The Pioneers by James Fenimore Cooper
"And to avoid the foe’s pursuit,
As the shades of evening approached, the jurors, wit nesses, and other attendants on the court began to disperse, and before nine o’clock the village was quiet, and its streets nearly deserted. At that hour Judge Temple and his daughter, followed at a short distance by Louisa Grant, walked slowly down the avenue, under the slight shadows of the young poplars, holding the following discourse:
"You can best soothe his wounded spirit, my child," said Marmaduke; "but it will be dangerous to touch on the nature of his offence; the sanctity of the laws must be respected."
"Surely, sir," cried the impatient Elizabeth, "those laws that condemn a man like the Leather-Stocking to so severe a punishment, for an offence that even I must think very venial, cannot be perfect in themselves."
"Thou talkest of what thou dost not understand, Elizabeth," returned her father. "Society cannot exist without wholesome restraints. Those restraints cannot be inflicted without security and respect to the persons of those who administer them; and it would sound ill indeed to report that a judge had extended favor to a convicted criminal, because he had saved the life of his child."
"I see--I see the difficulty of your situation, dear sir," cried the daughter; "but, in appreciating the offence of poor Natty, I cannot separate the minister of the law from the man."
"There thou talkest as a woman, child; it is not for an assault on Hiram Doolittle, but for threatening the life of a constable, who was in the performance of--"
"It is immaterial whether it be one or the other," interrupted Miss Temple, with a logic that contained more feeling than reason; "I know Natty to be innocent, and thinking so I must think all wrong who oppress him."
"His judge among the number! thy father, Elizabeth?"
"Nay, nay, nay; do not put such questions to me; give me my commission, father, and let me proceed to execute it."
The Judge paused a moment, smiling fondly on his child, and then dropped his hand affectionately on her shoulder, as he answered:
"Thou hast reason, Bess, and much of it, too, but thy heart lies too near thy head, But listen; in this pocketbook are two hundred dollars. Go to the prison--there are none in this pace to harm thee--give this note to the jailer, and, when thou seest Bumppo, say what thou wilt to the poor old man; give scope to the feeling of thy warm heart; but try to remember, Elizabeth, that the laws alone remove us from the condition of the savages; that he has been criminal, and that his judge was thy father."
Miss Temple made no reply, but she pressed the hand that held the pocket-book to her bosom, and, taking her friend by the arm, they issued together from the inclosure into the principal street of the village.
As they pursued their walk in silence, under the row of houses, where the deeper gloom of the evening effectually concealed their persons, no sound reached them, excepting the slow tread of a yoke of oxen, with the rattling of j a cart, that were moving along the street in the same direction with themselves, The figure of the teamster was just discernible by the dim light, lounging by the side of his cattle with a listless air, as if fatigued by the toil of the day. At the corner, where the jail stood, the progress of the ladies was impeded, for a moment, by the oxen, who were turned up to the side of the building, and given a lock of hay, which they had carried on their necks, as a reward for their patient labor, The whole of this was so natural, and so common, that Elizabeth saw nothing to induce a second glance at the team, until she heard the teamster speaking to his cattle in a low voice:
"Mind yourself, Brindle; will you, sir! will you!" The language itself was so unusual to oxen, with which all who dwell in a new country are familiar; but there was something in the voice, also, that startled Miss Temple On turning the corner, she necessarily approached the man, and her look was enabled to detect the person of Oliver Edwards, concealed under the coarse garb of a teamster. Their eyes met at the same instant, and, not- t withstanding the gloom, and the enveloping cloak of Elizabeth, the recognition was mutual.
"Miss Temple!" "Mr. Edwards!" were exclaimed simultaneously, though a feeling that seemed common to both rendered the words nearly inaudible.
"Is it possible!" exclaimed Edwards, after the moment of doubt had passed; "do I see you so nigh the jail! but you are going to the rectory: I beg pardon, Miss Grant, I believe; I did not recognize you at first."
