The Pathfinder by Fenimore Cooper - Chapter 26

You saw but sorrow in its waning form;

A working sea remaining from a storm,

Where now the weary waves roll o’er the deep,

And faintly murmur ere they fall asleep.


Men accustomed to a warfare like that we have been describing are not apt to be much under the influence of the tender feelings while still in the field. Notwithstanding their habits, however, more than one heart was with Mabel in the block, while the incidents we are about to relate were in the course of occurrence; and even the indispensable meal was less relished by the hardiest of the soldiers than it might have been had not the Sergeant been so near his end.

As Pathfinder returned from the block, he was met by Muir, who led him aside in order to hold a private discourse. The manner of the Quartermaster had that air of supererogatory courtesy about it which almost invariably denotes artifice; for, while physiognomy and phrenology are but lame sciences at the best, and perhaps lead to as many false as right conclusions, we hold that there is no more infallible evidence of insincerity of purpose, short of overt acts, than a face that smiles when there is no occasion, and the tongue that is out of measure smooth. Muir had much of this manner in common, mingled with an apparent frankness that his Scottish intonation of voice, Scottish accent, and Scottish modes of expression were singularly adapted to sustain. He owed his preferment, indeed, to a long-exercised deference to Lundie and his family; for, while the Major himself was much too acute to be the dupe of one so much his inferior in real talents and attainments, most persons are accustomed to make liberal concessions to the flatterer, even while they distrust his truth and are perfectly aware of his motives. On the present occasion, the contest in skill was between two men as completely the opposites of each other in all the leading essentials of character as very well could be. Pathfinder was as simple as the Quartermaster was practised; he was as sincere as the other was false, and as direct as the last was tortuous. Both were cool and calculating, and both were brave, though in different modes and degrees; Muir never exposing his person except for effect, while the guide included fear among the rational passions, or as a sensation to be deferred to only when good might come of it.

“My dearest friend,” Muir commenced — “for ye’ll be dearer to us all, by seventy and sevenfold, after your late conduct than ever ye were — ye’ve just established yourself in this late transaction. It’s true that they’ll not be making ye a commissioned officer, for that species of prefairment is not much in your line, nor much in your wishes, I’m thinking; but as a guide, and a counsellor, and a loyal subject, and an expert marksman, yer renown may be said to be full. I doubt if the commander-in-chief will carry away with him from America as much credit as will fall to yer share, and ye ought just to set down in content and enjoy yoursal’ for the remainder of yer days. Get married, man, without delay, and look to your precious happiness; for ye’ve no occasion to look any longer to your glory. Take Mabel Dunham, for Heaven’s sake, to your bosom, and ye’ll have both a bonnie bride and a bonnie reputation.”

“Why, Quartermaster, this is a new piece of advice to come from your mouth. They’ve told me I had a rival in you.”

“And ye had, man, and a formidible one, too, I can tell you — one that has never yet courted in vain, and yet one that has courted five times. Lundie twits me with four, and I deny the charge; but he little thinks the truth would outdo even his arithmetic. Yes, yes, ye had a rival, Pathfinder; but ye’ve one no longer in me. Ye’ve my hearty wishes for yer success with Mabel; and were the honest Sergeant likely to survive, ye might rely on my good word with him, too, for a certainty.”

“I feel your friendship, Quartermaster, I feel your friendship, though I have no great need of any favor with Sergeant Dunham, who has long been my friend. I believe we may look upon the matter to be as sartain as most things in war-time; for, Mabel and her father consenting, the whole 55th couldn’t very well put a stop to it. Ah’s me! The poor father will scarcely live to see what his heart has so long been set upon.”

“But he’ll have the consolation of knowing it will come to pass, in dying. Oh, it’s a great relief, Pathfinder, for the parting spirit to feel certain that the beloved ones left behind will be well provided for after its departure. All the Mistress Muirs have duly expressed that sentiment with their dying breaths.”

“All your wives, Quartermaster, have been likely to feel this consolation.”

“Out upon ye, man! I’d no’ thought ye such a wag. Well, well; pleasant words make no heart-burnings between auld fri’nds. If I cannot espouse Mabel, ye’ll no object to my esteeming her, and speaking well of her, and of yoursal’, too, on all suitable occasions and in all companies. But, Pathfinder, ye’ll easily understan’ that a poor deevil who loses such a bride will probably stand in need of some consolation?”

“Quite likely, quite likely, Quartermaster,” returned the simple-minded guide; “I know the loss of Mabel would be found heavy to be borne by myself. It may bear hard on your feelings to see us married; but the death of the Sergeant will be likely to put it off, and you’ll have time to think more manfully of it, you will.”

