The Deerslayer, by James Fenimore Cooper

Chapter 14

“‘A stranger animal,’ cries one,

‘Sure never liv’d beneath the sun;

A lizard’s body lean and long,

A fish’s head, a serpent’s tongue,

Its foot, with triple claw disjoined;

And what a length of tail behind!’”

James Merrick, “The Chameleon,” 11.21–26.

The first act of the Delaware, on rejoining his friend, was to proceed gravely to disencumber himself of his civilized attire, and to stand forth an Indian warrior again. The protest of Deerslayer was met by his communicating the fact that the presence of an Indian in the hut was known to the Iroquois, and that maintaining the disguise would be more likely to direct suspicions to his real object, than if he came out openly as a member of a hostile tribe. When the latter understood the truth, and was told that he had been deceived in supposing the chief had succeeded in entering the Ark undiscovered, he cheerfully consented to the change, since further attempt at concealment was useless. A gentler feeling than the one avowed, however, lay at the bottom of the Indian’s desire to appear as a son of the forest. He had been told that Hist was on the opposite shore, and nature so far triumphed over all distinctions of habit, and tribes and people, as to reduce this young savage warrior to the level of a feeling which would have been found in the most refined inhabitant of a town, under similar circumstances. There was a mild satisfaction in believing that she he loved could see him, and as he walked out on the platform in his scanty, native attire, an Apollo of the wilderness, a hundred of the tender fancies that fleet through lovers’ brains beset his imagination and softened his heart. All this was lost on Deerslayer, who was no great adept in the mysteries of Cupid, but whose mind was far more occupied with the concerns that forced themselves on his attention, than with any of the truant fancies of love. He soon recalled his companion, therefore, to a sense of their actual condition, by summoning him to a sort of council of war, in which they were to settle their future course. In the dialogue that followed, the parties mutually made each other acquainted with what had passed in their several interviews. Chingachgook was told the history of the treaty about the ransom, and Deerslayer heard the whole of Hetty’s communications. The latter listened with generous interest to his friend’s hopes, and promised cheerfully all the assistance he could lend.

“Tis our main ar’n’d, Sarpent, as you know, this battling for the castle and old Hutter’s darters, coming in as a sort of accident. Yes — yes — I’ll be actyve in helping little Hist, who’s not only one of the best and handsomest maidens of the tribe, but the very best and handsomest. I’ve always encouraged you, chief, in that liking, and it’s proper, too, that a great and ancient race like your’n shouldn’t come to an end. If a woman of red skin and red gifts could get to be near enough to me to wish her for a wife, I’d s’arch for just such another, but that can never be; no, that can never be. I’m glad Hetty has met with Hist, howsever, for though the first is a little short of wit and understanding, the last has enough for both. Yes, Sarpent,” laughing heartily —“put ’em together, and two smarter gals isn’t to be found in all York Colony!”

“I will go to the Iroquois camp,” returned the Delaware, gravely. “No one knows Chingachgook but Wah, and a treaty for lives and scalps should be made by a chief. Give me the strange beasts, and let me take a canoe.”

Deerslayer dropped his head and played with the end of a fish-pole in the water, as he sat dangling his legs over the edge of the platform, like a man who was lost in thought by the sudden occurrence of a novel idea. Instead of directly answering the proposal of his friend, he began to soliloquize, a circumstance however that in no manner rendered his words more true, as he was remarkable for saying what he thought, whether the remarks were addressed to himself, or to any one else.

“Yes — yes —” he said —“this must be what they call love! I’ve heard say that it sometimes upsets reason altogether, leaving a young man as helpless, as to calculation and caution, as a brute beast. To think that the Sarpent should be so lost to reason, and cunning, and wisdom! We must sartainly manage to get Hist off, and have ’em married as soon as we get back to the tribe, or this war will be of no more use to the chief, than a hunt a little oncommon extr’ornary. Yes — Yes — he’ll never be the man he was, till this matter is off his mind, and he comes to his senses like all the rest of mankind. Sarpent, you can’t be in airnest, and therefore I shall say but little to your offer. But you’re a chief, and will soon be sent out on the war path at head of the parties, and I’ll just ask if you’d think of putting your forces into the inimy’s hands, afore the battle is fou’t?”

