The Deerslayer, by James Fenimore Cooper

Chapter 32

“A baron’s chylde to be begylde!

it were a cursed dede:

To be felàwe with an outlàwe!

Almighty God forbede!

Yea, better were, the pore squy

re alone to forest yede,

Then ye sholde say another day,

that by my cursed dede

Ye were betrayed:

wherefore, good mayde,

the best rede that I can,

Is, that I to the grene wode go, alone,

a banyshed man.”

Thomas Percy, ‘Nutbrowne Mayde,’ 11. 265–76 from Reliques of

Ancient English Poetry, Vol. II.

The day that followed proved to be melancholy, though one of much activity. The soldiers, who had so lately been employed in interring their victims, were now called on to bury their own dead. The scene of the morning had left a saddened feeling on all the gentlemen of the party, and the rest felt the influence of a similar sensation, in a variety of ways and from many causes. Hour dragged on after hour until evening arrived, and then came the last melancholy offices in honor of poor Hetty Hutter. Her body was laid in the lake, by the side of that of the mother she had so loved and reverenced, the surgeon, though actually an unbeliever, so far complying with the received decencies of life as to read the funeral service over her grave, as he had previously done over those of the other Christian slain. It mattered not; that all seeing eye which reads the heart, could not fail to discriminate between the living and the dead, and the gentle soul of the unfortunate girl was already far removed beyond the errors, or deceptions, of any human ritual. These simple rites, however, were not wholly wanting in suitable accompaniments. The tears of Judith and Hist were shed freely, and Deerslayer gazed upon the limpid water, that now flowed over one whose spirit was even purer than its own mountain springs, with glistening eyes. Even the Delaware turned aside to conceal his weakness, while the common men gazed on the ceremony with wondering eyes and chastened feelings.

The business of the day closed with this pious office. By order of the commanding officer, all retired early to rest, for it was intended to begin the march homeward with the return of light. One party, indeed, bearing the wounded, the prisoners, and the trophies, had left the castle in the middle of the day under the guidance of Hurry, intending to reach the fort by shorter marches. It had been landed on the point so often mentioned, or that described in our opening pages, and, when the sun set, was already encamped on the brow of the long, broken, and ridgy hills, that fell away towards the valley of the Mohawk. The departure of this detachment had greatly simplified the duty of the succeeding day, disencumbering its march of its baggage and wounded, and otherwise leaving him who had issued the order greater liberty of action.

Judith held no communications with any but Hist, after the death of her sister, until she retired for the night. Her sorrow had been respected, and both the females had been left with the body, unintruded on, to the last moment. The rattling of the drum broke the silence of that tranquil water, and the echoes of the tattoo were heard among the mountains, so soon after the ceremony was over as to preclude the danger of interruption. That star which had been the guide of Hist, rose on a scene as silent as if the quiet of nature had never yet been disturbed by the labors or passions of man. One solitary sentinel, with his relief, paced the platform throughout the night, and morning was ushered in, as usual, by the martial beat of the reveille.

Military precision succeeded to the desultory proceedings of border men, and when a hasty and frugal breakfast was taken, the party began its movement towards the shore with a regularity and order that prevented noise or confusion. Of all the officers, Warley alone remained. Craig headed the detachment in advance, Thornton was with the wounded, and Graham accompanied his patients as a matter of course. Even the chest of Hutter, with all the more valuable of his effects, was borne away, leaving nothing behind that was worth the labor of a removal. Judith was not sorry to see that the captain respected her feelings, and that he occupied himself entirely with the duty of his command, leaving her to her own discretion and feelings. It was understood by all that the place was to be totally abandoned; but beyond this no explanations were asked or given.

