The Deerslayer, by James Fenimore Cooper

Chapter 15

“As long as Edwarde rules thys lande,

Ne quiet you wylle ye know;

Your sonnes and husbandes shall be slayne,

And brookes with bloode shall ‘flowe.’

“You leave youre geode and lawfulle kynge,

Whenne ynne adversity;

Like me, untoe the true cause stycke,

And for the true cause dye.”

Chatterton.

The calm of evening was again in singular contrast, while its gathering gloom was in as singular unison with the passions of men. The sun was set, and the rays of the retiring luminary had ceased to gild the edges of the few clouds that had sufficient openings to admit the passage of its fading light. The canopy overhead was heavy and dense, promising another night of darkness, but the surface of the lake was scarcely disturbed by a ripple. There was a little air, though it scarce deserved to be termed wind. Still, being damp and heavy, it had a certain force. The party in the castle were as gloomy and silent as the scene. The two ransomed prisoners felt humbled and discoloured, but their humility partook of the rancour of revenge. They were far more disposed to remember the indignity with which they had been treated during the last few hours of their captivity, than to feel grateful for the previous indulgence. Then that keen-sighted monitor, conscience, by reminding them of the retributive justice of all they had endured, goaded them rather to turn the tables on their enemies than to accuse themselves. As for the others, they were thoughtful equally from regret and joy. Deerslayer and Judith felt most of the former sensation, though from very different causes, while Hetty for the moment was perfectly happy. The Delaware had also lively pictures of felicity in the prospect of so soon regaining his betrothed. Under such circumstances, and in this mood, all were taking the evening meal.

“Old Tom!” cried Hurry, bursting into a fit of boisterous laughter, “you look’d amazin’ly like a tethered bear, as you was stretched on them hemlock boughs, and I only wonder you didn’t growl more. Well, it’s over, and syth’s and lamentations won’t mend the matter! There’s the blackguard Rivenoak, he that brought us off has an oncommon scalp, and I’d give as much for it myself as the Colony. Yes, I feel as rich as the governor in these matters now, and will lay down with them doubloon for doubloon. Judith, darling, did you mourn for me much, when I was in the hands of the Philipsteins?”

The last were a family of German descent on the Mohawk, to whom Hurry had a great antipathy, and whom he had confounded with the enemies of Judea.

“Our tears have raised the lake, Hurry March, as you might have seen by the shore!” returned Judith, with a feigned levity that she was far from feeling. “That Hetty and I should have grieved for father was to be expected; but we fairly rained tears for you.”

“We were sorry for poor Hurry, as well as for father, Judith!” put in her innocent and unconscious sister.

“True, girl, true; but we feel sorrow for everybody that’s in trouble, you know,” returned the other in a quick, admonitory manner and a low tone. “Nevertheless, we are glad to see you, Master March, and out of the hands of the Philipsteins, too.”

“Yes, they’re a bad set, and so is the other brood of ’em, down on the river. It’s a wonderment to me how you got us off, Deerslayer; and I forgive you the interference that prevented my doin’ justice on that vagabond, for this small service. Let us into the secret, that we may do you the same good turn, at need. Was it by lying, or by coaxing?”

“By neither, Hurry, but by buying. We paid a ransom for you both, and that, too, at a price so high you had well be on your guard ag’in another captyvement, lest our stock of goods shouldn’t hold out.”

“A ransom! Old Tom has paid the fiddler, then, for nothing of mine would have bought off the hair, much less the skin. I didn’t think men as keen set as them vagabonds would let a fellow up so easy, when they had him fairly at a close hug, and floored. But money is money, and somehow it’s unnat’ral hard to withstand. Indian or white man, ’tis pretty much the same. It must be owned, Judith, there’s a considerable of human natur’ in mankind ginirally, arter all!”

Hutter now rose, and signing to Deerslayer, he led him to an inner room, where, in answer to his questions, he first learned the price that had been paid for his release. The old man expressed neither resentment nor surprise at the inroad that had been made on his chest, though he did manifest some curiosity to know how far the investigation of its contents had been carried. He also inquired where the key had been found. The habitual frankness of Deerslayer prevented any prevarication, and the conference soon terminated by the return of the two to the outer room, or that which served for the double purpose of parlour and kitchen.

