The Deerslayer, by James Fenimore Cooper

Chapter 21

“Lightly they’ll talk of the spirit that’s gone,

And o’er his cold ashes upbraid him;

But nothing he’ll reck, if they’ll let him sleep on,

In the grave where a Briton has laid him.”

Charles Wolfe, “The Burial of Sir John Moore,” vi.

The reader must imagine the horror that daughters would experience, at unexpectedly beholding the shocking spectacle that was placed before the eyes of Judith and Esther, as related in the close of the last chapter. We shall pass over the first emotions, the first acts of filial piety, and proceed with the narrative by imagining rather than relating most of the revolting features of the scene. The mutilated and ragged head was bound up, the unseemly blood was wiped from the face of the sufferer, the other appliances required by appearances and care were resorted to, and there was time to enquire into the more serious circumstances of the case. The facts were never known until years later in all their details, simple as they were, but they may as well be related here, as it can be done in a few words. In the struggle with the Hurons, Hutter had been stabbed by the knife of the old warrior, who had used the discretion to remove the arms of every one but himself. Being hard pushed by his sturdy foe, his knife had settled the matter. This occurred just as the door was opened, and Hurry burst out upon the platform, as has been previously related. This was the secret of neither party’s having appeared in the subsequent struggle; Hutter having been literally disabled, and his conqueror being ashamed to be seen with the traces of blood about him, after having used so many injunctions to convince his young warriors of the necessity of taking their prisoners alive. When the three Hurons returned from the chase, and it was determined to abandon the castle and join the party on the land, Hutter was simply scalped to secure the usual trophy, and was left to die by inches, as has been done in a thousand similar instances by the ruthless warriors of this part of the American continent. Had the injury of Hutter been confined to his head, he might have recovered, however, for it was the blow of the knife that proved mortal. There are moments of vivid consciousness, when the stern justice of God stands forth in colours so prominent as to defy any attempts to veil them from the sight, however unpleasant they may appear, or however anxious we may be to avoid recognising it. Such was now the fact with Judith and Hetty, who both perceived the decrees of a retributive Providence, in the manner of their father’s suffering, as a punishment for his own recent attempts on the Iroquois. This was seen and felt by Judith with the keenness of perception and sensibility that were suited to her character, while the impression made on the simpler mind of her sister was perhaps less lively, though it might well have proved more lasting.

“Oh! Judith,” exclaimed the weak minded girl, as soon as their first care had been bestowed on sufferer. “Father went for scalps, himself, and now where is his own? The Bible might have foretold this dreadful punishment!”

“Hush, Hetty — hush, poor sister — He opens his eyes; he may hear and understand you. ’Tis as you say and think, but ’tis too dreadful to speak.”

“Water,” ejaculated Hutter, as it might be by a desperate effort, that rendered his voice frightfully deep and strong for one as near death as he evidently was —“Water — foolish girls — will you let me die of thirst?”

Water was brought and administered to the sufferer; the first he had tasted in hours of physical anguish. It had the double effect of clearing his throat and of momentarily reviving his sinking system. His eyes opened with that anxious, distended gaze which is apt to accompany the passage of a soul surprised by death, and he seemed disposed to speak.

“Father,” said Judith, inexpressibly pained by his deplorable situation, and this so much the more from her ignorance of what remedies ought to be applied —“Father, can we do any thing for you? Can Hetty and I relieve your pain?”

“Father!” slowly repeated the old man. “No, Judith; no, Hetty — I’m no father. She was your mother, but I’m no father. Look in the chest — Tis all there — give me more water.”

The girls complied, and Judith, whose early recollections extended farther back than her sister’s, and who on every account had more distinct impressions of the past, felt an uncontrollable impulse of joy as she heard these words. There had never been much sympathy between her reputed father and herself, and suspicions of this very truth had often glanced across her mind, in consequence of dialogues she had overheard between Hutter and her mother. It might be going too far to say she had never loved him, but it is not so to add that she rejoiced it was no longer a duty. With Hetty the feeling was different. Incapable of making all the distinctions of her sister, her very nature was full of affection, and she had loved her reputed parent, though far less tenderly than the real parent, and it grieved her now to hear him declare he was not naturally entitled to that love. She felt a double grief, as if his death and his words together were twice depriving her of parents. Yielding to her feelings, the poor girl went aside and wept.

