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the leaves, and where he could watch the movements of his enemies ; and he was far too steady to be disconcerted at a moment so critical.
It was truly an alarming instant. Just as Mabel touched the shoulder of her guide, three of the Iroquois had appeared in the water, at the bend of the river, within a hundred yards of the cover, and halted to examine the stream below. They were all naked to the waist, armed for an expedition against their foes, and in their warpaint. It was apparent that they were undecided as to the course they ought to pursue in order to find the fugitives. One pointed down the river, a second up the stream, and the third towards the opposite bank. They evidently doubted.
It was a breathless moment. The only clue the fugitives possessed to the intentions of their pursuers, was in their gestures, and the indications which escaped them in the fury of disappointment. That a party had returned already, on their own footsteps, by land, was pretty certain ; and all the benefit expected from the artifice of the fire was necessarily lost. But that consideration became of little moment just then ; for the party was menaced with an immediate discovery by those who had kept on a level with the river. All the facts presented themselves clearly, and as it might be by intuition, to the mind of Pathfinder, who perceived the necessity of immediate decision, and of being in readiness to act in concert. Without making any noise, therefore, he managed to get the two Indians and Jasper near him, when he opened his communications in a whisper.
« We must be ready, we must be ready,” he said.
6. There are but three of the scalping devils, and we are five, four of whom may be set down as manful warriors for such a skrimmage. Eau-douce, do you take the fellow that is painted like death ; Chingachgook, I give you the chief; and Arrowhead must keep his eye on the young
There must be no mistake, for two bullets in the same body would be sinful waste, with one like the Sergeant's daughter in danger. I shall hold myself in resarve against accident, lest a fourth reptile appear, for one of your
hands may prove unsteady. By no means fire until I give the word; we must not let the crack of the rifle be heard except in the last resort, since all the rest of the miscreants are still within hearing. Jasper, boy, in case of any movement behind us, on the bank, I trust to you to run out the canoe with the Sergeant's daughter, and to pull for the garrison, by God's leave.”
The Pat der had no sooner given these dir ions than the near approach of their enemies rendered profound silence necessary. The Iroquois in the river were slowly descending the stream, keeping of necessity near the bushes which overhung the water, while the rustling of leaves and the snapping of twigs soon gave fearful evidence that another party was moving along the bank, at an equally graduated pace and directly abreast of them. In consequence of the distance between the bushes planted by the fugitives and the true shore, the two parties became visible to each other when opposite that precise point. Both stopped, and a conversation ensued, that may be said to have passed directly over the heads of those who were concealed. Indeed nothing sheltered the travellers but the branches and leaves of plants, so pliant that they yielded to every current of air, and which a puff of wind a little stronger than common would have blown away. Fortunately the line of sight carried the eyes of the two parties of savages, whether they stood in the water or on the land, above the bushes; and the leaves appeared blended in a way to excite no suspicion. Perhaps the very boldness of the expedient alone prevented an immediate exposure. The conversation which took place was conducted earnestly, but in guarded tones, as if those who spoke wished to defeat the intentions
of any listeners. It was in a dialect that both the Ina dian warriors beneath, as well as the Pathfinder, under. stood. Even Jasper comprehended a portion of what was said.
“ The trail is washed away by the water !” said one from below, who stood so near the artificial cover of the fugitives, that he might have been struck by the salmonspear that lay in the bottom of Jasper's canoe. has washed it so clear that a Yangeese hound could not follow."
“ The pale-faces have left the shore in their canoes,” answered the speaker on the bank.
“ It cannot be. The rifles of our warriors below are certain.”
The Pathfinder gave a significant glance at Jasper, and he clenched his teeth in order to suppress the sound of his own breathing.
“Let my young men look as if their eyes were eagles," said the eldest warrior among those who were wading in the river. - We have been a whole moon on the warpath, and have found but one scalp. There is a maiden among them, and some of our braves want wives.”
Happily these words were lost on Mabel ; but Jasper's frown became deeper, and his face fiercely flushed.