The sigh which Louisa tittered was so faint, that it was only heard by Elizabeth, who replied quickly, "We are going not only to the jail, Mr. Edwards' but into it. We wish to show the Leather-Stocking that we do not forget his services, and that at the same time we must be just, we are also grateful. I suppose you are on a similar errand; but let me beg that you will give us leave to precede you ten minutes. Good-night, sir; I-- I--am quite sorry, Mr. Edwards, to see you reduced to such labor; I am sure my father would--"
"I shall wait your pleasure, madam," interrupted the youth coldly. "May I beg that you will not mention my being here?"
"Certainly," said Elizabeth, returning his bow by a slight inclination of her head, and urging the tardy Louisa forward. As they entered the jailer’s house, however, Miss Grant found leisure to whisper:
"Would it not be well to offer part of your money to Oliver? half of it will pay the fine of Bumppo; and he is so unused to hardships! I am sure my father will subscribe much of his little pittance, to place him in a station that is more worthy of him."
The involuntary smile that passed over the features of Elizabeth was blended with an expression of deep and heartfelt pity. She did not reply, however, and the appearance of the jailer soon recalled the thoughts of both to the object of their visit.
The rescue of the ladies, and their consequent interest in his prisoner, together with the informal manners that prevailed in the country, all united to prevent any surprise on the part of the jailer, at their request for admission to Bumppo. The note of Judge Temple, however, would have silenced all objections, if he had felt them and he led the way without hesitation to the apartment that held the prisoners. The instant the key was put into the lock, the hoarse voice of Benjamin was heard, demanding:
"Yo hoy! who comes there?"
"Some visitors that you’ll be glad to see," returned the jailer. "What have you done to the lock, that it won’t turn"
"Handsomely, handsomely, master," cried the steward: "I have just drove a nail into a berth alongside of this here bolt, as a stopper, d’ye see, so that Master Doo-but little can’t be running in and breezing up another fight atwixt us: for, to my account, there’ll be but a han-yan with me soon, seeing that they’ll mulct me of my Spaniards, all the same as if I’d over-flogged the lubber. Throw your ship into the wind, and lay by for a small matter, will ye? and I’ll soon clear a passage."
The sounds of hammering gave an assurance that the steward was in earnest, and in a short time the lock yielded, when the door was opened.
Benjamin had evidently been anticipating the seizure of his money, for he had made frequent demands on the favorite cask at the "Bold Dragoon," during the afternoon and evening, and was now in that state which by marine imagery is called "half-seas-over." It was no easy thing to destroy the balance of the old tar by the effects of liquor, for, as he expressed it himself, "he was too low-rigged not to carry sail in all weathers;" but he was precisely in that condition which is so expressively termed "muddy." When he perceived who the visitors were, he retreated to the side of the room where his pallet lay, and, regardless of the presence of his young mistress, seated himself on it with an air of great sobriety, placing his back firmly against the wall.
"If you undertake to spoil my locks in this manner, Mr. Pump," said the jailer, "I shall put a stopper, as you call it, on your legs, and tie you down to your bed."
"What for should ye, master?" grumbled Benjamin; "I’ve rode out one squall to-day anchored by the heels, and I wants no more of them. Where’s the harm o’ doing all the same as yourself? Leave that there door free out board, and you’ll find no locking inboard, I’ll promise ye."
"I must shut up for the night at nine," said the jailer, "and it’s now forty-two minutes past eight." He placed the little candle on a rough pine table, and withdrew.
"Leather-Stocking!" said Elizabeth, when the key of the door was turned on them again, "my good friend, Leather-Stocking! I have come on a message of gratitude. Had you submitted to the search, worthy old man, the death of the deer would have been a trifle, and all would have been well------"
"Submit to the sarch!" interrupted Natty, raising his face from resting on his knees, without rising from the corner where he had seated himself; "d’ye think gal, I would let such a varmint into my hut? No, no--I wouldn’t have opened the door to your own sweet countenance then. But they are welcome to search among the coals and ashes now; they’ll find only some such heap as is to be seen at every pot-ashery in the mountains."
The old man dropped his face again on one hand, and seemed to be lost in melancholy.
"The hut can be rebuilt, and made better than before," returned Miss Temple;" and it shall be my office to see it done, when your imprisonment is ended."