The very opposite emotions of the two girls kept both silent for a long time. Judith gave water to the sufferer frequently, but she forbore to urge him with questions, in some measure out of consideration for his condition, but, if truth must be said, quite as much lest something he should add in the way of explanation might disturb her pleasing belief that she was not Thomas Hutter’s child. At length Hetty dried her tears, and came and seated herself on a stool by the side of the dying man, who had been placed at his length on the floor, with his head supported by some coarse vestments that had been left in the house.

“Father,” she said “you will let me call you father, though you say you are not one — Father, shall I read the Bible to you — mother always said the Bible was good for people in trouble. She was often in trouble herself, and then she made me read the Bible to her — for Judith wasn’t as fond of the Bible as I am — and it always did her good. Many is the time I’ve known mother begin to listen with the tears streaming from her eyes, and end with smiles and gladness. Oh! father, you don’t know how much good the Bible can do, for you’ve never tried it. Now, I’ll read a chapter and it will soften your heart as it softened the hearts of the Hurons.”

While poor Hetty had so much reverence for, and faith in, the virtues of the Bible, her intellect was too shallow to enable her fully to appreciate its beauties, or to fathom its profound and sometimes mysterious wisdom. That instinctive sense of right which appeared to shield her from the commission of wrong, and even cast a mantle of moral loveliness and truth around her character, could not penetrate abstrusities, or trace the nice affinities between cause and effect, beyond their more obvious and indisputable connection, though she seldom failed to see all the latter, and to defer to all their just consequences. In a word, she was one of those who feel and act correctly without being able to give a logical reason for it, even admitting revelation as her authority. Her selections from the Bible, therefore, were commonly distinguished by the simplicity of her own mind, and were oftener marked for containing images of known and palpable things than for any of the higher cast of moral truths with which the pages of that wonderful book abound — wonderful, and unequalled, even without referring to its divine origin, as a work replete with the profoundest philosophy, expressed in the noblest language. Her mother, with a connection that will probably strike the reader, had been fond of the book of Job, and Hetty had, in a great measure, learned to read by the frequent lessons she had received from the different chapters of this venerable and sublime poem — now believed to be the oldest book in the world. On this occasion the poor girl was submissive to her training, and she turned to that well known part of the sacred volume, with the readiness with which the practised counsel would cite his authorities from the stores of legal wisdom. In selecting the particular chapter, she was influenced by the caption, and she chose that which stands in our English version as “Job excuseth his desire of death.” This she read steadily, from beginning to end, in a sweet, low and plaintive voice; hoping devoutly that the allegorical and abstruse sentences might convey to the heart of the sufferer the consolation he needed. It is another peculiarity of the comprehensive wisdom of the Bible that scarce a chapter, unless it be strictly narration, can be turned to, that does not contain some searching truth that is applicable to the condition of every human heart, as well as to the temporal state of its owner, either through the workings of that heart, or even in a still more direct form. In this instance, the very opening sentence —“Is there not an appointed time to man on earth?” was startling, and as Hetty proceeded, Hutter applied, or fancied he could apply many aphorisms and figures to his own worldly and mental condition. As life is ebbing fast, the mind clings eagerly to hope when it is not absolutely crushed by despair. The solemn words “I have sinned; what shall I do unto thee, O thou preserver of men? Why hast thou set me as a mark against thee, so that I am a burden to myself,” struck Hutter more perceptibly than the others, and, though too obscure for one of his blunted feelings and obtuse mind either to feel or to comprehend in their fullest extent, they had a directness of application to his own state that caused him to wince under them.

“Don’t you feel better now, father?” asked Hetty, closing the volume. “Mother was always better when she had read the Bible.”

“Water,” returned Hutter —“give me water, Judith. I wonder if my tongue will always be so hot! Hetty, isn’t there something in the Bible about cooling the tongue of a man who was burning in Hell fire?”

Judith turned away shocked, but Hetty eagerly sought the passage, which she read aloud to the conscience stricken victim of his own avaricious longings.

“That’s it, poor Hetty; yes, that’s it. My tongue wants cooling, now — what will it be hereafter?”

