The clouds and sunbeams o'er his eye,
That once their shades and glories threw,
Have left, in yonder silent sky,
No vestige where they flew.
A stillness, as deep as that which marked the gloomy wastes in their front, was observed by the fugitives to distinguish the spot they had just abandoned. Even the trapper lent his practised faculties, in vain, to detect any of the well-known signs, which might establish the important fact that hostilities had actually commenced between the parties of Mahtoree and Ishmael; but their horses carried them out of the reach of sounds, without the occurrence of the smallest evidence of the sort. The old man, from time to time, muttered his discontent, but manifested the uneasiness he actually entertained in no other manner, unless it might be in exhibiting a growing anxiety to urge the animals to increase their speed. He pointed out in passing, the deserted swale, where the family of the squatter had encamped, the night they were introduced to the reader, and afterwards he maintained an ominous silence; ominous, because his companions had already seen enough of his character, to be convinced that the circumstances must be critical indeed, which possessed the power to disturb the well regulated tranquillity of the old man's mind.
"Have we not done enough," Middleton demanded, in tenderness to the inability of Inez and Ellen to endure so much fatigue, at the end of some hours; "we have ridden hard, and have crossed a wide tract of plain. It is time to seek a place of rest."
"You must seek it then in Heaven, if you find yourselves unequal to a longer march," murmured the old trapper. "Had the Tetons and the squatter come to blows, as any one might see in the natur' of things they were bound to do, there would be time to look about us, and to calculate not only the chances but the comforts of the journey; but as the case actually is, I should consider it certain death, or endless captivity, to trust our eyes with sleep, until our heads are fairly hid in some uncommon cover."
"I know not," returned the youth, who reflected more on the sufferings of the fragile being he supported, than on the experience of his companion; "I know not; we have ridden leagues, and I can see no extraordinary signs of danger:--if you fear for yourself, my good friend, believe me you are wrong, for--"
"Your grand'ther, were he living and here," interrupted the old man, stretching forth a hand, and laying a finger impressively on the arm of Middleton, "would have spared those words. He had some reason to think that, in the prime of my days, when my eye was quicker than the hawk's, and my limbs were as active as the legs of the fallow-deer, I never clung too eagerly and fondly to life: then why should I now feel such a childish affection for a thing that I know to be vain, and the companion of pain and sorrow. Let the Tetons do their worst; they will not find a miserable and worn out trapper the loudest in his complaints, or his prayers."
"Pardon me, my worthy, my inestimable friend," exclaimed the repentant young man, warmly grasping the hand, which the other was in the act of withdrawing; "I knew not what I said--or rather I thought only of those whose tenderness we are most bound to consider."
"Enough. It is natur', and it is right. Therein your grand'ther would have done the very same. Ah's me! what a number of seasons, hot and cold, wet and dry, have rolled over my poor head, since the time we worried it out together, among the Red Hurons of the Lakes, back in those rugged mountains of Old York! and many a noble buck has since that day fallen by my hand; ay, and many a thieving Mingo, too! Tell me, lad, did the general, for general I know he got to be, did he ever tell you of the deer we took, that night the outlyers of the accursed tribe drove us to the caves, on the island, and how we feasted and drunk in security?"
"I have often heard him mention the smallest circumstance of the night you mean; but--"
"And the singer; and his open throat; and his shoutings in the fights!" continued the old man, laughing joyously at the strength of his own recollections.
"All--all--he forgot nothing, even to the most trifling incident. Do you not--"
"What! did he tell you of the imp behind the log and of the miserable devil who went over the fall--or of the wretch in the tree?"
"Of each and all, with every thing that concerned them.[*] I should think--"
[*] They who have read the preceding books, in which, the trapper
appears as a hunter and a scout, will readily understand the
"Ay," continued the old man, in a voice, which betrayed how powerfully his own faculties retained the impression of the spectacle, "I have been a dweller in forests, and in the wilderness for three-score and ten years, and if any can pretend to know the world, or to have seen scary sights, it is myself! But never, before nor since, have I seen human man in such a state of mortal despair as that very savage; and yet he scorned to speak, or to cry out, or to own his forlorn condition! It is their gift, and nobly did he maintain it!"
"Harkee, old trapper," interrupted Paul, who, content with the knowledge that his waist was grasped by one of the arms of Ellen, had hitherto ridden in unusual silence; "my eyes are as true and as delicate as a humming-bird's in the day; but they are nothing worth boasting of by starlight. Is that a sick buffaloe, crawling along in the bottom, there, or is it one of the stray cattle of the savages?"
The whole party drew up, in order to examine the object, which Paul had pointed out. During most of the time, they had ridden in the little vales in order to seek the protection of the shadows, but just at that moment, they had ascended a roll of the prairie in order to cross into the very bottom where this unknown animal was now seen.
"Let us descend," said Middleton; "be it beast or man, we are too strong to have any cause of fear."
"Now, if the thing was not morally impossible," cried the trapper, who the reader must have already discovered was not always exact in the use of qualifying words, "if the thing was not morally impossible, I should say, that was the man, who journeys in search of reptiles and insects: our fellow-traveller the Doctor."
"Why impossible? did you not direct him to pursue this course, in order to rejoin us?"
"Ay, but I did not tell him to make an ass outdo the speed of a horse: --you are right--you are right," said the trapper, interrupting himself, as by gradually lessening the distance between them, his eyes assured him it was Obed and Asinus, whom he saw; "you are right, as certainly as the thing is a miracle. Lord, what a thing is fear! How now, friend; you have been industrious to have got so far ahead in so short a time. I marvel at the speed of the ass!"
"Asinus is overcome," returned the naturalist, mournfully. "The animal has certainly not been idle since we separated, but he declines all my admonitions and invitations to proceed. I hope there is no instant fear from the savages?"
"I cannot say that; I cannot say that; matters are not as they should be, atween the squatter and the Tetons, nor will I answer as yet for the safety of any scalp among us. The beast is broken down! you have urged him beyond his natural gifts, and he is like a worried hound. There is pity and discretion in all things, even though a man be riding for his life."
"You indicated the star," returned the Doctor, "and I deemed it expedient to use great diligence in pursuing the direction."
"Did you expect to reach it, by such haste? Go, go; you talk boldly of the creatur's of the Lord, though I plainly see you are but a child in matters that concern their gifts and instincts. What a plight would you now be in, if there was need for a long and a quick push with our heels?"
"The fault exists in the formation of the quadruped," said Obed, whose placid temper began to revolt under so many scandalous imputations. "Had there been rotary levers for two of the members, a moiety of the fatigue would have been saved, for one item--"
"That, for your moiety's and rotaries, and items, man; a jaded ass is a jaded ass, and he who denies it is but a brother of the beast itself. Now, captain, are we driven to choose one of two evils. We must either abandon this man, who has been too much with us through good and bad to be easily cast away, or we must seek a cover to let the animal rest."
"Venerable venator!" exclaimed the alarmed Obed; "I conjure you by all the secret sympathies of our common nature, by all the hidden--"