The Deerslayer, by James Fenimore Cooper

Chapter 23

“The winde is great upon the highest hilles;

The quiet life is in the dale below;

Who tread on ice shall slide against their willes;

They want not cares, that curious arts should know.

Who lives at ease and can content him so,

Is perfect wise, and sets us all to schoole:

Who hates this lore may well be called a foole.”

Thomas Churchyard, “Shore’s Wife,” xlvii.

The meeting between Deerslayer and his friends in the Ark was grave and anxious. The two Indians, in particular, read in his manner that he was not a successful fugitive, and a few sententious words sufficed to let them comprehend the nature of what their friend had termed his ‘furlough.’ Chingachgook immediately became thoughtful, while Hist, as usual, had no better mode of expressing her sympathy than by those little attentions which mark the affectionate manner of woman.

In a few minutes, however, something like a general plan for the proceedings of the night was adopted, and to the eye of an uninstructed observer things would be thought to move in their ordinary train. It was now getting to be dark, and it was decided to sweep the Ark up to the castle, and secure it in its ordinary berth. This decision was come to, in some measure on account of the fact that all the canoes were again in the possession of their proper owners, but principally, from the security that was created by the representations of Deerslayer. He had examined the state of things among the Hurons, and felt satisfied that they meditated no further hostilities during the night, the loss they had met having indisposed them to further exertions for the moment. Then, he had a proposition to make; the object of his visit; and, if this were accepted, the war would at once terminate between the parties; and it was improbable that the Hurons would anticipate the failure of a project on which their chiefs had apparently set their hearts, by having recourse to violence previously to the return of their messenger. As soon as the Ark was properly secured, the different members of the party occupied themselves in their several peculiar manners, haste in council, or in decision, no more characterizing the proceedings of these border whites, than it did those of their red neighbors. The women busied themselves in preparations for the evening meal, sad and silent, but ever attentive to the first wants of nature. Hurry set about repairing his moccasins, by the light of a blazing knot; Chingachgook seated himself in gloomy thought, while Deerslayer proceeded, in a manner equally free from affectation and concern, to examine ‘Killdeer’, the rifle of Hutter that has been already mentioned, and which subsequently became so celebrated, in the hands of the individual who was now making a survey of its merits. The piece was a little longer than usual, and had evidently been turned out from the work shops of some manufacturer of a superior order. It had a few silver ornaments, though, on the whole, it would have been deemed a plain piece by most frontier men, its great merit consisting in the accuracy of its bore, the perfection of the details, and the excellence of the metal. Again and again did the hunter apply the breech to his shoulder, and glance his eye along the sights, and as often did he poise his body and raise the weapon slowly, as if about to catch an aim at a deer, in order to try the weight, and to ascertain its fitness for quick and accurate firing. All this was done, by the aid of Hurry’s torch, simply, but with an earnestness and abstraction that would have been found touching by any spectator who happened to know the real situation of the man.

“Tis a glorious we’pon, Hurry!” Deerslayer at length exclaimed, “and it may be thought a pity that it has fallen into the hands of women. The hunters have told me of its expl’ites, and by all I have heard, I should set it down as sartain death in exper’enced hands. Hearken to the tick of this lock — a wolf trap has’n’t a livelier spring; pan and cock speak together, like two singing masters undertaking a psalm in meetin’. I never did see so true a bore, Hurry, that’s sartain!”

“Ay, Old Tom used to give the piece a character, though he wasn’t the man to particularize the ra’al natur’ of any sort of fire arms, in practise,” returned March, passing the deer’s thongs through the moccasin with the coolness of a cobbler. “He was no marksman, that we must all allow; but he had his good p’ints, as well as his bad ones. I have had hopes that Judith might consait the idee of giving Killdeer to me.”

“There’s no saying what young women may do, that’s a truth, Hurry, and I suppose you’re as likely to own the rifle as another. Still, when things are so very near perfection, it’s a pity not to reach it entirely.”

“What do you mean by that? — Would not that piece look as well on my shoulder, as on any man’s?”

“As for looks, I say nothing. You are both good-looking, and might make what is called a good-looking couple. But the true p’int is as to conduct. More deer would fall in one day, by that piece, in some man’s hands, than would fall in a week in your’n, Hurry! I’ve seen you try; yes, remember the buck t’other day.”

“That buck was out of season, and who wishes to kill venison out of season. I was merely trying to frighten the creatur’, and I think you will own that he was pretty well skeared, at any rate.”

