The Deerslayer, by James Fenimore Cooper

Chapter 9

“Yet art thou prodigal of smiles —

Smiles, sweeter than thy frowns are stern:

Earth sends from all her thousand isles,

A shout at thy return.

The glory that comes down from thee

Bathes, in deep joy, the land and sea.”

Bryant, “The Firmament,” 11.19–24

It may assist the reader in understanding the events we are about to record, if he has a rapidly sketched picture of the scene, placed before his eyes at a single view. It will be remembered that the lake was an irregularly shaped basin, of an outline that, in the main, was oval, but with bays and points to relieve its formality and ornament its shores. The surface of this beautiful sheet of water was now glittering like a gem, in the last rays of the evening sun, and the setting of the whole, hills clothed in the richest forest verdure, was lighted up with a sort of radiant smile, that is best described in the beautiful lines we have placed at the head of this chapter. As the banks, with few exceptions, rose abruptly from the water, even where the mountain did not immediately bound the view, there was a nearly unbroken fringe of leaves overhanging the placid lake, the trees starting out of the acclivities, inclining to the light, until, in many instances they extended their long limbs and straight trunks some forty or fifty feet beyond the line of the perpendicular. In these cases we allude only to the giants of the forest, pines of a hundred or a hundred and fifty feet in height, for of the smaller growth, very many inclined so far as to steep their lower branches in the water. In the position in which the Ark had now got, the castle was concealed from view by the projection of a point, as indeed was the northern extremity of the lake itself. A respectable mountain, forest clad, and rounded, like all the rest, limited the view in that direction, stretching immediately across the whole of the fair scene, with the exception of a deep bay that passed the western end, lengthening the basin, for more than a mile.

The manner in which the water flowed out of the lake, beneath the leafy arches of the trees that lined the sides of the stream, has already been mentioned, and it has also been said that the rock, which was a favorite place of rendezvous throughout all that region, and where Deerslayer now expected to meet his friend, stood near this outlet, and at no great distance from the shore. It was a large, isolated stone that rested on the bottom of the lake, apparently left there when the waters tore away the earth from around it, in forcing for themselves a passage down the river, and which had obtained its shape from the action of the elements, during the slow progress of centuries. The height of this rock could scarcely equal six feet, and, as has been said, its shape was not unlike that which is usually given to beehives, or to a hay-cock. The latter, indeed, gives the best idea not only of its form, but of its dimensions. It stood, and still stands, for we are writing of real scenes, within fifty feet of the bank, and in water that was only two feet in depth, though there were seasons in which its rounded apex, if such a term can properly be used, was covered by the lake. Many of the trees stretched so far forward, as almost to blend the rock with the shore, when seen from a little distance, and one tall pine in particular overhung it in a way to form a noble and appropriate canopy to a seat that had held many a forest chieftain, during the long succession of unknown ages, in which America, and all it contained, had existed apart, in mysterious solitude, a world by itself; equally without a familiar history, and without an origin that the annals of man can reach.

When distant some two or three hundred feet from the shore, Deerslayer took in his sail. He dropped his grapnel, as soon as he found the Ark had drifted in a line that was directly to windward of the rock. The motion of the scow was then checked, when it was brought head to wind, by the action of the breeze. As soon as this was done, Deerslayer “paid out line,” and suffered the vessel to “set down” upon the rock, as fast as the light air could force it to leeward. Floating entirely on the surface, this was soon effected, and the young man checked the drift when he was told that the stern of the scow was within fifteen or eighteen feet of the desired spot.

In executing this maneuver, Deerslayer had proceeded promptly, for, while he did not in the least doubt that he was both watched and followed by the foe, he believed he distracted their movements, by the apparent uncertainty of his own, and he knew they could have no means of ascertaining that the rock was his aim, unless indeed one of their prisoners had betrayed him; a chance so improbable in itself, as to give him no concern. Notwithstanding the celerity and decision his movements, he did not, however, venture so near the shore without taking due precautions to effect a retreat, in the event of its becoming necessary. He held the line in his hand, and Judith was stationed at a loop, on the side of the cabin next the shore, where she could watch the beach and the rock, and give timely notice of the approach of either friend or foe. Hetty was also placed on watch, but it was to keep the trees overhead in view, lest some enemy might ascend one, and, by completely commanding the interior of the scow render the defence of the hut, or cabin, useless.

