The Deerslayer, by James Fenimore Cooper

Chapter 6

“So spake the apostate Angel, though in pain,

Vaunting aloud, but racked with deep despair.”

Paradise lost, I. 125–26.

Shortly after the disappearance of Judith, a light southerly air arose, and Hutter set a large square sail, that had once been the flying top-sail of an Albany sloop, but which having become threadbare in catching the breezes of Tappan, had been condemned and sold. He had a light, tough spar of tamarack that he could raise on occasion, and with a little contrivance, his duck was spread to the wind in a sufficiently professional manner. The effect on the ark was such as to supersede the necessity of rowing; and in about two hours the castle was seen, in the darkness, rising out of the water, at the distance of a hundred yards. The sail was then lowered, and by slow degrees the scow drifted up to the building, and was secured.

No one had visited the house since Hurry and his companion left it. The place was found in the quiet of midnight, a sort of type of the solitude of a wilderness. As an enemy was known to be near, Hutter directed his daughters to abstain from the use of lights, luxuries in which they seldom indulged during the warm months, lest they might prove beacons to direct their foes where they might be found.

“In open daylight I shouldn’t fear a host of savages behind these stout logs, and they without any cover to skulk into,” added Hutter, when he had explained to his guests the reasons why he forbade the use of light; “for I’ve three or four trusty weapons always loaded, and Killdeer, in particular, is a piece that never misses. But it’s a different thing at night. A canoe might get upon us unseen, in the dark; and the savages have so many cunning ways of attacking, that I look upon it as bad enough to deal with ’em under a bright sun. I built this dwelling in order to have ’em at arm’s length, in case we should ever get to blows again. Some people think it’s too open and exposed, but I’m for anchoring out here, clear of underbrush and thickets, as the surest means of making a safe berth.”

“You was once a sailor, they tell me, old Tom?” said Hurry, in his abrupt manner, struck by one or two expressions that the other had just used, “and some people believe you could give us strange accounts of inimies and shipwrecks, if you’d a mind to come out with all you know?”

“There are people in this world, Hurry,” returned the other, evasively, “who live on other men’s thoughts; and some such often find their way into the woods. What I’ve been, or what I’ve seen in youth, is of less matter now than what the savages are. It’s of more account to find out what will happen in the next twenty-four hours than to talk over what happened twenty-four years since.”

“That’s judgment, Deerslayer; yes, that’s sound judgment. Here’s Judith and Hetty to take care of, to say nothing of our own top-knots; and, for my part, I can sleep as well in the dark as I could under a noonday sun. To me it’s no great matter whether there is light or not, to see to shut my eyes by.”

As Deerslayer seldom thought it necessary to answer his companion’s peculiar vein of humor, and Hutter was evidently indisposed to dwell longer on the subject, it’s discussion ceased with this remark. The latter had something more on his mind, however, than recollections. His daughters had no sooner left them, with an expressed intention of going to bed, than he invited his two companions to follow him again into the scow. Here the old man opened his project, keeping back the portion that he had reserved for execution by Hurry and himself.

“The great object for people posted like ourselves is to command the water,” he commenced. “So long as there is no other craft on the lake, a bark canoe is as good as a man of-war, since the castle will not be easily taken by swimming. Now, there are but five canoes remaining in these parts, two of which are mine, and one is Hurry’s. These three we have with us here; one being fastened in the canoe-dock beneath the house, and the other two being alongside the scow. The other canoes are housed on the shore, in hollow logs, and the savages, who are such venomous enemies, will leave no likely place unexamined in the morning, if they ‘re serious in s’arch of bounties-”

“Now, friend Hutter,” interrupted Hurry, “the Indian don’t live that can find a canoe that is suitably wintered. I’ve done something at this business before now, and Deerslayer here knows that I am one that can hide a craft in such a way that I can’t find it myself.”

“Very true, Hurry,” put in the person to whom the appeal had been made, “but you overlook the sarcumstance that if you couldn’t see the trail of the man who did the job, I could. I’m of Master Hutter’s mind, that it’s far wiser to mistrust a savage’s ingenuity, than to build any great expectations on his want of eye-sight. If these two canoes can be got off to the castle, therefore, the sooner it’s done the better.”

“Will you be of the party that’s to do it?” demanded Hutter, in a way to show that the proposal both surprised and pleased him.

