The Pathfinder by Fenimore Cooper - Chapter 2

Yea! long as Nature’s humblest child

Hath kept her temple undefiled

By simple sacrifice,

Earth’s fairest scenes are all his own,

He is a monarch and his throne

Is built amid the skies!


The Mohican continued to eat, though the second white man rose, and courteously took off his cap to Mabel Dunham. He was young, healthful, and manly in appearance; and he wore a dress which, while it was less rigidly professional than that of the uncle, also denoted one accustomed to the water. In that age, real seamen were a class entirely apart from the rest of mankind, their ideas, ordinary language, and attire being as strongly indicative of their calling as the opinions, speech, and dress of a Turk denote a Mussulman. Although the Pathfinder was scarcely in the prime of life, Mabel had met him with a steadiness that may have been the consequence of having braced her nerves for the interview; but when her eyes encountered those of the young man at the fire, they fell before the gaze of admiration with which she saw, or fancied she saw, he greeted her. Each, in truth, felt that interest in the other which similarity of age, condition, mutual comeliness, and their novel situation would be likely to inspire in the young and ingenuous.

“Here,” said Pathfinder, with an honest smile bestowed on Mabel, “are the friends your worthy father has sent to meet you. This is a great Delaware; and one who has had honors as well as troubles in his day. He has an Indian name fit for a chief, but, as the language is not always easy for the inexperienced to pronounce we naturally turn it into English, and call him the Big Sarpent. You are not to suppose, however, that by this name we wish to say that he is treacherous, beyond what is lawful in a red-skin; but that he is wise, and has the cunning which becomes a warrior. Arrowhead, there, knows what I mean.”

While the Pathfinder was delivering this address, the two Indians gazed on each other steadily, and the Tuscarora advanced and spoke to the other in an apparently friendly manner.

“I like to see this,” continued Pathfinder; “the salutes of two red-skins in the woods, Master Cap, are like the hailing of friendly vessels on the ocean. But speaking of water, it reminds me of my young friend, Jasper Western here, who can claim to know something of these matters, seeing that he has passed his days on Ontario.”

“I am glad to see you, friend,” said Cap, giving the young fresh-water sailor a cordial grip; “though you must have something still to learn, considering the school to which you have been sent. This is my niece Mabel; I call her Magnet, for a reason she never dreams of, though you may possibly have education enough to guess at it, having some pretentions to understand the compass, I suppose.”

“The reason is easily comprehended,” said the young man, involuntarily fastening his keen dark eye, at the same time, on the suffused face of the girl; “and I feel sure that the sailor who steers by your Magnet will never make a bad landfall.”

“Ha! you do make use of some of the terms, I find, and that with propriety; though, on the whole, I fear you have seen more green than blue water.”

“It is not surprising that we should get some of the phrases which belong to the land; for we are seldom out of sight of it twenty-four hours at a time.”

“More’s the pity, boy, more’s the pity! A very little land ought to go a great way with a seafaring man. Now, if the truth were known, Master Western, I suppose there is more or less land all round your lake.”

“And, uncle, is there not more or less land around the ocean?” said Magnet quickly; for she dreaded a premature display of the old seaman’s peculiar dogmatism, not to say pedantry.

“No, child, there is more or less ocean all round the land; that’s what I tell the people ashore, youngster. They are living, as it might be, in the midst of the sea, without knowing it; by sufferance, as it were, the water being so much the more powerful and the largest. But there is no end to conceit in this world: for a fellow who never saw salt water often fancies he knows more than one who has gone round the Horn. No, no, this earth is pretty much an island; and all that can be truly said not to be so is water.”

Young Western had a profound deference for a mariner of the ocean, on which he had often pined to sail; but he had also a natural regard for the broad sheet on which he had passed his life, and which was not without its beauties in his eyes.

“What you say, sir,” he answered modestly, “may be true as to the Atlantic; but we have a respect for the land up here on Ontario.”

“That is because you are always land-locked,” returned Cap, laughing heartily; “but yonder is the Pathfinder, as they call him, with some smoking platters, inviting us to share in his mess; and I will confess that one gets no venison at sea. Master Western, civility to girls, at your time of life, comes as easy as taking in the slack of the ensign halyards; and if you will just keep an eye to her kid and can, while I join the mess of the Pathfinder and our Indian friends, I make no doubt she will remember it.”

