The Pathfinder by Fenimore Cooper - Chapter 27

The only amaranthian flower on earth

Is virtue; the only lasting treasure, truth.


The reader must imagine some of the occurrences that followed the sudden death of Muir. While his body was in the hands of his soldiers, who laid it decently aside, and covered it with a greatcoat, Chingachgook silently resumed his place at the fire, and both Sanglier and Pathfinder remarked that he carried a fresh and bleeding scalp at his girdle. No one asked any questions; and the former, although perfectly satisfied that Arrowhead had fallen, manifested neither curiosity nor feeling. He continued calmly eating his soup, as if the meal had been tranquil as usual. There was something of pride and of an assumed indifference to fate, imitated from the Indians, in all this; but there was more that really resulted from practice, habitual self-command, and constitutional hardihood. With Pathfinder the case was a little different in feeling, though much the same in appearance. He disliked Muir, whose smooth-tongued courtesy was little in accordance with his own frank and ingenuous nature; but he had been shocked at his unexpected and violent death, though accustomed to similar scenes, and he had been surprised at the exposure of his treachery. With a view to ascertain the extent of the latter, as soon as the body was removed, he began to question the Captain on the subject. The latter, having no particular motive for secrecy now that his agent was dead, in the course of the breakfast revealed the following circumstances, which will serve to clear up some of the minor incidents of our tale.

Soon after the 55th appeared on the frontiers, Muir had volunteered his services to the enemy. In making his offers, he boasted of his intimacy with Lundie, and of the means it afforded of furnishing more accurate and important information than usual. His terms had been accepted, and Monsieur Sanglier had several interviews with him in the vicinity of the fort at Oswego, and had actually passed one entire night secreted in the garrison. Arrowhead, however, was the usual channel of communication; and the anonymous letter to Major Duncan had been originally written by Muir, transmitted to Frontenac, copied, and sent back by the Tuscarora, who was returning from that errand when captured by the Scud. It is scarcely necessary to add that Jasper was to be sacrificed in order to conceal the Quartermaster’s treason, and that the position of the island had been betrayed to the enemy by the latter. An extraordinary compensation — that which was found in his purse — had induced him to accompany the party under Sergeant Dunham, in order to give the signals that were to bring on the attack. The disposition of Muir towards the sex was a natural weakness, and he would have married Mabel, or any one else who would accept his hand; but his admiration of her was in a great degree feigned, in order that he might have an excuse for accompanying the party without sharing in the responsibility of its defeat, or incurring the risk of having no other strong and seemingly sufficient motive. Much of this was known to Captain Sanglier, particularly the part in connection with Mabel, and he did not fail to let his auditors into the whole secret, frequently laughing in a sarcastic manner, as he revealed the different expedients of the luckless Quartermaster.

“Touchez-la,” said the cold-blooded partisan, holding out his sinewy hand to Pathfinder, when he ended his explanations; “you be honnete, and dat is beaucoup. We tak’ de spy as we tak’ la medicine, for de good; mais, je les deteste! Touchez-la.“

“I’ll shake your hand, Captain, I will; for you’re a lawful and nat’ral inimy,” returned Pathfinder, “and a manful one; but the body of the Quartermaster shall never disgrace English ground. I did intend to carry it back to Lundie that he might play his bagpipes over it, but now it shall lie here on the spot where he acted his villainy, and have his own treason for a headstone. Captain Flinty-heart, I suppose this consorting with traitors is a part of a soldier’s regular business; but, I tell you honestly, it is not to my liking, and I’d rather it should be you than I who had this affair on his conscience. What an awful sinner! To plot, right and left, ag’in country, friends, and the Lord! Jasper, boy, a word with you aside, for a single minute.”

Pathfinder now led the young man apart; and, squeezing his hand, with the tears in his own eyes, he continued:

“You know me, Eau-douce, and I know you,” said he, “and this news has not changed my opinion of you in any manner. I never believed their tales, though it looked solemn at one minute, I will own; yes, it did look solemn, and it made me feel solemn too. I never suspected you for a minute, for I know your gifts don’t lie that-a-way; but, I must own, I didn’t suspect the Quartermaster neither.”

