Magnet started, blushed brightly, and made her preparations for immediate departure. Not a syllable of the discourse just related had she heard; for Eau-douce, as young Jasper was oftener called than anything else, had been filling her ears with a description of the yet distant part towards which she was journeying, with accounts of her father, whom she had not seen since a child, and with the manner of life of those who lived in the frontier garrisons. Unconsciously she had become deeply interested, and her thoughts had been too intently directed to these matters to allow any of the less agreeable subjects discussed by those so near to reach her ears. The bustle of departure put an end to the conversation, and, the baggage of the scouts or guides being trifling, in a few minutes the whole party was ready to proceed. As they were about to quit the spot, however, to the surprise of even his fellow-guides, Pathfinder collected a quantity of branches and threw them upon the embers of the fire, taking care even to see that some of the wood was damp, in order to raise as dark and dense a smoke as possible.
“When you can hide your trail, Jasper,” said he, “a smoke at leaving an encampment may do good instead of harm. If there are a dozen Mingos within ten miles of us, some of ’em are on the heights, or in the trees, looking out for smokes; let them see this, and much good may it do them. They are welcome to our leavings.”
“But may they not strike and follow on our trail?” asked the youth, whose interest in the hazard of his situation had much increased since the meeting with Magnet. “We shall leave a broad path to the river.”
“The broader the better; when there, it will surpass Mingo cunning, even, to say which way the canoe has gone — up stream or down. Water is the only thing in natur’ that will thoroughly wash out a trail, and even water will not always do it when the scent is strong. Do you not see, Eau-douce, that if any Mingos have seen our path below the falls, they will strike off towards this smoke, and that they will naturally conclude that they who began by going up stream will end by going up stream. If they know anything, they now know a party is out from the fort, and it will exceed even Mingo wit to fancy that we have come up here just for the pleasure of going back again, and that, too, the same day, and at the risk of our scalps.”
“Certainly,” added Jasper, who was talking apart with the Pathfinder, as they moved towards the wind-row, “they cannot know anything about the Sergeant’s daughter, for the greatest secrecy has been observed on her account.”
“And they will learn nothing here,” returned Pathfinder, causing his companion to see that he trod with the utmost care on the impression left on the leaves by the little foot of Mabel; “unless this old salt-water fish has been taking his niece about in the wind-row, like a fa’n playing by the side of the old doe.”