Master Cap uttered more than he was aware of at the time. Jasper Western did attend to the wants of Mabel, and she long remembered the kind, manly attention of the young sailor at this their first interview. He placed the end of a log for a seat, obtained for her a delicious morsel of the venison, gave her a draught of pure water from the spring, and as he sat near her, fast won his way to her esteem by his gentle but frank manner of manifesting his care; homage that woman always wishes to receive, but which is never so flattering or so agreeable as when it comes from the young to those of their own age — from the manly to the gentle. Like most of those who pass their time excluded from the society of the softer sex, young Western was earnest, sincere, and kind in his attentions, which, though they wanted a conventional refinement, which, perhaps, Mabel never missed, had those winning qualities that prove very sufficient as substitutes. Leaving these two unsophisticated young people to become acquainted through their feelings, rather than their expressed thoughts, we will turn to the group in which the uncle had already become a principal actor.

The party had taken their places around a platter of venison steaks, which served for the common use, and the discourse naturally partook of the characters of the different individuals which composed it. The Indians were silent and industrious the appetite of the aboriginal American for venison being seemingly inappeasable, while the two white men were communicative, each of the latter being garrulous and opinionated in his way. But, as the dialogue will put the reader in possession of certain facts that may render the succeeding narrative more clear, it will be well to record it.

“There must be satisfaction in this life of yours, no doubt, Mr. Pathfinder,” continued Cap, when the hunger of the travellers was so far appeased that they began to pick and choose among the savory morsels; “it has some of the chances and luck that we seamen like; and if ours is all water, yours is all land.”

“Nay, we have water too, in our journeyings and marches,” returned his white companion; “we bordermen handle the paddle and the spear almost as much as the rifle and the hunting-knife.”

“Ay; but do you handle the brace and the bow-line, the wheel and the lead-line, the reef-point and the top-rope? The paddle is a good thing, out of doubt, in a canoe; but of what use is it in the ship?”

“Nay, I respect all men in their callings, and I can believe the things you mention have their uses. One who has lived, like myself, in company with many tribes, understands differences in usages. The paint of a Mingo is not the paint of a Delaware; and he who should expect to see a warrior in the dress of a squaw might be disappointed. I am not yet very old, but I have lived in the woods, and have some acquaintance with human natur’. I never believe much in the learning of them that dwell in towns, for I never yet met with one that had an eye for a rifle or a trail.”

“That’s my manner of reasoning, Master Pathfinder, to a yarn. Walking about streets, going to church of Sundays, and hearing sermons, never yet made a man of a human being. Send the boy out upon the broad ocean, if you wish to open his eyes, and let him look upon foreign nations, or what I call the face of nature, if you wish him to understand his own character. Now, there is my brother-in-law, the Sergeant: he is as good a fellow as ever broke a biscuit, in his way; but what is he, after all? Why, nothing but a soldier. A sergeant, to be sure, but that is a sort of a soldier, you know. When he wished to marry poor Bridget, my sister, I told the girl what he was, as in duty bound, and what she might expect from such a husband; but you know how it is with girls when their minds are jammed by an inclination. It is true, the Sergeant has risen in his calling, and they say he is an important man at the fort; but his poor wife has not lived to see it all, for she has now been dead these fourteen years.”

“A soldier’s calling is honorable, provided he has fi’t only on the side of right,” returned the Pathfinder; “and as the Frenchers are always wrong, and his sacred Majesty and these colonies are always right, I take it the Sergeant has a quiet conscience as well as a good character. I have never slept more sweetly than when I have fi’t the Mingos, though it is the law with me to fight always like a white man and never like an Indian. The Sarpent, here, has his fashions, and I have mine; and yet have we fi’t side by side these many years; without either thinking a hard thought consarning the other’s ways. I tell him there is but one heaven and one hell, notwithstanding his traditions, though there are many paths to both.”

“That is rational; and he is bound to believe you, though, I fancy, most of the roads to the last are on dry land. The sea is what my poor sister Bridget used to call a ‘purifying place,’ and one is out of the way of temptation when out of sight of land. I doubt if as much can be said in favor of your lakes up hereaway.”

