“And that timid fawn starts not with fear,
When I steal to her secret bower;
And that young May violet to me is dear,
And I visit the silent streamlet near,
To look on the lovely flower.”
Bryant, “An Indian Story,” ii.11–15
The ark, as the floating habitation of the Hutters was generally called, was a very simple contrivance. A large flat, or scow, composed the buoyant part of the vessel; and in its centre, occupying the whole of its breadth, and about two thirds of its length, stood a low fabric, resembling the castle in construction, though made of materials so light as barely to be bullet-proof. As the sides of the scow were a little higher than usual, and the interior of the cabin had no more elevation than was necessary for comfort, this unusual addition had neither a very clumsy nor a very obtrusive appearance. It was, in short, little more than a modern canal-boat, though more rudely constructed, of greater breadth than common, and bearing about it the signs of the wilderness, in its bark-covered posts and roof. The scow, however, had been put together with some skill, being comparatively light, for its strength, and sufficiently manageable. The cabin was divided into two apartments, one of which served for a parlor, and the sleeping-room of the father, and the other was appropriated to the uses of the daughters. A very simple arrangement sufficed for the kitchen, which was in one end of the scow, and removed from the cabin, standing in the open air; the ark being altogether a summer habitation.
The “and-bush,” as Hurry in his ignorance of English termed it, is quite as easily explained. In many parts of the lake and river, where the banks were steep and high, the smaller trees and larger bushes, as has been already mentioned, fairly overhung the stream, their branches not unfrequently dipping into the water. In some instances they grew out in nearly horizontal lines, for thirty or forty feet. The water being uniformly deepest near the shores, where the banks were highest and the nearest to a perpendicular, Hutter had found no difficulty in letting the ark drop under one of these covers, where it had been anchored with a view to conceal its position; security requiring some such precautions, in his view of the case. Once beneath the trees and bushes, a few stones fastened to the ends of the branches had caused them to bend sufficiently to dip into the river; and a few severed bushes, properly disposed, did the rest. The reader has seen that this cover was so complete as to deceive two men accustomed to the woods, and who were actually in search of those it concealed; a circumstance that will be easily understood by those who are familiar with the matted and wild luxuriance of a virgin American forest, more especially in a rich soil. The discovery of the ark produced very different effects on our two adventurers.
As soon as the canoe could be got round to the proper opening, Hurry leaped on board, and in a minute was closely engaged in a gay, and a sort of recriminating discourse with Judith, apparently forgetful of the existence of all the rest of the world. Not so with Deerslayer. He entered the ark with a slow, cautious step, examining every arrangement of the cover with curious and scrutinizing eyes. It is true, he cast one admiring glance at Judith, which was extorted by her brilliant and singular beauty; but even this could detain him but a single instant from the indulgence of his interest in Hutter’s contrivances. Step by step did he look into the construction of the singular abode, investigate its fastenings and strength, ascertain its means of defence, and make every inquiry that would be likely to occur to one whose thoughts dwelt principally on such expedients. Nor was the cover neglected. Of this he examined the whole minutely, his commendation escaping him more than once in audible comments. Frontier usages admitting of this familiarity, he passed through the rooms, as he had previously done at the ‘Castle’, and opening a door issued into the end of the scow opposite to that where he had left Hurry and Judith. Here he found the other sister, employed at some coarse needle-work, seated beneath the leafy canopy of the cover.
As Deerslayer’s examination was by this time ended, he dropped the butt of his rifle, and, leaning on the barrel with both hands, he turned towards the girl with an interest the singular beauty of her sister had not awakened. He had gathered from Hurry’s remarks that Hetty was considered to have less intellect than ordinarily falls to the share of human beings, and his education among Indians had taught him to treat those who were thus afflicted by Providence with more than common tenderness. Nor was there any thing in Hetty Hutter’s appearance, as so often happens, to weaken the interest her situation excited. An idiot she could not properly be termed, her mind being just enough enfeebled to lose most of those traits that are connected with the more artful qualities, and to retain its ingenuousness and love of truth. It had often been remarked of this girl, by the few who had seen her, and who possessed sufficient knowledge to discriminate, that her perception of the right seemed almost intuitive, while her aversion to the wrong formed so distinctive a feature of her mind, as to surround her with an atmosphere of pure morality; peculiarities that are not infrequent with persons who are termed feeble-minded; as if God had forbidden the evil spirits to invade a precinct so defenceless, with the benign purpose of extending a direct protection to those who had been left without the usual aids of humanity. Her person, too, was agreeable, having a strong resemblance to that of her sister’s, of which it was a subdued and humble copy. If it had none of the brilliancy of Judith’s, the calm, quiet, almost holy expression of her meek countenance seldom failed to win on the observer, and few noted it long that did not begin to feel a deep and lasting interest in the girl. She had no colour, in common, nor was her simple mind apt to present images that caused her cheek to brighten, though she retained a modesty so innate that it almost raised her to the unsuspecting purity of a being superior to human infirmities. Guileless, innocent, and without distrust, equally by nature and from her mode of life, providence had, nevertheless shielded her from harm, by a halo of moral light, as it is said ‘to temper the wind to the shorn lamb.’
