The Deerslayer, by James Fenimore Cooper

Chapter 17

“There, ye wise saints, behold your light, your star,

Ye would be dupes and victims and ye are.

Is it enough? or, must I, while a thrill

Lives in your sapient bosoms, cheat you still?”

Thomas Moore, Lalla Rookh, “The Veiled Prophet of Khorassan”

The fire, the canoe, and the spring, near which Deerslayer commenced his retreat, would have stood in the angles of a triangle of tolerably equal sides. The distance from the fire to the boat was a little less than the distance from the fire to the spring, while the distance from the spring to the boat was about equal to that between the two points first named. This, however, was in straight lines, a means of escape to which the fugitives could not resort. They were obliged to have recourse to a detour in order to get the cover of the bushes, and to follow the curvature of the beach. Under these disadvantages, then, the hunter commenced his retreat, disadvantages that he felt to be so much the greater from his knowledge of the habits of all Indians, who rarely fail in cases of sudden alarms, more especially when in the midst of cover, immediately to throw out flankers, with a view to meet their foes at all points, and if possible to turn their rear. That some such course was now adopted he believed from the tramp of feet, which not only came up the ascent, as related, but were also heard, under the first impulse, diverging not only towards the hill in the rear, but towards the extremity of the point, in a direction opposite to that he was about to take himself. Promptitude, consequently became a matter of the last importance, as the parties might meet on the strand, before the fugitive could reach the canoe.

Notwithstanding the pressing nature of the emergency, Deerslayer hesitated a single instant, ere he plunged into the bushes that lined the shore. His feelings had been awakened by the whole scene, and a sternness of purpose had come over him, to which he was ordinarily a stranger. Four dark figures loomed on the ridge, drawn against the brightness of the fire, and an enemy might have been sacrificed at a glance. The Indians had paused to gaze into the gloom, in search of the screeching hag, and with many a man less given to reflection than the hunter, the death of one of them would have been certain. Luckily he was more prudent. Although the rifle dropped a little towards the foremost of his pursuers, he did not aim or fire, but disappeared in the cover. To gain the beach, and to follow it round to the place where Chingachgook was already in the canoe, with Hist, anxiously waiting his appearance, occupied but a moment. Laying his rifle in the bottom of the canoe, Deerslayer stooped to give the latter a vigorous shove from the shore, when a powerful Indian leaped through the bushes, alighting like a panther on his back. Everything was now suspended by a hair; a false step ruining all. With a generosity that would have rendered a Roman illustrious throughout all time, but which, in the career of one so simple and humble, would have been forever lost to the world but for this unpretending legend, Deerslayer threw all his force into a desperate effort, shoved the canoe off with a power that sent it a hundred feet from the shore, as it might be in an instant, and fell forward into the lake, himself, face downward; his assailant necessarily following him.

Although the water was deep within a few yards of the beach, it was not more than breast high, as close in as the spot where the two combatants fell. Still this was quite sufficient to destroy one who had sunk, under the great disadvantages in which Deerslayer was placed. His hands were free, however, and the savage was compelled to relinquish his hug, to keep his own face above the surface. For half a minute there was a desperate struggle, like the floundering of an alligator that has just seized some powerful prey, and then both stood erect, grasping each other’s arms, in order to prevent the use of the deadly knife in the darkness. What might have been the issue of this severe personal struggle cannot be known, for half a dozen savages came leaping into the water to the aid of their friend, and Deerslayer yielded himself a prisoner, with a dignity that was as remarkable as his self-devotion.

To quit the lake and lead their new captive to the fire occupied the Indians but another minute. So much engaged were they all with the struggle and its consequences, that the canoe was unseen, though it still lay so near the shore as to render every syllable that was uttered perfectly intelligible to the Delaware and his betrothed; and the whole party left the spot, some continuing the pursuit after Hist, along the beach, though most proceeded to the light. Here Deerslayer’s antagonist so far recovered his breath and his recollection, for he had been throttled nearly to strangulation, as to relate the manner in which the girl had got off. It was now too late to assail the other fugitives, for no sooner was his friend led into the bushes than the Delaware placed his paddle into the water, and the light canoe glided noiselessly away, holding its course towards the centre of the lake until safe from shot, after which it sought the Ark. When Deerslayer reached the fire, he found himself surrounded by no less than eight grim savages, among whom was his old acquaintance Rivenoak. As soon as the latter caught a glimpse of the captive’s countenance, he spoke apart to his companions, and a low but general exclamation of pleasure and surprise escaped them. They knew that the conqueror of their late friend, he who had fallen on the opposite side of the lake, was in their hands, and subject to their mercy, or vengeance. There was no little admiration mingled in the ferocious looks that were thrown on the prisoner; an admiration that was as much excited by his present composure, as by his past deeds. This scene may be said to have been the commencement of the great and terrible reputation that Deerslayer, or Hawkeye, as he was afterwards called, enjoyed among all the tribes of New York and Canada; a reputation that was certainly more limited in its territorial and numerical extent, than those which are possessed in civilized life, but which was compensated for what it wanted in these particulars, perhaps, by its greater justice, and the total absence of mystification and management.