The sun had disappeared from the lake and valley, when Deerslayer checked the Ark, in the manner mentioned. Still it wanted a few minutes to the true sunset, and he knew Indian punctuality too well to anticipate any unmanly haste in his friend. The great question was, whether, surrounded by enemies as he was known to be, he had escaped their toils. The occurrences of the last twenty-four hours must be a secret to him, and like himself, Chingachgook was yet young on a path. It was true, he came prepared to encounter the party that withheld his promised bride, but he had no means ascertaining the extent of the danger he ran, or the precise positions occupied by either friends, or foes. In a word, the trained sagacity, and untiring caution of an Indian were all he had to rely on, amid the critical risks he unavoidably ran.

“Is the rock empty, Judith?” inquired Deerslayer, as soon as he had checked the drift of the Ark, deeming it imprudent to venture unnecessarily near the shore. “Is any thing to be seen of the Delaware chief?”

“Nothing, Deerslayer. Neither rock, shore, trees, nor lake seems to have ever held a human form.”

‘Keep close, Judith — keep close, Hetty — a rifle has a prying eye, a nimble foot, and a desperate fatal tongue. Keep close then, but keep up actyve looks, and be on the alart. ‘Twould grieve me to the heart, did any harm befall either of you.’

“And you Deerslayer-” exclaimed Judith, turning her handsome face from the loop, to bestow a gracious and grateful look on the young man —“do you ‘keep close’, and have a proper care that the savages do not catch a glimpse of you! A bullet might be as fatal to you as to one of us; and the blow that you felt, would be felt by us all.”

“No fear of me, Judith — no fear of me, my good gal. Do not look this-a-way, although you look so pleasant and comely, but keep your eyes on the rock, and the shore, and the-”

Deerslayer was interrupted by a slight exclamation from the girl, who, in obedience to his hurried gestures, as much as in obedience to his words, had immediately bent her looks again, in the opposite direction.

“What is’t? — What is’t, Judith?” he hastily demanded —“Is any thing to be seen?”

“There is a man on the rock! — An Indian warrior, in his paint-and armed!”

“Where does he wear his hawk’s feather?” eagerly added Deerslayer, relaxing his hold of the line, in readiness to drift nearer to the place of rendezvous. “Is it fast to the war-lock, or does he carry it above the left ear?”

“’Tis as you say, above the left ear; he smiles, too, and mutters the word ‘Mohican.’”

“God be praised, ’tis the Sarpent, at last!” exclaimed the young man, suffering the line to slip through his hands, until hearing a light bound, in the other end of the craft, he instantly checked the rope, and began to haul it in, again, under the assurance that his object was effected. At that moment the door of the cabin was opened hastily, and, a warrior, darting through the little room, stood at Deerslayer’s side, simply uttering the exclamation “Hugh!” At the next instant, Judith and Hetty shrieked, and the air was filled with the yell of twenty savages, who came leaping through the branches, down the bank, some actually falling headlong into the water, in their haste.

“Pull, Deerslayer,” cried Judith, hastily barring the door, in order to prevent an inroad by the passage through which the Delaware had just entered; “pull, for life and death — the lake is full of savages, wading after us!”

The young men — for Chingachgook immediately came to his friend’s assistance — needed no second bidding, but they applied themselves to their task in a way that showed how urgent they deemed the occasion. The great difficulty was in suddenly overcoming the inertia of so large a mass, for once in motion, it was easy to cause the scow to skim the water with all the necessary speed.

“Pull, Deerslayer, for Heaven’s sake!” cried Judith, again at the loop. “These wretches rush into the water like hounds following their prey! Ah — the scow moves! and now, the water deepens, to the arm-pits of the foremost, but they reach forward, and will seize the Ark!”

A slight scream, and then a joyous laugh followed from the girl; the first produced by a desperate effort of their pursuers, and the last by its failure; the scow, which had now got fairly in motion gliding ahead into deep water, with a velocity that set the designs of their enemies at nought. As the two men were prevented by the position of the cabin from seeing what passed astern, they were compelled to inquire of the girls into the state of the chase.

