Two Excerpts From
by James Fenimore Cooper
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“There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is a rapture on the lonely shore.
There is society where none intrudes,
By the deep sea, and music in its roar:
I love not man the less, but nature more,
From these our interviews, in which I steal
From all I may be, or have been before,
To mingle with the universe, and feel
What I can neer express, yet cannot all conceal”
On the human imagination events produce the effects of time. Thus, he who has travelled far and seen much is apt to fancy that he has lived long; and the history that most abounds in important incidents soonest assumes the aspect of antiquity. In no other way can we account for the venerable air that is already gathering around American annals. When the mind reverts to the earliest days of colonial history, the period seems remote and obscure, the thousand changes that thicken along the links of recollections, throwing back the origin of the nation to a day so distant as seemingly to reach the mists of time; and yet four lives of ordinary duration would suffice to transmit, from mouth to mouth, in the form of tradition, all that civilized man has achieved within the limits of the republic. Although New York alone possesses a population materially exceeding that of either of the four smallest kingdoms of Europe, or materially exceeding that of the entire Swiss Confederation, it is little more than two centuries since the Dutch commenced their settlement, rescuing the region from the savage state. Thus, what seems venerable by an accumulation of changes is reduced to familiarity when we come seriously to consider it solely in connection with time.
This glance into the perspective of the past will prepare the reader to look at the pictures we are about to sketch, with less surprise than he might otherwise feel; and a few additional explanations may carry him back in imagination to the precise condition of society that we desire to delineate. It is matter of history that the settlements on the eastern shores of the Hudson, such as Claverack, Kinderhook, and even Poughkeepsie, were not regarded as safe from Indian incursions a century since; and there is still standing on the banks of the same river, and within musket-shot of the wharves of Albany, a residence of a younger branch of the Van Rensselaers, that has loopholes constructed for defence against the same crafty enemy, although it dates from a period scarcely so distant. Other similar memorials of the infancy of the country are to be found, scattered through what is now deemed the very centre of American civilization, affording the plainest proofs that all we possess of security from invasion and hostile violence is the growth of but little more than the time that is frequently fulfilled by a single human life.
The incidents of this tale occurred between the years 1740 and 1745, when the settled portions of the colony of New York were confined to the four Atlantic counties, a narrow belt of country on each side of the Hudson, extending from its mouth to the falls near its head, and to a few advanced “neighborhoods” on the Mohawk and the Schoharie. Broad belts of the virgin wilderness not only reached the shores of the first river, but they even crossed it, stretching away into New England, and affording forest covers to the noiseless moccasin of the native warrior, as he trod the secret and bloody war-path. A birds-eye view of the whole region east of the Mississippi must then have offered one vast expanse of woods, relieved by a comparatively narrow fringe of cultivation along the sea, dotted by the glittering surfaces of lakes, and intersected by the waving lines of river. In such a vast picture of solemn solitude, the district of country we design to paint sinks into insignificance, though we feel encouraged to proceed by the conviction that, with slight and immaterial distinctions, he who succeeds in giving an accurate idea of any portion of this wild region must necessarily convey a tolerably correct notion of the whole.
Whatever may be the changes produced by man, the eternal round of the seasons is unbroken. Summer and winter, seed-time and harvest, return in their stated order with a sublime precision, affording to man one of the noblest of all the occasions he enjoys of proving the high powers of his far-reaching mind, in compassing the laws that control their exact uniformity, and in calculating their never-ending revolutions.
Centuries of summer suns had warmed the tops of the same noble oaks and pines, sending their heats even to the tenacious roots, when voices were heard calling to each other, in the depths of a forest, of which the leafy surface lay bathed in the brilliant light of a cloudless day in June, while the trunks of the trees rose in gloomy grandeur in the shades beneath. The calls were in different tones, evidently proceeding from two men who had lost their way, and were searching in different directions for their path. At length a shout proclaimed success, and presently a man of gigantic mould broke out of the tangled labyrinth of a small swamp, emerging into an opening that appeared to have been formed partly by the ravages of the wind, and partly by those of fire. This little area, which afforded a good view of the sky, although it was pretty well filled with dead trees, lay on the side of one of the high hills, or low mountains, into which nearly the whole surface of the adjacent country was broken.
“Here is room to breathe in!” exclaimed the liberated forester, as soon as he found himself under a clear sky, shaking his huge frame like a mastiff that has just escaped from a snowbank. “Hurrah! Deerslayer; here is daylight, at last, and yonder is the lake.”
These words were scarcely uttered when the second forester dashed aside the bushes of the swamp, and appeared in the area. After making a hurried adjustment of his arms and disordered dress, he joined his companion, who had already begun his disposition for a halt.
“Do you know this spot!” demanded the one called Deerslayer, “or do you shout at the sight of the sun”
“Both, lad, both; I know the spot, and am not sorry to see so useful a frind as the sun. Now we have got the pints of the compass in our minds once more, and t will be our own faults if we let anything turn them topsy-turvy agin, as has just happened. My name is not Hurry Harry, if this be not the very spot where the land-hunters camped the last summer, and passed a week. See I yonder are the dead bushes of their bower, and here is the spring. Much as I like the sun, boy, Ive no occasion for it to tell me it is noon; this stomach of mine is as good a time-piece as is to be found in the colony, and it already pints to half-past twelve. So open the wallet, and let us wind up for another six hours run.”
At this suggestion, both set themselves about making the preparations necessary for their usual frugal but hearty meal. We will profit by this pause in the discourse to give the reader some idea of the appearance of the men, each of whom is destined to enact no insignificant part in our legend.
It would not have been easy to find a more noble specimen of vigorous manhood than was offered in the person of him who called himself Hurry Harry. His real name was Henry March but the frontiersmen having caught the practice of giving sobriquets from the Indians, the appellation of Hurry was far oftener applied to him than his proper designation, and not unfrequently he was termed Hurry Skurry, a nickname he had obtained from a dashing, reckless offhand manner, and a physical restlessness that kept him so constantly on the move, as to cause him to be known along the whole line of scattered habitations that lay between the province and the Canadas. The stature of Hurry Harry exceeded six feet four, and being unusually well proportioned, his strength fully realized the idea created by his gigantic frame. The face did no discredit to the rest of the man, for it was both good-humored and handsome. His air was free, and though his manner necessarily partook of the rudeness of a border life, the grandeur that pervaded so noble a physique prevented it from becoming altogether vulgar.
