Chapter 23

—Save you, sir.


The sleep of the fugitives lasted for several hours. The trapper was the first to shake off its influence, as he had been the last to court its refreshment. Rising, just as the grey light of day began to brighten that portion of the studded vault which rested on the eastern margin of the plain, he summoned his companions from their warm lairs, and pointed out the necessity of their being once more on the alert. While Middleton attended to the arrangements necessary to the comforts of Inez and Ellen, in the long and painful journey which lay before them, the old man and Paul prepared the meal, which the former had advised them to take before they proceeded to horse. These several dispositions were not long in making, and the little group was soon seated about a repast which, though it might want the elegancies to which the bride of Middleton had been accustomed, was not deficient in the more important requisites of savour and nutriment.

“When we get lower into the hunting-grounds of the Pawnees,” said the trapper, laying a morsel of delicate venison before Inez, on a little trencher neatly made of horn, and expressly for his own use, “we shall find the buffaloes fatter and sweeter, the deer in more abundance, and all the gifts of the Lord abounding to satisfy our wants. Perhaps we may even strike a beaver, and get a morsel from his tail1

by way of a rare mouthful.” “What course do you mean to pursue, when you have once thrown these bloodhounds from the chase?” demanded Middleton.

“If I might advise,” said Paul, “it would be to strike a water-course, and get upon its downward current, as soon as may be. Give me a cotton-wood, and I will turn you out a canoe that shall carry us all, the jackass excepted, in perhaps the work of a day and a night. Ellen, here, is a lively girl enough, but then she is no great race-rider; and it would be far more comfortable to boat six or eight hundred miles, than to go loping along like so many elks measuring the prairies; besides, water leaves no trail.”

“I will not swear to that,” returned the trapper; “I have often thought the eyes of a Red-skin would find a trail in air.”

“See, Middleton,” exclaimed Inez, in a sudden burst of youthful pleasure, that caused her for a moment to forget her situation, “how lovely is that sky; surely it contains a promise of happier times!”

“It is glorious!” returned her husband. “Glorious and heavenly is that streak of vivid red, and here is a still brighter crimson; rarely have I seen a richer rising of the sun.”

“Rising of the sun!” slowly repeated the old man, lifting his tall person from its seat with a deliberate and abstracted air, while he kept his eye riveted on the changing, and certainly beautiful tints, that were garnishing the vault of Heaven. “Rising of the sun! I like not such risings of the sun. Ah’s me! the imps have circumvented us with a vengeance. The prairie is on fire!”

“God in Heaven protect us!” cried Middleton, catching Inez to his bosom, under the instant impression of the imminence of their danger. “There is no time to lose, old man; each instant is a day; let us fly.”

“Whither?” demanded the trapper, motioning him, with calmness and dignity, to arrest his steps. “In this wilderness of grass and reeds, you are like a vessel in the broad lakes without a compass. A single step on the broad lakes without a compass. A single step on the wrong course might prove the destruction of us all. It is seldom danger is so pressing, that there is not time enough for reason to do its work, young officer; therefore let us a wait its biddings.”

“For my own part,” said Paul Hover, looking about him with no equivocal expression of concern, “I acknowledge, that should this dry bed of weeds get fairly in a flame, a bee would have to make a flight higher than common to prevent his wings from scorching. Therefore, old trapper, I agree with the captain, and say mount and run.”

  By PanEris using Melati.

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