These likelihoods confirm her flight from hence, Therefore, I pray you, stay not to discourse, But mount you presently. --Shakspeare.
An hour had slid by, in hasty and nearly incoherent questions and answers, before Middleton, hanging over his recovered treasure with that sort of jealous watchfulness with which a miser would regard his hoards, closed the disjointed narrative of his own proceedings by demanding--
"And you, my Inez; in what manner were you treated?"
"In every thing, but the great injustice they did in separating me so forcibly from my friends, as well perhaps as the circumstances of my captors would allow. I think the man, who is certainly the master here, is but a new beginner in wickedness. He quarrelled frightfully in my presence, with the wretch who seized me, and then they made an impious bargain, to which I was compelled to acquiesce, and to which they bound me as well as themselves by oaths. Ah! Middleton, I fear the heretics are not so heedful of their vows as we who are nurtured in the bosom of the true church!"
"Believe it not; these villains are of no religion: did they forswear themselves?"
"No, not perjured: but was it not awful to call upon the good God to witness so sinful a compact?"
"And so we think, Inez, as truly as the most virtuous cardinal of Rome. But how did they observe their oath, and what was its purport?"
"They conditioned to leave me unmolested, and free from their odious presence, provided I would give a pledge to make no effort to escape; and that I would not even show myself, until a time that my masters saw fit to name."
"And that time?" demanded the impatient Middleton, who so well knew the religious scruples of his wife--"that time?"
"It is already passed. I was sworn by my patron saint, and faithfully did I keep the vow, until the man they call Ishmael forgot the terms by offering violence. I then made my appearance on the rock, for the time too was passed; though I even think father Ignatius would have absolved me from the vow, on account of the treachery of my keepers."
"If he had not," muttered the youth between his compressed teeth, "I would have absolved him for ever from his spiritual care of your conscience!"
"You, Middleton!" returned his wife looking up into his flushed face, while a bright blush suffused her own sweet countenance; "you may receive my vows, but surely you can have no power to absolve me from their observance!"
"No, no, no. Inez, you are right. I know but little of these conscientious subtilties, and I am any thing but a priest: yet tell me, what has induced these monsters to play this desperate game--to trifle thus with my happiness?"
"You know my ignorance of the world, and how ill I am qualified to furnish reasons for the conduct of beings so different from any I have ever seen before. But does not love of money drive men to acts even worse than this? I believe they thought that an aged and wealthy father could be tempted to pay them a rich ransom for his child; and, perhaps," she added, stealing an enquiring glance through her tears, at the attentive Middleton, "they counted something on the fresh affections of a bridegroom."
"They might have extracted the blood from my heart, drop by drop!"
"Yes," resumed his young and timid wife, instantly withdrawing the stolen look she had hazarded, and hurriedly pursuing the train of the discourse, as if glad to make him forget the liberty she had just taken, "I have been told, there are men so base as to perjure themselves at the altar, in order to command the gold of ignorant and confiding girls; and if love of money will lead to such baseness, we may surely expect it will hurry those, who devote themselves to gain, into acts of lesser fraud."
"It must be so; and now, Inez, though I am here to guard you with my life, and we are in possession of this rock, our difficulties, perhaps our dangers, are not ended. You will summon all your courage to meet the trial and prove yourself a soldier's wife, my Inez?"
"I am ready to depart this instant. The letter you sent by the physician, had prepared me to hope for the best, and I have every thing arranged for flight, at the shortest warning."
"Let us then leave this place and join our friends."
"Friends!" interrupted Inez, glancing her eyes around the little tent in quest of the form of Ellen. "I, too, have a friend who must not be forgotten, but who is pledged to pass the remainder of her life with us. She is gone!"
Middleton gently led her from the spot, as he smilingly answered--
"She may have had, like myself, her own private communications for some favoured ear."
The young man had not however done justice to the motives of Ellen Wade. The sensitive and intelligent girl had readily perceived how little her presence was necessary in the interview that has just been related, and had retired with that intuitive delicacy of feeling which seems to belong more properly to her sex. She was now to be seen seated on a point of the rock, with her person so entirely enveloped in her dress as to conceal her features. Here she had remained for near an hour, no one approaching to address her, and as it appeared to her own quick and jealous eyes, totally unobserved. In the latter particular, however, even the vigilance of the quick-sighted Ellen was deceived.
The first act of Paul Hover, on finding himself the master of Ishmael's citadel, had been to sound the note of victory, after the quaint and ludicrous manner that is so often practised among the borderers of the West. Flapping his sides with his hands, as the conquering game-cock is wont to do with his wings, he raised a loud and laughable imitation of the exultation of this bird; a cry which might have proved a dangerous challenge had any one of the athletic sons of the squatter been within hearing.