“You are Hetty Hutter,” said Deerslayer, in the way one puts a question unconsciously to himself, assuming a kindness of tone and manner that were singularly adapted to win the confidence of her he addressed. “Hurry Harry has told me of you, and I know you must be the child?”
“Yes, I’m Hetty Hutter” returned the girl in a low, sweet voice, which nature, aided by some education, had preserved from vulgarity of tone and utterance-“I’m Hetty; Judith Hutter’s sister; and Thomas Hutter’s youngest daughter.”
“I know your history, then, for Hurry Harry talks considerable, and he is free of speech when he can find other people’s consarns to dwell on. You pass most of your life on the lake, Hetty.”
“Certainly. Mother is dead; father is gone a-trapping, and Judith and I stay at home. What’s your name?”
“That’s a question more easily asked than it is answered, young woman, seeing that I’m so young, and yet have borne more names than some of the greatest chiefs in all America.”
“But you’ve got a name — you don’t throw away one name, before you come honestly by another?”
“I hope not, gal — I hope not. My names have come nat’rally, and I suppose the one I bear now will be of no great lasting, since the Delawares seldom settle on a man’s ra’al title, until such time as he has an opportunity of showing his true natur’, in the council, or on the warpath; which has never behappened me; seeing firstly, because I’m not born a red-skin and have no right to sit in their councillings, and am much too humble to be called on for opinions from the great of my own colour; and, secondly, because this is the first war that has befallen in my time, and no inimy has yet inroaded far enough into the colony, to be reached by an arm even longer than mine.”
“Tell me your names,” added Hetty, looking up at him artlessly, “and, maybe, I’ll tell you your character.”
“There is some truth in that, I’ll not deny, though it often fails. Men are deceived in other men’s characters, and frequently give ’em names they by no means desarve. You can see the truth of this in the Mingo names, which, in their own tongue, signify the same things as the Delaware names — at least, so they tell me, for I know little of that tribe, unless it be by report — and no one can say they are as honest or as upright a nation. I put no great dependence, therefore, on names.”
“Tell me all your names,” repeated the girl, earnestly, for her mind was too simple to separate things from professions, and she did attach importance to a name; “I want to know what to think of you.”
“Well, sartain; I’ve no objection, and you shall hear them all. In the first place, then, I’m Christian, and white-born, like yourself, and my parents had a name that came down from father to son, as is a part of their gifts. My father was called Bumppo; and I was named after him, of course, the given name being Nathaniel, or Natty, as most people saw fit to tarm it.”
“Yes, yes — Natty — and Hetty” interrupted the girl quickly, and looking up from her work again, with a smile: “you are Natty, and I’m Hetty-though you are Bumppo, and I’m Hutter. Bumppo isn’t as pretty as Hutter, is it?”
“Why, that’s as people fancy. Bumppo has no lofty sound, I admit; and yet men have bumped through the world with it. I did not go by this name, howsoever, very long; for the Delawares soon found out, or thought they found out, that I was not given to lying, and they called me, firstly, ‘Straight-tongue.’”
“That’s a good name,” interrupted Hetty, earnestly, and in a positive manner; “don’t tell me there’s no virtue in names!”
“I do not say that, for perhaps I desarved to be so called, lies being no favorites with me, as they are with some. After a while they found out I was quick of foot, and then they called me ‘The Pigeon’; which, you know, has a swift wing, and flies in a straight line.”
“That was a pretty name!” exclaimed Hetty; “pigeons are pretty birds!”