“That towns and settlements lead to sin, I will allow; but our lakes are bordered by the forests, and one is every day called upon to worship God in such a temple. That men are not always the same, even in the wilderness, I must admit for the difference between a Mingo and a Delaware is as plain to be seen as the difference between the sun and the moon. I am glad, friend Cap, that we have met, however, if it be only that you may tell the Big Sarpent here that there are lakes in which the water is salt. We have been pretty much of one mind since our acquaintance began, and if the Mohican has only half the faith in me that I have in him, he believes all that I have told him touching the white men’s ways and natur’s laws; but it has always seemed to me that none of the red-skins have given as free a belief as an honest man likes to the accounts of the Big Salt Lakes, and to that of their being rivers that flow up stream.”

“This comes of getting things wrong end foremost,” answered Cap, with a condescending nod. “You have thought of your lakes and rifts as the ship; and of the ocean and the tides as the boat. Neither Arrowhead nor the Serpent need doubt what you have said concerning both, though I confess myself to some difficulty in swallowing the tale about there being inland seas at all, and still more that there is any sea of fresh water. I have come this long journey as much to satisfy my own eyes concerning these facts, as to oblige the Sergeant and Magnet, though the first was my sister’s husband, and I love the last like a child.”

“You are wrong, friend Cap, very wrong, to distrust the power of God in any thing,” returned Pathfinder earnestly. “They that live in the settlements and the towns have confined and unjust opinions consarning the might of His hand; but we, who pass our time in His very presence, as it might be, see things differently — I mean, such of us as have white natur’s . A red-skin has his notions, and it is right that it should be so; and if they are not exactly the same as a Christian white man’s, there is no harm in it. Still, there are matters which belong altogether to the ordering of God’s providence; and these salt and fresh-water lakes are some of them. I do not pretend to account for these things, but I think it the duty of all to believe in them.”

“Hold on there, Master Pathfinder,” interrupted Cap, not without some heat; “in the way of a proper and manly faith, I will turn my back on no one, when afloat. Although more accustomed to make all snug aloft, and to show the proper canvas, than to pray when the hurricane comes, I know that we are but helpless mortals at times, and I hope I pay reverence where reverence is due. All I mean to say is this: that, being accustomed to see water in large bodies salt, I should like to taste it before I can believe it to be fresh.”

“God has given the salt lick to the deer; and He has given to man, red-skin and white, the delicious spring at which to slake his thirst. It is unreasonable to think that He may not have given lakes of pure water to the west, and lakes of impure water to the east.”

Cap was awed, in spite of his overweening dogmatism, by the earnest simplicity of the Pathfinder, though he did not relish the idea of believing a fact which, for many years, he had pertinaciously insisted could not be true. Unwilling to give up the point and, at the same time, unable to maintain it against a reasoning to which he was unaccustomed, and which possessed equally the force of truth, faith, and probability, he was glad to get rid of the subject by evasion.

“Well, well, friend Pathfinder,” said he, “we will leave the argument where it is; and we can try the water when we once reach it. Only mark my words — I do not say that it may not be fresh on the surface; the Atlantic is sometimes fresh on the surface, near the mouths of great rivers; but, rely on it, I shall show you a way of tasting the water many fathoms deep, of which you never dreamed; and then we shall know more about it.”

The guide seemed content to let the matter rest, and the conversation changed.

“We are not over-conceited consarning our gifts,” observed the Pathfinder, after a short pause, “and well know that such as live in the towns, and near the sea —”

“On the sea,” interrupted Cap.

“On the sea, if you wish it, friend — have opportunities which do not befall us of the wilderness. Still, we know our own callings, and they are what I consider natural callings, and are not parvarted by vanity and wantonness. Now, my gifts are with the rifle, and on a trail, and in the way of game and scouting; for, though I can use the spear and the paddle, I pride not myself on either. The youth Jasper, there, who is discoursing with the Sergeant’s daughter, is a different cratur’; for he may be said to breathe the water, as it might be, like a fish. The Indians and Frenchers of the north shore call him Eau-douce, on account of his gifts in this particular. He is better at the oar, and the rope too, than in making fires on a trail.”