“Wah!” ejaculated the Indian.

“Ay — Wah — I know well enough it’s Wah, and altogether Wah — Ra’ally, Sarpent, I’m consarned and mortified about you! I never heard so weak an idee come from a chief, and he, too, one that’s already got a name for being wise, young and inexper’enced as he is. Canoe you sha’n’t have, so long as the v’ice of fri’ndship and warning can count for any thing.”

“My pale-face friend is right. A cloud came over the face of Chingachgook, and weakness got into his mind, while his eyes were dim. My brother has a good memory for good deeds, and a weak memory for bad. He will forget.”

“Yes, that’s easy enough. Say no more about it chief, but if another of them clouds blow near you, do your endivours to get out of its way. Clouds are bad enough in the weather, but when they come to the reason, it gets to be serious. Now, sit down by me here, and let us calculate our movements a little, for we shall soon either have a truce and a peace, or we shall come to an actyve and bloody war. You see the vagabonds can make logs sarve their turn, as well as the best raftsmen on the rivers, and it would be no great expl’ite for them to invade us in a body. I’ve been thinking of the wisdom of putting all old Tom’s stores into the Ark, of barring and locking up the Castle, and of taking to the Ark, altogether. That is moveable, and by keeping the sail up, and shifting places, we might worry through a great many nights, without them Canada wolves finding a way into our sheep fold!”

Chingachgook listened to this plan with approbation. Did the negotiation fail, there was now little hope that the night would pass without an assault, and the enemy had sagacity enough to understand that in carrying the castle they would probably become masters of all it contained, the offered ransom included, and still retain the advantages they had hitherto gained. Some precaution of the sort appeared to be absolutely necessary, for now the numbers of the Iroquois were known, a night attack could scarcely be successfully met. It would be impossible to prevent the enemy from getting possession of the canoes and the Ark, and the latter itself would be a hold in which the assailants would be as effectually protected against bullets as were those in the building. For a few minutes, both the men thought of sinking the Ark in the shallow water, of bringing the canoes into the house, and of depending altogether on the castle for protection. But reflection satisfied them that, in the end, this expedient would fail. It was so easy to collect logs on the shore, and to construct a raft of almost any size, that it was certain the Iroquois, now they had turned their attention to such means, would resort to them seriously, so long as there was the certainty of success by perseverance. After deliberating maturely, and placing all the considerations fairly before them, the two young beginners in the art of forest warfare settled down into the opinion that the Ark offered the only available means of security. This decision was no sooner come to, than it was communicated to Judith. The girl had no serious objection to make, and all four set about the measures necessary to carrying the plan into execution.

The reader will readily understand that Floating Tom’s worldly goods were of no great amount. A couple of beds, some wearing apparel, the arms and ammunition, a few cooking utensils, with the mysterious and but half examined chest formed the principal items. These were all soon removed, the Ark having been hauled on the eastern side of the building, so that the transfer could be made without being seen from the shore. It was thought unnecessary to disturb the heavier and coarser articles of furniture, as they were not required in the Ark, and were of but little value in themselves. As great caution was necessary in removing the different objects, most of which were passed out of a window with a view to conceal what was going on, it required two or three hours before all could be effected. By the expiration of that time, the raft made its appearance, moving from the shore. Deerslayer immediately had recourse to the glass, by the aid of which he perceived that two warriors were on it, though they appeared to be unarmed. The progress of the raft was slow, a circumstance that formed one of the great advantages that would be possessed by the scow, in any future collision between them, the movements of the latter being comparatively swift and light. As there was time to make the dispositions for the reception of the two dangerous visitors, everything was prepared for them, long before they had got near enough to be hailed. The Serpent and the girls retired into the building, where the former stood near the door, well provided with rifles, while Judith watched the proceedings without through a loop. As for Deerslayer, he had brought a stool to the edge of the platform, at the point towards which the raft was advancing, and taken his seat with his rifle leaning carelessly between his legs.

