The Deerslayer, by James Fenimore Cooper

Chapter 31

“The flower that smiles to-day

To-morrow dies;

All that we wish to stay,

Tempts and then flies:

What is this world’s delight?

Lightning that mocks the night,

Brief even as bright.”

Shelley, “Mutability,” 11. i-v.

The picture next presented, by the point of land that the unfortunate Hurons had selected for their last place of encampment, need scarcely be laid before the eyes of the reader. Happily for the more tender-minded and the more timid, the trunks of the trees, the leaves, and the smoke had concealed much of that which passed, and night shortly after drew its veil over the lake, and the whole of that seemingly interminable wilderness; which may be said to have then stretched, with few and immaterial interruptions, from the banks of the Hudson to the shores of the Pacific Ocean. Our business carries us into the following day, when light returned upon the earth, as sunny and as smiling as if nothing extraordinary had occurred.

When the sun rose on the following morning, every sign of hostility and alarm had vanished from the basin of the Glimmerglass. The frightful event of the preceding evening had left no impression on the placid sheet, and the untiring hours pursued their course in the placid order prescribed by the powerful hand that set them in motion. The birds were again skimming the water, or were seen poised on the wing, high above the tops of the tallest pines of the mountains, ready to make their swoops, in obedience to the irresistable law of their natures. In a word, nothing was changed, but the air of movement and life that prevailed in and around the castle. Here, indeed, was an alteration that must have struck the least observant eye. A sentinel, who wore the light infantry uniform of a royal regiment, paced the platform with measured tread, and some twenty more of the same corps lounged about the place, or were seated in the ark. Their arms were stacked under the eye of their comrade on post. Two officers stood examining the shore, with the ship’s glass so often mentioned. Their looks were directed to that fatal point, where scarlet coats were still to be seen gliding among the trees, and where the magnifying power of the instrument also showed spades at work, and the sad duty of interment going on. Several of the common men bore proofs on their persons that their enemies had not been overcome entirely without resistance, and the youngest of the two officers on the platform wore an arm in a sling. His companion, who commanded the party, had been more fortunate. He it was who used the glass, in making the reconnoissances in which the two were engaged.

A sergeant approached to make a report. He addressed the senior of these officers as Capt. Warley, while the other was alluded to as Mr., which was equivalent to Ensign Thornton. The former it will at once be seen was the officer who had been named with so much feeling in the parting dialogue between Judith and Hurry. He was, in truth, the very individual with whom the scandal of the garrisons had most freely connected the name of this beautiful but indiscreet girl. He was a hard featured, red faced man of about five and thirty; but of a military carriage, and with an air of fashion that might easily impose on the imagination of one as ignorant of the world as Judith.

“Craig is covering us with benedictions,” observed this person to his young ensign, with an air of indifference, as he shut the glass and handed it to his servant; “to say the truth, not without reason; it is certainly more agreeable to be here in attendance on Miss Judith Hutter, than to be burying Indians on a point of the lake, however romantic the position, or brilliant the victory. By the way, Wright — is Davis still living?”

“He died about ten minutes since, your honor,” returned the sergeant to whom this question was addressed. “I knew how it would be, as soon as I found the bullet had touched the stomach. I never knew a man who could hold out long, if he had a hole in his stomach.”

“No; it is rather inconvenient for carrying away any thing very nourishing,” observed Warley, gaping. “This being up two nights de suite, Arthur, plays the devil with a man’s faculties! I’m as stupid as one of those Dutch parsons on the Mohawk — I hope your arm is not painful, my dear boy?”

“It draws a few grimaces from me, sir, as I suppose you see,” answered the youth, laughing at the very moment his countenance was a little awry with pain. “But it may be borne. I suppose Graham can spare a few minutes, soon, to look at my hurt.”

“She is a lovely creature, this Judith Hutter, after all, Thornton; and it shall not be my fault if she is not seen and admired in the Parks!” resumed Warley, who thought little of his companion’s wound —“your arm, eh! Quite True — Go into the ark, sergeant, and tell Dr. Graham I desire he would look at Mr. Thornton’s injury, as soon as he has done with the poor fellow with the broken leg. A lovely creature! and she looked like a queen in that brocade dress in which we met her. I find all changed here; father and mother both gone, the sister dying, if not dead, and none of the family left, but the beauty! This has been a lucky expedition all round, and promises to terminate better than Indian skirmishes in general.”

“Am I to suppose, sir, that you are about to desert your colours, in the great corps of bachelors, and close the campaign with matrimony?”