The soldiers embarked in the Ark, with the captain at their head. He had enquired of Judith in what way she chose to proceed, and understanding her wish to remain with Hist to the last moment, he neither molested her with requests, nor offended her with advice. There was but one safe and familiar trail to the Mohawk, and on that, at the proper hour, he doubted not that they should meet in amity, if not in renewed intercourse. When all were on board, the sweeps were manned, and the Ark moved in its sluggish manner towards the distant point. Deerslayer and Chingachgook now lifted two of the canoes from the water, and placed them in the castle. The windows and door were then barred, and the house was left by means of the trap, in the manner already described. On quitting the palisades, Hist was seen in the remaining canoe, where the Delaware immediately joined her, and paddled away, leaving Judith standing alone on the platform. Owing to this prompt proceeding, Deerslayer found himself alone with the beautiful and still weeping mourner. Too simple to suspect anything, the young man swept the light boat round, and received its mistress in it, when he followed the course already taken by his friend. The direction to the point led diagonally past, and at no great distance from, the graves of the dead. As the canoe glided by, Judith for the first time that morning spoke to her companion. She said but little; merely uttering a simple request to stop, for a minute or two, ere she left the place.

“I may never see this spot again, Deerslayer,” she said, “and it contains the bodies of my mother and sister! Is it not possible, think you, that the innocence of one of these beings may answer in the eyes of God for the salvation of both?”

“I don’t understand it so, Judith, though I’m no missionary, and am but poorly taught. Each spirit answers for its own backslidings, though a hearty repentance will satisfy God’s laws.”

“Then must my poor poor mother be in heaven! Bitterly, bitterly has she repented of her sins, and surely her sufferings in this life ought to count as something against her sufferings in the next!”

“All this goes beyond me, Judith. I strive to do right, here, as the surest means of keeping all right, hereafter. Hetty was oncommon, as all that know’d her must allow, and her soul was as fit to consart with angels the hour it left its body, as that of any saint in the Bible!”

“I do believe you only do her justice! Alas! Alas! that there should be so great differences between those who were nursed at the same breast, slept in the same bed, and dwelt under the same roof! But, no matter — move the canoe, a little farther east, Deerslayer — the sun so dazzles my eyes that I cannot see the graves. This is Hetty’s, on the right of mother’s?”

“Sartain — you ask’d that of us, and all are glad to do as you wish, Judith, when you do that which is right.”

The girl gazed at him near a minute, in silent attention; then she turned her eyes backward, at the castle. “This lake will soon be entirely deserted,” she said, “and this, too, at a moment when it will be a more secure dwelling place than ever. What has so lately happened will prevent the Iroquois from venturing again to visit it for a long time to come.”

“That it will! Yes, that may be set down as sartain. I do not mean to pass this-a-way, ag’in, so long as the war lasts, for, to my mind no Huron moccasin will leave its print on the leaves of this forest, until their traditions have forgotten to tell their young men of their disgrace and rout.”

“And do you so delight in violence and bloodshed? I had thought better of you, Deerslayer — believed you one who could find his happiness in a quiet domestic home, with an attached and loving wife ready to study your wishes, and healthy and dutiful children anxious to follow in your footsteps, and to become as honest and just as yourself.”

“Lord, Judith, what a tongue you’re mistress of! Speech and looks go hand in hand, like, and what one can’t do, the other is pretty sartain to perform! Such a gal, in a month, might spoil the stoutest warrior in the colony.”

“And am I then so mistaken? Do you really love war, Deerslayer, better than the hearth, and the affections?”

“I understand your meaning, gal; yes, I do understand what you mean, I believe, though I don’t think you altogether understand me. Warrior I may now call myself, I suppose, for I’ve both fou’t and conquered, which is sufficient for the name; neither will I deny that I’ve feelin’s for the callin’, which is both manful and honorable when carried on accordin’ to nat’ral gifts, but I’ve no relish for blood. Youth is youth, howsever, and a Mingo is a Mingo. If the young men of this region stood by, and suffered the vagabonds to overrun the land, why, we might as well all turn Frenchers at once, and give up country and kin. I’m no fire eater, Judith, or one that likes fightin’ for fightin’s sake, but I can see no great difference atween givin’ up territory afore a war, out of a dread of war, and givin’ it up a’ter a war, because we can’t help it, onless it be that the last is the most manful and honorable.”