As the raft drew nearer, every means possessed by the party in the castle was resorted to, in order to ascertain if their visitors had any firearms. Neither Deerslayer nor Chingachgook could discover any, but Judith, unwilling to trust to simple eyesight, thrust the glass through the loop, and directed it towards the hemlock boughs that lay between the two logs of the raft, forming a sort of flooring, as well as a seat for the use of the rowers. When the heavy moving craft was within fifty feet of him, Deerslayer hailed the Hurons, directing them to cease rowing, it not being his intention to permit them to land. Compliance, of course, was necessary, and the two grim-looking warriors instantly quitted their seats, though the raft continued slowly to approach, until it had driven in much nearer to the platform.

“Are ye chiefs?” demanded Deerslayer with dignity —“Are ye chiefs?-Or have the Mingos sent me warriors without names, on such an ar’n’d? If so, the sooner ye go back, the sooner them will be likely to come that a warrior can talk with.”

“Hugh!” exclaimed the elder of the two on the raft, rolling his glowing eyes over the different objects that were visible in and about the Castle, with a keenness that showed how little escaped him. “My brother is very proud, but Rivenoak (we use the literal translation of the term, writing as we do in English) is a name to make a Delaware turn pale.”

“That’s true, or it’s a lie, Rivenoak, as it may be; but I am not likely to turn pale, seeing that I was born pale. What’s your ar’n’d, and why do you come among light bark canoes, on logs that are not even dug out?”

“The Iroquois are not ducks, to walk on water! Let the pale-faces give them a canoe, and they’ll come in a canoe.”

“That’s more rational, than likely to come to pass. We have but four canoes, and being four persons that’s only one for each of us. We thank you for the offer, howsever, though we ask leave not to accept it. You are welcome, Iroquois, on your logs.”

“Thanks — My young pale-face warrior — he has got a name — how do the chiefs call him?”

Deerslayer hesitated a moment, and a gleam of pride and human weakness came over him. He smiled, muttered between his teeth, and then looking up proudly, he said —“Mingo, like all who are young and actyve, I’ve been known by different names, at different times. One of your warriors whose spirit started for the Happy Grounds of your people, as lately as yesterday morning, thought I desarved to be known by the name of Hawkeye, and this because my sight happened to be quicker than his own, when it got to be life or death atween us.”

Chingachgook, who was attentively listening to all that passed, heard and understood this proof of passing weakness in his friend, and on a future occasion he questioned him more closely concerning the transaction on the point, where Deerslayer had first taken human life. When he had got the whole truth, he did not fail to communicate it to the tribe, from which time the young hunter was universally known among the Delawares by an appellation so honorably earned. As this, however, was a period posterior to all the incidents of this tale, we shall continue to call the young hunter by the name under which he has been first introduced to the reader. Nor was the Iroquois less struck with the vaunt of the white man. He knew of the death of his comrade, and had no difficulty in understanding the allusion, the intercourse between the conqueror and his victim on that occasion having been seen by several savages on the shore of the lake, who had been stationed at different points just within the margin of bushes to watch the drifting canoes, and who had not time to reach the scene of action, ere the victor had retired. The effect on this rude being of the forest was an exclamation of surprise; then such a smile of courtesy, and wave of the hand, succeeded, as would have done credit to Asiatic diplomacy. The two Iroquois spoke to each other in low tones, and both drew near the end of the raft that was closest to the platform.

“My brother, Hawkeye, has sent a message to the Hurons,” resumed Rivenoak, “and it has made their hearts very glad. They hear he has images of beasts with two tails! Will he show them to his friends?”