“Well, well, have it as you say. But this is a lordly piece, and would make a steady hand and quick eye the King of the Woods!”

“Then keep it, Deerslayer, and become King of the Woods,” said Judith, earnestly, who had heard the conversation, and whose eye was never long averted from the honest countenance of the hunter. “It can never be in better hands than it is, at this moment, and there I hope it will remain these fifty years.

“Judith you can’t be in ‘arnest!” exclaimed Deerslayer, taken so much by surprise, as to betray more emotion than it was usual for him to manifest on ordinary occasions. “Such a gift would be fit for a ra’al King to make; yes, and for a ra’al King to receive.”

“I never was more in earnest, in my life, Deerslayer, and I am as much in earnest in the wish as in the gift.”

“Well, gal, well; we’ll find time to talk of this ag’in. You mustn’t be down hearted, Hurry, for Judith is a sprightly young woman, and she has a quick reason; she knows that the credit of her father’s rifle is safer in my hands, than it can possibly be in yourn; and, therefore, you mustn’t be down hearted. In other matters, more to your liking, too, you’ll find she’ll give you the preference.”

Hurry growled out his dissatisfaction, but he was too intent on quitting the lake, and in making his preparations, to waste his breath on a subject of this nature. Shortly after, the supper was ready, and it was eaten in silence as is so much the habit of those who consider the table as merely a place of animal refreshment. On this occasion, however, sadness and thought contributed their share to the general desire not to converse, for Deerslayer was so far an exception to the usages of men of his cast, as not only to wish to hold discourse on such occasions, but as often to create a similar desire in his companions.

The meal ended, and the humble preparations removed, the whole party assembled on the platform to hear the expected intelligence from Deerslayer on the subject of his visit. It had been evident he was in no haste to make his communication, but the feelings of Judith would no longer admit of delay. Stools were brought from the Ark and the hut, and the whole six placed themselves in a circle, near the door, watching each other’s countenances, as best they could, by the scanty means that were furnished by a lovely star-light night. Along the shores, beneath the mountains, lay the usual body of gloom, but in the broad lake no shadow was cast, and a thousand mimic stars were dancing in the limpid element, that was just stirred enough by the evening air to set them all in motion.

“Now, Deerslayer,” commenced Judith, whose impatience resisted further restraint-“now, Deerslayer, tell us all the Hurons have to say, and the reason why they have sent you on parole, to make us some offer.”

“Furlough, Judith; furlough is the word; and it carries the same meaning with a captyve at large, as it does with a soldier who has leave to quit his colors. In both cases the word is passed to come back, and now I remember to have heard that’s the ra’al signification; ‘furlough’ meaning a ‘word’ passed for the doing of any thing of the like. Parole I rather think is Dutch, and has something to do with the tattoos of the garrisons. But this makes no great difference, since the vartue of a pledge lies in the idee, and not in the word. Well, then, if the message must be given, it must; and perhaps there is no use in putting it off. Hurry will soon be wanting to set out on his journey to the river, and the stars rise and set, just as if they cared for neither Injin nor message. Ah’s! me; ‘Tisn’t a pleasant, and I know it’s a useless ar’n’d, but it must be told.”

“Harkee, Deerslayer,” put in Hurry, a little authoritatively-“You’re a sensible man in a hunt, and as good a fellow on a march, as a sixty-miler-a-day could wish to meet with, but you’re oncommon slow about messages; especially them that you think won’t be likely to be well received. When a thing is to be told, why tell it; and don’t hang back like a Yankee lawyer pretending he can’t understand a Dutchman’s English, just to get a double fee out of him.”

“I understand you, Hurry, and well are you named to-night, seeing you’ve no time to lose. But let us come at once to the p’int, seeing that’s the object of this council — for council it may be called, though women have seats among us. The simple fact is this. When the party came back from the castle, the Mingos held a council, and bitter thoughts were uppermost, as was plain to be seen by their gloomy faces. No one likes to be beaten, and a red-skin as little as a pale-face. Well, when they had smoked upon it, and made their speeches, and their council fire had burnt low, the matter came out. It seems the elders among ’em consaited I was a man to be trusted on a furlough-They’re wonderful obsarvant, them Mingos; that their worst mimics must allow — but they consaited I was such a man; and it isn’t often —” added the hunter, with a pleasing consciousness that his previous life justified this implicit reliance on his good faith —“it isn’t often they consait any thing so good of a pale-face; but so they did with me, and, therefore, they didn’t hesitate to speak their minds, which is just this: You see the state of things. The lake, and all on it, they fancy, lie at their marcy. Thomas Hutter is deceased, and, as for Hurry, they’ve got the idee he has been near enough to death to-day, not to wish to take another look at him this summer. Therefore, they account all your forces as reduced to Chingachgook and the two young women, and, while they know the Delaware to be of a high race, and a born warrior, they know he’s now on his first war path. As for the gals, of course they set them down much as they do women in gin’ral.”