“There must be something about these gifts of which you speak, after all,” said Cap. “Now this fire, I will acknowledge, has overlaid all my seamanship. Arrowhead, there, said the smoke came from a pale-face’s fire, and that is a piece of philosophy which I hold to be equal to steering in a dark night by the edges of the sand.”

“It’s no great secret,” returned Pathfinder, laughing with great inward glee, though habitual caution prevented the emission of any noise. “Nothing is easier to us who pass our time in the great school of Providence than to larn its lessons. We should be as useless on a trail, or in carrying tidings through the wilderness, as so many woodchucks, did we not soon come to a knowledge of these niceties. Eau-douce, as we call him, is so fond of the water, that he gathered a damp stick or two for our fire; and wet will bring dark smoke, as I suppose even you followers of the sea must know. It’s no great secret, though all is mystery to such as doesn’t study the Lord and His mighty ways with humility and thankfulness.”

“That must be a keen eye of Arrowhead’s to see so slight a difference.”

“He would be but a poor Indian if he didn’t. No, no; it is war-time, and no red-skin is outlying without using his senses. Every skin has its own natur’, and every natur’ has its own laws, as well as its own skin. It was many years before I could master all these higher branches of a forest education; for red-skin knowledge doesn’t come as easy to white-skin natur’, as what I suppose is intended to be white-skin knowledge; though I have but little of the latter, having passed most of my time in the wilderness.”

“You have been a ready scholar, Master Pathfinder, as is seen by your understanding these things so well. I suppose it would be no great matter for a man regularly brought up to the sea to catch these trifles, if he could only bring his mind fairly to bear upon them.”

“I don’t know that. The white man has his difficulties in getting red-skin habits, quite as much as the Indian in getting white-skin ways. As for the real natur’, it is my opinion that neither can actually get that of the other.”

“And yet we sailors, who run about the world so much, say there is but one nature, whether it be in the Chinaman or a Dutchman. For my own part, I am much of that way of thinking too; for I have generally found that all nations like gold and silver, and most men relish tobacco.”

“Then you seafaring men know little of the red-skins. Have you ever known any of your Chinamen who could sing their death-songs, with their flesh torn with splinters and cut with knives, the fire raging around their naked bodies, and death staring them in the face? Until you can find me a Chinaman, or a Christian man, that can do all this, you cannot find a man with a red-skin natur’, let him look ever so valiant, or know how to read all the books that were ever printed.”

“It is the savages only that play each other such hellish tricks,” said Master Cap, glancing his eyes about him uneasily at the apparently endless arches of the forest. “No white man is ever condemned to undergo these trials.”

“Nay, therein you are again mistaken,” returned the Pathfinder, coolly selecting a delicate morsel of the venison as his bonne bouche; “for though these torments belong only to the red-skin natur’, in the way of bearing them like braves, white-skin natur’ may be, and often has been, agonized by them.”

“Happily,” said Cap, with an effort to clear his throat, “none of his Majesty’s allies will be likely to attempt such damnable cruelties on any of his Majesty’s loyal subjects. I have not served much in the royal navy, it is true; but I have served, and that is something; and, in the way of privateering and worrying the enemy in his ships and cargoes, I’ve done my full share. But I trust there are no French savages on this side the lake, and I think you said that Ontario is a broad sheet of water?”

“Nay, it is broad in our eyes,” returned Pathfinder, not caring to conceal the smile which lighted a face which had been burnt by exposure to a bright red; “though I mistrust that some may think it narrow; and narrow it is, if you wish it to keep off the foe. Ontario has two ends, and the enemy that is afraid to cross it will be certain to come round it.”

“Ah! that comes of your d —— d fresh-water ponds!” growled Cap, hemming so loudly as to cause him instantly to repent the indiscretion. “No man, now, ever heard of a pirate or a ship getting round one end of the Atlantic!”

“Mayhap the ocean has no ends?”

“That it hasn’t; nor sides, nor bottom. The nation which is snugly moored on one of its coasts need fear nothing from the one anchored abeam, let it be ever so savage, unless it possesses the art of ship building. No, no! the people who live on the shores of the Atlantic need fear but little for their skins or their scalps. A man may lie down at night in those regions, in the hope of finding the hair on his head in the morning, unless he wears a wig.”

