"What is it, boy?" whispered the scout, lowering his tall form into a crouching attitude, like a panther about to take his leap; "God send it be a tardy Frencher, skulking for plunder. I do believe 'killdeer' would take an uncommon range today!"
Uncas, without making any reply, bounded away from the spot, and in the next instant he was seen tearing from a bush, and waving in triumph, a fragment of the green riding-veil of Cora. The movement, the exhibition, and the cry which again burst from the lips of the young Mohican, instantly drew the whole party about him.
"My child!" said Munro, speaking quickly and wildly; "give me my child!"
"Uncas will try," was the short and touching answer.
The simple but meaning assurance was lost on the father, who seized the piece of gauze, and crushed it in his hand, while his eyes roamed fearfully among the bushes, as if he equally dreaded and hoped for the secrets they might reveal.
"Here are no dead," said Heyward; "the storm seems not to have passed this way."
"That's manifest; and clearer than the heavens above our heads," returned the undisturbed scout; "but either she, or they that have robbed her, have passed the bush; for I remember the rag she wore to hide a face that all did love to look upon. Uncas, you are right; the dark-hair has been here, and she has fled like a frightened fawn, to the wood; none who could fly would remain to be murdered. Let us search for the marks she left; for, to Indian eyes, I sometimes think a humming-bird leaves his trail in the air."
The young Mohican darted away at the suggestion, and the scout had hardly done speaking, before the former raised a cry of success from the margin of the forest. On reaching the spot, the anxious party perceived another portion of the veil fluttering on the lower branch of a beech.
"Softly, softly," said the scout, extending his long rifle in front of the eager Heyward; "we now know our work, but the beauty of the trail must not be deformed. A step too soon may give us hours of trouble. We have them, though; that much is beyond denial."
"Bless ye, bless ye, worthy man!" exclaimed Munro; "whither then, have they fled, and where are my babes?"
"The path they have taken depends on many chances. If they have gone alone, they are quite as likely to move in a circle as straight, and they may be within a dozen miles of us; but if the Hurons, or any of the French Indians, have laid hands on them, 'tis probably they are now near the borders of the Canadas. But what matters that?" continued the deliberate scout, observing the powerful anxiety and disappointment the listeners exhibited; "here are the Mohicans and I on one end of the trail, and, rely on it, we find the other, though they should be a hundred leagues asunder! Gently, gently, Uncas, you are as impatient as a man in the settlements; you forget that light feet leave but faint marks!"
"Hugh!" exclaimed Chingachgook, who had been occupied in examining an opening that had been evidently made through the low underbrush which skirted the forest; and who now stood erect, as he pointed downward, in the attitude and with the air of a man who beheld a disgusting serpent.
"Here is the palpable impression of the footstep of a man," cried Heyward, bending over the indicated spot; "he has trod in the margin of this pool, and the mark cannot be mistaken. They are captives."
"Better so than left to starve in the wilderness," returned the scout; "and they will leave a wider trail. I would wager fifty beaver skins against as many flints, that the Mohicans and I enter their wigwams within the month! Stoop to it, Uncas, and try what you can make of the moccasin; for moccasin it plainly is, and no shoe."
The young Mohican bent over the track, and removing the scattered leaves from around the place, he examined it with much of that sort of scrutiny that a money dealer, in these days of pecuniary doubts, would bestow on a suspected due-bill. At length he arose from his knees, satisfied with the result of the examination.
"Well, boy," demanded the attentive scout; "what does it say? Can you make anything of the tell-tale?"
"Le Renard Subtil!"
"Ha! that rampaging devil again! there will never be an end of his loping till 'killdeer' has said a friendly word to him."
Heyward reluctantly admitted the truth of this intelligence, and now expressed rather his hopes than his doubts by saying:
"One moccasin is so much like another, it is probable there is some mistake."
"One moccasin like another! you may as well say that one foot is like another; though we all know that some are long, and others short; some broad and others narrow; some with high, and some with low insteps; some intoed, and some out. One moccasin is no more like another than one book is like another: though they who can read in one are seldom able to tell the marks of the other. Which is all ordered for the best, giving to every man his natural advantages. Let me get down to it, Uncas; neither book nor moccasin is the worse for having two opinions, instead of one." The scout stooped to the task, and instantly added:
"You are right, boy; here is the patch we saw so often in the other chase. And the fellow will drink when he can get an opportunity; your drinking Indian always learns to walk with a wider toe than the natural savage, it being the gift of a drunkard to straddle, whether of white or red skin. 'Tis just the length and breadth, too! look at it, Sagamore; you measured the prints more than once, when we hunted the varmints from Glenn's to the health springs."
Chingachgook complied; and after finishing his short examination, he arose, and with a quiet demeanor, he merely pronounced the word:
"Ay, 'tis a settled thing; here, then, have passed the dark-hair and Magua."
"And not Alice?" demanded Heyward.
"Of her we have not yet seen the signs," returned the scout, looking closely around at the trees, the bushes and the ground. "What have we there? Uncas, bring hither the thing you see dangling from yonder thorn-bush."