“You mean that they despise us!” interrupted Judith, with eyes that flashed so brightly as to be observed by all present.

“That will be seen in the end. They hold that all on the lake lies at their marcy, and, therefore, they send by me this belt of wampum,” showing the article in question to the Delaware, as he spoke, “with these words. ‘Tell the Sarpent, they say, that he has done well for a beginner; he may now strike across the mountains for his own villages, and no one shall look for his trail. If he has found a scalp, let him take it with him, for the Huron braves have hearts, and can feel for a young warrior who doesn’t wish to go home empty-handed. If he is nimble, he is welcome to lead out a party in pursuit. Hist, howsever, must go back to the Hurons, for, when she left there in the night, she carried away by mistake, that which doesn’t belong to her.”

“That can’t be true!” said Hetty earnestly. “Hist is no such girl, but one that gives every body his due —”

How much more she would have said in remonstrance cannot be known, inasmuch as Hist, partly laughing and partly hiding her face in shame, passed her own hand across the speaker’s mouth in a way to check the words.

“You don’t understand Mingo messages, poor Hetty —” resumed Deerslayer, “which seldom mean what lies exactly uppermost. Hist has brought away with her the inclinations of a young Huron, and they want her back again, that the poor young man may find them where he last saw them! The Sarpent they say is too promising a young warrior not to find as many wives as he wants, but this one he cannot have. That’s their meaning, and nothing else, as I understand it.”

“They are very obliging and thoughtful, in supposing a young woman can forget all her own inclinations in order to let this unhappy youth find his!” said Judith, ironically; though her manner became more bitter as she proceeded. “I suppose a woman is a woman, let her colour be white, or red, and your chiefs know little of a woman’s heart, Deerslayer, if they think it can ever forgive when wronged, or ever forget when it fairly loves.”

“I suppose that’s pretty much the truth with some women, Judith, though I’ve known them that could do both. The next message is to you. They say the Muskrat, as they called your father, has dove to the bottom of the lake; that he will never come up again, and that his young will soon be in want of wigwams if not of food. The Huron huts, they think, are better than the huts of York, and they wish you to come and try them. Your colour is white, they own, but they think young women who’ve lived so long in the woods would lose their way in the clearin’s. A great warrior among them has lately lost his wife, and he would be glad to put the Wild Rose on her bench at his fireside. As for the Feeble Mind, she will always be honored and taken care of by red warriors. Your father’s goods they think ought to go to enrich the tribe, but your own property, which is to include everything of a female natur’, will go like that of all wives, into the wigwam of the husband. Moreover, they’ve lost a young maiden by violence, lately, and ’twill take two pale-faces to fill her seat.”

“And do you bring such a message to me,” exclaimed Judith, though the tone in which the words were uttered had more in it of sorrow than of anger. “Am I a girl to be an Indian’s slave?”

“If you wish my honest thoughts on this p’int, Judith, I shall answer that I don’t think you’ll, willingly, ever become any man’s slave; red-skin or white. You’re not to think hard, howsever, of my bringing the message, as near as I could, in the very words in which it was given to me. Them was the conditions on which I got my furlough, and a bargain is a bargain, though it is made with a vagabond. I’ve told you what they’ve said, but I’ve not yet told you what I think you ought, one and all, to answer.”

“Ay; let’s hear that, Deerslayer,” put in Hurry. “My cur’osity is up on that consideration, and I should like, right well, to hear your idees of the reasonableness of the reply. For my part, though, my own mind is pretty much settled on the p’int of my own answer, which shall be made known as soon as necessary.”

“And so is mine, Hurry, on all the different heads, and on no one is it more sartainly settled that on your’n. If I was you, I should say —‘Deerslayer, tell them scamps they don’t know Harry March! He is human; and having a white skin, he has also a white natur’, which natur’ won’t let him desart females of his own race and gifts in their greatest need. So set me down as one that will refuse to come into your treaty, though you should smoke a hogshead of tobacco over it.’”

