The Pathfinder suddenly interrupted himself by raising his rifle, a weapon of unusual length, with admirable precision, and firing the instant it had got its level. The Iroquois on the opposite shore was in the act of aiming when the fatal messenger from Killdeer arrived. His rifle was discharged, it is true, but it was with the muzzle in the air, while the man himself plunged into the bushes, quite evidently hurt, if not slain.
“The skulking reptyle brought it on himself,” muttered Pathfinder sternly, as, dropping the butt of his rifle, he carefully commenced reloading it. “Chingachgook and I have consorted together since we were boys, and have fi’t in company on the Horican, the Mohawk, the Ontario, and all the other bloody passes between the country of the Frenchers and our own; and did the foolish knave believe that I would stand by and see my best friend cut off in an ambushment?”
“We have served the Sarpent as good a turn as he served us. Those rascals are troubled, Pathfinder, and are falling back into their covers, since they find we can reach them across the river.”
“The shot is no great matter, Jasper, no great matter. Ask any of the 60th, and they can tell you what Killdeer can do, and has done, and that, too, when the bullets were flying about our heads like hailstones. No, no! this is no great matter, and the unthoughtful vagabond drew it down on himself.”
“Is that a dog, or a deer, swimming towards this shore?” Pathfinder started, for sure enough an object was crossing the stream, above the rift, towards which, however, it was gradually setting by the force of the current. A second look satisfied both the observers that it was a man, and an Indian, though so concealed as at first to render it doubtful. Some stratagem was apprehended, and the closest attention was given to the movements of the stranger.
“He is pushing something before him as he swims, and his head resembles a drifting bush,” said Jasper.
“’Tis Indian devilry, boy; but Christian honesty shall circumvent their arts.”
As the man slowly approached, the observers began to doubt the accuracy of their first impressions, and it was only when two-thirds of the stream were passed that the truth was really known.
“The Big Sarpent, as I live!” exclaimed Pathfinder, looking at his companion, and laughing until the tears came into his eyes with pure delight at the success of the artifice. “He has tied bushes to his head, so as to hide it, put the horn on top, lashed the rifle to that bit of log he is pushing before him, and has come over to join his friends. Ah’s me! The times and times that he and I have cut such pranks, right in the teeth of Mingos raging for our blood, in the great thoroughfare round and about Ty!”
“It may not be the Serpent after all, Pathfinder; I can see no feature that I remember.”