The Deerslayer, by James Fenimore Cooper

Chapter 22

“That point in misery, which makes the oppressed man regardless

 of his own life, makes him too Lord of the oppressor’s.”

Coleridge, Remorse, V.i.201–04.

All this time Hetty had remained seated in the head of the scow, looking sorrowfully into the water which held the body of her mother, as well as that of the man whom she had been taught to consider her father. Hist stood near her in gentle quiet, but had no consolation to offer in words. The habits of her people taught her reserve in this respect, and the habits of her sex induced her to wait patiently for a moment when she might manifest some soothing sympathy by means of acts, rather than of speech. Chingachgook held himself a little aloof, in grave reserve, looking like a warrior, but feeling like a man.

Judith joined her sister with an air of dignity and solemnity it was not her practice to show, and, though the gleamings of anguish were still visible on her beautiful face, when she spoke it was firmly and without tremor. At that instant Hist and the Delaware withdrew, moving towards Hurry, in the other end of the boat.

“Sister,” said Judith kindly, “I have much to say to you; we will get into this canoe, and paddle off to a distance from the Ark — The secrets of two orphans ought not to be heard by every ear.”

“Certainly, Judith, by the ears of their parents? Let Hurry lift the grapnel and move away with the Ark, and leave us here, near the graves of father and mother, to say what we may have to say.”

“Father!” repeated Judith slowly, the blood for the first time since her parting with March mounting to her cheeks —“He was no father of ours, Hetty! That we had from his own mouth, and in his dying moments.”

“Are you glad, Judith, to find you had no father! He took care of us, and fed us, and clothed us, and loved us; a father could have done no more. I don’t understand why he wasn’t a father.”

“Never mind, dear child, but let us do as you have said. It may be well to remain here, and let the Ark move a little away. Do you prepare the canoe, and I will tell Hurry and the Indians our wishes.”

This was soon and simply done, the Ark moving with measured strokes of the sweeps a hundred yards from the spot, leaving the girls floating, seemingly in air, above the place of the dead; so buoyant was the light vessel that held them, and so limpid the element by which it was sustained.

“The death of Thomas Hutter,” Judith commenced, after a short pause had prepared her sister to receive her communications, “has altered all our prospects, Hetty. If he was not our father, we are sisters, and must feel alike and live together.”

“How do I know, Judith, that you wouldn’t be as glad to find I am not your sister, as you are in finding that Thomas Hutter, as you call him, was not your father. I am only half witted, and few people like to have half witted relations; and then I’m not handsome — at least, not as handsome as you — and you may wish a handsomer sister.”

“No, no Hetty. You and you only are my sister — my heart, and my love for you tell me that — and mother was my mother — of that too am I glad, and proud; for she was a mother to be proud of — but father was not father!”

“Hush, Judith! His spirit may be near; it would grieve it to hear his children talking so, and that, too, over his very grave. Children should never grieve parents, mother often told me, and especially when they are dead!”

“Poor Hetty! They are happily removed beyond all cares on our account. Nothing that I can do or say will cause mother any sorrow now — there is some consolation in that, at least! And nothing you can say or do will make her smile, as she used to smile on your good conduct when living.”

“You don’t know that, Judith. Spirits can see, and mother may see as well as any spirit. She always told us that God saw all we did, and that we should do nothing to offend him; and now she has left us, I strive to do nothing that can displease her. Think how her spirit would mourn and feel sorrow, Judith, did it see either of us doing what is not right; and spirits may see, after all; especially the spirits of parents that feel anxious about their children.”

“Hetty — Hetty — you know not what you say!” murmured Judith, almost livid with emotion —“The dead cannot see, and know nothing of what passes here! But, we will not talk of this any longer. The bodies of Mother and Thomas Hutter lie together in the lake, and we will hope that the spirits of both are with God. That we, the children of one of them, remain on earth is certain; it is now proper to know what we are to do in future.”

“If we are not Thomas Hutter’s children, Judith, no one will dispute our right to his property. We have the castle and the Ark, and the canoes, and the woods, and the lakes, the same as when he was living, and what can prevent us from staying here, and passing our lives just as we ever have done?”