“And he holding his Majesty’s commission, Pathfinder!”

“It isn’t so much that, Jasper Western, it isn’t so much that. He held a commission from God to act right, and to deal fairly with his fellow-creaturs, and he has failed awfully in his duty.”

“To think of his pretending love for one like Mabel, too, when he felt none.”

“That was bad, sartainly; the fellow must have had Mingo blood in his veins. The man that deals unfairly by a woman can be but a mongrel, lad; for the Lord has made them helpless on purpose that we may gain their love by kindness and sarvices. Here is the Sergeant, poor man, on his dying bed; he has given me his daughter for a wife, and Mabel, dear girl, she has consented to it; and it makes me feel that I have two welfares to look after, two natur’s to care for, and two hearts to gladden. Ah’s me, Jasper! I sometimes feel that I’m not good enough for that sweet child!”

Eau-douce had nearly gasped for breath when he first heard this intelligence; and, though he succeeded in suppressing any other outward signs of agitation, his cheek was blanched nearly to the paleness of death. Still he found means to answer not only with firmness, but with energy —

“Say not so, Pathfinder; you are good enough for a queen.”

“Ay, ay, boy, according to your idees of my goodness; that is to say, I can kill a deer, or even a Mingo at need, with any man on the lines; or I can follow a forest-path with as true an eye, or read the stars, when others do not understand them. No doubt, no doubt, Mabel will have venison enough, and fish enough, and pigeons enough; but will she have knowledge enough, and will she have idees enough, and pleasant conversation enough, when life comes to drag a little, and each of us begins to pass for our true value?”

“If you pass for your value, Pathfinder, the greatest lady in the land would be happy with you. On that head you have no reason to feel afraid.”

“Now, Jasper, I dare to say you think so, nay, I know you do; for it is nat’ral, and according to friendship, for people to look over-favorably at them they love. Yes, yes; if I had to marry you, boy, I should give myself no consarn about my being well looked upon, for you have always shown a disposition to see me and all I do with friendly eyes. But a young gal, after all, must wish to marry a man that is nearer to her own age and fancies, than to have one old enough to be her father, and rude enough to frighten her. I wonder, Jasper, that Mabel never took a fancy to you, now, rather than setting her mind on me.”

“Take, a fancy to me, Pathfinder!” returned the young man, endeavoring to clear his voice without betraying himself; “what is there about me to please such a girl as Mabel Dunham? I have all that you find fault with in yourself, with none of that excellence that makes even the generals respect you.”

“Well, well, it’s all chance, say what we will about it. Here have I journeyed and guided through the woods female after female, and consorted with them in the garrisons, and never have I even felt an inclination for any, until I saw Mabel Dunham. It’s true the poor Sergeant first set me to thinking about his daughter; but after we got a little acquainted like, I’d no need of being spoken to, to think of her night and day. I’m tough, Jasper; yes, I’m very tough; and I’m risolute enough, as you all know; and yet I do think it would quite break me down, now, to lose Mabel Dunham!”

“We will talk no more of it, Pathfinder,” said Jasper, returning his friend’s squeeze of the hand, and moving back towards the fire, though slowly, and in the manner of one who cared little where he went; “we will talk no more of it. You are worthy of Mabel, and Mabel is worthy of you — you like Mabel, and Mabel likes you — her father has chosen you for her husband, and no one has a right to interfere. As for the Quartermaster, his feigning love for Mabel is worse even than his treason to the king.”

By this time they were so near the fire that it was necessary to change the conversation. Luckily, at that instant, Cap, who had been in the block in company with his dying brother-in-law, and who knew nothing of what had passed since the capitulation, now appeared, walking with a meditative and melancholy air towards the group. Much of that hearty dogmatism, that imparted even to his ordinary air and demeanor an appearance of something like contempt for all around him, had disappeared, and he seemed thoughtful, if not meek.

“This death, gentlemen,” said he, when he had got sufficiently near, “is a melancholy business, make the best of it. Now, here is Sergeant Dunham, a very good soldier, I make no question, about to slip his cable; and yet he holds on to the better end of it, as if he was determined it should never run out of the hawse-hole; and all because he loves his daughter, it seems to me. For my part, when a friend is really under the necessity of making a long journey, I always wish him well and happily off.”