“I, Tom Warley, turn Benedict! Faith, my dear boy, you little know the corps you speak of, if you fancy any such thing. I do suppose there are women in the colonies that a captain of Light Infantry need not disdain; but they are not to be found up here, on a mountain lake; or even down on the Dutch river where we are posted. It is true, my uncle, the general, once did me the favor to choose a wife for me in Yorkshire; but she had no beauty — and I would not marry a princess, unless she were handsome.”

“If handsome, you would marry a beggar?”

“Ay, these are the notions of an ensign! Love in a cottage — doors — and windows — the old story, for the hundredth time. The 20th — don’t marry. We are not a marrying corps, my dear boy. There’s the Colonel, Old Sir Edwin —— — now; though a full General he has never thought of a wife; and when a man gets as high as a Lieutenant General, without matrimony, he is pretty safe. Then the Lieutenant Colonel is confirmed, as I tell my cousin the bishop. The Major is a widower, having tried matrimony for twelve months in his youth, and we look upon him, now, as one of our most certain men. Out of ten captains, but one is in the dilemma, and he, poor devil, is always kept at regimental headquarters, as a sort of memento mori, to the young men as they join. As for the subalterns, not one has ever yet had the audacity to speak of introducing a wife into the regiment. But your arm is troublesome, and we’ll go ourselves and see what has become of Graham.”

The surgeon who had accompanied the party was employed very differently from what the captain supposed. When the assault was over, and the dead and wounded were collected, poor Hetty had been found among the latter. A rifle bullet had passed through her body, inflicting an injury that was known at a glance to be mortal. How this wound was received, no one knew; it was probably one of those casualties that ever accompany scenes like that related in the previous chapter.

The Sumach, all the elderly women, and some of the Huron girls, had fallen by the bayonet, either in the confusion of the melee, or from the difficulty of distinguishing the sexes when the dress was so simple. Much the greater portion of the warriors suffered on the spot. A few had escaped, however, and two or three had been taken unharmed. As for the wounded, the bayonet saved the surgeon much trouble. Rivenoak had escaped with life and limb, but was injured and a prisoner. As Captain Warley and his ensign went into the Ark they passed him, seated in dignified silence in one end of the scow, his head and leg bound, but betraying no visible sign of despondency or despair. That he mourned the loss of his tribe is certain; still he did it in a manner that best became a warrior and a chief.

The two soldiers found their surgeon in the principal room of the Ark. He was just quitting the pallet of Hetty, with an expression of sorrowful regret on his hard, pock-marked Scottish features, that it was not usual to see there. All his assiduity had been useless, and he was compelled reluctantly to abandon the expectation of seeing the girl survive many hours. Dr. Graham was accustomed to death-bed scenes, and ordinarily they produced but little impression on him. In all that relates to religion, his was one of those minds which, in consequence of reasoning much on material things, logically and consecutively, and overlooking the total want of premises which such a theory must ever possess, through its want of a primary agent, had become sceptical; leaving a vague opinion concerning the origin of things, that, with high pretentions to philosophy, failed in the first of all philosophical principles, a cause. To him religious dependence appeared a weakness, but when he found one gentle and young like Hetty, with a mind beneath the level of her race, sustained at such a moment by these pious sentiments, and that, too, in a way that many a sturdy warrior and reputed hero might have looked upon with envy, he found himself affected by the sight to a degree that he would have been ashamed to confess. Edinburgh and Aberdeen, then as now, supplied no small portion of the medical men of the British service, and Dr. Graham, as indeed his name and countenance equally indicated, was, by birth a North Briton.

“Here is an extraordinary exhibition for a forest, and one but half-gifted with reason,” he observed with a decided Scotch accent, as Warley and the ensign entered; “I just hope, gentlemen, that when we three shall be called on to quit the 20th, we may be found as resigned to go on the half pay of another existence, as this poor demented chiel!”

“Is there no hope that she can survive the hurt?” demanded Warley, turning his eyes towards the pallid Judith, on whose cheeks, however, two large spots of red had settled as soon as he came into the cabin.

“No more than there is for Chairlie Stuart! Approach and judge for yourselves, gentlemen; ye’ll see faith exemplified in an exceeding and wonderful manner. There is a sort of arbitrium between life and death, in actual conflict in the poor girl’s mind, that renders her an interesting study to a philosopher. Mr. Thornton, I’m at your service, now; we can just look at the arm in the next room, while we speculate as much as we please on the operations and sinuosities of the human mind.”