“It isn’t so here. I don’t wish to flurry the young woman, and therefore I will be in no way particular, though she seems pretty much listening to Eau-douce, as we call him; but without the edication I have received, I should think it at this very moment, a risky journey to go over the very ground that lies between us and the garrison, in the present state of this frontier. There are about as many Iroquois on this side of Ontario as there are on the other. It is for this very reason, friend Cap, that the Sergeant has engaged us to come out and show you the path.”

“What! do the knaves dare to cruise so near the guns of one of his Majesty’s works?”

“Do not the ravens resort near the carcass of the deer, though the fowler is at hand? They come this-a-way, as it might be, naturally. There are more or less whites passing between the forts and the settlements, and they are sure to be on their trails. The Sarpent has come up one side of the river, and I have come up the other, in order to scout for the outlying rascals, while Jasper brought up the canoe, like a bold-hearted sailor as he is. The Sergeant told him, with tears in his eyes, all about his child, and how his heart yearned for her, and how gentle and obedient she was, until I think the lad would have dashed into a Mingo camp single-handed, rather than not a-come.”

“We thank him, and shall think the better of him for his readiness; though I suppose the boy has run no great risk, after all.”

“Only the risk of being shot from a cover, as he forced the canoe up a swift rift, or turned an elbow in the stream, with his eyes fastened on the eddies. Of all the risky journeys, that on an ambushed river is the most risky, in my judgment, and that risk has Jasper run.”

“And why the devil has the Sergeant sent for me to travel a hundred and fifty miles in this outlandish manner? Give me an offing, and the enemy in sight, and I’ll play with him in his own fashion, as long as he pleases, long bows or close quarters; but to be shot like a turtle asleep is not to my humor. If it were not for little Magnet there, I would tack ship this instant, make the best of my way back to York, and let Ontario take care of itself, salt water or fresh water.”

“That wouldn’t mend the matter much, friend mariner, as the road to return is much longer, and almost as bad as the road to go on. Trust to us, and we will carry you through safely, or lose our scalps.”

Cap wore a tight solid queue, done up in eelskin, while the top of his head was nearly bald; and he mechanically passed his hand over both as if to make certain that each was in its right place. He was at the bottom, however, a brave man, and had often faced death with coolness, though never in the frightful forms in which it presented itself under the brief but graphic picture of his companion. It was too late to retreat; and he determined to put the best face on the matter, though he could not avoid muttering inwardly a few curses on the indiscretion with which his brother-in-law, the Sergeant, had led him into his present dilemma.

“I make no doubt, Master Pathfinder,” he answered, when these thoughts had found time to glance through his mind, “that we shall reach port in safety. What distance may we now be from the fort?”

“Little more than fifteen miles; and swift miles too, as the river runs, if the Mingos let us go clear.”

“And I suppose the woods will stretch along starboard and larboard, as heretofore?”


“I mean that we shall have to pick our way through these damned trees.”

“Nay, nay, you will go in the canoe, and the Oswego has been cleared of its flood-wood by the troops. It will be floating down stream, and that, too, with a swift current.”

“And what the devil is to prevent these minks of which you speak from shooting us as we double a headland, or are busy in steering clear of the rocks?”

“The Lord! — He who has so often helped others in greater difficulties. Many and many is the time that my head would have been stripped of hair, skin, and all, hadn’t the Lord fi’t of my side. I never go into a skrimmage, friend mariner, without thinking of this great ally, who can do more in battle than all the battalions of the 60th, were they brought into a single line.”

“Ay, ay, this may do well enough for a scouter; but we seamen like our offing, and to go into action with nothing in our minds but the business before us — plain broadside and broadside work, and no trees or rocks to thicken the water.”

“And no Lord too, I dare to say, if the truth were known. Take my word for it, Master Cap, that no battle is the worse fi’t for having the Lord on your side. Look at the head of the Big Sarpent, there; you can see the mark of a knife all along by his left ear: now nothing but a bullet from this long rifle of mine saved his scalp that day; for it had fairly started, and half a minute more would have left him without the war-lock. When the Mohican squeezes my hand, and intermates that I befriended him in that matter, I tell him no; it was the Lord who led me to the only spot where execution could be done, or his necessity be made known, on account of the smoke. Sartain, when I got the right position, I finished the affair of my own accord. For a friend under the tomahawk is apt to make a man think quick and act at once, as was my case, or the Sarpent’s spirit would be hunting in the happy land of his people at this very moment.”

