The Pioneers by James Fenimore Cooper
"Speak on, my dearest father!
It was a mild and soft morning, when Marmaduke and Richard mounted their horses and proceeded on the expedition that had so long been uppermost in the thoughts of the latter; and Elizabeth and Louisa appeared at the same instant in the hall, attired for an excursion on foot.
The head of Miss Grant was covered by a neat little hat of green silk, and her modest eyes peered from under its shade, with the soft languor that characterized her whole appearance; but Miss Temple trod her fatherís wide apartments with the step of their mistress, holding in her hands, dangling by one of its ribbons, the gypsy that was to conceal the glossy locks that curled around her polished fore head in rich profusion.
"What? are you for a walk, Bess?" cried the Judge, suspending his movements for a moment to smile, with a fatherís fondness, at the display of womanly grace and beauty that his child presented. "Remember the heats of July, my daughter; nor venture further than thou canst retrace before the meridian. Where is thy parasol, girl? thou wilt lose tine polish of that brow, under this sun and southern breeze, unless thou guard it with unusual care."
"I shall then do more honor to my connections," returned the smiling daughter. "Cousin Richard has a bloom that any lady might envy. At present the resemblance between us is so trifling that no stranger would know us to be Ďsistersí children. Ď "
"Grandchildren, you mean, Cousin Bess," said the sheriff. "But on, Judge Temple; time and tide wait for no man; and if you take my counsel, sir, in twelve months from this day you may make an umbrella for your daughter of her camelís-hair shawl, and have its frame of solid silver. I ask nothing for myself, ĎDuke; you have been a good friend to me already; besides, all that I have will go to Bess there, one of these melancholy days, so itís as long as itís short, whether I or you leave it. But we have a dayís ride before us, sir; so move forward, or dismount, and say you wonít go at once."
"Patience, patience, Dickon, "returned the Judge, checking his horse and turning again to his daughter. "If thou art for the mountains, love, stray not too deep into the forest. I entreat thee; for, though it is done often with impunity, there is sometimes danger."
"Not at this season, I believe, sir," said Elizabeth; "for, I will confess, it is the intention of Louisa and myself to stroll among the hills."
"Less at this season than in the winter, dear; but still there may be danger in venturing too far. But though thou art resolute, Elizabeth, thou art too much like thy mother not to be prudent."
The eyes of the parent turned reluctantly from his child, and the Judge and sheriff rode slowly through the gateway, and disappeared among the buildings of the village.
During this short dialogue, young Edwards stood, an attentive listener, holding in his hand a fishing-rod, the day and the season having tempted him also to desert the house for the pleasure of exercise in the air. As the equestrians turned through the gate, he approached the young females, who were already moving toward the street, and was about to address them, as Louisa paused, and said. quickly:
"Mr. Edwards would speak to us, Elizabeth."
The other stopped also, and turned to the youth, politely but with a slight coldness in her air, that sensibly checked the freedom with which he had approached them,
"Your father is not pleased that you should walk unattended in the hills, Miss Temple. If I might offer my self as a protector--" "Does my father select Mr. Oliver Edwards as the organ of his displeasure?" interrupted the lady.
"Good Heaven! you misunderstood my meaning; I should have said uneasy or not pleased. I am his servant, madam, and in consequence yours. I repeat that, with your consent, I will change my rod for a fowling- piece, and keep nigh you on the mountain,"
"I thank you, Mr. Edwards; but where there is no danger, no protection is required. We are not yet reduced to wandering among these free hills accompanied by a body guard. If such a one is necessary there he is, however.-- Here, Brave--Brave----my noble Brave!" The huge mastif that has been already mentioned, appeared from his kennel, gaping and stretching himself with pampered laziness; but as his mistress again called:
"Come, dear Brave; once you have served your master well; let us see how you can do your duty by his daughter"--the dog wagged his tail, as if he understood her language, walked with a stately gait to her side, where he seated himself, and looked up at her face, with an intelligence but little inferior to that which beamed in her own lovely countenance.
