The Deerslayer, by James Fenimore Cooper

Chapter 3

“Come, shall we go and kill us venison?

And yet it irks me, the poor dappled foals —

Being native burghers of this desert city —

Should, in their own confines, with forked heads

Have their round haunches gored.”

As You Like It, II.i.21–25

Hurry Harry thought more of the beauties of Judith Hutter than of those of the Glimmerglass and its accompanying scenery. As soon as he had taken a sufficiently intimate survey of floating Tom’s implements, therefore, he summoned his companion to the canoe, that they might go down the lake in quest of the family. Previously to embarking, however, Hurry carefully examined the whole of the northern end of the water with an indifferent ship’s glass, that formed a part of Hutter’s effects. In this scrutiny, no part of the shore was overlooked; the bays and points in particular being subjected to a closer inquiry than the rest of the wooded boundary.

“’Tis as I thought,” said Hurry, laying aside the glass, “the old fellow is drifting about the south end this fine weather, and has left the castle to defend itself. Well, now we know that he is not up this-a-way, ’twill be but a small matter to paddle down and hunt him up in his hiding-place.”

“Does Master Hutter think it necessary to burrow on this lake?” inquired Deerslayer, as he followed his companion into the canoe; “to my eye it is such a solitude as one might open his whole soul in, and fear no one to disarrange his thoughts or his worship.”

“You forget your friends the Mingos, and all the French savages. Is there a spot on ‘arth, Deerslayer, to which them disquiet rogues don’t go? Where is the lake, or even the deer lick, that the blackguards don’t find out, and having found out, don’t, sooner or later, discolour its water with blood.”

“I hear no good character of ’em, sartainly, friend Hurry, though I’ve never been called on, yet, to meet them, or any other mortal, on the warpath. I dare to say that such a lovely spot as this, would not be likely to be overlooked by such plunderers, for, though I’ve not been in the way of quarreling with them tribes myself, the Delawares give me such an account of ’em that I’ve pretty much set ’em down in my own mind, as thorough miscreants.”

“You may do that with a safe conscience, or for that matter, any other savage you may happen to meet.”

Here Deerslayer protested, and as they went paddling down the lake, a hot discussion was maintained concerning the respective merits of the pale-faces and the red-skins. Hurry had all the prejudices and antipathies of a white hunter, who generally regards the Indian as a sort of natural competitor, and not unfrequently as a natural enemy. As a matter of course, he was loud, clamorous, dogmatical and not very argumentative. Deerslayer, on the other hand, manifested a very different temper, proving by the moderation of his language, the fairness of his views, and the simplicity of his distinctions, that he possessed every disposition to hear reason, a strong, innate desire to do justice, and an ingenuousness that was singularly indisposed to have recourse to sophism to maintain an argument; or to defend a prejudice. Still he was not altogether free from the influence of the latter feeling. This tyrant of the human mind, which ruses on it prey through a thousand avenues, almost as soon as men begin to think and feel, and which seldom relinquishes its iron sway until they cease to do either, had made some impression on even the just propensities of this individual, who probably offered in these particulars, a fair specimen of what absence from bad example, the want of temptation to go wrong, and native good feeling can render youth.

“You will allow, Deerslayer, that a Mingo is more than half devil,” cried Hurry, following up the discussion with an animation that touched closely on ferocity, “though you want to over-persuade me that the Delaware tribe is pretty much made up of angels. Now, I gainsay that proposal, consarning white men, even. All white men are not faultless, and therefore all Indians can’t be faultless. And so your argument is out at the elbow in the start. But this is what I call reason. Here’s three colors on ‘arth: white, black, and red. White is the highest color, and therefore the best man; black comes next, and is put to live in the neighborhood of the white man, as tolerable, and fit to be made use of; and red comes last, which shows that those that made ’em never expected an Indian to be accounted as more than half human.”

“God made all three alike, Hurry.”

“Alike! Do you call a nigger like a white man, or me like an Indian?”

“You go off at half-cock, and don’t hear me out. God made us all, white, black, and red; and, no doubt, had his own wise intentions in coloring us differently. Still, he made us, in the main, much the same in feelin’s; though I’ll not deny that he gave each race its gifts. A white man’s gifts are Christianized, while a red-skin’s are more for the wilderness. Thus, it would be a great offence for a white man to scalp the dead; whereas it’s a signal vartue in an Indian. Then ag’in, a white man cannot amboosh women and children in war, while a red-skin may. ’Tis cruel work, I’ll allow; but for them it’s lawful work; while for us, it would be grievous work.”

