The Deerslayer, by James Fenimore Cooper

Chapter 26

“Upon two stony tables, spread before her,

She lean’d her bosom, more than stony hard,

There slept th’ impartial judge, and strict restorer

Of wrong, or right, with pain or with reward;

There hung the score of all our debts, the card

Where good, and bad, and life, and death, were painted;

Was never heart of mortal so untainted,

But when the roll was read, with thousand terrors fainted.”

Giles Fletcher, Christ’s Victory in Heaven, lxv.

“We’ve done an unthoughtful thing, Sarpent — yes, Judith, we’ve done an unthoughtful thing in taking life with an object no better than vanity!” exclaimed Deerslayer, when the Delaware held up the enormous bird, by its wings, and exhibited the dying eyes riveted on its enemies with the gaze that the helpless ever fasten on their destroyers. “Twas more becomin’ two boys to gratify their feelin’s in this onthoughtful manner, than two warriors on a warpath, even though it be their first. Ah’s! me; well, as a punishment I’ll quit you at once, and when I find myself alone with them bloody-minded Mingos, it’s more than like I’ll have occasion to remember that life is sweet, even to the beasts of the woods and the fowls of the air. There, Judith; there’s Kildeer; take him back, ag’in, and keep him for some hand that’s more desarving to own such a piece.”

“I know of none as deserving as your own, Deerslayer,” answered the girl in haste; “none but yours shall keep the rifle.”

“If it depended on skill, you might be right enough, gal, but we should know when to use firearms, as well as how to use ’em. I haven’t l’arnt the first duty yet, it seems; so keep the piece till I have. The sight of a dyin’ and distressed creatur’, even though it be only a bird, brings wholesome thoughts to a man who don’t know how soon his own time may come, and who is pretty sartain that it will come afore the sun sets; I’d give back all my vain feelin’s, and rej’icin’s in hand and eye, if that poor eagle was only on its nest ag’in, with its young, praisin’ the Lord for anything that we can know about the matter, for health and strength!”

The listeners were confounded with this proof of sudden repentance in the hunter, and that too for an indulgence so very common, that men seldom stop to weigh its consequences, or the physical suffering it may bring on the unoffending and helpless. The Delaware understood what was said, though he scarce understood the feelings which had prompted the words, and by way of disposing of the difficulty, he drew his keen knife, and severed the head of the sufferer from its body.

“What a thing is power!” continued the hunter, “and what a thing it is to have it, and not to know how to use it. It’s no wonder, Judith, that the great so often fail of their duties, when even the little and the humble find it so hard to do what’s right, and not to do what’s wrong. Then, how one evil act brings others a’ter it! Now, wasn’t it for this furlough of mine, which must soon take me back to the Mingos, I’d find this creatur’s nest, if I travelled the woods a fortnight — though an eagle’s nest is soon found by them that understands the bird’s natur’ — but I’d travel a fortnight rather than not find it, just to put the young, too, out of their pain.”

“I’m glad to hear you say this, Deerslayer,” observed Hetty, “and God will be more apt to remember your sorrow for what you’ve done, than the wickedness itself. I thought how wicked it was to kill harmless birds, while you were shooting, and meant to tell you so; but, I don’t know how it happened — I was so curious to see if you could hit an eagle at so great a height, that I forgot altogether to speak, ‘till the mischief was done.”

“That’s it; that’s just it, my good Hetty. We can all see our faults and mistakes when it’s too late to help them! Howsever I’m glad you didn’t speak, for I don’t think a word or two would have stopped me, just at that moment, and so the sin stands in its nakedness, and not aggravated by any unheeded calls to forbear. Well, well, bitter thoughts are hard to be borne at all times, but there’s times when they’re harder than at others.”

Little did Deerslayer know, while thus indulging in feelings that were natural to the man, and so strictly in accordance with his own unsophisticated and just principles, that, in the course of the inscrutable providence, which so uniformly and yet so mysteriously covers all events with its mantle, the very fault he was disposed so severely to censure was to be made the means of determining his own earthly fate. The mode and the moment in which he was to feel the influence of this interference, it would be premature to relate, but both will appear in the course of the succeeding chapters. As for the young man, he now slowly left the Ark, like one sorrowing for his misdeeds, and seated himself in silence on the platform. By this time the sun had ascended to some height, and its appearance, taken in connection with his present feelings, induced him to prepare to depart. The Delaware got the canoe ready for his friend, as soon as apprised of his intention, while Hist busied herself in making the few arrangements that were thought necessary to his comfort. All this was done without ostentation, but in a way that left Deerslayer fully acquainted with, and equally disposed to appreciate, the motive. When all was ready, both returned to the side of Judith and Hetty, neither of whom had moved from the spot where the young hunter sat.

