The Pathfinder - Or, The Inland Sea
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
A narrative of adventure in the forests on the southern shore of Lake Ontario and on the waters of the lake, and of military life on one of the Thousand Islands of the St. Lawrence. In 1808 Mr. Cooper, then a young officer in the navy, was ordered to duty on the great lakes, and made the same journey as that here narrated, across the country to Oswego, with a party of messmates. Following the order of events, this book should be the third in the series of the Leather-Stocking Tales. In The Deerslayer Natty Bumppo is represented as a youth, just beginning his forest career as a warrior, having already won celebrity as a hunter. In The Last of the Mohicans he appears as Hawkeye, and is present at the death of young Uncas. In the present tale he reappears in the same war of 1756, in company with his Mohican friend, Chingachgook, still in the vigor of manhood, and young enough to appear in the character of a lover. The account of the fort at the mouth of the Oswego River, a point coveted by both French and English in the wars between the two peoples, is historical.
ABEL DUNHAM, daughter of Sergeant Dun-ham, of a regiment stationed at Oswego, one of the westernmost British frontier posts, had been sent for by her father, and was journeying through the forest in company with her uncle, Charles Cap, and two Tuscarora Indians, Arrowhead and his wife, Dew-in-June. Cap, a thorough seaman, who had made voyages to many parts of the world, was incredulous about any great inland sea, and disposed to be critical of fresh-water seamanship. He carried, too, a pocket compass, which he frequently consulted, affecting to despise the methods of the Indian in traversing the great forest without such aid.
When the four reached the Oswego River, they were met by another party sent from the fort to conduct them to it. This consisted of two white men and an Indian, the last a Mohican named Chingachgook, or the Great Serpent. Of the whites, the elder, a man of some forty years, was a scout known to the English as Pathfinder and to the Mohicans as Hawkeye, but to the French and Indians north of the great lakes as La Longue Carabine, from the length of his rifle, Killdeer, and the accuracy of his aim. The younger was a fresh-water sailor named Jasper Western, called by the French, whose tongue he spoke with accuracy, Eau-douce (Fresh-water), which Cap soon learned to make into Oh-the-deuce.
Cap and his party had traveled from Fort Stanwix, the last military station on the Mohawk, in a long canoe, into which all entered to drift down with the current to the fort at the mouth of the Oswego. The paddles were used noiselessly by Path-finder and Eau-douce and conversation was carried on in low tones, for there were rumors of Mingos, as the Iroquois were called by the southern Indians, abroad in the forest. The rumors were true, and they had to run the gauntlet of their savage foes, during which several of the enemy were killed, but the entire party, with the exception of Arrowhead and Dew-in-June, who disappeared, finally reached the fort in safety, where Mabel was received with open arms by her father.
The fort at Oswego was garrisoned by a battalion of the 55th regiment, originally Scotch, but into which many Americans had been received; and of these, Thomas Dunham, Mabel's father, filled the responsible office of the oldest sergeant. He and Pathfinder had long been friends and had done much scouting duty together; and the Sergeant really owed his life to his friend, who had saved him when badly wounded from being scalped by the savages. His affection and great respect for the Pathfinder had induced him to send for Mabel, in hope that she might see him in the same light that he himself did. Though long separated from his daughter, he had for her a strong affection, and he felt that he could not entrust her happiness to one more worthy, notwithstanding the discrepancy in their respective ages.
Sergeant Dunham, of a tall and imposing figure and grave disposition, and accurate and precise in his acts and manner of thinking, received more true respect from Duncan of Lundie, the Scotch laird who commanded the post, than most of the subalterns; for experience and tried services were of quite as much value in the eyes of the Major as birth and money. No one was surprised, then, when Major Lundie selected him to command a party about to embark to relieve a post among the Thousand Islands, and to be sent thither in the Scud, a vessel in charge of Jasper Eau-douce. As the expedition would be gone a month, the sergeant determined to take Mabel with him. The invitation was extended to Pathfinder and to Cap, the Sergeant saying that the trip would probably interest the latter, as one accustomed to the water.
"Ay, to salt water, if you will," replied Cap, "but not to lake water. If you have no person to handle that bit of a cutter for you, I have no objection to ship for the v'y'ge, though I shall look on the whole affair as time thrown away; for I consider it an imposition to call sailing about this pond going to sea."
" Jasper is every way able to manage the Scud, Brother Cap; and in that light I cannot say that we have need of your services, though we shall be glad of your company."