“That depends on your inimy. As for scalping, or even skinning a savage, I look upon them pretty much the same as cutting off the ears of wolves for the bounty, or stripping a bear of its hide. And then you’re out significantly, as to taking the poll of a red-skin in hand, seeing that the very colony has offered a bounty for the job; all the same as it pays for wolves’ ears and crows’ heads.”

“Ay, and a bad business it is, Hurry. Even the Indians themselves cry shame on it, seeing it’s ag’in a white man’s gifts. I do not pretend that all that white men do, is properly Christianized, and according to the lights given them, for then they would be what they ought to be; which we know they are not; but I will maintain that tradition, and use, and color, and laws, make such a difference in races as to amount to gifts. I do not deny that there are tribes among the Indians that are nat’rally pervarse and wicked, as there are nations among the whites. Now, I account the Mingos as belonging to the first, and the Frenchers, in the Canadas, to the last. In a state of lawful warfare, such as we have lately got into, it is a duty to keep down all compassionate feelin’s, so far as life goes, ag’in either; but when it comes to scalps, it’s a very different matter.”

“Just hearken to reason, if you please, Deerslayer, and tell me if the colony can make an onlawful law? Isn’t an onlawful law more ag’in natur’ than scalpin’ a savage? A law can no more be onlawful, than truth can be a lie.”

“That sounds reasonable; but it has a most onreasonable bearing, Hurry. Laws don’t all come from the same quarter. God has given us his’n, and some come from the colony, and others come from the King and Parliament. When the colony’s laws, or even the King’s laws, run ag’in the laws of God, they get to be onlawful, and ought not to be obeyed. I hold to a white man’s respecting white laws, so long as they do not cross the track of a law comin’ from a higher authority; and for a red man to obey his own red-skin usages, under the same privilege. But, ‘t is useless talking, as each man will think fir himself, and have his say agreeable to his thoughts. Let us keep a good lookout for your friend Floating Tom, lest we pass him, as he lies hidden under this bushy shore.”

Deerslayer had not named the borders of the lake amiss. Along their whole length, the smaller trees overhung the water, with their branches often dipping in the transparent element. The banks were steep, even from the narrow strand; and, as vegetation invariably struggles towards the light, the effect was precisely that at which the lover of the picturesque would have aimed, had the ordering of this glorious setting of forest been submitted to his control. The points and bays, too, were sufficiently numerous to render the outline broken and diversified. As the canoe kept close along the western side of the lake, with a view, as Hurry had explained to his companion, of reconnoitering for enemies, before he trusted himself too openly in sight, the expectations of the two adventurers were kept constantly on the stretch, as neither could foretell what the next turning of a point might reveal. Their progress was swift, the gigantic strength of Hurry enabling him to play with the light bark as if it had been a feather, while the skill of his companion almost equalized their usefulness, notwithstanding the disparity in natural means.

Each time the canoe passed a point, Hurry turned a look behind him, expecting to see the “ark” anchored, or beached in the bay. He was fated to be disappointed, however; and they had got within a mile of the southern end of the lake, or a distance of quite two leagues from the “castle,” which was now hidden from view by half a dozen intervening projections of the land, when he suddenly ceased paddling, as if uncertain in what direction next to steer.

“It is possible that the old chap has dropped into the river,” said Hurry, after looking carefully along the whole of the eastern shore, which was about a mile distant, and open to his scrutiny for more than half its length; “for he has taken to trapping considerable, of late, and, barring flood-wood, he might drop down it a mile or so; though he would have a most scratching time in getting back again!”

“Where is this outlet?” asked Deerslayer; “I see no opening in the banks or the trees, that looks as if it would let a river like the Susquehannah run through it.”

“Ay, Deerslayer, rivers are like human mortals; having small beginnings, and ending with broad shoulders and wide mouths. You don’t see the outlet, because it passes atween high, steep banks; and the pines, and hemlocks and bass-woods hang over it, as a roof hangs over a house. If old Tom is not in the ‘Rat’s Cove,’ he must have burrowed in the river; we’ll look for him first in the cove, and then we’ll cross to the outlet.”