“What now, Judith? — What next? — Do the Mingos still follow, or are we quit of ’em, for the present,” demanded Deerslayer, when he felt the rope yielding as if the scow was going fast ahead, and heard the scream and the laugh of the girl, almost in the same breath.

“They have vanished! — One — the last — is just burying himself in the bushes of the bank — There, he has disappeared in the shadows of the trees! You have got your friend, and we are all safe!”

The two men now made another great effort, pulled the Ark up swiftly to the grapnel, tripped it, and when the scow had shot some distance and lost its way, they let the anchor drop again. Then, for the first time since their meeting, they ceased their efforts. As the floating house now lay several hundred feet from the shore, and offered a complete protection against bullets, there was no longer any danger or any motive for immediate exertion.

The manner in which the two friends now recognized each other, was highly characteristic. Chingachgook, a noble, tall, handsome and athletic young Indian warrior, first examined his rifle with care, opening the pan to make sure that the priming was not wet, and, assured of this important fact, he next cast furtive but observant glances around him, at the strange habitation and at the two girls. Still he spoke not, and most of all did he avoid the betrayal of a womanish curiosity, by asking questions.

“Judith and Hetty” said Deerslayer, with an untaught, natural courtesy —“this is the Mohican chief of whom you’ve heard me speak; Chingachgook as he is called; which signifies Big Sarpent; so named for his wisdom and prudence, and cunning, and my ‘arliest and latest fri’nd. I know’d it must be he, by the hawk’s feather over the left ear, most other warriors wearing ’em on the war-lock.”

As Deerslayer ceased speaking, he laughed heartily, excited more perhaps by the delight of having got his friend safe at his side, under circumstances so trying, than by any conceit that happened to cross his fancy, and exhibiting this outbreaking of feeling in a manner that was a little remarkable, since his merriment was not accompanied by any noise. Although Chingachgook both understood and spoke English, he was unwilling to communicate his thoughts in it, like most Indians, and when he had met Judith’s cordial shake of the hand, and Hetty’s milder salute, in the courteous manner that became a chief, he turned away, apparently to await the moment when it might suit his friend to enter into an explanation of his future intentions, and to give a narrative of what had passed since their separation. The other understood his meaning, and discovered his own mode of reasoning in the matter, by addressing the girls.

“This wind will soon die away altogether, now the sun is down,” he said, “and there is no need for rowing ag’in it. In half an hour, or so, it will either be a flat calm, or the air will come off from the south shore, when we will begin our journey back ag’in to the castle; in the meanwhile, the Delaware and I will talk over matters, and get correct idees of each other’s notions consarning the course we ought to take.”

No one opposed this proposition, and the girls withdrew into the cabin to prepare the evening meal, while the two young men took their seats on the head of the scow and began to converse. The dialogue was in the language of the Delawares. As that dialect, however, is but little understood, even by the learned; we shall not only on this, but on all subsequent occasions render such parts as it may be necessary to give closely, into liberal English; preserving, as far as possible, the idiom and peculiarities of the respective speakers, by way of presenting the pictures in the most graphic forms to the minds of the readers.

It is unnecessary to enter into the details first related by Deerslayer, who gave a brief narrative of the facts that are already familiar to those who have read our pages. In relating these events, however, it may be well to say that the speaker touched only on the outlines, more particularly abstaining from saying anything about his encounter with, and victory over the Iroquois, as well as to his own exertions in behalf of the two deserted young women. When Deerslayer ended, the Delaware took up the narrative, in turn, speaking sententiously and with grave dignity. His account was both clear and short, nor was it embellished by any incidents that did not directly concern the history of his departure from the villages of his people, and his arrival in the valley of the Susquehannah. On reaching the latter, which was at a point only half a mile south of the outlet, he had soon struck a trail, which gave him notice of the probable vicinity of enemies. Being prepared for such an occurrence, the object of the expedition calling him directly into the neighborhood of the party of Iroquois that was known to be out, he considered the discovery as fortunate, rather than the reverse, and took the usual precautions to turn it to account. First following the river to its source, and ascertaining the position of the rock, he met another trail, and had actually been hovering for hours on the flanks of his enemies, watching equally for an opportunity to meet his mistress, and to take a scalp; and it may be questioned which he most ardently desired. He kept near the lake, and occasionally he ventured to some spot where he could get a view of what was passing on its surface. The Ark had been seen and watched, from the moment it hove in sight, though the young chief was necessarily ignorant that it was to be the instrument of his effecting the desired junction with his friend. The uncertainty of its movements, and the fact that it was unquestionably managed by white men, soon led him to conjecture the truth, however, and he held himself in readiness to get on board whenever a suitable occasion might offer. As the sun drew near the horizon he repaired to the rock, where, on emerging from the forest, he was gratified in finding the Ark lying, apparently in readiness to receive him. The manner of his appearance, and of his entrance into the craft is known.