She resumed her walk, but again paused, after a few steps, and added, in tones of conciliation:
"You can be serving us equally, and, I presume, more agreeably to yourself, Mr. Edwards, by bringing us a string of your favorite perch for the dinner-table,"
When they again began to walk Miss Temple did not look back to see how the youth bore this repulse; but the head of Louisa was turned several times before they reached the gate on that considerate errand.
"I am afraid, Elizabeth," she said, " that we have mortified Oliver. He is still standing where we left him, leaning on his rod. Perhaps he thinks us proud."
"He thinks justly," exclaimed Miss Temple, as if awaking from a deep musing; "he thinks justly, then. We are too proud to admit of such particular attentions from a young man in an equivocal situation. What! make him the companion of our most private walks! It is pride, Louisa, but it is the pride of a woman."
It was several minutes before Oliver aroused himself from the abstracted position in which he was standing when Louisa last saw him; but when he did, he muttered something rapidly and incoherently, and, throwing his rod over his shoulder, he strode down the walk through the gate and along one of the streets of the village, until he reached the lake-shore, with the air of an emperor. At this spot boats were kept for the use of Judge Temple and his family. The young man threw himself into a light skiff, and, seizing the oars, he sent it across the lake toward the hut of Leather-Stocking, with a pair of vigorous arms. By the time he had rowed a quarter of a mile, his reflections were less bitter; and when he saw the bushes that lined the shore in front of Nattyís habitation gliding by him, as if they possessed the motion which proceeded from his own efforts, he was quite cooled in mind, though somewhat heated in body. It is quite possible that the very same reason which guided the conduct of Miss Temple suggested itself to a man of the breeding and education of the youth; and it is very certain that, if such were the case, Elizabeth rose instead of falling in the estimation of Mr. Edwards.
The oars were now raised from the water, and the boat shot close in to the land, where it lay gently agitated by waves of its own creating, while the young man, first casting a cautious and searching glance around him in every direction, put a small whistle to his mouth, and blew a long, shrill note that rang among the echoing rocks behind the hut. At this alarm, the hounds of Natty rushed out of their bark kennel, and commenced their long, piteous howls, leaping about as if half frantic, though restrained by the leashes of buckskin by which they were fastened.
"Quiet, Hector, quiet," said Oliver, again applying his whistle to his mouth, and drawing out notes still more shrill than before. No reply was made, the dogs having returned to their kennel at the sound of his voice.
Edwards pulled the bows of the boat on the shore, and landing, ascended the beach and approached the door of the cabin. The fastenings were soon undone, and he entered, closing the door after him, when all was as silent, in that retired spot, as if the foot of man had never trod the wilderness. The sounds of the hammers, that were in incessant motion in the village, were faintly heard across the water; but the dogs had crouched into their lairs, satisfied that none but the privileged had approached the forbidden ground.
A quarter of an hour elapsed before the youth reappeared, when he fastened the door again, and spoke kindly to the hounds. The dogs came out at the well-known tones, and the slut jumped upon his person, whining and barking as if entreating Oliver to release her from prison. But old Hector raised his nose to the light current of air, and opened a long howl, that might have been heard for a mile. "Ha! what do you scent, old veteran of the woods?" cried Edwards. "If a beast, it is a bold one; and if a man, an impudent."
He sprang through the top of a pine that had fallen near the side of the hut, and ascended a small hillock that sheltered the cabin to the south, where he caught a glimpse of the formal figure of Hiram Doolittle, as it vanished, with unusual rapidity for the architect, amid the bushes.
"What can that fellow be wanting here?" muttered Oliver. "He has no business in this quarter, unless it be curiosity, which is an endemic in these woods. But against that I will effectually guard, though the dogs should take a liking to his ugly visage, and let him pass." The youth returned to the door, while giving vent to this soliloquy, and completed the fastenings by placing a small chain through a staple, and securing it there by a padlock. "He is a pettifogger, and surely must know that there is such a thing as feloniously breaking into a manís house."