March was a little embarrassed at this rebuke, which was uttered with sufficient warmth of manner, and with a point that left no doubt of the meaning. Had Judith encouraged him, he would not have hesitated about remaining to defend her and her sister, but under the circumstances a feeling of resentment rather urged him to abandon them. At all events, there was not a sufficiency of chivalry in Hurry Harry to induce him to hazard the safety of his own person unless he could see a direct connection between the probable consequences and his own interests. It is no wonder, therefore, that his answer partook equally of his intention, and of the reliance he so boastingly placed on his gigantic strength, which if it did not always make him outrageous, usually made him impudent, as respects those with whom he conversed.

“Fair words make long friendships, Master Deerslayer,” he said a little menacingly. “You’re but a stripling, and you know by exper’ence what you are in the hands of a man. As you’re not me, but only a go between sent by the savages to us Christians, you may tell your empl’yers that they do know Harry March, which is a proof of their sense as well as his. He’s human enough to follow human natur’, and that tells him to see the folly of one man’s fighting a whole tribe. If females desart him, they must expect to be desarted by him, whether they’re of his own gifts or another man’s gifts. Should Judith see fit to change her mind, she’s welcome to my company to the river, and Hetty with her; but shouldn’t she come to this conclusion, I start as soon as I think the enemy’s scouts are beginning to nestle themselves in among the brush and leaves for the night.”

“Judith will not change her mind, and she does not ask your company, Master March,” returned the girl with spirit.

“That p’int’s settled, then,” resumed Deerslayer, unmoved by the other’s warmth. “Hurry Harry must act for himself, and do that which will be most likely to suit his own fancy. The course he means to take will give him an easy race, if it don’t give him an easy conscience. Next comes the question with Hist — what say you gal? — Will you desart your duty, too, and go back to the Mingos and take a Huron husband, and all not for the love of the man you’re to marry, but for the love of your own scalp?”

“Why you talk so to Hist!” demanded the girl half-offended. “You t’ink a red-skin girl made like captain’s lady, to laugh and joke with any officer that come.”

“What I think, Hist, is neither here nor there in this matter. I must carry back your answer, and in order to do so it is necessary that you should send it. A faithful messenger gives his ar’n’d, word for word.”

Hist no longer hesitated to speak her mind fully. In the excitement she rose from her bench, and naturally recurring to that language in which she expressed herself the most readily, she delivered her thoughts and intentions, beautifully and with dignity, in the tongue of her own people.

“Tell the Hurons, Deerslayer,” she said, “that they are as ignorant as moles; they don’t know the wolf from the dog. Among my people, the rose dies on the stem where it budded, the tears of the child fall on the graves of its parents; the corn grows where the seed has been planted. The Delaware girls are not messengers to be sent, like belts of wampum, from tribe to tribe. They are honeysuckles, that are sweetest in their own woods; their own young men carry them away in their bosoms, because they are fragrant; they are sweetest when plucked from their native stems. Even the robin and the martin come back, year after year, to their old nests; shall a woman be less true hearted than a bird? Set the pine in the clay and it will turn yellow; the willow will not flourish on the hill; the tamarack is healthiest in the swamp; the tribes of the sea love best to hear the winds that blow over the salt water. As for a Huron youth, what is he to a maiden of the Lenni Lenape. He may be fleet, but her eyes do not follow him in the race; they look back towards the lodges of the Delawares. He may sing a sweet song for the girls of Canada, but there is no music for Wah, but in the tongue she has listened to from childhood. Were the Huron born of the people that once owned the shores of the salt lake, it would be in vain, unless he were of the family of Uncas. The young pine will rise to be as high as any of its fathers. Wah-ta-Wah has but one heart, and it can love but one husband.”

Deerslayer listened to this characteristic message, which was given with an earnestness suited to the feelings from which it sprung, with undisguised delight, meeting the ardent eloquence of the girl, as she concluded, with one of his own heartfelt, silent, and peculiar fits of laughter.