“No woman would ever wish to see her husband or brother stand by and submit to insult and wrong, Deerslayer, however she might mourn the necessity of his running into the dangers of battle. But, you’ve done enough already, in clearing this region of the Hurons; since to you is principally owing the credit of our late victory. Now, listen to me patiently, and answer me with that native honesty, which it is as pleasant to regard in one of your sex, as it is unusual to meet with.”

Judith paused, for now that she was on the very point of explaining herself, native modesty asserted its power, notwithstanding the encouragement and confidence she derived from the great simplicity of her companion’s character. Her cheeks, which had so lately been pale, flushed, and her eyes lighted with some of their former brilliancy. Feeling gave expression to her countenance and softness to her voice, rendering her who was always beautiful, trebly seductive and winning.

“Deerslayer,” she said, after a considerable pause, “this is not a moment for affectation, deception, or a want of frankness of any sort. Here, over my mother’s grave, and over the grave of truth-loving, truth-telling Hetty, everything like unfair dealing seems to be out of place. I will, therefore, speak to you without any reserve, and without any dread of being misunderstood. You are not an acquaintance of a week, but it appears to me as if I had known you for years. So much, and so much that is important has taken place, within that short time, that the sorrows, and dangers, and escapes of a whole life have been crowded into a few days, and they who have suffered and acted together in such scenes, ought not to feel like strangers. I know that what I am about to say might be misunderstood by most men, but I hope for a generous construction of my course from you. We are not here, dwelling among the arts and deceptions of the settlements, but young people who have no occasion to deceive each other, in any manner or form. I hope I make myself understood?”

“Sartain, Judith; few convarse better than yourself, and none more agreeable, like. Your words are as pleasant as your looks.”

“It is the manner in which you have so often praised those looks, that gives me courage to proceed. Still, Deerslayer, it is not easy for one of my sex and years to forget all her lessons of infancy, all her habits, and her natural diffidence, and say openly what her heart feels!”

“Why not, Judith? Why shouldn’t women as well as men deal fairly and honestly by their fellow creatur’s? I see no reason why you should not speak as plainly as myself, when there is any thing ra’ally important to be said.”

This indomitable diffidence, which still prevented the young man from suspecting the truth, would have completely discouraged the girl, had not her whole soul, as well as her whole heart, been set upon making a desperate effort to rescue herself from a future that she dreaded with a horror as vivid as the distinctness with which she fancied she foresaw it. This motive, however, raised her above all common considerations, and she persevered even to her own surprise, if not to her great confusion.

“I will — I must deal as plainly with you, as I would with poor, dear Hetty, were that sweet child living!” she continued, turning pale instead of blushing, the high resolution by which she was prompted reversing the effect that such a procedure would ordinarily produce on one of her sex; “yes, I will smother all other feelings, in the one that is now uppermost! You love the woods and the life that we pass, here, in the wilderness, away from the dwellings and towns of the whites.”

“As I loved my parents, Judith, when they was living! This very spot would be all creation to me, could this war be fairly over, once; and the settlers kept at a distance.”

“Why quit it, then? It has no owner — at least none who can claim a better right than mine, and that I freely give to you. Were it a kingdom, Deerslayer, I think I should delight to say the same. Let us then return to it, after we have seen the priest at the fort, and never quit it again, until God calls us away to that world where we shall find the spirits of my poor mother and sister.”

A long, thoughtful pause succeeded; Judith here covered her face with both her hands, after forcing herself to utter so plain a proposal, and Deerslayer musing equally in sorrow and surprise, on the meaning of the language he had just heard. At length the hunter broke the silence, speaking in a tone that was softened to gentleness by his desire not to offend.