The arms of Deerslayer were not pinioned, and he was left the free use of his hands, his knife having been first removed. The only precaution that was taken to secure his person was untiring watchfulness, and a strong rope of bark that passed from ankle to ankle, not so much to prevent his walking, as to place an obstacle in the way of his attempting to escape by any sudden leap. Even this extra provision against flight was not made until the captive had been brought to the light, and his character ascertained. It was, in fact, a compliment to his prowess, and he felt proud of the distinction. That he might be bound when the warriors slept he thought probable, but to be bound in the moment of capture showed that he was already, and thus early, attaining a name. While the young Indians were fastening the rope, he wondered if Chingachgook would have been treated in the same manner, had he too fallen into the hands of the enemy. Nor did the reputation of the young pale-face rest altogether on his success in the previous combat, or in his discriminating and cool manner of managing the late negotiation, for it had received a great accession by the occurrences of the night. Ignorant of the movements of the Ark, and of the accident that had brought their fire into view, the Iroquois attributed the discovery of their new camp to the vigilance of so shrewd a foe. The manner in which he ventured upon the point, the abstraction or escape of Hist, and most of all the self-devotion of the prisoner, united to the readiness with which he had sent the canoe adrift, were so many important links in the chain of facts, on which his growing fame was founded. Many of these circumstances had been seen, some had been explained, and all were understood.

While this admiration and these honors were so unreservedly bestowed on Deerslayer, he did not escape some of the penalties of his situation. He was permitted to seat himself on the end of a log, near the fire, in order to dry his clothes, his late adversary standing opposite, now holding articles of his own scanty vestments to the heat, and now feeling his throat, on which the marks of his enemy’s fingers were still quite visible. The rest of the warriors consulted together, near at hand, all those who had been out having returned to report that no signs of any other prowlers near the camp were to be found. In this state of things, the old woman, whose name was Shebear, in plain English, approached Deerslayer, with her fists clenched and her eyes flashing fire. Hitherto, she had been occupied with screaming, an employment at which she had played her part with no small degree of success, but having succeeded in effectually alarming all within reach of a pair of lungs that had been strengthened by long practice, she next turned her attention to the injuries her own person had sustained in the struggle. These were in no manner material, though they were of a nature to arouse all the fury of a woman who had long ceased to attract by means of the gentler qualities, and who was much disposed to revenge the hardships she had so long endured, as the neglected wife and mother of savages, on all who came within her power. If Deerslayer had not permanently injured her, he had temporarily caused her to suffer, and she was not a person to overlook a wrong of this nature, on account of its motive.

“Skunk of the pale-faces,” commenced this exasperated and semi-poetic fury, shaking her fist under the nose of the impassable hunter, “you are not even a woman. Your friends the Delawares are only women, and you are their sheep. Your own people will not own you, and no tribe of redmen would have you in their wigwams; you skulk among petticoated warriors. You slay our brave friend who has left us? — No — his great soul scorned to fight you, and left his body rather than have the shame of slaying you! But the blood that you spilt when the spirit was not looking on, has not sunk into the ground. It must be buried in your groans. What music do I hear? Those are not the wailings of a red man! — no red warrior groans so much like a hog. They come from a pale-face throat — a Yengeese bosom, and sound as pleasant as girls singing — Dog — skunk — woodchuck-mink — hedgehog — pig — toad — spider — yengee —”