“The best fri’nds must often part,” the last began, when he saw the whole party grouped around him —“yes, fri’ndship can’t alter the ways of Providence, and let our feelin’s be as they may, we must part. I’ve often thought there’s moments when our words dwell longer on the mind than common, and when advice is remembered, just because the mouth that gives it isn’t likely to give it ag’in. No one knows what will happen in this world, and therefore it may be well, when fri’nds separate under a likelihood that the parting may be long, to say a few words in kindness, as a sort of keepsakes. If all but one will go into the Ark, I’ll talk to each in turn, and what is more, I’ll listen to what you may have to say back ag’in, for it’s a poor counsellor that won’t take as well as give.”

As the meaning of the speaker was understood, the two Indians immediately withdrew as desired, leaving the sisters, however, still standing at the young man’s side. A look of Deerslayer’s induced Judith to explain.

“You can advise Hetty as you land,” she said hastily, “for I intend that she shall accompany you to the shore.”

“Is this wise, Judith? It’s true, that under common sarcumstances a feeble mind is a great protection among red-skins, but when their feelin’s are up, and they’re bent on revenge, it’s hard to say what may come to pass. Besides —”

“What were you about to say, Deerslayer?” asked Judith, whose gentleness of voice and manner amounted nearly to tenderness, though she struggled hard to keep her emotions and apprehensions in subjection.

“Why, simply that there are sights and doin’s that one even as little gifted with reason and memory as Hetty here, might better not witness. So, Judith, you would do well to let me land alone, and to keep your sister back.”

“Never fear for me, Deerslayer,” put in Hetty, who comprehended enough of the discourse to know its general drift, “I’m feeble minded, and that they say is an excuse for going anywhere; and what that won’t excuse, will be overlooked on account of the Bible I always carry. It is wonderful, Judith, how all sorts of men; the trappers as well as the hunters; red-men as well as white; Mingos as well as Delawares do reverence and fear the Bible!”

“I think you have not the least ground to fear any injury, Hetty,” answered the sister, “and therefore I shall insist on your going to the Huron camp with our friend. Your being there can do no harm, not even to yourself, and may do great good to Deerslayer.”

“This is not a moment, Judith, to dispute, and so have the matter your own way,” returned the young man. “Get yourself ready, Hetty, and go into the canoe, for I’ve a few parting words to say to your sister, which can do you no good.”

Judith and her companion continued silent, until Hetty had so far complied as to leave them alone, when Deerslayer took up the subject, as if it had been interrupted by some ordinary occurrence, and in a very matter of fact way.

“Words spoken at parting, and which may be the last we ever hear from a fri’nd are not soon forgotten,” he repeated, “and so Judith, I intend to speak to you like a brother, seein’ I’m not old enough to be your father. In the first place, I wish to caution you ag’in your inimies, of which two may be said to ha’nt your very footsteps, and to beset your ways. The first is oncommon good looks, which is as dangerous a foe to some young women, as a whole tribe of Mingos could prove, and which calls for great watchfulness — not to admire and praise — but to distrust and sarcumvent. Yes, good looks may be sarcumvented, and fairly outwitted, too. In order to do this you’ve only to remember that they melt like the snows, and, when once gone, they never come back ag’in. The seasons come and go, Judith, and if we have winter, with storms and frosts, and spring with chills and leafless trees, we have summer with its sun and glorious skies, and fall with its fruits, and a garment thrown over the forest, that no beauty of the town could rummage out of all the shops in America. ‘Arth is in an etarnal round, the goodness of God bringing back the pleasant when we’ve had enough of the onpleasant. But it’s not so with good looks. They are lent for a short time in youth, to be used and not abused, and, as I never met with a young woman to whom providence has been as bountiful as it has to you, Judith, in this partic’lar, I warn you, as it might be with my dyin’ breath, to beware of the inimy — fri’nd, or inimy, as we deal with the gift.”