This appeal silenced even the confiding Hetty, for she had no answer ready for a confession so fraught with despair. Water, so long as it could relieve the sufferer, it was in the power of the sisters to give, and from time to time it was offered to the lips of the sufferer as he asked for it. Even Judith prayed. As for Hetty, as soon as she found that her efforts to make her father listen to her texts were no longer rewarded with success, she knelt at his side and devoutly repeated the words which the Saviour has left behind him as a model for human petitions. This she continued to do, at intervals, as long as it seemed to her that the act could benefit the dying man. Hutter, however, lingered longer than the girls had believed possible when they first found him. At times he spoke intelligibly, though his lips oftener moved in utterance of sounds that carried no distinct impressions to the mind. Judith listened intently, and she heard the words —“husband”—“death”-“pirate”—“law”—“scalps”— and several others of similar import, though there was no sentence to tell the precise connection in which they were used. Still they were sufficiently expressive to be understood by one whose ears had not escaped all the rumours that had been circulated to her reputed father’s discredit, and whose comprehension was as quick as her faculties were attentive.

During the whole of the painful hour that succeeded, neither of the sisters bethought her sufficiently of the Hurons to dread their return. It seemed as if their desolation and grief placed them above the danger of such an interruption, and when the sound of oars was at length heard, even Judith, who alone had any reason to apprehend the enemy, did not start, but at once understood that the Ark was near. She went upon the platform fearlessly, for should it turn out that Hurry was not there, and that the Hurons were masters of the scow also, escape was impossible. Then she had the sort of confidence that is inspired by extreme misery. But there was no cause for any new alarm, Chingachgook, Hist, and Hurry all standing in the open part of the scow, cautiously examining the building to make certain of the absence of the enemy. They, too, had seen the departure of the Hurons, as well as the approach of the canoe of the girls to the castle, and presuming on the latter fact, March had swept the scow up to the platform. A word sufficed to explain that there was nothing to be apprehended, and the Ark was soon moored in her old berth.

Judith said not a word concerning the condition of her father, but Hurry knew her too well not to understand that something was more than usually wrong. He led the way, though with less of his confident bold manner than usual, into the house, and penetrating to the inner room, found Hutter lying on his back with Hetty sitting at his side, fanning him with pious care. The events of the morning had sensibly changed the manner of Hurry. Notwithstanding his skill as a swimmer, and the readiness with which he had adopted the only expedient that could possibly save him, the helplessness of being in the water, bound hand and foot, had produced some such effect on him, as the near approach of punishment is known to produce on most criminals, leaving a vivid impression of the horrors of death upon his mind, and this too in connection with a picture of bodily helplessness; the daring of this man being far more the offspring of vast physical powers, than of the energy of the will, or even of natural spirit. Such heroes invariably lose a large portion of their courage with the failure of their strength, and though Hurry was now unfettered and as vigorous as ever, events were too recent to permit the recollection of his late deplorable condition to be at all weakened. Had he lived a century, the occurrences of the few momentous minutes during which he was in the lake would have produced a chastening effect on his character, if not always on his manner.

Hurry was not only shocked when he found his late associate in this desperate situation, but he was greatly surprised. During the struggle in the building, he had been far too much occupied himself to learn what had befallen his comrade, and, as no deadly weapon had been used in his particular case, but every effort had been made to capture him without injury, he naturally believed that Hutter had been overcome, while he owed his own escape to his great bodily strength, and to a fortunate concurrence of extraordinary circumstances. Death, in the silence and solemnity of a chamber, was a novelty to him. Though accustomed to scenes of violence, he had been unused to sit by the bedside and watch the slow beating of the pulse, as it gradually grew weaker and weaker. Notwithstanding the change in his feelings, the manners of a life could not be altogether cast aside in a moment, and the unexpected scene extorted a characteristic speech from the borderer.

“How now! old Tom,” he said, “have the vagabonds got you at an advantage, where you’re not only down, but are likely to be kept down! I thought you a captyve it’s true, but never supposed you so hard run as this!”

Hutter opened his glassy eyes, and stared wildly at the speaker. A flood of confused recollections rushed on his wavering mind at the sight of his late comrade. It was evident that he struggled with his own images, and knew not the real from the unreal.

