“His words are bonds, his oaths are oracles;
His love sincere, his thoughts immaculate;
His tears pure messengers sent from his heart;
His heart as far from fraud as heaven from earth.”
Two Gentlemen of Verona, II.vii,75–78
Neither of the girls spoke as Deerslayer stood before them alone, his countenance betraying all the apprehension he felt on account of two absent members of their party.
“Father!” Judith at length exclaimed, succeeding in uttering the word, as it might be by a desperate effort.
“He’s met with misfortune, and there’s no use in concealing it,” answered Deerslayer, in his direct and simple minded manner. “He and Hurry are in Mingo hands, and Heaven only knows what’s to be the tarmination. I’ve got the canoes safe, and that’s a consolation, since the vagabonds will have to swim for it, or raft off, to come near this place. At sunset we’ll be reinforced by Chingachgook, if I can manage to get him into a canoe; and then, I think, we two can answer for the ark and the castle, till some of the officers in the garrisons hear of this war-path, which sooner or later must be the case, when we may look for succor from that quarter, if from no other.”
“The officers!” exclaimed Judith, impatiently, her color deepening, and her eye expressing a lively but passing emotion. “Who thinks or speaks of the heartless gallants now? We are sufficient of ourselves to defend the castle. But what of my father, and of poor Hurry Harry?”
“‘T is natural you should feel this consarn for your own parent, Judith, and I suppose it’s equally so that you should feel it for Hurry Harry, too.”
Deerslayer then commenced a succinct but clear narrative of all that occurred during the night, in no manner concealing what had befallen his two companions, or his own opinion of what might prove to be the consequences. The girls listened with profound attention, but neither betrayed that feminine apprehension and concern which would have followed such a communication when made to those who were less accustomed to the hazards and accidents of a frontier life. To the surprise of Deerslayer, Judith seemed the most distressed, Hetty listening eagerly, but appearing to brood over the facts in melancholy silence, rather than betraying any outward signs of feeling. The former’s agitation, the young man did not fail to attribute to the interest she felt in Hurry, quite as much as to her filial love, while Hetty’s apparent indifference was ascribed to that mental darkness which, in a measure, obscured her intellect, and which possibly prevented her from foreseeing all the consequences. Little was said, however, by either, Judith and her sister busying themselves in making the preparations for the morning meal, as they who habitually attend to such matters toil on mechanically even in the midst of suffering and sorrow. The plain but nutritious breakfast was taken by all three in sombre silence. The girls ate little, but Deerslayer gave proof of possessing one material requisite of a good soldier, that of preserving his appetite in the midst of the most alarming and embarrassing circumstances. The meal was nearly ended before a syllable was uttered; then, however, Judith spoke in the convulsive and hurried manner in which feeling breaks through restraint, after the latter has become more painful than even the betrayal of emotion.
“Father would have relished this fish,” she exclaimed; “he says the salmon of the lakes is almost as good as the salmon of the sea.”
“Your father has been acquainted with the sea, they tell me, Judith,” returned the young man, who could not forbear throwing a glance of inquiry at the girl; for in common with all who knew Hutter, he had some curiosity on the subject of his early history. “Hurry Harry tells me he was once a sailor.”
Judith first looked perplexed; then, influenced by feelings that were novel to her, in more ways than one, she became suddenly communicative, and seemingly much interested in the discourse.
“If Hurry knows anything of father’s history, I would he had told it to me!” she cried. “Sometimes I think, too, he was once a sailor, and then again I think he was not. If that chest were open, or if it could speak, it might let us into his whole history. But its fastenings are too strong to be broken like pack thread.”