“That’s worth all the wampum in the woods!” he exclaimed. “You don’t understand it, I suppose, Judith, but if you’ll look into your feelin’s, and fancy that an inimy had sent to tell you to give up the man of your ch’ice, and to take up with another that wasn’t the man of your ch’ice, you’ll get the substance of it, I’ll warrant! Give me a woman for ra’al eloquence, if they’ll only make up their minds to speak what they feel. By speakin’, I don’t mean chatterin’, howsever; for most of them will do that by the hour; but comm’ out with their honest, deepest feelin’s in proper words. And now, Judith, having got the answer of a red-skin girl, it is fit I should get that of a pale-face, if, indeed, a countenance that is as blooming as your’n can in any wise so be tarmed. You are well named the Wild Rose, and so far as colour goes, Hetty ought to be called the Honeysuckle.”

“Did this language come from one of the garrison gallants, I should deride it, Deerslayer, but coming from you, I know it can be depended on,” returned Judith, deeply gratified by his unmeditated and characteristic compliments. “It is too soon, however, to ask my answer; the Great Serpent has not yet spoken.”

“The Sarpent! Lord; I could carry back his speech without hearing a word of it! I didn’t think of putting the question to him at all, I will allow; though ‘twould be hardly right either, seeing that truth is truth, and I’m bound to tell these Mingos the fact and nothing else. So, Chingachgook, let us hear your mind on this matter — are you inclined to strike across the hills towards your village, to give up Hist to a Huron, and to tell the chiefs at home that, if they’re actyve and successful, they may possibly get on the end of the Iroquois trail some two or three days a’ter the inimy has got off of it?”

Like his betrothed, the young chief arose, that his answer might be given with due distinctness and dignity. Hist had spoken with her hands crossed upon her bosom, as if to suppress the emotions within, but the warrior stretched an arm before him with a calm energy that aided in giving emphasis to his expressions. “Wampum should be sent for wampum,” he said; “a message must be answered by a message. Hear what the Great Serpent of the Delawares has to say to the pretended wolves from the great lakes, that are howling through our woods. They are no wolves; they are dogs that have come to get their tails and ears cropped by the hands of the Delawares. They are good at stealing young women; bad at keeping them. Chingachgook takes his own where he finds it; he asks leave of no cur from the Canadas. If he has a tender feeling in his heart, it is no business of the Hurons. He tells it to her who most likes to know it; he will not bellow it in the forest, for the ears of those that only understand yells of terror. What passes in his lodge is not for the chiefs of his own people to know; still less for Mingo rogues —”

“Call ’em vagabonds, Sarpent —” interrupted Deerslayer, unable to restrain his delight —“yes, just call ’em up-and-down vagabonds, which is a word easily intarpreted, and the most hateful of all to their ears, it’s so true. Never fear me; I’ll give em your message, syllable for syllable, sneer for sneer, idee for idee, scorn for scorn, and they desarve no better at your hands — only call ’em vagabonds, once or twice, and that will set the sap mounting in ’em, from their lowest roots to the uppermost branches!”

“Still less for Mingo vagabonds,” resumed Chingachgook, quite willingly complying with his friend’s request. “Tell the Huron dogs to howl louder, if they wish a Delaware to find them in the woods, where they burrow like foxes, instead of hunting like warriors. When they had a Delaware maiden in their camp, there was a reason for hunting them up; now they will be forgotten unless they make a noise. Chingachgook don’t like the trouble of going to his villages for more warriors; he can strike their run-a-way trail; unless they hide it under ground, he will follow it to Canada alone. He will keep Wah-ta-Wah with him to cook his game; they two will be Delawares enough to scare all the Hurons back to their own country.”

“That’s a grand despatch, as the officers call them things!” cried Deerslayer; “’twill set all the Huron blood in motion; most particularily that part where he tells ’em Hist, too, will keep on their heels ‘til they’re fairly driven out of the country. Ahs! me; big words ain’t always big deeds, notwithstanding! The Lord send that we be able to be only one half as good as we promise to be! And now, Judith, it’s your turn to speak, for them miscreants will expect an answer from each person, poor Hetty, perhaps, excepted.”

“And why not Hetty, Deerslayer? She often speaks to the purpose; the Indians may respect her words, for they feel for people in her condition.”

“That is true, Judith, and quick-thoughted in you. The red-skins do respect misfortunes of all kinds, and Hetty’s in particular. So, Hetty, if you have any thing to say, I’ll carry it to the Hurons as faithfully as if it was spoken by a schoolmaster, or a missionary.”

The girl hesitated a moment, and then she answered in her own gentle, soft tones, as earnestly as any who had preceded her.