“Sartain. I’m ready to enlist in any enterprise that’s not ag’in a white man’s lawful gifts. Natur’ orders us to defend our lives, and the lives of others, too, when there’s occasion and opportunity. I’ll follow you, Floating Tom, into the Mingo camp, on such an arr’nd, and will strive to do my duty, should we come to blows; though, never having been tried in battle, I don’t like to promise more than I may be able to perform. We all know our wishes, but none know their might till put to the proof.”

“That’s modest and suitable, lad,” exclaimed Hurry. “You’ve never yet heard the crack of an angry rifle; and, let me tell you, ’tis as different from the persuasion of one of your venison speeches, as the laugh of Judith Hutter, in her best humor, is from the scolding of a Dutch house keeper on the Mohawk. I don’t expect you’ll prove much of a warrior, Deerslayer, though your equal with the bucks and the does don’t exist in all these parts. As for the ra’al sarvice, however, you’ll turn out rather rearward, according to my consait.”

“We’ll see, Hurry, we’ll see,” returned the other, meekly; so far as human eye could discover, not at all disturbed by these expressed doubts concerning his conduct on a point on which men are sensitive, precisely in the degree that they feel the consciousness of demerit; “having never been tried, I’ll wait to know, before I form any opinion of myself; and then there’ll be sartainty, instead of bragging. I’ve heard of them that was valiant afore the fight, who did little in it; and of them that waited to know their own tempers, and found that they weren’t as bad as some expected, when put to the proof.”

“At any rate, we know you can use a paddle, young man,” said Hutter, “and that’s all we shall ask of you tonight. Let us waste no more time, but get into the canoe, and do, in place of talking.”

As Hutter led the way, in the execution of his project, the boat was soon ready, with Hurry and Deerslayer at the paddles. Before the old man embarked himself, however, he held a conference of several minutes with Judith, entering the house for that purpose; then, returning, he took his place in the canoe, which left the side of the ark at the next instant.

Had there been a temple reared to God, in that solitary wilderness, its clock would have told the hour of midnight as the party set forth on their expedition. The darkness had increased, though the night was still clear, and the light of the stars sufficed for all the purposes of the adventurers. Hutter alone knew the places where the canoes were hid, and he directed the course, while his two athletic companions raised and dipped their paddles with proper caution, lest the sound should be carried to the ears of their enemies, across that sheet of placid water, in the stillness of deep night. But the bark was too light to require any extraordinary efforts, and skill supplying the place of strength, in about half an hour they were approaching the shore, at a point near a league from the castle.

“Lay on your paddles, men,” said Hutter, in a low voice, “and let us look about us for a moment. We must now be all eyes and ears, for these vermin have noses like bloodhounds.”

The shores of the lake were examined closely, in order to discover any glimmering of light that might have been left in a camp; and the men strained their eyes, in the obscurity, to see if some thread of smoke was not still stealing along the mountainside, as it arose from the dying embers of a fire. Nothing unusual could be traced; and as the position was at some distance from the outlet, or the spot where the savages had been met, it was thought safe to land. The paddles were plied again, and the bows of the canoe ground upon the gravelly beach with a gentle motion, and a sound barely audible. Hutter and Hurry immediately landed, the former carrying his own and his friend’s rifle, leaving Deerslayer in charge of the canoe. The hollow log lay a little distance up the side of the mountain, and the old man led the way towards it, using so much caution as to stop at every third or fourth step, to listen if any tread betrayed the presence of a foe. The same death-like stillness, however, reigned on the midnight scene, and the desired place was reached without an occurrence to induce alarm.

“This is it,” whispered Hutter, laying a foot on the trunk of a fallen linden; “hand me the paddles first, and draw the boat out with care, for the wretches may have left it for a bait, after all.”

“Keep my rifle handy, butt towards me, old fellow,” answered March. “If they attack me loaded, I shall want to unload the piece at ’em, at least. And feel if the pan is full.”

“All’s right,” muttered the other; “move slow, when you get your load, and let me lead the way.”

The canoe was drawn out of the log with the utmost care, raised by Hurry to his shoulder, and the two began to return to the shore, moving but a step at a time, lest they should tumble down the steep declivity. The distance was not great, but the descent was extremely difficult; and, towards the end of their little journey, Deerslayer was obliged to land and meet them, in order to aid in lifting the canoe through the bushes. With his assistance the task was successfully accomplished, and the light craft soon floated by the side of the other canoe. This was no sooner done, than all three turned anxiously towards the forest and the mountain, expecting an enemy to break out of the one, or to come rushing down the other. Still the silence was unbroken, and they all embarked with the caution that had been used in coming ashore.