As they proceeded, Hurry explained that there was a shallow bay, formed by a long, low point, that had got the name of the “Rat’s Cove,” from the circumstance of its being a favorite haunt of the muskrat; and which offered so complete a cover for the “ark,” that its owner was fond of lying in it, whenever he found it convenient.

“As a man never knows who may be his visitors, in this part of the country,” continued Hurry, “it’s a great advantage to get a good look at ’em afore they come too near. Now it’s war, such caution is more than commonly useful, since a Canada man or a Mingo might get into his hut afore he invited ’em. But Hutter is a first-rate look-outer, and can pretty much scent danger, as a hound scents the deer.”

“I should think the castle so open, that it would be sartain to draw inimies, if any happened to find the lake; a thing onlikely enough, I will allow, as it’s off the trail of the forts and settlements.”

“Why, Deerslayer, I’ve got to believe that a man meets with inimies easier than he meets with fri’nds. It’s skearful to think for how many causes one gets to be your inimy, and for how few your fri’nd. Some take up the hatchet because you don’t think just as they think; other some because you run ahead of ’em in the same idees; and I once know’d a vagabond that quarrelled with a fri’nd because he didn’t think him handsome. Now, you’re no monument in the way of beauty, yourself, Deerslayer, and yet you wouldn’t be so onreasonable as to become my inimy for just saying so.”

“I’m as the Lord made me; and I wish to be accounted no better, nor any worse. Good looks I may not have; that is to say, to a degree that the light-minded and vain crave; but I hope I’m not altogether without some ricommend in the way of good conduct. There’s few nobler looking men to be seen than yourself, Hurry; and I know that I am not to expect any to turn their eyes on me, when such a one as you can be gazed on; but I do not know that a hunter is less expart with the rifle, or less to be relied on for food, because he doesn’t wish to stop at every shining spring he may meet, to study his own countenance in the water.”

Here Hurry burst into a fit of loud laughter; for while he was too reckless to care much about his own manifest physical superiority, he was well aware of it, and, like most men who derive an advantage from the accidents of birth or nature, he was apt to think complacently on the subject, whenever it happened to cross his mind.

“No, no, Deerslayer, you’re no beauty, as you will own yourself, if you’ll look over the side of the canoe,” he cried; “Jude will say that to your face, if you start her, for a parter tongue isn’t to be found in any gal’s head, in or out of the settlements, if you provoke her to use it. My advice to you is, never to aggravate Judith; though you may tell anything to Hetty, and she’ll take it as meek as a lamb. No, Jude will be just as like as not to tell you her opinion consarning your looks.”

“And if she does, Hurry, she will tell me no more than you have said already.”

“You’re not thick’ning up about a small remark, I hope, Deerslayer, when no harm is meant. You are not a beauty, as you must know, and why shouldn’t fri’nds tell each other these little trifles? If you was handsome, or ever like to be, I’d be one of the first to tell you of it; and that ought to content you. Now, if Jude was to tell me that I’m as ugly as a sinner, I’d take it as a sort of obligation, and try not to believe her.”

“It’s easy for them that natur’ has favored, to jest about such matters, Hurry, though it is sometimes hard for others. I’ll not deny but I’ve had my cravings towards good looks; yes, I have; but then I’ve always been able to get them down by considering how many I’ve known with fair outsides, who have had nothing to boast of inwardly. I’ll not deny, Hurry, that I often wish I’d been created more comely to the eye, and more like such a one as yourself in them particulars; but then I get the feelin’ under by remembering how much better off I am, in a great many respects, than some fellow-mortals. I might have been born lame, and onfit even for a squirrel-hunt, or blind, which would have made me a burden on myself as well as on my fri’nds; or without hearing, which would have totally onqualified me for ever campaigning or scouting; which I look forward to as part of a man’s duty in troublesome times. Yes, yes; it’s not pleasant, I will allow, to see them that’s more comely, and more sought a’ter, and honored than yourself; but it may all be borne, if a man looks the evil in the face, and don’t mistake his gifts and his obligations.”