“The Hurons can’t understand the difference between white people and themselves,” she said, “or they wouldn’t ask Judith and me to go and live in their villages. God has given one country to the red men and another to us. He meant us to live apart. Then mother always said that we should never dwell with any but Christians, if possible, and that is a reason why we can’t go. This lake is ours, and we won’t leave it. Father and mother’s graves are in it, and even the worst Indians love to stay near the graves of their fathers. I will come and see them again, if they wish me to, and read more out of the Bible to them, but I can’t quit father’s and mother’s graves.”

“That will do — that will do, Hetty, just as well as if you sent them a message twice as long,” interrupted the hunter. “I’ll tell ’em all you’ve said, and all you mean, and I’ll answer for it that they’ll be easily satisfied. Now, Judith, your turn comes next, and then this part of my ar’n’d will be tarminated for the night.”

Judith manifested a reluctance to give her reply, that had awakened a little curiosity in the messenger. Judging from her known spirit, he had never supposed the girl would be less true her feelings and principles than Hist, or Hetty, and yet there was a visible wavering of purpose that rendered him slightly uneasy. Even now when directly required to speak, she seemed to hesitate, nor did she open her lips until the profound silence told her how anxiously her words were expected. Then, indeed, she spoke, but it was doubtingly and with reluctance.

“Tell me, first — tell us, first, Deerslayer,” she commenced, repeating the words merely to change the emphasis —“what effect will our answers have on your fate? If you are to be the sacrifice of our spirit, it would have been better had we all been more wary as to the language we use. What, then, are likely to be the consequences to yourself?”

“Lord, Judith, you might as well ask me which way the wind will blow next week, or what will be the age of the next deer that will be shot! I can only say that their faces look a little dark upon me, but it doesn’t thunder every time a black cloud rises, nor does every puff of wind blow up rain. That’s a question, therefore, much more easily put than answered.”

“So is this message of the Iroquois to me,” answered Judith rising, as if she had determined on her own course for the present. “My answer shall be given, Deerslayer, after you and I have talked together alone, when the others have laid themselves down for the night.”

There was a decision in the manner of the girl that disposed Deerslayer to comply, and this he did the more readily as the delay could produce no material consequences one way or the other. The meeting now broke up, Hurry announcing his resolution to leave them speedily. During the hour that was suffered to intervene, in order that the darkness might deepen before the frontierman took his departure, the different individuals occupied themselves in their customary modes, the hunter, in particular, passing most of the time in making further enquiries into the perfection of the rifle already mentioned.

The hour of nine soon arrived, however, and then it had been determined that Hurry should commence his journey. Instead of making his adieus frankly, and in a generous spirit, the little he thought it necessary to say was uttered sullenly and in coldness. Resentment at what he considered Judith’s obstinacy was blended with mortification at the career he had since reaching the lake, and, as is usual with the vulgar and narrow-minded, he was more disposed to reproach others with his failures than to censure himself. Judith gave him her hand, but it was quite as much in gladness as with regret, while the two Delawares were not sorry to find he was leaving them. Of the whole party, Hetty alone betrayed any real feeling. Bashfulness, and the timidity of her sex and character, kept even her aloof, so that Hurry entered the canoe, where Deerslayer was already waiting for him, before she ventured near enough to be observed. Then, indeed, the girl came into the Ark and approached its end, just as the little bark was turning from it, with a movement so light and steady as to be almost imperceptible. An impulse of feeling now overcame her timidity, and Hetty spoke.

“Goodbye Hurry —” she called out, in her sweet voice —“goodbye, dear Hurry. Take care of yourself in the woods, and don’t stop once, ‘til you reach the garrison. The leaves on the trees are scarcely plentier than the Hurons round the lake, and they’ll not treat a strong man like you as kindly as they treat me.”

The ascendency which March had obtained over this feebleminded, but right-thinking, and right-feeling girl, arose from a law of nature. Her senses had been captivated by his personal advantages, and her moral communications with him had never been sufficiently intimate to counteract an effect that must have been otherwise lessened, even with one whose mind was as obtuse as her own. Hetty’s instinct of right, if such a term can be applied to one who seemed taught by some kind spirit how to steer her course with unerring accuracy, between good and evil, would have revolted at Hurry’s character on a thousand points, had there been opportunities to enlighten her, but while he conversed and trifled with her sister, at a distance from herself, his perfection of form and feature had been left to produce their influence on her simple imagination and naturally tender feelings, without suffering by the alloy of his opinions and coarseness. It is true she found him rough and rude; but her father was that, and most of the other men she had seen, and that which she believed to belong to all of the sex struck her less unfavorably in Hurry’s character than it might otherwise have done. Still, it was not absolutely love that Hetty felt for Hurry, nor do we wish so to portray it, but merely that awakening sensibility and admiration, which, under more propitious circumstances, and always supposing no untoward revelations of character on the part of the young man had supervened to prevent it, might soon have ripened into that engrossing feeling. She felt for him an incipient tenderness, but scarcely any passion. Perhaps the nearest approach to the latter that Hetty had manifested was to be seen in the sensitiveness which had caused her to detect March’s predilection for her sister, for, among Judith’s many admirers, this was the only instance in which the dull mind of the girl had been quickened into an observation of the circumstances.