Deerslayer, as Hurry called his companion, was a very different person in appearance, as well as in character. In stature he stood about six feet in his moccasins, but his frame was comparatively light and slender, showing muscles, however, that promised unusual agility, if not unusual strength. His face would have had little to recommend it except youth, were it not for an expression that seldom failed to win upon those who had leisure to examine it, and to yield to the feeling of confidence it created. This expression was simply that of guileless truth, sustained by an earnestness of purpose, and a sincerity of feeling, that rendered it remarkable. At times this air of integrity seemed to be so simple as to awaken the suspicion of a want of the usual means to discriminate between artifice and truth; but few came in serious contact with the man, without losing this distrust in respect for his opinions and motives.
Both these frontiersmen were still young, Hurry having reached the age of six or eight and twenty, while Deerslayer was several years his junior. Their attire needs no particular description, though it may be well to add that it was composed in no small degree of dressed deer-skins, and had the usual signs of belonging to those who pass their time between the skirts of civilized society and the boundless forests. There was, notwithstanding, some attention to smartness and the picturesque in the arrangements of Deerslayers dress, more particularly in the part connected with his arms and accoutrements. His rifle was in perfect condition, the handle of his hunting-knife was neatly carved, his powder-horn was ornamented with suitable devices lightly cut into the material, and his shot-pouch was decorated with wampum.
On the other hand, Hurry Harry, either from constitutional recklessness, or from a secret consciousness how little his appearance required artificial aids, wore everything in a careless, slovenly manner, as if he felt a noble scorn for the trifling accessories of dress and ornaments. Perhaps the peculiar effect of his fine form and great stature was increased rather than lessened, by this unstudied and disdainful air of indifference.
“Come, Deerslayer, fall to, and prove that you have a Delaware stomach, as you say you have had a Delaware edication,” cried Hurry, setting the example by opening his mouth to receive a slice of cold venison steak that would have made an entire meal for a European peasant; “fall to, lad, and prove your manhood on this poor devil of a doe with your teeth, as youve already done with your rifle.”
“Nay, nay, Hurry, theres little manhood in killing a doe, and that too out of season; though there might be some in bringing down a painter or a catamount,” returned the other, disposing himself to comply. “The Delawares have given me my name, not so much on account of a bold heart, as on account of a quick eye, and an actyve foot. There may not be any cowardyce in overcoming a deer, but sartain it is, theres no great valor.”
“The Delawares themselves are no heroes,” muttered Hurry through his teeth, the mouth being too full to permit it to be fairly opened, “or they would never have allowed them loping vagabonds, the Mingos, to make them women.”
“That matter is not rightly understood??”has never been rightly explained,” said Deerslayer earnestly, for he was as zealous a friend as his companion was dangerous as an enemy; “the Mengwe fill the woods with their lies, and misconstruct words and treaties. I have now lived ten years with the Delawares, and know them to be as manful as any other nation, when the proper time to strike comes.”
“Harkee, Master Deerslayer, since we are on the subject, we may as well open our minds to each other in a man-to-man way; answer me one question; you have had so much luck among the game as to have gotten a title, it would seem, but did you ever hit anything human or intelligible: did you ever pull trigger on an inimy that was capable of pulling one upon you”
This question produced a singular collision between mortification and correct feeling, in the bosom of the youth, that was easily to be traced in the workings of his ingenuous countenance. The struggle was short, however; uprightness of heart soon getting the better of false pride and frontier boastfulness.
“To own the truth, I never did,” answered Deerslayer; “seeing that a fitting occasion never offered. The Delawares have been peaceable since my sojourn with em, and I hold it to be onlawful to take the life of man, except in open and generous warfare.”
“What! did you never find a fellow thieving among your traps and skins, and do the law on him with your own hands, by way of saving the magistrates trouble in the settlements, and the rogue himself the cost of the suit!”
“I am no trapper, Hurry,” returned the young man proudly: “I live by the rifle, a wepon at which I will not turn my back on any man of my years, atween the Hudson and the St. Lawrence. I never offer a skin that has not a hole in its head besides them which natur made to see with or to breathe through.”
“Ay, ay, this is all very well, in the animal way, though it makes but a poor figure alongside of scalps and ambushes. Shooting an Indian from an ambush is acting up to his own principles, and now we have what you call a lawful war on our hands, the sooner you wipe that disgrace off your character, the sounder will be your sleep; if it only come from knowing there is one inimy the less prowling in the woods. I shall not frequent your society long, friend Natty, unless you look higher than four-footed beasts to practice your rifle on.”
“Our journey is nearly ended, you say, Master March, and we can part to-night, if you see occasion. I have a frind waiting for me, who will think it no disgrace to consort with a fellow-creatur that has never yet slain his kind.”
“I wish I knew what has brought that skulking Delaware into this part of the country so early in the season,” muttered Hurry to himself, in a way to show equally distrust and a recklessness of its betrayal. “Where did you say the young chief was to give you the meeting”
“At a small round rock, near the foot of the lake, where they tell me, the tribes are given to resorting to make their treaties, and to bury their hatchets. This rock have I often heard the Delawares mention, though lake and rock are equally strangers to me. The country is claimed by both Mingos and Mohicans, and is a sort of common territory to fish and hunt through, in time of peace, though what it may become in war-time, the Lord only knows!”
“Common territory” exclaimed Hurry, laughing aloud. “I should like to know what Floating Tom Hutter would say to that! He claims the lake as his own property, in vartue of fifteen years possession, and will not be likely to give it up to either Mingo or Delaware without a battle for it!”
“And what will the colony say to such a quarrel??”all this country must have some owner, the gentry pushing their cravings into the wilderness, even where they never dare to ventur, in their own persons, to look at the land they own.”