“You haven’t thought well of this, Judith,” he said, “no, your feelin’s are awakened by all that has lately happened, and believin’ yourself to be without kindred in the world, you are in too great haste to find some to fill the places of them that’s lost.”

“Were I living in a crowd of friends, Deerslayer, I should still think as I now think — say as I now say,” returned Judith, speaking with her hands still shading her lovely face.

“Thank you, gal — thank you, from the bottom of my heart. Howsever, I am not one to take advantage of a weak moment, when you’re forgetful of your own great advantages, and fancy ‘arth and all it holds is in this little canoe. No — no — Judith, ‘twould be onginerous in me; what you’ve offered can never come to pass!”

“It all may be, and that without leaving cause of repentance to any,” answered Judith, with an impetuosity of feeling and manner that at once unveiled her eyes. “We can cause the soldiers to leave our goods on the road, till we return, when they can easily be brought back to the house; the lake will be no more visited by the enemy, this war at least; all your skins may be readily sold at the garrison; there you can buy the few necessaries we shall want, for I wish never to see the spot, again; and Deerslayer,” added the girl smiling with a sweetness and nature that the young man found it hard to resist, “as a proof how wholly I am and wish to be yours — how completely I desire to be nothing but your wife, the very first fire that we kindle, after our return, shall be lighted with the brocade dress, and fed by every article I have that you may think unfit for the woman you wish to live with!”

“Ah’s me! — you’re a winning and a lovely creatur’, Judith; yes, you are all that, and no one can deny it and speak truth. These pictur’s are pleasant to the thoughts, but they mightn’t prove so happy as you now think ’em. Forget it all, therefore, and let us paddle after the Sarpent and Hist, as if nothing had been said on the subject.”

Judith was deeply mortified, and, what is more, she was profoundly grieved. Still there was a steadiness and quiet in the manner of Deerslayer that completely smothered her hopes, and told her that for once her exceeding beauty had failed to excite the admiration and homage it was wont to receive. Women are said seldom to forgive those who slight their advances, but this high spirited and impetuous girl entertained no shadow of resentment, then or ever, against the fair dealing and ingenuous hunter. At the moment, the prevailing feeling was the wish to be certain that there was no misunderstanding. After another painful pause, therefore, she brought the matter to an issue by a question too direct to admit of equivocation.

“God forbid that we lay up regrets, in after life, through my want of sincerity now,” she said. “I hope we understand each other, at least. You will not accept me for a wife, Deerslayer?”

“’Tis better for both that I shouldn’t take advantage of your own forgetfulness, Judith. We can never marry.”

“You do not love me — cannot find it in your heart, perhaps, to esteem me, Deerslayer!”

“Everything in the way of fri’ndship, Judith — everything, even to sarvices and life itself. Yes, I’d risk as much for you, at this moment, as I would risk in behalf of Hist, and that is sayin’ as much as I can say of any darter of woman. I do not think I feel towards either — mind I say either, Judith — as if I wished to quit father and mother — if father and mother was livin’, which, howsever, neither is — but if both was livin’, I do not feel towards any woman as if I wish’d to quit ’em in order to cleave unto her.”

“This is enough!” answered Judith, in a rebuked and smothered voice. “I understand all that you mean. Marry you cannot with loving, and that love you do not feel for me. Make no answer, if I am right, for I shall understand your silence. That will be painful enough of itself.”

Deerslayer obeyed her, and he made no reply. For more than a minute, the girl riveted her bright eyes on him as if to read his soul, while he was playing with the water like a corrected school boy. Then Judith, herself, dropped the end of her paddle, and urged the canoe away from the spot, with a movement as reluctant as the feelings which controlled it. Deerslayer quietly aided the effort, however, and they were soon on the trackless line taken by the Delaware.