“No, no poor sister — this can no longer be. Two girls would not be safe here, even should these Hurons fail in getting us into their power. Even father had as much as he could sometimes do, to keep peace upon the lake, and we should fail altogether. We must quit this spot, Hetty, and remove into the settlements.”

“I am sorry you think so, Judith,” returned Hetty, dropping her head on her bosom, and looking thoughtfully down at the spot where the funeral pile of her mother could just be seen. “I am very sorry to hear it. I would rather stay here, where, if I wasn’t born, I’ve passed my life. I don’t like the settlements — they are full of wickedness and heart burnings, while God dwells unoffended in these hills! I love the trees, and the mountains, and the lake, and the springs; all that his bounty has given us, and it would grieve me sorely, Judith, to be forced to quit them. You are handsome, and not at all half-witted, and one day you will marry, and then you will have a husband, and I a brother to take care of us, if women can’t really take care of themselves in such a place as this.”

“Ah! if this could be so, Hetty, then, indeed, I could now be a thousand times happier in these woods, than in the settlements. Once I did not feel thus, but now I do. Yet where is the man to turn this beautiful place into such a garden of Eden for us?”

“Harry March loves you, sister,” returned poor Hetty, unconsciously picking the bark off the canoe as she spoke. “He would be glad to be your husband, I’m sure, and a stouter and a braver youth is not to be met with the whole country round.”

“Harry March and I understand each other, and no more need be said about him. There is one — but no matter. It is all in the hands of providence, and we must shortly come to some conclusion about our future manner of living. Remain here — that is, remain here, alone, we cannot — and perhaps no occasion will ever offer for remaining in the manner you think of. It is time, too, Hetty, we should learn all we can concerning our relations and family. It is not probable we are altogether without relations, and they may be glad to see us. The old chest is now our property, and we have a right to look into it, and learn all we can by what it holds. Mother was so very different from Thomas Hutter, that, now I know we are not his children, I burn with a desire to know whose children we can be. There are papers in that chest, I am certain, and those papers may tell us all about our parents and natural friends.”

“Well, Judith, you know best, for you are cleverer than common, mother always said, and I am only half-witted. Now father and mother are dead, I don’t much care for any relation but you, and don’t think I could love them I never saw, as well as I ought. If you don’t like to marry Hurry, I don’t see who you can choose for a husband, and then I fear we shall have to quit the lake, after all.”

“What do you think of Deerslayer, Hetty?” asked Judith, bending forward like her unsophisticated sister, and endeavoring to conceal her embarrassment in a similar manner. “Would he not make a brother-in-law to your liking?”

“Deerslayer!” repeated the other, looking up in unfeigned surprise. “Why, Judith, Deerslayer isn’t in the least comely, and is altogether unfit for one like you!”

“He is not ill-looking, Hetty, and beauty in a man is not of much matter.”

“Do you think so, Judith? I know that beauty is of no great matter, in man or woman, in the eyes of God, for mother has often told me so, when she thought I might have been sorry I was not as handsome as you, though she needn’t have been uneasy on that account, for I never coveted any thing that is yours, sister — but, tell me so she did — still, beauty is very pleasant to the eye, in both! I think, if I were a man, I should pine more for good looks than I do as a girl. A handsome man is a more pleasing sight than a handsome woman.”

“Poor child! You scarce know what you say, or what you mean! Beauty in our sex is something, but in men, it passes for little. To be sure, a man ought to be tall, but others are tall, as well as Hurry; and active — and I think I know those that are more active — and strong; well, he hasn’t all the strength in the world — and brave — I am certain I can name a youth who is braver!”

“This is strange, Judith! — I didn’t think the earth held a handsomer, or a stronger, or a more active or a braver man than Hurry Harry! I’m sure I never met his equal in either of these things.”

“Well, well, Hetty — say no more of this. I dislike to hear you talking in this manner. Tis not suitable to your innocence, and truth, and warm-hearted sincerity. Let Harry March go. He quits us tonight, and no regret of mine will follow him, unless it be that he has staid so long, and to so little purpose.”

“Ah! Judith; that is what I’ve long feared — and I did so hope he might be my brother-in-law!”

“Never mind it now. Let us talk of our poor mother — and of Thomas Hutter.”