“That may do in other quarters of the colony, Deerslayer, but it will not do here. Not a human being, the Lord excepted, owns a foot of sile in this part of the country. Pen was never put to paper consarning either hill or valley hereaway, as Ive heard old Tom say time and agin, and so he claims the best right to it of any man breathing; and what Tom claims, hell be very likely to maintain.”
“By what Ive heard you say, Hurry, this Floating Tom must be an oncommon mortal; neither Mingo, Delaware, nor pale-face. His possession, too, has been long, by your tell, and altogether beyond frontier endurance. Whats the mans history and natur”
“Why, as to old Toms human natur, it is not much like other mens human natur, but more like a muskrats human natar, seeing that he takes more to the ways of that animal than to the ways of any other fellow-creatur. Some think he was a free liver on the salt water, in his youth, and a companion of a sartain Kidd, who was hanged for piracy, long afore you and I were born or acquainted, and that he came up into these regions, thinking that the kings cruisers could never cross the mountains, and that he might enjoy the plunder peaceably in the woods.”
“Then he was wrong, Hurry; very wrong. A man can enjoy plunder peaceably nowhere.”
“Thats much as his turn of mind may happen to be. Ive known them that never could enjoy it at all, unless it was in the midst of a jollification, and them again that enjoyed it best in a corner. Some men have no peace if they dont find plunder, and some if they do. Human nature is crooked in these matters. Old Tom seems to belong to neither set, as he enjoys his, if plunder he has really got, with his darters, in a very quiet and comfortable way, and wishes for no more.”
“Ay, he has darters, too; Ive heard the Delawares, whove hunted this a way, tell their histories of these young women. Is there no mother, Hurry”
“There was once, as in reason; but she has now been dead and sunk these two good years.”
“Anan” said Deerslayer, looking up at his companion in a little surprise.
“Dead and sunk, I say, and I hope thats good English. The old fellow lowered his wife into the lake, by way of seeing the last of her, as I can testify, being an eye-witness of the ceremony; but whether Tom did it to save digging, which is no easy job among roots, or out of a consait that water washes away sin sooner than arth, is more than I can say.”
“Was the poor woman oncommon wicked, that her husband should take so much pains with her body”
“Not onreasonable; though she had her faults. I consider Judith Hutter to have been as graceful, and about as likely to make a good ind as any woman who had lived so long beyond the sound of church bells; and I conclude old Tom sunk her as much by way of saving pains, as by way of taking it. There was a little steel in her temper, its true, and, as old Hutter is pretty much flint, they struck out sparks once-and-a-while; but, on the whole, they might be said to live amicable like. When they did kindle, the listeners got some such insights into their past lives, as one gets into the darker parts of the woods, when a stray gleam of sunshine finds its way down to the roots of the trees. But Judith I shall always esteem, as its recommend enough to one woman to be the mother of such a creatur as her darter, Judith Hutter!”
“Ay, Judith was the name the Delawares mentioned, though it was pronounced after a fashion of their own. From their discourse, I do not think the girl would much please my fancy.”
“Thy fancy!” exclaimed March, taking fire equally at the indifference and at the presumption of his companion, “what the devil have you to do with a fancy, and that, too, consarning one like Judith You are but a boy??”a sapling, that has scarce got root. Judith has had men among her suitors, ever since she was fifteen; which is now near five years; and will not be apt even to cast a look upon a half-grown creatur like you!”
“It is June, and there is not a cloud atween us and the sun, Hurry, so all this heat is not wanted,” answered the other, altogether undisturbed; “any one may have a fancy, and a squirrel has a right to make up his mind touching a catamount.”
“Ay, but it might not be wise, always, to let the catamount know it,” growled March. “But youre young and thoughtless, and Ill overlook your ignorance. Come, Deerslayer,” he added, with a good-natured laugh, after pausing a moment to reflect, “come, Deerslayer, we are sworn friends, and will not quarrel about a light-minded, jilting jade, just because she happens to be handsome; more especially as you have never seen her. Judith is only for a man whose teeth show the full marks, and its foolish to be afeard of a boy. What did the Delawares say of the hussy for an Indian, after all, has his notions of woman-kind, as well as a white man.”
“They said she was fair to look on, and pleasant of speech; but over-given to admirers, and light-minded.”
“They are devils incarnate! After all, what schoolmaster is a match for an Indian, in looking into natur! Some people think they are only good on a trail or the war-path, but I say that they are philosophers, and understand a man as well as they understand a beaver, and a woman as well as they understand either. Now thats Judiths character to a ribbon! To own the truth to you, Deerslayer, I should have married the gal two years since, if it had not been for two particular things, one of which was this very lightmindedness.”
“And what may have been the other” demanded the hunter, who continued to eat like one that took very little interest in the subject.
“Tother was an insartainty about her having me. The hussy is handsome, and she knows it. Boy, not a tree that is growing in these hills is straighter, or waves in the wind with an easier bend, nor did you ever see the doe that bounded with a more natral motion. If that was all, every tongue would sound her praises; but she has such failings that I find it hard to overlook them, and sometimes I swear Ill never visit the lake again.”
“Which is the reason that you always come back Nothing is ever made more sure by swearing about it.”
“Ah, Deerslayer, you are a novelty in these particulars; keeping as true to education as if you had never left the settlements. With me the case is different, and I never want to clinch an idee, that I do not feel a wish to swear about it. If you knowd all that I know consarning Judith, youd find a justification for a little cussing. Now, the officers sometimes stray over to the lake, from the forts on the Mohawk, to fish and hunt, and then the creatur seems beside herself! You can see in the manner which she wears her finery, and the airs she gives herself with the gallants.”
“That is unseemly in a poor mans darter,” returned Deerslayer gravely, “the officers are all gentry, and can only look on such as Judith with evil intentions.”
“Theres the unsartainty, and the damper! I have my misgivings about a particular captain, and Jude has no one to blame but her own folly, if Im right. On the whole, I wish to look upon her as modest and becoming, and yet the clouds that drive among these hills are not more unsartain. Not a dozen white men have ever laid eyes upon her since she was a child, and yet her airs, with two or three of these officers, are extinguishers!”
“I would think no more of such a woman, but turn my mind altogether to the forest; that will not deceive you, being ordered and ruled by a hand that never wavers.”