“I wonder if it’s peace or war, between us and the savages!” exclaimed Hurry, just as Deerslayer, who had paused for a single instant, listened attentively, and was passing through the outer door without stopping. “This givin’ up captives has a friendly look, and when men have traded together on a fair and honourable footing they ought to part fri’nds, for that occasion at least. Come back, Deerslayer, and let us have your judgment, for I’m beginnin’ to think more of you, since your late behaviour, than I used to do.”

“There’s an answer to your question, Hurry, since you’re in such haste to come ag’in to blows.”

As Deerslayer spoke, he threw on the table on which the other was reclining with one elbow a sort of miniature fagot, composed of a dozen sticks bound tightly together with a deer-skin thong. March seized it eagerly, and holding it close to a blazing knot of pine that lay on the hearth, and which gave out all the light there was in the room, ascertained that the ends of the several sticks had been dipped in blood.

“If this isn’t plain English,” said the reckless frontier man, “it’s plain Indian! Here’s what they call a dicliration of war, down at York, Judith. How did you come by this defiance, Deerslayer?”

“Fairly enough. It lay not a minut’ since, in what you call Floatin’ Tom’s door-yard.”

“How came it there?”

“It never fell from the clouds, Judith, as little toads sometimes do, and then it don’t rain.”

“You must prove where it come from, Deerslayer, or we shall suspect some design to skear them that would have lost their wits long ago, if fear could drive ’em away.”

Deerslayer had approached a window, and cast a glance out of it on the dark aspect of the lake. As if satisfied with what he beheld, he drew near Hurry, and took the bundle of sticks into his own hand, examining it attentively.

“Yes, this is an Indian declaration of war, sure enough,” he said, “and it’s a proof how little you’re suited to be on the path it has travelled, Harry March, that it has got here, and you never the wiser as to the means. The savages may have left the scalp on your head, but they must have taken off the ears; else you’d have heard the stirring of the water made by the lad as he come off ag’in on his two logs. His ar’n’d was to throw these sticks at our door, as much as to say, we’ve struck the war-post since the trade, and the next thing will be to strike you.”

“The prowling wolves! But hand me that rifle, Judith, and I’ll send an answer back to the vagabonds through their messenger.”

“Not while I stand by, Master March,” coolly put in Deerslayer, motioning for the other to forbear. “Faith is faith, whether given to a red-skin, or to a Christian. The lad lighted a knot, and came off fairly under its blaze to give us this warning; and no man here should harm him, while empl’yed on such an ar’n’d. There’s no use in words, for the boy is too cunning to leave the knot burning, now his business is done, and the night is already too dark for a rifle to have any sartainty.”

“That may be true enough, as to a gun, but there’s virtue still in a canoe,” answered Hurry, passing towards the door with enormous strides, carrying a rifle in his hands. “The being doesn’t live that shall stop me from following and bringing back that riptyle’s scalp. The more on ’em that you crush in the egg, the fewer there’ll be to dart at you in the woods!”

Judith trembled like the aspen, she scarce knew why herself, though there was the prospect of a scene of violence; for if Hurry was fierce and overbearing in the consciousness of his vast strength, Deerslayer had about him the calm determination that promises greater perseverance, and a resolution more likely to effect its object. It was the stern, resolute eye of the latter, rather than the noisy vehemence of the first, that excited her apprehensions. Hurry soon reached the spot where the canoe was fastened, but not before Deerslayer had spoken in a quick, earnest voice to the Serpent, in Delaware. The latter had been the first, in truth, to hear the sounds of the oars, and he had gone upon the platform in jealous watchfulness. The light satisfied him that a message was coming, and when the boy cast his bundle of sticks at his feet, it neither moved his anger nor induced surprise. He merely stood at watch, rifle in hand, to make certain that no treachery lay behind the defiance. As Deerslayer now called to him, he stepped into the canoe, and quick as thought removed the paddles. Hurry was furious when he found that he was deprived of the means of proceeding. He first approached the Indian with loud menaces, and even Deerslayer stood aghast at the probable consequences. March shook his sledge-hammer fists and flourished his arms as he drew near the Indian, and all expected he would attempt to fell the Delaware to the earth; one of them, at least, was well aware that such an experiment would be followed by immediate bloodshed. But even Hurry was awed by the stern composure of the chief, and he, too, knew that such a man was not to be outraged with impunity; he therefore turned to vent his rage on Deerslayer, where he foresaw no consequences so terrible. What might have been the result of this second demonstration if completed, is unknown, since it was never made.