Here the old woman, having expended her breath and exhausted her epithets, was fain to pause a moment, though both her fists were shaken in the prisoner’s face, and the whole of her wrinkled countenance was filled with fierce resentment. Deerslayer looked upon these impotent attempts to arouse him as indifferently as a gentleman in our own state of society regards the vituperative terms of a blackguard: the one party feeling that the tongue of an old woman could never injure a warrior, and the other knowing that mendacity and vulgarity can only permanently affect those who resort to their use; but he was spared any further attack at present, by the interposition of Rivenoak, who shoved aside the hag, bidding her quit the spot, and prepared to take his seat at the side of his prisoner. The old woman withdrew, but the hunter well understood that he was to be the subject of all her means of annoyance, if not of positive injury, so long as he remained in the power of his enemies, for nothing rankles so deeply as the consciousness that an attempt to irritate has been met by contempt, a feeling that is usually the most passive of any that is harbored in the human breast. Rivenoak quietly took the seat we have mentioned, and, after a short pause, he commenced a dialogue, which we translate as usual, for the benefit of those readers who have not studied the North American languages.

“My pale-face friend is very welcome,” said the Indian, with a familiar nod, and a smile so covert that it required all Deerslayer’s vigilance to detect, and not a little of his philosophy to detect unmoved; “he is welcome. The Hurons keep a hot fire to dry the white man’s clothes by.”

“I thank you, Huron — or Mingo, as I most like to call you,” returned the other, “I thank you for the welcome, and I thank you for the fire. Each is good in its way, and the last is very good, when one has been in a spring as cold as the Glimmerglass. Even Huron warmth may be pleasant, at such a time, to a man with a Delaware heart.”

“The pale-face — but my brother has a name? So great a warrior would not have lived without a name?”

“Mingo,” said the hunter, a little of the weakness of human nature exhibiting itself in the glance of his eye, and the colour on his cheek —“Mingo, your brave called me Hawkeye, I suppose on account of a quick and sartain aim, when he was lying with his head in my lap, afore his spirit started for the Happy Hunting Grounds.”

“’Tis a good name! The hawk is sure of his blow. Hawkeye is not a woman; why does he live with the Delawares?”

“I understand you, Mingo, but we look on all that as a sarcumvention of some of your subtle devils, and deny the charge. Providence placed me among the Delawares young, and, ‘bating what Christian usages demand of my colour and gifts, I hope to live and die in their tribe. Still I do not mean to throw away altogether my natyve rights, and shall strive to do a pale-face’s duty, in red-skin society.”

“Good; a Huron is a red-skin, as well as a Delaware. Hawkeye is more of a Huron than of a woman.”

“I suppose you know, Mingo, your own meaning; if you don’t I make no question ’tis well known to Satan. But if you wish to get any thing out of me, speak plainer, for bargains can not be made blindfolded, or tongue tied.”

“Good; Hawkeye has not a forked tongue, and he likes to say what he thinks. He is an acquaintance of the Muskrat,” this was the name by which all the Indians designated Hutter —“and has lived in his wigwam. But he is not a friend. He wants no scalps, like a miserable Indian, but fights like a stout-hearted pale-face. The Muskrat is neither white, nor red. Neither a beast nor a fish. He is a water snake; sometimes in the spring and sometimes on the land. He looks for scalps, like an outcast. Hawkeye can go back and tell him how he has outwitted the Hurons, how he has escaped, and when his eyes are in a fog, when he can’t see as far as from his cabin to the shore, then Hawkeye can open the door for the Hurons. And how will the plunder be divided? Why, Hawkeye, will carry away the most, and the Hurons will take what he may choose to leave behind him. The scalps can go to Canada, for a pale-face has no satisfaction in them.”

“Well, well, Rivenoak — for so I hear ’em tarm you — This is plain English, enough, though spoken in Iroquois. I understand all you mean, now, and must say it out-devils even Mingo deviltry! No doubt, ‘twould be easy enough to go back and tell the Muskrat that I had got away from you, and gain some credit, too, by the expl’ite.”

“Good. That is what I want the pale-face to do.”

“Yes — yes — That’s plain enough. I know what you want me to do, without more words. When inside the house, and eating the Muskrat’s bread, and laughing and talking with his pretty darters, I might put his eyes into so thick a fog, that he couldn’t even see the door, much less the land.”

“Good! Hawkeye should have been born a Huron! His blood is not more than half white!”