“Most things that God created are pretty in their way, my good gal, though they get to be deformed by mankind, so as to change their natur’s, as well as their appearance. From carrying messages, and striking blind trails, I got at last to following the hunters, when it was thought I was quicker and surer at finding the game than most lads, and then they called me the ‘Lap-ear’; as, they said, I partook of the sagacity of the hound.”
“That’s not so pretty,” answered Hetty; “I hope you didn’t keep that name long.”
“Not after I was rich enough to buy a rifle,” returned the other, betraying a little pride through his usually quiet and subdued manner; “then it was seen I could keep a wigwam in ven’son; and in time I got the name of ‘Deerslayer,’ which is that I now bear; homely as some will think it, who set more value on the scalp of a fellow-mortal than on the horns of a buck.”
“Well, Deerslayer, I’m not one of them,” answered Hetty, simply; “Judith likes soldiers, and flary coats, and fine feathers; but they’re all naught to me. She says the officers are great, and gay, and of soft speech; but they make me shudder, for their business is to kill their fellow-creatures. I like your calling better; and your last name is a very good one — better than Natty Bumppo.”
“This is nat’ral in one of your turn of mind, Hetty, and much as I should have expected. They tell me your sister is handsome — oncommon, for a mortal; and beauty is apt to seek admiration.”
“Did you never see Judith?” demanded the girl, with quick earnestness; “if you never have, go at once and look at her. Even Hurry Harry isn’t more pleasant to look at though she is a woman, and he is a man.”
Deerslayer regarded the girl for a moment with concern. Her pale-face had flushed a little, and her eye, usually so mild and serene, brightened as she spoke, in the way to betray the inward impulses.
“Ay, Hurry Harry,” he muttered to himself, as he walked through the cabin towards the other end of the boat; “this comes of good looks, if a light tongue has had no consarn in it. It’s easy to see which way that poor creatur’s feelin’s are leanin’, whatever may be the case with your Jude’s.”
But an interruption was put to the gallantry of Hurry, the coquetry of his intros, the thoughts of Deerslayer, and the gentle feelings of Hetty, by the sudden appearance of the canoe of the ark’s owner, in the narrow opening among the bushes that served as a sort of moat to his position. It would seem that Hutter, or Floating Tom, as he was familiarly called by all the hunters who knew his habits, recognized the canoe of Hurry, for he expressed no surprise at finding him in the scow. On the contrary, his reception was such as to denote not only gratification, but a pleasure, mingled with a little disappointment at his not having made his appearance some days sooner.
“I looked for you last week,” he said, in a half-grumbling, half-welcoming manner; “and was disappointed uncommonly that you didn’t arrive. There came a runner through, to warn all the trappers and hunters that the colony and the Canadas were again in trouble; and I felt lonesome, up in these mountains, with three scalps to see to, and only one pair of hands to protect them.”
“That’s reasonable,” returned March; “and ‘t was feeling like a parent. No doubt, if I had two such darters as Judith and Hetty, my exper’ence would tell the same story, though in gin’ral I am just as well satisfied with having the nearest neighbor fifty miles off, as when he is within call.”
“Notwithstanding, you didn’t choose to come into the wilderness alone, now you knew that the Canada savages are likely to be stirring,” returned Hutter, giving a sort of distrustful, and at the same time inquiring glance at Deerslayer.
“Why should I? They say a bad companion, on a journey, helps to shorten the path; and this young man I account to be a reasonably good one. This is Deerslayer, old Tom, a noted hunter among the Delawares, and Christian-born, and Christian-edicated, too, like you and me. The lad is not parfect, perhaps, but there’s worse men in the country that he came from, and it’s likely he’ll find some that’s no better, in this part of the world. Should we have occasion to defend our traps, and the territory, he’ll be useful in feeding us all; for he’s a reg’lar dealer in ven’son.”
“Young man, you are welcome,” growled Tom, thrusting a hard, bony hand towards the youth, as a pledge of his sincerity; “in such times, a white face is a friend’s, and I count on you as a support. Children sometimes make a stout heart feeble, and these two daughters of mine give me more concern than all my traps, and skins, and rights in the country.”