“Hurry,” said a gentle, soothing voice at his elbow, “it’s wicked to be so angry, and God will not overlook it. The Iroquois treated you well, and they didn’t take your scalp, though you and father wanted to take theirs.”

The influence of mildness on passion is well known. Hetty, too, had earned a sort of consideration, that had never before been enjoyed by her, through the self-devotion and decision of her recent conduct. Perhaps her established mental imbecility, by removing all distrust of a wish to control, aided her influence. Let the cause be as questionable as it might, the effect we sufficiently certain. Instead of throttling his old fellow-traveler, Hurry turned to the girl and poured out a portion of his discontent, if none of his anger, in her attentive ears.

“Tis too bad, Hetty!” he exclaimed; “as bad as a county gaol or a lack of beaver, to get a creatur’ into your very trap, then to see it get off. As much as six first quality skins, in valie, has paddled off on them clumsy logs, when twenty strokes of a well-turned paddle would overtake ’em. I say in valie, for as to the boy in the way of natur’, he is only a boy, and is worth neither more nor less than one. Deerslayer, you’ve been ontrue to your fri’nds in letting such a chance slip through my fingers well as your own.”

The answer was given quietly, but with a voice as steady as a fearless nature and the consciousness of rectitude could make it. “I should have been untrue to the right, had I done otherwise,” returned the Deerslayer, steadily; “and neither you, nor any other man has authority to demand that much of me. The lad came on a lawful business, and the meanest red-skin that roams the woods would be ashamed of not respecting his ar’n’d. But he’s now far beyond your reach, Master March, and there’s little use in talking, like a couple of women, of what can no longer be helped.”

So saying, Deerslayer turned away, like one resolved to waste no more words on the subject, while Hutter pulled Harry by the sleeve, and led him into the ark. There they sat long in private conference. In the mean time, the Indian and his friend had their secret consultation; for, though it wanted some three or four hours to the rising of the star, the former could not abstain from canvassing his scheme, and from opening his heart to the other. Judith, too, yielded to her softer feelings, and listened to the whole of Hetty’s artless narrative of what occurred after she landed. The woods had few terrors for either of these girls, educated as they had been, and accustomed as they were to look out daily at their rich expanse or to wander beneath their dark shades; but the elder sister felt that she would have hesitated about thus venturing alone into an Iroquois camp. Concerning Hist, Hetty was not very communicative. She spoke of her kindness and gentleness and of the meeting in the forest; but the secret of Chingachgook was guarded with a shrewdness and fidelity that many a sharper-witted girl might have failed to display.

At length the several conferences were broken up by the reappearance of Hutter on the platform. Here he assembled the whole party, and communicated as much of his intentions as he deemed expedient. Of the arrangement made by Deerslayer, to abandon the castle during the night and to take refuge in the ark, he entirely approved. It struck him as it had the others, as the only effectual means of escaping destruction. Now that the savages had turned their attention to the construction of rafts, no doubt could exist of their at least making an attempt to carry the building, and the message of the bloody sticks sufficiently showed their confidence in their own success. In short, the old man viewed the night as critical, and he called on all to get ready as soon as possible, in order to abandon the dwellings temporarily at least, if not forever.

These communications made, everything proceeded promptly and with intelligence; the castle was secured in the manner already described, the canoes were withdrawn from the dock and fastened to the ark by the side of the other; the few necessaries that had been left in the house were transferred to the cabin, the fire was extinguished and all embarked.