Hurry received so little sympathy at his departure that the gentle tones of Hetty, as she thus called after him, sounded soothingly. He checked the canoe, and with one sweep of his powerful arm brought it back to the side of the Ark. This was more than Hetty, whose courage had risen with the departure of her hero, expected, and she now shrunk timidly back at this unexpected return.

“You’re a good gal, Hetty, and I can’t quit you without shaking hands,” said March kindly. “Judith, a’ter all, isn’t worth as much as you, though she may be a trifle better looking. As to wits, if honesty and fair dealing with a young man is a sign of sense in a young woman, you’re worth a dozen Judiths; ay, and for that matter, most young women of my acquaintance.”

“Don’t say any thing against Judith, Harry,” returned Hetty imploringly. “Father’s gone, and mother’s gone, and nobody’s left but Judith and me, and it isn’t right for sisters to speak evil, or to hear evil of each other. Father’s in the lake, and so is mother, and we should all fear God, for we don’t know when we may be in the lake, too.”

“That sounds reasonable, child, as does most you say. Well, if we ever meet ag’in, Hetty, you’ll find a fri’nd in me, let your sister do what she may. I was no great fri’nd of your mother I’ll allow, for we didn’t think alike on most p’ints, but then your father, Old Tom, and I, fitted each other as remarkably as a buckskin garment will fit any reasonable-built man. I’ve always been unanimous of opinion that Old Floating Tom Hutter, at the bottom, was a good fellow, and will maintain that ag’in all inimies for his sake, as well as for your’n.”

“Goodbye, Hurry,” said Hetty, who now wanted to hasten the young man off, as ardently as she had wished to keep him only the moment before, though she could give no clearer account of the latter than of the former feeling; “goodbye, Hurry; take care of yourself in the woods; don’t halt ‘til you reach the garrison. I’ll read a chapter in the Bible for you before I go to bed, and think of you in my prayers.”

This was touching a point on which March had no sympathies, and without more words, he shook the girl cordially by the hand and re-entered the canoe. In another minute the two adventurers were a hundred feet from the Ark, and half a dozen had not elapsed before they were completely lost to view. Hetty sighed deeply, and rejoined her sister and Hist.

For some time Deerslayer and his companion paddled ahead in silence. It had been determined to land Hurry at the precise point where he is represented, in the commencement of our tale, as having embarked, not only as a place little likely to be watched by the Hurons, but because he was sufficiently familiar with the signs of the woods, at that spot, to thread his way through them in the dark. Thither, then, the light craft proceeded, being urged as diligently and as swiftly as two vigorous and skilful canoemen could force their little vessel through, or rather over, the water. Less than a quarter of an hour sufficed for the object, and, at the end of that time, being within the shadows of the shore, and quite near the point they sought, each ceased his efforts in order to make their parting communications out of earshot of any straggler who might happen to be in the neighborhood.

“You will do well to persuade the officers at the garrison to lead out a party ag’in these vagabonds as soon as you git in, Hurry,” Deerslayer commenced; “and you’ll do better if you volunteer to guide it up yourself. You know the paths, and the shape of the lake, and the natur’ of the land, and can do it better than a common, gin’ralizing scout. Strike at the Huron camp first, and follow the signs that will then show themselves. A few looks at the hut and the Ark will satisfy you as to the state of the Delaware and the women, and, at any rate, there’ll be a fine opportunity to fall on the Mingo trail, and to make a mark on the memories of the blackguards that they’ll be apt to carry with ’em a long time. It won’t be likely to make much difference with me, since that matter will be detarmined afore tomorrow’s sun has set, but it may make a great change in Judith and Hetty’s hopes and prospects!”

“And as for yourself, Nathaniel,” Hurry enquired with more interest than he was accustomed to betray in the welfare of others —“And, as for yourself, what do you think is likely to turn up?”