Can ye raise the dead, child?" said Natty, in a sorrowful voice: "can ye go into the place where you’ve laid your fathers, and mothers, and children, and gather together their ashes, and make the same men and women of them as afore? You do not know what ‘tis to lay your head for more than forty years under the cover of the same logs, and to look at the same things for the better part of I a man’s life. You are young yet, child, but you are one of the most precious of God’s creatures. I had hoped for ye that it might come to pass, but it’s all over now; this, put to that, will drive the thing quite out of his mind for ever."
Miss Temple must have understood the meaning of the old man better than the other listeners; for while Louisa stood innocently by her side, commiserating the griefs of the hunter, she bent her head aside, so as to conceal her features. The action and the feeling that caused it lasted but a moment.
"Other logs, and better, though, can be had, and shall be found for you, my old defender," she continued. "Your confinement will soon be over, and, before that time arrives, I shall have a house prepared for you, where I you may spend the close of your long and harmless life in ease and plenty."
"Ease and plenty! house!" repeated Natty, slowly. "You mean well, you mean well, and I quite mourn that it cannot be; but he has seen me a sight and a laughing-stock for--"
"Damn your stocks," said Benjamin, flourishing his bottle with one hand, from which he had been taking hasty and repeated draughts, while he made gestures of disdain with the other: "who cares for his bilboes? There’s a leg that been stuck up on end like a jibboom for an hour. d’ye see, and what’s it the worse for’t, ha? canst tell me, what’s it the worser, ha?"
"I believe you forget, Mr. Pump, in whose presence you are," said Elizabeth.
"Forget you, Miss Lizzy?" returned the steward; "if I do, dam’me; you are not to be forgot, like Goody Pretty-bones, up at the big house there. I say, old sharpshooter, she may have pretty bones, but I can’t say so much for her flesh, d’ye see, for she looks somewhat like anatomy with another man’s jacket on. Now for the skin of her face, it’s all the same as a new topsail with a taut bolt-rope, being snug at the leeches, but all in a bight about the inner cloths,"
"Peace--I command you to be silent, sir!" said Elizabeth.
"Ay, ay, ma’am," returned the steward. "You didn’t say I shouldn’t drink, though."
"We will not speak of what is to become of others," said Miss Temple, turning again to the hunter--" but of your own fortunes, Natty. It shall be my care to see that you pass the rest of your days in ease and plenty."
"Ease and plenty!" again repeated the Leather-Stocking; "what ease can there be to an old man, who must walk a mile across the open fields, before he can find a shade to hide him from a scorching sun! or what plenty is there where you hunt a day, and not start a buck, or see anything bigger than a mink, or maybe a stray fox! Ah! I shall have a hard time after them very beavers, for this fine. I must go low toward the Pennsylvania line in search of the creatures, maybe a hundred mile; for they are not to be got here-away. No, no--your betterments and clearings have druv the knowing things out of the country, and instead of beaver-dams, which is the nater of the animal, and according to Providence, you turn back the waters over the low grounds with your mill-dams, as if ‘twas in man to stay the drops from going where He wills them to go--Benny, unless you stop your hand from going so often to your mouth, you won’t be ready to start when the time comes.
"Hark’ee, Master Bump-ho," said the steward; "don’t you fear for Ben, When the watch is called, set me of my legs and give me the bearings and the distance of where you want me to steer, and I’ll carry sail with the best of you, I will."
"The time has come now," said the hunter, listening; "I hear the horns of the oxen rubbing agin’ the side of the jail."
"Well, say the word, and then heave ahead, shipmate," said Benjamin.
"You won’t betray us, gal?" said Natty, looking simply into the face of Elizabeth--" you won’t betray an old man, who craves to breathe the clear air of heaven? I mean no harm; and if the law says that I must pay the hundred dollars, I’ll take the season through, but it shall be forthcoming; and this good man will help me."
"You catch them," said Benjamin, with a sweeping gesture of his arm, "and if they get away again, call me a slink, that’s all."