"This has been a regular knock-down and drag-out," he cried, "and no bones broke! How now, old trapper, you have been one of your training, platoon, rank and file soldiers in your day, and have seen forts taken and batteries stormed before this--am I right?"
"Ay, ay, that have I," answered the old man, who still maintained his post at the foot of the rock, so little disturbed by what he had just witnessed, as to return the grin of Paul, with a hearty indulgence in his own silent and peculiar laughter; "you have gone through the exploit like men!"
"Now tell me, is it not in rule, to call over the names of the living, and to bury the dead, after every bloody battle?"
"Some did and other some didn't. When Sir William push'd the German, Dieskau, thro' the defiles at the foot of the Hori--"
"Your Sir William was a drone to Sir Paul, and knew nothing of regularity. So here begins the roll-call--by the by, old man, what between bee-hunting and buffaloe humps, and certain other matters, I have been too busy to ask your name; for I intend to begin with my rear-guard, well knowing that my man in front is too busy to answer."
"Lord, lad, I've been called in my time by as many names as there are people among whom I've dwelt. Now the Delawares nam'd me for my eyes, and I was called after the far-sighted hawk. Then, ag'in, the settlers in the Otsego hills christened me anew, from the fashion of my leggings; and various have been the names by which I have gone through life; but little will it matter when the time shall come, that all are to be muster'd, face to face, by what titles a mortal has played his part! I humbly trust I shall be able to answer to any of mine, in a loud and manly voice."
Paul paid little or no attention to this reply, more than half of which was lost in the distance, but pursuing the humour of the moment, he called out in a stentorian voice to the naturalist to answer to his name. Dr. Battius had not thought it necessary to push his success beyond the comfortable niche, which accident had so opportunely formed for his protection, and in which he now reposed from his labours, with a pleasing consciousness of security, added to great exultation at the possession of the botanical treasure already mentioned.
"Mount, mount, my worthy mole-catcher! come and behold the prospect of skirting Ishmael; come and look nature boldly in the face, and not go sneaking any longer, among the prairie grass and mullein tops, like a gobbler nibbling for grasshoppers."
The mouth of the light-hearted and reckless bee-hunter was instantly closed, and he was rendered as mute, as he had just been boisterous and talkative, by the appearance of Ellen Wade. When the melancholy maiden took her seat on the point of the rock as mentioned, Paul affected to employ himself in conducting a close inspection of the household effects of the squatter. He rummaged the drawers of Esther with no delicate hands, scattered the rustic finery of her girls on the ground, without the least deference to its quality or elegance, and tossed her pots and kettles here and there, as though they had been vessels of wood instead of iron. All this industry was, however, manifestly without an object. He reserved nothing for himself, not even appearing conscious of the nature of the articles which suffered by his familiarity. When he had examined the inside of every cabin, taken a fresh survey of the spot where he had confined the children, and where he had thoroughly secured them with cords, and kicked one of the pails of the woman, like a foot-ball, fifty feet into the air, in sheer wantonness, he returned to the edge of the rock, and thrusting both his hands through his wampum belt, he began to whistle the "Kentucky Hunters" as diligently as if he had been hired to supply his auditors with music by the hour. In this manner passed the remainder of the time, until Middleton, as has been related, led Inez forth from the tent, and gave a new direction to the thoughts of the whole party. He summoned Paul from his flourish of music, tore the Doctor from the study of his plant, and, as acknowledged leader, gave the necessary orders for immediate departure.
In the bustle and confusion that were likely to succeed such a mandate, there was little opportunity to indulge in complaints or reflections. As the adventurers had not come unprepared for victory, each individual employed himself in such offices as were best adapted to his strength and situation. The trapper had already made himself master of the patient Asinus, who was quietly feeding at no great distance from the rock, and he was now busy in fitting his back with the complicated machinery that Dr. Battius saw fit to term a saddle of his own invention. The naturalist himself seized upon his portfolios, herbals, and collection of insects, which he quickly transferred from the encampment of the squatter, to certain pockets in the aforesaid ingenious invention, and which the trapper as uniformly cast away the moment his back was turned. Paul showed his dexterity in removing such light articles as Inez and Ellen had prepared for their flight to the foot of the citadel, while Middleton, after mingling threats and promises, in order to induce the children to remain quietly in their bondage, assisted the females to descend. As time began to press upon them, and there was great danger of Ishmael's returning, these several movements were made with singular industry and despatch.
