With this cheering assurance, lie now strode forward to his station, and coming to a halt with his dog Peter, Roland immediately beheld the latter run to a post forty or fifty paces further in advance, when he paused to receive the final orders of his master, which were given with a motion of the same hand that a moment after beckoned the party to follow. Had Roland been sufficiently nigh to take note of proceedings, he would have admired the conduct of the little brute, the unerring accuracy with which he pursued the trail, the soft and noiseless motion with which he stepped from leaf to leaf, casting his eyes ever and anon to the right and left, and winding the air before him, as if in reality conscious of peril, and sensible that the welfare of the six mortals at his heels depended upon the faithful exercise of all his sagacity. These things, however, from the distance, Roland was unable to observe; but he saw enough to convince him that the animal addressed itself to its task with as much zeal and prudence as its master. A sense of security, the first felt for several hours, now began to disperse the gloom that had oppressed his spirits; and Edith’s countenance, throughout the whole of the adventure a faithful, though doubtless somewhat exaggerated reflection of his own, also lost much of its melancholy and terror, though without at any moment regaining the cheerful smiles that had decked it at the setting out. It was left for Roland alone, as his mind regained its elasticity, to marvel at the motley additions by which his party had increased in so short a time to twice its original numbers, and to speculate on the prospects of an expedition committed to the guidance of such a conductor as little Peter.
The distance at which Roland with his party followed the guides, and the gloom of the woods, prevented his making any close observations upon their motions, unless when some swelling ridge, nearly destitute of trees, brought them nearer to the light of the upper air. At other times he could do little more than follow with his eye the tall figure of Nathan, plunging from shadow to shadow, and knoll to knoll, with a pace both free and rapid, and little resembling the shambling, hesitating step with which he moved among the haunts of his contemners and oppressors. As for the dog, little Peter, he was only with difficulty seen when ascending some such illuminated knoll as has been mentioned, when he might be traced creeping along with unabated vigilance and caution.
It was while ascending one of these low, and almost bare swells of ground, that the little animal gave the first proof of that sagacity or wisdom, as Nathan called it, on which the latter seemed to rely for safety so much more than on his own experience and address. He had no sooner reached the summit of the knoll than he abruptly came to a stand, and by and by cowered to the earth, as if to escape the