“Who are you?” he asked in a husky whisper, his failing strength refusing to aid him in a louder effort of his voice.

“Who are you? — You look like the mate of ‘The Snow’— he was a giant, too, and near overcoming us.”

“I’m your mate, Floating Tom, and your comrade, but have nothing to do with any snow. It’s summer now, and Harry March always quits the hills as soon after the frosts set in, as is convenient.”

“I know you — Hurry Skurry — I’ll sell you a scalp! — a sound one, and of a full grown man — What’ll you give?”

“Poor Tom! That scalp business hasn’t turned out at all profitable, and I’ve pretty much concluded to give it up; and to follow a less bloody calling.”

“Have you got any scalp? Mine’s gone — How does it feel to have a scalp? I know how it feels to lose one — fire and flames about the brain — and a wrenching at the heart — no — no — kill first, Hurry, and scalp afterwards.”

“What does the old fellow mean, Judith? He talks like one that is getting tired of the business as well as myself. Why have you bound up his head? or, have the savages tomahawked him about the brains?”

“They have done that for him which you and he, Harry March, would have so gladly done for them. His skin and hair have been torn from his head to gain money from the governor of Canada, as you would have torn theirs from the heads of the Hurons, to gain money from the Governor of York.”

Judith spoke with a strong effort to appear composed, but it was neither in her nature, nor in the feeling of the moment to speak altogether without bitterness. The strength of her emphasis, indeed, as well as her manner, caused Hetty to look up reproachfully.

“These are high words to come from Thomas Hutter’s darter, as Thomas Hutter lies dying before her eyes,” retorted Hurry.

“God be praised for that! — whatever reproach it may bring on my poor mother, I am not Thomas Hutter’s daughter.”

“Not Thomas Hutter’s darter! — Don’t disown the old fellow in his last moments, Judith, for that’s a sin the Lord will never overlook. If you’re not Thomas Hutter’s darter, whose darter be you?”

This question rebuked the rebellious spirit of Judith, for, in getting rid of a parent whom she felt it was a relief to find she might own she had never loved, she overlooked the important circumstance that no substitute was ready to supply his place.

“I cannot tell you, Harry, who my father was,” she answered more mildly; “I hope he was an honest man, at least.”

“Which is more than you think was the case with old Hutter? Well, Judith, I’ll not deny that hard stories were in circulation consarning Floating Tom, but who is there that doesn’t get a scratch, when an inimy holds the rake? There’s them that say hard things of me, and even you, beauty as you be, don’t always escape.”

This was said with a view to set up a species of community of character between the parties, and as the politicians are wont to express it, with ulterior intentions. What might have been the consequences with one of Judith’s known spirit, as well as her assured antipathy to the speaker, it is not easy to say, for, just then, Hutter gave unequivocal signs that his last moment was nigh. Judith and Hetty had stood by the dying bed of their mother, and neither needed a monitor to warn them of the crisis, and every sign of resentment vanished from the face of the first. Hutter opened his eyes, and even tried to feel about him with his hands, a sign that sight was failing. A minute later, his breathing grew ghastly; a pause totally without respiration followed; and, then, succeeded the last, long drawn sigh, on which the spirit is supposed to quit the body. This sudden termination of the life of one who had hitherto filled so important a place in the narrow scene on which he had been an actor, put an end to all discussion.

The day passed by without further interruption, the Hurons, though possessed of a canoe, appearing so far satisfied with their success as to have relinquished all immediate designs on the castle. It would not have been a safe undertaking, indeed, to approach it under the rifles of those it was now known to contain, and it is probable that the truce was more owing to this circumstance than to any other. In the mean while the preparations were made for the interment of Hutter. To bury him on the land was impracticable, and it was Hetty’s wish that his body should lie by the side of that of her mother, in the lake. She had it in her power to quote one of his speeches, in which he himself had called the lake the “family burying ground,” and luckily this was done without the knowledge of her sister, who would have opposed the plan, had she known it, with unconquerable disgust. But Judith had not meddled with the arrangement, and every necessary disposition was made without her privity or advice.

