With that, having laid aside his gun, which, as he represented, could be, in such an undertaking, of no service, and directed Stackpole to do the same, he shook Roland by the hand, and, waiting an instant till Ralph had followed his example, and added his farewell in the brief phrase,—“Sodger, I’m atter my mistress; and, for all Nathan’s small talk about massacree and captivation, we’ll fetch her, with a most beautiful lot of hosses; so thar’s no fawwell about it,”—turned to little Peter, whom he addressed quite as gravely as he had done the Virginian. “Now, little dog Peter,” said he, “I leave thee to take care of theeself and the young man that is with thee; and do thee be good, and faithful, and obedient, as thee always has been, and have a good care thee keeps out of mischief.”
With these words, which Peter, doubtless, perfectly understood, for he squatted himself down upon the ground, without any attempt to follow his master, Nathan departed, with Roaring Ralph at his side, leaving Roland to mutter his anxieties and fears, his doubts and impatience, into the ears of the least presuming of counsellors.
The night was brilliantly clear, the stars shining with an excess of lustre, with which Nathan would perhaps, at that moment, have gladly dispensed, since it was by no means favourable to the achievement he was now so daringly attempting. Fortunately, however, the Indian village lay, for the most part, in the shadow of the hill, itself covered with majestic maples and tulip-trees, that rose in dark and solemn masses above it, and thus offered the concealment denied in the more open parts of the valley. With Ralph still at his side, he crept round the projecting corner of the hill, and, shrouded in its gloom, drew nigh the village, wherein might be still occasionally heard the halloo of a drunken savage, followed by an uproarious chorus of barking and howling curs.
Whether it was that these sounds, or some gloomy forebodings of his own, awoke the anxieties of Nathan, he did not deign to reveal; but, by and by, having arrived within but a few paces of a wretched pile of skins and boughs, the dwelling of some equally wretched and improvident barbarian, he came to a sudden halt, and withdrawing the captain of horse-thieves aside from the path, addressed him in the following terms:—
“Thee says, friend, thee has taken horses from this very Village, and that thee knows it well?”
“As well,” replied Ralph, “as I know the step-mothers on my own thumbs and fingers,—I do, ’tarnal death to me,—that is to say, all the parts, injacent and outjacent, circum-surrounding the boss-stamp; for thar’s the place of my visiting. The way to fetch it, old boy, is jist to fetch round this h’yar old skin-pot, whar thar’s a whole bee’s-nest of young papooses, the size of bull-toads,—from that, up—(I know it, ’cause how, I heerd ’em squallin’; and thar war some one a lickin’ ’em); or, if you don’t favour taking it so close to the skirmudgeons, then you must claw up the knob h’yar, and then take and take the shoot, till you fetch right among the hosses, whar you h’ar them whinnying down the holler; and thar—”