“There you’re out, Huron; yes, there you’re as much out, as if you mistook a wolf for a catamount. I’m white in blood, heart, natur’ and gifts, though a little red-skin in feelin’s and habits. But when old Hutter’s eyes are well befogged, and his pretty darters perhaps in a deep sleep, and Hurry Harry, the Great Pine as you Indians tarm him, is dreaming of any thing but mischief, and all suppose Hawkeye is acting as a faithful sentinel, all I have to do is set a torch somewhere in sight for a signal, open the door, and let in the Hurons, to knock ’em all on the head.”

“Surely my brother is mistaken. He cannot be white! He is worthy to be a great chief among the Hurons!”

“That is true enough, I dares to say, if he could do all this. Now, harkee, Huron, and for once hear a few honest words from the mouth of a plain man. I am Christian born, and them that come of such a stock, and that listen to the words that were spoken to their fathers and will be spoken to their children, until ‘arth and all it holds perishes, can never lend themselves to such wickedness. Sarcumventions in war, may be, and are, lawful; but sarcumventions, and deceit, and treachery among fri’inds are fit only for the pale-face devils. I know that there are white men enough to give you this wrong idee of our natur’, but such be ontrue to their blood and gifts, and ought to be, if they are not, outcasts and vagabonds. No upright pale-face could do what you wish, and to be as plain with you as I wish to be, in my judgment no upright Delaware either. With a Mingo it may be different.”

The Huron listened to this rebuke with obvious disgust, but he had his ends in view, and was too wily to lose all chance of effecting them by a precipitate avowal of resentment. Affecting to smile, he seemed to listen eagerly, and he then pondered on what he had heard.

“Does Hawkeye love the Muskrat?” he abruptly demanded; “Or does he love his daughters?”

“Neither, Mingo. Old Tom is not a man to gain my love, and, as for the darters, they are comely enough to gain the liking of any young man, but there’s reason ag’in any very great love for either. Hetty is a good soul, but natur’ has laid a heavy hand on her mind, poor thing.”

“And the Wild Rose!” exclaimed the Huron — for the fame of Judith’s beauty had spread among those who could travel the wilderness, as well as the highway by means of old eagles’ nests, rocks, and riven trees known to them by report and tradition, as well as among the white borderers, “And the Wild Rose; is she not sweet enough to be put in the bosom of my brother?”

Deerslayer had far too much of the innate gentleman to insinuate aught against the fair fame of one who, by nature and position was so helpless, and as he did not choose to utter an untruth, he preferred being silent. The Huron mistook the motive, and supposed that disappointed affection lay at the bottom of his reserve. Still bent on corrupting or bribing his captive, in order to obtain possession of the treasures with which his imagination filled the Castle, he persevered in his attack.

“Hawkeye is talking with a friend,” he continued. “He knows that Rivenoak is a man of his word, for they have traded together, and trade opens the soul. My friend has come here on account of a little string held by a girl, that can pull the whole body of the sternest warrior?”

“You are nearer the truth, now, Huron, than you’ve been afore, since we began to talk. This is true. But one end of that string was not fast to my heart, nor did the Wild Rose hold the other.”

“This is wonderful! Does my brother love in his head, and not in his heart? And can the Feeble Mind pull so hard against so stout a warrior?”

“There it is ag’in; sometimes right, and sometimes wrong! The string you mean is fast to the heart of a great Delaware; one of Mohican stock in fact, living among the Delawares since the disparsion of his own people, and of the family of Uncas — Chingachgook by name, or Great Sarpent. He has come here, led by the string, and I’ve followed, or rather come afore, for I got here first, pulled by nothing stronger than fri’ndship; which is strong enough for such as are not niggardly of their feelin’s, and are willing to live a little for their fellow creatur’s, as well as for themselves.”

“But a string has two ends — one is fast to the mind of a Mohican; and the other?”

“Why the other was here close to the fire, half an hour since. Wah-ta-Wah held it in her hand, if she didn’t hold it to her heart.”

“I understand what you mean, my brother,” returned the Indian gravely, for the first time catching a direct clue to the adventures of the evening. “The Great Serpent, being strongest, pulled the hardest, and Hist was forced to leave us.”

“I don’t think there was much pulling about it,” answered the other, laughing, always in his silent manner, with as much heartiness as if he were not a captive, and in danger of torture or death —“I don’t think there was much pulling about it; no I don’t. Lord help you, Huron! He likes the gal, and the gal likes him, and it surpassed Huron sarcumventions to keep two young people apart, where there was so strong a feelin’ to bring ’em together.”