Deerslayer turned to the chest in question, and for the first time examined it closely. Although discolored, and bearing proofs of having received much ill-treatment, he saw that it was of materials and workmanship altogether superior to anything of the same sort he had ever before beheld. The wood was dark, rich, and had once been highly polished, though the treatment it had received left little gloss on its surface, and various scratches and indentations proved the rough collisions that it had encountered with substances still harder than itself. The corners were firmly bound with steel, elaborately and richly wrought, while the locks, of which it had no less than three, and the hinges, were of a fashion and workmanship that would have attracted attention even in a warehouse of curious furniture. This chest was quite large; and when Deerslayer arose, and endeavored to raise an end by its massive handle, he found that the weight fully corresponded with the external appearance.
“Did you never see that chest opened, Judith?” the young man demanded with frontier freedom, for delicacy on such subjects was little felt among the people on the verge of civilization, in that age, even if it be today.
“Never. Father has never opened it in my presence, if he ever opens it at all. No one here has ever seen its lid raised, unless it be father; nor do I even know that he has ever seen it.”
“Now you’re wrong, Judith,” Hetty quietly answered. “Father has raised the lid, and I’ve seen him do it.”
A feeling of manliness kept the mouth of Deerslayer shut; for, while he would not have hesitated about going far beyond what would be thought the bounds of propriety, in questioning the older sister, he had just scruples about taking what might be thought an advantage of the feeble intellect of the younger. Judith, being under no such restraint, however, turned quickly to the last speaker and continued the discourse.
“When and where did you ever see that chest opened, Hetty?”
“Here, and again and again. Father often opens it when you are away, though he don’t in the least mind my being by, and seeing all he does, as well as hearing all he says.”
“And what is it that he does, and what does he say?”
“That I cannot tell you, Judith,” returned the other in a low but resolute voice. “Father’s secrets are not my secrets.”
“Secrets! This is stranger still, Deerslayer, that father should tell them to Hetty, and not tell them to me!”
“There’s a good reason for that, Judith, though you’re not to know it. Father’s not here to answer for himself, and I’ll say no more about it.”
Judith and Deerslayer looked surprised, and for a minute the first seemed pained. But, suddenly recollecting herself, she turned away from her sister, as if in pity for her weakness and addressed the young man.
“You’ve told but half your story,” she said, “breaking off at the place where you went to sleep in the canoe — or rather where you rose to listen to the cry of the loon. We heard the call of the loons, too, and thought their cries might bring a storm, though we are little used to tempests on this lake at this season of the year.”
“The winds blow and the tempests howl as God pleases; sometimes at one season, and sometimes at another,” answered Deerslayer; “and the loons speak accordin’ to their natur’. Better would it be if men were as honest and frank. After I rose to listen to the birds, finding it could not be Hurry’s signal, I lay down and slept. When the day dawned I was up and stirring, as usual, and then I went in chase of the two canoes, lest the Mingos should lay hands on ’em.”
“You have not told us all, Deerslayer,” said Judith earnestly. “We heard rifles under the eastern mountain; the echoes were full and long, and came so soon after the reports, that the pieces must have been fired on or quite near to the shore. Our ears are used to these signs, and are not to be deceived.”
“They’ve done their duty, gal, this time; yes, they’ve done their duty. Rifles have been sighted this morning, ay, and triggers pulled, too, though not as often a they might have been. One warrior has gone to his happy hunting-grounds, and that’s the whole of it. A man of white blood and white gifts is not to be expected to boast of his expl’ites and to flourish scalps.”
Judith listened almost breathlessly; and when Deerslayer, in his quiet, modest manner, seemed disposed to quit the subject, she rose, and crossing the room, took a seat by his side. The manner of the girl had nothing forward about it, though it betrayed the quick instinct of a female’s affection, and the sympathizing kindness of a woman’s heart. She even took the hard hand of the hunter, and pressed it in both her own, unconsciously to herself, perhaps, while she looked earnestly and even reproachfully into his sun burnt face.
“You have been fighting the savages, Deerslayer, singly and by yourself!” she said. “In your wish to take care of us —— of Hetty — of me, perhaps, you’ve fought the enemy bravely, with no eye to encourage your deeds, or to witness your fall, had it pleased Providence to suffer so great a calamity!”