The hour chosen for the rude ceremony was just as the sun was setting, and a moment and a scene more suited to paying the last offices to one of calm and pure spirit could not have been chosen. There are a mystery and a solemn dignity in death, that dispose the living to regard the remains of even a malefactor with a certain degree of reverence. All worldly distinctions have ceased; it is thought that the veil has been removed, and that the character and destiny of the departed are now as much beyond human opinions, as they are beyond human ken. In nothing is death more truly a leveller than in this, since, while it may be impossible absolutely to confound the great with the low, the worthy with the unworthy, the mind feels it to be arrogant to assume a right to judge of those who are believed to be standing at the judgment seat of God. When Judith was told that all was ready, she went upon the platform, passive to the request of her sister, and then she first took heed of the arrangement. The body was in the scow, enveloped in a sheet, and quite a hundred weight of stones, that had been taken from the fire place, were enclosed with it, in order that it might sink. No other preparation seemed to be thought necessary, though Hetty carried her Bible beneath her arm.

When all were on board the Ark, the singular habitation of the man whose body it now bore to its final abode, was set in motion. Hurry was at the oars. In his powerful hands, indeed, they seemed little more than a pair of sculls, which were wielded without effort, and, as he was expert in their use, the Delaware remained a passive spectator of the proceedings. The progress of the Ark had something of the stately solemnity of a funeral procession, the dip of the oars being measured, and the movement slow and steady. The wash of the water, as the blades rose and fell, kept time with the efforts of Hurry, and might have been likened to the measured tread of mourners. Then the tranquil scene was in beautiful accordance with a rite that ever associates with itself the idea of God. At that instant, the lake had not even a single ripple on its glassy surface, and the broad panorama of woods seemed to look down on the holy tranquillity of the hour and ceremony in melancholy stillness. Judith was affected to tears, and even Hurry, though he hardly knew why, was troubled. Hetty preserved the outward signs of tranquillity, but her inward grief greatly surpassed that of her sister, since her affectionate heart loved more from habit and long association, than from the usual connections of sentiment and taste. She was sustained by religious hope, however, which in her simple mind usually occupied the space that worldly feelings filled in that of Judith, and she was not without an expectation of witnessing some open manifestation of divine power, on an occasion so solemn. Still she was neither mystical nor exaggerated; her mental imbecility denying both. Nevertheless her thoughts had generally so much of the purity of a better world about them that it was easy for her to forget earth altogether, and to think only of heaven. Hist was serious, attentive and interested, for she had often seen the interments of the pale-faces, though never one that promised to be as peculiar as this; while the Delaware, though grave, and also observant, in his demeanor was stoical and calm.

Hetty acted as pilot, directing Hurry how to proceed, to find that spot in the lake which she was in the habit of terming “mother’s grave.” The reader will remember that the castle stood near the southern extremity of a shoal that extended near half a mile northerly, and it was at the farthest end of this shallow water that Floating Tom had seen fit to deposit the remains of his wife and child. His own were now in the course of being placed at their side. Hetty had marks on the land by which she usually found the spot, although the position of the buildings, the general direction of the shoal, and the beautiful transparency of the water all aided her, the latter even allowing the bottom to be seen. By these means the girl was enabled to note their progress, and at the proper time she approached March, whispering, “Now, Hurry you can stop rowing. We have passed the stone on the bottom, and mother’s grave is near.”