“And Hawkeye and Chingachgook came into our camp on this errand, only?”

“That’s a question that’ll answer itself, Mingo! Yes, if a question could talk it would answer itself, to your parfect satisfaction. For what else should we come? And yet, it isn’t exactly so, neither; for we didn’t come into your camp at all, but only as far as that pine, there, that you see on the other side of the ridge, where we stood watching your movements, and conduct, as long as we liked. When we were ready, the Sarpent gave his signal, and then all went just as it should, down to the moment when yonder vagabond leaped upon my back. Sartain; we come for that, and for no other purpose, and we got what we come for; there’s no use in pretending otherwise. Hist is off with a man who’s the next thing to her husband, and come what will to me, that’s one good thing detarmined.”

“What sign, or signal, told the young maiden that her lover was nigh?” asked the Huron with more curiosity than it was usual for him to betray.

Deerslayer laughed again, and seem’d to enjoy the success of the exploit, with as much glee as if he had not been its victim.

“Your squirrels are great gadabouts, Mingo,” he cried still laughing-“yes, they’re sartainly great gadabouts! When other folk’s squirrels are at home and asleep, yourn keep in motion among the trees, and chirrup and sing, in a way that even a Delaware gal can understand their musick! Well, there’s four legged squirrels, and there’s two legged squirrels, and give me the last, when there’s a good tight string atween two hearts. If one brings ’em together, t’other tells when to pull hardest!”

The Huron looked vexed, though he succeeded in suppressing any violent exhibition of resentment. He now quitted his prisoner and, joining the rest of the warriors, he communicated the substance of what he had learned. As in his own case, admiration was mingled with anger at the boldness and success of their enemies. Three or four of them ascended the little acclivity and gazed at the tree where it was understood the adventurers had posted themselves, and one even descended to it, and examined for foot prints around its roots, in order to make sure that the statement was true. The result confirmed the story of the captive, and they all returned to the fire with increased wonder and respect. The messenger who had arrived with some communication from the party above, while the two adventurers were watching the camp, was now despatched with some answer, and doubtless bore with him the intelligence of all that had happened.

Down to this moment, the young Indian who had been seen walking in company with Hist and another female had made no advances to any communication with Deerslayer. He had held himself aloof from his friends, even, passing near the bevy of younger women, who were clustering together, apart as usual, and conversed in low tones on the subject of the escape of their late companion. Perhaps it would be true to say that these last were pleased as well as vexed at what had just occurred. Their female sympathies were with the lovers, while their pride was bound up in the success of their own tribe. It is possible, too, that the superior personal advantages of Hist rendered her dangerous to some of the younger part of the group, and they were not sorry to find she was no longer in the way of their own ascendency. On the whole, however, the better feeling was most prevalent, for neither the wild condition in which they lived, the clannish prejudices of tribes, nor their hard fortunes as Indian women, could entirely conquer the inextinguishable leaning of their sex to the affections. One of the girls even laughed at the disconsolate look of the swain who might fancy himself deserted, a circumstance that seemed suddenly to arouse his energies, and induce him to move towards the log, on which the prisoner was still seated, drying his clothes.

“This is Catamount!” said the Indian, striking his hand boastfully on his naked breast, as he uttered the words in a manner to show how much weight he expected them to carry.

“This is Hawkeye,” quietly returned Deerslayer, adopting the name by which he knew he would be known in future, among all the tribes of the Iroquois. “My sight is keen; is my brother’s leap long?”

“From here to the Delaware villages. Hawkeye has stolen my wife; he must bring her back, or his scalp will hang on a pole, and dry in my wigwam.”

“Hawkeye has stolen nothing, Huron. He doesn’t come of a thieving breed, nor has he thieving gifts. Your wife, as you call Wah-ta-Wah, will never be the wife of any red-skin of the Canadas; her mind is in the cabin of a Delaware, and her body has gone to find it. The catamount is actyve I know, but its legs can’t keep pace with a woman’s wishes.”

“The Serpent of the Delawares is a dog — he is a poor bull trout that keeps in the water; he is afraid to stand on the hard earth, like a brave Indian!”

