“An oaken, broken, elbow-chair;
A caudle-cup without an ear;
A battered, shattered ash bedstead;
A box of deal without a lid;
A pair of tongs, but out of joint;
A back-sword poker, without point;
A dish which might good meat afford once;
An Ovid, and an old
Thomas Sheridan, “A True and Faithful Inventory of the Goods belonging to Dr. Swift,” ll.i-6, 13–14.
No sooner did Deerslayer raise the pistols, than he turned to the Delaware and held them up for his admiration.
“Child gun,” said the Serpent, smiling, while he handled one of the instruments as if it had been a toy.
“Not it, Sarpent; not it —’twas made for a man and would satisfy a giant, if rightly used. But stop; white men are remarkable for their carelessness in putting away fire arms, in chists and corners. Let me look if care has been given to these.”
As Deerslayer spoke, he took the weapon from the hand of his friend and opened the pan. The last was filled with priming, caked like a bit of cinder, by time, moisture and compression. An application of the ramrod showed that both the pistols were charged, although Judith could testify that they had probably lain for years in the chest. It is not easy to portray the surprise of the Indian at this discovery, for he was in the practice of renewing his priming daily, and of looking to the contents of his piece at other short intervals.
“This is white neglect,” said Deerslayer, shaking his head, “and scarce a season goes by that some one in the settlements doesn’t suffer from it. It’s extr’ornary too, Judith — yes, it’s downright extr’ornary that the owner shall fire his piece at a deer, or some other game, or perhaps at an inimy, and twice out of three times he’ll miss; but let him catch an accident with one of these forgotten charges, and he makes it sartain death to a child, or a brother, or a fri’nd! Well, we shall do a good turn to the owner if we fire these pistols for him, and as they’re novelties to you and me, Sarpent, we’ll try our hands at a mark. Freshen that priming, and I’ll do the same with this, and then we’ll see who is the best man with a pistol; as for the rifle, that’s long been settled atween us.”
Deerslayer laughed heartily at his own conceit, and, in a minute or two, they were both standing on the platform, selecting some object in the Ark for their target. Judith was led by curiosity to their side.
“Stand back, gal, stand a little back; these we’pons have been long loaded,” said Deerslayer, “and some accident may happen in the discharge.” “Then you shall not fire them! Give them both to the Delaware; or it would be better to unload them without firing.”
“That’s ag’in usage — and some people say, ag’in manhood; though I hold to no such silly doctrine. We must fire ’em, Judith; yes, we must fire ’em; though I foresee that neither will have any great reason to boast of his skill.”
Judith, in the main, was a girl of great personal spirit, and her habits prevented her from feeling any of the terror that is apt to come over her sex at the report of fire arms. She had discharged many a rifle, and had even been known to kill a deer, under circumstances that were favorable to the effort. She submitted therefore, falling a little back by the side of Deerslayer, giving the Indian the front of the platform to himself. Chingachgook raised the weapon several times, endeavored to steady it by using both hands, changed his attitude from one that was awkward to another still more so, and finally drew the trigger with a sort of desperate indifference, without having, in reality, secured any aim at all. The consequence was, that instead of hitting the knot which had been selected for the mark, he missed the ark altogether; the bullet skipping along the water like a stone that was thrown by hand.
“Well done — Sarpent — well done —” cried Deerslayer laughing, with his noiseless glee, “you’ve hit the lake, and that’s an expl’ite for some men! I know’d it, and as much as said it, here, to Judith; for your short we’pons don’t belong to red-skin gifts. You’ve hit the lake, and that’s better than only hitting the air! Now, stand back and let us see what white gifts can do with a white we’pon. A pistol isn’t a rifle, but colour is colour.”
The aim of Deerslayer was both quick and steady, and the report followed almost as soon as the weapon rose. Still the pistol hung fire, as it is termed, and fragments of it flew in a dozen directions, some falling on the roof of the castle, others in the Ark, and one in the water. Judith screamed, and when the two men turned anxiously towards the girl she was as pale as death, trembling in every limb.
