And with these words, uttered with sullen accents and looks, the renegade stole from the hut, disregarding all Roland’s entreaties to him to return, and all the offers of wealth with which the latter, in a frenzy of despair, sought to awaken his eupidity and compassion. The door-mats had scarce closed upon his retreating figure before they were parted to give entrance to the two old Indians, who immediately assumed their positions at his side, preserving them with vigilant fidelity throughout the remainder of the night.
In the meantime, and at the very moment when the renegade was urging his extraordinary proposals to the young Virginian, a scene was passing in the hut of Wenonga, in which one of Roland’s fellow-prisoners was destined to play an important and remarkable part. There, in the very tent in which he had struck so daring a blow for the rescue of Edith, but in which Edith appeared no more, lay the luckless Nathan, a victim not so much of his own rashness as of the excessive zeal, not to say folly, of his coadjutors. And thither he had been conducted but a few hours before, after having passed the previous night and day in a prison-house less honoured, but fated, as it proved, to derive peculiar distinction from the presence of such a guest.
His extraordinary appearance, partaking so much of that of an Indian juggler arrayed in the panoply of legerdemain, had produced, as was mentioned, a powerful effect on the minds of his captors, ever prone to the grossest credulity and superstition; and this was prodigiously increased by the sudden recurrence of his disease,—a dreadful infliction, whose convulsions seem ever to have been proposed as the favourite exemplars for the expression of prophetic fury and the demoniacal orgasm, and were aped alike by the Pythian priestess on her tripod and the ruder impostor of an Indian wigwam. The foaming lips and convulsed limbs of the prisoner, if they did not “speak the god,” to the awe-struck barbarians, declared at least the presence of the mighty fiend who possessed his body; and when the fit was over, though they took good care to bind him with thongs of bison-hide, like his companions, and led him away to a place of security, it was with a degree of gentleness and respect that proved the strength of their belief in his supernatural endowments. This belief was still further indicated, the next day, by crowds of savages who flocked into the wigwam where he was confined, some to stare at him, some to inquire the mysteries of their fate, and some, as it seemed, with credulity less unconditional, to solve the enigma of his appearance before yielding their full belief. Among these last were the renegade and one or two savages of a more sagacious or sceptical turn than their fellows, who beset the supposed conjuror with questions calculated to pluck out the heart of his mystery.