Mabel had hardly been a week in the fort before she found admirers even among the gentlemen, and she was soon a toast that the ensign or the lieutenant did not disdain to give. Among her admirers was Lieutenant Muir, the Quartermaster, a Scots-man who had more than once tried the blessings of matrimony, but was now a widower. Muir entrusted his feelings for Mabel to his commander and requested him to use his influence with Sergeant Dunham in his behalf. When Major Lundie sent for the Sergeant to give him his final instructions concerning the expedition, he mentioned the Quartermaster's predilection for Mabel, whom he wished to make his wife.
"She is much honored, sir," said the father stiffly, "but I hope to see her the wife of an honest man before many weeks. I thank your honor, but Mabel is betrothed to another."
"The devil she is! And may I ask, Sergeant, who is the lucky man?"
" The Pathfinder, your honor."
"The same, Major Duncan. No one is better known on this frontier than my honest, brave, and true-hearted friend."
"All that is true enough; but is he, after all, the sort of person to make a girl of twenty happy? And is she of your way of thinking ?—though I suppose she must be, as you say she is betrothed."
"We have not yet conversed on the matter, your honor, but I consider her mind as good as made up, and I trust you will be kind enough to say that the girl is as good as billeted for life."
"Well, well, this is your own matter. Now, you know it is my intention to send you to the Thousand Islands for the next month. Lieutenant Muir claims his right to the command, but as he is quartermaster, I do not care to break up well-established regulations. You must go to-morrow night; it will be wise to sail in the dark."
"So Jasper thinks, Major Duncan."
" Jasper Eau-douce! Will he be of your party, Sergeant?" "Your honor will remember that the Scud never sails without him."
" Why not put your brother-in-law in the Scud for this cruise, and leave Jasper behind?"
" Jasper is too brave a lad to be turned out of his command without a reason, Major Duncan."
"Quite right, Sergeant. Eau-douce must retain his command, on second thoughts. Remember, the post is to be destroyed and abandoned when your command is withdrawn."
When the Scud was ready to sail, Major Duncan called Sergeant Dunham to him on the bastion and asked:
"You have no doubt of the skill of this Jasper Eau-douce? He has a French name, and has passed much of his boyhood in the French colonies. Has he French blood in his veins?"
"Not a drop, your honor. Jasper's father was an old comrade of my own, and his mother came of a loyal family in this province."
"Whence did he get his French name? He speaks the language of the Canadas, too, I find."
"The boy took early to the water, like a duck. Your honor knows we have no ports on Ontario, and he naturally passed most of his time on the other side of the lake, where the French have had vessels these fifty years. He got his name there from the Indians and Canadians, who are fond of calling men by their qualities."
"He behaved well when I gave him command of the Scud; no lad could have conducted himself more loyally."
"Or more bravely, Major Duncan. I am sorry to see, sir, that you have doubts of Jasper's fidelity."
"I have received an anonymous communication, Sergeant, advising me to be on my guard against him. He has been bought by the enemy, it alleges."
"Letters without signatures, sir, are scarcely to be considered in war."
"Or in peace, Dunham; but I will own that I should put more faith in the lad if he did not speak French. It's a d—d lingo, and never did anyone good—at least no British subject. Should you detect Jasper in any treachery, iron him from his head to his heels, and 'send him here in his own cutter. Make a confidant of Pathfinder at once. He must be true. Be vigilant, Dunham!"
As soon as Sergeant Dunham boarded the Scud, the cutter put to sea. The Sergeant took an early opportunity to acquaint Pathfinder with Major Duncan's suspicions in regard to Jasper, and to assert that he himself had a sort of presentiment that all was not right.
"I know nothing of presentiments, Sergeant," replied Pathfinder, "but I have known Jasper Eau-douce since he was a boy, and I havo as much faith in his honesty as I have in my own, or that of the Sarpent himself."
The Sergeant then called Cap into the council and explained to him the nature of the suspicions.
"The youngster talks French, does he?"
"Better than common, they say," answered the Sergeant gravely.
"It's a damnable thing," said Cap, "for a youngster, up here on this bit of fresh water, to talk French. I hold it to be a most suspicious circumstance."
"The responsibility rests with me in this matter," said the Sergeant, "but let us all keep watchful eyes about us. I shall count on you, Brother Cap, for aid in managing the Scud, should I have to arrest Jasper."