“She’s wounded — yes, the poor gal’s wounded, Sarpent, though one couldn’t foresee it, standing where she did. We’ll lead her in to a seat, and we must do the best for her that our knowledge and skill can afford.”
Judith allowed herself to be supported to a seat, swallowed a mouthful of the water that the Delaware offered her in a gourd, and, after a violent fit of trembling that seemed ready to shake her fine frame to dissolution, she burst into tears.
“The pain must be borne, poor Judith — yes, it must be borne,” said Deerslayer, soothingly, “though I am far from wishing you not to weep; for weeping often lightens galish feelin’s. Where can she be hurt, Sarpent? I see no signs of blood, nor any rent of skin or garments?”
“I am uninjured, Deerslayer,” stammered the girl through her tears. “It’s fright — nothing more, I do assure you, and, God be praised! no one, I find, has been harmed by the accident.”
“This is extr’ornary!” exclaimed the unsuspecting and simple minded hunter —“I thought, Judith, you’d been above settlement weaknesses, and that you was a gal not to be frightened by the sound of a bursting we’pon — No — I didn’t think you so skeary! Hetty might well have been startled; but you’ve too much judgment and reason to be frightened when the danger’s all over. They’re pleasant to the eye, chief, and changeful, but very unsartain in their feelin’s!”
Shame kept Judith silent. There had been no acting in her agitation, but all had fairly proceeded from sudden and uncontrollable alarm — an alarm that she found almost as inexplicable to herself, as it proved to be to her companions. Wiping away the traces of tears, however, she smiled again, and was soon able to join in the laugh at her own folly.
“And you, Deerslayer,” she at length succeeded in saying —“are you, indeed, altogether unhurt? It seems almost miraculous that a pistol should have burst in your hand, and you escape without the loss of a limb, if not of life!”
“Such wonders ar’n’t oncommon, at all, among worn out arms. The first rifle they gave me play’d the same trick, and yet I liv’d through it, though not as onharmless as I’ve got out of this affair. Thomas Hutter is master of one pistol less than he was this morning, but, as it happened in trying to sarve him, there’s no ground of complaint. Now, draw near, and let us look farther into the inside of the chist.”
Judith, by this time, had so far gotten the better of her agitation as to resume her seat, and the examination went on. The next article that offered was enveloped in cloth, and on opening it, it proved to be one of the mathematical instruments that were then in use among seamen, possessing the usual ornaments and fastenings in brass. Deerslayer and Chingachgook expressed their admiration and surprise at the appearance of the unknown instrument, which was bright and glittering, having apparently been well cared for.
“This goes beyond the surveyors, Judith!” Deerslayer exclaimed, after turning the instrument several times in his hands. “I’ve seen all their tools often, and wicked and heartless enough are they, for they never come into the forest but to lead the way to waste and destruction; but none of them have as designing a look as this! I fear me, after all, that Thomas Hutter has journeyed into the wilderness with no fair intentions towards its happiness. Did you ever see any of the cravings of a surveyor about your father, gal?”
“He is no surveyor, Deerslayer, nor does he know the use of that instrument, though he seems to own it. Do you suppose that Thomas Hutter ever wore that coat? It is as much too large for him, as this instrument is beyond his learning.”
“That’s it — that must be it, Sarpent, and the old fellow, by some onknown means, has fallen heir to another man’s goods! They say he has been a mariner, and no doubt this chist, and all it holds — ha! What have we here? — This far out does the brass and black wood of the tool!”
Deerslayer had opened a small bag, from which he was taking, one by one, the pieces of a set of chessmen. They were of ivory, much larger than common, and exquisitely wrought. Each piece represented the character or thing after which it is named; the knights being mounted, the castles stood on elephants, and even the pawns possessed the heads and busts of men. The set was not complete, and a few fractures betrayed bad usage; but all that was left had been carefully put away and preserved. Even Judith expressed wonder, as these novel objects were placed before her eyes, and Chingachgook fairly forgot his Indian dignity in admiration and delight. The latter took up each piece, and examined it with never tiring satisfaction, pointing out to the girl the more ingenious and striking portions of the workmanship. But the elephants gave him the greatest pleasure. The “Hughs!” that he uttered, as he passed his fingers over their trunks, and ears, and tails, were very distinct, nor did he fail to note the pawns, which were armed as archers. This exhibition lasted several minutes, during which time Judith and the Indian had all the rapture to themselves. Deerslayer sat silent, thoughtful, and even gloomy, though his eyes followed each movement of the two principal actors, noting every new peculiarity about the pieces as they were held up to view. Not an exclamation of pleasure, nor a word of condemnation passed his lips. At length his companions observed his silence, and then, for the first time since the chessmen had been discovered, did he speak.