It was so grateful to Judith to hear these unequivocal admissions of her personal charms, that much would have been forgiven to the man who made them, let him be who he might. But, at that moment, and from a far better feeling, it would not have been easy for Deerslayer seriously to offend her, and she listened with a patience, which, had it been foretold only a week earlier, it would have excited her indignation to hear.

“I understand your meaning, Deerslayer,” returned the girl, with a meekness and humility that a little surprised her listener, “and hope to be able to profit by it. But, you have mentioned only one of the enemies I have to fear; who, or what is the other.”

“The other is givin’ way afore your own good sense and judgment, I find, Judith; yes, he’s not as dangerous as I supposed. Howsever, havin’ opened the subject, it will be as well to end it honestly. The first inimy you have to be watchful of, as I’ve already told you, Judith, is oncommon good looks, and the next is an oncommon knowledge of the sarcumstance. If the first is bad, the last doesn’t, in any way, mend the matter, so far as safety and peace of mind are consarned.”

How much longer the young man would have gone on in his simple and unsuspecting, but well intentioned manner, it might not be easy to say, had he not been interrupted by his listener’s bursting into tears, and giving way to an outbreak of feeling, which was so much the more violent from the fact that it had been with so much difficulty suppressed. At first her sobs were so violent and uncontrollable that Deerslayer was a little appalled, and he was abundantly repentant from the instant that he discovered how much greater was the effect produced by his words than he had anticipated. Even the austere and exacting are usually appeased by the signs of contrition, but the nature of Deerslayer did not require proofs of intense feelings so strong in order to bring him down to a level with the regrets felt by the girl herself. He arose, as if an adder had stung him, and the accents of the mother that soothes her child were scarcely more gentle and winning than the tones of his voice, as he now expressed his contrition at having gone so far.

“It was well meant, Judith,” he said, “but it was not intended to hurt your feelin’s so much. I have overdone the advice, I see; yes, I’ve overdone it, and I crave your pardon for the same. Fri’ndship’s an awful thing! Sometimes it chides us for not having done enough; and then, ag’in it speaks in strong words for havin’ done too much. Howsever, I acknowledge I’ve overdone the matter, and as I’ve a ra’al and strong regard for you, I rej’ice to say it, inasmuch as it proves how much better you are, than my own vanity and consaits had made you out to be.”

Judith now removed her hands from her face, her tears had ceased, and she unveiled a countenance so winning with the smile which rendered it even radiant, that the young man gazed at her, for a moment, with speechless delight.

“Say no more, Deerslayer,” she hastily interposed; “it pains me to hear you find fault with yourself. I know my own weakness, all the better, now I see that you have discovered it; the lesson, bitter as I have found it for a moment, shall not be forgotten. We will not talk any longer of these things, for I do not feel myself brave enough for the undertaking, and I should not like the Delaware, or Hist, or even Hetty, to notice my weakness. Farewell, Deerslayer; may God bless and protect you as your honest heart deserves blessings and protection, and as I must think he will.”

Judith had so far regained the superiority that properly belonged to her better education, high spirit, and surpassing personal advantages, as to preserve the ascendancy she had thus accidentally obtained, and effectually prevented any return to the subject that was as singularly interrupted, as it had been singularly introduced. The young man permitted her to have every thing her own way, and when she pressed his hard hand in both her own, he made no resistance, but submitted to the homage as quietly, and with quite as matter of course a manner, as a sovereign would have received a similar tribute from a subject, or the mistress from her suitor. Feeling had flushed the face and illuminated the whole countenance of the girl, and her beauty was never more resplendant than when she cast a parting glance at the youth. That glance was filled with anxiety, interest and gentle pity. At the next instant, she darted into the hut and was seen no more, though she spoke to Hist from a window, to inform her that their friend expected her appearance.