"But what mean you?" cried thc wondering Elizabeth. " Here you must stay for thirty days; but I have the money for your fine in this purse. Take it; pay it in the morning, and summon patience for your mouth. I will come often to see you, with my friend; we will make up your clothes with our own hands; indeed, indeed, you shall be comfortable."
"Would ye, children?" said Natty, advancing across the floor with an air of kindness, and taking the hand of Elizabeth, "would ye be so kearful of an old man, and just for shooting a beast which cost him nothing? Such things doesn’t run in the blood, I believe, for you seem not to forget a favor. Your little fingers couldn’t do much on a buckskin, nor be you used to push such a thread as sinews. But if he hasn’t got past hearing, he shalt hear it and know it, that he may see, like me, there is some who know how to remember a kindness,"
"Tell him nothing," cried Elizabeth, earnestly; "if you love me, if you regard my feelings, tell him nothing. It is of yourself only I would talk, and for yourself only I act. I grieve, Leather-Stocking, that the law requires that you should be detained here so long; but, after all, it will be only a short month, and----"
"A month?" exclaimed Natty, opening his mouth with his usual laugh, "not a day, nor a night, nor an hour, gal. Judge Temple may sintence, but he can’t keep without a better dungeon than this. I was taken once by the French, and they put sixty-two of us in a block-house, nigh hand to old Frontinac; but ‘twas easy to cut through a pine log to them that was used to timber." The hunter paused, and looked cautiously around the room, when, laughing again, he shoved the steward gently from his post, and removing the bedclothes, discovered a hole recently cut in the logs with a mallet and chisel. "It’s only a kick, and the outside piece is off, and then--"
"Off! ay, off!" cried Benjamin, rising from his stupor; "well, here’s off. Ay! ay! you catch ‘em, and I'll hold on to them said beaver- hats,"
"I fear this lad will trouble me much," said Natty; "‘twill be a hard pull for the mountain, should they take the scent soon, and he is not in a state of mind to run."
"Run!" echoed the steward; "no, sheer alongside, and let’s have a fight of it."
"Peace!" ordered Elizabeth.
"Ay, ay, ma’am."
"You will not leave us, surely, Leather-Stocking," continued Miss Temple; "I beseech you, reflect that you will be driven to the woods entirely, and that you are fast getting old. Be patient for a little time, when you can go abroad openly, and with honor."
"Is there beaver to be catched here, gal?"
"If not, here is money to discharge the fine, and in a month you are free. See, here it is in gold."
"Gold!" said Natty, with a kind of childish curiosity; "it’s long sin’ I’ve seen a gold-piece. We used to get the broad joes, in the old war, as plenty as the bears be now. I remember there was a man in Dieskau’s army, that was killed, who had a dozen of the shining things sewed up in his shirt. I didn’t handle them myself, but I seen them cut out with my own eyes; they was bigger and brighter than them be."
"These are English guineas, and are yours," said Elizabeth; "an earnest of what shall be done for you."
"Me! why should you give me this treasure!" said Natty, looking earnestly at the maiden.
"Why! have you not saved my life? Did you not rescue me from the jaws of the beast?" exclaimed Elizabeth, veiling her eyes, as if to hide some hideous object from her view.
The hunter took the money, and continued turning it in his hand for some time, piece by piece, talking aloud during the operation.
"There’s a rifle, they say, out on the Cherry Valley, that will carry a hundred rods and kill. I’ve seen good guns in my day, but none quite equal to that. A hundred rods with any sartainty is great shooting! Well, well-- I’m old, and the gun I have will answer my time. Here, child, take back your gold. But the hour has come; I hear him talking to the cattle, and I must be going. You won’t tell of us, gal--you won’t tell of us, will ye?"
"Tell of you!" echoed Elizabeth. "But take the money, old man; take the money, even if you go into the mountains."
"No, no," said Natty, shaking his head kindly; "I would not rob you so for twenty rifles. But there’s one thing you can do for me, if ye will, that no other is at hand to do.
"Name it--name it."
"Why, it’s only to buy a canister of powder--’twill cost two silver dollars. Benny Pump has the money ready, but we daren’t come into the town to get it. Nobody has it but the Frenchman. 'Tis of the best, and just suits a rifle. Will you get it for me, gal?--say, will you get it for me?"