“You wouldn’t kill the Sergeant before his time?” Pathfinder reproachfully answered. “Life is sweet, even to the aged; and, for that matter, I’ve known some that seemed to set much store by it when it got to be of the least value.”

Nothing had been further from Cap’s real thoughts than the wish to hasten his brother-in-law’s end. He had found himself embarrassed with the duties of smoothing a deathbed, and all he had meant was to express a sincere desire that the Sergeant were happily rid of doubt and suffering. A little shocked, therefore, at the interpretation that had been put on his words, he rejoined with some of the asperity of the man, though rebuked by a consciousness of not having done his own wishes justice. “You are too old and too sensible a person, Pathfinder,” said he, “to fetch a man up with a surge, when he is paying out his ideas in distress, as it might be. Sergeant Dunham is both my brother-in-law and my friend — that is to say, as intimate a friend as a soldier well can be with a seafaring man — and I respect and honor him accordingly. I make no doubt, moreover, that he has lived such a life as becomes a man, and there can be no great harm, after all, in wishing any one well berthed in heaven. Well! we are mortal, the best of us, that you’ll not deny; and it ought to be a lesson not to feel pride in our strength and beauty. Where is the Quartermaster, Pathfinder? It is proper he should come and have a parting word with the poor Sergeant, who is only going a little before us.”

“You have spoken more truth, Master Cap, than you’ve been knowing to, all this time. You might have gone further, notwithstanding, and said that we are mortal, the worst of us; which is quite as true, and a good deal more wholesome, than saying that we are mortal, the best of us. As for the Quartermaster’s coming to speak a parting word to the Sergeant, it is quite out of the question, seeing that he has gone ahead, and that too with little parting notice to himself, or to any one else.”

“You are not quite so clear as common in your language, Pathfinder. I know that we ought all to have solemn thoughts on these occasions, but I see no use in speaking in parables.”

“If my words are not plain, the idee is. In short, Master Cap, while Sergeant Dunham has been preparing himself for a long journey, like a conscientious and honest man as he is, deliberately, the Quartermaster has started, in a hurry, before him; and, although it is a matter on which it does not become me to be very positive, I give it as my opinion that they travel such different roads that they will never meet.”

“Explain yourself, my friend,” said the bewildered seaman, looking around him in search of Muir, whose absence began to excite his distrust. “I see nothing of the Quartermaster; but I think him too much of a man to run away, now that the victory is gained. If the fight were ahead instead of in our wake, the case would be altered.”

“There lies all that is left of him, beneath that greatcoat,” returned the guide, who then briefly related the manner of the Lieutenant’s death. “The Tuscarora was as venemous in his blow as a rattler, though he failed to give the warning,” continued Pathfinder. “I’ve seen many a desperate fight, and several of these sudden outbreaks of savage temper; but never before did I see a human soul quit the body more unexpectedly, or at a worse moment for the hopes of the dying man. His breath was stopped with the lie on his lips, and the spirit might be said to have passed away in the very ardor of wickedness.”

Cap listened with a gaping mouth; and he gave two or three violent hems, as the other concluded, like one who distrusted his own respiration.

“This is an uncertain and uncomfortable life of yours, Master Pathfinder, what between the fresh water and the savages,” said he; “and the sooner I get quit of it, the higher will be my opinion of myself. Now you mention it, I will say that the man ran for that berth in the rocks, when the enemy first bore down upon us, with a sort of instinct that I thought surprising in an officer; but I was in too great a hurry to follow, to log the whole matter accurately. God bless me! God bless me! — a traitor, do you say, and ready to sell his country, and to a rascally Frenchman too?”

“To sell anything; country, soul, body, Mabel, and all our scalps; and no ways particular, I’ll engage, as to the purchaser. The countrymen of Captain Flinty-heart here were the paymasters this time.”

“Just like ’em; ever ready to buy when they can’t thrash, and to run when they can do neither.”