“That’s nat’ral!” cried Hurry. “Yes, Deerslayer, you and I don’t know it yet by experience; but, on the whole, I consider that as nat’ral. If we had darters, it’s more than probable we should have some such feelin’s; and I honor the man that owns ’em. As for Judith, old man, I enlist, at once, as her soldier, and here is Deerslayer to help you to take care of Hetty.”
“Many thanks to you, Master March,” returned the beauty, in a full, rich voice, and with an accuracy of intonation and utterance that she shared in common with her sister, and which showed that she had been better taught than her father’s life and appearance would give reason to expect. “Many thanks to you; but Judith Hutter has the spirit and the experience that will make her depend more on herself than on good-looking rovers like you. Should there be need to face the savages, do you land with my father, instead of burrowing in the huts, under the show of defending us females and-”
“Girl — girl,” interrupted the father, “quiet that glib tongue of thine, and hear the truth. There are savages on the lake shore already, and no man can say how near to us they may be at this very moment, or when we may hear more from them!”
“If this be true, Master Hutter,” said Hurry, whose change of countenance denoted how serious he deemed the information, though it did not denote any unmanly alarm, “if this be true, your ark is in a most misfortunate position, for, though the cover did deceive Deerslayer and myself, it would hardly be overlooked by a full-blooded Injin, who was out seriously in s’arch of scalps!”
“I think as you do, Hurry, and wish, with all my heart, we lay anywhere else, at this moment, than in this narrow, crooked stream, which has many advantages to hide in, but which is almost fatal to them that are discovered. The savages are near us, moreover, and the difficulty is, to get out of the river without being shot down like deer standing at a lick!”
“Are you sartain, Master Hutter, that the red-skins you dread are ra’al Canadas?” asked Deerslayer, in a modest but earnest manner. “Have you seen any, and can you describe their paint?”
“I have fallen in with the signs of their being in the neighborhood, but have seen none of ’em. I was down stream a mile or so, looking to my traps, when I struck a fresh trail, crossing the corner of a swamp, and moving northward. The man had not passed an hour; and I know’d it for an Indian footstep, by the size of the foot, and the intoe, even before I found a worn moccasin, which its owner had dropped as useless. For that matter, I found the spot where he halted to make a new one, which was only a few yards from the place where he had dropped the old one.”
“That doesn’t look much like a red-skin on the war path!” returned the other, shaking his head. “An exper’enced warrior, at least, would have burned, or buried, or sunk in the river such signs of his passage; and your trail is, quite likely, a peaceable trail. But the moccasin may greatly relieve my mind, if you bethought you of bringing it off. I’ve come here to meet a young chief myself; and his course would be much in the direction you’ve mentioned. The trail may have been his’n.”
“Hurry Harry, you’re well acquainted with this young man, I hope, who has meetings with savages in a part of the country where he has never been before?” demanded Hutter, in a tone and in a manner that sufficiently indicated the motive of the question; these rude beings seldom hesitating, on the score of delicacy, to betray their feelings. “Treachery is an Indian virtue; and the whites, that live much in their tribes, soon catch their ways and practices.”
“True — true as the Gospel, old Tom; but not personable to Deerslayer, who’s a young man of truth, if he has no other ricommend. I’ll answer for his honesty, whatever I may do for his valor in battle.”
“I should like to know his errand in this strange quarter of the country.”
“That is soon told, Master Hutter,” said the young man, with the composure of one who kept a clean conscience. “I think, moreover, you’ve a right to ask it. The father of two such darters, who occupies a lake, after your fashion, has just the same right to inquire into a stranger’s business in his neighborhood, as the colony would have to demand the reason why the Frenchers put more rijiments than common along the lines. No, no, I’ll not deny your right to know why a stranger comes into your habitation or country, in times as serious as these.”
“If such is your way of thinking, friend, let me hear your story without more words.”
“‘T is soon told, as I said afore; and shall be honestly told. I’m a young man, and, as yet, have never been on a war-path; but no sooner did the news come among the Delawares, that wampum and a hatchet were about to be sent in to the tribe, than they wished me to go out among the people of my own color, and get the exact state of things for ’em. This I did, and, after delivering my talk to the chiefs, on my return, I met an officer of the crown on the Schoharie, who had messages to send to some of the fri’ndly tribes that live farther west. This was thought a good occasion for Chingachgook, a young chief who has never struck a foe, and myself; to go on our first war path in company, and an app’intment was made for us, by an old Delaware, to meet at the rock near the foot of this lake. I’ll not deny that Chingachgook has another object in view, but it has no consarn with any here, and is his secret and not mine; therefore I’ll say no more about it.”
