Chapter 17

Approach the chamber, and destroy your sight
With a new Gorgon.—Do not bid me speak;
See, and then speak yourselves.


The little run, which supplied the family of the squatter with water, and nourished the trees and bushes that grew near the base of the rocky eminence, took its rise at no great distance from the latter, in a small thicket of cotton-wood and vines. Hither, then, the trapper directed the flight, as to the place affording the only available cover in so pressing an emergency. It will be remembered, that the sagacity of the old man, which, from long practice in similar scenes, amounted nearly to an instinct in all cases of sudden danger, had first induced him to take this course, as it placed the hill between them and the approaching party. Favoured by this circumstance, he succeeded in reaching the bushes in sufficient time; and Paul Hover had just hurried the breathless Ellen into the tangled brush, as Ishmael gained the summit of the rock, in the manner already described, where he stood like a man momentarily bereft of sense, gazing at the confusion which had been created among his chattels, or at his gagged and bound children, who had been safely bestowed, by the forethought of the bee-hunter, under the cover of a bark roof, in a sort of irregular pile. A long rifle would have thrown a bullet from the height, on which the squatter now stood, into the very cover where the fugitives, who had wrought all this mischief, were clustered.

The trapper was the first to speak, as the man on whose intelligence and experience they all depended for counsel, after running his eye over the different individuals who gathered about him, in order to see that none were missing.

“Ah! natur’ is natur’, and has done its work!” he said, nodding to the exulting Paul, with a smile of approbation. “I thought it would be hard for those, who had so often met in fair and foul, by starlight and under the clouded moon, to part at last in anger. Now is there little time to lose in talk, and every thing to gain by industry! It cannot be long afore some of yonder brood will be nosing along the ’arth for our trail, and should they find it, as find it they surely will, and should they push us to a stand on our courage, the dispute must be settled with the rifle; which may He in heaven forbid! Captain, can you lead us to the place where any of your warriors lie?—For the stout sons of the squatter will make a manly brush of it, or I am but little of a judge in warlike dispositions!”

“The place of rendezvous is many leagues from this, on the banks of La Platte.”

“It is bad—it is bad. If fighting is to be done, it is always wise to enter on it on equal terms. But what has one so near his time to do with ill-blood and hot-blood at his heart! Listen to what a grey head and some experience have to offer, and then if any among you can point out a wiser fashion for a retreat, we can just follow his design, and forget that I have spoken. This thicket stretches for near a mile as it may be slanting from the rock, and leads towards the sunset instead of the settlements.”

“Enough, enough,” cried Middleton, too impatient to wait until the deliberative and perhaps loquacious old man could end his minute explanation. “Time is too precious for words. Let us fly.”

The trapper made a gesture of compliance, and turning in his tracks, he led Asinus across the trembling earth of the swale, and quickly emerged on the hard ground, on the side opposite to the encampment of the squatter.

“If old Ishmael gets a squint at that highway through the brush,” cried Paul, casting, as he left the place, a hasty glance at the broad trail the party had made through the thicket, “he’ll need no finger-board to tell him which way his road lies. But let him follow! I know the vagabond would gladly cross his breed with a little honest blood, but if any son of his ever gets to be the husband of—”

“Hush, Paul, hush,” said the terrified young woman, who leaned on his arm for support; “your voice might be heard.”

  By PanEris using Melati.

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