Hutter now steered broad off towards the centre of the lake. Having got a sufficient distance from the shore, he cast his prize loose, knowing that it would drift slowly up the lake before the light southerly air, and intending to find it on his return. Thus relieved of his tow, the old man held his way down the lake, steering towards the very point where Hurry had made his fruitless attempt on the life of the deer. As the distance from this point to the outlet was less than a mile, it was like entering an enemy’s country; and redoubled caution became necessary. They reached the extremity of the point, however, and landed in safety on the little gravelly beach already mentioned. Unlike the last place at which they had gone ashore, here was no acclivity to ascend, the mountains looming up in the darkness quite a quarter of a mile farther west, leaving a margin of level ground between them and the strand. The point itself, though long, and covered with tall trees, was nearly flat, and for some distance only a few yards in width. Hutter and Hurry landed as before, leaving their companion in charge of the boat.

In this instance, the dead tree that contained the canoe of which they had come in quest lay about half-way between the extremity of the narrow slip of land and the place where it joined the main shore; and knowing that there was water so near him on his left, the old man led the way along the eastern side of the belt with some confidence walking boldly, though still with caution. He had landed at the point expressly to get a glimpse into the bay and to make certain that the coast was clear; otherwise he would have come ashore directly abreast of the hollow tree. There was no difficulty in finding the latter, from which the canoe was drawn as before, and instead of carrying it down to the place where Deerslayer lay, it was launched at the nearest favorable spot. As soon as it was in the water, Hurry entered it, and paddled round to the point, whither Hutter also proceeded, following the beach. As the three men had now in their possession all the boats on the lake, their confidence was greatly increased, and there was no longer the same feverish desire to quit the shore, or the same necessity for extreme caution. Their position on the extremity of the long, narrow bit of land added to the feeling of security, as it permitted an enemy to approach in only one direction, that in their front, and under circumstances that would render discovery, with their habitual vigilance, almost certain. The three now landed together, and stood grouped in consultation on the gravelly point.

“We’ve fairly tree’d the scamps,” said Hurry, chuckling at their success; “if they wish to visit the castle, let ’em wade or swim! Old Tom, that idee of your’n, in burrowing out in the lake, was high proof, and carries a fine bead. There be men who would think the land safer than the water; but, after all, reason shows it isn’t; the beaver, and rats, and other l’arned creatur’s taking to the last when hard pressed. I call our position now, entrenched, and set the Canadas at defiance.”

“Let us paddle along this south shore,” said Hutter, “and see if there’s no sign of an encampment; but, first, let me have a better look into the bay, for no one has been far enough round the inner shore of the point to make suit of that quarter yet.”

As Hutter ceased speaking, all three moved in the direction he had named. Scarce had they fairly opened the bottom of the bay, when a general start proved that their eyes had lighted on a common object at the same instant. It was no more than a dying brand, giving out its flickering and failing light; but at that hour, and in that place, it was at once as conspicuous as “a good deed in a naughty world.” There was not a shadow of doubt that this fire had been kindled at an encampment of the Indians. The situation, sheltered from observation on all sides but one, and even on that except for a very short distance, proved that more care had been taken to conceal the spot than would be used for ordinary purposes, and Hutter, who knew that a spring was near at hand, as well as one of the best fishing-stations on the lake, immediately inferred that this encampment contained the women and children of the party.

“That’s not a warrior’s encampment,” he growled to Hurry; “and there’s bounty enough sleeping round that fire to make a heavy division of head-money. Send the lad to the canoes, for there’ll come no good of him in such an onset, and let us take the matter in hand at once, like men.”

“There’s judgment in your notion, old Tom, and I like it to the backbone. Deerslayer, do you get into the canoe, lad, and paddle off into the lake with the spare one, and set it adrift, as we did with the other; after which you can float along shore, as near as you can get to the head of the bay, keeping outside the point, howsever, and outside the rushes, too. You can hear us when we want you; and if there’s any delay, I’ll call like a loon — yes, that’ll do it — the call of a loon shall be the signal. If you hear rifles, and feel like sogering, why, you may close in, and see if you can make the same hand with the savages that you do with the deer.”

“If my wishes could be followed, this matter would not be undertaken, Hurry ——”

“Quite true — nobody denies it, boy; but your wishes can’t be followed; and that inds the matter. So just canoe yourself off into the middle of the lake, and by the time you get back there’ll be movements in that camp!”