March ceased his efforts, immediately dropping the kedge and taking the warp in his hand in order to check the scow. The Ark turned slowly round under this restraint, and when it was quite stationary, Hetty was seen at its stern, pointing into the water, the tears streaming from her eyes, in ungovernable natural feeling. Judith had been present at the interment of her mother, but she had never visited the spot since. The neglect proceeded from no indifference to the memory of the deceased; for she had loved her mother, and bitterly had she found occasion to mourn her loss; but she was averse to the contemplation of death; and there had been passages in her own life since the day of that interment which increased this feeling, and rendered her, if possible, still more reluctant to approach the spot that contained the remains of one whose severe lessons of female morality and propriety had been deepened and rendered doubly impressive by remorse for her own failings. With Hetty, the case had been very different. To her simple and innocent mind, the remembrance of her mother brought no other feeling than one of gentle sorrow; a grief that is so often termed luxurious even, because it associates with itself the images of excellence and the purity of a better state of existence. For an entire summer, she had been in the habit of repairing to the place after night-fall; and carefully anchoring her canoe so as not to disturb the body, she would sit and hold fancied conversations with the deceased, sing sweet hymns to the evening air, and repeat the orisons that the being who now slumbered below had taught her in infancy. Hetty had passed her happiest hours in this indirect communion with the spirit of her mother; the wildness of Indian traditions and Indian opinions, unconsciously to herself, mingling with the Christian lore received in childhood. Once she had even been so far influenced by the former as to have bethought her of performing some of those physical rites at her mother’s grave which the redmen are known to observe; but the passing feeling had been obscured by the steady, though mild light of Christianity, which never ceased to burn in her gentle bosom. Now her emotions were merely the natural outpourings of a daughter that wept for a mother whose love was indelibly impressed on the heart, and whose lessons had been too earnestly taught to be easily forgotten by one who had so little temptation to err.

There was no other priest than nature at that wild and singular funeral rite. March cast his eyes below, and through the transparent medium of the clear water, which was almost as pure as air, he saw what Hetty was accustomed to call “mother’s grave.” It was a low, straggling mound of earth, fashioned by no spade, out of a corner of which gleamed a bit of the white cloth that formed the shroud of the dead. The body had been lowered to the bottom, and Hutter brought earth from the shore and let it fall upon it, until all was concealed. In this state the place had remained until the movement of the waters revealed the solitary sign of the uses of the spot that has just been mentioned.

Even the most rude and brawling are chastened by the ceremonies of a funeral. March felt no desire to indulge his voice in any of its coarse outbreakings, and was disposed to complete the office he had undertaken in decent sobriety. Perhaps he reflected on the retribution that had alighted on his late comrade, and bethought him of the frightful jeopardy in which his own life had so lately been placed. He signified to Judith that all was ready, received her directions to proceed, and, with no other assistant than his own vast strength, raised the body and bore it to the end of the scow. Two parts of a rope were passed beneath the legs and shoulders, as they are placed beneath coffins, and then the corpse was slowly lowered beneath the surface of the lake.

“Not there — Harry March — no, not there,” said Judith, shuddering involuntarily; “do not lower it quite so near the spot where mother lies!”

“Why not, Judith?” asked Hetty, earnestly. “They lived together in life, and should lie together in death.”

“No — no — Harry March, further off — further off. Poor Hetty, you know not what you say. Leave me to order this.”

“I know I am weak-minded, Judith, and that you are clever — but, surely a husband should be placed near a wife. Mother always said that this was the way they bury in Christian churchyards.”

This little controversy was conducted earnestly, but in smothered voices, as if the speakers feared that the dead might overhear them. Judith could not contend with her sister at such a moment, but a significant gesture induced March to lower the body at a little distance from that of his wife; when he withdrew the cords, and the act was performed.

“There’s an end of Floating Tom!” exclaimed Hurry, bending over the scow, and gazing through the water at the body. “He was a brave companion on a scout, and a notable hand with traps. Don’t weep, Judith, don’t be overcome, Hetty, for the righteousest of us all must die; and when the time comes, lamentations and tears can’t bring the dead to life. Your father will be a loss to you, no doubt; most fathers are a loss, especially to onmarried darters; but there’s a way to cure that evil, and you’re both too young and handsome to live long without finding it out. When it’s agreeable to hear what an honest and onpretending man has to say, Judith, I should like to talk a little with you, apart.”

Judith had scarce attended to this rude attempt of Hurry’s at consolation, although she necessarily understood its general drift, and had a tolerably accurate notion of its manner. She was weeping at the recollection of her mother’s early tenderness, and painful images of long forgotten lessons and neglected precepts were crowding her mind. The words of Hurry, however, recalled her to the present time, and abrupt and unseasonable as was their import, they did not produce those signs of distaste that one might have expected from the girl’s character. On the contrary, she appeared to be struck with some sudden idea, gazed intently for a moment at the young man, dried her eyes, and led the way to the other end of the scow, signifying her wish for him to follow. Here she took a seat and motioned for March to place himself at her side. The decision and earnestness with which all this was done a little intimidated her companion, and Judith found it necessary to open the subject herself.