The vicinity of the hills, with their drapery of pines, had the effect to render nights that were obscure darker than common on the lake. As usual, however, a belt of comparative light was etched through the centre of the sheet, while it was within the shadows of the mountains that the gloom rested most heavily on the water. The island, or castle, stood in this belt of comparative light, but still the night was so dark as to cover the aperture of the ark. At the distance of an observer on the shore her movements could not be seen at all, more particularly as a background of dark hillside filled up the perspective of every view that was taken diagonally or directly across the water. The prevailing wind on the lakes of that region is west, but owing to the avenues formed by the mountains it is frequently impossible to tell the true direction of the currents, as they often vary within short distances and brief differences of time. This is truer in light fluctuating puffs of air than in steady breezes; though the squalls of even the latter are familiarly known to be uncertain and baffling in all mountainous regions and narrow waters. On the present occasion, Hutter himself (as he shoved the ark from her berth at the side of the platform) was at a loss to pronounce which way the wind blew. In common, this difficulty was solved by the clouds, which, floating high above the hill tops, as a matter of course obeyed the currents; but now the whole vault of heaven seemed a mass of gloomy wall. Not an opening of any sort was visible, and Chingachgook was already trembling lest the non-appearance of the star might prevent his betrothed from being punctual to her appointment. Under these circumstances, Hutter hoisted his sail, seemingly with the sole intention of getting away from the castle, as it might be dangerous to remain much longer in its vicinity. The air soon filled the cloth, and when the scow was got under command, and the sail was properly trimmed, it was found that the direction was southerly, inclining towards the eastern shore. No better course offering for the purposes of the party, the singular craft was suffered to skim the surface of the water in this direction for more than hour, when a change in the currents of the air drove them over towards the camp.

Deerslayer watched all the movements of Hutter and Harry with jealous attention. At first, he did not know whether to ascribe the course they held to accident or to design; but he now began to suspect the latter. Familiar as Hutter was with the lake, it was easy to deceive one who had little practice on the water; and let his intentions be what they might, it was evident, ere two hours had elapsed, that the ark had got sufficient space to be within a hundred rods of the shore, directly abreast of the known position of the camp. For a considerable time previously to reaching this point, Hurry, who had some knowledge of the Algonquin language, had been in close conference with the Indian, and the result was now announced by the latter to Deerslayer, who had been a cold, not to say distrusted, looker-on of all that passed.

“My old father, and my young brother, the Big Pine,”— for so the Delaware had named March —“want to see Huron scalps at their belts,” said Chingachgook to his friend. “There is room for some on the girdle of the Sarpent, and his people will look for them when he goes back to his village. Their eyes must not be left long in a fog, but they must see what they look for. I know that my brother has a white hand; he will not strike even the dead. He will wait for us; when we come back, he will not hide his face from shame for his friend. The great Serpent of the Mohicans must be worthy to go on the war-path with Hawkeye.”

“Ay, ay, Sarpent, I see how it is; that name’s to stick, and in time I shall get to be known by it instead of Deerslayer; well, if such honours will come, the humblest of us all must be willing to abide by ’em. As for your looking for scalps, it belongs to your gifts, and I see no harm in it. Be marciful, Sarpent, howsever; be marciful, I beseech of you. It surely can do no harm to a red-skin’s honour to show a little marcy. As for the old man, the father of two young women, who might ripen better feelin’s in his heart, and Harry March, here, who, pine as he is, might better bear the fruit of a more Christianized tree, as for them two, I leave them in the hands of the white man’s God. Wasn’t it for the bloody sticks, no man should go ag’in the Mingos this night, seein’ that it would dishonor our faith and characters; but them that crave blood can’t complain if blood is shed at their call. Still, Sarpent, you can be marciful. Don’t begin your career with the wails of women and the cries of children. Bear yourself so that Hist will smile, and not weep, when she meets you. Go, then; and the Manitou presarve you!”