“Inimies would be truer,” returned Deerslayer, “but sound isn’t sense, and does little harm. Here is One of the images; I toss it to you under faith of treaties. If it’s not returned, the rifle will settle the p’int atween us.”

The Iroquois seemed to acquiesce in the conditions, and Deerslayer arose and prepared to toss one of the elephants to the raft, both parties using all the precaution that was necessary to prevent its loss. As practice renders men expert in such things, the little piece of ivory was soon successfully transferred from one hand to the other, and then followed another scene on the raft, in which astonishment and delight got the mastery of Indian stoicism. These two grim old warriors manifested even more feeling, as they examined the curiously wrought chessman, than had been betrayed by the boy; for, in the case of the latter, recent schooling had interposed its influence; while the men, like all who are sustained by well established characters, were not ashamed to let some of their emotions be discovered. For a few minutes they apparently lost the consciousness of their situation, in the intense scrutiny they bestowed on a material so fine, work so highly wrought, and an animal so extraordinary. The lip of the moose is, perhaps, the nearest approach to the trunk of the elephant that is to be found in the American forest, but this resemblance was far from being sufficiently striking to bring the new creature within the range of their habits and ideas, and the more they studied the image, the greater was their astonishment. Nor did these children of the forest mistake the structure on the back of the elephant for a part of the animal. They were familiar with horses and oxen, and had seen towers in the Canadas, and found nothing surprising in creatures of burthen. Still, by a very natural association, they supposed the carving meant to represent that the animal they saw was of a strength sufficient to carry a fort on its back; a circumstance that in no degree lessened their wonder.

“Has my pale-face brother any more such beasts?” at last the senior of the Iroquois asked, in a sort of petitioning manner.

“There’s more where them came from, Mingo,” was the answer; “one is enough, howsever, to buy off fifty scalps.”

“One of my prisoners is a great warrior — tall as a pine — strong as the moose — active as a deer — fierce as the panther! Some day he’ll be a great chief, and lead the army of King George!”

“Tut-tut Mingo; Hurry Harry is Hurry Harry, and you’ll never make more than a corporal of him, if you do that. He’s tall enough, of a sartainty; but that’s of no use, as he only hits his head ag’in the branches as he goes through the forest. He’s strong too, but a strong body isn’t a strong head, and the king’s generals are not chosen for their sinews; he’s swift, if you will, but a rifle bullet is swifter; and as for f’erceness, it’s no great ricommend to a soldier; they that think they feel the stoutest often givin’ out at the pinch. No, no, you’ll niver make Hurry’s scalp pass for more than a good head of curly hair, and a rattle pate beneath it!”

“My old prisoner very wise — king of the lake — great warrior, wise counsellor!”

“Well, there’s them that might gainsay all this, too, Mingo. A very wise man wouldn’t be apt to be taken in so foolish a manner as befell Master Hutter, and if he gives good counsel, he must have listened to very bad in that affair. There’s only one king of this lake, and he’s a long way off, and isn’t likely ever to see it. Floating Tom is some such king of this region, as the wolf that prowls through the woods is king of the forest. A beast with two tails is well worth two such scalps!”

“But my brother has another beast? — He will give two”— holding up as many fingers, “for old father?”

“Floating Tom is no father of mine, but he’ll fare none the worse for that. As for giving two beasts for his scalp, and each beast with two tails, it is quite beyond reason. Think yourself well off, Mingo, if you make a much worse trade.”

By this time the self-command of Rivenoak had got the better of his wonder, and he began to fall back on his usual habits of cunning, in order to drive the best bargain he could. It would be useless to relate more than the substance of the desultory dialogue that followed, in which the Indian manifested no little management, in endeavoring to recover the ground lost under the influence of surprise. He even affected to doubt whether any original for the image of the beast existed, and asserted that the oldest Indian had never heard a tradition of any such animal. Little did either of them imagine at the time that long ere a century elapsed, the progress of civilization would bring even much more extraordinary and rare animals into that region, as curiosities to be gazed at by the curious, and that the particular beast, about which the disputants contended, would be seen laving its sides and swimming in the very sheet of water, on which they had met.