“If you knowd Judith, you would see how much easier it is to say this than it would be to do it. Could I bring my mind to be easy about the officers, I would carry the gal off to the Mohawk by force, make her marry me in spite of her whiffling, and leave old Tom to the care of Hetty, his other child, who, if she be not as handsome or as quick-witted as her sister, is much the most dutiful.”
“Is there another bird in the same nest!” asked Deerslayer, raising his eyes with a species of half-awakened curiosity, “the Delawares spoke to me only of one.”
“Thats natral enough, when Judith Hutter and Hetty Hutter are in question. Hetty is only comely, while her sister, I tell thee, boy, is such another as is not to be found atween this and the sea: Judith is as full of wit, and talk, and cunning, as an old Indian orator, while poor Hetty is at the best but compass meant us.”
“Anan” inquired, again, the Deerslayer.
“Why, what the officers call compass meant us, which I understand to signify that she means always to go in the right direction, but sometimes does not know how. Compassfor the pint, and meant us for the intention. No, poor Hetty is what I call on the verge of ignorance, and sometimes she stumbles on one side of the line, and sometimes on tother.”
“Them are beings that the Lord has in his special care,” said Deerslayer, solemnly; “for he looks carefully to all who fall short of their proper share of reason. The red-skins honor and respect them who are so gifted, knowing that the Evil Spirit delights more to dwell in an artful body, than in one that has no cunning to work upon.”
“Ill answer for it, then, that he will not remain long with poor Hetty; for the child is just compass meant us, as I have told you. Old Tom has a feeling for the gal, and so has Judith, quick-witted and glorious as she is herself; else would I not answer for her being altogether safe among the sort of men that sometimes meet on the lake shore.”
“I thought this water an unknown and little-frequented sheet,” observed the Deerslayer, evidently uneasy at the idea of being too near the world.
“Its all that, lad, the eyes of twenty white men never having been laid on it; still, twenty true-bred frontiersmen??”hunters and trappers, and scouts, and the like,??”can do a deal of mischief if they try. T would be an awful thing to me, Deerslayer, did I find Judith married, after an absence of six months!”
“Have you the gals faith, to encourage you to hope otherwise”
“Not at all. I know not how it is: Im good-looking, boy,??”that much I can see in any spring on which the sun shines,??”and yet I could not get the hussy to a promise, or even a cordial willing smile, though she will laugh by the hour. If she has dared to marry in my absence, shed be like to know the pleasures of widowhood afore she is twenty!”
“You would not harm the man she has chosen, Hurry, simply because she found him more to her liking than yourself!”
“Why not! If an enemy crosses my path, will I not beat him out of it! Look at me! am I a man like to let any sneaking, crawling, skin-trader get the better of me in a matter that touches me as near as the kindness of Judith Hutter! Besides, when we live beyond law, we must be our own judges and executioners. And if a man should be found dead in the woods, who is there to say who slew him, even admitting that the colony took the matter in hand and made a stir about it”
“If that man should be Judith Hutters husband, after what has passed, I might tell enough, at least, to put the colony on the trail.”
“You!??”half-grown, venison-hunting bantling! You dare to think of informing against Hurry Harry in so much as a matter touching a mink or a woodchuck!”
“I would dare to speak truth, Hurry, consarning you or any man that ever lived.”
March looked at his companion, for a moment, in silent amazement; then seizing him by the throat with both hands, he shook his comparatively slight frame with a violence that menaced the dislocation of some of the bones. Nor was this done jocularly, for anger flashed from the giants eyes, and there were certain signs that seemed to threaten much more earnestness than the occasion would appear to call for. Whatever might be the real intention of March, and it is probable there was none settled in his mind, it is certain that he was unusually aroused; and most men who found themselves throttled by one of a mould so gigantic, in such a mood, and in a solitude so deep and helpless, would have felt intimidated, and tempted to yield even the right. Not so, however, with Deerslayer. His countenance remained unmoved; his hand did not shake, and his answer was given in a voice that did not resort to the artifice of louder tones, even by way of proving its owners resolution.
“You may shake, Hurry, until you bring down the mountain,” he said quietly, “but nothing beside truth will you shake from me. It is probable that Judith Hutter has no husband to slay, and you may never have a chance to waylay one, else would I tell her of your threat, in the first conversation I held with the gal.”
March released his grip, and sat regarding the other in silent astonishment.
“I thought we had been friends,” he at length added; “but youve got the last secret of mine that will ever enter your ears.”
“I want none, if they are to be like this. I know we live in the woods, Hurry, and are thought to be beyond human laws,??”and perhaps we are so, in fact, whatever it may be in right,??”but there is a law and a law-maker, that rule across the whole continent. He that flies in the face of either need not call me a friend.”
“Damme, Deerslayer, if I do not believe you are at heart a Moravian, and no fair-minded, plain-dealing hunter, as youve pretended to be!”
“Fair-minded or not, Hurry, you will find me as plaindealing in deeds as I am in words. But this giving way to sudden anger is foolish, and proves how little you have sojourned with the red man. Judith Hutter no doubt is still single, and you spoke but as the tongue ran, and not as the heart felt. Theres my hand, and we will say and think no more about it.”
Hurry seemed more surprised than ever; then he burst forth in a loud, good-natured laugh, which brought tears to his eyes. After this he accepted the offered hand, and the parties became friends.
“T would have been foolish to quarrel about an idee,” March cried, as he resumed his meal, “and more like lawyers in the towns than like sensible men in the woods. They tell me, Deerslayer, much ill-blood grows out of idees among the people in the lower counties, and that they sometimes get to extremities upon them.”
“That do they,??”that do they; and about other matters that might better be left to take care of themselves. I have heard the Moravians say that there are lands in which men quarrel even consarning their religion; and if they can get their tempers up on such a subject, Hurry, the Lord have Marcy on em. Howsoever, there is no occasion for our following their example, and more especially about a husband that this Judith Hutter may never see, or never wish to see. For my part, I feel more curosity about the feeble-witted sister than about your beauty. Theres something that comes close to a mans feelins, when he meets with a fellow-creatur that has all the outward show of an accountable mortal, and who fails of being what he seems, only through a lack of reason. This is bad enough in a man, but when it comes to a woman, and she a young, and maybe a winning creatur it touches all the pitiful thoughts his natur has. God knows, Hurry, that such poor things be defenceless enough with all their wits about em; but its a cruel fortun when that great protector and guide fails em.”