The surgeon and ensign retired, and Warley had an opportunity of looking about him more at leisure, and with a better understanding of the nature and feelings of the group collected in the cabin. Poor Hetty had been placed on her own simple bed, and was reclining in a half seated attitude, with the approaches of death on her countenance, though they were singularly dimmed by the lustre of an expression in which all the intelligence of her entire being appeared to be concentrated. Judith and Hist were near her, the former seated in deep grief; the latter standing, in readiness to offer any of the gentle attentions of feminine care. Deerslayer stood at the end of the pallet, leaning on Killdeer, unharmed in person, all the fine martial ardor that had so lately glowed in his countenance having given place to the usual look of honesty and benevolence, qualities of which the expression was now softened by manly regret and pity. The Serpent was in the background of the picture, erect, and motionless as a statue; but so observant that not a look of the eye escaped his own keen glances. Hurry completed the group, being seated on a stool near the door, like one who felt himself out of place in such a scene, but who was ashamed to quit it, unbidden.

“Who is that in scarlet?” asked Hetty, as soon as the Captain’s uniform caught her eye. “Tell me, Judith, is it the friend of Hurry?”

“’Tis the officer who commands the troops that have rescued us all from the hands of the Hurons,” was the low answer of the sister.

“Am I rescued, too! — I thought they said I was shot, and about to die. Mother is dead; and so is father; but you are living, Judith, and so is Hurry. I was afraid Hurry would be killed, when I heard him shouting among the soldiers.”

“Never mind — never mind, dear Hetty —” interrupted Judith, sensitively alive to the preservation of her sister’s secret, more, perhaps, at such a moment, than at any other. “Hurry is well, and Deerslayer is well, and the Delaware is well, too.”

“How came they to shoot a poor girl like me, and let so many men go unharmed? I didn’t know that the Hurons were so wicked, Judith!”

“’Twas an accident, poor Hetty; a sad accident it has been! No one would willingly have injured you.”

“I’m glad of that! — I thought it strange; I am feeble minded, and the redmen have never harmed me before. I should be sorry to think that they had changed their minds. I am glad too, Judith, that they haven’t hurt Hurry. Deerslayer I don’t think God will suffer any one to harm. It was very fortunate the soldiers came as they did though, for fire will burn!”

“It was indeed fortunate, my sister; God’s holy name be forever blessed for the mercy!”

“I dare say, Judith, you know some of the officers; you used to know so many!”

Judith made no reply; she hid her face in her hands and groaned. Hetty gazed at her in wonder; but naturally supposing her own situation was the cause of this grief, she kindly offered to console her sister.

“Don’t mind me, dear Judith,” said the affectionate and pure-hearted creature, “I don’t suffer; if I do die, why father and mother are both dead, and what happens to them may well happen to me. You know I am of less account than any of the family; therefore few will think of me after I’m in the lake.”

“No, no, no — poor, dear, dear Hetty!” exclaimed Judith, in an uncontrollable burst of sorrow, “I, at least, will ever think of you; and gladly, oh! how gladly would I exchange places with you, to be the pure, excellent, sinless creature you are!”

Until now, Captain Warley had stood leaning against the door of the cabin; when this outbreak of feeling, and perchance of penitence, however, escaped the beautiful girl, he walked slowly and thoughtfully away; even passing the ensign, then suffering under the surgeon’s care, without noticing him.

“I have got my Bible here, Judith,” returned her sister in a voice of triumph. “It’s true, I can’t read any longer, there’s something the matter with my eyes — you look dim and distant — and so does Hurry, now I look at him — well, I never could have believed that Henry March would have so dull a look! What can be the reason, Judith, that I see so badly, today? I, who mother always said had the best eyes in the whole family. Yes, that was it: my mind was feeble — what people call half-witted — but my eyes were so good!”

Again Judith groaned; this time no feeling of self, no retrospect of the past caused the pain. It was the pure, heartfelt sorrow of sisterly love, heightened by a sense of the meek humility and perfect truth of the being before her. At that moment, she would gladly have given up her own life to save that of Hetty. As the last, however, was beyond the reach of human power, she felt there was nothing left her but sorrow. At this moment Warley returned to the cabin, drawn by a secret impulse he could not withstand, though he felt, just then, as if he would gladly abandon the American continent forever, were it practicable. Instead of pausing at the door, he now advanced so near the pallet of the sufferer as to come more plainly within her gaze. Hetty could still distinguish large objects, and her look soon fastened on him.

“Are you the officer that came with Hurry?” she asked. “If you are, we ought all to thank you, for, though I am hurt, the rest have saved their lives. Did Harry March tell you, where to find us, and how much need there was for your services?”