“Judith,” he asked earnestly, but with a concern that amounted almost to tenderness of manner, “did your parents ever talk to you of religion?”
The girl coloured, and the flashes of crimson that passed over her beautiful countenance were like the wayward tints of a Neapolitan sky in November. Deerslayer had given her so strong a taste for truth, however, that she did not waver in her answer, replying simply and with sincerity.
“My mother did often,” she said, “my father never. I thought it made my mother sorrowful to speak of our prayers and duties, but my father has never opened his mouth on such matters, before or since her death.”
“That I can believe — that I can believe. He has no God — no such God as it becomes a man of white skin to worship, or even a red-skin. Them things are idols!”
Judith started, and for a moment she seemed seriously hurt. Then she reflected, and in the end she laughed. “And you think, Deerslayer, that these ivory toys are my father’s Gods? I have heard of idols, and know what they are.”
“Them are idols!” repeated the other, positively. “Why should your father keep ’em, if he doesn’t worship ’em.”
“Would he keep his gods in a bag, and locked up in a chest? No, no, Deerslayer; my poor father carries his God with him, wherever he goes, and that is in his own cravings. These things may really be idols — I think they are myself, from what I have heard and read of idolatry, but they have come from some distant country, and like all the other articles, have fallen into Thomas Hutter’s hands when he was a sailor.”
“I’m glad of it — I am downright glad to hear it, Judith, for I do not think I could have mustered the resolution to strive to help a white idolater out of his difficulties! The old man is of my colour and nation and I wish to sarve him, but as one who denied all his gifts, in the way of religion, it would have come hard to do so. That animal seems to give you great satisfaction, Sarpent, though it’s an idolatrous beast at the best.”
“It is an elephant,” interrupted Judith. “I’ve often seen pictures of such animals, at the garrisons, and mother had a book in which there was a printed account of the creature. Father burnt that with all the other books, for he said Mother loved reading too well. This was not long before mother died, and I’ve sometimes thought that the loss hastened her end.”
This was said equally without levity and without any very deep feeling. It was said without levity, for Judith was saddened by her recollections, and yet she had been too much accustomed to live for self, and for the indulgence of her own vanities, to feel her mother’s wrongs very keenly. It required extraordinary circumstances to awaken a proper sense of her situation, and to stimulate the better feelings of this beautiful, but misguided girl, and those circumstances had not yet occurred in her brief existence.
“Elephant, or no elephant, ’tis an idol,” returned the hunter, “and not fit to remain in Christian keeping.”
“Good for Iroquois!” said Chingachgook, parting with one of the castles with reluctance, as his friend took it from him to replace it in the bag —“Elephon buy whole tribe — buy Delaware, almost!”
“Ay, that it would, as any one who comprehends red-skin natur’ must know,” answered Deerslayer, “but the man that passes false money, Sarpent, is as bad as he who makes it. Did you ever know a just Injin that wouldn’t scorn to sell a ‘coon skin for the true marten, or to pass off a mink for a beaver. I know that a few of these idols, perhaps one of them elephants, would go far towards buying Thomas Hutter’s liberty, but it goes ag’in conscience to pass such counterfeit money. Perhaps no Injin tribe, hereaway, is downright idolators but there’s some that come so near it, that white gifts ought to be particular about encouraging them in their mistake.”
“If idolatry is a gift, Deerslayer, and gifts are what you seem to think them, idolatry in such people can hardly be a sin,” said Judith with more smartness than discrimination.
