“Have you conversed freely with the girl?” the Sergeant demanded quickly, and with some asperity of manner.
Pathfinder was too honest to deny a truth plain as that which the answer required, and yet too honorable to betray Mabel, and expose her to the resentment of one whom he well knew to be stern in his anger.
“We have laid open our minds,” he said; “and though Mabel’s is one that any man might love to look at, I find little there, Sergeant, to make me think any better of myself.”
“The girl has not dared to refuse you — to refuse her father’s best friend?”
Pathfinder turned his face away to conceal the look of anguish that consciousness told him was passing athwart it, but he continued the discourse in his own quiet, manly tones.
“Mabel is too kind to refuse anything, or to utter harsh words to a dog. I have not put the question in a way to be downright refused, Sergeant.”
“And did you expect my daughter to jump into your arms before you asked her? She would not have been her mother’s child had she done any such thing, nor do I think she would have been mine. The Dunhams like plain dealing as well as the king’s majesty; but they are no jumpers. Leave me to manage this matter for you, Pathfinder, and there shall be no unnecessary delay. I’ll speak to Mabel myself this very evening, using your name as principal in the affair.”
“I’d rather not, I’d rather not, Sergeant. Leave the matter to Mabel and me, and I think all will come right in the ind. Young girls are like timorsome birds; they do not over-relish being hurried or spoken harshly to nither. Leave the matter to Mabel and me.”
“On one condition I will, my friend; and that is, that you will promise me, on the honor of a scout, that you will put the matter plainly to Mabel the first suitable opportunity, and no mincing of words.”
“I will ask her, Sergeant, on condition that you promise not to meddle in the affair — yes, I will promise to ask Mabel whether she will marry me, even though she laugh in my face at my doing so, on that condition.”
Sergeant Dunham gave the desired promise very cheerfully; for he had completely wrought himself up into the belief that the man he so much esteemed himself must be acceptable to his daughter. He had married a woman much younger than himself, and he saw no unfitness in the respective years of the intended couple. Mabel was educated so much above him, too, that he was not aware of the difference which actually existed between the parent and child in this respect. It followed that Sergeant Dunham was not altogether qualified to appreciate his daughter’s tastes, or to form a very probable conjecture what would be the direction taken by those feelings which oftener depend on impulses and passion than on reason. Still, the worthy soldier was not so wrong in his estimate of the Pathfinder’s chances as might at first appear. Knowing all the sterling qualities of the man, his truth, integrity of purpose, courage, self-devotion, disinterestedness, it was far from unreasonable to suppose that qualities like these would produce a deep impression on any female heart; and the father erred principally in fancying that the daughter might know as it might be by intuition what he himself had acquired by years of intercourse and adventure.