Hurry, in the main, was a good-hearted as well as good-natured fellow; and the self-abasement of his companion completely got the better of the passing feeling of personal vanity. He regretted the allusion he had made to the other’s appearance, and endeavored to express as much, though it was done in the uncouth manner that belonged to the habits and opinions of the frontier.

“I meant no harm, Deerslayer,” he answered, in a deprecating manner, “and hope you’ll forget what I’ve said. If you’re not downright handsome, you’ve a sartain look that says, plainer than any words, that all’s right within. Then you set no value by looks, and will the sooner forgive any little slight to your appearance. I will not say that Jude will greatly admire you, for that might raise hopes that would only breed disapp’intment; but there’s Hetty, now, would be just as likely to find satisfaction in looking at you, as in looking at any other man. Then you’re altogether too grave and considerate-like, to care much about Judith; for, though the gal is oncommon, she is so general in her admiration, that a man need not be exalted because she happens to smile. I sometimes think the hussy loves herself better than she does anything else breathin’.”

“If she did, Hurry, she’d do no more, I’m afeard, than most queens on their thrones, and ladies in the towns,” answered Deerslayer, smiling, and turning back towards his companion with every trace of feeling banished from his honest-looking and frank countenance. “I never yet know’d even a Delaware of whom you might not say that much. But here is the end of the long p’int you mentioned, and the ‘Rat’s Cove’ can’t be far off.”

This point, instead of thrusting itself forward, like all the others, ran in a line with the main shore of the lake, which here swept within it, in a deep and retired bay, circling round south again, at the distance of a quarter of a mile, and crossed the valley, forming the southern termination of the water. In this bay Hurry felt almost certain of finding the ark, since, anchored behind the trees that covered the narrow strip of the point, it might have lain concealed from prying eyes an entire summer. So complete, indeed, was the cover, in this spot, that a boat hauled close to the beach, within the point, and near the bottom of the bay, could by any possibility be seen from only one direction; and that was from a densely wooded shore within the sweep of the water, where strangers would be little apt to go.

“We shall soon see the ark,” said Hurry, as the canoe glided round the extremity of the point, where the water was so deep as actually to appear black; “he loves to burrow up among the rushes, and we shall be in his nest in five minutes, although the old fellow may be off among the traps himself.”

March proved a false prophet. The canoe completely doubled the point, so as to enable the two travellers to command a view of the whole cove or bay, for it was more properly the last, and no object, but those that nature had placed there, became visible. The placid water swept round in a graceful curve, the rushes bent gently towards its surface, and the trees overhung it as usual; but all lay in the soothing and sublime solitude of a wilderness. The scene was such as a poet or an artist would have delighted in, but it had no charm for Hurry Harry, who was burning with impatience to get a sight of his light-minded beauty.

The motion of the canoe had been attended with little or no noise, the frontiermen habitually getting accustomed to caution in most of their movements, and it now lay on the glassy water appearing to float in air, partaking of the breathing stillness that seemed to pervade the entire scene. At this instant a dry stick was heard cracking on the narrow strip of land that concealed the bay from the open lake. Both the adventurers started, and each extended a hand towards his rifle, the weapon never being out of reach of the arm.

“’Twas too heavy for any light creatur’,” whispered Hurry, “and it sounded like the tread of a man!”

“Not so — not so,” returned Deerslayer; “‘t was, as you say, too heavy for one, but it was too light for the other. Put your paddle in the water, and send the canoe in, to that log; I’ll land and cut off the creatur’s retreat up the p’int, be it a Mingo, or be it a muskrat.”

As Hurry complied, Deerslayer was soon on the shore, advancing into the thicket with a moccasined foot, and a caution that prevented the least noise. In a minute he was in the centre of the narrow strip of land, and moving slowly down towards its end, the bushes rendering extreme watchfulness necessary. Just as he reached the centre of the thicket the dried twigs cracked again, and the noise was repeated at short intervals, as if some creature having life walked slowly towards the point. Hurry heard these sounds also, and pushing the canoe off into the bay, he seized his rifle to watch the result. A breathless minute succeeded, after which a noble buck walked out of the thicket, proceeded with a stately step to the sandy extremity of the point, and began to slake his thirst from the water of the lake. Hurry hesitated an instant; then raising his rifle hastily to his shoulder, he took sight and fired. The effect of this sudden interruption of the solemn stillness of such a scene was not its least striking peculiarity. The report of the weapon had the usual sharp, short sound of the rifle: but when a few moments of silence had succeeded the sudden crack, during which the noise was floating in air across the water, it reached the rocks of the opposite mountain, where the vibrations accumulated, and were rolled from cavity to cavity for miles along the hills, seeming to awaken the sleeping thunders of the woods. The buck merely shook his head at the report of the rifle and the whistling of the bullet, for never before had he come in contact with man; but the echoes of the hills awakened his distrust, and leaping forward, with his four legs drawn under his body, he fell at once into deep water, and began to swim towards the foot of the lake. Hurry shouted and dashed forward in chase, and for one or two minutes the water foamed around the pursuer and the pursued. The former was dashing past the point, when Deerslayer appeared on the sand and signed to him to return.