“My brother will stay here with the scow. Wah will soon be standing on the shore waiting, and Chingachgook must hasten.”

The Indian then joined his two co-adventurers, and first lowering the sail, they all three entered the canoe, and left the side of the ark. Neither Hutter nor March spoke to Deerslayer concerning their object, or the probable length of their absence. All this had been confided to the Indian, who had acquitted himself of the trust with characteristic brevity. As soon as the canoe was out of sight, and that occurred ere the paddles had given a dozen strokes, Deerslayer made the best dispositions he could to keep the ark as nearly stationary as possible; and then he sat down in the end of the scow, to chew the cud of his own bitter reflections. It was not long, however, before he was joined by Judith, who sought every occasion to be near him, managing her attack on his affections with the address that was suggested by native coquetry, aided by no little practice, but which received much of its most dangerous power from the touch of feeling that threw around her manner, voice, accents, thoughts, and acts, the indescribable witchery of natural tenderness. Leaving the young hunter exposed to these dangerous assailants, it has become our more immediate business to follow the party in the canoe to the shore.

The controlling influence that led Hutter and Hurry to repeat their experiment against the camp was precisely that which had induced the first attempt, a little heightened, perhaps, by the desire of revenge. But neither of these two rude beings, so ruthless in all things that touched the rights and interests of the red man, thought possessing veins of human feeling on other matters, was much actuated by any other desire than a heartless longing for profit. Hurry had felt angered at his sufferings, when first liberated, it is true, but that emotion soon disappeared in the habitual love of gold, which he sought with the reckless avidity of a needy spendthrift, rather than with the ceaseless longings of a miser. In short, the motive that urged them both so soon to go against the Hurons, was an habitual contempt of their enemy, acting on the unceasing cupidity of prodigality. The additional chances of success, however, had their place in the formation of the second enterprise. It was known that a large portion of the warriors — perhaps all — were encamped for the night abreast of the castle, and it was hoped that the scalps of helpless victims would be the consequence. To confess the truth, Hutter in particular — he who had just left two daughters behind him — expected to find few besides women and children in the camp. The fact had been but slightly alluded to in his communications with Hurry, and with Chingachgook it had been kept entirely out of view. If the Indian thought of it at all, it was known only to himself.

Hutter steered the canoe; Hurry had manfully taken his post in the bows, and Chingachgook stood in the centre. We say stood, for all three were so skilled in the management of that species of frail bark, as to be able to keep erect positions in the midst of the darkness. The approach to the shore was made with great caution, and the landing effected in safety. The three now prepared their arms, and began their tiger-like approach upon the camp. The Indian was on the lead, his two companions treading in his footsteps with a stealthy cautiousness of manner that rendered their progress almost literally noiseless. Occasionally a dried twig snapped under the heavy weight of the gigantic Hurry, or the blundering clumsiness of the old man; but, had the Indian walked on air, his step could not have seemed lighter. The great object was first to discover the position of the fire, which was known to be the centre of the whole encampment. At length the keen eye of Chingachgook caught a glimpse of this important guide. It was glimmering at a distance among the trunks of trees. There was no blaze, but merely a single smouldering brand, as suited the hour; the savages usually retiring and rising with the revolutions of the sun.

As soon as a view was obtained of this beacon, the progress of the adventurers became swifter and more certain. In a few minutes they got to the edge of the circle of little huts. Here they stopped to survey their ground, and to concert their movements. The darkness was so deep as to render it difficult to distinguish anything but the glowing brand, the trunks of the nearest trees, and the endless canopy of leaves that veiled the clouded heaven. It was ascertained, however, that a hut was quite near, and Chingachgook attempted to reconnnoitre its interior. The manner in which the Indian approached the place that was supposed to contain enemies, resembled the wily advances of the cat on the bird. As he drew near, he stooped to his hands and knees, for the entrance was so low as to require this attitude, even as a convenience. Before trusting his head inside, however, he listened long to catch the breathing of sleepers. No sound was audible, and this human Serpent thrust his head in at the door, or opening, as another serpent would have peered in on the nest. Nothing rewarded the hazardous experiment; for, after feeling cautiously with a hand, the place was found to be empty.

