This agreeable assurance was a cordial to the spirits of all, and the travellers now finding themselves, though still in profound darkness, moving through the open woodlands again, instead of the maze of copses that had so long confined them, Roland took advantage of the change to place himself at Nathan’s side, and endeavour to draw from him some account of his history, and the causes that had brought him into a position and way of life so ill suited to his faith and peaceful habits. To his questions, however, Nathan seemed little disposed to return satisfactory answers, except in so far as they related to his adventures since the period of his coming to the frontier; of which he spoke very freely, though succinctly. He had built him cabins, like other lonely settlers, and planted cornfields, from which he had been driven, time after time, by the evil Shawnees, incurring frequent perils and hardships; which, with the persecutions he endured from his more warlike and intolerant neighbours, gradually drove him into the forest to seek a precarious subsistence from the spoils of the chase. As to his past life, and the causes that had made him a dweller of the wilderness, he betrayed so little inclination to satisfy the young man’s curiosity, that Roland dropped the subject entirely, not however without suspecting, that the imputations Bruce had cast upon his character might have had some foundation in truth.
But while conning these things over in his mind, on a sudden the soldier stepped from the dark forest into a broad opening, canopied only by the sky, sweeping like a road through the wood, in which it was lost behind him; while, in front, it sank abruptly into a deep hollow or gulf, in which was heard the sullen rush of an impetuous river.
The roar of the moving flood, for such, by its noise, it seemed, as they descended the river-bank, to which Nathan had so skilfully conducted them, awoke in Roland’s bosom a feeling of dismay.
“Fear not,” said the guide, to whom he imparted his doubts of the safety of the ford; “there is more danger in one single skulking Shawnee than ten thousand such sputtering brooks. Verily, the ford is good enough, though deep and rough; and if the water should soil thee young women’s garments a little, thee should remember it will not make so ugly a stain as the bood-mark of a scalping-savage.”
“Lead on,” said Pardon Dodge, with unexpected spirit; “I am not one of them ’ere fellers as fears a big river; and my hoss is a dreadful fine swimmer.”