“Speak kindly then, sister, for you can’t be quite certain that spirits don’t both hear and see. If father wasn’t father, he was good to us, and gave us food and shelter. We can’t put any stones over their graves, here in the water, to tell people all this, and so we ought to say it with our tongues.”

“They will care little for that, girl. ’Tis a great consolation to know, Hetty, that if mother ever did commit any heavy fault when young, she lived sincerely to repent of it; no doubt her sins were forgiven her.”

“Tisn’t right, Judith, for children to talk of their parents’ sins. We had better talk of our own.”

“Talk of your sins, Hetty! — If there ever was a creature on earth without sin, it is you! I wish I could say, or think the same of myself; but we shall see. No one knows what changes affection for a good husband can make in a woman’s heart. I don’t think, child, I have even now the same love for finery I once had.”

“It would be a pity, Judith, if you did think of clothes, over your parents’ graves! We will never quit this spot, if you say so, and will let Hurry go where he pleases.”

“I am willing enough to consent to the last, but cannot answer for the first, Hetty. We must live, in future, as becomes respectable young women, and cannot remain here, to be the talk and jest of all the rude and foul tongu’d trappers and hunters that may come upon the lake. Let Hurry go by himself, and then I’ll find the means to see Deerslayer, when the future shall be soon settled. Come, girl, the sun has set, and the Ark is drifting away from us; let us paddle up to the scow, and consult with our friends. This night I shall look into the chest, and to-morrow shall determine what we are to do. As for the Hurons, now we can use our stores without fear of Thomas Hutter, they will be easily bought off. Let me get Deerslayer once out of their hands, and a single hour shall bring things to an understanding.”

Judith spoke with decision, and she spoke with authority, a habit she had long practised towards her feeble-minded sister. But, while thus accustomed to have her way, by the aid of manner and a readier command of words, Hetty occasionally checked her impetuous feelings and hasty acts by the aid of those simple moral truths that were so deeply engrafted in all her own thoughts and feelings; shining through both with a mild and beautiful lustre that threw a sort of holy halo around so much of what she both said and did. On the present occasion, this healthful ascendancy of the girl of weak intellect, over her of a capacity that, in other situations, might have become brilliant and admired, was exhibited in the usual simple and earnest manner.

“You forget, Judith, what has brought us here,” she said reproachfully. “This is mother’s grave, and we have just laid the body of father by her side. We have done wrong to talk so much of ourselves at such a spot, and ought now to pray God to forgive us, and ask him to teach us where we are to go, and what we are to do.”

Judith involuntarily laid aside her paddle, while Hetty dropped on her knees, and was soon lost in her devout but simple petitions. Her sister did not pray. This she had long ceased to do directly, though anguish of spirit frequently wrung from her mental and hasty appeals to the great source of benevolence, for support, if not for a change of spirit. Still she never beheld Hetty on her knees, that a feeling of tender recollection, as well as of profound regret at the deadness of her own heart, did not come over her. Thus had she herself done in childhood, and even down to the hour of her ill fated visits to the garrisons, and she would willingly have given worlds, at such moments, to be able to exchange her present sensations for the confiding faith, those pure aspirations, and the gentle hope that shone through every lineament and movement of her otherwise, less favored sister. All she could do, however, was to drop her head to her bosom, and assume in her attitude some of that devotion in which her stubborn spirit refused to unite. When Hetty rose from her knees, her countenance had a glow and serenity that rendered a face that was always agreeable, positively handsome. Her mind was at peace, and her conscience acquitted her of a neglect of duty.

“Now, you may go if you want to, Judith,” she said, “for God has been kind to me, and lifted a burden off my heart. Mother had many such burdens, she used to tell me, and she always took them off in this way. Tis the only way, sister, such things can be done. You may raise a stone, or a log, with your hands; but the heart must be lightened by prayer. I don’t think you pray as often as you used to do, when younger, Judith!”

“Never mind — never mind, child,” answered the other huskily, “’tis no matter, now. Mother is gone, and Thomas Hutter is gone, and the time has come when we must think and act for ourselves.”

As the canoe moved slowly away from the place, under the gentle impulsion of the elder sister’s paddle, the younger sat musing, as was her wont whenever her mind was perplexed by any idea more abstract and difficult of comprehension than common.