“God grants no such gifts to any of his creatur’s, Judith,” returned the hunter, seriously. “He must be adored, under some name or other, and not creatur’s of brass or ivory. It matters not whether the Father of All is called God, or Manitou, Deity or Great Spirit, he is none the less our common maker and master; nor does it count for much whether the souls of the just go to Paradise, or Happy Hunting Grounds, since He may send each his own way, as suits his own pleasure and wisdom; but it curdles my blood, when I find human mortals so bound up in darkness and consait, as to fashion the ‘arth, or wood, or bones, things made by their own hands, into motionless, senseless effigies, and then fall down afore them, and worship ’em as a Deity!”
“After all, Deerslayer, these pieces of ivory may not be idols, at all. I remember, now, to have seen one of the officers at the garrison with a set of fox and geese made in some such a design as these, and here is something hard, wrapped in cloth, that may belong to your idols.”
Deerslayer took the bundle the girl gave him, and unrolling it, he found the board within. Like the pieces it was large, rich, and inlaid with ebony and ivory. Putting the whole in conjunction the hunter, though not without many misgivings, slowly came over to Judith’s opinion, and finally admitted that the fancied idols must be merely the curiously carved men of some unknown game. Judith had the tact to use her victory with great moderation, nor did she once, even in the most indirect manner, allude to the ludicrous mistake of her companion.
This discovery of the uses of the extraordinary-looking little images settled the affair of the proposed ransom. It was agreed generally, and all understood the weaknesses and tastes of Indians, that nothing could be more likely to tempt the cupidity of the Iroquois than the elephants, in particular. Luckily the whole of the castles were among the pieces, and these four tower-bearing animals it was finally determined should be the ransom offered. The remainder of the men, and, indeed, all the rest of the articles in the chest, were to be kept out of view, and to be resorted to only as a last appeal. As soon as these preliminaries were settled, everything but those intended for the bribe was carefully replaced in the chest, all the covers were ‘tucked in’ as they had been found, and it was quite possible, could Hutter have been put in possession of the castle again, that he might have passed the remainder of his days in it without even suspecting the invasion that had been made on the privacy of the chest. The rent pistol would have been the most likely to reveal the secret, but this was placed by the side of its fellow, and all were pressed down as before, some half a dozen packages in the bottom of the chest not having been opened at all. When this was done the lid was lowered, the padlocks replaced, and the key turned. The latter was then replaced in the pocket from which it had been taken.
More than an hour was consumed in settling the course proper to be pursued, and in returning everything to its place. The pauses to converse were frequent, and Judith, who experienced a lively pleasure in the open, undisguised admiration with which Deerslayer’s honest eyes gazed at her handsome face, found the means to prolong the interview, with a dexterity that seems to be innate in female coquetry. Deerslayer, indeed, appeared to be the first who was conscious of the time that had been thus wasted, and to call the attention of his companions to the necessity of doing something towards putting the plan of ransoming into execution. Chingachgook had remained in Hutter’s bed room, where the elephants were laid, to feast his eyes with the images of animals so wonderful, and so novel. Perhaps an instinct told him that his presence would not be as acceptable to his companions as this holding himself aloof, for Judith had not much reserve in the manifestations of her preferences, and the Delaware had not got so far as one betrothed without acquiring some knowledge of the symptoms of the master passion.
“Well, Judith,” said Deerslayer, rising, after the interview had lasted much longer than even he himself suspected, “’tis pleasant convarsing with you, and settling all these matters, but duty calls us another way. All this time, Hurry and your father, not to say Hetty —” The word was cut short in the speaker’s mouth, for, at that critical moment, a light step was heard on the platform, or ‘court-yard’, a human figure darkened the doorway, and the person last mentioned stood before him. The low exclamation that escaped Deerslayer and the slight scream of Judith were hardly uttered, when an Indian youth, between the ages of fifteen and seventeen, stood beside her. These two entrances had been made with moccasined feet, and consequently almost without noise, but, unexpected and stealthy as they were, they had not the effect to disturb Deerslayer’s self possession. His first measure was to speak rapidly in Delaware to his friend, cautioning him to keep out of sight, while he stood on his guard; the second was to step to the door to ascertain the extent of the danger. No one else, however, had come, and a simple contrivance, in the shape of a raft, that lay floating at the side of the Ark, at once explained the means that had been used in bringing Hetty off. Two dead and dry, and consequently buoyant, logs of pine were bound together with pins and withes and a little platform of riven chestnut had been rudely placed on their surfaces. Here Hetty had been seated, on a billet of wood, while the young Iroquois had rowed the primitive and slow-moving, but perfectly safe craft from the shore.