“’Tis something about a young woman,” interrupted Judith hastily, then laughing at her own impetuosity, and even having the grace to colour a little, at the manner in which she had betrayed her readiness to impute such a motive. “If ’tis neither war, nor a hunt, it must be love.”
“Ay, it comes easy for the young and handsome, who hear so much of them feelin’s, to suppose that they lie at the bottom of most proceedin’s; but, on that head, I say nothin’. Chingachgook is to meet me at the rock, an hour afore sunset tomorrow evening, after which we shall go our way together, molesting none but the king’s inimies, who are lawfully our own. Knowing Hurry of old, who once trapped in our hunting grounds, and falling in with him on the Schoharie, just as he was on the p’int of starting for his summer ha’nts, we agreed to journey in company; not so much from fear of the Mingos, as from good fellowship, and, as he says, to shorten a long road.”
“And you think the trail I saw may have been that of your friend, ahead of his time?” said Hutter.
“That’s my idee, which may be wrong, but which may be right. If I saw the moccasin, howsever, I could tell, in a minute, whether it is made in the Delaware fashion, or not.”
“Here it is, then,” said the quick-witted Judith, who had already gone to the canoe in quest of it. “Tell us what it says; friend or enemy. You look honest, and I believe all you say, whatever father may think.”
“That’s the way with you, Jude; forever finding out friends, where I distrust foes,” grumbled Tom: “but, speak out, young man, and tell us what you think of the moccasin.”
“That’s not Delaware made,” returned Deerslayer, examining the worn and rejected covering for the foot with a cautious eye. “I’m too young on a war-path to be positive, but I should say that moccasin has a northern look, and comes from beyond the Great Lakes.”
“If such is the case, we ought not to lie here a minute longer than is necessary,” said Hutter, glancing through the leaves of his cover, as if he already distrusted the presence of an enemy on the opposite shore of the narrow and sinuous stream. “It wants but an hour or so of night, and to move in the dark will be impossible, without making a noise that would betray us. Did you hear the echo of a piece in the mountains, half-an-hour since?”
“Yes, old man, and heard the piece itself,” answered Hurry, who now felt the indiscretion of which he had been guilty, “for the last was fired from my own shoulder.”
“I feared it came from the French Indians; still it may put them on the look-out, and be a means of discovering us. You did wrong to fire in war-time, unless there was good occasion.
“So I begin to think myself, Uncle Tom; and yet, if a man can’t trust himself to let off his rifle in a wilderness that is a thousand miles square, lest some inimy should hear it, where’s the use in carrying one?”
Hutter now held a long consultation with his two guests, in which the parties came to a true understanding of their situation. He explained the difficulty that would exist in attempting to get the ark out of so swift and narrow a stream, in the dark, without making a noise that could not fail to attract Indian ears. Any strollers in their vicinity would keep near the river or the lake; but the former had swampy shores in many places, and was both so crooked and so fringed with bushes, that it was quite possible to move by daylight without incurring much danger of being seen. More was to be apprehended, perhaps, from the ear than from the eye, especially as long as they were in the short, straitened, and canopied reaches of the stream.
“I never drop down into this cover, which is handy to my traps, and safer than the lake from curious eyes, without providing the means of getting out ag’in,” continued this singular being; “and that is easier done by a pull than a push. My anchor is now lying above the suction, in the open lake; and here is a line, you see, to haul us up to it. Without some such help, a single pair of bands would make heavy work in forcing a scow like this up stream. I have a sort of a crab, too, that lightens the pull, on occasion. Jude can use the oar astern as well as myself; and when we fear no enemy, to get out of the river gives us but little trouble.”
“What should we gain, Master Hutter, by changing the position?” asked Deerslayer, with a good deal of earnestness; “this is a safe cover, and a stout defence might be made from the inside of this cabin. I’ve never fou’t unless in the way of tradition; but it seems to me we might beat off twenty Mingos, with palisades like them afore us.”
“Ay, ay; you ‘ve never fought except in traditions, that’s plain enough, young man! Did you ever see as broad a sheet of water as this above us, before you came in upon it with Hurry?”