“You know enough of red-skin natur’, and red-skin usages, Wah-ta-Wah, to see the condition I am in on account of this furlough,” commenced the hunter in Delaware, as soon as the patient and submissive girl of that people had moved quietly to his side; “you will therefore best onderstand how onlikely I am ever to talk with you ag’in. I’ve but little to say; but that little comes from long livin’ among your people, and from havin’ obsarved and noted their usages. The life of a woman is hard at the best, but I must own, though I’m not opinionated in favor of my own colour, that it is harder among the red men than it is among the pale-faces. This is a p’int on which Christians may well boast, if boasting can be set down for Christianity in any manner or form, which I rather think it cannot. Howsever, all women have their trials. Red women have their’n in what I should call the nat’ral way, while white women take ’em innoculated like. Bear your burthen, Hist, becomingly, and remember if it be a little toilsome, how much lighter it is than that of most Indian women. I know the Sarpent well — what I call cordially — and he will never be a tyrant to any thing he loves, though he will expect to be treated himself like a Mohican Chief. There will be cloudy days in your lodge I suppose, for they happen under all usages, and among all people, but, by keepin’ the windows of the heart open there will always be room for the sunshine to enter. You come of a great stock yourself, and so does Chingachgook. It’s not very likely that either will ever forget the sarcumstance and do any thing to disgrace your forefathers. Nevertheless, likin’ is a tender plant, and never thrives long when watered with tears. Let the ‘arth around your married happiness be moistened by the dews of kindness.”

“My pale brother is very wise; Wah will keep in her mind all that his wisdom tells her.”

“That’s judicious and womanly, Hist. Care in listening, and stout-heartedness in holding to good counsel, is a wife’s great protection. And, now, ask the Sarpent to come and speak with me, for a moment, and carry away with you all my best wishes and prayers. I shall think of you, Hist, and of your intended husband, let what may come to pass, and always wish you well, here and hereafter, whether the last is to be according to Indian idees, or Christian doctrines.”

Hist shed no tear at parting. She was sustained by the high resolution of one who had decided on her course, but her dark eyes were luminous with the feelings that glowed within, and her pretty countenance beamed with an expression of determination that was in marked and singular contrast to its ordinary gentleness. It was but a minute ere the Delaware advanced to the side of his friend with the light, noiseless tread of an Indian.

“Come this-a-way, Sarpent, here more out of sight of the women,” commenced the Deerslayer, “for I’ve several things to say that mustn’t so much as be suspected, much less overheard. You know too well the natur’ of furloughs and Mingos to have any doubts or misgivin’s consarnin’ what is like to happen, when I get back to the camp. On them two p’ints therefore, a few words will go a great way. In the first place, chief, I wish to say a little about Hist, and the manner in which you red men treat your wives. I suppose it’s accordin’ to the gifts of your people that the women should work, and the men hunt; but there’s such a thing as moderation in all matters. As for huntin’, I see no good reason why any limits need be set to that, but Hist comes of too good a stock to toil like a common drudge. One of your means and standin’ need never want for corn, or potatoes, or anything that the fields yield; therefore, I hope the hoe will never be put into the hands of any wife of yourn. You know I am not quite a beggar, and all I own, whether in ammunition, skins, arms, or calicoes, I give to Hist, should I not come back to claim them by the end of the season. This will set the maiden up, and will buy labor for her, for a long time to come. I suppose I needn’t tell you to love the young woman, for that you do already, and whomsoever the man ra’ally loves, he’ll be likely enough to cherish. Nevertheless, it can do no harm to say that kind words never rankle, while bitter words do. I know you’re a man, Sarpent, that is less apt to talk in his own lodge, than to speak at the Council Fire; but forgetful moments may overtake us all, and the practyse of kind doin’, and kind talkin’, is a wonderful advantage in keepin’ peace in a cabin, as well as on a hunt.”

“My ears are open,” returned the Delaware gravely; “the words of my brother have entered so far that they never can fall out again. They are like rings, that have no end, and cannot drop. Let him speak on; the song of the wren and the voice of a friend never tire.”

“I will speak a little longer, chief, but you will excuse it for the sake of old companionship, should I now talk about myself. If the worst comes to the worst, it’s not likely there’ll be much left of me but ashes, so a grave would be useless, and a sort of vanity. On that score I’m no way partic’lar, though it might be well enough to take a look at the remains of the pile, and should any bones, or pieces be found, ‘twould be more decent to gather them together, and bury them, than to let them lie for the wolves to gnaw at, and howl over. These matters can make no great difference in the mind, but men of white blood and Christian feelin’s have rather a gift for graves.”