“’Twas inconsiderate to pull a trigger, afore we had reconn’itred the shore, and made sartain that no inimies harbored near it,” said the latter, as his companion slowly and reluctantly complied. “This much I have l’arned from the Delawares, in the way of schooling and traditions, even though I’ve never yet been on a war-path. And, moreover, venison can hardly be called in season now, and we do not want for food. They call me Deerslayer, I’ll own, and perhaps I desarve the name, in the way of understanding the creatur’s habits, as well as for some sartainty in the aim, but they can’t accuse me of killing an animal when there is no occasion for the meat, or the skin. I may be a slayer, it’s true, but I’m no slaughterer.”

“’Twas an awful mistake to miss that buck!” exclaimed Hurry, doffing his cap and running his fingers through his handsome but matted curls, as if he would loosen his tangled ideas by the process. “I’ve not done so onhandy a thing since I was fifteen.”

“Never lament it, as the creatur’s death could have done neither of us any good, and might have done us harm. Them echoes are more awful in my ears, than your mistake, Hurry, for they sound like the voice of natur’ calling out ag’in a wasteful and onthinking action.”

“You’ll hear plenty of such calls, if you tarry long in this quarter of the world, lad,” returned the other laughing. “The echoes repeat pretty much all that is said or done on the Glimmerglass, in this calm summer weather. If a paddle falls you hear of it sometimes, ag’in and ag’in, as if the hills were mocking your clumsiness, and a laugh, or a whistle, comes out of them pines, when they’re in the humour to speak, in a way to make you believe they can r’ally convarse.”

“So much the more reason for being prudent and silent. I do not think the inimy can have found their way into these hills yet, for I don’t know what they are to gain by it, but all the Delawares tell me that, as courage is a warrior’s first vartue, so is prudence his second. One such call from the mountains, is enough to let a whole tribe into the secret of our arrival.”

“If it does no other good, it will warn old Tom to put the pot over, and let him know visiters are at hand. Come, lad; get into the canoe, and we will hunt the ark up, while there is yet day.”

Deerslayer complied, and the canoe left the spot. Its head was turned diagonally across the lake, pointing towards the south-eastern curvature of the sheet. In that direction, the distance to the shore, or to the termination of the lake, on the course the two were now steering, was not quite a mile, and, their progress being always swift, it was fast lessening under the skilful, but easy sweeps of the paddles. When about half way across, a slight noise drew the eyes of the men towards the nearest land, and they saw that the buck was just emerging from the lake and wading towards the beach. In a minute, the noble animal shook the water from his flanks, gazed up ward at the covering of trees, and, bounding against the bank, plunged into the forest.

“That creatur’ goes off with gratitude in his heart,” said Deerslayer, “for natur’ tells him he has escaped a great danger. You ought to have some of the same feelin’s, Hurry, to think your eye wasn’t true, or that your hand was onsteady, when no good could come of a shot that was intended onmeaningly rather than in reason.”

“I deny the eye and the hand,” cried March with some heat. “You’ve got a little character, down among the Delawares, there, for quickness and sartainty, at a deer, but I should like to see you behind one of them pines, and a full painted Mingo behind another, each with a cock’d rifle and a striving for the chance! Them’s the situations, Nathaniel, to try the sight and the hand, for they begin with trying the narves. I never look upon killing a creatur’ as an explite; but killing a savage is. The time will come to try your hand, now we’ve got to blows ag’in, and we shall soon know what a ven’son reputation can do in the field. I deny that either hand or eye was onsteady; it was all a miscalculation of the buck, which stood still when he ought to have kept in motion, and so I shot ahead of him.”