Apparently well satisfied with this arrangement, the youth again spoke to the hounds; and, descending to the shore, he launched his boat, and taking up his oars, pulled off into the lake.
There were several places in the Otsego that were celebrated fishing- ground for perch. One was nearly opposite to the cabin, and another, still more famous, was near a point, at the distance of a mile and a half above it, under the brow of the mountain, and on the same side of the lake with the hut. Oliver Edwards pulled his little skiff to the first, and sat, for a minute, undecided whether to continue there, with his eyes on the door of the cabin, or to change his ground, with a view to get superior game. While gazing about him, he saw the light-colored bark canoe of his old companions riding on the water, at the point we have mentioned, and containing two figures, that he at once knew to be Mohegan and the Leather-Stocking. This decided the matter, and the youth pulled, in a very few minutes, to the place where his friends were fishing, and fastened his boat to the light vessel of the Indian.
The old men received Oliver with welcoming nods, but neither drew his line from the water nor in the least varied his occupation. When Edwards had secured his own boat, he baited his hook and threw it into the lake, with out speaking.
"Did you stop at the wigwam, lad, as you rowed past?" asked Natty.
"Yes, and I found all safe; but that carpenter and justice of the peace, Mr., or as they call him, Squire, Doolittle, was prowling through the woods. I made sure of the door before I left the hut, and I think he is too great a coward to approach the hounds."
"There's little to be said in favor of that man," said Natty, while he drew in a perch and baited his hook. "He craves dreadfully to come into the cabin, and has as good as asked me as much to my face; but I put him off with unsartain answers, so that he is no wiser than Solo mon. This comes of having so many laws that such a man may be called on to intarpret them."
"I fear he is more knave than fool," cried Edwards; "he makes a tool of, that simple man, the sheriff; and I dread that his impertinent curiosity may yet give us much trouble."
"If he harbors too much about the cabin, lad, Iíll shoot the creaturí," said the Leather-Stocking, quite simply.
"No, no, Natty, you must remember the law," said Edwards, "or we shall have you in trouble; and that, old man, would be an evil day and sore tidings to us all."
"Would it, boy?í exclaimed the hunter, raising his eyes, with a look of friendly interest, toward the youth. "You have the true blood in your veins, Mr. Oliver; and Iíll support it to the face of Judge Temple or in any court in the country. How is it, John? Do I speak the true word? Is the lad stanch, and of the right blood?"
"He is a Delaware," said Mohegan, "and my brother. The Young Eagle is brave, and he will be a chief. No harm can come."
"Well, well," cried the youth impatiently, "say no more about it, my good friends; if I am not all that your partiality would make me, I am yours through life, in prosperity as in poverty. We will talk of other matters."
The old hunters yielded to his wish, which seemed to be their law. For a short time a profound silence prevailed, during which each man was very busy with his hook and line, but Edwards, probably feeling that it remained with him to renew the discourse, soon observed, with the air of one who knew not what he said:
"How beautifully tranquil and glassy the lake is! Saw you it ever more calm and even than at this moment, Natty?"
"I have known the Otsego water for five-and-forty years," said Leather--Stocking, " and I will say that for it, which is, that a cleaner spring or better fishing is not to be found in the land. Yes, yes; I had the place to myself once, and a cheerful time I had of it. The game was plenty as heart could wish; and there was none to meddle with the ground unless there might have been a hunting party of the Delawares crossing the hills, or, maybe, a rifling scout of them thieves, the Iroquois. There was one or two Frenchmen that squatted in the flats further west, and married squaws; and some of the Scotch- Irishers, from the Cherry Valley, would come on to the lake, and borrow my canoe to take a mess of parch, or drop a line for salmon- trout; but, in the main, it was a cheerful place, and I had but little to disturb me in it. John would come, and John knows." Mohegan turned his dark face at this appeal; and, moving his hand forward with graceful motion of assent, he spoke, using the Delaware language:
"The land was owned by my people; we gave it to my brother in council-- to the Fire-eater; and what the Delawares give lasts as long as the waters run. Hawk-eye smoked at that council, for we loved him."