“It shall be done as my brother says,” returned the Indian, gravely. “If his mind is full, let him empty it in the bosom of a friend.”

“I thank you, Sarpent; my mind’s easy enough; yes, it’s tolerable easy. Idees will come uppermost that I’m not apt to think about in common, it’s true, but by striving ag’in some, and lettin’ other some out, all will come right in the long run. There’s one thing, howsever, chief, that does seem to me to be onreasonable, and ag’in natur’, though the missionaries say it’s true, and bein’ of my religion and colour I feel bound to believe them. They say an Injin may torment and tortur’ the body to his heart’s content, and scalp, and cut, and tear, and burn, and consume all his inventions and deviltries, until nothin’ is left but ashes, and they shall be scattered to the four winds of heaven, yet when the trumpet of God shall sound, all will come together ag’in, and the man will stand forth in his flesh, the same creatur’ as to looks, if not as to feelin’s, that he was afore he was harmed!”

“The missionaries are good men — mean well,” returned the Delaware courteously; “they are not great medicines. They think all they say, Deerslayer; that is no reason why warriors and orators should be all ears. When Chingachgook shall see the father of Tamenund standing in his scalp, and paint, and war lock, then will he believe the missionaries.”

“Seein’ is believin’, of a sartainty; ahs! me — and some of us may see these things sooner than we thought. I comprehind your meanin’ about Tamenund’s father, Sarpent, and the idee’s a close idee. Tamenund is now an elderly man, say eighty every day of it, and his father was scalped, and tormented, and burnt, when the present prophet was a youngster. Yes, if one could see that come to pass, there wouldn’t be much difficulty in yieldin’ faith to all that the missionaries say. Howsever, I am not ag’in the opinion now, for you must know, Sarpent, that the great principle of Christianity is to believe without seeing, and a man should always act up to his religion and principles, let them be what they may.”

“That is strange for a wise nation!” said the Delaware with emphasis. “The red man looks hard, that he may see and understand.”

“Yes, that’s plauserble, and is agreeable to mortal pride, but it’s not as deep as it seems. If we could understand all we see, Sarpent, there might be not only sense, but safety, in refusin’ to give faith to any one thing that we might find oncomperhensible; but when there’s so many things about which it may be said we know nothin’ at all, why, there’s little use, and no reason, in bein’ difficult touchin’ any one in partic’lar. For my part, Delaware, all my thoughts haven’t been on the game, when outlyin’ in the hunts and scoutin’s of our youth. Many’s the hour I’ve passed, pleasantly enough too, in what is tarmed conterplation by my people. On such occasions the mind is actyve, though the body seems lazy and listless. An open spot on a mountain side, where a wide look can be had at the heavens and the ‘arth, is a most judicious place for a man to get a just idee of the power of the Manitou, and of his own littleness. At such times, there isn’t any great disposition to find fault with little difficulties, in the way of comperhension, as there are so many big ones to hide them. Believin’ comes easy enough to me at such times, and if the Lord made man first out of’arth, as they tell me it is written in the Bible; then turns him into dust at death; I see no great difficulty in the way to bringin’ him back in the body, though ashes be the only substance left. These things lie beyond our understandin’, though they may and do lie so close to our feelin’s. But, of all the doctrines, Sarpent, that which disturbs me, and disconsarts my mind the most, is the one which teaches us to think that a pale-face goes to one heaven, and a red-skin to another; it may separate in death them which lived much together, and loved each other well, in life!”

“Do the missionaries teach their white brethren to think it is so?” demanded the Indian, with serious earnestness. “The Delawares believe that good men and brave warriors will hunt together in the same pleasant woods, let them belong to whatever tribe they may; that all the unjust Indians and cowards will have to sneak in with the dogs and the wolves to get venison for their lodges.”