The young man set about complying with great reluctance and a heavy heart. He knew the prejudices of the frontiermen too well, however, to attempt a remonstrance. The latter, indeed, under the circumstances, might prove dangerous, as it would certainly prove useless. He paddled the canoe, therefore, silently and with the former caution, to a spot near the centre of the placid sheet of water, and set the boat just recovered adrift, to float towards the castle, before the light southerly air. This expedient had been adopted, in both cases, under the certainty that the drift could not carry the light barks more than a league or two, before the return of light, when they might easily be overtaken in order to prevent any wandering savage from using them, by swimming off and getting possession, a possible but scarcely a probable event, all the paddles were retained.

No sooner had he set the recovered canoe adrift, than Deerslayer turned the bows of his own towards the point on the shore that had been indicated by Hurry. So light was the movement of the little craft, and so steady the sweep of its master’s arm, that ten minutes had not elapsed ere it was again approaching the land, having, in that brief time, passed over fully half a mile of distance. As soon as Deerslayer’s eye caught a glimpse of the rushes, of which there were many growing in the water a hundred feet from the shore, he arrested the motion of the canoe, and anchored his boat by holding fast to the delicate but tenacious stem of one of the drooping plants. Here he remained, awaiting, with an intensity of suspense that can be easily imagined, the result of the hazardous enterprise.

It would be difficult to convey to the minds of those who have never witnessed it, the sublimity that characterizes the silence of a solitude as deep as that which now reigned over the Glimmerglass. In the present instance, this sublimity was increased by the gloom of night, which threw its shadowy and fantastic forms around the lake, the forest, and the hills. It is not easy, indeed, to conceive of any place more favorable to heighten these natural impressions, than that Deerslayer now occupied. The size of the lake brought all within the reach of human senses, while it displayed so much of the imposing scene at a single view, giving up, as it might be, at a glance, a sufficiency to produce the deepest impressions. As has been said, this was the first lake Deerslayer had ever seen. Hitherto, his experience had been limited to the courses of rivers and smaller streams, and never before had he seen so much of that wilderness, which he so well loved, spread before his gaze. Accustomed to the forest, however, his mind was capable of portraying all its hidden mysteries, as he looked upon its leafy surface. This was also the first time he had been on a trail where human lives depended on the issue. His ears had often drunk in the traditions of frontier warfare, but he had never yet been confronted with an enemy.

The reader will readily understand, therefore, how intense must have been the expectation of the young man, as he sat in his solitary canoe, endeavoring to catch the smallest sound that might denote the course of things on shore. His training had been perfect, so far as theory could go, and his self-possession, notwithstanding the high excitement, that was the fruit of novelty, would have done credit to a veteran. The visible evidences of the existence of the camp, or of the fire could not be detected from the spot where the canoe lay, and he was compelled to depend on the sense of hearing alone. He did not feel impatient, for the lessons he had heard taught him the virtue of patience, and, most of all, inculcated the necessity of wariness in conducting any covert assault on the Indians. Once he thought he heard the cracking of a dried twig, but expectation was so intense it might mislead him. In this manner minute after minute passed, until the whole time since he left his companions was extended to quite an hour. Deerslayer knew not whether to rejoice in or to mourn over this cautious delay, for, if it augured security to his associates, it foretold destruction to the feeble and innocent.

It might have been an hour and a half after his companions and he had parted, when Deerslayer was aroused by a sound that filled him equally with concern and surprise. The quavering call of a loon arose from the opposite side of the lake, evidently at no great distance from its outlet. There was no mistaking the note of this bird, which is so familiar to all who know the sounds of the American lakes. Shrill, tremulous, loud, and sufficiently prolonged, it seems the very cry of warning. It is often raised, also, at night, an exception to the habits of most of the other feathered inmates of the wilderness; a circumstance which had induced Hurry to select it as his own signal. There had been sufficient time, certainly, for the two adventurers to make their way by land from the point where they had been left to that whence the call had come, but it was not probable that they would adopt such a course. Had the camp been deserted they would have summoned Deerslayer to the shore, and, did it prove to be peopled, there could be no sufficient motive for circling it, in order to re-embark at so great a distance. Should he obey the signal, and be drawn away from the landing, the lives of those who depended on him might be the forfeit — and, should he neglect the call, on the supposition that it had been really made, the consequences might be equally disastrous, though from a different cause. In this indecision he waited, trusting that the call, whether feigned or natural, would be speedily renewed. Nor was he mistaken. A very few minutes elapsed before the same shrill warning cry was repeated, and from the same part of the lake. This time, being on the alert, his senses were not deceived. Although he had often heard admirable imitations of this bird, and was no mean adept himself in raising its notes, he felt satisfied that Hurry, to whose efforts in that way he had attended, could never so completely and closely follow nature. He determined, therefore, to disregard that cry, and to wait for one less perfect and nearer at hand.