"No, no, John," said Natty I was no chief, seeing that I knowed nothing of scholarship, and had a white skin. But it was a comfortable hunting-ground then, lad, and would have been so this day, but for the money of Marmaduke Temple, and the twisty ways of the law."
"It must have been a sight of melancholy pleasure in deed," said Edwards, while his eye roved along the shores and over the hills, where the clearings, groaning with the golden corn, were cheering the forest with the signs of life, "to have roamed over these mountains and along this sheet of beautiful water, without a living soul to speak to, or to thwart your humor."
"Havenít I said it was cheerful?" said Leather-Stocking. "Yes, yes, when the trees begain to be covered with leaves, and the ice was out of the hake, it was a second paradise. I have travelled the woods for fifty-three years, and have made them my home for more than forty, and I can say that I have met but one place that was more to my liking; and that was only to eyesight, and not for hunting or fishing."
"And where was that?" asked Edwards.
"Where! why, up on the Catskills. I used often to go up into the mountains after wolvesí skins and bears; once they paid me to get them a stuffed painter, and so I often went. Ďthereís a place in them hills that I used to climb to when I wanted to see the carryings on of the world, that would well pay any man for a barked shin or a torn moccasin. You know the Catskills, lad; for you must have seen them on your left, as you followed the river up from York, looking as blue as a piece of clear sky, and holding the clouds on their tops, as the smoke curls over the head of an Indian chief at the council fire. Well, thereís the High-peak and the Round-top, which lay back like a father and mother among their children, seeing they are far above all the other hills. But the place I mean is next to the river, where one of the ridges juts out a little from the rest, and where the rocks fall, for the best part of a thousand feet, so much up and down, that a man standing on their edges is fool enough to think he can jump from top to bottom."
"What see you when you get there?" asked Edwards,
"Creation," said Natty, dropping the end of his rod into the water, and sweeping one hand around him in a circle, "all creation, lad. I was on that hill when Vaughan burned ĎSopus in the last war; and I saw the vessels come out of the Highlands as plain as I can see that lime- scow rowing into the Susquehanna, though one was twenty times farther from me than the other. The river was in sight for seventy miles, looking like a curled shaving under my feet, though it was eight long miles to its banks. I saw the hills in the Hampshire grants, the highlands of the river, and all that God had done, or man could do, far as eye could reach--you know that the Indians named me for my sight, lad ; and from the flat on the top of that mountain, I have often found the place where Albany stands. And as for ĎSopus, the day the royal troops burnt the town, the smoke seemed so nigh, that I thought I could hear the screeches of the women."
"It must have been worth the toil to meet with such a glorious view."
If being the best part of a mile in the air and having menís farms and houses your feet, with rivers looking like ribbons, and mountains bigger than the ĎVision seeming to be hay-stacks of green grass under you, gives any satisfaction to a man, I can recommend the spot. When I first came into the woods to live, I used to have weak spells when I felt lonesome: and then I would go into the Catskills, and spend a few days on that hill to look at the ways of man; but itís now many a year since I felt any such longings, and I am getting too old for rugged rocks. But thereís a place, a short two miles back of that very hill, that in late times I relished better than the mountains: for it was more covered with the trees, and nateral."
"And where was that?" inquired Edwards, whose curiosity was strongly excited by the simple description of the hunter.