The Delaware proceeded in the same guarded manner to one or two more of the huts, finding all in the same situation. He then returned to his companions, and informed them that the Hurons had deserted their camp. A little further inquiry corroborated this fact, and it only remained to return to the canoe. The different manner in which the adventurers bore the disappointment is worthy of a passing remark. The chief, who had landed solely with the hope of acquiring renown, stood stationary, leaning against a tree, waiting the pleasure of his companions. He was mortified, and a little surprised, it is true; but he bore all with dignity, falling back for support on the sweeter expectations that still lay in reserve for that evening. It was true, he could not now hope to meet his mistress with the proofs of his daring and skill on his person, but he might still hope to meet her; and the warrior, who was zealous in the search, might always hope to be honored. On the other hand, Hutter and Hurry, who had been chiefly instigated by the basest of all human motives, the thirst of gain, could scarce control their feelings. They went prowling among the huts, as if they expected to find some forgotten child or careless sleeper; and again and again did they vent their spite on the insensible huts, several of which were actually torn to pieces, and scattered about the place. Nay, they even quarrelled with each other, and fierce reproaches passed between them. It is possible some serious consequences might have occurred, had not the Delaware interfered to remind them of the danger of being so unguarded, and of the necessity of returning to the ark. This checked the dispute, and in a few minutes they were paddling sullenly back to the spot where they hoped to find that vessel.

It has been said that Judith took her place at the side of Deerslayer, soon after the adventurers departed. For a short time the girl was silent, and the hunter was ignorant which of the sisters had approached him, but he soon recognized the rich, full-spirited voice of the elder, as her feelings escaped in words.

“This is a terrible life for women, Deerslayer!” she exclaimed. “Would to Heaven I could see an end of it!”

“The life is well enough, Judith,” was the answer, “being pretty much as it is used or abused. What would you wish to see in its place?”

“I should be a thousand times happier to live nearer to civilized beings — where there are farms and churches, and houses built as it might be by Christian hands; and where my sleep at night would be sweet and tranquil! A dwelling near one of the forts would be far better than this dreary place where we live!”

“Nay, Judith, I can’t agree too lightly in the truth of all this. If forts are good to keep off inimies, they sometimes hold inimies of their own. I don’t think ‘twould be for your good, or the good of Hetty, to live near one; and if I must say what I think, I’m afeard you are a little too near as it is.” Deerslayer went on, in his own steady, earnest manner, for the darkness concealed the tints that colored the cheeks of the girl almost to the brightness of crimson, while her own great efforts suppressed the sounds of the breathing that nearly choked her. “As for farms, they have their uses, and there’s them that like to pass their lives on ’em; but what comfort can a man look for in a clearin’, that he can’t find in double quantities in the forest? If air, and room, and light, are a little craved, the windrows and the streams will furnish ’em, or here are the lakes for such as have bigger longings in that way; but where are you to find your shades, and laughing springs, and leaping brooks, and vinerable trees, a thousand years old, in a clearin’? You don’t find them, but you find their disabled trunks, marking the ‘arth like headstones in a graveyard. It seems to me that the people who live in such places must be always thinkin’ of their own inds, and of universal decay; and that, too, not of the decay that is brought about by time and natur’, but the decay that follows waste and violence. Then as to churches, they are good, I suppose, else wouldn’t good men uphold ’em. But they are not altogether necessary. They call ’em the temples of the Lord; but, Judith, the whole ‘arth is a temple of the Lord to such as have the right mind. Neither forts nor churches make people happier of themselves. Moreover, all is contradiction in the settlements, while all is concord in the woods. Forts and churches almost always go together, and yet they’re downright contradictions; churches being for peace, and forts for war. No, no — give me the strong places of the wilderness, which is the trees, and the churches, too, which are arbors raised by the hand of natur’.”

“Woman is not made for scenes like these, Deerslayer, scenes of which we shall have no end, as long as this war lasts.”