“I’ve fou’t, Judith; yes, I have fou’t the inimy, and that too, for the first time in my life. These things must be, and they bring with ’em a mixed feelin’ of sorrow and triumph. Human natur’ is a fightin’ natur’, I suppose, as all nations kill in battle, and we must be true to our rights and gifts. What has yet been done is no great matter, but should Chingachgook come to the rock this evening, as is agreed atween us, and I get him off it onbeknown to the savages or, if known to them, ag’in their wishes and designs, then may we all look to something like warfare, afore the Mingos shall get possession of either the castle, or the ark, or yourselves.”
“Who is this Chingachgook; from what place does he come, and why does he come here?”
“The questions are nat’ral and right, I suppose, though the youth has a great name, already, in his own part of the country. Chingachgook is a Mohican by blood, consorting with the Delawares by usage, as is the case with most of his tribe, which has long been broken up by the increase of our color. He is of the family of the great chiefs; Uncas, his father, having been the considerablest warrior and counsellor of his people. Even old Tamenund honors Chingachgook, though he is thought to be yet too young to lead in war; and then the nation is so disparsed and diminished, that chieftainship among ’em has got to be little more than a name.
“Well, this war having commenced in ‘arnest, the Delaware and I rendezvous’d an app’intment, to meet this evening at sunset on the rendezvous-rock at the foot of this very lake, intending to come out on our first hostile expedition ag’in the Mingos. Why we come exactly this a way is our own secret; but thoughtful young men on the war-path, as you may suppose, do nothing without a calculation and a design.”
“A Delaware can have no unfriendly intentions towards us,” said Judith, after a moment’s hesitation, “and we know you to be friendly.”
“Treachery is the last crime I hope to be accused of,” returned Deerslayer, hurt at the gleam of distrust that had shot through Judith’s mind; “and least of all, treachery to my own color.”
“No one suspects you, Deerslayer,” the girl impetuously cried. “No — no — your honest countenance would be sufficient surety for the truth of a thousand hearts! If all men had as honest tongues, and no more promised what they did not mean to perform, there would be less wrong done in the world, and fine feathers and scarlet cloaks would not be excuses for baseness and deception.”
The girl spoke with strong, nay, even with convulsed feeling, and her fine eyes, usually so soft and alluring, flashed fire as she concluded. Deerslayer could not but observe this extraordinary emotion; but with the tact of a courtier, he avoided not only any allusion to the circumstance, but succeeded in concealing the effect of his discovery on himself. Judith gradually grew calm again, and as she was obviously anxious to appear to advantage in the eyes of the young man, she was soon able to renew the conversation as composedly as if nothing had occurred to disturb her.
“I have no right to look into your secrets, or the secrets of your friend, Deerslayer,” she continued, “and am ready to take all you say on trust. If we can really get another male ally to join us at this trying moment, it will aid us much; and I am not without hope that when the savages find that we are able to keep the lake, they will offer to give up their prisoners in exchange for skins, or at least for the keg of powder that we have in the house.”
The young man had the words “scalps” and “bounty” on his lips, but a reluctance to alarm the feelings of the daughters prevented him from making the allusion he had intended to the probable fate of their father. Still, so little was he practised in the arts of deception, that his expressive countenance was, of itself, understood by the quick-witted Judith, whose intelligence had been sharpened by the risks and habits of her life.
“I understand what you mean,” she continued, hurriedly, “and what you would say, but for the fear of hurting me — us, I mean; for Hetty loves her father quite as well as I do. But this is not as we think of Indians. They never scalp an unhurt prisoner, but would rather take him away alive, unless, indeed, the fierce wish for torturing should get the mastery of them. I fear nothing for my father’s scalp, and little for his life. Could they steal on us in the night, we should all probably suffer in this way; but men taken in open strife are seldom injured; not, at least, until the time of torture comes.”
“That’s tradition, I’ll allow, and it’s accordin’ to practice — but, Judith, do you know the arr’nd on which your father and Hurry went ag’in the savages?”