Monsieur Sanglier lifted his cap with ironical gravity, and acknowledged the compliment with an expression of polite contempt that was altogether lost on its insensible subject. But Pathfinder had too much native courtesy, and was far too just-minded, to allow the attack to go unnoticed.

“Well, well,” he interposed, “to my mind there is no great difference ‘atween an Englishman and a Frenchman, after all. They talk different tongues, and live under different kings, I will allow; but both are human, and feel like human beings, when there is occasion for it.”

Captain Flinty-heart, as Pathfinder called him, made another obeisance; but this time the smile was friendly, and not ironical; for he felt that the intention was good, whatever might have been the mode of expressing it. Too philosophical, however, to heed what a man like Cap might say or think, he finished his breakfast, without allowing his attention to be again diverted from that important pursuit.

“My business here was principally with the Quartermaster,” Cap continued, as soon as he had done regarding the prisoner’s pantomime. “The Sergeant must be near his end, and I have thought he might wish to say something to his successor in authority before he finally departed. It is too late, it would seem; and, as you say, Pathfinder, the Lieutenant has truly gone before.”

“That he has, though on a different path. As for authority, I suppose the Corporal has now a right to command what’s left of the 55th; though a small and worried, not to say frightened, party it is. But, if anything needs to be done, the chances are greatly in favor of my being called on to do it. I suppose, however, we have only to bury our dead; set fire to the block and the huts, for they stand in the inimy’s territory by position, if not by law, and must not be left for their convenience. Our using them again is out of the question; for, now the Frenchers know where the island is to be found, it would be like thrusting the hand into a wolf-trap with our eyes wide open. This part of the work the Sarpent and I will see to, for we are as practysed in retreats as in advances.”

“All that is very well, my good friend. And now for my poor brother-in-law: though he is a soldier, we cannot let him slip without a word of consolation and a leave-taking, in my judgment. This has been an unlucky affair on every tack; though I suppose it is what one had a right to expect, considering the state of the times and the nature of the navigation. We must make the best of it, and try to help the worthy man to unmoor, without straining his messengers. Death is a circumstance, after all, Master Pathfinder, and one of a very general character too, seeing that we must all submit to it, sooner or later.”

“You say truth, you say truth; and for that reason I hold it to be wise to be always ready. I’ve often thought, Saltwater, that he is the happiest who has the least to leave behind him when the summons comes. Now, here am I, a hunter and a scout and a guide, although I do not own a foot of land on ‘arth, yet do I enjoy and possess more than the great Albany Patroon. With the heavens over my head to keep me in mind of the last great hunt, and the dried leaves beneath my feet, I tramp over the ground as freely as if I was its lord and owner; and what more need heart desire? I do not say that I love nothing that belongs to ‘arth; for I do, though not much, unless it might be Mabel Dunham, that I can’t carry with me. I have some pups at the higher fort that I vally considerable, though they are too noisy for warfare, and so we are compelled to live separate for awhile; and then I think it would grieve me to part with Killdeer; but I see no reason why we should not be buried in the same grave, for we are as near as can be of the same length — six feet to a hair’s breadth; but, bating these, and a pipe that the Sarpent gave me, and a few tokens received from travellers, all of which might be put in a pouch and laid under my head, when the order comes to march I shall be ready at a minute’s warning; and, let me tell you, Master Cap, that’s what I call a circumstance too.”

“’Tis just so with me,” answered the sailor, as the two walked towards the block, too much occupied with their respective morality to remember at the moment the melancholy errand they were on; “that’s just my way of feeling and reasoning. How often have I felt, when near shipwreck, the relief of not owning the craft! ‘If she goes,’ I have said to myself, ‘why, my life goes with her, but not my property, and there’s great comfort in that.’ I’ve discovered, in the course of boxing about the world from the Horn to Cape North, not to speak of this run on a bit of fresh water, that if a man has a few dollars, and puts them in a chest under lock and key, he is pretty certain to fasten up his heart in the same till; and so I carry pretty much all I own in a belt round my body, in order, as I say, to keep the vitals in the right place. D—-me, Pathfinder, if I think a man without a heart any better than a fish with a hole in his air-bag.”

