"You are right, boy; here is the patch we saw so often in the other chase. And the fellow will drink when he can get an opportunity; your drinking Indian always learns to walk with a wider toe than the natural savage, it being the gift of a drunkard to straddle, whether of white or red skin. 'Tis just the length and breadth, too! look at it, Sagamore; you measured the prints more than once, when we hunted the varmints from Glenn's to the health springs."
Chingachgook complied; and after finishing his short examination, he arose, and with a quiet demeanor, he merely pronounced the word:
"Ay, 'tis a settled thing; here, then, have passed the dark-hair and Magua."
"And not Alice?" demanded Heyward.
"Of her we have not yet seen the signs," returned the scout, looking closely around at the trees, the bushes and the ground. "What have we there? Uncas, bring hither the thing you see dangling from yonder thorn-bush."
When the Indian had complied, the scout received the prize, and holding it on high, he laughed in his silent but heartfelt manner.
"'Tis the tooting we'pon of the singer! now we shall have a trail a priest might travel," he said. "Uncas, look for the marks of a shoe that is long enough to uphold six feet two of tottering human flesh. I begin to have some hopes of the fellow, since he has given up squalling to follow some better trade."
"At least he has been faithful to his trust," said Heyward. "And Cora and Alice are not without a friend."
"Yes," said Hawkeye, dropping his rifle, and leaning on it with an air of visible contempt, "he will do their singing. Can he slay a buck for their dinner; journey by the moss on the beeches, or cut the throat of a Huron? If not, the first catbird* he meets is the cleverer of the two. Well, boy, any signs of such a foundation?"
* The powers of the American mocking-bird are generally known. But the true mocking-bird is not found so far north as the state of New York, where it has, however, two substitutes of inferior excellence, the catbird, so often named by the scout, and the bird vulgarly called ground- thresher. Either of these last two birds is superior to the nightingale or the lark, though, in general, the American birds are less musical than those of Europe.
"Here is something like the footstep of one who has worn a shoe; can it be that of our friend?"
"Touch the leaves lightly or you'll disconsart the formation. That! that is the print of a foot, but 'tis the dark-hair's; and small it is, too, for one of such a noble height and grand appearance. The singer would cover it with his heel."
"Where! let me look on the footsteps of my child," said Munro, shoving the bushes aside, and bending fondly over the nearly obliterated impression. Though the tread which had left the mark had been light and rapid, it was still plainly visible. The aged soldier examined it with eyes that grew dim as he gazed; nor did he rise from this stooping posture until Heyward saw that he had watered the trace of his daughter's passage with a scalding tear. Willing to divert a distress which threatened each moment to break through the restraint of appearances, by giving the veteran something to do, the young man said to the scout:
"As we now possess these infallible signs, let us commence our march. A moment, at such a time, will appear an age to the captives."
"It is not the swiftest leaping deer that gives the longest chase," returned Hawkeye, without moving his eyes from the different marks that had come under his view; "we know that the rampaging Huron has passed, and the dark-hair, and the singer, but where is she of the yellow locks and blue eyes? Though little, and far from being as bold as her sister, she is fair to the view, and pleasant in discourse. Has she no friend, that none care for her?"
"God forbid she should ever want hundreds! Are we not now in her pursuit? For one, I will never cease the search till she be found."
"In that case we may have to journey by different paths; for here she has not passed, light and little as her footsteps would be."
Heyward drew back, all his ardor to proceed seeming to vanish on the instant. Without attending to this sudden change in the other's humor, the scout after musing a moment continued:
"There is no woman in this wilderness could leave such a print as that, but the dark-hair or her sister. We know that the first has been here, but where are the signs of the other? Let us push deeper on the trail, and if nothing offers, we must go back to the plain and strike another scent. Move on, Uncas, and keep your eyes on the dried leaves. I will watch the bushes, while your father shall run with a low nose to the ground. Move on, friends; the sun is getting behind the hills."
"Is there nothing that I can do?" demanded the anxious Heyward.
"You?" repeated the scout, who, with his red friends, was already advancing in the order he had prescribed; "yes, you can keep in our rear and be careful not to cross the trail."
Before they had proceeded many rods, the Indians stopped, and appeared to gaze at some signs on the earth with more than their usual keenness. Both father and son spoke quick and loud, now looking at the object of their mutual admiration, and now regarding each other with the most unequivocal pleasure.
"They have found the little foot!" exclaimed the scout, moving forward, without attending further to his own portion of the duty. "What have we here? An ambushment has been planted in the spot! No, by the truest rifle on the frontiers, here have been them one-sided horses again! Now the whole secret is out, and all is plain as the north star at midnight. Yes, here they have mounted. There the beasts have been bound to a sapling, in waiting; and yonder runs the broad path away to the north, in full sweep for the Canadas."
"But still there are no signs of Alice, of the younger Miss Munro," said Duncan.
"Unless the shining bauble Uncas has just lifted from the ground should prove one. Pass it this way, lad, that we may look at it."
Heyward instantly knew it for a trinket that Alice was fond of wearing, and which he recollected, with the tenacious memory of a lover, to have seen, on the fatal morning of the massacre, dangling from the fair neck of his mistress. He seized the highly prized jewel; and as he proclaimed the fact, it vanished from the eyes of the wondering scout, who in vain looked for it on the ground, long after it was warmly pressed against the beating heart of Duncan.
"Pshaw!" said the disappointed Hawkeye, ceasing to rake the leaves with the breech of his rifle; "'tis a certain sign of age, when the sight begins to weaken. Such a glittering gewgaw, and not to be seen! Well, well, I can squint along a clouded barrel yet, and that is enough to settle all disputes between me and the Mingoes. I should like to find the thing, too, if it were only to carry it to the right owner, and that would be bringing the two ends of what I call a long trail together, for by this time the broad St. Lawrence, or perhaps, the Great Lakes themselves, are between us."
"So much the more reason why we should not delay our march," returned Heyward; "let us proceed."
"Young blood and hot blood, they say, are much the same thing. We are not about to start on a squirrel hunt, or to drive a deer into the Horican, but to outlie for days and nights, and to stretch across a wilderness where the feet of men seldom go, and where no bookish knowledge would carry you through harmless. An Indian never starts on such an expedition without smoking over his council-fire; and, though a man of white blood, I honor their customs in this particular, seeing that they are deliberate and wise. We will, therefore, go back, and light our fire to-night in the ruins of the old fort, and in the morning we shall be fresh, and ready to undertake our work like men, and not like babbling women or eager boys."
Heyward saw, by the manner of the scout, that altercation would be useless. Munro had again sunk into that sort of apathy which had beset him since his late overwhelming misfortunes, and from which he was apparently to be roused only by some new and powerful excitement. Making a merit of necessity, the young man took the veteran by the arm, and followed in the footsteps of the Indians and the scout, who had already begun to retrace the path which conducted them to the plain.