“I can’t say that I ever did,” Deerslayer answered, modestly. “Youth is the time to l’arn; and I’m far from wishing to raise my voice in counsel, afore it is justified by exper’ence.”
“Well, then, I’ll teach you the disadvantage of fighting in this position, and the advantage of taking to the open lake. Here, you may see, the savages will know where to aim every shot; and it would be too much to hope that some would not find their way through the crevices of the logs. Now, on the other hand, we should have nothing but a forest to aim at. Then we are not safe from fire, here, the bark of this roof being little better than so much kindling-wood. The castle, too, might be entered and ransacked in my absence, and all my possessions overrun and destroyed. Once in the lake, we can be attacked only in boats or on rafts — shall have a fair chance with the enemy-and can protect the castle with the ark. Do you understand this reasoning, youngster?”
“It sounds well — yes, it has a rational sound; and I’ll not gainsay it.”
“Well, old Tom,” cried Hurry, “If we are to move, the sooner we make a beginning, the sooner we shall know whether we are to have our scalps for night-caps, or not.”
As this proposition was self-evident, no one denied its justice. The three men, after a short preliminary explanation, now set about their preparations to move the ark in earnest. The slight fastenings were quickly loosened; and, by hauling on the line, the heavy craft slowly emerged from the cover. It was no sooner free from the incumbrance of the branches, than it swung into the stream, sheering quite close to the western shore, by the force of the current. Not a soul on board heard the rustling of the branches, as the cabin came against the bushes and trees of the western bank, without a feeling of uneasiness; for no one knew at what moment, or in what place, a secret and murderous enemy might unmask himself. Perhaps the gloomy light that still struggled through the impending canopy of leaves, or found its way through the narrow, ribbon-like opening, which seemed to mark, in the air above, the course of the river that flowed beneath, aided in augmenting the appearance of the danger; for it was little more than sufficient to render objects visible, without giving up all their outlines at a glance. Although the sun had not absolutely set, it had withdrawn its direct rays from the valley; and the hues of evening were beginning to gather around objects that stood uncovered, rendering those within the shadows of the woods still more sombre and gloomy.
No interruption followed the movement, however, and, as the men continued to haul on the line, the ark passed steadily ahead, the great breadth of the scow preventing its sinking into the water, and from offering much resistance to the progress of the swift element beneath its bottom. Hutter, too, had adopted a precaution suggested by experience, which might have done credit to a seaman, and which completely prevented any of the annoyances and obstacles which otherwise would have attended the short turns of the river. As the ark descended, heavy stones, attached to the line, were dropped in the centre of the stream, forming local anchors, each of which was kept from dragging by the assistance of those above it, until the uppermost of all was reached, which got its “backing” from the anchor, or grapnel, that lay well out in the lake. In consequence of this expedient, the ark floated clear of the incumbrances of the shore, against which it would otherwise have been unavoidably hauled at every turn, producing embarrassments that Hutter, single-handed, would have found it very difficult to overcome. Favored by this foresight, and stimulated by the apprehension of discovery, Floating Tom and his two athletic companions hauled the ark ahead with quite as much rapidity as comported with the strength of the line. At every turn in the stream, a stone was raised from the bottom, when the direction of the scow changed to one that pointed towards the stone that lay above. In this manner, with the channel buoyed out for him, as a sailor might term it, did Hutter move forward, occasionally urging his friends, in a low and guarded voice, to increase their exertions, and then, as occasions offered, warning them against efforts that might, at particular moments, endanger all by too much zeal. In spite of their long familiarity with the woods, the gloomy character of the shaded river added to the uneasiness that each felt; and when the ark reached the first bend in the Susquehannah, and the eye caught a glimpse of the broader expanse of the lake, all felt a relief, that perhaps none would have been willing to confess. Here the last stone was raised from the bottom, and the line led directly towards the grapnel, which, as Hutter had explained, was dropped above the suction of the current.
“Thank God!” ejaculated Hurry, “there is daylight, and we shall soon have a chance of seeing our inimies, if we are to feel ’em.”