“I don’t know how that may be, Master Cap; but a man without a conscience is but a poor creatur’, take my word for it, as any one will discover who has to do with a Mingo. I trouble myself but little with dollars or half-joes, for these are the favoryte coin in this part of the world; but I can easily believe, by what I’ve seen of mankind, that if a man has a chest filled with either, he may be said to lock up his heart in the same box. I once hunted for two summers, during the last peace, and I collected so much peltry that I found my right feelings giving way to a craving after property; and if I have consarn in marrying Mabel, it is that I may get to love such things too well, in order to make her comfortable.”

“You’re a philosopher, that’s clear, Pathfinder; and I don’t know but you’re a Christian.”

“I should be out of humor with the man that gainsayed the last, Master Cap. I have not been Christianized by the Moravians, like so many of the Delawares, it is true; but I hold to Christianity and white gifts. With me, it is as on-creditable for a white man not to be a Christian as it is for a red-skin not to believe in his happy hunting-grounds; indeed, after allowing for difference in traditions, and in some variations about the manner in which the spirit will be occupied after death, I hold that a good Delaware is a good Christian, though he never saw a Moravian; and a good Christian a good Delaware, so far as natur ‘is consarned. The Sarpent and I talk these matters over often, for he has a hankerin’ after Christianity —”

“The d —-l he has!” interrupted Cap. “And what does he intend to do in a church with all the scalps he takes?”

“Don’t run away with a false idee, friend Cap, don’t run away with a false idee. These things are only skin-deep, and all depend on edication and nat’ral gifts. Look around you at mankind, and tell me why you see a red warrior here, a black one there, and white armies in another place? All this, and a great deal more of the same kind that I could point out, has been ordered for some special purpose; and it is not for us to fly in the face of facts and deny their truth. No, no; each color has its gifts, and its laws, and its traditions; and one is not to condemn another because he does not exactly comprehend it.”

“You must have read a great deal, Pathfinder, to see things so clear as this,” returned Cap, not a little mystified by his companion’s simple creed. “It’s all as plain as day to me now, though I must say I never fell in with these opinions before. What denomination do you belong to, my friend?”


“What sect do you hold out for? What particular church do you fetch up in?”

“Look about you, and judge for yourself. I’m in church now; I eat in church, drink in church, sleep in church. The ‘arth is the temple of the Lord, and I wait on Him hourly, daily, without ceasing, I humbly hope. No, no, I’ll not deny my blood and color; but am Christian born, and shall die in the same faith. The Moravians tried me hard; and one of the King’s chaplains has had his say too, though that’s a class no ways strenuous on such matters; and a missionary sent from Rome talked much with me, as I guided him through the forest, during the last peace; but I’ve had one answer for them all — I’m a Christian already, and want to be neither Moravian, nor Churchman, nor Papist. No, no, I’ll not deny my birth and blood.”

“I think a word from you might lighten the Sergeant over the shoals of death, Master Pathfinder. He has no one with him but poor Mabel; and she, you know, besides being his daughter, is but a girl and a child after all.”

“Mabel is feeble in body, friend Cap; but in matters of this natur’ I doubt if she may not be stronger than most men. But Sergeant Dunham is my friend, and he is your brother-in-law; so, now the press of fighting and maintaining our rights is over, it is fitting we should both go and witness his departure. I’ve stood by many a dying man, Master Cap,” continued Pathfinder, who had a besetting propensity to enlarge on his experience, stopping and holding his companion by a button — “I’ve stood by many a dying man’s side, and seen his last gasp, and heard his last breath; for, when the hurry and tumult of the battle is over, it is good to bethink us of the misfortunate, and it is remarkable to witness how differently human natur’ feels at such solemn moments. Some go their way as stupid and ignorant as if God had never given them reason and an accountable state; while others quit us rejoicing, like men who leave heavy burthens behind them. I think that the mind sees clearly at such moments, my friend, and that past deeds stand thick before the recollection.”