“Have it your own way, Hurry; all I contend for is, that it’s lucky. I dare say I shall not pull upon a human mortal as steadily or with as light a heart, as I pull upon a deer.”

“Who’s talking of mortals, or of human beings at all, Deerslayer? I put the matter to you on the supposition of an Injin. I dare say any man would have his feelin’s when it got to be life or death, ag’in another human mortal; but there would be no such scruples in regard to an Injin; nothing but the chance of his hitting you, or the chance of your hitting him.”

“I look upon the redmen to be quite as human as we are ourselves, Hurry. They have their gifts, and their religion, it’s true; but that makes no difference in the end, when each will be judged according to his deeds, and not according to his skin.”

“That’s downright missionary, and will find little favor up in this part of the country, where the Moravians don’t congregate. Now, skin makes the man. This is reason; else how are people to judge of each other. The skin is put on, over all, in order when a creatur’, or a mortal, is fairly seen, you may know at once what to make of him. You know a bear from a hog, by his skin, and a gray squirrel from a black.”

“True, Hurry,” said the other looking back and smiling, “nevertheless, they are both squirrels.”

“Who denies it? But you’ll not say that a red man and a white man are both Injins?”

“But I do say they are both men. Men of different races and colors, and having different gifts and traditions, but, in the main, with the same natur’. Both have souls; and both will be held accountable for their deeds in this life.”

Hurry was one of those theorists who believed in the inferiority of all the human race who were not white. His notions on the subject were not very clear, nor were his definitions at all well settled; but his opinions were none the less dogmatical or fierce. His conscience accused him of sundry lawless acts against the Indians, and he had found it an exceedingly easy mode of quieting it, by putting the whole family of redmen, incontinently, without the category of human rights. Nothing angered him sooner than to deny his proposition, more especially if the denial were accompanied by a show of plausible argument; and he did not listen to his companion’s remarks with much composure of either manner or feeling.

“You’re a boy, Deerslayer, misled and misconsaited by Delaware arts, and missionary ignorance,” he exclaimed, with his usual indifference to the forms of speech, when excited. “You may account yourself as a red-skin’s brother, but I hold’em all to be animals; with nothing human about ’em but cunning. That they have, I’ll allow; but so has a fox, or even a bear. I’m older than you, and have lived longer in the woods — or, for that matter, have lived always there, and am not to be told what an Injin is or what he is not. If you wish to be considered a savage, you’ve only to say so, and I’ll name you as such to Judith and the old man, and then we’ll see how you’ll like your welcome.”

Here Hurry’s imagination did his temper some service, since, by conjuring up the reception his semi-aquatic acquaintance would be likely to bestow on one thus introduced, he burst into a hearty fit of laughter. Deerslayer too well knew the uselessness of attempting to convince such a being of anything against his prejudices, to feel a desire to undertake the task; and he was not sorry that the approach of the canoe to the southeastern curve of the lake gave a new direction to his ideas. They were now, indeed, quite near the place that March had pointed out for the position of the outlet, and both began to look for it with, a curiosity that was increased by the expectation of the ark.

It may strike the reader as a little singular, that the place where a stream of any size passed through banks that had an elevation of some twenty feet, should be a matter of doubt with men who could not now have been more than two hundred yards distant from the precise spot. It will be recollected, however, that the trees and bushes here, as elsewhere, fairly overhung the water, making such a fringe to the lake, as to conceal any little variations from its general outline.

“I’ve not been down at this end of the lake these two summers,” said Hurry, standing up in the canoe, the better to look about him. “Ay, there’s the rock, showing its chin above the water, and I know that the river begins in its neighborhood.”

The men now plied the paddles again, and they were presently within a few yards of the rock, floating towards it, though their efforts were suspended. This rock was not large, being merely some five or six feet high, only half of which elevation rose above the lake. The incessant washing of the water for centuries had so rounded its summit, that it resembled a large beehive in shape, its form being more than usually regular and even. Hurry remarked, as they floated slowly past, that this rock was well known to all the Indians in that part of the country, and that they were in the practice of using it as a mark to designate the place of meeting, when separated by their hunts and marches.