“I’ll bear up against it; yes, I’ll bear up against it, though my heart-strings crack! And ye might help me, man, by giving me something to do. Ye’ll understand that this expedition has been of a very peculiar nature; for here am I, bearing the king’s commission, just a volunteer, as it might be; while a mere orderly has had the command. I’ve submitted for various reasons, though my blood has boiled to be in authority, while ye war’ battling, for the honor of the country and his Majesty’s rights —”

“Quartermaster,” interrupted the guide, “you fell so early into the enemy’s hands that your conscience ought to be easily satisfied on that score; so take my advice, and say nothing about it.”

“That’s just my opinion, Pathfinder; we’ll all say nothing about it. Sergeant Dunham is hors de combat—”

“Anan?” said the guide.

“Why, the Sergeant can command no longer, and it will hardly do to leave a corporal at the head of a victorious party like this; for flowers that will bloom in a garden will die on a heath; and I was just thinking I would claim the authority that belongs to one who holds a lieutenant’s commission. As for the men, they’ll no dare to raise any objaction; and as for yoursal’, my dear friend, now that ye’ve so much honor, and Mabel, and the consciousness of having done yer duty, which is more precious than all, I expect to find an ally rather than one to oppose the plan.”

“As for commanding the soldiers of the 55th, Lieutenant, it is your right, I suppose, and no one here will be likely to gainsay it; though you’ve been a prisoner of war, and there are men who might stand out ag’in giving up their authority to a prisoner released by their own deeds. Still no one here will be likely to say anything hostile to your wishes.”

“That’s just it, Pathfinder; and when I come to draw up the report of our success against the boats, and the defence of the block, together with the general operations, including the capitulation, ye’ll no’ find any omission of your claims and merits.”

“Tut for my claims and merits, Quartermaster! Lundie knows what I am in the forest and what I am in the fort; and the General knows better than he. No fear of me; tell your own story, only taking care to do justice by Mabel’s father, who, in one sense, is the commanding officer at this very moment.”

Muir expressed his entire satisfaction with this arrangement, as well as his determination to do justice by all, when the two went to the group assembled round the fire. Here the Quartermaster began, for the first time since leaving Oswego, to assume some of the authority that might properly be supposed to belong to his rank. Taking the remaining corporal aside, he distinctly told that functionary that he must in future be regarded as one holding the king’s commission, and directed him to acquaint his subordinates with the new state of things. This change in the dynasty was effected without any of the usual symptoms of a revolution; for, as all well understood the Lieutenant’s legal claims to command, no one felt disposed to dispute his orders. For reasons best known to themselves, Lundie and the Quartermaster had originally made a different disposition; and now, for reasons of his own, the latter had seen fit to change it. This was reasoning enough for soldiers, though the hurt received by Sergeant Dunham would have sufficiently explained the circumstance had an explanation been required.

All this time Captain Sanglier was looking after his own breakfast with the resignation of a philosopher, the coolness of a veteran, the ingenuity and science of a Frenchman, and the voracity of an ostrich. This person had now been in the colony some thirty years, having left France in some such situation in his own army as Muir filled in the 55th. An iron constitution, perfect obduracy of feeling, a certain address well suited to manage savages, and an indomitable courage, had early pointed him out to the commander-in-chief as a suitable agent to be employed in directing the military operations of his Indian allies. In this capacity, then, he had risen to the titular rank of captain; and with his promotion had acquired a portion of the habits and opinions of his associates with a facility and an adaptation of self which are thought in America to be peculiar to his countrymen. He had often led parties of the Iroquois in their predatory expeditions; and his conduct on such occasions exhibited the contradictory results of both alleviating the misery produced by this species of warfare, and of augmenting it by the broader views and greater resources of civilization. In other words, he planned enterprises that, in their importance and consequences, much exceeded the usual policy of the Indians, and then stepped in to lessen some of the evils of his own creating. In short, he was an adventurer whom circumstances had thrown into a situation where the callous qualities of men of his class might readily show themselves for good or for evil; and he was not of a character to baffle fortune by any ill-timed squeamishness on the score of early impressions, or to trifle with her liberality by unnecessarily provoking her frowns through wanton cruelty. Still, as his name was unavoidably connected with many of the excesses committed by his parties, he was generally considered in the American provinces a wretch who delighted in bloodshed, and who found his greatest happiness in tormenting the helpless and the innocent; and the name of Sanglier, which was a sobriquet of his own adopting, or of Flint Heart, as he was usually termed on the borders, had got to be as terrible to the women and children of that part of the country as those of Butler and Brandt became at a later day.