“I do; and a cruel errand it was! But what will you have? Men will be men, and some even that flaunt in their gold and silver, and carry the King’s commission in their pockets, are not guiltless of equal cruelty.” Judith’s eye again flashed, but by a desperate struggle she resumed her composure. “I get warm when I think of all the wrong that men do,” she added, affecting to smile, an effort in which she only succeeded indifferently well. “All this is silly. What is done is done, and it cannot be mended by complaints. But the Indians think so little of the shedding of blood, and value men so much for the boldness of their undertakings, that, did they know the business on which their prisoners came, they would be more likely to honor than to injure them for it.”
“For a time, Judith; yes, I allow that, for a time. But when that feelin’ dies away, then will come the love of revenge. We must indivor — Chingachgook and I — we must indivor to see what we can do to get Hurry and your father free; for the Mingos will no doubt hover about this lake some days, in order to make the most of their success.”
“You think this Delaware can be depended on, Deerslayer?” demanded the girl, thoughtfully.
“As much as I can myself. You say you do not suspect me, Judith?”
“You!” taking his hand again, and pressing it between her own, with a warmth that might have awakened the vanity of one less simple-minded, and more disposed to dwell on his own good qualities, “I would as soon suspect a brother! I have known you but a day, Deerslayer, but it has awakened the confidence of a year. Your name, however, is not unknown to me; for the gallants of the garrisons frequently speak of the lessons you have given them in hunting, and all proclaim your honesty.”
“Do they ever talk of the shooting, gal?” inquired the other eagerly, after, however, laughing in a silent but heartfelt manner. “Do they ever talk of the shooting? I want to hear nothing about my own, for if that isn’t sartified to by this time, in all these parts, there’s little use in being skilful and sure; but what do the officers say of their own — yes, what do they say of their own? Arms, as they call it, is their trade, and yet there’s some among ’em that know very little how to use ’em!”
“Such I hope will not be the case with your friend Chingachgook, as you call him — what is the English of his Indian name?”
“Big Sarpent — so called for his wisdom and cunning, Uncas is his ra’al name — all his family being called Uncas until they get a title that has been ‘arned by deeds.”
“If he has all this wisdom, we may expect a useful friend in him, unless his own business in this part of the country should prevent him from serving us.”
“I see no great harm in telling you his arr’nd, a’ter all, and, as you may find means to help us, I will let you and Hetty into the whole matter, trusting that you’ll keep the secret as if it was your own. You must know that Chingachgook is a comely Injin, and is much looked upon and admired by the young women of his tribe, both on account of his family, and on account of himself. Now, there is a chief that has a daughter called Wah-ta-Wah, which is intarpreted into Hist-oh-Hist, in the English tongue, the rarest gal among the Delawares, and the one most sought a’ter and craved for a wife by all the young warriors of the nation. Well, Chingachgook, among others, took a fancy to Wah-ta-Wah, and Wah-ta-Wah took a fancy to him.” Here Deerslayer paused an instant; for, as he got thus far in his tale, Hetty Hutter arose, approached, and stood attentive at his knee, as a child draws near to listen to the legends of its mother. “Yes, he fancied her, and she fancied him,” resumed Deerslayer, casting a friendly and approving glance at the innocent and interested girl; “and when that is the case, and all the elders are agreed, it does not often happen that the young couple keep apart. Chingachgook couldn’t well carry off such a prize without making inimies among them that wanted her as much as he did himself. A sartain Briarthorn, as we call him in English, or Yocommon, as he is tarmed in Injin, took it most to heart, and we mistrust him of having a hand in all that followed.”
“Wah-ta-Wah went with her father and mother, two moons ago, to fish for salmon on the western streams, where it is agreed by all in these parts that fish most abounds, and while thus empl’yed the gal vanished. For several weeks we could get no tidings of her; but here, ten days since, a runner, that came through the Delaware country, brought us a message, by which we learn that Wah-ta-Wah was stolen from her people, we think, but do not know it, by Briarthorn’s sarcumventions,-and that she was now with the inimy, who had adopted her, and wanted her to marry a young Mingo. The message said that the party intended to hunt and forage through this region for a month or two, afore it went back into the Canadas, and that if we could contrive to get on a scent in this quarter, something might turn up that would lead to our getting the maiden off.”