As soon as Deerslayer had taken a close survey of this raft, and satisfied himself nothing else was near, he shook his head and muttered in his soliloquizing way —“This comes of prying into another man’s chist! Had we been watchful, and keen eyed, such a surprise could never have happened, and, getting this much from a boy teaches us what we may expect when the old warriors set themselves fairly about their sarcumventions. It opens the way, howsever, to a treaty for the ransom, and I will hear what Hetty has to say.”
Judith, as soon as her surprise and alarm had a little abated, discovered a proper share of affectionate joy at the return of her sister. She folded her to her bosom, and kissed her, as had been her wont in the days of their childhood and innocence. Hetty herself was less affected, for to her there was no surprise, and her nerves were sustained by the purity and holiness of her purpose. At her sister’s request she took a seat, and entered into an account of her adventures since they had parted. Her tale commenced just as Deerslayer returned, and he also became an attentive listener, while the young Iroquois stood near the door, seemingly as indifferent to what was passing as one of its posts.
The narrative of the girl was sufficiently clear, until she reached the time where we left her in the camp, after the interview with the chiefs, and, at the moment when Hist quitted her, in the abrupt manner already related. The sequel of the story may be told in her own language.
“When I read the texts to the chiefs, Judith, you could not have seen that they made any changes on their minds,” she said, “but if seed is planted, it will grow. God planted the seeds of all these trees —”
“Ay that did he — that did he —” muttered Deerslayer; “and a goodly harvest has followed.”
“God planted the seeds of all these trees,” continued Hetty, after a moment’s pause, “and you see to what a height and shade they have grown! So it is with the Bible. You may read a verse this year, and forget it, and it will come back to you a year hence, when you least expect to remember it.”
“And did you find any thing of this among the savages, poor Hetty?”
“Yes, Judith, and sooner and more fully than I had even hoped. I did not stay long with father and Hurry, but went to get my breakfast with Hist. As soon as we had done the chiefs came to us, and then we found the fruits of the seed that had been planted. They said what I had read from the good book was right — it must be right — it sounded right; like a sweet bird singing in their ears; and they told me to come back and say as much to the great warrior who had slain one of their braves; and to tell it to you, and to say how happy they should be to come to church here, in the castle, or to come out in the sun, and hear me read more of the sacred volume — and to tell you that they wish you would lend them some canoes that they can bring father and Hurry and their women to the castle, that we might all sit on the platform there and listen to the singing of the Pale-face Manitou. There, Judith; did you ever know of any thing that so plainly shows the power of the Bible, as that!”
“If it were true ‘t would be a miracle, indeed, Hetty. But all this is no more than Indian cunning and Indian treachery, striving to get the better of us by management, when they find it is not to be done by force.”
“Do you doubt the Bible, sister, that you judge the savages so harshly!”
“I do not doubt the Bible, poor Hetty, but I much doubt an Indian and an Iroquois. What do you say to this visit, Deerslayer?”
“First let me talk a little with Hetty,” returned the party appealed to; “Was the raft made a’ter you had got your breakfast, gal, and did you walk from the camp to the shore opposite to us, here?”
“Oh! no, Deerslayer. The raft was ready made and in the water-could that have been by a miracle, Judith?”
“Yes — yes — an Indian miracle,” rejoined the hunter —“They’re expart enough in them sort of miracles. And you found the raft ready made to your hands, and in the water, and in waiting like for its cargo?”
“It was all as you say. The raft was near the camp, and the Indians put me on it, and had ropes of bark, and they dragged me to the place opposite to the castle, and then they told that young man to row me off, here.”