“Well, well, Huron, that’s pretty impudent, considering it’s not an hour since the Sarpent stood within a hundred feet of you, and would have tried the toughness of your skin with a rifle bullet, when I pointed you out to him, hadn’t I laid the weight of a little judgment on his hand. You may take in timorsome gals in the settlements, with your catamount whine, but the ears of a man can tell truth from ontruth.”

“Hist laughs at him! She sees he is lame, and a poor hunter, and he has never been on a war path. She will take a man for a husband, and not a fish.”

“How do you know that, Catamount? how do you know that?” returned Deerslayer laughing. “She has gone into the lake, you see, and maybe she prefars a trout to a mongrel cat. As for war paths, neither the Sarpent nor I have much exper’ence, we are ready to own, but if you don’t call this one, you must tarm it, what the gals in the settlements tarm it, the high road to matrimony. Take my advice, Catamount, and s’arch for a wife among the Huron women; you’ll never get one with a willing mind from among the Delawares.”

Catamount’s hand felt for his tomahawk, and when the fingers reached the handle they worked convulsively, as if their owner hesitated between policy and resentment. At this critical moment Rivenoak approached, and by a gesture of authority, induced the young man to retire, assuming his former position, himself, on the log at the side of Deerslayer. Here he continued silent for a little time, maintaining the grave reserve of an Indian chief.

“Hawkeye is right,” the Iroquois at length began; “his sight is so strong that he can see truth in a dark night, and our eyes have been blinded. He is an owl, darkness hiding nothing from him. He ought not to strike his friends. He is right.”

“I’m glad you think so, Mingo,” returned the other, “for a traitor, in my judgment, is worse than a coward. I care as little for the Muskrat, as one pale-face ought to care for another, but I care too much for him to ambush him in the way you wished. In short, according to my idees, any sarcumventions, except open-war sarcumventions, are ag’in both law, and what we whites call ‘gospel’, too.”

“My pale-face brother is right; he is no Indian, to forget his Manitou and his colour. The Hurons know that they have a great warrior for their prisoner, and they will treat him as one. If he is to be tortured, his torments shall be such as no common man can bear; if he is to be treated as a friend, it will be the friendship of chiefs.”

As the Huron uttered this extraordinary assurance of consideration, his eye furtively glanced at the countenance of his listener, in order to discover how he stood the compliment, though his gravity and apparent sincerity would have prevented any man but one practised in artifices, from detecting his motives. Deerslayer belonged to the class of the unsuspicious, and acquainted with the Indian notions of what constitutes respect, in matters connected with the treatment of captives, he felt his blood chill at the announcement, even while he maintained an aspect so steeled that his quick sighted enemy could discover in it no signs of weakness.

“God has put me in your hands, Huron,” the captive at length answered, “and I suppose you will act your will on me. I shall not boast of what I can do, under torment, for I’ve never been tried, and no man can say till he has been; but I’ll do my endivours not to disgrace the people among whom I got my training. Howsever, I wish you now to bear witness that I’m altogether of white blood, and, in a nat’ral way of white gifts too; so, should I be overcome and forget myself, I hope you’ll lay the fault where it properly belongs, and in no manner put it on the Delawares, or their allies and friends the Mohicans. We’re all created with more or less weakness, and I’m afeard it’s a pale-face’s to give in under great bodily torment, when a red-skin will sing his songs, and boast of his deeds in the very teeth of his foes.”

“We shall see. Hawkeye has a good countenance, and he is tough — but why should he be tormented, when the Hurons love him? He is not born their enemy, and the death of one warrior will not cast a cloud between them forever.”

“So much the better, Huron; so much the better. Still I don’t wish to owe any thing to a mistake about each other’s meaning. It is so much the better that you bear no malice for the loss of a warrior who fell in war, and yet it is ontrue that there is no inmity — lawful inmity I mean — atween us. So far as I have red-skin feelin’s at all, I’ve Delaware feelin’s, and I leave you to judge for yourself how far they are likely to be fri’ndly to the Mingos —”

Deerslayer ceased, for a sort of spectre stood before him, that put a stop to his words, and, indeed, caused him for a moment to doubt the fidelity of his boasted vision. Hetty Hutter was standing at the side of the fire as quietly as if she belonged to the tribe.