“Hark, Deerslayer,??”you know what the hunters, and trappers, and peltry-men in general be; and their best friends will not deny that they are headstrong and given to having their own way, without much bethinking em of other peoples rights or feelins,??”and yet I dont think the man is to be found, in all this region, who would harm Hetty Hutter, if he could; no, not even a red-skin.”
“Therein, frind Hurry, you do the Delawares, at least, and all their allied tribes, only justice, for a red-skin looks upon a being thus struck by Gods power as especially under his care. I rejoice to hear what you say, however, I rejoice to hear it; but as the sun is beginning to turn towards the afternoons sky, had we not better strike the trail again, and make forward, that we may get an opportunity of seeing these wonderful sisters”
Harry March giving a cheerful assent, the remnants of the meal were soon collected; then the travelers shouldered their packs, resumed their arms, and, quitting the little area of light, they again plunged into the deep shadows of the forest.
“Clear, placid Leman I Thy contrasted lake
With the wild world I dwelt in, is a thing
Which warns me, with its stillness, to forsake
Earths troubled waters for a purer spring.
This quiet sail is as a noiseless wing
To waft me from distraction; once I loved
Torn oceans roar, but thy soft murmuring
Sounds sweet as if a sisters voice reproved,
That I with stern delights should eer have been so moved.”
Day had fairly dawned before the young man, whom we have left in the situation described in the last chapter, again opened his eyes. This was no sooner done, than he started up, and looked about him with the eagerness of one who suddenly felt the importance of accurately ascertaining his precise position. His rest had been deep and undisturbed; and when he awoke, it was with a clearness of intellect and a readiness of resources that were very much needed at that particular moment. The sun had not risen, it is true, but the vault of heaven was rich with the winning softness that “brings and shuts the day,” while the whole air was filled with the carols of birds, the hymns of the feathered tribe. These sounds first told Deerslayer the risks he ran. The air, for wind it could scarce be called, was still light, it is true, but it had increased a little in the course of the night, and as the canoes were feathers on the water, they had drifted twice the expected distance; and, what was still more dangerous, had approached so near the base of the mountain that here rose precipitously from the eastern shore, as to render the carols of the birds plainly audible. This was not the worst. The third canoe had taken the same direction, and was slowly drifting towards a point where it must inevitably touch, unless turned aside by a shift of wind, or human hands. In other respects, nothing presented itself to attract attention, or to awaken alarm. The castle stood on its shoal, nearly abreast of the canoes, for the drift had amounted to miles in the course of the night, and the ark lay fastened to its piles, as both had been left so many hours before.
As a matter of course, Deerslayers attention was first given to the canoe ahead. It was already quite near the point, and a very few strokes of the paddle sufficed to tell him that it must touch before he could possibly overtake it. Just at this moment, too, the wind inopportunely freshened, rendering the drift of the light craft much more rapid than certain. Feeling the impossibility of preventing a contact with the land, the young man wisely determined not to heat himself with unnecessary exertions; but first looking to the priming of his piece, he proceeded slowly and warily towards the point, taking care to make a little circuit, that he might be exposed on only one side, as he approached.
The canoe adrift being directed by no such intelligence, pursued its proper way, and grounded on a small sunken rock, at the distance of three or four yards from the shore. Just at that moment, Deerslayer had got abreast of the point, and turned the bows of his own boat to the land; first casting loose his tow, that his movements might be unencumbered. The canoe hung an instant to the rock; then it rose a hairs breadth on an almost imperceptible swell of the water, swung round, floated clear, and reached the strand. All this the young man noted, but it neither quickened his pulses, nor hastened his hand. If any one had been lying in wait for the arrival of the waif, he must be seen, and the utmost caution in approaching the shore became indispensable; if no one was in ambush, hurry was unnecessary. The point being nearly diagonally opposite to the Indian encampment, he hoped the last, though the former was not only possible, but probable; for the savages were prompt in adopting all the expedients of their particular modes of warfare, and quite likely had many scouts searching the shores for craft to carry them off to the castle. As a glance at the lake from any height or projection would expose the smallest object on its surface, there was little hope that either of the canoes would pass unseen; and Indian sagacity needed no instruction to tell which way a boat or a log would drift, when the direction of the wind was known. As Deerslayer drew nearer and nearer to the land, the stroke of his paddle grew slower, his eye became more watchful, and his ears and nostrils almost dilated with the effort to detect any lurking danger. It was a trying moment for a novice, nor was there the encouragement which even the timid sometimes feel, when conscious of being observed and commended. He was entirely alone, thrown on his own resources, and was cheered by no friendly eye, emboldened by no encouraging voice. Notwithstanding all these circumstances, the most experienced veteran in forest warfare could not have behaved better. Equally free from recklessness and hesitation, his advance was marked by a sort of philosophical prudence that appeared to render him superior to all motives but those which were best calculated to effect his purpose. Such was the commencement of a career in forest exploits, that afterwards rendered this man, in his way, and under the limits of his habits and opportunities, as renowned as many a hero whose name has adorned the pages of works more celebrated than legends simple as ours can ever become.
When about a hundred yards from the shore, Deerslayer rose in the canoe, gave three or four vigorous strokes with the paddle, sufficient of themselves to impel the bark to land, and then quickly laying aside the instrument of labor, he seized that of war. He was in the very act of raising the rifle, when a sharp report was followed by the buzz of a bullet that passed so near his body as to cause him involuntarily to start. The next instant Deerslayer staggered, and fell his whole length in the bottom of the canoe. A yell??”it came from a single voice??”followed, and an Indian leaped from the bushes upon the open area of the point, bounding towards the canoe. This was the moment the young man desired. He rose on the instant, and levelled his own rifle at his uncovered foe; but his finger hesitated about pulling the trigger on one whom he held at such a disadvantage. This little delay, probably, saved the life of the Indian, who bounded back into the cover as swiftly as he had broken out of it. In the meantime Deerslayer had been swiftly approaching the land, and his own canoe reached the point just as his enemy disappeared. As its movements had not been directed, it touched the shore a few yards from the other boat; and though the rifle of his foe had to be loaded, there was not time to secure his prize, and carry it beyond danger, before he would be exposed to another shot. Under the circumstances, therefore, he did not pause an instant, but dashed into the woods and sought a cover.