“And the woods are full of the vagabonds, waiting to know what is to be the upshot of the miracle. We comprehend this affair, now, Judith, but I’ll first get rid of this young Canada blood sucker, and then we’ll settle our own course. Do you and Hetty leave us together, first bringing me the elephants, which the Sarpent is admiring, for ’twill never do to let this loping deer be alone a minute, or he’ll borrow a canoe without asking.”
Judith did as desired, first bringing the pieces, and retiring with her sister into their own room. Deerslayer had acquired some knowledge of most of the Indian dialects of that region, and he knew enough of the Iroquois to hold a dialogue in the language. Beckoning to the lad, therefore, he caused him to take a seat on the chest, when he placed two of the castles suddenly before him. Up to that moment, this youthful savage had not expressed a single intelligible emotion, or fancy. There were many things, in and about the place, that were novelties to him, but he had maintained his self-command with philosophical composure. It is true, Deerslayer had detected his dark eye scanning the defences and the arms, but the scrutiny had been made with such an air of innocence, in such a gaping, indolent, boyish manner, that no one but a man who had himself been taught in a similar school, would have even suspected his object. The instant, however, the eyes of the savage fell upon the wrought ivory, and the images of the wonderful, unknown beasts, surprise and admiration got the mastery of him. The manner in which the natives of the South Sea Islands first beheld the toys of civilized life has been often described, but the reader is not to confound it with the manner of an American Indian, under similar circumstances. In this particular case, the young Iroquois or Huron permitted an exclamation of rapture to escape him, and then he checked himself like one who had been guilty of an indecorum. After this, his eyes ceased to wander, but became riveted on the elephants, one of which, after a short hesitation, he even presumed to handle. Deerslayer did not interrupt him for quite ten minutes, knowing that the lad was taking such note of the curiosities, as would enable him to give the most minute and accurate description of their appearance to his seniors, on his return. When he thought sufficient time had been allowed to produce the desired effect, the hunter laid a finger on the naked knee of the youth and drew his attention to himself.
“Listen,” he said; “I want to talk with my young friend from the Canadas. Let him forget that wonder for a minute.”
“Where t’other pale brother?” demanded the boy, looking up and letting the idea that had been most prominent in his mind, previously to the introduction of the chess men, escape him involuntarily.
“He sleeps, or if he isn’t fairly asleep, he is in the room where the men do sleep,” returned Deerslayer. “How did my young friend know there was another?”
“See him from the shore. Iroquois have got long eyes — see beyond the clouds — see the bottom of the Great Spring!”
“Well, the Iroquois are welcome. Two pale-faces are prisoners in the camp of your fathers, boy.”
The lad nodded, treating the circumstance with great apparent indifference; though a moment after he laughed as if exulting in the superior address of his own tribe.
“Can you tell me, boy, what your chiefs intend to do with these captyves, or haven’t they yet made up their minds?”
The lad looked a moment at the hunter with a little surprise. Then he coolly put the end of his fore finger on his own head, just above the left ear, and passed it round his crown with an accuracy and readiness that showed how well he had been drilled in the peculiar art of his race.
“When?” demanded Deerslayer, whose gorge rose at this cool demonstration of indifference to human life. “And why not take them to your wigwams?”
“Road too long, and full of pale-faces. Wigwam full, and scalps sell high. Small scalp, much gold.”
“Well that explains it — yes, that does explain it. There’s no need of being any plainer. Now you know, lad, that the oldest of your prisoners is the father of these two young women, and the other is the suitor of one of them. The gals nat’rally wish to save the scalps of such fri’nds, and they will give them two ivory creaturs, as ransom. One for each scalp. Go back and tell this to your chiefs, and bring me the answer before the sun sets.”