“And how does that concern you, Deerslayer?” demanded Judith, a little anxiously.
“It consarns me, as all things that touches a fri’nd consarns a fri’nd. I’m here as Chingachgook’s aid and helper, and if we can get the young maiden he likes back ag’in, it will give me almost as much pleasure as if I had got back my own sweetheart.”
“And where, then, is your sweetheart, Deerslayer?”
“She’s in the forest, Judith — hanging from the boughs of the trees, in a soft rain — in the dew on the open grass — the clouds that float about in the blue heavens — the birds that sing in the woods — the sweet springs where I slake my thirst — and in all the other glorious gifts that come from God’s Providence!”
“You mean that, as yet, you’ve never loved one of my sex, but love best your haunts, and your own manner of life.”
“That’s it — that’s just it. I am white — have a white heart and can’t, in reason, love a red-skinned maiden, who must have a red-skin heart and feelin’s. No, no, I’m sound enough in them partic’lars, and hope to remain so, at least till this war is over. I find my time too much taken up with Chingachgook’s affair, to wish to have one of my own on my hands afore that is settled.”
“The girl that finally wins you, Deerslayer, will at least win an honest heart — one without treachery or guile; and that will be a victory that most of her sex ought to envy.”
As Judith uttered this, her beautiful face had a resentful frown on it; while a bitter smile lingered around a mouth that no derangement of the muscles could render anything but handsome. Her companion observed the change, and though little skilled in the workings of the female heart, he had sufficient native delicacy to understand that it might be well to drop the subject.
As the hour when Chingachgook was expected still remained distant, Deerslayer had time enough to examine into the state of the defences, and to make such additional arrangements as were in his power, and the exigency of the moment seemed to require. The experience and foresight of Hutter had left little to be done in these particulars; still, several precautions suggested themselves to the young man, who may be said to have studied the art of frontier warfare, through the traditions and legends of the people among whom he had so long lived. The distance between the castle and the nearest point on the shore, prevented any apprehension on the subject of rifle-bullets thrown from the land. The house was within musket-shot in one sense, it was true, but aim was entirely out of the question, and even Judith professed a perfect disregard of any danger from that source. So long, then, as the party remained in possession of the fortress, they were safe, unless their assailants could find the means to come off and carry it by fire or storm, or by some of the devices of Indian cunning and Indian treachery.
Against the first source of danger Hutter had made ample provision, and the building itself, the bark roof excepted, was not very combustible. The floor was scuttled in several places, and buckets provided with ropes were in daily use, in readiness for any such emergency. One of the girls could easily extinguish any fire that might be lighted, provided it had not time to make much headway. Judith, who appeared to understand all her father’s schemes of defence, and who had the spirit to take no unimportant share in the execution of them, explained all these details to the young man, who was thus saved much time and labor in making his investigations.
Little was to be apprehended during the day. In possession of the canoes and of the ark, no other vessel was to be found on the lake. Nevertheless, Deerslayer well knew that a raft was soon made, and, as dead trees were to be found in abundance near the water, did the savages seriously contemplate the risks of an assault, it would not be a very difficult matter to find the necessary means. The celebrated American axe, a tool that is quite unrivalled in its way, was then not very extensively known, and the savages were far from expert in the use of its hatchet-like substitute; still, they had sufficient practice in crossing streams by this mode to render it certain they would construct a raft, should they deem it expedient to expose themselves to the risks of an assault. The death of their warrior might prove a sufficient incentive, or it might act as a caution; but Deerslayer thought it more than possible that the succeeding night would bring matters to a crisis, and in this precise way. This impression caused him to wish ardently for the presence and succor of his Mohican friend, and to look forward to the approach of sunset with an increasing anxiety.