“That is more than you or any man can say,” growled Hutter. “There is no spot so likely to harbor a party as the shore around the outlet, and the moment we clear these trees and get into open water, will be the most trying time, since it will leave the enemy a cover, while it puts us out of one. Judith, girl, do you and Hetty leave the oar to take care of itself; and go within the cabin; and be mindful not to show your faces at a window; for they who will look at them won’t stop to praise their beauty. And now, Hurry, we ‘ll step into this outer room ourselves, and haul through the door, where we shall all be safe, from a surprise, at least. Friend Deerslayer, as the current is lighter, and the line has all the strain on it that is prudent, do you keep moving from window to window, taking care not to let your head be seen, if you set any value on life. No one knows when or where we shall hear from our neighbors.”
Deerslayer complied, with a sensation that had nothing in common with fear, but which had all the interest of a perfectly novel and a most exciting situation. For the first time in his life he was in the vicinity of enemies, or had good reason to think so; and that, too, under all the thrilling circumstances of Indian surprises and Indian artifices. As he took his stand at the window, the ark was just passing through the narrowest part of the stream, a point where the water first entered what was properly termed the river, and where the trees fairly interlocked overhead, causing the current to rush into an arch of verdure; a feature as appropriate and peculiar to the country, perhaps, as that of Switzerland, where the rivers come rushing literally from chambers of ice.
The ark was in the act of passing the last curve of this leafy entrance, as Deerslayer, having examined all that could be seen of the eastern bank of the river, crossed the room to look from the opposite window, at the western. His arrival at this aperture was most opportune, for he had no sooner placed his eye at a crack, than a sight met his gaze that might well have alarmed a sentinel so young and inexperienced. A sapling overhung the water, in nearly half a circle, having first grown towards the light, and then been pressed down into this form by the weight of the snows; a circumstance of common occurrence in the American woods. On this no less than six Indians had already appeared, others standing ready to follow them, as they left room; each evidently bent on running out on the trunk, and dropping on the roof of the ark as it passed beneath. This would have been an exploit of no great difficulty, the inclination of the tree admitting of an easy passage, the adjoining branches offering ample support for the hands, and the fall being too trifling to be apprehended. When Deerslayer first saw this party, it was just unmasking itself, by ascending the part of the tree nearest to the earth, or that which was much the most difficult to overcome; and his knowledge of Indian habits told him at once that they were all in their war-paint, and belonged to a hostile tribe.
“Pull, Hurry,” he cried; “pull for your life, and as you love Judith Hutter! Pull, man, pull!”
This call was made to one that the young man knew had the strength of a giant. It was so earnest and solemn, that both Hutter and March felt it was not idly given, and they applied all their force to the line simultaneously, and at a most critical moment. The scow redoubled its motion, and seemed to glide from under the tree as if conscious of the danger that was impending overhead. Perceiving that they were discovered, the Indians uttered the fearful war-whoop, and running forward on the tree, leaped desperately towards their fancied prize. There were six on the tree, and each made the effort. All but their leader fell into the river more or less distant from the ark, as they came, sooner or later, to the leaping place. The chief, who had taken the dangerous post in advance, having an earlier opportunity than the others, struck the scow just within the stern. The fall proving so much greater than he had anticipated, he was slightly stunned, and for a moment he remained half bent and unconscious of his situation. At this instant Judith rushed from the cabin, her beauty heightened by the excitement that produced the bold act, which flushed her cheek to crimson, and, throwing all her strength into the effort, she pushed the intruder over the edge of the scow, headlong into the river. This decided feat was no sooner accomplished than the woman resumed her sway; Judith looked over the stern to ascertain what had become of the man, and the expression of her eyes softened to concern, next, her cheek crimsoned between shame and surprise at her own temerity, and then she laughed in her own merry and sweet manner. All this occupied less than a minute, when the arm of Deerslayer was thrown around her waist, and she was dragged swiftly within the protection of the cabin. This retreat was not effected too soon. Scarcely were the two in safety, when the forest was filled with yells, and bullets began to patter against the logs.
The ark being in swift motion all this while, it was beyond the danger of pursuit by the time these little events had occurred; and the savages, as soon as the first burst of their anger had subsided, ceased firing, with the consciousness that they were expending their ammunition in vain. When the scow came up over her grapnel, Hutter tripped the latter in a way not to impede the motion; and being now beyond the influence of the current, the vessel continued to drift ahead, until fairly in the open lake, though still near enough to the land to render exposure to a rifle-bullet dangerous. Hutter and March got out two small sweeps and, covered by the cabin, they soon urged the ark far enough from the shore to leave no inducement to their enemies to make any further attempt to injure them.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:53