[The Otsego is a favorite place for the caravan keepers to let their elephants bathe. The writer has seen two at a time, since the publication of this book, swimming about in company.]

As is not uncommon on such occasions, one of the parties got a little warm in the course of the discussion, for Deerslayer met all the arguments and prevarication of his subtle opponent with his own cool directness of manner, and unmoved love of truth. What an elephant was he knew little better than the savage, but he perfectly understood that the carved pieces of ivory must have some such value in the eyes of an Iroquois as a bag of gold or a package of beaver skins would in those of a trader. Under the circumstances, therefore, he felt it to be prudent not to concede too much at first, since there existed a nearly unconquerable obstacle to making the transfers, even after the contracting parties had actually agreed upon the terms. Keeping this difficulty in view, he held the extra chessmen in reserve, as a means of smoothing any difficulty in the moment of need.

At length the savage pretended that further negotiation was useless, since he could not be so unjust to his tribe as to part with the honor and emoluments of two excellent, full grown male scalps for a consideration so trifling as a toy like that he had seen, and he prepared to take his departure. Both parties now felt as men are wont to feel, when a bargain that each is anxious to conclude is on the eve of being broken off, in consequence of too much pertinacity in the way of management. The effect of the disappointment was very different, however, on the respective individuals. Deerslayer was mortified, and filled with regret, for he not only felt for the prisoners, but he also felt deeply for the two girls. The conclusion of the treaty, therefore, left him melancholy and full of regret. With the savage, his defeat produced the desire of revenge. In a moment of excitement, he had loudly announced his intention to say no more, and he felt equally enraged with himself and with his cool opponent, that he had permitted a pale face to manifest more indifference and self-command than an Indian chief. When he began to urge his raft away from the platform his countenance lowered and his eye glowed, even while he affected a smile of amity and a gesture of courtesy at parting.

It took some little time to overcome the inertia of the logs, and while this was being done by the silent Indian, Rivenoak stalked over the hemlock boughs that lay between the logs in sullen ferocity, eyeing keenly the while the hut, the platform and the person of his late disputant. Once he spoke in low, quick tones to his companion, and he stirred the boughs with his feet like an animal that is restive. At that moment the watchfulness of Deerslayer had a little abated, for he sat musing on the means of renewing the negotiation without giving too much advantage to the other side. It was perhaps fortunate for him that the keen and bright eyes of Judith were as vigilant as ever. At the instant when the young man was least on his guard, and his enemy was the most on the alert, she called out in a warning voice to the former, most opportunely giving the alarm.

“Be on your guard, Deerslayer,” the girl cried —“I see rifles with the glass, beneath the hemlock brush, and the Iroquois is loosening them with his feet!”

It would seem that the enemy had carried their artifices so far as to employ an agent who understood English. The previous dialogue had taken place in his own language, but it was evident by the sudden manner in which his feet ceased their treacherous occupation, and in which the countenance of Rivenoak changed from sullen ferocity to a smile of courtesy, that the call of the girl was understood. Signing to his companion to cease his efforts to set the logs in motion, he advanced to the end of the raft which was nearest to the platform, and spoke.

“Why should Rivenoak and his brother leave any cloud between them,” he said. “They are both wise, both brave, and both generous; they ought to part friends. One beast shall be the price of one prisoner.”

