While Nathan lay watching at the renegade’s hut, there came a change over the aspect of the night, little less favourable to his plans and hopes than even the discovery of Edith’s place of concealment, which he had so fortunately made. The sky became suddenly overcast with clouds, and deep darkness invested the Indian village; while gusts of wind, sweeping with a moaning sound over the adjacent hills, and waking the forests from their repose, came rushing over the village, whirring and fluttering aloft like flights of the boding night-raven, or the more powerful bird of prey that had given its name to the chieftain of the tribe.
In such darkness, and with the murmur of the blasts and the rustling of boughs to drown the noise of his footsteps, Nathan no longer feared to pursue his way; and rising boldly to his feet, drawing his blanket close around him, and assuming, as before, the gait of a savage, he strode forwards, and in less than a minute, was upon the public square,—if such we may call it,—the vacant area in the centre of the village, where stood the rude shed of bark and boughs, supported by a circular range of posts, all open, except at top, to the weather, which custom had dignified with the title of Council-house. The bounds of the square were marked by clusters of cabins placed with happy contempt of order and symmetry, and by trees and bushes that grew among and behind them, particularly at the foot of the hill on one side, and, on the other, along the borders of the river; which, in the pauses of the gusts, could be heard sweeping hard by over a broken and pebbly channel. Patches of bushes might even be seen growing in places on the square itself; and here and there were a few tall trees, remnants of the old forest which had once overshadowed the scene towering aloft, and sending forth on the blast such spiritual murmurs, and wild oraculous whispers, as were wont, in ancient days, to strike an awe through soothsayers and devotees in the sacred groves of Dodona.
Through this square, looking solitude and desolation together, lay the path of the spy; and he trode it without fear, although it offered an obstruction that might well have daunted the zeal of one less crafty and determined. In its centre, and near the Council-house, he discovered a fire, now burning low, but still, as the breeze, time by time, fanned the decaying embers into flame, sending forth light enough to reveal the spectacle of at least a dozen savages stretched in slumber around it, with as many ready rifles stacked round a post hard by. Their appearance, without affrighting, greatly perplexed the man of peace; who, though at first disposed to regard them as a kind of guard, to whom had been committed the charge of the village and the peace of the community, during the uproar and terrors of the debauch, found reason, upon more mature inspection, to consider them a band