Although Chingachgook had been closely watching his enemies for hours, their sudden and close pursuit as he reached the scow was as much a matter of surprise to himself, as it had been to his friend. He could only account for it by the fact of their being more numerous than he had at first supposed, and by their having out parties of the existence of which he was ignorant. Their regular, and permanent encampment, if the word permanent can be applied to the residence of a party that intended to remain out, in all probability, but a few weeks, was not far from the spot where Hutter and Hurry had fallen into their hands, and, as a matter of course, near a spring.

“Well, Sarpent,” asked Deerslayer, when the other had ended his brief but spirited narrative, speaking always in the Delaware tongue, which for the reader’s convenience only we render into the peculiar vernacular of the speaker —“Well, Sarpent, as you’ve been scouting around these Mingos, have you anything to tell us of their captyves, the father of these young women, and of another, who, I somewhat conclude, is the lovyer of one of ’em.”

“Chingachgook has seen them. An old man, and a young warrior — the falling hemlock and the tall pine.”

“You’re not so much out, Delaware; you’re not so much out. Old Hutter is decaying, of a sartainty, though many solid blocks might be hewn out of his trunk yet, and, as for Hurry Harry, so far as height and strength and comeliness go, he may be called the pride of the human forest. Were the men bound, or in any manner suffering torture? I ask on account of the young women, who, I dare to say, would be glad to know.”

“It is not so, Deerslayer. The Mingos are too many to cage their game. Some watch; some sleep; some scout; some hunt. The pale-faces are treated like brothers to-day; to-morrow they will lose their scalps.”

“Yes, that’s red natur’, and must be submitted to! Judith and Hetty, here’s comforting tidings for you, the Delaware telling me that neither your father nor Hurry Harry is in suffering, but, bating the loss of liberty, as well off as we are ourselves. Of course they are kept in the camp; otherwise they do much as they please.”

“I rejoice to hear this, Deerslayer,” returned Judith, “and now we are joined by your friend, I make no manner of question that we shall find an opportunity to ransom the prisoners. If there are any women in the camp, I have articles of dress that will catch their eyes, and, should the worst come to the worst, we can open the great chest, which I think will be found to hold things that may tempt the chiefs.”

“Judith,” said the young man, looking up at her with a smile and an expression of earnest curiosity, that in spite of the growing obscurity did not escape the watchful looks of the girl, “can you find it in your heart, to part with your own finery, to release prisoners; even though one be your own father, and the other is your sworn suitor and lovyer?”

The flush on the face of the girl arose in part from resentment, but more perhaps from a gentler and a novel feeling, that, with the capricious waywardness of taste, had been rapidly rendering her more sensitive to the good opinion of the youth who questioned her, than to that of any other person. Suppressing the angry sensation, with instinctive quickness, she answered with a readiness and truth, that caused her sister to draw near to listen, though the obtuse intellect of the latter was far from comprehending the workings of a heart as treacherous, as uncertain, and as impetuous in its feelings, as that of the spoiled and flattered beauty.

“Deerslayer,” answered Judith, after a moment’s pause, “I shall be honest with you. I confess that the time has been when what you call finery, was to me the dearest thing on earth; but I begin to feel differently. Though Hurry Harry is nought to me nor ever can be, I would give all I own to set him free. If I would do this for blustering, bullying, talking Hurry, who has nothing but good looks to recommend him, you may judge what I would do for my own father.”