“If you mean women of white colour, I rather think you’re not far from the truth, gal; but as for the females of the redmen, such visitations are quite in character. Nothing would make Hist, now, the bargained wife of yonder Delaware, happier than to know that he is at this moment prowling around his nat’ral inimies, striving after a scalp.”

“Surely, surely, Deerslayer, she cannot be a woman, and not feel concern when she thinks the man she loves is in danger!”

“She doesn’t think of the danger, Judith, but of the honor; and when the heart is desperately set on such feelin’s, why, there is little room to crowd in fear. Hist is a kind, gentle, laughing, pleasant creatur’, but she loves honor, as well as any Delaware gal I ever know’d. She’s to meet the Sarpent an hour hence, on the p’int where Hetty landed, and no doubt she has her anxiety about it, like any other woman; but she’d be all the happier did she know that her lover was at this moment waylaying a Mingo for his scalp.”

“If you really believe this, Deerslayer, no wonder you lay so much stress on gifts. Certain am I, that no white girl could feel anything but misery while she believed her betrothed in danger of his life! Nor do I suppose even you, unmoved and calm as you ever seem to be, could be at peace if you believed your Hist in danger.”

“That’s a different matter —’tis altogether a different matter, Judith. Woman is too weak and gentle to be intended to run such risks, and man must feel for her. Yes, I rather think that’s as much red natur’ as it’s white. But I have no Hist, nor am I like to have; for I hold it wrong to mix colours, any way except in friendship and sarvices.”

“In that you are and feel as a white man should! As for Hurry Harry, I do think it would be all the same to him whether his wife were a squaw or a governor’s daughter, provided she was a little comely, and could help to keep his craving stomach full.”

“You do March injustice, Judith; yes, you do. The poor fellow dotes on you, and when a man has ra’ally set his heart on such a creatur’ it isn’t a Mingo, or even a Delaware gal, that’ll be likely to unsettle his mind. You may laugh at such men as Hurry and I, for we’re rough and unteached in the ways of books and other knowledge; but we’ve our good p’ints, as well as our bad ones. An honest heart is not to be despised, gal, even though it be not varsed in all the niceties that please the female fancy.”

“You, Deerslayer! And do you — can you, for an instant, suppose I place you by the side of Harry March? No, no, I am not so far gone in dullness as that. No one — man or woman — could think of naming your honest heart, manly nature, and simple truth, with the boisterous selfishness, greedy avarice, and overbearing ferocity of Harry March. The very best that can be said of him, is to be found in his name of Hurry Skurry, which, if it means no great harm, means no great good. Even my father, following his feelings with the other, as he is doing at this moment, well knows the difference between you. This I know, for he said as much to me, in plain language.”

Judith was a girl of quick sensibilities and of impetuous feelings; and, being under few of the restraints that curtail the manifestations of maiden emotions among those who are educated in the habits of civilized life, she sometimes betrayed the latter with a feeling that was so purely natural as to place it as far above the wiles of coquetry as it was superior to its heartlessness. She had now even taken one of the hard hands of the hunter and pressed it between both her own, with a warmth and earnestness that proved how sincere was her language. It was perhaps fortunate that she was checked by the very excess of her feelings, since the same power might have urged her on to avow all that her father had said — the old man not having been satisfied with making a comparison favorable to Deerslayer, as between the hunter and Hurry, but having actually, in his blunt rough way, briefly advised his daughter to cast off the latter entirely, and to think of the former as a husband. Judith would not willingly have said this to any other man, but there was so much confidence awakened by the guileless simplicity of Deerslayer, that one of her nature found it a constant temptation to overstep the bounds of habit. She went no further, however, immediately relinquishing the hand, and falling back on a reserve that was more suited to her sex, and, indeed, to her natural modesty.

“Thankee, Judith, thankee with all my heart,” returned the hunter, whose humility prevented him from placing any flattering interpretation on either the conduct or the language of the girl. “Thankee as much as if it was all true. Harry’s sightly — yes, he’s as sightly as the tallest pine of the mountains, and the Sarpent has named him accordingly; however, some fancy good looks, and some fancy good conduct, only. Hurry has one advantage, and it depends on himself whether he’ll have t’other or — Hark! That’s your father’s voice, gal, and he speaks like a man who’s riled at something.”