Shortly afterward a canoe was sighted about a hundred yards ahead on the lee bow of the cutter, which, though paddling hard to get to the windward, was seized with a boat-hook, and its inmates ordered aboard. To the astonishment of both Jasper and the Pathfinder, they were found to be Arrowhead and Dew-in-June. Pathfinder, who alone could speak his language, questioned the Indian closely concerning his reason for deserting them when they were in peril from the Mingos, and his movements after that time. His answers were all satisfactory, but it was thought best to detain the two till morning and to submit them to a further examination. Apparently satisfied with this arrangement, Dew-in-June was permitted to go into the canoe, which was towing astern, to get the blankets, while Arrowhead was ordered to hand up the paddles. But scarcely had he stepped into it when one blow of his knife severed the rope, and the canoe escaped into the shadows.
When Sergeant Dunham and Cap deliberated on this circumstance, they concluded that it was very suspicious; and the Sergeant, without entering into any explanations, deprived Jasper of the command of the cutter, and put it in charge of his brother-in-law. As Jasper was accustomed to obey military orders without remark, he quietly directed his little crew to take further orders from Cap; and he and his assistant went below.
"Now, Sergeant," said Cap, as soon as he found himself master of the deck, "give me the courses and the distances, that I may keep her head right."
"I know nothing of either, Brother Cap," replied the Sergeant, somewhat embarrassed.
"But you can muster a chart, from which I can get bearings and distances."
"I do not think Jasper ever had any."
"No chart, Sergeant Dunham!"
"Our sailors navigate the lake without any aid from maps."
"The devil they do! Do you suppose that I can find one island out of a thousand without knowing its name or its position?"
"As for the name, Brother Cap, you need not be particular, for not one of the thousand has a name. As for the position, never having been there, I can tell you nothing. Perhaps one of the hands on deck can help us."
"Hold on, Sergeant. If I am to command this craft, it must be done without any councils of war with the cook and the cabin-boy. If I sink, I sink; but I'll go down ship-shape and with dignity."
The result was that Cap navigated the cutter the rest of the night. The wind gradually rose until it blew a galo, which lasted through the next day and into the following night, when they found themselves on a lee shore. The hands on the fore-castle told Sergeant Dunham that the cutter could carry no more sail, and that the drift was so great that she must inevitably go ashore in an hour or two. In this extremity the Sergeant called for Jasper, who calmly announced, as he observed the situation, that unless the cutter were anchored she would be ashore before two hours were over.
"You do not mean to say, Master Oh-the-deuce, you would anchor on a lee shore in a gale of wind!"
"If I would save my vessel, that is exactly what I would do, Master Cap."
"Whe-e-e-w! fresh water, with a vengeance. Harkee, young man, I'd throw my ground-tackle overboard, before I would be guilty of so lubberly an act! You can go below again, Master Oh-the-deuce."
Jasper quietly bowed and withdrew. In the cabin he met Mabel, who anxiously inquired if he thought the cutter in any danger.
"I fear so," replied he. "My concern for you, Mabel, may make me more cowardly than usual, but I see only one way of saving the vessel, and that your uncle refuses to take."
"My uncle's obstinacy must be overcome," cried Mabel, blushing as she caught the young man's ardent gaze. "Ask my father to come into the cabin."
Mabel hurriedly acquainted her father with Jasper's opinion. " Jasper is true, father," she earnestly added. "I will pledge my life for his truth."
The Sergeant finally yielded to his daughter's remonstrances, and, notwithstanding Cap's protest, permitted Jasper to handle the craft in his own way. The cutter was anchored just out-side the breakers, where the undertow caused her to ride securely until the gale abated; and early the next morning the party was landed safely at the station on one of the many islands of the St. Lawrence.
The party in possession, wearied with their long seclusion, were eager to return to Oswego; and as soon as the ceremonies of transferring the command were over they hurried on board the Scud. Jasper would gladly have passed the day on the island, but the sergeant in charge insisted on sailing immediately. Before he left Lieutenant Muir, Cap, and Sergeant Dunham acquainted him with the suspicions against the young sailor, and he promised to use due caution in dealing with him.
The island, which covered about twenty acres partly wooded, was so hidden among many other islands, with intricate channels between, as to be difficult of access. Within the shelter of its copses, so as to be invisible from the water, were six or eight low cabins of logs used as quarters, storehouses, etc.; and at its eastern extremity, on the narrow neck of a densely wooded peninsula, was a blockhouse, about forty feet high, of massive bullet-proof timbers. Though concealed on the water side, the view was open from the upper loops toward the center of the island.