“This sounds well, and is according to woman’s gifts. Ah’s, me! The same feelin’s is to be found among the young women of the Delawares. I’ve known ’em, often and often, sacrifice their vanity to their hearts. Tis as it should be —’tis as it should be I suppose, in both colours. Woman was created for the feelin’s, and is pretty much ruled by feelin’.”

“Would the savages let father go, if Judith and I give them all our best things?” demanded Hetty, in her innocent, mild, manner.

“Their women might interfere, good Hetty; yes, their women might interfere with such an ind in view. But, tell me, Sarpent, how is it as to squaws among the knaves; have they many of their own women in the camp?”

The Delaware heard and understood all that passed, though with Indian gravity and finesse he had sat with averted face, seemingly inattentive to a discourse in which he had no direct concern. Thus appealed to, however, he answered his friend in his ordinary sententious manner.

“Six —” he said, holding up all the fingers of one hand, and the thumb of the other, “besides this.” The last number denoted his betrothed, whom, with the poetry and truth of nature, he described by laying his hand on his own heart.

“Did you see her, chief — did you get a glimpse of her pleasant countenance, or come close enough to her ear, to sing in it the song she loves to hear?”

“No, Deerslayer — the trees were too many, and leaves covered their boughs like clouds hiding’ the heavens in a storm. But”— and the young warrior turned his dark face towards his friend, with a smile on it that illuminated its fierce-looking paint and naturally stern lineaments with a bright gleam of human feeling, “Chingachgook heard the laugh of Wah-ta-Wah, and knew it from the laugh of the women of the Iroquois. It sounded in his ears, like the chirp of the wren.”

“Ay, trust a lovyer’s ear for that, and a Delaware’s ear for all sounds that are ever heard in the woods. I know not why it is so, Judith, but when young men — and I dares to say it may be all the same with young women, too — but when they get to have kind feelin’s towards each other, it’s wonderful how pleasant the laugh, or the speech becomes, to the other person. I’ve seen grim warriors listening to the chattering and the laughing of young gals, as if it was church music, such as is heard in the old Dutch church that stands in the great street of Albany, where I’ve been, more than once, with peltry and game.”

“And you, Deerslayer,” said Judith quickly, and with more sensibility than marked her usually light and thoughtless manner — “have you never felt how pleasant it is to listen to the laugh of the girl you love?”

“Lord bless you gal! — Why I’ve never lived enough among my own colour to drop into them sort of feelin’s — no never! I dares to say, they are nat’ral and right, but to me there’s no music so sweet as the sighing of the wind in the tree tops, and the rippling of a stream from a full, sparkling, natyve fountain of pure forest water — unless, indeed,” he continued, dropping his head for an instant in a thoughtful manner —“unless indeed it be the open mouth of a sartain hound, when I’m on the track of a fat buck. As for unsartain dogs, I care little for their cries, seein’ they are as likely to speak when the deer is not in sight, as when it is.”

Judith walked slowly and pensively away, nor was there any of her ordinary calculating coquetry in the light tremulous sigh that, unconsciously to herself, arose to her lips. On the other hand Hetty listened with guileless attention, though it struck her simple mind as singular that the young man should prefer the melody of the woods, to the songs of girls, or even to the laugh of innocence and joy. Accustomed, however, to defer in most things to her sister, she soon followed Judith into the cabin, where she took a seat and remained pondering intensely over some occurrence, or resolution, or opinion — which was a secret to all but herself. Left alone, Deerslayer and his friend resumed their discourse.

“Has the young pale-face hunter been long on this lake?” demanded the Delaware, after courteously waiting for the other to speak first.

“Only since yesterday noon, Sarpent, though that has been long enough to see and do much.” The gaze that the Indian fastened on his companion was so keen that it seemed to mock the gathering darkness of the night. As the other furtively returned his look, he saw the two black eyes glistening on him, like the balls of the panther, or those of the penned wolf. He understood the meaning of this glowing gaze, and answered evasively, as he fancied would best become the modesty of a white man’s gifts.

“’Tis as you suspect, Sarpent; yes, ’tis somewhat that-a-way. I have fell in with the inimy, and I suppose it may be said I’ve fou’t them, too.”