“And, Mingo,” answered the other, delighted to renew the negotiations on almost any terms, and determined to clinch the bargain if possible by a little extra liberality, “you’ll see that a pale-face knows how to pay a full price, when he trades with an open heart, and an open hand. Keep the beast that you had forgotten to give back to me, as you was about to start, and which I forgot to ask for, on account of consarn at parting in anger. Show it to your chiefs. When you bring us our fri’nds, two more shall be added to it, and,” hesitating a moment in distrust of the expediency of so great a concession; then, deciding in its favor —“and, if we see them afore the sun sets, we may find a fourth to make up an even number.”

This settled the matter. Every gleam of discontent vanished from the dark countenance of the Iroquois, and he smiled as graciously, if not as sweetly, as Judith Hutter, herself. The piece already in his possession was again examined, and an ejaculation of pleasure showed how much he was pleased with this unexpected termination of the affair. In point of fact, both he and Deerslayer had momentarily forgotten what had become of the subject of their discussion, in the warmth of their feelings, but such had not been the case with Rivenoak’s companion. This man retained the piece, and had fully made up his mind, were it claimed under such circumstances as to render its return necessary, to drop it in the lake, trusting to his being able to find it again at some future day. This desperate expedient, however, was no longer necessary, and after repeating the terms of agreement, and professing to understand them, the two Indians finally took their departure, moving slowly towards the shore.

“Can any faith be put in such wretches?” asked Judith, when she and Hetty had come out on the platform, and were standing at the side of Deerslayer, watching the dull movement of the logs. “Will they not rather keep the toy they have, and send us off some bloody proofs of their getting the better of us in cunning, by way of boasting? I’ve heard of acts as bad as this.”

“No doubt, Judith; no manner of doubt, if it wasn’t for Indian natur’. But I’m no judge of a red-skin, if that two tail’d beast doesn’t set the whole tribe in some such stir as a stick raises in a beehive! Now, there’s the Sarpent; a man with narves like flint, and no more cur’osity in every day consarns than is befitting prudence; why he was so overcome with the sight of the creatur’, carved as it is in bone, that I felt ashamed for him! That’s just their gifts, howsever, and one can’t well quarrel with a man for his gifts, when they are lawful. Chingachgook will soon get over his weakness and remember that he’s a chief, and that he comes of a great stock, and has a renowned name to support and uphold; but as for yonder scamps, there’ll be no peace among ’em until they think they’ve got possession of every thing of the natur’ of that bit of carved bone that’s to be found among Thomas Hutter’s stores!”

“They only know of the elephants, and can have no hopes about the other things.”

“That’s true, Judith; still, covetousness is a craving feelin’! They’ll say, if the pale-faces have these cur’ous beasts with two tails, who knows but they’ve got some with three, or for that matter with four! That’s what the schoolmasters call nat’ral arithmetic, and ’twill be sartain to beset the feelin’s of savages. They’ll never be easy, till the truth is known.”

“Do you think, Deerslayer,” inquired Hetty, in her simple and innocent manner, “that the Iroquois won’t let father and Hurry go? I read to them several of the very best verses in the whole Bible, and you see what they have done, already.”

The hunter, as he always did, listened kindly and even affectionately to Hetty’s remarks; then he mused a moment in silence. There was something like a flush on his cheek as he answered, after quite a minute had passed.

“I don’t know whether a white man ought to be ashamed, or not, to own he can’t read, but such is my case, Judith. You are skilful, I find, in all such matters, while I have only studied the hand of God as it is seen in the hills and the valleys, the mountain-tops, the streams, the forests and the springs. Much l’arning may be got in this way, as well as out of books; and, yet, I sometimes think it is a white man’s gift to read! When I hear from the mouths of the Moravians the words of which Hetty speaks, they raise a longing in my mind, and I then think I will know how to read ’em myself; but the game in summer, and the traditions, and lessons in war, and other matters, have always kept me behind hand.”

“Shall I teach you, Deerslayer?” asked Hetty, earnestly. “I’m weak-minded, they say, but I can read as well as Judith. It might save your life to know how to read the Bible to the savages, and it will certainly save your soul; for mother told me that, again and again!”

