“The plain is free from red-skins, to-night at least,” said Ishmael, after the bustle of reception had a little subsided; “for I have scoured the prairie for many long miles, on my own feet, and I call myself a judge of the print of an Indian moccasin. So, old woman, you can give us a few steaks of the venison, and then we will sleep on the day’s work.”

“I’ll not swear there are no savages near us,” said Abiram. “I, too, know something of the trail of a red- skin; and, unless my eyes have lost some of their sight, I would swear, boldly, that there ar’ Indians at hand. But wait till Asa comes in. He pass’d the spot where I found the marks, and the boy knows something of such matters too.”

“Ay, the boy knows too much of many things,” returned Ishmael, gloomily. “It will be better for him when he thinks he knows less. But what matters it, Hetty, if all the Sioux tribes, west of the big river, are within a mile of us; they will find it no easy matter to scale this rock, in the teeth of ten bold men.”

“Call ’em twelve at once, Ishmael; call ’em twelve!” cried his termagant assistant. “For if your moth-gathering, bug-hunting friend, can be counted a man, I beg you will set me down as two. I will not turn my back to him, with the rifle or the shot-gun; and for courage!—the yearling heifer, that them skulking devils the Tetons stole, was the biggest coward among us all, and after her came your drivelling Doctor. Ah! Ishmael, you rarely attempt a regular trade but you come out the loser; and this man, I reckon, is the hardest bargain among them all! Would you think it, the fellow ordered me a blister around my mouth, because I complained of a pain in the foot?”

“It is a pity, Eester,” the husband coolly answered, “that you did not take it; I reckon it would have done considerable good. But, boys, if it should turn out as Abiram thinks, that there are Indians near us, we may have to scamper up the rock, and lose our suppers after all; therefore we will make sure of the game, and talk over the performances of the Doctor when we have nothing better to do.”

The hint was taken; and in a few minutes, the exposed situation in which the family was collected, was exchanged for the more secure elevation of the rock. Here Esther busied herself, working and scolding with equal industry, until the repast was prepared; when she summoned her husband to his meal in a voice as sonorous as that with which the Imaun reminds the Faithful of a more important duty.

When each had assumed his proper and customary place around the smoking viands, the squatter set the example by beginning to partake of a delicious venison steak, prepared like the hump of the bison, with a skill that rather increased than concealed its natural properties. A painter would gladly have seized the moment, to transfer the wild and characteristic scene to the canvass.

The reader will remember that the citadel of Ishmael stood insulated, lofty, ragged, and nearly inaccessible. A bright flashing fire that was burning on the centre of its summit, and around which the busy group was clustered, lent it the appearance of some tall Pharos placed in the centre of the deserts, to light such adventurers as wandered through their broad wastes. The flashing flame gleamed from one sun- burnt countenance to another, exhibiting every variety of expression, from the juvenile simplicity of the children, mingled as it was with a shade of the wildness peculiar to their semi-barbarous lives, to the dull and immovable apathy that dwelt on the features of the squatter, when unexcited. Occasionally a gust of wind would fan the embers; and, as a brighter light shot upwards, the little solitary tent was seen as it were suspended in the gloom of the upper air. All beyond was enveloped, as usual at that hour, in an impenetrable body of darkness.

“It is unaccountable that Asa should choose to be out of the way at such a time as this,” Esther pettishly observed. “When all is finished and to rights, we shall have the boy coming up, grumbling for his meal, and hungry as a bear after his winter’s nap. His stomach is as true as the best clock in Kentucky, and seldom wants winding up to tell the time, whether of day or night. A desperate eater is Asa, when a- hungered by a little work!”

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