The boy entered zealously into this project, and with a sincerity that left no doubt of his executing his commission with intelligence and promptitude. For a moment he forgot his love of honor, and all his clannish hostility to the British and their Indians, in his wish to have such a treasure in his tribe, and Deerslayer was satisfied with the impression he had made. It is true the lad proposed to carry one of the elephants with him, as a specimen of the other, but to this his brother negotiator was too sagacious to consent; well knowing that it might never reach its destination if confided to such hands. This little difficulty was soon arranged, and the boy prepared to depart. As he stood on the platform, ready to step aboard of the raft, he hesitated, and turned short with a proposal to borrow a canoe, as the means most likely to shorten the negotiations. Deerslayer quietly refused the request, and, after lingering a little longer, the boy rowed slowly away from the castle, taking the direction of a thicket on the shore that lay less than half a mile distant. Deerslayer seated himself on a stool and watched the progress of the ambassador, sometimes closely scanning the whole line of shore, as far as eye could reach, and then placing an elbow on a knee, he remained a long time with his chin resting on the hand.
During the interview between Deerslayer and the lad, a different scene took place in the adjoining room. Hetty had inquired for the Delaware, and being told why and where he remained concealed, she joined him. The reception which Chingachgook gave his visitor was respectful and gentle. He understood her character, and, no doubt, his disposition to be kind to such a being was increased by the hope of learning some tidings of his betrothed. As soon as the girl entered she took a seat, and invited the Indian to place himself near her; then she continued silent, as if she thought it decorous for him to question her, before she consented to speak on the subject she had on her mind. But, as Chingachgook did not understand this feeling, he remained respectfully attentive to any thing she might be pleased to tell him.
“You are Chingachgook, the Great Serpent of the Delawares, ar’n’t you?” the girl at length commenced, in her own simple way losing her self-command in the desire to proceed, but anxious first to make sure of the individual. “Chingachgook,” returned the Delaware with grave dignity. “That say Great Sarpent, in Deerslayer tongue.”
“Well, that is my tongue. Deerslayer, and father, and Judith, and I, and poor Hurry Harry — do you know Henry March, Great Serpent? I know you don’t, however, or he would have spoken of you, too.”
“Did any tongue name Chingachgook, Drooping–Lily”? for so the chief had named poor Hetty. “Was his name sung by a little bird among Iroquois?”
Hetty did not answer at first, but, with that indescribable feeling that awakens sympathy and intelligence among the youthful and unpracticed of her sex, she hung her head, and the blood suffused her cheek ere she found her tongue. It would have exceeded her stock of intelligence to explain this embarrassment, but, though poor Hetty could not reason, on every emergency, she could always feel. The colour slowly receded from her cheeks, and the girl looked up archly at the Indian, smiling with the innocence of a child, mingled with the interest of a woman.
“My sister, the Drooping Lily, hear such bird!” Chingachgook added, and this with a gentleness of tone and manner that would have astonished those who sometimes heard the discordant cries that often came from the same throat; these transitions from the harsh and guttural, to the soft and melodious not being infrequent in ordinary Indian dialogues. “My sister’s ears were open — has she lost her tongue?”
“You are Chingachgook — you must be; for there is no other red man here, and she thought Chingachgook would come.”
“Chin-gach-gook,” pronouncing the name slowly, and dwelling on each syllable‘ “Great Sarpent, Yengeese tongue.”
[It is singular there should be any question concerning the origin of the well-known sobriquet of “Yankees.” Nearly all the old writers who speak of the Indians first known to the colonists make them pronounce the word “English” as “Yengeese.” Even at this day, it is a provincialism of New England to say “Anglish” instead of “Inglish,” and there is a close conformity of sound between “Anglish” and “yengeese,” more especially if the latter word, as was probably the case, be pronounced short. The transition from “Yengeese,” thus pronounced, to “Yankees” is quite easy. If the former is pronounced “Yangis,” it is almost identical with “Yankees,” and Indian words have seldom been spelt as they are pronounced. Thus the scene of this tale is spelt “Otsego,” and is properly pronounced “Otsago.” The liquids of the Indians would easily convert “En” into “Yen.”]
“Chin-gach-gook,” repeated Hetty, in the same deliberate manner. “Yes, so Hist called it, and you must be the chief.”
“Wah-ta-Wah,” added the Delaware.
“Wah-ta-Wah, or Hist-oh-Hist. I think Hist prettier than Wah, and so I call her Hist.”
“Wah very sweet in Delaware ears!”