Sergeant Dunham had received certain orders, which he explained to Cap and Mabel the next day:
"I must leave the island to-morrow before the day dawns, and shall take the two largest boats, leaving you the other and one bark canoe. My orders are to go into the channel used by the French, lie in wait and destroy their supply-boats on the way to Frontenac. I may be gone a week. Corporal McNab will be commanding officer of the few men I shall leave behind, and I wish you to sustain him, Brother Cap, against any pretensions of Lieutenant Muir, who also will stay with you."
After supper the Sergeant had a long and confidential talk with his daughter.
"I wish I had seen you comfortably married, Mabel, before we left Oswego. My mind would be easier."
"Married! to whom, father?"
"You know the man I wish you to love. None has so true a heart or just a mind."
"I know of none. If I could see you promised to Path-finder, I could die happy. But I will ask no pledge of you, my child. Kiss me, Mabel, and go to your bed."
Had Sergeant Dunham required a pledge of Mabel, he would have met with resistance; but her resolution wavered when she thought of her parent and his affection for her, and, as she kissed him good night, she said :
"Father, I will marry whomsoever you desire."
" God bless and protect you, girl; you are a good daughter."
The next morning the island seemed deserted when Mabel took a walk before breakfast. As she stood among the bushes close to the water, she was startled by seeing an Indian woman in a canoe, and the next moment Dew-in-June stood by her side. Now Mabel had learned to have confidence in June during their brief acquaintance in the woods, and she greeted her cordially.
"I am glad to see you, June. What has brought you hither?"
" June friend," replied the Indian woman.
"I hope so—I think so," said Mabel. "If June has any-thing to tell her friend, let her speak plainly. My ears are open." " June 'fraid Arrowhead kill her."
"Then say no more. But why do you come?" "Arrowhead wish no harm to handsome paleface. Block-house good place to sleep—good place to stay."
Mabel's fears were awakened and she resumed her inquiries.
"Do you wish to see my father?"
"No here; gone away. Only so many redcoats here." And she held up four fingers.
"Would you like to see Pathfinder? He can talk to you in the Iroquois tongue."
"Tongue gone wid him," said June, laughing.
"You appear to know all about us, June. But I hope you love me well enough to give me the information I ought to hear. My uncle and I will remember your conduct when we get back to Oswego."
"Maybe never get back—who know? Remember—blockhouse good for girl."
"I understand you, June; I will sleep there to-night."
After June was gone Mabel tried to persuade Corporal McNab to take possession of the blockhouse, but he saw no reason to change his quarters, which he considered perfectly safe for the present. But even while they were talking, the crack of a rifle was heard and he fell on his face before her.
" Get to the blockhouse as fast as you can," whispered the dying man.
Mabel ran to the blockhouse, where she found Jennie, the wife of one of the soldiers, and hastily barred the door. The crack of several more rifles was heard; she ran up to one of the loops to look out, and was horror-stricken to see all three of McNab's soldiers stretched out beside him. As soon as Jennie became aware of what had happened, she ran out and clasped the body of her husband, but she had hardly time to utter one appalling shriek, when the war-whoop arose from the coverts of the island, and twenty fierce savages rushed forward to secure the coveted scalps. Arrowhead was foremost, and Mabel saw him brain and scalp Jennie. During all this time Muir and Cap were nowhere to be seen. Mabel, hearing a sound below, remembered that Jennie had left the door unbarred. She hastened down and was astonished to see June.
"Blockhouse good," said June. "Got no scalp."
"Tell me, for God's sake, June, where is my dear uncle?" "Salt-water no here? No kill, or June would see. Hide away."
The next morning eight or ten Indians, with a French officer, appeared in front of the blockhouse, bringing Cap and Lieutenant Muir as prisoners. Mabel hardly breathed as she watched them through a loophole. After a brief colloquy, in which the Frenchman and Arrowhead were the chief speakers, the Quartermaster called out:
"Pretty Mabel! look out and pity our condition. We are threatened with instant death, unless you open the door to the conquerors."
"Speak to me, uncle," cried Mabel, "and tell me what I ought to do."
"Thank God!" ejaculated Cap. "The sound. of your sweet voice lightens my heart; but I know not how to advise you,,
"But—is your life in danger—do you think I ought to open the door?"
"I would counsel no one out of the hands of these devils to unbar anything to fall into them."
"You'll no be minding what your uncle says," put in Muir, "for distress is unsettling his faculties."
"I shall do wiser to keep within the blockhouse until the fate of the island is settled," replied Mabel.
"No leave blockhouse," muttered June, who stood beside her. "Blockhouse got no scalp."