“The news of the party reached us by means of a friendly runner,” returned the Captain, glad to relieve his feelings by this appearance of a friendly communication, “and I was immediately sent out to cut it off. It was fortunate, certainly, that we met Hurry Harry, as you call him, for he acted as a guide, and it was not less fortunate that we heard a firing, which I now understand was merely a shooting at the mark, for it not only quickened our march, but called us to the right side of the lake. The Delaware saw us on the shore, with the glass it would seem, and he and Hist, as I find his squaw is named, did us excellent service. It was really altogether a fortunate concurrence of circumstances, Judith.”

“Talk not to me of any thing fortunate, sir,” returned the girl huskily, again concealing her face. “To me the world is full of misery. I wish never to hear of marks, or rifles, or soldiers, or men, again!”

“Do you know my sister?” asked Hetty, ere the rebuked soldier had time to rally for an answer. “How came you to know that her name is Judith? You are right, for that is her name; and I am Hetty; Thomas Hutter’s daughters.”

“For heaven’s sake, dearest sister; for my sake, beloved Hetty,” interposed Judith, imploringly, “say no more of this!”

Hetty looked surprised, but accustomed to comply, she ceased her awkward and painful interrogations of Warley, bending her eyes towards the Bible which she still held between her hands, as one would cling to a casket of precious stones in a shipwreck, or a conflagration. Her mind now adverted to the future, losing sight, in a great measure, of the scenes of the past.

“We shall not long be parted, Judith,” she said; “when you die, you must be brought and be buried in the lake, by the side of mother, too.”

“Would to God, Hetty, that I lay there at this moment!”

“No, that cannot be, Judith; people must die before they have any right to be buried. ‘Twould be wicked to bury you, or for you to bury yourself, while living. Once I thought of burying myself; God kept me from that sin.”

“You! — You, Hetty Hutter, think of such an act!” exclaimed Judith, looking up in uncontrollable surprise, for she well knew nothing passed the lips of her conscientious sister, that was not religiously true.

“Yes, I did, Judith, but God has forgotten — no he forgets nothing — but he has forgiven it,” returned the dying girl, with the subdued manner of a repentant child. “’Twas after mother’s death; I felt I had lost the best friend I had on earth, if not the only friend. ’Tis true, you and father were kind to me, Judith, but I was so feeble-minded, I knew I should only give you trouble; and then you were so often ashamed of such a sister and daughter, and ’tis hard to live in a world where all look upon you as below them. I thought then, if I could bury myself by the side of mother, I should be happier in the lake than in the hut.”

“Forgive me — pardon me, dearest Hetty — on my bended knees, I beg you to pardon me, sweet sister, if any word, or act of mine drove you to so maddening and cruel a thought!”

“Get up, Judith — kneel to God; don’t kneel to me. Just so I felt when mother was dying! I remembered everything I had said and done to vex her, and could have kissed her feet for forgiveness. I think it must be so with all dying people; though, now I think of it, I don’t remember to have had such feelings on account of father.”

Judith arose, hid her face in her apron, and wept. A long pause — one of more than two hours — succeeded, during which Warley entered and left the cabin several times; apparently uneasy when absent, and yet unable to remain. He issued various orders, which his men proceeded to execute, and there was an air of movement in the party, more especially as Mr. Craig, the lieutenant, had got through the unpleasant duty of burying the dead, and had sent for instructions from the shore, desiring to know what he was to do with his detachment. During this interval Hetty slept a little, and Deerslayer and Chingachgook left the Ark to confer together. But, at the end of the time mentioned, the Surgeon passed upon the platform, and with a degree of feeling his comrades had never before observed in one of his habits, he announced that the patient was rapidly drawing near her end. On receiving this intelligence the group collected again, curiosity to witness such a death — or a better feeling — drawing to the spot men who had so lately been actors in a scene seemingly of so much greater interest and moment. By this time Judith had got to be inactive through grief, and Hist alone was performing the little offices of feminine attention that are so appropriate to the sick bed. Hetty herself had undergone no other apparent change than the general failing that indicated the near approach of dissolution. All that she possessed of mind was as clear as ever, and, in some respects, her intellect perhaps was more than usually active.

“Don’t grieve for me so much, Judith,” said the gentle sufferer, after a pause in her remarks; “I shall soon see mother — I think I see her now; her face is just as sweet and smiling as it used to be! Perhaps when I’m dead, God will give me all my mind, and I shall become a more fitting companion for mother than I ever was before.”

“You will be an angel in heaven, Hetty,” sobbed the sister; “no spirit there will be more worthy of its holy residence!”

“I don’t understand it quite; still, I know it must be all true; I’ve read it in the Bible. How dark it’s becoming! Can it be night so soon? I can hardly see you at all — where is Hist?”