The meeting between Pathfinder and Sanglier bore some resemblance to that celebrated interview between Wellington and Blucher which has been so often and graphically told. It took place at the fire; and the parties stood earnestly regarding each other for more than a minute without speaking. Each felt that in the other he saw a formidable foe; and each felt, while he ought to treat the other with the manly liberality due to a warrior, that there was little in common between them in the way of character as well as of interests. One served for money and preferment; the other, because his life had been cast in the wilderness, and the land of his birth needed his arm and experience. The desire of rising above his present situation never disturbed the tranquillity of Pathfinder; nor had he ever known an ambitious thought, as ambition usually betrays itself, until he became acquainted with Mabel. Since then, indeed, distrust of himself, reverence for her, and the wish to place her in a situation above that which he then filled, had caused him some uneasy moments; but the directness and simplicity of his character had early afforded the required relief; and he soon came to feel that the woman who would not hesitate to accept him for her husband would not scruple to share his fortunes, however humble. He respected Sanglier as a brave warrior; and he had far too much of that liberality which is the result of practical knowledge to believe half of what he had heard to his prejudice, for the most bigoted and illiberal on every subject are usually those who know nothing about it; but he could not approve of his selfishness, cold-blooded calculations, and least of all of the manner in which he forgot his “white gifts,” to adopt those that were purely “red.” On the other hand, Pathfinder was a riddle to Captain Sanglier. The latter could not comprehend the other’s motives; he had often heard of his disinterestedness, justice, and truth; and in several instances they had led him into grave errors, on that principle by which a frank and open-mouthed diplomatist is said to keep his secrets better than one that is close-mouthed and wily.

After the two heroes had gazed at each other in the manner mentioned, Monsieur Sanglier touched his cap; for the rudeness of a border life had not entirely destroyed the courtesy of manner he had acquired in youth, nor extinguished that appearance of bonhomie which seems inbred in a Frenchman.

“Monsieur le Pathfinder,” said he, with a very decided accent, though with a friendly smile, ”un militaire honor le courage, et la loyaute. You speak Iroquois?”

“Ay, I understand the language of the riptyles, and can get along with it if there’s occasion,” returned the literal and truth-telling guide; “but it’s neither a tongue nor a tribe to my taste. Wherever you find the Mingo blood, in my opinion, Master Flinty-heart, you find a knave. Well, I’ve seen you often, though it was in battle; and I must say it was always in the van. You must know most of our bullets by sight?”

“Nevvair, sair, your own; une balle from your honorable hand be sairtaine deat’. You kill my best warrior on some island.”

“That may be, that may be; though I daresay, if the truth was known, they would turn out to be great rascals. No offence to you, Master Flinty-heart, but you keep desperate evil company.”

“Yes, sair,” returned the Frenchman, who, bent on saying that which was courteous himself, and comprehending with difficulty, was disposed to think he received a compliment, “you too good. But un brave always comme ca. What that mean? ha! what that jeune homme do?”

The hand and eye of Captain Sanglier directed the look of Pathfinder to the opposite side of the fire, where Jasper, just at that moment, had been rudely seized by two of the soldiers, who were binding his arms under the direction of Muir.

“What does that mean, indeed?” cried the guide, stepping forward and shoving the two subordinates away with a power of muscle that would not be denied. “Who has the heart to do this to Jasper Eau-douce? And who has the boldness to do it before my eyes?”

“It is by my orders, Pathfinder,” answered the Quartermaster, “and I command it on my own responsibility. Ye’ll no’ tak’ on yourself to dispute the legality of orders given by one who bears the king’s commission to the king’s soldiers?”

“I’d dispute the king’s words, if they came from the king’s own mouth, did he say that Jasper desarves this. Has not the lad just saved all our scalps, taken us from defeat, and given us victory? No, no, Lieutenant; if this is the first use that you make of your authority, I, for one, will not respect it.”

“This savors a little of insubordination,” answered Muir; “but we can bear much from Pathfinder. It is true this Jasper has seemed to serve us in this affair, but we ought not to overlook past transactions. Did not Major Duncan himself denounce him to Sergeant Dunham before we left the post? Have we not seen sufficient with our own eyes to make sure of having been betrayed? And is it not natural, and almost necessary, to believe that this young man has been the traitor? Ah, Pathfinder! Ye’ll no’ be making yourself a great statesman or a great captain if you put too much faith in appearances. Lord bless me! Lord bless me! If I do not believe, could the truth be come at, as you often say yourself, Pathfinder, that hypocrisy is a more common vice than even envy, and that’s the bane of human nature.”