“I don’t know what you mean by ‘future’, Judith,” she at length, suddenly observed. “Mother used to call Heaven the future, but you seem to think it means next week, or tomorrow!”

“It means both, dear sister — every thing that is yet to come, whether in this world or another. It is a solemn word, Hetty, and most so, I fear, to them that think the least about it. Mother’s future is eternity; ours may yet mean what will happen while we live in this world — Is not that a canoe just passing behind the castle — here, more in the direction of the point, I mean; it is hid, now; but certainly I saw a canoe stealing behind the logs!”

“I’ve seen it some time,” Hetty quietly answered, for the Indians had few terrors for her, “but I didn’t think it right to talk about such things over mother’s grave! The canoe came from the camp, Judith, and was paddled by a single man. He seemed to be Deerslayer, and no Iroquois.”

“Deerslayer!” returned the other, with much of her native impetuosity-“That cannot be! Deerslayer is a prisoner, and I have been thinking of the means of setting him free. Why did you fancy it Deerslayer, child?”

“You can look for yourself, sister, for there comes the canoe in sight, again, on this side of the hut.”

Sure enough, the light boat had passed the building, and was now steadily advancing towards the Ark; the persons on board of which were already collecting in the head of the scow to receive their visitor. A single glance sufficed to assure Judith that her sister was right, and that Deerslayer was alone in the canoe. His approach was so calm and leisurely, however, as to fill her with wonder, since a man who had effected his escape from enemies by either artifice or violence, would not be apt to move with the steadiness and deliberation with which his paddle swept the water. By this time the day was fairly departing, and objects were already seen dimly under the shores. In the broad lake, however, the light still lingered, and around the immediate scene of the present incidents, which was less shaded than most of the sheet, being in its broadest part, it cast a glow that bore some faint resemblance to the warm tints of an Italian or Grecian sunset. The logs of the hut and Ark had a sort of purple hue, blended with the growing obscurity, and the bark of the hunter’s boat was losing its distinctness in colours richer, but more mellowed, than those it showed under a bright sun. As the two canoes approached each other — for Judith and her sister had plied their paddles so as to intercept the unexpected visiter ere he reached the Ark — even Deerslayer’s sun-burned countenance wore a brighter aspect than common, under the pleasing tints that seemed to dance in the atmosphere. Judith fancied that delight at meeting her had some share in this unusual and agreeable expression. She was not aware that her own beauty appeared to more advantage than common, from the same natural cause, nor did she understand what it would have given her so much pleasure to know, that the young man actually thought her, as she drew nearer, the loveliest creature of her sex his eyes had ever dwelt on.

“Welcome — welcome, Deerslayer!” exclaimed the girl, as the canoes floated at each other’s side; “we have had a melancholy — a frightful day — but your return is, at least, one misfortune the less! Have the Hurons become more human, and let you go; or have you escaped from the wretches, by your own courage and skill?”

“Neither, Judith — neither one nor t’other. The Mingos are Mingos still, and will live and die Mingos; it is not likely their natur’s will ever undergo much improvement. Well! They’ve their gifts, and we’ve our’n, Judith, and it doesn’t much become either to speak ill of what the Lord has created; though, if the truth must be said, I find it a sore trial to think kindly or to talk kindly of them vagabonds. As for outwitting them, that might have been done, and it was done, too, atween the Sarpent, yonder, and me, when we were on the trail of Hist —” here the hunter stopped to laugh in his own silent fashion —“but it’s no easy matter to sarcumvent the sarcumvented. Even the fa’ans get to know the tricks of the hunters afore a single season is over, and an Indian whose eyes have once been opened by a sarcumvention never shuts them ag’in in precisely the same spot. I’ve known whites to do that, but never a red-skin. What they l’arn comes by practice, and not by books, and of all schoolmasters exper’ence gives lessons that are the longest remembered.”

“All this is true, Deerslayer, but if you have not escaped from the savages, how came you here?”