“I here, poor girl — Why you no see me?”

“I do see you; but I couldn’t tell whether ’twas you, or Judith. I believe I shan’t see you much longer, Hist.”

“Sorry for that, poor Hetty. Never mind — pale-face got a heaven for girl as well as for warrior.”

“Where’s the Serpent? Let me speak to him; give me his hand; so; I feel it. Delaware, you will love and cherish this young Indian woman — I know how fond she is of you; you must be fond of her. Don’t treat her as some of your people treat their wives; be a real husband to her. Now, bring Deerslayer near me; give me his hand.”

This request was complied with, and the hunter stood by the side of the pallet, submitting to the wishes of the girl with the docility of a child.

“I feel, Deerslayer,” she resumed, “though I couldn’t tell why — but I feel that you and I are not going to part for ever. ’Tis a strange feeling! I never had it before; I wonder what it comes from!”

“’Tis God encouraging you in extremity, Hetty; as such it ought to be harbored and respected. Yes, we shall meet ag’in, though it may be a long time first, and in a far distant land.”

“Do you mean to be buried in the lake, too? If so, that may account for the feeling.”

“’Tis little likely, gal; ’tis little likely; but there’s a region for Christian souls, where there’s no lakes, nor woods, they say; though why there should be none of the last, is more than I can account for; seeing that pleasantness and peace is the object in view. My grave will be found in the forest, most likely, but I hope my spirit will not be far from your’n.”

“So it must be, then. I am too weak-minded to understand these things, but I feel that you and I will meet again. Sister, where are you? I can’t see, now, anything but darkness. It must be night, surely!”

“Oh! Hetty, I am here at your side; these are my arms that are around you,” sobbed Judith. “Speak, dearest; is there anything you wish to say, or have done, in this awful moment.”

By this time Hetty’s sight had entirely failed her. Nevertheless death approached with less than usual of its horrors, as if in tenderness to one of her half-endowed faculties. She was pale as a corpse, but her breathing was easy and unbroken, while her voice, though lowered almost to a whisper, remained clear and distinct. When her sister put this question, however, a blush diffused itself over the features of the dying girl, so faint however as to be nearly imperceptible; resembling that hue of the rose which is thought to portray the tint of modesty, rather than the dye of the flower in its richer bloom. No one but Judith detected this exposure of feeling, one of the gentle expressions of womanly sensibility, even in death. On her, however, it was not lost, nor did she conceal from herself the cause.

“Hurry is here, dearest Hetty,” whispered the sister, with her face so near the sufferer as to keep the words from other ears. “Shall I tell him to come and receive your good wishes?”

A gentle pressure of the hand answered in the affirmative. Then Hurry was brought to the side of the pallet. It is probable that this handsome but rude woodsman had never before found himself so awkwardly placed, though the inclination which Hetty felt for him (a sort of secret yielding to the instincts of nature, rather than any unbecoming impulse of an ill-regulated imagination), was too pure and unobtrusive to have created the slightest suspicion of the circumstance in his mind. He allowed Judith to put his hard colossal hand between those of Hetty, and stood waiting the result in awkward silence.

“This is Hurry, dearest,” whispered Judith, bending over her sister, ashamed to utter the words so as to be audible to herself. “Speak to him, and let him go.”

“What shall I say, Judith?”

“Nay, whatever your own pure spirit teaches, my love. Trust to that, and you need fear nothing.”

“Good bye, Hurry,” murmured the girl, with a gentle pressure of his hand. “I wish you would try and be more like Deerslayer.”

These words were uttered with difficulty; a faint flush succeeded them for a single instant. Then the hand was relinquished, and Hetty turned her face aside, as if done with the world. The mysterious feeling that bound her to the young man, a sentiment so gentle as to be almost imperceptible to herself, and which could never have existed at all, had her reason possessed more command over her senses, was forever lost in thoughts of a more elevated, though scarcely of a purer character.

“Of what are you thinking, my sweet sister?” whispered Judith “Tell me, that I may aid you at this moment.”

“Mother — I see Mother, now, and bright beings around her in the lake. Why isn’t father there? It’s odd that I can see Mother, when I can’t see you! Farewell, Judith.”

The last words were uttered after a pause, and her sister had hung over her some time, in anxious watchfulness, before she perceived that the gentle spirit had departed. Thus died Hetty Hutter, one of those mysterious links between the material and immaterial world, which, while they appear to be deprived of so much that it is esteemed and necessary for this state of being, draw so near to, and offer so beautiful an illustration of the truth, purity, and simplicity of another.

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