On the immediate point there was a small open area, partly in native grass, and partly beach, but a dense fringe of bushes lined its upper side. This narrow belt of dwarf vegetation passed, one issued immediately into the high and gloomy vaults of the forest. The land was tolerably level for a few hundred feet, and then it rose precipitously in a mountainside. The trees were tall, large, and so free from underbrush, that they resembled vast columns, irregularly scattered, upholding a dome of leaves. Although they stood tolerably close together, for their ages and size, the eye could penetrate to considerable distances; and bodies of men, even, might have engaged beneath their cover, with concert and intelligence.
Deerslayer knew that his adversary must be employed in reloading, unless he had fled. The former proved to be the case, for the young man had no sooner placed himself behind a tree, than he caught a glimpse of the arm of the Indian, his body being concealed by an oak, in the very act of forcing the leathered bullet home. Nothing would have been easier than to spring forward, and decide the affair by a close assault on his unprepared foe; but every feeling of Deerslayer revolted at such a step, although his own life had just been attempted from a cover. He was yet unpracticed in the ruthless expedients of savage warfare, of which he knew nothing except by tradition and theory, and it struck him as unfair advantage to assail an unarmed foe. His color had heightened, his eye frowned, his lips were compressed, and all his energies were collected and ready; but, instead of advancing to fire, he dropped his rifle to the usual position of a sportsman in readiness to catch his aim, and muttered to himself, unconscious that he was speaking??”
“No, no??”that may be red-skin warfare, but its not a Christians gifts. Let the miscreant charge, and then well take it out like men; for the canoe he must not, and shall not have. No, no; let him have time to load, and God will take care of the right!”
All this time the Indian had been so intent on his own movements, that he was even ignorant that his enemy was in the woods. His only apprehension was, that the canoe would be recovered and carried away before he might be in readiness to prevent it. He had sought the cover from habit, but was within a few feet of the fringe of bushes, and could be at the margin of the forest in readiness to fire in a moment. The distance between him and his enemy was about fifty yards, and the trees were so arranged by nature that the line of sight was not interrupted, except by the particular trees behind which each party stood.
His rifle was no sooner loaded, than the savage glanced around him, and advanced incautiously as regarded the real, but stealthily as respected the fancied position of his enemy, until he was fairly exposed. Then Deerslayer stepped from behind its own cover, and hailed him.
“This-a-way, red-skin; this-a-way, if youre looking for me,” he called out. “Im young in war, but not so young as to stand on an open beach to be shot down like an owl, by daylight. It rests on yourself whether its peace or war atween us; for my gifts are white gifts, and Im not one of them that thinks it valiant to slay human mortals, singly, in the woods.”
The savage was a good deal startled by this sudden discovery of the danger he ran. He had a little knowledge of English, however, and caught the drift of the others meaning. He was also too well schooled to betray alarm, but, dropping the butt of his rifle to the earth, with an air of confidence, he made a gesture of lofty courtesy. All this was done with the ease and self-possession of one accustomed to consider no man his superior. In the midst of this consummate acting, however, the volcano that raged within caused his eyes to glare, and his nostrils to dilate, like those of some wild beast that is suddenly prevented from taking the fatal leap.
“Two canoes,” he said, in the deep guttural tones of his race, holding up the number of fingers he mentioned, by way of preventing mistakes; “one for you??”one for me.”
“No, no, Mingo, that will never do. You own neither; and neither shall you have, as long as I can prevent it. I know its war atween your people and mine, but thats no reason why human mortals should slay each other, like savage creaturs that meet in the woods; go your way, then, and leave me to go mine. The world is large enough for us both; and when we meet fairly in battle, why, the Lord will order the fate of each of us.”
“Good!” exclaimed the Indian; “my brother missionary??”great talk; all about Manitou.”
“Not so??”not so, warrior. Im not good enough for the Moravians, and am too good for most of the other vagabonds that preach about in the woods. No, no; Im only a hunter, as yet, though afore the peace is made, tis like enough therell be occasion to strike a blow at some of your people. Still, I wish it to be done in fair fight, and not in a quarrel about the ownership of a miserable canoe.”
“Good! My brother very young??”but he is very wise. Little warrior??”great talker. Chief, sometimes, in council.”
“I dont know this, nor do I say it, Injin,” returned Deerslayer, coloring a little at the ill-concealed sarcasm of the others manner; “I look forward to a life in the woods, and I only hope it may be a peaceable one. All young men must go on the war-path, when theres occasion, but war isnt needfully massacre. Ive seen enough of the last, this very night, to know that Providence frowns on it; and I now invite you to go your own way, while I go mine; and hope that we may part frinds.”
“Good! My brother has two scalp??”gray hair under other. Old wisdom??”young tongue.”
Here the savage advanced with confidence, his hand extended, his face smiling, and his whole bearing denoting amity and respect. Deerslayer met his offered friendship in a proper spirit, and they shook hands cordially, each endeavoring to assure the other of his sincerity and desire to be at peace.
“All have his own,” said the Indian; “my canoe, mine; your canoe, yourn. Go look; if yourn, you keep; if mine, I keep.”
“Thats just, red-skin; thought you must be wrong in thinking the canoe your property. Howsever, seein is believin, and well go down to the shore, where you may look with your own eyes; for its likely youll object to trustin altogether to mine.”
The Indian uttered his favorite exclamation of “Good!” and then they walked side by side, towards the shore. There was no apparent distrust in the manner of either, the Indian moving in advance, as if he wished to show his companion that he did not fear turning his back to him. As they reached the open ground, the former pointed towards Deerslayers boat, and said emphatically??””No mine??”pale-face canoe. This red mans. No want other mans canoe??”want his own.”