“That’s a nat’ral question, and charmingly put. You are wonderful handsome this evening, Judith, or Wild Rose, as the Sarpent calls you, and I may as well say it, since I honestly think it! You may well call them Mingos, savages too, for savage enough do they feel, and savage enough will they act, if you once give them an opportunity. They feel their loss here, in the late skrimmage, to their hearts’ cores, and are ready to revenge it on any creatur’ of English blood that may fall in their way. Nor, for that matter do I much think they would stand at taking their satisfaction out of a Dutch man.”

“They have killed father; that ought to satisfy their wicked cravings for blood,” observed Hetty reproachfully.

“I know it, gal — I know the whole story — partly from what I’ve seen from the shore, since they brought me up from the point, and partly from their threats ag’in myself, and their other discourse. Well, life is unsartain at the best, and we all depend on the breath of our nostrils for it, from day to day. If you’ve lost a staunch fri’nd, as I make no doubt you have, Providence will raise up new ones in his stead, and since our acquaintance has begun in this oncommon manner, I shall take it as a hint that it will be a part of my duty in futur’, should the occasion offer, to see you don’t suffer for want of food in the wigwam. I can’t bring the dead to life, but as to feeding the living, there’s few on all this frontier can outdo me, though I say it in the way of pity and consolation, like, and in no particular, in the way of boasting.”

“We understand you, Deerslayer,” returned Judith, hastily, “and take all that falls from your lips, as it is meant, in kindness and friendship. Would to Heaven all men had tongues as true, and hearts as honest!”

“In that respect men do differ, of a sartainty, Judith. I’ve known them that wasn’t to be trusted any farther than you can see them; and others ag’in whose messages, sent with a small piece of wampum, perhaps, might just as much be depended on, as if the whole business was finished afore your face. Yes, Judith, you never said truer word, than when you said some men might be depended on, and other some might not.”

“You are an unaccountable being, Deerslayer,” returned the girl, not a little puzzled with the childish simplicity of character that the hunter so often betrayed — a simplicity so striking that it frequently appeared to place him nearly on a level with the fatuity of poor Hetty, though always relieved by the beautiful moral truth that shone through all that this unfortunate girl both said and did —“You are a most unaccountable man, and I often do not know how to understand you. But never mind, just now; you have forgotten to tell us by what means you are here.”

“I! — Oh! That’s not very onaccountable, if I am myself, Judith. I’m out on furlough.”

“Furlough! — That word has a meaning among the soldiers that I understand; but I cannot tell what it signifies when used by a prisoner.”

“It means just the same. You’re right enough; the soldiers do use it, and just in the same way as I use it. A furlough is when a man has leave to quit a camp or a garrison for a sartain specified time; at the end of which he is to come back and shoulder his musket, or submit to his torments, just as he may happen to be a soldier, or a captyve. Being the last, I must take the chances of a prisoner.”

“Have the Hurons suffered you to quit them in this manner, without watch or guard.”

“Sartain — I woul’n’t have come in any other manner, unless indeed it had been by a bold rising, or a sarcumvention.”

“What pledge have they that you will ever return?”

“My word,” answered the hunter simply. “Yes, I own I gave ’em that, and big fools would they have been to let me come without it! Why in that case, I shouldn’t have been obliged to go back and ondergo any deviltries their fury may invent, but might have shouldered my rifle, and made the best of my way to the Delaware villages. But, Lord! Judith, they know’d this, just as well as you and I do, and would no more let me come away, without a promise to go back, than they would let the wolves dig up the bones of their fathers!”

“Is it possible you mean to do this act of extraordinary self-destruction and recklessness?”

“Anan!”

“I ask if it can be possible that you expect to be able to put yourself again in the power of such ruthless enemies, by keeping your word.”

Deerslayer looked at his fair questioner for a moment with stern displeasure. Then the expression of his honest and guileless face suddenly changed, lighting as by a quick illumination of thought, after which he laughed in his ordinary manner.

“I didn’t understand you, at first, Judith; no, I didn’t! You believe that Chingachgook and Hurry Harry won’t suffer it; but you don’t know mankind thoroughly yet, I see. The Delaware would be the last man on ‘arth to offer any objections to what he knows is a duty, and, as for March, he doesn’t care enough about any creatur’ but himself to spend many words on such a subject. If he did, ‘twould make no great difference howsever; but not he, for he thinks more of his gains than of even his own word. As for my promises, or your’n, Judith, or any body else’s, they give him no consarn. Don’t be under any oneasiness, therefore, gal; I shall be allowed to go back according to the furlough; and if difficulties was made, I’ve not been brought up, and edicated as one may say, in the woods, without knowing how to look ’em down.”