Deerslayer had hardly come to this determination, when the profound stillness of night and solitude was broken by a cry so startling, as to drive all recollection of the more melancholy call of the loon from the listener’s mind. It was a shriek of agony, that came either from one of the female sex, or from a boy so young as not yet to have attained a manly voice. This appeal could not be mistaken. Heart rending terror — if not writhing agony — was in the sounds, and the anguish that had awakened them was as sudden as it was fearful. The young man released his hold of the rush, and dashed his paddle into the water; to do, he knew not what — to steer, he knew not whither. A very few moments, however, removed his indecision. The breaking of branches, the cracking of dried sticks, and the fall of feet were distinctly audible; the sounds appearing to approach the water though in a direction that led diagonally towards the shore, and a little farther north than the spot that Deerslayer had been ordered to keep near. Following this clue, the young man urged the canoe ahead, paying but little attention to the manner in which he might betray its presence. He had reached a part of the shore, where its immediate bank was tolerably high and quite steep. Men were evidently threshing through the bushes and trees on the summit of this bank, following the line of the shore, as if those who fled sought a favorable place for descending. Just at this instant five or six rifles flashed, and the opposite hills gave back, as usual, the sharp reports in prolonged rolling echoes. One or two shrieks, like those which escape the bravest when suddenly overcome by unexpected anguish and alarm, followed; and then the threshing among the bushes was renewed, in a way to show that man was grappling with man.

“Slippery devil!” shouted Hurry with the fury of disappointment-“his skin’s greased! I sha’n’t grapple! Take that for your cunning!”

The words were followed by the fall of some heavy object among the smaller trees that fringed the bank, appearing to Deerslayer as if his gigantic associate had hurled an enemy from him in this unceremonious manner. Again the flight and pursuit were renewed, and then the young man saw a human form break down the hill, and rush several yards into the water. At this critical moment the canoe was just near enough to the spot to allow this movement, which was accompanied by no little noise, to be seen, and feeling that there he must take in his companion, if anywhere, Deerslayer urged the canoe forward to the rescue. His paddle had not been raised twice, when the voice of Hurry was heard filling the air with imprecations, and he rolled on the narrow beach, literally loaded down with enemies. While prostrate, and almost smothered with his foes, the athletic frontierman gave his loon-call, in a manner that would have excited laughter under circumstances less terrific. The figure in the water seemed suddenly to repent his own flight, and rushed to the shore to aid his companion, but was met and immediately overpowered by half a dozen fresh pursuers, who, just then, came leaping down the bank.

“Let up, you painted riptyles — let up!” cried Hurry, too hard pressed to be particular about the terms he used; “isn’t it enough that I am withed like a saw-log that ye must choke too!”

This speech satisfied Deerslayer that his friends were prisoners, and that to land would be to share their fate He was already within a hundred feet of the shore, when a few timely strokes of the paddle not only arrested his advance, but forced him off to six or eight times that distance from his enemies. Luckily for him, all of the Indians had dropped their rifles in the pursuit, or this retreat might not have been effected with impunity; though no one had noted the canoe in the first confusion of the melee.

“Keep off the land, lad,” called out Hutter; “the girls depend only on you, now; you will want all your caution to escape these savages. Keep off, and God prosper you, as you aid my children!”

There was little sympathy in general between Hutter and the young man, but the bodily and mental anguish with which this appeal was made served at the moment to conceal from the latter the former’s faults. He saw only the father in his sufferings, and resolved at once to give a pledge of fidelity to its interests, and to be faithful to his word.

“Put your heart at ease, Master Hutter,” he called out; “the gals shall be looked to, as well as the castle. The inimy has got the shore, ’tis no use to deny, but he hasn’t got the water. Providence has the charge of all, and no one can say what will come of it; but, if good-will can sarve you and your’n, depend on that much. My exper’ence is small, but my will is good.”

“Ay, ay, Deerslayer,” returned Hurry, in this stentorian voice, which was losing some of its heartiness, notwithstanding — “Ay, ay, Deerslayer. You mean well enough, but what can you do? You’re no great matter in the best of times, and such a person is not likely to turn out a miracle in the worst. If there’s one savage on this lake shore, there’s forty, and that’s an army you ar’n’t the man to overcome. The best way, in my judgment, will be to make a straight course to the castle; get the gals into the canoe, with a few eatables; then strike off for the corner of the lake where we came in, and take the best trail for the Mohawk. These devils won’t know where to look for you for some hours, and if they did, and went off hot in the pursuit, they must turn either the foot or the head of the lake to get at you. That’s my judgment in the matter; and if old Tom here wishes to make his last will and testament in a manner favorable to his darters, he’ll say the same.”