"Will I? I will bring it to you, Leather-Stocking, though I toil a day in quest of you through the woods. But where shall I find you, and how?"
"Where?" said Natty, musing a moment--" to-morrow on the Vision; on the very top of the Vision, I’ll meet you, child, just as the sun gets over our heads. See that it’s the fine grain; you’ll know it by the gloss and the price."
"I will do it," said Elizabeth, firmly.
Natty now seated himself, and placing his feet in the hole, with a slight effort he opened a passage through into the street. The ladies heard the rustling of hay, and well understood the reason why Edwards was in the capacity of a teamster.
"Come, Benny," said the hunter: "‘twill be no darker to-night, for the moon will rise in an hour."
"Stay!" exclaimed Elizabeth; "it should not be said that you escaped in the presence of the daughter of Judge Temple. Return, Leather- Stocking, and let us retire be fore you execute your plan."
Natty was about to reply, when the approaching footsteps of the jailer announced the necessity of his immediate return. He had barely time to regain his feet, and to conceal the hole with the bedclothes, across which Benjamin very opportunely fell, before the key was turned, and the door of the apartment opened.
"Isn’t Miss Temple ready to go?" said the civil jailer; " it’s the usual hour for locking up."
"I follow you, sir," returned Elizabeth "good-night, Leather- Stocking."
"It’s a fine grain, gal, and I think twill carry lead further than common. I am getting old, and can’t follow up the game with the step I used to could,"
Miss Temple waved her hand for silence, and preceded Louisa and the keeper from the apartment. The man turned the key once, and observed that he would return and secure his prisoners, when he had lighted the ladies to the street. Accordingly they parted at the door of the building, when the jailer retired to his dungeons, and the ladies walked, with throbbing hearts, toward the corner.
"Now the Leather-Stocking refuses the money," whispered Louisa, "it can all be given to Mr. Edwards, and that added to--"
"Listen!" said Elizabeth; " I hear the rustling of the hay; they are escaping at this moment. Oh! they will be detected instantly!"
By this time they were at the corner, where Edwards and Natty were in the act of drawing the almost helpless body of Benjamin through the aperture. The oxen had started back from their hay, and were standing with their heads down the street, leaving room for the party to act in.
"Throw the hay into the cart," said Edwards, "or they will suspect how it has been done. Quick, that they may not see it."
Natty had just returned from executing this order, when the light of the keeper’s candle shone through the hole, and instantly his voice was heard in the jail exclaiming for his prisoners.
"What is to be done now?" said Edwards; "this drunken fellow will cause our detection, and we have not a moment to spare."
"Who’s drunk, ye lubber?" muttered the steward.
"A break-jail! a break-jail!" shouted five or six voices from within.
"We must leave him," said Edwards.
"‘Twouldn’t be kind, lad," returned Natty; "he took half the disgrace of the stocks on himself to-day, and the creatur’ has feeling."
At this moment two or three men were heard issuing from the door of the "Bold Dragoon," and among them the voice of Billy Kirby.
"There’s no moon yet," cried the wood-chopper; "but it’s a clear night. Come, who’s for home? Hark! what a rumpus they’re kicking up in the jail--here’s go and see what it’s about."
"We shall be lost," said Edwards, "if we don’t drop this man."
At that instant Elizabeth moved close to him, and said rapidly, in a low voice:
"Lay him in the cart, and start the oxen; no one will look there."
"There’s a woman’s quickness in the thought," said the youth.
The proposition was no sooner made than executed. The steward was seated on the hay, and enjoined to hold his peace and apply the goad that was placed in his hand, while the oxen were urged on. So soon as this arrangement was completed, Edwards and the hunter stole along the houses for a short distance, when they disappeared through an opening that led into the rear of the buildings.
The oxen were in brisk motion, and presently the cries of pursuit were heard in the street. The ladies quickened their pace, with a wish to escape the crowd of constables and idlers that were approaching, some execrating, and some laughing at the exploit of the prisoners. In the confusion, the voice of Kirby was plainly distinguishable above all the others, shouting and swearing that he would have the fugitives, threatening to bring back Natty in one pocket, and Benjamin in the other.