"Why, thereís a fall in the hills where the water of two little ponds. that lie near each other, breaks out of their bounds and runs over the rocks into the valley. The stream is, maybe, such a one as would turn a mill, if so useless thing was wanted in the wilderness. But the hand that made that ĎLeapí never made a mill. There the water comes crooking and winding among the rocks, first so slow that a trout could swim in it, and then starting and running like a creaturí that wanted to make a far spring, till it gets to where the mountain divides, like the cleft hoof of a deer, leaving a deep hollow for the brook to tumble into. The first pitch is nigh two hundred feet, and the water looks like flakes of driven snow afore it touches the bottom; and there the stream gathers itself together again for a new start, and maybe flutters over fifty feet of flat rock before it falls for another hundred, when it jumps about from shelf to shelf, first turning this-away and then turning that-away, striving to get out of the hollow, till it finally comes to the plain."
"I have never heard of this spot before; it is not mentioned in the books."
"I never read a book in my life," said Leather-Stocking; "and how should a man who has lived in towns and schools know anything about the wonders of the woods? No, no, lad; there has that little stream of water been playing among the hills since He made the world, and not a dozen white men have ever laid eyes on it. The rock sweeps like mason-work, in a half-round, on both sides of the fall, and shelves over the bottom for fifty feet; so that when Iíve been sitting at the foot of the first pitch, and my hounds have run into the caverns behind the sheet of water, theyíve looked no bigger than so many rabbits. To my judgment, lad, itís the best piece of work that Iíve met with in the woods; and none know how often the hand of God is seen in the wilderness, but them that rove it for a manís life,"
"What becomes of the water? In which direction does it run? Is it a tributary of the Delaware?"
"Anan!" said Natty.
"Does the water run into the Delaware?"
"No, no; itís a drop for the old Hudson, and a merry time it has till it gets down off the mountain. Iíve sat on the shelving rock many a long hour, boy, and watched the bubbles as they shot by me, and thought how long it would be before that very water, which seemed made for the wilderness, would be under the bottom of a vessel, and tossing in the salt sea. It is a spot to make a man solemnize. You go right down into the valley that lies to the east of the High Peak, where, in the fall of the year, thousands of acres of woods are before your eyes, in the deep hollow, and along the side of the mountain, painted like ten thousand rainbows, by no hand of man, though without the ordering of Godís providence."
"You are eloquent, Leather-Stocking," exclaimed the youth.
"Anan!" repeated Natty.
"The recollection of the sight has warmed your blood, old man. How many years is it since you saw the place?"
The hunter made no reply; but, bending his ear near the water, he sat holding his breath, and listening attentively as if to some distant sound. At length he raised his head, and said:
"If I hadnít fastened the hounds with my own hands, with a fresh leash of green buckskin, Iíd take a Bible oath that I heard old Hector ringing his cry on the mountain."
"It is impossible," said Edwards; "it is not an hour since I saw him in his kennel."
By this time the attention of Mohegan was attracted to the sounds; but, notwithstanding the youth was both silent and attentive, he could hear nothing but the lowing of some cattle from the western hills. He looked at the old men, Natty sitting with his hand to his ear, like a trumpet, and Mohegan bending forward, with an arm raised to a level with his face, holding the forefinger elevated as a signal for attention, and laughed aloud at what he deemed to be imaginary sounds.
"Laugh if you will, boy," said Leather-Stocking, " the hounds be out, and are hunting a deer, No man can deceive me in such a matter. I wouldnít have had the thing happen for a beaverís skin. Not that I care for the law; but the venison is lean now, and the dumb things run the flesh off their own bones for no good. Now do you hear the hounds?"
Edwards started, as a full cry broke on his ear, changing from the distant sounds that were caused by some intervening hill, to confused echoes that rang among the rocks that the dogs were passing, and then directly to a deep and hollow baying that pealed under the forest under the Lake shore. These variations in the tones of the hounds passed with amazing rapidity; and, while his eyes were glancing along the margin of the water, a tearing of the branches of the alder and dogwood caught his attention, at a spot near them and at the next moment a noble buck sprang on the shore, and buried himself in the lake. A full-mouthed cry followed, when Hector and the slut shot through the opening in the bushes, and darted into the lake also, bearing their breasts gallantly against the water