As the day advanced, the party in the castle matured their plans, and made their preparations. Judith was active, and seemed to find a pleasure in consulting and advising with her new acquaintance, whose indifference to danger, manly devotion to herself and sister, guilelessness of manner, and truth of feeling, had won rapidly on both her imagination and her affections. Although the hours appeared long in some respects to Deerslayer, Judith did not find them so, and when the sun began to descend towards the pine-clad summits of the western hills, she felt and expressed her surprise that the day should so soon be drawing to a close. On the other hand, Hetty was moody and silent. She was never loquacious, or if she occasionally became communicative, it was under the influence of some temporary excitement that served to arouse her unsophisticated mind; but, for hours at a time, in the course of this all-important day, she seemed to have absolutely lost the use of her tongue. Nor did apprehension on account of her father materially affect the manner of either sister. Neither appeared seriously to dread any evil greater than captivity, and once or twice, when Hetty did speak, she intimated the expectation that Hutter would find the means to liberate himself. Although Judith was less sanguine on this head, she too betrayed the hope that propositions for a ransom would come, when the Indians discovered that the castle set their expedients and artifices at defiance. Deerslayer, however, treated these passing suggestions as the ill-digested fancies of girls, making his own arrangements as steadily, and brooding over the future as seriously, as if they had never fallen from their lips.
At length the hour arrived when it became necessary to proceed to the place of rendezvous appointed with the Mohican, or Delaware, as Chingachgook was more commonly called. As the plan had been matured by Deerslayer, and fully communicated to his companions, all three set about its execution, in concert, and intelligently. Hetty passed into the ark, and fastening two of the canoes together, she entered one, and paddled up to a sort of gateway in the palisadoes that surrounded the building, through which she carried both; securing them beneath the house by chains that were fastened within the building. These palisadoes were trunks of trees driven firmly into the mud, and served the double purpose of a small inclosure that was intended to be used in this very manner, and to keep any enemy that might approach in boats at arm’s length. Canoes thus docked were, in a measure, hid from sight, and as the gate was properly barred and fastened, it would not be an easy task to remove them, even in the event of their being seen. Previously, however, to closing the gate, Judith also entered within the inclosure with the third canoe, leaving Deerslayer busy in securing the door and windows inside the building, over her head. As everything was massive and strong, and small saplings were used as bars, it would have been the work of an hour or two to break into the building, when Deerslayer had ended his task, even allowing the assailants the use of any tools but the axe, and to be unresisted. This attention to security arose from Hutter’s having been robbed once or twice by the lawless whites of the frontiers, during some of his many absences from home.
As soon as all was fast in the inside of the dwelling, Deerslayer appeared at a trap, from which he descended into the canoe of Judith. When this was done, he fastened the door with a massive staple and stout padlock. Hetty was then received in the canoe, which was shoved outside of the palisadoes. The next precaution was to fasten the gate, and the keys were carried into the ark. The three were now fastened out of the dwelling, which could only be entered by violence, or by following the course taken by the young man in quitting it. The glass had been brought outside as a preliminary step, and Deerslayer next took a careful survey of the entire shore of the lake, as far as his own position would allow. Not a living thing was visible, a few birds excepted, and even the last fluttered about in the shades of the trees, as if unwilling to encounter the heat of a sultry afternoon. All the nearest points, in particular, were subjected to severe scrutiny, in order to make certain that no raft was in preparation; the result everywhere giving the same picture of calm solitude. A few words will explain the greatest embarrassment belonging to the situation of our party. Exposed themselves to the observation of any watchful eyes, the movements of their enemies were concealed by the drapery of a dense forest. While the imagination would be very apt to people the latter with more warriors than it really contained, their own weakness must be too apparent to all who might chance to cast a glance in their direction.