In their way to the point, not another syllable was exchanged between Deerslayer and his fair companion. As Judith sat in the bow of the canoe, her back was turned towards him, else it is probable the expression of her countenance might have induced him to venture some soothing terms of friendship and regard. Contrary to what would have been expected, resentment was still absent, though the colour frequently changed from the deep flush of mortification to the paleness of disappointment. Sorrow, deep, heart-felt sorrow, however, was the predominant emotion, and this was betrayed in a manner not to be mistaken.

As neither labored hard at the paddle, the ark had already arrived and the soldiers had disembarked before the canoe of the two loiterers reached the point. Chingachgook had preceded it, and was already some distance in the wood, at a spot where the two trails, that to the garrison and that to the villages of the Delawares, separated. The soldiers, too, had taken up their line of march, first setting the Ark adrift again, with a reckless disregard of its fate. All this Judith saw, but she heeded it not. The glimmerglass had no longer any charms for her, and when she put her foot on the strand, she immediately proceeded on the trail of the soldiers without casting a single glance behind her. Even Hist was passed unnoticed, that modest young creature shrinking from the averted face of Judith, as if guilty herself of some wrongdoing.

“Wait you here, Sarpent,” said Deerslayer as he followed in the footsteps of the dejected beauty, while passing his friend. “I will just see Judith among her party, and come and j’ine you.”

A hundred yards had hid the couple from those in front, as well as those in their rear, when Judith turned, and spoke.

“This will do, Deerslayer,” she said sadly. “I understand your kindness but shall not need it. In a few minutes I shall reach the soldiers. As you cannot go with me on the journey of life, I do not wish you to go further on this. But, stop — before we part, I would ask you a single question. And I require of you, as you fear God, and reverence the truth, not to deceive me in your answer. I know you do not love another and I can see but one reason why you cannot, will not love me. Tell me then, Deerslayer,” The girl paused, the words she was about to utter seeming to choke her. Then rallying all her resolution, with a face that flushed and paled at every breath she drew, she continued.

“Tell me then, Deerslayer, if anything light of me, that Henry March has said, may not have influenced your feelings?”

Truth was the Deerslayer’s polar star. He ever kept it in view, and it was nearly impossible for him to avoid uttering it, even when prudence demanded silence. Judith read his answer in his countenance, and with a heart nearly broken by the consciousness of undue erring, she signed to him an adieu, and buried herself in the woods. For some time Deerslayer was irresolute as to his course; but, in the end, he retraced his steps, and joined the Delaware. That night the three camped on the head waters of their own river, and the succeeding evening they entered the village of the tribe, Chingachgook and his betrothed in triumph; their companion honored and admired, but in a sorrow that it required months of activity to remove.

The war that then had its rise was stirring and bloody. The Delaware chief rose among his people, until his name was never mentioned without eulogiums, while another Uncas, the last of his race, was added to the long line of warriors who bore that distinguishing appellation. As for the Deerslayer, under the sobriquet of Hawkeye, he made his fame spread far and near, until the crack of his rifle became as terrible to the ears of the Mingos as the thunders of the Manitou. His services were soon required by the officers of the crown, and he especially attached himself in the field to one in particular, with whose after life he had a close and important connection.

Fifteen years had passed away, ere it was in the power of the Deerslayer to revisit the Glimmerglass. A peace had intervened, and it was on the eve of another and still more important war, when he and his constant friend, Chingachgook, were hastening to the forts to join their allies. A stripling accompanied them, for Hist already slumbered beneath the pines of the Delawares, and the three survivors had now become inseparable. They reached the lake just as the sun was setting. Here all was unchanged. The river still rushed through its bower of trees; the little rock was washing away, by the slow action of the waves, in the course of centuries, the mountains stood in their native dress, dark, rich and mysterious, while the sheet glistened in its solitude, a beautiful gem of the forest.