"Spread yourselves, men," he cried, as he passed the ladies, his heavy feet sounding along the street like the tread of a dozen; "spread yourselves; to the mountains; they’ll be in the mountains in a quarter of an hour, and then look out for a long rifle."
His cries were echoed from twenty mouths, for not only the jail but the taverns had sent forth their numbers, some earnest in the pursuit, and others joining it as in sport.
As Elizabeth turned in at her father’s gate she saw the wood-chopper stop at the cart, when she gave Benjamin up for lost. While they were hurrying up the walk, two figures, stealing cautiously but quickly under the shades of the trees, met the eyes of the ladies, and in a moment Edwards and the hunter crossed their path.
"Miss Temple, I may never see you again," exclaimed the youth; "let me thank you for all your kindness; you do not, cannot know my motives."
"Fly! fly!" cried Elizabeth; "the village is alarmed. Do not be found conversing with me at such a moment, and in these grounds."
"Nay, I must speak, though detection were certain,"
"Your retreat to the bridge is already cut off; before you can gain the wood your pursuers will be there. If--"
"If what?" cried the youth. "Your advice has saved me once already; I will follow it to death."
"The street is now silent and vacant," said Elizabeth, after a pause; "cross it, and you will find my father’s boat in the lake. It would be easy to land from it where you please in the hills."
"But Judge Temple might complain of the trespass."
"His daughter shall be accountable, sir."
The youth uttered something in a low voice, that was heard only by Elizabeth, and turned to execute what she had suggested. As they were separating, Natty approached the females, and said:
"You’ll remember the canister of powder, children. Them beavers must be had, and I and the pups be getting old; we want the best of ammunition."
"Come, Natty," said Edwards, impatiently.
"Coming, lad, coming. God bless you, young ones, both of ye, for ye mean well and kindly to the old man."
The ladies paused until they had lost sight of the retreating figures, when they immediately entered the mansion-house.
While this scene was passing in the walk, Kirby had overtaken the cart, which was his own, and had been driven by Edwards, without asking the owner, from the place where the patient oxen usually stood at evening, waiting the pleasure of their master.
"Woa--come hither, Golden," he cried; "why, how come you off the end of the bridge, where I left you, dummies?"
"Heave ahead," muttered Benjamin, giving a random blow with his lash, that alighted on the shoulder of the other.
"Who the devil be you?" cried Billy, turning round in surprise, but unable to distinguish, in the dark, the hard visage that was just peering over the cart-rails.
"Who be I? why, I’m helmsman aboard of this here craft d’ye see, and a straight wake I’m making of it. Ay, ay! I’ve got the bridge right ahead, and the bilboes dead aft: I calls that good steerage, boy. Heave ahead."
"Lay your lash in the right spot, Mr. Benny Pump," said the wood- chopper, "or I’ll put you in the palm of my hand and box your ears. Where be you going with my team?"
"Ay. my cart and oxen,"
"Why, you must know, Master Kirby, that the Leather-Stocking and I-- that’s Benny Pump--you knows Ben?-- well, Benny and I--no, me and Benny; dam’me if I know how ‘tis; but some of us are bound after a cargo of beaver-skins, d’ye see, so we’ve pressed the cart to ship them ‘ome in. I say, Master Kirby, what a lubberly oar you pull--you handle an oar, boy, pretty much as a cow would a musket, or a lady would a marling-spike."
Billy had discovered the state of the steward’s mind, and he walked for some time alongside of the cart, musing with himself, when he took the goad from Benjamin (who fell back on the hay and was soon asleep) and drove his cattle down the street, over the bridge, and up the mountain, toward a clearing in which he was to work the next day, without any other interruption than a few hasty questions from parties of the constables.
Elizabeth stood for an hour at the window of her room, and saw the torches of the pursuers gliding along the side of the mountain, and heard their shouts and alarms; but, at the end of that time, the last party returned, wearied and disappointed, and the village became as still as when she issued from the gate on her mission to the jail.