“No more of your doctoring for me!” cried the grum Esther; “no more of your quiddities in a healthy family, say I! Here was I doing well, only a little out of sorts with over instructing the young, and you dos’d me with a drug that hangs about my tongue, like a pound weight on a humming-bird’s wing!”

“Is the medicine out?” drily demanded Ishmael: “it must be a rare dose that gives a heavy feel to the tongue of old Eester!”

“Friend,” continued the Doctor, waving his hand for the angry wife to maintain the peace, “that it cannot perform all that is said of it, the very charge of good Mrs. Bush is a sufficient proof. But to speak of the absent Asa. There is doubt as to his fate, and there is a proposition to solve it. Now, in the natural sciences truth is always a desideratum; and I confess it would seem to be equally so in the present case of domestic uncertainty, which may be called a vacuum where, according to the laws of physic, there should exist some pretty palpable proofs of materiality.”

“Don’t mind him, don’t mind him,” cried Esther, observing that the rest of his auditors listened with an attention which might proceed, equally, from acquiescence in his proposal or ignorance of its meaning. “There is a drug in every word he utters.”

“Dr. Battius wishes to say,” Ellen modestly interposed, “that as some of us think Asa is in danger, and some think otherwise, the whole family might pass an hour or two in looking for him.”

“Does he?” interrupted the woman; “then Dr. Battius has more sense in him than I believed! She is right, Ishmael; and what she says, shall be done. I will shoulder a rifle myself; and woe betide the redskin that crosses my path! I have pulled a trigger before to-day; ay, and heard an Indian yell, too, to my sorrow.”

The spirit of Esther diffused itself, like the stimulus which attends a war-cry, among her sons. They arose in a body, and declared their determination to second so bold a resolution. Ishmael. prudently yielded to an impulse he could not resist, and in a few minutes the woman appeared, shouldering her arms, prepared to lead forth, in person, such of her descendants as chose to follow.

“Let them stay with the children that please,” she said, “and them follow me, who ar’ not chicken-hearted!”

“Abiram, it will not do to leave the huts without some guard,” Ishmael whispered, glancing his eye upward.

The man whom he addressed started, and betrayed extraordinary eagerness in his reply.

“I will tarry and watch the camp.”

A dozen voices were instantly raised in objections to this proposal. He was wanted to point out the places where the hostile tracks had been seen, and his termagant sister openly scouted at the idea, as unworthy of his manhood. The reluctant Abiram was compelled to yield, and Ishmael made a new disposition for the defence of the place; which was admitted, by every one, to be all-important to their security and comfort.

He offered the post of commandant to Dr. Battius, who, however, peremptorily and somewhat haughtily declined the doubtful honour; exchanging looks of intelligence with Ellen, as he did so. In this dilemma the squatter was obliged to constitute the girl herself castellan; taking care, however, in deputing this important trust, to omit no words of caution and instruction. When this preliminary point was settled, the young men proceeded to arrange certain means of defence, and signals of alarm, that were adapted to the weakness and character of the garrison. Several masses of rock were drawn to the edge of the upper level, and so placed as to leave it at the discretion of the feeble Ellen and her associates, to cast them or not, as they might choose, on the heads of any invaders, who would, of necessity, be obliged to mount the eminence by the difficult and narrow passage already so often mentioned. In addition to this formidable obstruction, the barriers were strengthened and rendered nearly impassable. Smaller missiles, that might be hurled even by the hands of the younger children, but which would prove, from

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