“Thankee, Hetty — yes, thankee, with all my heart. These are like to be too stirring times for much idleness, but after it’s peace, and I come to see you ag’in on this lake, then I’ll give myself up to it, as if ’twas pleasure and profit in a single business. Perhaps I ought to be ashamed, Judith, that ’tis so; but truth is truth. As for these Iroquois, ‘tisn’t very likely they’ll forget a beast with two tails, on account of a varse or two from the Bible. I rather expect they’ll give up the prisoners, and trust to some sarcumvenion or other to get ’em back ag’in, with us and all in the castle and the Ark in the bargain. Howsever, we must humour the vagabonds, first to get your father and Hurry out of their hands, and next to keep the peace atween us, until such time as the Sarpent there can make out to get off his betrothed wife. If there’s any sudden outbreakin’ of anger and ferocity, the Indians will send off all their women and children to the camp at once, whereas, by keeping ’em calm and trustful we may manage to meet Hist at the spot she has mentioned. Rather than have the bargain fall through, now, I’d throw in half a dozen of them effigy bow-and-arrow men, such as we’ve in plenty in the chist.”

Judith cheerfully assented, for she would have resigned even the flowered brocade, rather than not redeem her father and please Deerslayer. The prospects of success were now so encouraging as to raise the spirits of all in the castle, though a due watchfulness of the movements of the enemy was maintained. Hour passed after hour, notwithstanding, and the sun had once more begun to fall towards the summits of the western hills, and yet no signs were seen of the return of the raft. By dint of sweeping the shore with the glass, Deerslayer at length discovered a place in the dense and dark woods where, he entertained no doubt, the Iroquois were assembled in considerable numbers. It was near the thicket whence the raft had issued, and a little rill that trickled into the lake announced the vicinity of a spring. Here, then, the savages were probably holding their consultation, and the decision was to be made that went to settle the question of life or death for the prisoners. There was one ground for hope in spite of the delay, however, that Deerslayer did not fail to place before his anxious companions. It was far more probable that the Indians had left their prisoners in the camp, than that they had encumbered themselves by causing them to follow through the woods a party that was out on a merely temporary excursion. If such was the fact, it required considerable time to send a messenger the necessary distance, and to bring the two white men to the spot where they were to embark. Encouraged by these reflections, a new stock of patience was gathered, and the declension of the sun was viewed with less alarm.

The result justified Deerslayer’s conjecture. Not long before the sun had finally disappeared, the two logs were seen coming out of the thicket, again, and as it drew near, Judith announced that her father and Hurry, both of them pinioned, lay on the bushes in the centre. As before, the two Indians were rowing. The latter seemed to be conscious that the lateness of the hour demanded unusual exertions, and contrary to the habits of their people, who are ever averse to toil, they labored hard at the rude substitutes for oars. In consequence of this diligence, the raft occupied its old station in about half the time that had been taken in the previous visits.

Even after the conditions were so well understood, and matters had proceeded so far, the actual transfer of the prisoners was not a duty to be executed without difficulty. The Iroquois were compelled to place great reliance on the good faith of their foes, though it was reluctantly given; and was yielded to necessity rather than to confidence. As soon as Hutter and Hurry should be released, the party in the castle numbered two to one, as opposed to those on the raft, and escape by flight was out of the question, as the former had three bark canoes, to say nothing of the defences of the house and the Ark. All this was understood by both parties, and it is probable the arrangement never could have been completed, had not the honest countenance and manner of Deerslayer wrought their usual effect on Rivenoak.

“My brother knows I put faith in him,” said the latter, as he advanced with Hutter, whose legs had been released to enable the old man to ascend to the platform. “One scalp — one more beast.”

“Stop, Mingo,” interrupted the hunter, “keep your prisoner a moment. I have to go and seek the means of payment.”