“Nothing is stirring, howsever,” exclaimed Deerslayer, as he finally lowered the glass, and prepared to enter the ark. “If the vagabonds do harbor mischief in their minds, they are too cunning to let it be seen; it’s true, a raft may be in preparation in the woods, but it has not yet been brought down to the lake. They can’t guess that we are about to quit the castle, and, if they did, they’ve no means of knowing where we intend to go.”
“This is so true, Deerslayer,” returned Judith, “that now all is ready, we may proceed at once, boldly, and without the fear of being followed; else we shall be behind our time.”
“No, no; the matter needs management; for, though the savages are in the dark as to Chingachgook and the rock, they’ve eyes and legs, and will see in what direction we steer, and will be sartain to follow us. I shall strive to baffle ’em, howsever, by heading the scow in all manner of ways, first in one quarter and then in another, until they get to be a-leg-weary, and tired of tramping a’ter us.”
So far as it was in his power, Deerslayer was as good as his word. In less than five minutes after this speech was made, the whole party was in the ark, and in motion. There was a gentle breeze from the north, and boldly hoisting the sail, the young man laid the head of the unwieldy craft in such a direction, as, after making a liberal but necessary allowance for leeway, would have brought it ashore a couple of miles down the lake, and on its eastern side. The sailing of the ark was never very swift, though, floating as it did on the surface, it was not difficult to get it in motion, or to urge it along over the water at the rate of some three or four miles in the hour. The distance between the castle and the rock was a little more than two leagues. Knowing the punctuality of an Indian, Deerslayer had made his calculations closely, and had given himself a little more time than was necessary to reach the place of rendezvous, with a view to delay or to press his arrival, as might prove most expedient. When he hoisted the sail, the sun lay above the western hills, at an elevation that promised rather more than two hours of day; and a few minutes satisfied him that the progress of the scow was such as to equal his expectations.
It was a glorious June afternoon, and never did that solitary sheet of water seem less like an arena of strife and bloodshed. The light air scarce descended as low as the bed of the lake, hovering over it, as if unwilling to disturb its deep tranquillity, or to ruffle its mirror-like surface. Even the forests appeared to be slumbering in the sun, and a few piles of fleecy clouds had lain for hours along the northern horizon like fixtures in the atmosphere, placed there purely to embellish the scene. A few aquatic fowls occasionally skimmed along the water, and a single raven was visible, sailing high above the trees, and keeping a watchful eye on the forest beneath him, in order to detect anything having life that the mysterious woods might offer as prey.
The reader will probably have observed, that, amidst the frankness and abruptness of manner which marked the frontier habits of Judith, her language was superior to that used by her male companions, her own father included. This difference extended as well to pronunciation as to the choice of words and phrases. Perhaps nothing so soon betrays the education and association as the modes of speech; and few accomplishments so much aid the charm of female beauty as a graceful and even utterance, while nothing so soon produces the disenchantment that necessarily follows a discrepancy between appearance and manner, as a mean intonation of voice, or a vulgar use of words. Judith and her sister were marked exceptions to all the girls of their class, along that whole frontier; the officers of the nearest garrison having often flattered the former with the belief that few ladies of the towns acquitted themselves better than herself, in this important particular. This was far from being literally true, but it was sufficiently near the fact to give birth to the compliment. The girls were indebted to their mother for this proficiency, having acquired from her, in childhood, an advantage that no subsequent study or labor can give without a drawback, if neglected beyond the earlier periods of life. Who that mother was, or rather had been, no one but Hutter knew. She had now been dead two summers, and, as was stated by Hurry, she had been buried in the lake; whether in indulgence of a prejudice, or from a reluctance to take the trouble to dig her grave, had frequently been a matter of discussion between the rude beings of that region. Judith had never visited the spot, but Hetty was present at the interment, and she often paddled a canoe, about sunset or by the light of the moon, to the place, and gazed down into the limpid water, in the hope of being able to catch a glimpse of the form that she had so tenderly loved from infancy to the sad hour of their parting.