The savages now ceased speaking, and the party which was concealed heard the slow and guarded movements of those who were on the bank, as they pushed the bushes aside in their wary progress. It was soon evident that the latter had passed the cover ; but the group in the water still remained, scanning the shore with eyes that glared through their war-paint, like coals of living fire. After a pause of two or three minutes, these three began also to descend the stream, though it was step by step, as meu move who look for an object that has been lost. In this manner they passed the artificial screen, and Pathfinder opened his mouth, in that hearty but noiseless laugh, that nature and habit had contributed to render a peculiarity of
His triumph, however, was premature ; for the last of the retiring party, just at this moment casting a look behind him, suddenly stopped : and his fixed attitude and steady gaze at once betrayed the appalling fact that some neglected bush had awakened his suspicions.
It was, perhaps, fortunate for the concealed, that the warrior who manifested these fearful signs of distrust was young, and had still a reputation to acquire. He knew the importance of discretion and modesty in one of his years, and most of all did he dread the ridicule and contempt that would certainly follow a false alarm. Without recalling any of his companions, therefore, he turned on his own footsteps; and while the others continued to de. scend the river, he cautiously approached the bushes, on which his looks were still fastened, as by a charm. Some of the leaves which were exposed to the sun had drooped a little, and this slight departure from the usual natural laws, had caught the quick eyes of the Indian ; for so practised and acute do the senses of the savage become, more especially when he is on the war-path, that trifles apparently of the most insignificant sort often prove to be clues to lead him to his object.
The trifling nature of the change which had aroused the suspicion of this youth, was an additional motive for not acquainting his companions with his discovery. Should he really detect any thing, his glory would be the greater for being unshared ; and should he not, he might hope to escape that derision which the young Indian so much dreads. Then there were the dangers of an ambush and a surprise, to which every warrior of the woods is keenly alive, to render his approach slow and cautious. In consequence of the delay that proceeded from these combined causes, the two parties had descended some fifty or sixty yards before the young savage was again near enough to the bushes of the Pathfinder to touch them with his hand.
Notwithstanding their critical situation, the whole party behind the cover had their eyes fastened on the working countenance of the young Iroquois, who was agitated by conflicting feelings. First came the eager hope of obtaining success where some of the most experienced of his tribe had failed, and with it a degree of glory that had sel. dom fallen to the share of one of his years or a brave on his first war-path ; then followed doubts, as the drooping
leaves seemed to rise again, and to revive in the currents of air ; and distrust of hidden danger lent its exciting feeling to keep the eloquent features in play. So very slight, however, had been the alteration produced by the heat on bushes of which the stems were in the water, that when the Iroquois actually laid his hand on the leaves, he fancied that he had been deceived. As no man ever distrusts strongly without using all convenient means of satisfying his doubts, however, the young warrior cautiously pushed aside the branches, and advanced a step within the hidingplace, when the forms of the concealed party met his gaze, resembling so many breathless statues. The low exclamation, the slight start, and the glaring eye, were hardly seen and heard, before the arm of Chingachgook was raised, and the tomahawk of the Delaware descended on the shaven head of his foe. The Iroquois raised his hands frantically, bounded backward, and fell into the water, at a spot where the current swept the body away, the struggling limbs still tossing and writhing in the agony of death. The Delaware made a vigorous but unsuccessful attempt to seize an arm, with the hope of securing the scalp ; but the bloodstained waters whirled down the current, carrying with them their quivering burthen.
All this passed in less than a minute ! and the events were so sudden and unexpected, that men less accustomed than the Pathfinder and his associates to forest warfare, would have been at a loss how to act.
“ There is not a moment to lose,” said Jasper, tearing aside the bushes, as he spoke earnestly, but in a suppressed voice. “ Do as I do, Master Cap, if you would save your niece ; and you, Mabel, lie at your length in the canoe.
The words were scarcely uttered when, seizing the bow of the light boat, he dragged it along the shore, wading himself while Cap aided behind, keeping so near the bank as to avoid being seen by the savages below, and striving to gain the turn in the river above him, which would effectually conceal the party from the enemy. The Pathfinder's canoe lay nearest to the bank, and necessarily the last to quit the shore. The Delaware leaped on the narrow strand, and plunged into the forest, it being his assigned