An exclamation of delight and exultation escaped the Indian, and then laying his hand eagerly on the arm of his friend, he asked if there were any scalps taken.

“That I will maintain in the face of all the Delaware tribe, old Tamenund, and your own father the great Uncas, as well as the rest, is ag’in white gifts! My scalp is on my head, as you can see, Sarpent, and that was the only scalp that was in danger, when one side was altogether Christian and white.”

“Did no warrior fall? — Deerslayer did not get his name by being slow of sight, or clumsy with the rifle!”

“In that particular, chief, you’re nearer reason, and therefore nearer being right. I may say one Mingo fell.”

“A chief!” demanded the other with startling vehemence.

“Nay, that’s more than I know, or can say. He was artful, and treacherous, and stout-hearted, and may well have gained popularity enough with his people to be named to that rank. The man fou’t well, though his eye was’n’t quick enough for one who had had his schooling in your company, Delaware.”

“My brother and friend struck the body?”

“That was uncalled for, seeing that the Mingo died in my arms. The truth may as well be said, at once; he fou’t like a man of red gifts, and I fou’t like a man with gifts of my own colour. God gave me the victory; I coul’n’t fly in the face of his Providence by forgetting my birth and natur’. White he made me, and white I shall live and die.”

“Good! Deerslayer is a pale-face, and has pale-face hands. A Delaware will look for the scalp, and hang it on a pole, and sing a song in his honour, when we go back to our people. The glory belongs to the tribe; it must not be lost.”

“This is easy talking, but ’twill not be as easy doing. The Mingo’s body is in the hands of his fri’nds and, no doubt, is hid in some hole where Delaware cunning will never be able to get at the scalp.”

The young man then gave his friend a succinct, but clear account, of the event of the morning, concealing nothing of any moment, and yet touching on every thing modestly and with a careful attention to avoid the Indian habit of boasting. Chingachgook again expressed his satisfaction at the honour won by his friend, and then both arose, the hour having arrived when it became prudent to move the Ark further from the land.

It was now quite dark, the heavens having become clouded, and the stars hid. The north wind had ceased — as was usual with the setting of the sun, and a light air arose from the south. This change favoring the design of Deerslayer, he lifted his grapnel, and the scow immediately and quite perceptibly began to drift more into the lake. The sail was set, when the motion of the craft increased to a rate not much less than two miles in the hour. As this superseded the necessity of rowing, an occupation that an Indian would not be likely to desire, Deerslayer, Chingachgook and Judith seated themselves in the stern of the scow, where they first governed its movements by holding the oar. Here they discoursed on their future movements, and on the means that ought to be used in order to effect the liberation of their friends.

In this dialogue Judith held a material part, the Delaware readily understanding all she said, while his own replies and remarks, both of which were few and pithy, were occasionally rendered into English by his friend. Judith rose greatly in the estimation of her companions, in the half hour that followed. Prompt of resolution and firm of purpose, her suggestions and expedients partook of her spirit and sagacity, both of which were of a character to find favor with men of the frontier. The events that had occurred since their meeting, as well as her isolated and dependant situation, induced the girl to feel towards Deerslayer like the friend of a year instead of an acquaintance of a day, and so completely had she been won by his guileless truth of character and of feeling, pure novelties in our sex, as respected her own experience, that his peculiarities excited her curiosity, and created a confidence that had never been awakened by any other man. Hitherto she had been compelled to stand on the defensive in her intercourse with men, with what success was best known to herself, but here had she been suddenly thrown into the society and under the protection of a youth, who evidently as little contemplated evil towards herself as if he had been her brother. The freshness of his integrity, the poetry and truth of his feelings, and even the quaintness of his forms of speech, all had their influence, and aided in awakening an interest that she found as pure as it was sudden and deep. Hurry’s fine face and manly form had never compensated for his boisterous and vulgar tone, and her intercourse with the officers had prepared her to make comparisons under which even his great natural advantages suffered. But this very intercourse with the officers who occasionally came upon the lake to fish and hunt, had an effect in producing her present sentiments towards the young stranger. With them, while her vanity had been gratified, and her self-love strongly awakened, she had many causes deeply to regret the acquaintance — if not to mourn over it, in secret sorrow — for it was impossible for one of her quick intellect not to perceive how hollow was the association between superior and inferior, and that she was regarded as the play thing of an idle hour, rather than as an equal and a friend, by even the best intentioned and least designing of her scarlet-clad admirers. Deerslayer, on the other hand, had a window in his breast through which the light of his honesty was ever shining; and even his indifference to charms that so rarely failed to produce a sensation, piqued the pride of the girl, and gave him an interest that another, seemingly more favored by nature, might have failed to excite.