Judith made no answer for some little time. All her feelings as a woman, and as a woman who, for the first time in her life was beginning to submit to that sentiment which has so much influence on the happiness or misery of her sex, revolted at the cruel fate that she fancied Deerslayer was drawing down upon himself, while the sense of right, which God has implanted in every human breast, told her to admire an integrity as indomitable and as unpretending as that which the other so unconsciously displayed. Argument, she felt, would be useless, nor was she at that moment disposed to lessen the dignity and high principle that were so striking in the intentions of the hunter, by any attempt to turn him from his purpose. That something might yet occur to supersede the necessity for this self immolation she tried to hope, and then she proceeded to ascertain the facts in order that her own conduct might be regulated by her knowledge of circumstances.

“When is your furlough out, Deerslayer,” she asked, after both canoes were heading towards the Ark, and moving, with scarcely a perceptible effort of the paddles, through the water.

“To-morrow noon; not a minute afore; and you may depend on it, Judith, I shan’t quit what I call Christian company, to go and give myself up to them vagabonds, an instant sooner than is downright necessary. They begin to fear a visit from the garrisons, and wouldn’t lengthen the time a moment, and it’s pretty well understood atween us that, should I fail in my ar’n’d, the torments are to take place when the sun begins to fall, that they may strike upon their home trail as soon as it is dark.”

This was said solemnly, as if the thought of what was believed to be in reserve duly weighed on the prisoner’s mind, and yet so simply, and without a parade of suffering, as rather to repel than to invite any open manifestations of sympathy.

“Are they bent on revenging their losses?” Judith asked faintly, her own high spirit yielding to the influence of the other’s quiet but dignified integrity of purpose.

“Downright, if I can judge of Indian inclinations by the symptoms. They think howsever I don’t suspect their designs, I do believe, but one that has lived so long among men of red-skin gifts, is no more likely to be misled in Injin feelin’s, than a true hunter is like to lose his trail, or a stanch hound his scent. My own judgment is greatly ag’in my own escape, for I see the women are a good deal enraged on behalf of Hist, though I say it, perhaps, that shouldn’t say it, seein’ that I had a considerable hand myself in getting the gal off. Then there was a cruel murder in their camp last night, and that shot might just as well have been fired into my breast. Howsever, come what will, the Sarpent and his wife will be safe, and that is some happiness in any case.”

“Oh! Deerslayer, they will think better of this, since they have given you until to-morrow noon to make up your mind!”

“I judge not, Judith; yes, I judge not. An Injin is an Injin, gal, and it’s pretty much hopeless to think of swarving him, when he’s got the scent and follows it with his nose in the air. The Delawares, now, are a half Christianized tribe — not that I think such sort of Christians much better than your whole blooded onbelievers — but, nevertheless, what good half Christianizing can do to a man, some among ’em have got, and yet revenge clings to their hearts like the wild creepers here to the tree! Then, I slew one of the best and boldest of their warriors, they say, and it is too much to expect that they should captivate the man who did this deed, in the very same scouting on which it was performed, and they take no account of the matter. Had a month, or so, gone by, their feelin’s would have been softened down, and we might have met in a more friendly way, but it is as it is. Judith, this is talking of nothing but myself, and my own consarns, when you have had trouble enough, and may want to consult a fri’nd a little about your own matters. Is the old man laid in the water, where I should think his body would like to rest?”

“It is, Deerslayer,” answered Judith, almost inaudibly. “That duty has just been performed. You are right in thinking that I wish to consult a friend; and that friend is yourself. Hurry Harry is about to leave us; when he is gone, and we have got a little over the feelings of this solemn office, I hope you will give me an hour alone. Hetty and I are at a loss what to do.”

“That’s quite nat’ral, coming as things have, suddenly and fearfully. But here’s the Ark, and we’ll say more of this when there is a better opportunity.”

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