“Tis wonderful how many consaits mankind have consarnin’ happiness and misery, here after!” exclaimed the hunter, borne away by the power of his own thoughts. “Some believe in burnin’s and flames, and some think punishment is to eat with the wolves and dogs. Then, ag’in, some fancy heaven to be only the carryin’ out of their own ‘arthly longin’s, while others fancy it all gold and shinin’ lights! Well, I’ve an idee of my own, in that matter, which is just this, Sarpent. Whenever I’ve done wrong, I’ve ginirally found ’twas owin’ to some blindness of the mind, which hid the right from view, and when sight has returned, then has come sorrow and repentance. Now, I consait that, after death, when the body is laid aside or, if used at all, is purified and without its longin’s, the spirit sees all things in their ra’al lights and never becomes blind to truth and justice. Such bein’ the case, all that has been done in life, is beheld as plainly as the sun is seen at noon; the good brings joy, while the evil brings sorrow. There’s nothin’ onreasonable in that, but it’s agreeable to every man’s exper’ence.”

“I thought the pale-faces believed all men were wicked; who then could ever find the white man’s heaven?”

“That’s ingen’ous, but it falls short of the missionary teachin’s. You’ll be Christianized one day, I make no doubt, and then ’twill all come plain enough. You must know, Sarpent, that there’s been a great deed of salvation done, that, by God’s help, enables all men to find a pardon for their wickednesses, and that is the essence of the white man’s religion. I can’t stop to talk this matter over with you any longer, for Hetty’s in the canoe, and the furlough takes me away, but the time will come I hope when you’ll feel these things; for, after all, they must be felt rather than reasoned about. Ah’s! me; well, Delaware, there’s my hand; you know it’s that of a fri’nd, and will shake it as such, though it never has done you one half the good its owner wishes it had.”

The Indian took the offered hand, and returned its pressure warmly. Then falling back on his acquired stoicism of manner, which so many mistake for constitutional indifference, he drew up in reserve, and prepared to part from his friend with dignity. Deerslayer, however, was more natural, nor would he have at all cared about giving way to his feelings, had not the recent conduct and language of Judith given him some secret, though ill defined apprehensions of a scene. He was too humble to imagine the truth concerning the actual feelings of that beautiful girl, while he was too observant not to have noted the struggle she had maintained with herself, and which had so often led her to the very verge of discovery. That something extraordinary was concealed in her breast he thought obvious enough, and, through a sentiment of manly delicacy that would have done credit to the highest human refinement, he shrunk from any exposure of her secret that might subsequently cause regret to the girl, herself. He therefore determined to depart, now, and that without any further manifestations of feeling either from him, or from others.

“God bless you! Sarpent — God bless you!” cried the hunter, as the canoe left the side of the platform. “Your Manitou and my God only know when and where we shall meet ag’in; I shall count it a great blessing, and a full reward for any little good I may have done on ‘arth, if we shall be permitted to know each other, and to consort together, hereafter, as we have so long done in these pleasant woods afore us!”

Chingachgook waved his hand. Drawing the light blanket he wore over his head, as a Roman would conceal his grief in his robes, he slowly withdrew into the Ark, in order to indulge his sorrow and his musings, alone. Deerslayer did not speak again until the canoe was half-way to the shore. Then he suddenly ceased paddling, at an interruption that came from the mild, musical voice of Hetty.

“Why do you go back to the Hurons, Deerslayer?” demanded the girl. “They say I am feeble-minded, and such they never harm, but you have as much sense as Hurry Harry; and more too, Judith thinks, though I don’t see how that can well be.”

“Ah! Hetty, afore we land I must convarse a little with you child, and that too on matters touching your own welfare, principally. Stop paddling — or, rather, that the Mingos needn’t think we are plotting and contriving, and so treat us accordingly, just dip your paddle lightly, and give the canoe a little motion and no more. That’s just the idee and the movement; I see you’re ready enough at an appearance, and might be made useful at a sarcumvention if it was lawful now to use one — that’s just the idee and the movement! Ah’s! me. Desait and a false tongue are evil things, and altogether onbecoming our colour, Hetty, but it is a pleasure and a satisfaction to outdo the contrivances of a red-skin in the strife of lawful warfare. My path has been short, and is like soon to have an end, but I can see that the wanderings of a warrior aren’t altogether among brambles and difficulties. There’s a bright side to a warpath, as well as to most other things, if we’ll only have the wisdom to see it, and the ginerosity to own it.”

“And why should your warpath, as you call it, come so near to an end, Deerslayer?”

“Because, my good girl, my furlough comes so near to an end. They’re likely to have pretty much the same tarmination, as regards time, one following on the heels of the other, as a matter of course.”