“I’ll engage they do, Pathfinder. I have witnessed something of this myself, and hope I’m the better man for it. I remember once that I thought my own time had come, and the log was overhauled with a diligence I did not think myself capable of until that moment. I’ve not been a very great sinner, friend Pathfinder; that is to say, never on a large scale; though I daresay, if the truth were spoken, a considerable amount of small matters might be raked up against me, as well as against another man; but then, I’ve never committed piracy, nor high treason, nor arson, nor any of them sort of things. As to smuggling, and the like of that, why, I’m a seafaring man, and I suppose all callings have their weak spots. I daresay your trade is not altogether without blemish, honorable and useful as it seems to be?”

“Many of the scouts and guides are desperate knaves; and, like the Quartermaster here, some of them take pay of both sides. I hope I’m not one of them, though all occupations lead to temptations. Thrice have I been sorely tried in my life, and once I yielded a little, though I hope it was not in a matter to disturb a man’s conscience in his last moments. The first time was when I found in the woods a pack of skins that I knowed belonged to a Frencher who was hunting on our side of the lines, where he had no business to be; twenty-six as handsome beavers as ever gladdened human eyes. Well, that was a sore temptation; for I thought the law would have been almost with me, although it was in peace times. But then, I remembered that such laws wasn’t made for us hunters, and bethought me that the poor man might have built great expectations for the next winter on the sale of his skins; and I left them where they lay. Most of our people said I did wrong; but the manner in which I slept that night convinced me that I had done right. The next trial was when I found the rifle that is sartainly the only one in this part of the world that can be calculated on as surely as Killdeer, and knowed that by taking it, or even hiding it, I might at once rise to be the first shot in all these parts. I was then young, and by no means so expart as I have since got to be, and youth is ambitious and striving; but, God be praised! I mastered that feeling; and, friend Cap, what is almost as good, I mastered my rival in as fair a shooting-match as was ever witnessed in a garrison; he with his piece, and I with Killdeer, and before the General in person too!” Here Pathfinder stopped to laugh, his triumph still glittering in his eyes and glowing on his sunburnt and browned cheek. “Well, the next conflict with the devil was the hardest of them all; and that was when I came suddenly upon a camp of six Mingos asleep in the woods, with their guns and horns piled in away that enabled me to get possession of them without waking a miscreant of them all. What an opportunity that would have been for the Sarpent, who would have despatched them, one after another, with his knife, and had their six scalps at his girdle, in about the time it takes me to tell you the story. Oh, he’s a valiant warrior, that Chingachgook, and as honest as he’s brave, and as good as he’s honest!”

“And what may you have done in this matter, Master Pathfinder?” demanded Cap, who began to be interested in the result; “it seems to me you had made either a very lucky, or a very unlucky landfall.”

“’Twas lucky, and ’twas unlucky, if you can understand that. ’Twas unlucky, for it proved a desperate trial; and yet ’twas lucky, all things considered, in the ind. I did not touch a hair of their heads, for a white man has no nat’ral gifts to take scalps; nor did I even make sure of one of their rifles. I distrusted myself, knowing that a Mingo is no favorite in my own eyes.”

“As for the scalps, I think you were right enough, my worthy friend; but as for the armament and the stores, they would have been condemned by any prize-court in Christendom.”

“That they would, that they would; but then the Mingos would have gone clear, seeing that a white man can no more attack an unarmed than a sleeping inimy. No, no, I did myself, and my color, and my religion too, greater justice. I waited till their nap was over, and they well on their war-path again; and, by ambushing them here and flanking them there, I peppered the blackguards intrinsically like” (Pathfinder occasionally caught a fine word from his associates, and used it a little vaguely), “that only one ever got back to his village, and he came into his wigwam limping. Luckily, as it turned out, the great Delaware had only halted to jerk some venison, and was following on my trail; and when he got up he had five of the scoundrels’ scalps hanging where they ought to be; so, you see, nothing was lost by doing right, either in the way of honor or in that of profit.”

Cap grunted an assent, though the distinctions in his companion’s morality, it must be owned, were not exactly clear to his understanding. The two had occasionally moved towards the block as they conversed, and then stopped again as some matter of more interest than common brought them to a halt. They were now so near the building, however, that neither thought of pursuing the subject any further; but each prepared himself for the final scene with Sergeant Dunham.