“You wish to speak to me of marriage, Harry March,” she said, “and I have come here, over the grave of my parents, as it might be — no — no — over the grave of my poor, dear, dear, mother, to hear what you have to say.”

“This is oncommon, and you have a skearful way with you this evening, Judith,” answered Hurry, more disturbed than he would have cared to own, “but truth is truth, and it shall come out, let what will follow. You well know, gal, that I’ve long thought you the comeliest young woman my eyes ever beheld, and that I’ve made no secret of that fact, either here on the lake, out among the hunters and trappers, or in the settlements.”

“Yes — yes, I’ve heard this before, and I suppose it to be true,” answered Judith with a sort of feverish impatience.

“When a young man holds such language of any particular young woman, it’s reasonable to calculate he sets store by her.”

“True — true, Hurry — all this you’ve told me, again and again.”

“Well, if it’s agreeable, I should think a woman coul’n’t hear it too often. They all tell me this is the way with your sex, that nothing pleases them more than to repeat over and over, for the hundredth time, how much you like ’em, unless it be to talk to ’em of their good looks!”

“No doubt — we like both, on most occasions, but this is an uncommon moment, Hurry, and vain words should not be too freely used. I would rather hear you speak plainly.”

“You shall have your own way, Judith, and I some suspect you always will. I’ve often told you that I not only like you better than any other young woman going, or, for that matter, better than all the young women going, but you must have obsarved, Judith, that I’ve never asked you, in up and down tarms, to marry me.”

“I have observed both,” returned the girl, a smile struggling about her beautiful mouth, in spite of the singular and engrossing intentness which caused her cheeks to flush and lighted her eyes with a brilliancy that was almost dazzling —“I have observed both, and have thought the last remarkable for a man of Harry March’s decision and fearlessness.”

“There’s been a reason, gal, and it’s one that troubles me even now — nay, don’t flush up so, and look fiery like, for there are thoughts which will stick long in any man’s mind, as there be words that will stick in his throat — but, then ag’in, there’s feelin’s that will get the better of ’em all, and to these feelin’s I find I must submit. You’ve no longer a father, or a mother, Judith, and it’s morally unpossible that you and Hetty could live here, alone, allowing it was peace and the Iroquois was quiet; but, as matters stand, not only would you starve, but you’d both be prisoners, or scalped, afore a week was out. It’s time to think of a change and a husband, and, if you’ll accept of me, all that’s past shall be forgotten, and there’s an end on’t.”

Judith had difficulty in repressing her impatience until this rude declaration and offer were made, which she evidently wished to hear, and which she now listened to with a willingness that might well have excited hope. She hardly allowed the young man to conclude, so eager was she to bring him to the point, and so ready to answer.

“There — Hurry — that’s enough,” she said, raising a hand as if to stop him —“I understand you as well as if you were to talk a month. You prefer me to other girls, and you wish me to become your wife.”

“You put it in better words than I can do, Judith, and I wish you to fancy them said just as you most like to hear ’em.”

“They’re plain enough, Harry, and ’tis fitting they should be so. This is no place to trifle or deceive in. Now, listen to my answer, which shall be, in every tittle, as sincere as your offer. There is a reason, March, why I should never —

“I suppose I understand you, Judith, but if I’m willing to overlook that reason, it’s no one’s consarn but mine — Now, don’t brighten up like the sky at sundown, for no offence is meant, and none should be taken.”

“I do not brighten up, and will not take offence,” said Judith, struggling to repress her indignation, in a way she had never found it necessary to exert before. “There is a reason why I should not, cannot, ever be your wife, Hurry, that you seem to overlook, and which it is my duty now to tell you, as plainly as you have asked me to consent to become so. I do not, and I am certain that I never shall, love you well enough to marry you. No man can wish for a wife who does not prefer him to all other men, and when I tell you this frankly, I suppose you yourself will thank me for my sincerity.”

“Ah! Judith, them flaunting, gay, scarlet-coated officers of the garrisons have done all this mischief!”