“Must we reach the rock exactly at the moment the sun sets?” Judith demanded of the young man, as they stood near each other, Deerslayer holding the steering-oar, and she working with a needle at some ornament of dress, that much exceeded her station in life, and was altogether a novelty in the woods. “Will a few minutes, sooner or later, alter the matter? It will be very hazardous to remain long as near the shore as that rock!”
“That’s it, Judith; that’s the very difficulty! The rock’s within p’int blank for a shot-gun, and ’twill never do to hover about it too close and too long. When you have to deal with an Injin, you must calculate and manage, for a red natur’ dearly likes sarcumvention. Now you see, Judith, that I do not steer towards the rock at all, but here to the eastward of it, whereby the savages will be tramping off in that direction, and get their legs a-wearied, and all for no advantage.”
“You think, then, they see us, and watch our movements, Deerslayer? I was in hopes they might have fallen back into the woods, and left us to ourselves for a few hours.”
“That’s altogether a woman’s consait. There’s no let-up in an Injin’s watchfulness when he’s on a war-path, and eyes are on us at this minute, ‘though the lake presarves us. We must draw near the rock on a calculation, and indivor to get the miscreants on a false scent. The Mingos have good noses, they tell me; but a white man’s reason ought always to equalize their instinct.”
Judith now entered into a desultory discourse with Deerslayer, in which the girl betrayed her growing interest in the young man; an interest that his simplicity of mind and her decision of character, sustained as it was by the consciousness awakened by the consideration her personal charms so universally produced, rendered her less anxious to conceal than might otherwise have been the case. She was scarcely forward in her manner, though there was sometimes a freedom in her glances that it required all the aid of her exceeding beauty to prevent from awakening suspicions unfavorable to her discretion, if not to her morals. With Deerslayer, however, these glances were rendered less obnoxious to so unpleasant a construction; for she seldom looked at him without discovering much of the sincerity and nature that accompany the purest emotions of woman. It was a little remarkable that, as his captivity lengthened, neither of the girls manifested any great concern for her father; but, as has been said already, their habits gave them confidence, and they looked forward to his liberation, by means of a ransom, with a confidence that might, in a great degree, account for their apparent indifference. Once before, Hutter had been in the hands of the Iroquois, and a few skins had readily effected his release. This event, however, unknown to the sisters, had occurred in a time of peace between England and France, and when the savages were restrained, instead of being encouraged to commit their excesses, by the policy of the different colonial governments.
While Judith was loquacious and caressing in her manner, Hetty remained thoughtful and silent. Once, indeed, she drew near to Deerslayer, and questioned him a little closely as to his intentions, as well as concerning the mode of effecting his purpose; but her wish to converse went no further. As soon as her simple queries were answered — and answered they all were, in the fullest and kindest manner — she withdrew to her seat, and continued to work on a coarse garment that she was making for her father, sometimes humming a low melancholy air, and frequently sighing.
In this manner the time passed away; and when the sun was beginning to glow behind the fringe of the pines that bounded the western hill, or about twenty minutes before it actually set, the ark was nearly as low as the point where Hutter and Hurry had been made prisoners. By sheering first to one side of the lake, and then to the other, Deerslayer managed to create an uncertainty as to his object; and, doubtless, the savages, who were unquestionably watching his movements, were led to believe that his aim was to communicate with them, at or near this spot, and would hasten in that direction, in order to be in readiness to profit by circumstances. This artifice was well managed; since the sweep of the bay, the curvature of the lake, and the low marshy land that intervened, would probably allow the ark to reach the rock before its pursuers, if really collected near this point, could have time to make the circuit that would be required to get there by land. With a view to aid this deception, Deerslayer stood as near the western shore as was at all prudent; and then causing Judith and Hetty to enter the house, or cabin, and crouching himself so as to conceal his person by the frame of the scow, he suddenly threw the head of the latter round, and began to make the best of his way towards the outlet. Favored by an increase in the wind, the progress of the ark was such as to promise the complete success of this plan, though the crab-like movement of the craft compelled the helmsman to keep its head looking in a direction very different from that in which it was actually moving.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:53