“Youre wrong, red-skin, youre altogether wrong. This canoe was left in old Hutters keeping, and is hisn according to law, red or white, till its owner comes to claim it. Heres the seats and the stitching of the bark to speak for themselves. No man ever knowd an Injin to turn off such work.”
“Good! My brother little old??”big wisdom. Injin no make him. White mans work.”
“Im glad you think so, for holding out to the contrary might have made ill blood atween us, every one having a right to take possession of his own. Ill just shove the canoe out of reach of dispute at once, as the quickest way of settling difficulties.”
While Deerslayer was speaking, he put a foot against the end of the light boat, and giving a vigorous shove, he sent it out into the lake a hundred feet or more, where, taking the true current, it would necessarily float past the point, and be in no further danger of coming ashore. The savage started at this ready and decided expedient, and his companion saw that he cast a hurried and fierce glance at his own canoe, or that which contained the paddles. The change of manner, however, was but momentary, and then the Iroquois resumed his air of friendliness, and a smile of satisfaction.
“Good!” he repeated, with stronger emphasis than ever. “Young head, old mind. Know how to settle quarrel. Farewell, brother. He go to house in water??”muskrat house??”Injin go to camp; tell chiefs no find canoe.”
Deerslayer was not sorry to hear this proposal, for he felt anxious to join the females, and he took the offered hand of the Indian very willingly. The parting words were friendly, and while the red man walked calmly towards the wood, with the rifle in the hollow of his arm, without once looking back in uneasiness or distrust, the white man moved towards the remaining canoe, carrying his piece in the same pacific manner, it is true, but keeping his eye fastened on the movements of the other. This distrust, however, seemed to be altogether uncalled for, and as if ashamed to have entertained it, the young man averted his look, and stepped carelessly up to his boat. Here he began to push the canoe from the shore, and to make his other preparations for departing. He might have been thus employed a minute, when, happening to turn his face towards the land, his quick and certain eye told him, at a glance, the imminent jeopardy in which his life was placed. The black, ferocious eyes of the savage were glancing on him, like those of the crouching tiger, through a small opening in the bushes, and the muzzle of his rifle seemed already to be opening in a line with his own body.
Then, indeed, the long practice of Deerslayer, as a hunter did him good service. Accustomed to fire with the deer on the bound, and often when the precise position of the animals body had in a manner to be guessed at, he used the same expedients here. To cock and poise his rifle were the acts of a single moment and a single motion: then aiming almost without sighting, he fired into the bushes where he knew a body ought to be, in order to sustain the appalling countenance which alone was visible. There was not time to raise the piece any higher, or to take a more deliberate aim. So rapid were his movements that both parties discharged their pieces at the same instant, the concussions mingling in one report. The mountains, indeed, gave back but a single echo. Deerslayer dropped his piece, and stood with head erect, steady as one of the pines in the calm of a June morning, watching the result; while the savage gave the yell that has become historical for its appalling influence, leaped through the bushes, and came bounding across the open ground, flourishing a tomahawk. Still Deerslayer moved not, but stood with his unloaded rifle fallen against his shoulders, while, with a hunters habits, his hands were mechanically feeling for the powder-horn and charger. When about forty feet from his enemy, the savage hurled his keen weapon; but it was with an eye so vacant, and a hand so unsteady and feeble, that the young man caught it by the handle as it was flying past him. At that instant the Indian staggered and fell his whole length on the ground.
“I knowd it??”I knowd it!” exclaimed Deerslayer, who was already preparing to force a fresh bullet into his rifle; “I knowd it must come to this, as soon as I had got the range from the creaturs eyes. A man sights suddenly, and fires quick when his own lifes in danger; yes, I knowd it would come to this. I was about the hundredth part of a second too quick for him, or it might have been bad for me! The riptyles bullet has just grazed my side??”but say what you will for or agin em, a red-skin is by no means as sartain with powder and ball as a white man. Their gifts dont seem to lie that a way. Even Chingachgook, great as he is in other matters, isnt downright deadly with the rifle.”
By this time the piece was reloaded, and Deerslayer, after tossing the tomahawk into the canoe, advanced to his victim, and stood over him, leaning on his rifle, in melancholy attention. It was the first instance in which he had seen a man fall in battle??”it was the first fellow-creature against whom he had ever seriously raised his own hand. The sensations were novel; and regret, with the freshness of our better feelings, mingled with his triumph. The Indian was not dead, though shot directly through the body. He lay on his back motionless, but his eyes, now full of consciousness, watched each action of his victor??”as the fallen bird regards the fowler??”jealous of every movement. The man probably expected the fatal blow which was to precede the loss of his scalp; or perhaps he anticipated that this latter act of cruelty would precede his death. Deerslayer read his thoughts; and he found a melancholy satisfaction in relieving the apprehensions of the helpless savage.
“No, no, red-skin,” he said; “youve nothing more to fear from me. I am of a Christian stock, and scalping is not of my gifts. Ill just make sartain of your rifle, and then come back and do you what sarvice I can. Though here I cant stay much longer, as the crack of three rifles will be apt to bring some of your devils down upon me.”
The close of this was said in a sort of a soliloquy, as the young man went in quest of the fallen rifle. The piece was found where its owner had dropped it, and was immediately put into the canoe. Laying his own rifle at its side, Deerslayer then returned and stood over the Indian again.
“All inmity atween you and mes at an ind red-skin,” he said; “and you may set your heart at rest on the score of the scalp, or any further injury. My gifts are white, as Ive told you; and I hope my conduct will be white also.”
Could looks have conveyed all they meant, it is probable Deerslayers innocent vanity on the subject of color would have been rebuked a little; but he comprehended the gratitude that was expressed in the eyes of the dying savage, without in the least detecting the bitter sarcasm that struggled with the better feeling.
“Water!” ejaculated the thirsty and unfortunate creature; “give poor Injin water.”
“Ay, water you shall have, if you drink the lake dry. Ill just carry you down to it that you may take your fill. This is the way, they tell me, with all wounded people??”water is their greatest comfort and delight.”