As the hunter and the Indian sat watching the emotions that were betrayed in each other’s countenance, the girl had approached unnoticed, doubtless ascending from the beach on the southern side of the point, or that next to the spot where the Ark had anchored, and had advanced to the fire with the fearlessness that belonged to her simplicity, and which was certainly justified by the treatment formerly received from the Indians. As soon as Rivenoak perceived the girl, she was recognised, and calling to two or three of the younger warriors, the chief sent them out to reconnoitre, lest her appearance should be the forerunner of another attack. He then motioned to Hetty to draw near.

“I hope your visit is a sign that the Sarpent and Hist are in safety, Hetty,” said Deerslayer, as soon as the girl had complied with the Huron’s request. “I don’t think you’d come ashore ag’in, on the arr’nd that brought you here afore.”

“Judith told me to come this time, Deerslayer,” Hetty replied, “she paddled me ashore herself, in a canoe, as soon as the Serpent had shown her Hist and told his story. How handsome Hist is tonight, Deerslayer, and how much happier she looks than when she was with the Hurons!”

“That’s natur’ gal; yes, that may be set down as human natur’. She’s with her betrothed, and no longer fears a Mingo husband. In my judgment Judith, herself, would lose most of her beauty if she thought she was to bestow it all on a Mingo! Content is a great fortifier of good looks, and I’ll warrant you, Hist is contented enough, now she is out of the hands of these miscreants, and with her chosen warrior! Did you say that Judith told you to come ashore — why should your sister do that?”

“She bid me come to see you, and to try and persuade the savages to take more elephants to let you off, but I’ve brought the Bible with me — that will do more than all the elephants in father’s chest!”

“And your father, good little Hetty — and Hurry; did they know of your arr’nd?”

“Not they. Both are asleep, and Judith and the Serpent thought it best they should not be woke, lest they might want to come again after scalps, when Hist had told them how few warriors, and how many women and children there were in the camp. Judith would give me no peace, till I had come ashore to see what had happened to you.”

“Well, that’s remarkable as consarns Judith! Whey should she feel so much unsartainty about me? — Ah —— I see how it is, now; yes, I see into the whole matter, now. You must understand, Hetty, that your sister is oneasy lest Harry March should wake, and come blundering here into the hands of the inimy ag’in, under some idee that, being a travelling comrade, he ought to help me in this matter! Hurry is a blunderer, I will allow, but I don’t think he’d risk as much for my sake, as he would for his own.”

“Judith don’t care for Hurry, though Hurry cares for her,” replied Hetty innocently, but quite positively.

“I’ve heard you say as much as that afore; yes, I’ve heard that from you, afore, gal, and yet it isn’t true. One don’t live in a tribe, not to see something of the way in which liking works in a woman’s heart. Though no way given to marrying myself, I’ve been a looker on among the Delawares, and this is a matter in which pale-face and red-skin gifts are all as one as the same. When the feelin’ begins, the young woman is thoughtful, and has no eyes or ears onless for the warrior that has taken her fancy; then follows melancholy and sighing, and such sort of actions; after which, especially if matters don’t come to plain discourse, she often flies round to back biting and fault finding, blaming the youth for the very things she likes best in him. Some young creatur’s are forward in this way of showing their love, and I’m of opinion Judith is one of ’em. Now, I’ve heard her as much as deny that Hurry was good-looking, and the young woman who could do that, must be far gone indeed!”

“The young woman who liked Hurry would own that he is handsome. I think Hurry very handsome, Deerslayer, and I’m sure everybody must think so, that has eyes. Judith don’t like Harry March, and that’s the reason she finds fault with him.”

“Well — well — my good little Hetty, have it your own way. If we should talk from now till winter, each would think as at present, and there’s no use in words. I must believe that Judith is much wrapped up in Hurry, and that, sooner or later, she’ll have him; and this, too, all the more from the manner in which she abuses him; and I dare to say, you think just the contrary. But mind what I now tell you, gal, and pretend not to know it,” continued this being, who was so obtuse on a point on which men are usually quick enough to make discoveries, and so acute in matters that would baffle the observation of much the greater portion of mankind, “I see how it is, with them vagabonds. Rivenoak has left us, you see, and is talking yonder with his young men, and though too far to be heard, I can see what he is telling them. Their orders is to watch your movements, and to find where the canoe is to meet you, to take you back to the Ark, and then to seize all and what they can. I’m sorry Judith sent you, for I suppose she wants you to go back ag’in.”

“All that’s settled, Deerslayer,” returned the girl, in a low, confidential and meaning manner, “and you may trust me to outwit the best Indian of them all. I know I am feeble minded, but I’ve got some sense, and you’ll see how I’ll use it in getting back, when my errand is done!”