In this manner half an hour passed, during which time the Ark had been slowly stealing over the water, the darkness thickening around it; though it was easy to see that the gloom of the forest at the southern end of the lake was getting to be distant, while the mountains that lined the sides of the beautiful basin were overshadowing it, nearly from side to side. There was, indeed, a narrow stripe of water, in the centre of the lake where the dim light that was still shed from the heavens, fell upon its surface in a line extending north and south; and along this faint track, a sort of inverted milky way, in which the obscurity was not quite as dense as in other places, the scow held her course, he who steered well knowing that it led in the direction he wished to go. The reader is not to suppose, however, that any difficulty could exist as to the course. This would have been determined by that of the air, had it not been possible to distinguish the mountains, as well as by the dim opening to the south, which marked the position of the valley in that quarter, above the plain of tall trees, by a sort of lessened obscurity; the difference between the darkness of the forest, and that of the night, as seen only in the air. The peculiarities at length caught the attention of Judith and the Deerslayer, and the conversation ceased, to allow each to gaze at the solemn stillness and deep repose of nature.

“’Tis a gloomy night —” observed the girl, after a pause of several minutes —“I hope we may be able to find the castle.”

“Little fear of our missing that, if we keep this path in the middle of the lake,” returned the young man. “Natur’ has made us a road here, and, dim as it is, there’ll be little difficulty following it.”

“Do you hear nothing, Deerslayer? — It seemed as if the water was stirring quite near us!”

“Sartainly something did move the water, oncommon like; must have been a fish. Them creatur’s prey upon each other like men and animals on the land; one has leaped into the air and fallen hard, back into his own element. ’Tis of little use Judith, for any to strive to get out of their elements, since it’s natur’ to stay in ’em, and natur’ will have its way. Ha! That sounds like a paddle, used with more than common caution!”

At this moment the Delaware bent forward and pointed significantly into the boundary of gloom, as if some object had suddenly caught his eye. Both Deerslayer and Judith followed the direction of his gesture, and each got a view of a canoe at the same instant. The glimpse of this startling neighbor was dim, and to eyes less practised it might have been uncertain, though to those in the Ark the object was evidently a canoe with a single individual in it; the latter standing erect and paddling. How many lay concealed in its bottom, of course could not be known. Flight, by means of oars, from a bark canoe impelled by vigorous and skilful hands, was utterly impracticable, and each of the men seized his rifle in expectation of a conflict.

“I can easily bring down the paddler,” whispered Deerslayer, “but we’ll first hail him, and ask his arrn’d.” Then raising his voice, he continued in a solemn manner —“hold! If ye come nearer, I must fire, though contrary to my wishes, and then sartain death will follow. Stop paddling, and answer.”

“Fire, and slay a poor defenseless girl,” returned a soft tremulous female voice. “And God will never forgive you! Go your way, Deerslayer, and let me go mine.”

“Hetty!” exclaimed the young man and Judith in a breath; and the former sprang instantly to the spot where he had left the canoe they had been towing. It was gone, and he understood the whole affair. As for the fugitive, frightened at the menace she ceased paddling, and remained dimly visible, resembling a spectral outline of a human form, standing on the water. At the next moment the sail was lowered, to prevent the Ark from passing the spot where the canoe lay. This last expedient, however, was not taken in time, for the momentum of so heavy a craft, and the impulsion of the air, soon set her by, bringing Hetty directly to windward, though still visible, as the change in the positions of the two boats now placed her in that species of milky way which has been mentioned.

“What can this mean, Judith?” demanded Deerslayer —“Why has your sister taken the canoe, and left us?”