“I don’t understand your meaning, Deerslayer —” returned the girl, looking a little bewildered. “Mother always said people ought to speak more plainly to me than to most other persons, because I’m feeble minded. Those that are feeble minded, don’t understand as easily as those that have sense.”

“Well then, Hetty, the simple truth is this. You know that I’m now a captyve to the Hurons, and captyves can’t do, in all things, as they please —”

“But how can you be a captive,” eagerly interrupted the girl-“when you are out here on the lake, in father’s best canoe, and the Indians are in the woods with no canoe at all? That can’t be true, Deerslayer!”

“I wish with all my heart and soul, Hetty, that you was right, and that I was wrong, instead of your bein’ all wrong, and I bein’ only too near the truth. Free as I seem to your eyes, gal, I’m bound hand and foot in ra’ality.”

“Well it is a great misfortune not to have sense! Now I can’t see or understand that you are a captive, or bound in any manner. If you are bound, with what are your hands and feet fastened?”

“With a furlough, gal; that’s a thong that binds tighter than any chain. One may be broken, but the other can’t. Ropes and chains allow of knives, and desait, and contrivances; but a furlough can be neither cut, slipped nor sarcumvented.”

“What sort of a thing is a furlough, then, if it be stronger than hemp or iron? I never saw a furlough.”

“I hope you may never feel one, gal; the tie is altogether in the feelin’s, in these matters, and therefore is to be felt and not seen. You can understand what it is to give a promise, I dare to say, good little Hetty?”

“Certainly. A promise is to say you will do a thing, and that binds you to be as good as your word. Mother always kept her promises to me, and then she said it would be wicked if I didn’t keep my promises to her, and to every body else.”

“You have had a good mother, in some matters, child, whatever she may have been in other some. That is a promise, and as you say it must be kept. Now, I fell into the hands of the Mingos last night, and they let me come off to see my fri’nds and send messages in to my own colour, if any such feel consarn on my account, on condition that I shall be back when the sun is up today, and take whatever their revenge and hatred can contrive, in the way of torments, in satisfaction for the life of a warrior that fell by my rifle, as well as for that of the young woman shot by Hurry, and other disapp’intments met with on and about this lake. What is called a promise atween mother and darter, or even atween strangers in the settlements is called a furlough when given by one soldier to another, on a warpath. And now I suppose you understand my situation, Hetty.”

The girl made no answer for some time, but she ceased paddling altogether, as if the novel idea distracted her mind too much to admit of other employment. Then she resumed the dialogue earnestly and with solicitude.

“Do you think the Hurons will have the heart to do what you say, Deerslayer?” she asked. “I have found them kind and harmless.”

“That’s true enough as consarns one like you, Hetty, but it’s a very different affair when it comes to an open inimy, and he too the owner of a pretty sartain rifle. I don’t say that they bear me special malice on account of any expl’ites already performed, for that would be bragging, as it might be, on the varge of the grave, but it’s no vanity to believe that they know one of their bravest and cunnin’est chiefs fell by my hands. Such bein’ the case, the tribe would reproach them if they failed to send the spirit of a pale-face to keep the company of the spirit of their red brother; always supposin’ that he can catch it. I look for no marcy, Hetty, at their hands; and my principal sorrow is that such a calamity should befall me on my first warpath: that it would come sooner or later, every soldier counts on and expects.”

“The Hurons shall not harm you, Deerslayer,” cried the girl, much excited —“Tis wicked as well as cruel; I have the Bible, here, to tell them so. Do you think I would stand by and see you tormented?”

“I hope not, my good Hetty, I hope not; and, therefore, when the moment comes, I expect you will move off, and not be a witness of what you can’t help, while it would grieve you. But, I haven’t stopped the paddles to talk of my own afflictions and difficulties, but to speak a little plainly to you, gal, consarnin’ your own matters.”

“What can you have to say to me, Deerslayer! Since mother died, few talk to me of such things.”

“So much the worse, poor gal; yes, ’tis so much the worse, for one of your state of mind needs frequent talking to, in order to escape the snares and desaits of this wicked world. You haven’t forgotten Hurry Harry, gal, so soon, I calculate?”