“The Lord, in his wisdom, only can tell, Henry March! The clouds look black and threatening, and I keep my mind in a state to meet the worst. Vengeful feelin’s are uppermost in the hearts of the Mingos, and any little disapp’intment about the plunder, or the prisoners, or Hist, may make the torments sartain. The Lord, in his wisdom, can only detarmine my fate, or your’n!”

“This is a black business, and ought to be put a stop to in some way or other —” answered Hurry, confounding the distinctions between right and wrong, as is usual with selfish and vulgar men. “I heartily wish old Hutter and I had scalped every creatur’ in their camp, the night we first landed with that capital object! Had you not held back, Deerslayer, it might have been done, and then you wouldn’t have found yourself, at the last moment, in the desperate condition you mention.”

“‘Twould have been better had you said you wished you had never attempted to do what it little becomes any white man’s gifts to undertake; in which case, not only might we have kept from coming to blows, but Thomas Hutter would now have been living, and the hearts of the savages would be less given to vengeance. The death of that young woman, too, was on-called for, Henry March, and leaves a heavy load on our names if not on our consciences!”

This was so apparent, and it seemed so obvious to Hurry himself, at the moment, that he dashed his paddle into the water, and began to urge the canoe towards the shore, as if bent only on running away from his own lively remorse. His companion humoured this feverish desire for change, and, in a minute or two, the bows of the boat grated lightly on the shingle of the beach. To land, shoulder his pack and rifle, and to get ready for his march occupied Hurry but an instant, and with a growling adieu, he had already commenced his march, when a sudden twinge of feeling brought him to a dead stop, and immediately after to the other’s side.

“You cannot mean to give yourself up ag’in to them murdering savages, Deerslayer!” he said, quite as much in angry remonstrance, as with generous feeling. “Twould be the act of a madman or a fool!”

“There’s them that thinks it madness to keep their words, and there’s them that don’t, Hurry Harry. You may be one of the first, but I’m one of the last. No red-skin breathing shall have it in his power to say that a Mingo minds his word more than a man of white blood and white gifts, in any thing that consarns me. I’m out on a furlough, and if I’ve strength and reason, I’ll go in on a furlough afore noon to-morrow!”

“What’s an Injin, or a word passed, or a furlough taken from creatur’s like them, that have neither souls, nor reason!”

“If they’ve got neither souls nor reason, you and I have both, Henry March, and one is accountable for the other. This furlough is not, as you seem to think, a matter altogether atween me and the Mingos, seeing it is a solemn bargain made atween me and God. He who thinks that he can say what he pleases, in his distress, and that twill all pass for nothing, because ’tis uttered in the forest, and into red men’s ears, knows little of his situation, and hopes, and wants. The woods are but the ears of the Almighty, the air is his breath, and the light of the sun is little more than a glance of his eye. Farewell, Harry; we may not meet ag’in, but I would wish you never to treat a furlough, or any other solemn thing that your Christian God has been called on to witness, as a duty so light that it may be forgotten according to the wants of the body, or even accordin’ to the cravings of the spirit.”

March was now glad again to escape. It was quite impossible that he could enter into the sentiments that ennobled his companion, and he broke away from both with an impatience that caused him secretly to curse the folly that could induce a man to rush, as it were, on his own destruction. Deerslayer, on the contrary, manifested no such excitement. Sustained by his principles, inflexible in the purpose of acting up to them, and superior to any unmanly apprehension, he regarded all before him as a matter of course, and no more thought of making any unworthy attempt to avoid it, than a Mussulman thinks of counteracting the decrees of Providence. He stood calmly on the shore, listening to the reckless tread with which Hurry betrayed his progress through the bushes, shook his head in dissatisfaction at the want of caution, and then stepped quietly into his canoe. Before he dropped the paddle again into the water, the young man gazed about him at the scene presented by the star-lit night. This was the spot where he had first laid his eyes on the beautiful sheet of water on which he floated. If it was then glorious in the bright light of a summer’s noon-tide, it was now sad and melancholy under the shadows of night. The mountains rose around it like black barriers to exclude the outer world, and the gleams of pale light that rested on the broader parts of the basin were no bad symbols of the faintness of the hopes that were so dimly visible in his own future. Sighing heavily, he pushed the canoe from the land, and took his way back with steady diligence towards the Ark and the castle.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/c/cooper/james_fenimore/deerslayer/chapter23.html

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