“Hush, March; do not calumniate a daughter over her mother’s grave! Do not, when I only wish to treat you fairly, give me reason to call for evil on your head in bitterness of heart! Do not forget that I am a woman, and that you are a man; and that I have neither father, nor brother, to revenge your words!”

“Well, there is something in the last, and I’ll say no more. Take time, Judith, and think better on this.”

“I want no time — my mind has long been made up, and I have only waited for you to speak plainly, to answer plainly. We now understand each other, and there is no use in saying any more.”

The impetuous earnestness of the girl awed the young man, for never before had he seen her so serious and determined. In most, of their previous interviews she had met his advances with evasion or sarcasm, but these Hurry had mistaken for female coquetry, and had supposed might easily be converted into consent. The struggle had been with himself, about offering, nor had he ever seriously believed it possible that Judith would refuse to become the wife of the handsomest man on all that frontier. Now that the refusal came, and that in terms so decided as to put all cavilling out of the question; if not absolutely dumbfounded, he was so much mortified and surprised as to feel no wish to attempt to change her resolution.

“The Glimmerglass has now no great call for me,” he exclaimed after a minute’s silence. “Old Tom is gone, the Hurons are as plenty on the shore as pigeons in the woods, and altogether it is getting to be an onsuitable place.”

“Then leave it. You see it is surrounded by dangers, and there is no reason why you should risk your life for others. Nor do I know that you can be of any service to us. Go, tonight; we’ll never accuse you of having done any thing forgetful, or unmanly.”

“If I do go, ’twill be with a heavy heart on your account, Judith; I would rather take you with me.”

“That is not to be spoken of any longer, March; but, I will land you in one of the canoes, as soon as it is dark and you can strike a trail for the nearest garrison. When you reach the fort, if you send a party —”

Judith smothered the words, for she felt that it was humiliating to be thus exposing herself to the comments and reflections of one who was not disposed to view her conduct in connection with all in those garrisons, with an eye of favor. Hurry, however, caught the idea, and without perverting it, as the girl dreaded, he answered to the purpose.

“I understand what you would say, and why you don’t say it.” he replied. “If I get safe to the fort, a party shall start on the trail of these vagabonds, and I’ll come with it, myself, for I should like to see you and Hetty in a place of safety, before we part forever.”

“Ah, Harry March, had you always spoken thus, felt thus, my feelings towards you might have been different!”

“Is it too late, now, Judith? I’m rough and a woodsman, but we all change under different treatment from what we have been used to.”

“It is too late, March. I can never feel towards you, or any other man but one, as you would wish to have me. There, I’ve said enough, surely, and you will question me no further. As soon as it is dark, I or the Delaware will put you on the shore. You will make the best of your way to the Mohawk, and the nearest garrison, and send all you can to our assistance. And, Hurry, we are now friends, and I may trust in you, may I not?”

“Sartain, Judith; though our fri’ndship would have been all the warmer, could you look upon me as I look upon you.”

Judith hesitated, and some powerful emotion was struggling within her. Then, as if determined to look down all weaknesses, and accomplish her purposes at every hazard, she spoke more plainly.

“You will find a captain of the name of Warley at the nearest post,” she said, pale as death, and even trembling as she spoke; “I think it likely he will wish to head the party, but I would greatly prefer it should be another. If Captain Warley can be kept back, ‘t would make me very happy!”

“That’s easier said than done, Judith, for these officers do pretty much as they please. The Major will order, and captains, and lieutenants, and ensigns must obey. I know the officer you mean, a red faced, gay, oh! be joyful sort of a gentleman, who swallows madeira enough to drown the Mohawk, and yet a pleasant talker. All the gals in the valley admire him, and they say he admires all the gals. I don’t wonder he is your dislike, Judith, for he’s a very gin’ral lover, if he isn’t a gin’ral officer.”

Judith did not answer, though her frame shook, and her colour changed from pale to crimson, and from crimson back again to the hue of death.

“Alas! my poor mother!” she ejaculated mentally instead of uttering it aloud, “We are over thy grave, but little dost thou know how much thy lessons have been forgotten; thy care neglected; thy love defeated!”

As this goading of the worm that never dies was felt, she arose and signified to Hurry, that she had no more to communicate.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/c/cooper/james_fenimore/deerslayer/chapter21.html

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