“I! — I forget Henry March!” exclaimed Hetty, starting. “Why should I forget him, Deerslayer, when he is our friend, and only left us last night. Then the large bright star that mother loved so much to gaze at was just over the top of yonder tall pine on the mountain, as Hurry got into the canoe; and when you landed him on the point, near the east bay, it wasn’t more than the length of Judith’s handsomest ribbon above it.”

“And how can you know how long I was gone, or how far I went to land Hurry, seein’ you were not with us, and the distance was so great, to say nothing of the night?”

“Oh! I know when it was, well enough,” returned Hetty positively-“There’s more ways than one for counting time and distance. When the mind is engaged, it is better than any clock. Mine is feeble, I know, but it goes true enough in all that touches poor Hurry Harry. Judith will never marry March, Deerslayer.”

“That’s the p’int, Hetty; that’s the very p’int I want to come to. I suppose you know that it’s nat’ral for young people to have kind feelin’s for one another, more especially when one happens to be a youth and t’other a maiden. Now, one of your years and mind, gal, that has neither father nor mother, and who lives in a wilderness frequented by hunters and trappers, needs be on her guard against evils she little dreams of.”

“What harm can it be to think well of a fellow creature,” returned Hetty simply, though the conscious blood was stealing to her cheeks in spite of a spirit so pure that it scarce knew why it prompted the blush, “the Bible tells us to ‘love them who despitefully use’ us, and why shouldn’t we like them that do not.”

“Ah! Hetty, the love of the missionaries isn’t the sort of likin’ I mean. Answer me one thing, child; do you believe yourself to have mind enough to become a wife, and a mother?”

“That’s not a proper question to ask a young woman, Deerslayer, and I’ll not answer it,” returned the girl, in a reproving manner — much as a parent rebukes a child for an act of indiscretion. “If you have any thing to say about Hurry, I’ll hear that — but you must not speak evil of him; he is absent, and ’tis unkind to talk evil of the absent.”

“Your mother has given you so many good lessons, Hetty, that my fears for you are not as great as they were. Nevertheless, a young woman without parents, in your state of mind, and who is not without beauty, must always be in danger in such a lawless region as this. I would say nothin’ amiss of Hurry, who, in the main, is not a bad man for one of his callin’, but you ought to know one thing, which it may not be altogether pleasant to tell you, but which must be said. March has a desperate likin’ for your sister Judith.”

“Well, what of that? Everybody admires Judith, she’s so handsome, and Hurry has told me, again and again, how much he wishes to marry her. But that will never come to pass, for Judith don’t like Hurry. She likes another, and talks about him in her sleep; though you need not ask me who he is, for all the gold in King George’s crown, and all the jewels too, wouldn’t tempt me to tell you his name. If sisters can’t keep each other’s secrets, who can?”

“Sartainly, I do not wish you to tell me, Hetty, nor would it be any advantage to a dyin’ man to know. What the tongue says when the mind’s asleep, neither head nor heart is answerable for.”

“I wish I knew why Judith talks so much in her sleep, about officers, and honest hearts, and false tongues, but I suppose she don’t like to tell me, as I’m feeble minded. Isn’t it odd, Deerslayer, that Judith don’t like Hurry — he who is the bravest looking youth that ever comes upon the lake, and is as handsome as she is herself. Father always said they would be the comeliest couple in the country, though mother didn’t fancy March any more than Judith. There’s no telling what will happen, they say, until things actually come to pass.”

“Ahs! me — well, poor Hetty, ’tis of no great use to talk to them that can’t understand you, and so I’ll say no more about what I did wish to speak of, though it lay heavy on my mind. Put the paddle in motion ag’in, gal, and we’ll push for the shore, for the sun is nearly up, and my furlough is almost out.”

The canoe now glided ahead, holding its way towards the point where Deerslayer well knew that his enemies expected him, and where he now began to be afraid he might not arrive in season to redeem his plighted faith. Hetty, perceiving his impatience without very clearly comprehending its cause, however, seconded his efforts in a way that soon rendered their timely return no longer a matter of doubt. Then, and then only, did the young man suffer his exertions to flag, and Hetty began, again, to prattle in her simple confiding manner, though nothing farther was uttered that it may be thought necessary to relate.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/c/cooper/james_fenimore/deerslayer/chapter26.html

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