So saying, Deerslayer raised the Indian in his arms, and carried him to the lake. Here he first helped him to take an attitude in which he could appease his burning thirst; after which he seated himself on a stone, and took the head of his wounded adversary in his own lap, and endeavored to soothe his anguish in the best manner he could.
“It would be sinful in me to tell you your time hadnt come, warrior,” he commenced, “and therefore Ill not say it. Youve passed the middle age already, and, considerin the sort of lives ye lead, your days have been pretty well filled. The principal thing now, is to look forward to what comes next. Neither red-skin nor pale-face, on the whole, calculates much on sleepin forever; but both expect to live in another world. Each has his gifts, and will be judged by em, and I suppose youve thought these matters over enough not to stand in need of sarmons when the trial comes. Youll find your happy hunting-grounds, if youve been a just Injin; if an onjust, youll meet your desarts in another way. Ive my own idees about these things; but youre too old and experenced to need any explanations from one as young as I.”
“Good!” ejaculated the Indian, whose voice retained its depth even as life ebbed away; “young head??”old wisdom!”
“Its sometimes a consolation, when the ind comes, to know that them weve harmed, or tried to harm, forgive us. I suppose natur seeks this relief, by way of getting a pardon on arth; as we never can know whether He pardons, who is all in all, till judgment itself comes. Its soothing to know that any pardon at such times; and that, I conclude, is the secret. Now, as for myself, I overlook altogether your designs agin my life; first, because no harm came of em; next, because its your gifts, and natur, and trainin, and I ought not to have trusted you at all; and, finally and chiefly, because I can bear no ill-will to a dying man, whether heathen or Christian. So put your heart at ease, so far as Im consarned; you know best what other matters ought to trouble you, or what ought to give you satisfaction in so trying a moment.”
It is probable that the Indian had some of the fearful glimpses of the unknown state of being which God, in mercy, seems at times to afford to all the human race; but they were necessarily in conformity with his habits and prejudices. Like most of his people, and like too many of our own, he thought more of dying in a way to gain applause among those he left than to secure a better state of existence hereafter. While Deerslayer was speaking, his mind was a little bewildered, though he felt that the intention was good; and when he had done, a regret passed over his spirit that none of his own tribe were present to witness his stoicism, under extreme bodily suffering, and the firmness with which he met his end. With the high innate courtesy that so often distinguishes the Indian warrior before he becomes corrupted by too much intercourse with the worst class of the white men, he endeavored to express his thankfulness for the others good intentions, and to let him understand that they were appreciated.
“Good!” he repeated, for this was an English word much used by the savages, “good! young head; young heart, too. Old heart tough; no shed tear. Hear Indian when he die, and no want to lie??”what he call him”
“Deerslayer is the name I bear now, though the Delawares have said that when I get back from this war-path, I shall have a more manly title, provided I can arn one.”
“That good name for boy??”poor name for warrior. He get better quick. No fear there,”??”the savage had strength sufficient, under the strong excitement he felt, to raise a hand and tap the young man on his breast,??””eye sartain??”finger lightning??”aim, death??”great warrior soon. No Deerslayer??”Hawkeye??”Hawkeye??”Hawkeye. Shake hand.”
Deerslayer??”or Hawkeye, as the youth was then first named, for in after years he bore the appellation throughout all that region??”Deerslayer took the hand of the savage, whose last breath was drawn in that attitude, gazing in admiration at the countenance of a stranger, who had shown so much readiness, skill, and firmness, in a scene that was equally trying and novel. When the reader remembers it is the highest gratification an Indian can receive to see his enemy betray weakness, he will be better able to appreciate the conduct which had extorted so great a concession at such a moment.
“His spirit has fled!” said Deerslayer, in a suppressed, melancholy voice. “Ahs me! Well, to this we must all come, sooner or later; and he is happiest, let his skin be what color it may, who is best fitted to meet it. Here lies the body of no doubt a brave warrior, and the soul is already flying towards its heaven or hell, whether that be a happy hunting ground, a place scant of game, regions of glory, according to Moravian doctrine, or flames of fire! So it happens, too, as regards other matters! Here have old Hutter and Hurry Harry got themselves into difficulty, if they havent got themselves into torment and death, and all for a bounty that luck offers to me in what many would think a lawful and suitable manner. But not a farthing of such money shall cross my hand. White I was born, and white will I die; clinging to color to the last, even though the Kings majesty, his governors, and all his councils, both at home and in the colonies, forget from what they come, and where they hope to go, and all for a little advantage in warfare. No, no, warrior, hand of mine shall never molest your scalp, and so your soul may rest in peace on the pint of making a decent appearance when the body comes to join it, in your own land of spirits.”
Deerslayer arose as soon as he had spoken. Then he placed the body of the dead man in a sitting posture, with its back against the little rock, taking the necessary care to prevent it from falling or in any way settling into an attitude that might be thought unseemly by the sensitive, though wild notions of a savage. When this duty was performed, the young man stood gazing at the grim countenance of his fallen foe, in a sort of melancholy abstraction. As was his practice, however, a habit gained by living so much alone in the forest, he then began again to give utterance to his thoughts and feelings aloud.
“I didnt wish your life, red-skin,” he said “but you left me no choice atween killing or being killed. Each party acted according to his gifts, I suppose, and blame can light on neither. You were treacherous, according to your natur in war, and I was a little oversightful, as Im apt to be in trusting others. Well, this is my first battle with a human mortal, though its not likely to be the last. I have fout most of the creaturs of the forest, such as bears, wolves, painters, and catamounts, but this is the beginning with the red-skins. If I was Injin born, now, I might tell of this, or carry in the scalp, and boast of the explite afore the whole tribe; or, if my inimy had only been even a bear, twould have been natral and proper to let everybody know what had happened; but I dont well see how Im to let even Chingachgook into this secret, so long as it can be done only by boasting with a white tongue. And why should I wish to boast of it ater all Its slaying a human, although he was a savage; and how do I know that he was a just Injin; and that he has not been taken away suddenly to anything but happy hunting-grounds. When its onsartain whether good or evil has been done, the wisest way is not to be boastful??”still, I should like Chingachgook to know that I havent discredited the Delawares, or my training!”