“You know she is feeble-minded, poor girl! — and she has her own ideas of what ought to be done. She loves her father more than most children love their parents — and — then —”

“Then, what, gal? This is a trying moment; one in which truth must be spoken!”

Judith felt a generous and womanly regret at betraying her sister, and she hesitated ere she spoke again. But once more urged by Deerslayer, and conscious herself of all the risks the whole party was running by the indiscretion of Hetty, she could refrain no longer.

“Then, I fear, poor, weak-minded Hetty has not been altogether able to see all the vanity, and rudeness and folly, that lie hid behind the handsome face and fine form of Hurry Harry. She talks of him in her sleep, and sometimes betrays the inclination in her waking moments.”

“You think, Judith, that your sister is now bent on some mad scheme to serve her father and Hurry, which will, in all likelihood, give them riptyles the Mingos, the mastership of a canoe?”

“Such, I fear, will turn out to be the fact, Deerslayer. Poor Hetty has hardly sufficient cunning to outwit a savage.”

All this while the canoe, with the form of Hetty erect in one end of it, was dimly perceptible, though the greater drift of the Ark rendered it, at each instant, less and less distinct. It was evident no time was to be lost, lest it should altogether disappear. The rifles were now laid aside as useless, the two men seizing the oars and sweeping the head of the scow round in the direction of the canoe. Judith, accustomed to the office, flew to the other end of the Ark, and placed herself at what might be called the helm. Hetty took the alarm at these preparations, which could not be made without noise, and started off like a bird that had been suddenly put up by the approach of unexpected danger.

As Deerslayer and his companion rowed with the energy of those who felt the necessity of straining every nerve, and Hetty’s strength was impaired by a nervous desire to escape, the chase would have quickly terminated in the capture of the fugitive, had not the girl made several short and unlooked-for deviations in her course. These turnings gave her time, and they had also the effect of gradually bringing both canoe and Ark within the deeper gloom, cast by the shadows from the hills. They also gradually increased the distance between the fugitive and her pursuers, until Judith called out to her companions to cease rowing, for she had completely lost sight of the canoe.

When this mortifying announcement was made, Hetty was actually so near as to understand every syllable her sister uttered, though the latter had used the precaution of speaking as low as circumstances would allow her to do, and to make herself heard. Hetty stopped paddling at the same moment, and waited the result with an impatience that was breathless, equally from her late exertions, and her desire to land. A dead silence immediately fell on the lake, during which the three in the Ark were using their senses differently, in order to detect the position of the canoe. Judith bent forward to listen, in the hope of catching some sound that might betray the direction in which her sister was stealing away, while her two companions brought their eyes as near as possible to a level with the water, in order to detect any object that might be floating on its surface. All was vain, however, for neither sound nor sight rewarded their efforts. All this time Hetty, who had not the cunning to sink into the canoe, stood erect, a finger pressed on her lips, gazing in the direction in which the voices had last been heard, resembling a statue of profound and timid attention. Her ingenuity had barely sufficed to enable her to seize the canoe and to quit the Ark, in the noiseless manner related, and then it appeared to be momentarily exhausted. Even the doublings of the canoe had been as much the consequence of an uncertain hand and of nervous agitation, as of any craftiness or calculation.

The pause continued several minutes, during which Deerslayer and the Delaware conferred together in the language of the latter. Then the oars dipped, again, and the Ark moved away, rowing with as little noise as possible. It steered westward, a little southerly, or in the direction of the encampment of the enemy. Having reached a point at no great distance from the shore, and where the obscurity was intense on account of the proximity of the land, it lay there near an hour, in waiting for the expected approach of Hetty, who, it was thought, would make the best of her way to that spot as soon as she believed herself released from the danger of pursuit. No success rewarded this little blockade, however, neither appearance nor sound denoting the passage of the canoe. Disappointed at this failure, and conscious of the importance of getting possession of the fortress before it could be seized by the enemy, Deerslayer now took his way towards the castle, with the apprehension that all his foresight in securing the canoes would be defeated by this unguarded and alarming movement on the part of the feeble-minded Hetty.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/c/cooper/james_fenimore/deerslayer/chapter9.html

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