“You make it sound differently from me. But, never mind, I did hear the bird you speak of sing, Great Serpent.”
“Will my sister say words of song? What she sing most — how she look — often she laugh?”
“She sang Chin-gach-gook oftener than any thing else; and she laughed heartily, when I told how the Iroquois waded into the water after us, and couldn’t catch us. I hope these logs haven’t ears, Serpent!”
“No fear logs; fear sister next room. No fear Iroquois; Deerslayer stuff his eyes and ears with strange beast.”
“I understand you, Serpent, and I understood Hist. Sometimes I think I’m not half as feeble minded as they say I am. Now, do you look up at the roof, and I’ll tell you all. But you frighten me, you look so eager when I speak of Hist.”
The Indian controlled his looks, and affected to comply with the simple request of the girl.
“Hist told me to say, in a very low voice, that you mustn’t trust the Iroquois in anything. They are more artful than any Indians she knows. Then she says that there is a large bright star that comes over the hill, about an hour after dark”— Hist had pointed out the planet Jupiter, without knowing it —“and just as that star comes in sight, she will be on the point, where I landed last night, and that you must come for her, in a canoe.”
“Good — Chingachgook understand well enough, now; but he understand better if my sister sing him ag’in.”
Hetty repeated her words, more fully explaining what star was meant, and mentioning the part of the point where he was to venture ashore. She now proceeded in her own unsophisticated way to relate her intercourse with the Indian maid, and to repeat several of her expressions and opinions that gave great delight to the heart of her betrothed. She particularly renewed her injunctions to be on their guard against treachery, a warning that was scarcely needed, however, as addressed to men as wary as those to whom it was sent. She also explained with sufficient clearness, for on all such subjects the mind of the girl seldom failed her, the present state of the enemy, and the movements they had made since morning. Hist had been on the raft with her until it quitted the shore, and was now somewhere in the woods, opposite to the castle, and did not intend to return to the camp until night approached; when she hoped to be able to slip away from her companions, as they followed the shore on their way home, and conceal herself on the point. No one appeared to suspect the presence of Chingachgook, though it was necessarily known that an Indian had entered the Ark the previous night, and it was suspected that he had since appeared in and about the castle in the dress of a pale-face. Still some little doubt existed on the latter point, for, as this was the season when white men might be expected to arrive, there was some fear that the garrison of the castle was increasing by these ordinary means. All this had Hist communicated to Hetty while the Indians were dragging them along shore, the distance, which exceeded six miles, affording abundance of time.
“Hist don’t know, herself, whether they suspect her or not, or whether they suspect you, but she hopes neither is the case. And now, Serpent, since I have told you so much from your betrothed,” continued Hetty, unconsciously taking one of the Indian’s hands, and playing with the fingers, as a child is often seen to play with those of a parent, “you must let me tell you something from myself. When you marry Hist, you must be kind to her, and smile on her, as you do now on me, and not look cross as some of the chiefs do at their squaws. Will you promise this?”
“Alway good to Wah! — too tender to twist hard; else she break.”
“Yes, and smile, too; you don’t know how much a girl craves smiles from them she loves. Father scarce smiled on me once, while I was with him — and, Hurry — Yes — Hurry talked loud and laughed, but I don’t think he smiled once either. You know the difference between a smile and a laugh?”
“Laugh, best. Hear Wah laugh, think bird sing!”
“I know that; her laugh is pleasant, but you must smile. And then, Serpent, you mustn’t make her carry burthens and hoe corn, as so many Indians do; but treat her more as the pale-faces treat their wives.”
“Wah-ta-Wah no pale-face — got red-skin; red heart, red feelin’s. All red; no pale-face. Must carry papoose.”
“Every woman is willing to carry her child,” said Hetty smiling, “and there is no harm in that. But you must love Hist, and be gentle, and good to her; for she is gentle and good herself.”
Chingachgook gravely bowed, and then he seemed to think this part of the subject might be dismissed. Before there was time for Hetty to resume her communications, the voice of Deerslayer was heard calling on his friend, in the outer room. At this summons the Serpent arose to obey, and Hetty joined her sister.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:53