The party, unable to persuade her, withdrew, and that night Pathfinder succeeded in eluding the savages and in reaching the blockhouse, where he was joyfully admitted by Mabel.
"God be praised!" exclaimed Mabel. "Oh, Pathfinder, what has become of my father?"
"The Sergeant is safe yet, and victorious, though no one can tell what will be the end of it. He sent me and the Sarpent ahead to tell you how matters had turned out; and he is following with the two boats; but they are heavy and can't arrive before morning."
"Pathfinder," said Mabel solemnly, "you have professed love for me—a wish to make me your wife. Save my father, and I can worship you. Here is my hand as a solemn pledge for my faith, when you come to claim it."
"This is a happiness I. little expected this night, Mabel; but we are in God's hands, and He will protect us."
Pathfinder was mistaken in regard to the arrival of the boats. They came in during the night; the men landed, not suspecting the presence of an enemy, and were received with a heavy discharge of rifles and the war-whoop. Then all was silent. Later that night Sergeant Dunham who was grievously wounded, but had succeeded in hiding from the savages, was taken into the blockhouse by Pathfinder, and tenderly cared for by his daughter. Cap also eluded his captors and succeeded in reaching its shelter. He was in time to aid in extinguishing a fire which the Iroquois had built against the block-house, by the light of which Pathfinder's unerring rifle had slain two of the besiegers. This ended the attack and both parties waited for day.
Morning broke with a stiff southerly wind, and with it came Jasper in the Scud, with Chingachgook on board. Jasper made the circuit of the island and knowing the depth of water every-where, fearlessly ran in and swept away all the enemy's boats. The savages, seeing their means of escape cut off, rose in a body and opened fire on the cutter. This gave Pathfinder an opportunity to kill one and Chingachgook another. Jasper then opened with his howitzer and raked the bushes with case-shot. The Iroquois rose like a bevy of quail, losing two more men by the rifles, and sought new covers; but their leader, seeing no hope of escape, sent out June with a flag of truce, immediately followed by Muir and a French officer.
Pathfinder arranged with Captain Sanglier for a capitulation, by the terms of which the savages were to surrender their prisoners and all their arms, and to embark in their canoes with only a single paddle for each boat. Jasper brought back the canoes and, as soon as they were loaded, towed them out and set them adrift. Captain Sanglier, having papers to draw up and sign, remained with Arrowhead and June. Four soldiers were found unhurt, besides Muir, and this reenforcement at once put Pathfinder at his ease.
Muir, as the only commissioned officer present, at once assumed command, to which Pathfinder assented so far as the soldiers of the 55th were concerned; but when he ordered Jasper under arrest, the scout thrust aside the men who at-tempted to bind him, saying: "You may have authority over your soldiers, Muir, but you have none over Jasper or me."
"If I must speak plainly, Pathfinder, I must," replied Muir. "Captain Sanglier here and Arrowhead have both informed me that this unfortunate boy is a traitor."
"Too much lie!" said Arrowhead, striking Muir in the breast.
Muir, his face livid with rage, reached for a gun, but Arrow-head, too quick for him, buried a knife in his breast, and with a yell bounded into the bushes. The whites were too con-founded to follow, but Chingachgook started in pursuit.
"Speak, Monsieur," cried Jasper, "am I the traitor?"
"Le voila!" answered the Frenchman coolly, pointing to Muir's body. "Dat is our agent; ma foi, c'etait un grand scelerat!"
In proof of his words he thrust his hand into the dead man's pocket and drew out several double-louis, which he cast in contempt to the soldiers.
When Chingachgook came back, Pathfinder noted that he carried a fresh scalp at his girdle. Now that Muir was dead, Sanglier told Pathfinder how the Scotchman had acted as agent for the French from the time he appeared on the frontiers, and had himself written the anonymous letter which had caused Jasper to be suspected.
Meanwhile Sergeant Dunham, who had been cared for in the blockhouse by Mabel and Cap, was fast approaching his end. When all were gathered around his pallet, he said to his daughter: "Mabel, I'm quitting you; where is your hand?"
"Here, dearest father—oh! take both."
"Pathfinder," he continued, feeling on the opposite side of the bed and grasping Jasper's hand by mistake, "take it—I leave you as her father. Bless you—bless you both—"
As soon as the Sergeant had departed, Pathfinder took the arm of Eau-douce and the two left the block and walked away in silence to the opposite shore of the island. It is impossible to record their long conference, but the result was that Mabel ultimately became the bride of the young sailor, and Pathfinder returned to the forest.