“Ahs! me, poor girl; I’m afeard all that’s easier said than done. They’re a venomous set of riptyles and their p’ison’s none the milder, for the loss of Hist. Well, I’m glad the Sarpent was the one to get off with the gal, for now there’ll be two happy at least, whereas had he fallen into the hands of the Mingos, there’d been two miserable, and another far from feelin’ as a man likes to feel.”

“Now you put me in mind of a part of my errand that I had almost forgotten, Deerslayer. Judith told me to ask you what you thought the Hurons would do with you, if you couldn’t be bought off, and what she had best do to serve you. Yes, this was the most important part of the errand — what she had best do, in order to serve you?”

“That’s as you think, Hetty; but it’s no matter. Young women are apt to lay most stress on what most touches their feelin’s; but no matter; have it your own way, so you be but careful not to let the vagabonds get the mastery of a canoe. When you get back to the Ark, tell ’em to keep close, and to keep moving too, most especially at night. Many hours can’t go by without the troops on the river hearing of this party, and then your fri’nds may look for relief. ’Tis but a day’s march from the nearest garrison, and true soldiers will never lie idle with the foe in their neighborhood. This is my advice, and you may say to your father and Hurry that scalp-hunting will be a poor business now, as the Mingos are up and awake, and nothing can save ’em, ‘till the troops come, except keeping a good belt of water atween ’em and the savages.”

“What shall I tell Judith about you, Deerslayer; I know she will send me back again, if I don’t bring her the truth about you.”

“Then tell her the truth. I see no reason Judith Hutter shouldn’t hear the truth about me, as well as a lie. I’m a captyve in Indian hands, and Providence only knows what will come of it! Harkee, Hetty,” dropping his voice and speaking still more confidentially, “you are a little weak minded, it must be allowed, but you know something of Injins. Here I am in their hands, after having slain one of their stoutest warriors, and they’ve been endivouring to work upon me through fear of consequences, to betray your father, and all in the Ark. I understand the blackguards as well as if they’d told it all out plainly, with their tongues. They hold up avarice afore me, on one side, and fear on t’other, and think honesty will give way atween ’em both. But let your father and Hurry know, ’tis all useless; as for the Sarpent, he knows it already.”

“But what shall I tell Judith? She will certainly send me back, if I don’t satisfy her mind.”

“Well, tell Judith the same. No doubt the savages will try the torments, to make me give in, and to revenge the loss of their warrior, but I must hold out ag’in nat’ral weakness in the best manner I can. You may tell Judith to feel no consarn on my account-it will come hard I know, seeing that a white man’s gifts don’t run to boasting and singing under torment, for he generally feels smallest when he suffers most — but you may tell her not to have any consarn. I think I shall make out to stand it, and she may rely on this, let me give in, as much as I may, and prove completely that I am white, by wailings, and howlings, and even tears, yet I’ll never fall so far as to betray my fri’nds. When it gets to burning holes in the flesh, with heated ramrods, and to hacking the body, and tearing the hair out by the roots, natur’ may get the upperhand, so far as groans, and complaints are consarned, but there the triumph of the vagabonds will ind; nothing short of God’s abandoning him to the devils can make an honest man ontrue to his colour and duty.”

Hetty listened with great attention, and her mild but speaking countenance manifested a strong sympathy in the anticipated agony of the supposititious sufferer. At first she seemed at a loss how to act; then, taking a hand of Deerslayer’s she affectionately recommended to him to borrow her Bible, and to read it while the savages were inflicting their torments. When the other honestly admitted that it exceeded his power to read, she even volunteered to remain with him, and to perform this holy office in person. The offer was gently declined, and Rivenoak being about to join them, Deerslayer requested the girl to leave him, first enjoining her again to tell those in the Ark to have full confidence in his fidelity. Hetty now walked away, and approached the group of females with as much confidence and self-possession as if she were a native of the tribe. On the other hand the Huron resumed his seat by the side of his prisoner, the one continuing to ask questions with all the wily ingenuity of a practised Indian counsellor, and the other baffling him by the very means that are known to be the most efficacious in defeating the finesse of the more pretending diplomacy of civilization, or by confining his answers to the truth, and the truth only.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/c/cooper/james_fenimore/deerslayer/chapter17.html

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