Chapter 19

How if he will not stand?


The several movements, related in the close of the preceding chapter, had passed in so short a space of time, that the old man, while he neglected not to note the smallest incident, had no opportunity of expressing his opinion concerning the stranger’s motives. After the Pawnee had disappeared, however, he shook his head and muttered, while he walked slowly to the angle of the thicket that the Indian had just quitted—

“There are both scents and sounds in the air, though my miserable senses are not good enough to hear the one, or to catch the taint of the other.”

“There is nothing to be seen,” cried Middleton, who kept close at his side. “My eyes and my ears are good, and yet I can assure you that I neither hear nor see any thing.”

“Your eyes are good! and you are not deaf!” returned the other with a slight air of contempt; “no, lad, no; they may be good to see across a church, or to hear a town-bell, but afore you had passed a year in these prairies you would find yourself taking a turkey for a buffaloe, or conceiting, fifty times, that the roar of a buffaloe bull was the thunder of the Lord! There is a deception of natur’ in these naked plains, in which the air throws up the images like water, and then it is hard to tell the prairies from a sea. But yonder is a sign that a hunter never fails to know!”

The trapper pointed to a flight of vultures, that were sailing over the plain at no great distance, and apparently in the direction in which the Pawnee had riveted his eye. At first Middleton could not distinguish the small dark objects, that were dotting the dusky clouds, but as they came swiftly onward, first their forms, and then their heavy waving wings, became distinctly visible.

“Listen,” said the trapper, when he had succeeded in making Middleton see the moving column of birds. “Now you hear the buffaloes, or bisons, as your knowing Doctor sees fit to call them, though buffaloes is their name among all the hunters of these regions. And, I conclude, that a hunter is a better judge of a beast and of its name,” he added, winking to the young soldier, “than any man who has turned over the leaves of a book, instead of travelling over the face of the ’arth, in order to find out the natur’s of its inhabitants.”

“Of their habits, I will grant you,” cried the naturalist, who rarely missed an opportunity to agitate any disputed point in his favourite studies. “That is, provided always, deference is had to the proper use of definitions, and that they are contemplated with scientific eyes.”

“Eyes of a mole! as if man’s eyes were not as good for names as the eyes of any other creatur’! Who named the works of His hand? can you tell me that, with your books and college wisdom? Was it not the first man in the Garden, and is it not a plain consequence that his children inherit his gifts?”

“That is certainly the Mosaic account of the event,” said the Doctor; “though your reading is by far too literal!”

“My reading! nay, if you suppose, that I have wasted my time in schools, you do such a wrong to my knowledge, as one mortal should never lay to the door of another without sufficient reason. If I have ever craved the art of reading, it has been that I might better know the sayings of the book you name, for it is a book which speaks, in every line, according to human feelings, and therein according to reason.”

“And do you then believe,” said the Doctor a little provoked by the dogmatism of his stubborn adversary, and perhaps, secretly, too confident in his own more liberal, though scarcely as profitable, attainments,— “do you then believe that all these beasts were literally collected in a garden, to be enrolled in the nomenclature of the first man?”

  By PanEris using Melati.

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