“God save us from any more of these horrible scenes!” exclaimed Judith, bending her face to her knees, and endeavoring to exclude the discordant sounds, by applying her hands to her ears. “I sometimes wish I had no father!”

This was bitterly said, and the repinings which extorted the words were bitterly felt. It is impossible to say what might next have escaped her had not a gentle, low voice spoken at her elbow.

“Judith, I ought to have read a chapter to father and Hurry!” said the innocent but terrified speaker, “and that would have kept them from going again on such an errand. Do you call to them, Deerslayer, and tell them I want them, and that it will be good for them both if they’ll return and hearken to my words.”

“Ah’s me! Poor Hetty, you little know the cravin’s for gold and revenge, if you believe they are so easily turned aside from their longin’s! But this is an uncommon business in more ways than one, Judith. I hear your father and Hurry growling like bears, and yet no noise comes from the mouth of the young chief. There’s an ind of secrecy, and yet his whoop, which ought to ring in the mountains, accordin’ to rule in such sarcumstances, is silent!”

“Justice may have alighted on him, and his death have saved the lives of the innocent.”

“Not it — not it — the Sarpent is not the one to suffer if that’s to be the law. Sartainly there has been no onset, and ’tis most likely that the camp’s deserted, and the men are comin’ back disapp’inted. That accounts for the growls of Hurry and the silence of the Sarpent.”

Just at this instant a fall of a paddle was heard in the canoe, for vexation made March reckless. Deerslayer felt convinced that his conjecture was true. The sail being down, the ark had not drifted far; and ere many minutes he heard Chingachgook, in a low, quiet tone, directing Hutter how to steer in order to reach it. In less time than it takes to tell the fact, the canoe touched the scow, and the adventurers entered the latter. Neither Hutter nor Hurry spoke of what had occurred. But the Delaware, in passing his friend, merely uttered the words “fire’s out,” which, if not literally true, sufficiently explained the truth to his listener.

It was now a question as to the course to be steered. A short surly conference was held, when Hutter decided that the wisest way would be to keep in motion as the means most likely to defeat any attempt at a surprise — announcing his own and March’s intention to requite themselves for the loss of sleep during their captivity, by lying down. As the air still baffled and continued light, it was finally determined to sail before it, let it come in what direction it might, so long as it did not blow the ark upon the strand. This point settled, the released prisoners helped to hoist the sail, and they threw themselves upon two of the pallets, leaving Deerslayer and his friend to look after the movements of the craft. As neither of the latter was disposed to sleep, on account of the appointment with Hist, this arrangement was acceptable to all parties. That Judith and Hetty remained up also, in no manner impaired the agreeable features of this change.

For some time the scow rather drifted than sailed along the western shore, following a light southerly current of the air. The progress was slow — not exceeding a couple of miles in the hour — but the two men perceived that it was not only carrying them towards the point they desired to reach, but at a rate that was quite as fast as the hour yet rendered necessary. But little more was said the while even by the girls; and that little had more reference to the rescue of Hist than to any other subject. The Indian was calm to the eye, but as minute after minute passed, his feelings became more and more excited, until they reached a state that might have satisfied the demands of even the most exacting mistress. Deerslayer kept the craft as much in the bays as was prudent, for the double purpose of sailing within the shadows of the woods, and of detecting any signs of an encampment they might pass on the shore. In this manner they doubled one low point, and were already in the bay that was terminated north by the goal at which they aimed. The latter was still a quarter of a mile distant, when Chingachgook came silently to the side of his friend and pointed to a place directly ahead. A small fire was glimmering just within the verge of the bushes that lined the shore on the southern side of the point-leaving no doubt that the Indians had suddenly removed their camp to the very place, or at least the very projection of land where Hist had given them the rendezvous!

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/c/cooper/james_fenimore/deerslayer/chapter15.html

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