“And here is the river, Deerslayer,” he continued, “though so shut in by trees and bushes as to look more like an and-bush, than the outlet of such a sheet as the Glimmerglass.”

Hurry had not badly described the place, which did truly seem to be a stream lying in ambush. The high banks might have been a hundred feet asunder; but, on the western side, a small bit of low land extended so far forward as to diminish the breadth of the stream to half that width.

As the bushes hung in the water beneath, and pines that had the stature of church-steeples rose in tall columns above, all inclining towards the light, until their branches intermingled, the eye, at a little distance, could not easily detect any opening in the shore, to mark the egress of the water. In the forest above, no traces of this outlet were to be seen from the lake, the whole presenting the same connected and seemingly interminable carpet of leaves. As the canoe slowly advanced, sucked in by the current, it entered beneath an arch of trees, through which the light from the heavens struggled by casual openings, faintly relieving the gloom beneath.

“This is a nat’ral and-bush,” half whispered Hurry, as if he felt that the place was devoted to secrecy and watchfulness; “depend on it, old Tom has burrowed with the ark somewhere in this quarter. We will drop down with the current a short distance, and ferret him out.”

“This seems no place for a vessel of any size,” returned the other; “it appears to me that we shall have hardly room enough for the canoe.”

Hurry laughed at the suggestion, and, as it soon appeared, with reason; for the fringe of bushes immediately on the shore of the lake was no sooner passed, than the adventurers found themselves in a narrow stream, of a sufficient depth of limpid water, with a strong current, and a canopy of leaves upheld by arches composed of the limbs of hoary trees. Bushes lined the shores, as usual, but they left sufficient space between them to admit the passage of anything that did not exceed twenty feet in width, and to allow of a perspective ahead of eight or ten times that distance.

Neither of our two adventurers used his paddle, except to keep the light bark in the centre of the current, but both watched each turning of the stream, of which there were two or three within the first hundred yards, with jealous vigilance. Turn after turn, however, was passed, and the canoe had dropped down with the current some little distance, when Hurry caught a bush, and arrested its movement so suddenly and silently as to denote some unusual motive for the act. Deerslayer laid his hand on the stock of his rifle as soon as he noted this proceeding, but it was quite as much with a hunter’s habit as from any feeling of alarm.

“There the old fellow is!” whispered Hurry, pointing with a finger, and laughing heartily, though he carefully avoided making a noise, “ratting it away, just as I supposed; up to his knees in the mud and water, looking to the traps and the bait. But for the life of me I can see nothing of the ark; though I’ll bet every skin I take this season, Jude isn’t trusting her pretty little feet in the neighborhood of that black mud. The gal’s more likely to be braiding her hair by the side of some spring, where she can see her own good looks, and collect scornful feelings ag’in us men.”

“You over-judge young women — yes, you do, Hurry — who as often bethink them of their failings as they do of their perfections. I dare to say this Judith, now, is no such admirer of herself, and no such scorner of our sex as you seem to think; and that she is quite as likely to be sarving her father in the house, wherever that may be, as he is to be sarving her among the traps.”

“It’s a pleasure to hear truth from a man’s tongue, if it be only once in a girl’s life,” cried a pleasant, rich, and yet soft female voice, so near the canoe as to make both the listeners start. “As for you, Master Hurry, fair words are so apt to choke you, that I no longer expect to hear them from your mouth; the last you uttered sticking in your throat, and coming near to death. But I’m glad to see you keep better society than formerly, and that they who know how to esteem and treat women are not ashamed to journey in your company.”

As this was said, a singularly handsome and youthful female face was thrust through an opening in the leaves, within reach of Deerslayer’s paddle. Its owner smiled graciously on the young man; and the frown that she cast on Hurry, though simulated and pettish, had the effect to render her beauty more striking, by exhibiting the play of an expressive but capricious countenance; one that seemed to change from the soft to the severe, the mirthful to the reproving, with facility and indifference.

A second look explained the nature of the surprise. Unwittingly, the men had dropped alongside of the ark, which had been purposely concealed in bushes cut and arranged for the purpose; and Judith Hutter had merely pushed aside the leaves that lay before a window, in order to show her face, and speak to them.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/c/cooper/james_fenimore/deerslayer/chapter3.html

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