“Come, come, Pathfinder, this palaver is worse than being skinned from stem to stem; we have but a few hours of sun, and had better be drifting down this said current of yours while we may. Magnet dear, are you not ready to get under way?”

Magnet started, blushed brightly, and made her preparations for immediate departure. Not a syllable of the discourse just related had she heard; for Eau-douce, as young Jasper was oftener called than anything else, had been filling her ears with a description of the yet distant part towards which she was journeying, with accounts of her father, whom she had not seen since a child, and with the manner of life of those who lived in the frontier garrisons. Unconsciously she had become deeply interested, and her thoughts had been too intently directed to these matters to allow any of the less agreeable subjects discussed by those so near to reach her ears. The bustle of departure put an end to the conversation, and, the baggage of the scouts or guides being trifling, in a few minutes the whole party was ready to proceed. As they were about to quit the spot, however, to the surprise of even his fellow-guides, Pathfinder collected a quantity of branches and threw them upon the embers of the fire, taking care even to see that some of the wood was damp, in order to raise as dark and dense a smoke as possible.

“When you can hide your trail, Jasper,” said he, “a smoke at leaving an encampment may do good instead of harm. If there are a dozen Mingos within ten miles of us, some of ’em are on the heights, or in the trees, looking out for smokes; let them see this, and much good may it do them. They are welcome to our leavings.”

“But may they not strike and follow on our trail?” asked the youth, whose interest in the hazard of his situation had much increased since the meeting with Magnet. “We shall leave a broad path to the river.”

“The broader the better; when there, it will surpass Mingo cunning, even, to say which way the canoe has gone — up stream or down. Water is the only thing in natur’ that will thoroughly wash out a trail, and even water will not always do it when the scent is strong. Do you not see, Eau-douce, that if any Mingos have seen our path below the falls, they will strike off towards this smoke, and that they will naturally conclude that they who began by going up stream will end by going up stream. If they know anything, they now know a party is out from the fort, and it will exceed even Mingo wit to fancy that we have come up here just for the pleasure of going back again, and that, too, the same day, and at the risk of our scalps.”

“Certainly,” added Jasper, who was talking apart with the Pathfinder, as they moved towards the wind-row, “they cannot know anything about the Sergeant’s daughter, for the greatest secrecy has been observed on her account.”

“And they will learn nothing here,” returned Pathfinder, causing his companion to see that he trod with the utmost care on the impression left on the leaves by the little foot of Mabel; “unless this old salt-water fish has been taking his niece about in the wind-row, like a fa’n playing by the side of the old doe.”

“Buck, you mean, Pathfinder.”

“Isn’t he a queerity? Now I can consort with such a sailor as yourself, Eau-douce, and find nothing very contrary in our gifts, though yours belong to the lakes and mine to the woods. Hark’e, Jasper,” continued the scout, laughing in his noiseless manner; “suppose we try the temper of his blade and run him over the falls?”

“And what would be done with the pretty niece in the meanwhile?”

“Nay, nay, no harm shall come to her; she must walk round the portage, at any rate; but you and I can try this Atlantic oceaner, and then all parties will become better acquainted. We shall find out whether his flint will strike fire; and he may come to know something of frontier tricks.”

Young Jasper smiled, for he was not averse to fun, and had been a little touched by Cap’s superciliousness; but Mabel’s fair face, light, agile form, and winning smiles, stood like a shield between her uncle and the intended experiment.

“Perhaps the Sergeant’s daughter will be frightened,” said he.

“Not she, if she has any of the Sergeant’s spirit in her. She doesn’t look like a skeary thing, at all. Leave it to me, then, Eau-douce, and I will manage the affair alone.”

“Not you, Pathfinder; you would only drown both. If the canoe goes over, I must go in it.”

“Well, have it so, then: shall we smoke the pipe of agreement on the bargain?”

Jasper laughed, nodded his head by way of consent, and then the subject was dropped, as the party had reached the canoe so often mentioned, and fewer words had determined much greater things between the parties.