The Ark was slowly but steadily advancing, and the castle was materially within half a mile, when Chingachgook joined the two white men in the stern of the scow. His manner was calm, but it was evident to the others, who were familiar with the habits of the Indians, that he had something to communicate. Hurry was generally prompt to speak and, according to custom, he took the lead on this occasion.
"Out with it, red-skin," he cried, in his usual rough manner. "Have you discovered a chipmunk in a tree, or is there a salmon-trout swimming under the bottom of the scow? You find what a pale-face can do in the way of eyes, now, Sarpent, and mustn't wonder that they can see the land of the Indians from afar off."
"No good to go to Castle," put in Chingachgook with emphasis, the moment the other gave him an opportunity of speaking. "Huron there."
"The devil he is! — If this should turn out to be true, Floating Tom, a pretty trap were we about to pull down on our heads! Huron, there! — Well, this may be so; but no signs can I see of any thing, near or about the old hut, but logs, water, and bark — bating two or three windows, and one door."
Hutter called for the glass, and took a careful survey of the spot, before he ventured an opinion, at all; then he somewhat cavalierly expressed his dissent from that given by the Indian.
"You've got this glass wrong end foremost, Delaware," continued Hurry. "Neither the old man nor I can see any trail in the lake."
"No trail — water make no trail," said Hist, eagerly. "Stop boat — no go too near. Huron there!"
"Ay, that's it! — Stick to the same tale, and more people will believe you. I hope, Sarpent, you and your gal will agree in telling the same story arter marriage, as well as you do now. 'Huron, there!'-Whereabouts is he to be seen — in the padlock, or the chains, or the logs. There isn't a gaol in the colony that has a more lock up look about it, than old Tom's chiente, and I know something about gaols from exper'ence."
"No see moccasin," said Hist, impatiently "why no look — and see him."
"Give me the glass, Harry," interrupted Hutter, "and lower the sail. It is seldom that an Indian woman meddles, and when she does, there is generally a cause for it. There is, truly, a moccasin floating against one of the piles, and it may or may not be a sign that the castle hasn't escaped visitors in our absence. Moccasins are no rarities, however, for I wear 'em myself; and Deerslayer wears 'em, and you wear 'em, March, and, for that matter so does Hetty, quite as often as she wears shoes, though I never yet saw Judith trust her pretty foot in a moccasin."
Hurry had lowered the sail, and by this time the Ark was within two hundred yards of the castle, setting in, nearer and nearer, each moment, but at a rate too slow to excite any uneasiness. Each now took the glass in turn, and the castle, and every thing near it, was subjected to a scrutiny still more rigid than ever. There the moccasin lay, beyond a question, floating so lightly, and preserving its form so well, that it was scarcely wet. It had caught by a piece of the rough bark of one of the piles, on the exterior of the water-palisade that formed the dock already mentioned, which circumstance alone prevented it from drifting away before the air. There were many modes, however, of accounting for the presence of the moccasin, without supposing it to have been dropped by an enemy. It might have fallen from the platform, even while Hutter was in possession of the place, and drifted to the spot where it was now seen, remaining unnoticed until detected by the acute vision of Hist. It might have drifted from a distance, up or down the lake, and accidentally become attached to the pile, or palisade. It might have been thrown from a window, and alighted in that particular place; or it might certainly have fallen from a scout, or an assailant, during the past night, who was obliged to abandon it to the lake, in the deep obscurity which then prevailed.
All these conjectures passed from Hutter to Hurry, the former appearing disposed to regard the omen as a little sinister, while the latter treated it with his usual reckless disdain. As for the Indian, he was of opinion that the moccasin should be viewed as one would regard a trail in the woods, which might, or might not, equally, prove to be threatening. Hist, however, had something available to propose. She declared her readiness to take a canoe, to proceed to the palisade and bring away the moccasin, when its ornaments would show whether it came from the Canadas or not. Both the white men were disposed to accept this offer, but the Delaware interfered to prevent the risk. If such a service was to be undertaken, it best became a warrior to expose himself in its execution, and he gave his refusal to let his betrothed proceed, much in the quiet but brief manner in which an Indian husband issues his commands.
"Well then, Delaware, go yourself if you're so tender of your squaw," put in the unceremonious Hurry. "That moccasin must be had, or Floating Tom will keep off, here, at arm's length, till the hearth cools in his cabin. It's but a little deerskin, a'ter all, and cut this-a-way or that-a-way, it's not a skear-crow to frighten true hunters from their game. What say you, Sarpent, shall you or I canoe it?"
"Let red man go. — Better eyes than pale-face — know Huron trick better, too."
"That I'll gainsay, to the hour of my death! A white man's eyes, and a white man's nose, and for that matter his sight and ears are all better than an Injin's when fairly tried. Time and ag'in have I put that to the proof, and what is proved is sartain. Still I suppose the poorest vagabond going, whether Delaware or Huron, can find his way to yonder hut and back ag'in, and so, Sarpent, use your paddle and welcome."
Chingachgook was already in the canoe, and he dipped the implement the other named into the water, just as Hurry's limber tongue ceased. Wah-ta-Wah saw the departure of her warrior on this occasion with the submissive silence of an Indian girl, but with most of the misgivings and apprehensions of her sex. Throughout the whole of the past night, and down to the moment, when they used the glass together in the hut, Chingachgook had manifested as much manly tenderness towards his betrothed as one of the most refined sentiment could have shown under similar circumstances, but now every sign of weakness was lost in an appearance of stern resolution. Although Hist timidly endeavored to catch his eye as the canoe left the side of the Ark, the pride of a warrior would not permit him to meet her fond and anxious looks. The canoe departed and not a wandering glance rewarded her solicitude.
Nor were the Delaware's care and gravity misplaced, under the impressions with which he proceeded on this enterprise. If the enemy had really gained possession of the building he was obliged to put himself under the very muzzles of their rifles, as it were, and this too without the protection of any of that cover which forms so essential an ally in Indian warfare. It is scarcely possible to conceive of a service more dangerous, and had the Serpent been fortified by the experience of ten more years, or had his friend the Deerslayer been present, it would never have been attempted; the advantages in no degree compensating for the risk. But the pride of an Indian chief was acted on by the rivalry of colour, and it is not unlikely that the presence of the very creature from whom his ideas of manhood prevented his receiving a single glance, overflowing as he was with the love she so well merited, had no small influence on his determination.
Chingachgook paddled steadily towards the palisades, keeping his eyes on the different loops of the building. Each instant he expected to see the muzzle of a rifle protruded, or to hear its sharp crack; but he succeeded in reaching the piles in safety. Here he was, in a measure, protected, having the heads of the palisades between him and the hut, and the chances of any attempt on his life while thus covered, were greatly diminished. The canoe had reached the piles with its head inclining northward, and at a short distance from the moccasin. Instead of turning to pick up the latter, the Delaware slowly made the circuit of the whole building, deliberately examining every object that should betray the presence of enemies, or the commission of violence. Not a single sign could he discover, however, to confirm the suspicions that had been awakened. The stillness of desertion pervaded the building; not a fastening was displaced, not a window had been broken. The door looked as secure as at the hour when it was closed by Hutter, and even the gate of the dock had all the customary fastenings. In short, the most wary and jealous eye could detect no other evidence of the visit of enemies, than that which was connected with the appearance of the floating moccasin.