This excuse, however, though true in part, was principally a fetch. Deerslayer left the platform, and entering the house, he directed Judith to collect all the arms and to conceal them in her own room. He then spoke earnestly to the Delaware, who stood on guard as before, near the entrance of the building, put the three remaining castles in his pocket, and returned.

“You are welcome back to your old abode, Master Hutter,” said Deerslayer, as he helped the other up on the platform, slyly passing into the hand of Rivenoak, at the same time, another of the castles. “You’ll find your darters right glad to see you, and here’s Hetty come herself to say as much in her own behalf.”

Here the hunter stopped speaking and broke out into a hearty fit of his silent and peculiar laughter. Hurry’s legs were just released, and he had been placed on his feet. So tightly had the ligatures been drawn, that the use of his limbs was not immediately recovered, and the young giant presented, in good sooth, a very helpless and a somewhat ludicrous picture. It was this unusual spectacle, particularly the bewildered countenance, that excited the merriment of Deerslayer.

“You look like a girdled pine in a clearin’, Hurry Harry, that is rocking in a gale,” said Deerslayer, checking his unseasonable mirth, more from delicacy to the others than from any respect to the liberated captive. “I’m glad, howsever, to see that you haven’t had your hair dressed by any of the Iroquois barbers, in your late visit to their camp.”

“Harkee, Deerslayer,” returned the other a little fiercely, “it will be prudent for you to deal less in mirth and more in friendship on this occasion. Act like a Christian, for once, and not like a laughing gal in a country school when the master’s back is turned, and just tell me whether there’s any feet, or not, at the end of these legs of mine. I think I can see them, but as for feelin’ they might as well be down on the banks of the Mohawk, as be where they seem to be.”

“You’ve come off whole, Hurry, and that’s not a little,” answered the other, secretly passing to the Indian the remainder of the stipulated ransom, and making an earnest sign at the same moment for him to commence his retreat. “You’ve come off whole, feet and all, and are only a little numb from a tight fit of the withes. Natur’ll soon set the blood in motion, and then you may begin to dance, to celebrate what I call a most wonderful and onexpected deliverance from a den of wolves.”

Deerslayer released the arms of his friends, as each landed, and the two were now stamping and limping about on the platform, growling and uttering denunciations as they endeavored to help the returning circulation. They had been tethered too long, however, to regain the use of their limbs in a moment, and the Indians being quite as diligent on their return as on their advance, the raft was fully a hundred yards from the castle when Hurry, turning accidentally in that direction, discovered how fast it was getting beyond the reach of his vengeance. By this time he could move with tolerable facility, though still numb and awkward. Without considering his own situation, however, he seized the rifle that leaned against the shoulder of Deerslayer, and attempted to cock and present it. The young hunter was too quick for him. Seizing the piece he wrenched it from the hands of the giant, not, however, until it had gone off in the struggle, when pointed directly upward. It is probable that Deerslayer could have prevailed in such a contest, on account of the condition of Hurry’s limbs, but the instant the gun went off, the latter yielded, and stumped towards the house, raising his legs at each step quite a foot from the ground, from an uncertainty of the actual position of his feet. But he had been anticipated by Judith. The whole stock of Hutter’s arms, which had been left in the building as a resource in the event of a sudden outbreaking of hostilities, had been removed, and were already secreted, agreeably to Deerslayer’s directions. In consequence of this precaution, no means offered by which March could put his designs in execution.

Disappointed in his vengeance, Hurry seated himself, and like Hutter, for half an hour, he was too much occupied in endeavoring to restore the circulation, and in regaining the use of his limbs, to indulge in any other reflections. By the end of this time the raft had disappeared, and night was beginning to throw her shadows once more over the whole sylvan scene. Before darkness had completely set in, and while the girls were preparing the evening meal, Deerslayer related to Hutter an outline of events that had taken place, and gave him a history of the means he had adopted for the security of his children and property.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/c/cooper/james_fenimore/deerslayer/chapter14.html

Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:37