The following morning, the youth discovered one of the canoes drifted on the shore, in a state of decay. A little labor put it in a state for service, and they all embarked, with a desire to examine the place. All the points were passed, and Chingachgook pointed out to his son the spot where the Hurons had first encamped, and the point whence he had succeeded in stealing his bride. Here they even landed, but all traces of the former visit had disappeared. Next they proceeded to the scene of the battle, and there they found a few of the signs that linger around such localities. Wild beasts had disinterred many of the bodies, and human bones were bleaching in the rains of summer. Uncas regarded all with reverence and pity, though traditions were already rousing his young mind to the ambition and sternness of a warrior.

From the point, the canoe took its way toward the shoal, where the remains of the castle were still visible, a picturesque ruin. The storms of winter had long since unroofed the house, and decay had eaten into the logs. All the fastenings were untouched, but the seasons rioted in the place, as if in mockery at the attempt to exclude them. The palisades were rotting, as were the piles, and it was evident that a few more recurrences of winter, a few more gales and tempests, would sweep all into the lake, and blot the building from the face of that magnificent solitude. The graves could not be found. Either the elements had obliterated their traces, or time had caused those who looked for them to forget their position.

The Ark was discovered stranded on the eastern shore, where it had long before been driven with the prevalent northwest winds. It lay on the sandy extremity of a long low point, that is situated about two miles from the outlet, and which is itself fast disappearing before the action of the elements. The scow was filled with water, the cabin unroofed, and the logs were decaying. Some of its coarser furniture still remained, and the heart of Deerslayer beat quick, as he found a ribbon of Judith’s fluttering from a log. It recalled all her beauty, and we may add all her failings. Although the girl had never touched his heart, the Hawkeye, for so we ought now to call him, still retained a kind and sincere interest in her welfare. He tore away the ribbon, and knotted it to the stock of Killdeer, which had been the gift of the girl herself.

A few miles farther up the lake, another of the canoes was discovered, and on the point where the party finally landed, were found those which had been left there upon the shore. That in which the present navigation was made, and the one discovered on the eastern shore, had dropped through the decayed floor of the castle, drifted past the falling palisades, and had been thrown as waifs upon the beach.

From all these signs, it was probable the lake had not been visited since the occurrence of the final scene of our tale. Accident or tradition had rendered it again a spot sacred to nature, the frequent wars and the feeble population of the colonies still confining the settlements within narrow boundaries. Chingachgook and his friend left the spot with melancholy feelings. It had been the region of their First War Path, and it carried back the minds of both to scenes of tenderness, as well as to hours of triumph. They held their way towards the Mohawk in silence, however, to rush into new adventures, as stirring and as remarkable as those which had attended their opening careers on this lovely lake. At a later day they returned to the place, where the Indian found a grave.

Time and circumstances have drawn an impenetrable mystery around all else connected with the Hutters. They lived, erred, died, and are forgotten. None connected have felt sufficient interest in the disgraced and disgracing to withdraw the veil, and a century is about to erase even the recollection of their names. The history of crime is ever revolting, and it is fortunate that few love to dwell on its incidents. The sins of the family have long since been arraigned at the judgment seat of God, or are registered for the terrible settlement of the last great day.

The same fate attended Judith. When Hawkeye reached the garrison on the Mohawk he enquired anxiously after that lovely but misguided creature. None knew her — even her person was no longer remembered. Other officers had, again and again, succeeded the Warleys and Craigs and Grahams, though an old sergeant of the garrison, who had lately come from England, was enabled to tell our hero that Sir Robert Warley lived on his paternal estates, and that there was a lady of rare beauty in the Lodge who had great influence over him, though she did not bear his name. Whether this was Judith relapsed into her early failing, or some other victim of the soldier’s, Hawkeye never knew, nor would it be pleasant or profitable to inquire. We live in a world of transgressions and selfishness, and no pictures that represent us otherwise can be true, though, happily, for human nature, gleamings of that pure spirit in whose likeness man has been fashioned are to be seen, relieving its deformities, and mitigating if not excusing its crimes.

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