Captain Sanglier shrugged his shoulders; then he looked earnestly from Jasper towards the Quartermaster, and from the Quartermaster towards Jasper.

“I care not for your envy, or your hypocrisy, or even for your human natur’,” returned Pathfinder. “Jasper Eau-douce is my friend; Jasper Eau-douce is a brave lad, and an honest lad, and a loyal lad; and no man of the 55th shall lay hands on him, short of Lundie’s own orders, while I’m in the way to prevent it. You may have authority over your soldiers; but you have none over Jasper and me, Master Muir.”

“Bon!“ ejaculated Sanglier, the sound partaking equally of the energies of the throat and of the nose.

“Will ye no’ hearken to reason, Pathfinder? Ye’ll no’ be forgetting our suspicions and judgments; and here is another circumstance to augment and aggravate them all. Ye can see this little bit of bunting; well, where should it be found but by Mabel Dunham, on the branch of a tree on this very island, just an hour or so before the attack of the enemy; and if ye’ll be at the trouble to look at the fly of the Scud’s ensign, ye’ll just say that the cloth has been cut from out it. Circumstantial evidence was never stronger.”

“Ma foi, c’est un peu fort, ceci,“ growled Sanglier between his teeth.

“Talk to me of no ensigns and signals when I know the heart,” continued the Pathfinder. “Jasper has the gift of honesty; and it is too rare a gift to be trifled with, like a Mingo’s conscience. No, no; off hands, or we shall see which can make the stoutest battle; you and your men of the 55th, or the Sarpent here, and Killdeer, with Jasper and his crew. You overrate your force, Lieutenant Muir, as much as you underrate Eau-douce’s truth.”

“Tres bon!“

“Well, if I must speak plainly, Pathfinder, I e’en must. Captain Sanglier here and Arrowhead, this brave Tuscarora, have both informed me that this unfortunate boy is the traitor. After such testimony you can no longer oppose my right to correct him, as well as the necessity of the act.”

“Scelerat,“ muttered the Frenchman.

“Captain Sanglier is a brave soldier, and will not gainsay the conduct of an honest sailor,” put in Jasper. “Is there any traitor here, Captain Flinty-heart?”

“Ay,” added Muir, “let him speak out then, since ye wish it, unhappy youth! That the truth may be known. I only hope that ye may escape the last punishment when a court will be sitting on your misdeeds. How is it, Captain; do ye, or do ye not, see a traitor amang us?”

“Oui— yes, sair —bien sur.”

“Too much lie!” said Arrowhead in a voice of thunder, striking the breast of Muir with the back of his own hand in a sort of ungovernable gesture; “where my warriors? — where Yengeese scalp? Too much lie!”

Muir wanted not for personal courage, nor for a certain sense of personal honor. The violence which had been intended only for a gesture he mistook for a blow; for conscience was suddenly aroused within him, and he stepped back a pace, extending his hand towards a gun. His face was livid with rage, and his countenance expressed the fell intention of his heart. But Arrowhead was too quick for him; with a wild glance of the eye the Tuscarora looked about him; then thrust a hand beneath his own girdle, drew forth a concealed knife, and, in the twinkling of an eye, buried it in the body of the Quartermaster to the handle. As the latter fell at his feet, gazing into his face with the vacant stare of one surprised by death, Sanglier took a pinch of snuff, and said in a calm voice —

“Voila l’affaire finie; mais,“ shrugging his shoulders, ”ce n’est qu’un scelerat de moins.“

The act was too sudden to be prevented; and when Arrowhead, uttering a yell, bounded into the bushes, the white men were too confounded to follow. Chingachgook, however, was more collected; and the bushes had scarcely closed on the passing body of the Tuscarora than they were again opened by that of the Delaware in full pursuit.

Jasper Western spoke French fluently, and the words and manner of Sanglier struck him.

“Speak, Monsieur,” said he in English; ”am I the traitor?”

“Le voila,” answered the cool Frenchman, “dat is our espion— our agent— our friend —ma foi—c’etait un grand scelerat—voici.”

While speaking, Sanglier bent over the dead body, and thrust his hand into a pocket of the Quartermaster, out of which he drew a purse. Emptying the contents on the ground, several double-louis rolled towards the soldiers, who were not slow in picking them up. Casting the purse from him in contempt, the soldier of fortune turned towards the soup he had been preparing with so much care, and, finding it to his liking, he began to break his fast with an air of indifference that the most stoical Indian warrior might have envied.