The trapper bestowed such articles as he conceived were necessary to the comfort of the weaker and more delicate members of the party, in those pockets from which he had so unceremoniously expelled the treasures of the unconscious naturalist, and then gave way for Middleton to place Inez in one of those seats which he had prepared on the back of the animal for her and her companion.
"Go, child," the old man said, motioning to Ellen to follow the example of the lady, and turning his head a little anxiously to examine the waste behind him. "It cannot be long afore the owner of this place will be coming to look after his household; and he is not a man to give up his property, however obtained, without complaint!"
"It is true," cried Middleton; "we have wasted moments that are precious, and have the utmost need of industry."
"Ay, ay, I thought it; and would have said it, captain; but I remembered how your grand'ther used to love to look upon the face of her he led away for a wife, in the days of his youth and his happiness. 'Tis natur', 'tis natur', and 'tis wiser to give way a little before its feelings, than to try to stop a current that will have its course."
Ellen advanced to the side of the beast, and seizing Inez by the hand, she said, with heartfelt warmth, after struggling to suppress an emotion that nearly choked her--
"God bless you, sweet lady! I hope you will forget and forgive the wrongs you have received from my uncle--"
The humbled and sorrowful girl could say no more, her voice becoming entirely inaudible in an ungovernable burst of grief.
"How is this?" cried Middleton; "did you not say, Inez, that this excellent young woman was to accompany us, and to live with us for the remainder of her life; or, at least, until she found some more agreeable residence for herself?"
"I did; and I still hope it. She has always given me reason to believe, that after having shown so much commiseration and friendship in my misery, she would not desert me, should happier times return."
"I cannot--I ought not," continued Ellen, getting the better of her momentary weakness. "It has pleased God to cast my lot among these people, and I ought not to quit them. It would be adding the appearance of treachery to what will already seem bad enough, with one of his opinions. He has been kind to me, an orphan, after his rough customs, and I cannot steal from him at such a moment."
"She is just as much a relation of skirting Ishmael as I am a bishop!" said Paul, with a loud hem, as if his throat wanted clearing. "If the old fellow has done the honest thing by her, in giving her a morsel of venison now and then, or a spoon around his homminy dish, hasn't she pay'd him in teaching the young devils to read their Bible, or in helping old Esther to put her finery in shape and fashion. Tell me that a drone has a sting, and I'll believe you as easily as I will that this young woman is a debtor to any of the tribe of Bush!"
"It is but little matter who owes me, or where I am in debt. There are none to care for a girl who is fatherless and motherless, and whose nearest kin are the offcasts of all honest people. No, no; go, lady, and Heaven for ever bless you! I am better here, in this desert, where there are none to know my shame."
"Now, old trapper," retorted Paul, "this is what I call knowing which way the wind blows! You ar' a man that has seen life, and you know something of fashions; I put it to your judgment, plainly, isn't it in the nature of things for the hive to swarm when the young get their growth, and if children will quit their parents, ought one who is of no kith or kin--"
"Hist!" interrupted the man he addressed, "Hector is discontented. Say it out, plainly, pup; what is it dog--what is it?"
The venerable hound had risen, and was scenting the fresh breeze which continued to sweep heavily over the prairie. At the words of his master he growled and contracted the muscles of his lips, as if half disposed to threaten with the remnants of his teeth. The younger dog, who was resting after the chase of the morning, also made some signs that his nose detected a taint in the air, and then the two resumed their slumbers, as if they had done enough.
The trapper seized the bridle of the ass, and cried, urging the beast onward--
"There is no time for words. The squatter and his brood are within a mile or two of this blessed spot!"
Middleton lost all recollection of Ellen, in the danger which now so eminently beset his recovered bride; nor is it necessary to add, that Dr. Battius did not wait for a second admonition to commence his retreat.
Following the route indicated by the old man, they turned the rock in a body, and pursued their way as fast as possible across the prairie, under the favour of the cover it afforded.
Paul Hover, however, remained in his tracks, sullenly leaning on his rifle. Near a minute had elapsed before he was observed by Ellen, who had buried her face in her hands, to conceal her fancied desolation from herself.
"Why do you not fly?" the weeping girl exclaimed, the instant she perceived she was not alone.
"I'm not used to it."
"My uncle will soon be here! you have nothing to hope from his pity."
"Nor from that of his niece, I reckon. Let him come; he can only knock me on the head!"
"Paul, Paul, if you love me, fly."
"Alone!--if I do, may I be--"
"If you value your life, fly!"
"I value it not, compared to you."
She extended both her hands and burst into another and a still more violent flood of tears. The bee-hunter put one of his sturdy arms around her waist, and in another moment he was urging her over the plain, in rapid pursuit of their flying friends.Next