“’Twill never do, young man,” rejoined Hutter. “The enemy has scouts out at this moment, looking for canoes, and you’ll be seen and taken. Trust to the castle; and above all things, keep clear of the land. Hold out a week, and parties from the garrisons will drive the savages off.”

“‘Twon’t be four-and-twenty hours, old fellow, afore these foxes will be rafting off to storm your castle,” interrupted Hurry, with more of the heat of argument than might be expected from a man who was bound and a captive, and about whom nothing could be called free but his opinions and his tongue. “Your advice has a stout sound, but it will have a fatal tarmination. If you or I was in the house, we might hold out a few days, but remember that this lad has never seen an inimy afore tonight, and is what you yourself called settlement-conscienced; though for my part, I think the consciences in the settlements pretty much the same as they are out here in the woods. These savages are making signs, Deerslayer, for me to encourage you to come ashore with the canoe; but that I’ll never do, as it’s ag’in reason and natur’. As for old Tom and myself, whether they’ll scalp us tonight, keep us for the torture by fire, or carry us to Canada, is more than any one knows but the devil that advises them how to act. I’ve such a big and bushy head that it’s quite likely they’ll indivor to get two scalps off it, for the bounty is a tempting thing, or old Tom and I wouldn’t be in this scrape. Ay — there they go with their signs ag’in, but if I advise you to land may they eat me as well as roast me. No, no, Deerslayer — do you keep off where you are, and after daylight, on no account come within two hundred yards —”

This injunction of Hurry’s was stopped by a hand being rudely slapped against his mouth, the certain sign that some one in the party sufficiently understood English to have at length detected the drift of his discourse. Immediately after, the whole group entered the forest, Hutter and Hurry apparently making no resistance to the movement. Just as the sounds of the cracking bushes were ceasing, however, the voice of the father was again heard.

“As you’re true to my children, God prosper you, young man!” were the words that reached Deerslayer’s ears; after which he found himself left to follow the dictates of his own discretion.

Several minutes elapsed, in death-like stillness, when the party on the shore had disappeared in the woods. Owing to the distance — rather more than two hundred yards — and the obscurity, Deerslayer had been able barely to distinguish the group, and to see it retiring; but even this dim connection with human forms gave an animation to the scene that was strongly in contrast to the absolute solitude that remained. Although the young man leaned forward to listen, holding his breath and condensing every faculty in the single sense of hearing, not another sound reached his ears to denote the vicinity of human beings. It seemed as if a silence that had never been broken reigned on the spot again; and, for an instant, even that piercing shriek, which had so lately broken the stillness of the forest, or the execrations of March, would have been a relief to the feeling of desertion to which it gave rise.

This paralysis of mind and body, however, could not last long in one constituted mentally and physically like Deerslayer. Dropping his paddle into the water, he turned the head of the canoe, and proceeded slowly, as one walks who thinks intently, towards the centre of the lake. When he believed himself to have reached a point in a line with that where he had set the last canoe adrift, he changed his direction northward, keeping the light air as nearly on his back as possible. After paddling a quarter of a mile in this direction, a dark object became visible on the lake, a little to the right; and turning on one side for the purpose, he had soon secured his lost prize to his own boat. Deerslayer now examined the heavens, the course of the air, and the position of the two canoes. Finding nothing in either to induce a change of plan, he lay down, and prepared to catch a few hours’ sleep, that the morrow might find him equal to its exigencies.

Although the hardy and the tired sleep profoundly, even in scenes of danger, it was some time before Deerslayer lost his recollection. His mind dwelt on what had passed, and his half-conscious faculties kept figuring the events of the night, in a sort of waking dream. Suddenly he was up and alert, for he fancied he heard the preconcerted signal of Hurry summoning him to the shore. But all was still as the grave again. The canoes were slowly drifting northward, the thoughtful stars were glimmering in their mild glory over his head, and the forest-bound sheet of water lay embedded between its mountains, as calm and melancholy as if never troubled by the winds, or brightened by a noonday sun. Once more the loon raised his tremulous cry, near the foot of the lake, and the mystery of the alarm was explained. Deerslayer adjusted his hard pillow, stretched his form in the bottom of the canoe, and slept.

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