives of the Iroquois the Mohican could judge only by their acts. He thought they had detected the artifice of the fire, and were aware that it had been kindled with a view to mislead them ; for, after a hasty examination of the spot, they had separated, some plunging again into the woods, while six or eight had followed the footsteps of Jasper along the shore, and come down the stream towards the place where the canoes had landed. What course they might take on reaching that spot, was only to be conjectured ; for the Serpent had felt the emergency to be too pressing to delay looking for his friends any longer. From some indications that were to be gathered from their gestures, however, he thought it probable that their enemies might follow down in the margin of the stream, but could not be certain.

As the Pathfinder related these facts to his companions, the professional feelings of the two other white men came uppermost, and both naturally reverted to their habits, in quest of the means of escape.

6 Let us run out the canoes at once,” said Jasper, eagerly ; “the current is strong, and by using the paddles vigorously we shall soon be beyond the reach of these scoundrels !”

And this poor flower, that first blossomed in the clearings - shall it wither in the forest ?" objected his friend, with a poetry which he had unconsciously imbibed by his long association with the Delawares.

- We must all die first," answered the youth, a generous colour mounting to his temples ; “ Mabel and Arrowhead's wife niay lie down in the canoes, while we do our duty, like men, on our feet.”

“ Ay, you are active at the paddle and the oar, Eaudouce, I will allow, but an accursed Mingo is more active at his mischief; the canoes are swift, but a rifle-bullet is swifter.”

“ It is the business of men, engaged as we have been by a confiding father, to run this risk —”

“ But it is not their business to overlook prudence.”

“ Prudence ! a man may carry his prudence so far as to forget his courage.'

The group was standing on the narrow strand, the Pathfinder leaning on his rifle, the but of which rested on the gravelly beach, while both his hands clasped the barrel, at the height of his own shoulders. As Jasper threw out this severe and unmerited imputation, the deep red of his comrade's face maintained its hue unchanged, though the young man perceived that the fingers grasped the iron of the gun with the tenacity of a vice. Here all betrayal of emotion ceased.

“ You are young and hot-headed,” returned Pathfinder, with a dignity that impressed his listeners with a keen sense of his moral superiority; "but my life has been passed among dangers of this sort, and my experience and gifts are not to be mastered by the impatience of a boy. As for courage, Jasper, I will not send back an angry and unmeaning word, to meet an angry and an unmeaning word; for I know that you are true in your station and according to your knowledge ; but take the advice of one who faced the Mingos when you were a child, and know that their cunning is easier sarcumvented by prudence than outwitted by foolishness.”

“ I ask your pardon, Pathfinder,” said the repentant Jasper, eagerly grasping the hand that the other permitted him to seize; “ I ask your pardon, humbly and sincerely. 'Twas a foolish, as well as wicked thing to hint of a man whose heart, in a good cause, is known to be as firm as the rocks on the lake shore."

For the first time the colour deepened on the cheek of the Pathfinder, and the solemn dignity which he had assumed, under a purely natural impulse, disappeared in, the expression of the earnest simplicity inherent in all his feelings. He met the grasp of his young friend with a squeeze as cordial as if no chord had jarred between them, and a slight sternness that had gathered about his eye

disappeared in a look of natural kindness.

“ 'Tis well, Jasper," he answered, laughing ; “ I bear no ill-will, nor shall any one in my behalf. My natur' is that of a white man, and that is to bear no malice. It might have been ticklish work to have said half as much to the Sarpent here, though he is a Delaware, for colour will have its way

A touch on his shoulder caused the speaker to cease. Mabel was standing erect in the canoe ; her light, but swelling form bent forward in an attitude of graceful earnestness, her finger on her lips, her head averted, her spirited eyes riveted on an opening in the bushes, and one arm extended with a fishing-rod, the end of which had touched the Pathfinder. The latter bowed his head to a level with a look-out near which he had intentionally kept himself, and then whispered to Jasper

" The accursed Mingos ! Stand to your arms, my men, but lay quiet as the corpses of dead trees !"

Jasper advanced rapidly, but noiselessly, to the canoe, and with a gentle violence induced Mabel to place herself in such an attitude as concealed her entire body, though it would have probably exceeded his means to induce the girl so far to lower her head, that she could not keep her gaze fastened on their enemies. He then took his own post near her, with his rifle cocked and poised, in readiness to fire. Arrowhead and Chingachgook crawled to the cover, and lay in wait like snakes, with their arms prepared for service, while the wife of the former bowed her head between her knees, covered it with her calico robe, and remained passive and immovable. Cap loosened both his pistols in their belt, but seemed quite at a loss what course pursue.

The Pathfinder did not stir. He had originally got a position where he might aim with deadly effect through


« PředchozíPokračovat »