The Pioneers by James Fenimore Cooper
"Yes, sweep ye on!--We will not leave,
The events of our tale carry us through the summer; and after making nearly the circle of the year, we must conclude our labors in the delightful month of October. Many important incidents had, however, occurred in the intervening period; a few of which it may be necessary to recount.
The two principal were the marriage of Oliver and Elizabeth, and the death of Major Effingham. They both took place early in September; and the former preceded the latter only a few days. The old man passed away like the last glimmering of a taper; and, though his death cast a melancholy over the family, grief could not follow such an end. One of the chief concerns of Marmaduke was to reconcile the even conduct of a magistrate with the course that his feelings dictated to the criminals. The day succeeding the discovery at the cave, however, Natty and Benjamin re-entered the jail peaceably, where they continued, well fed and comfortable, until the return of an express to Albany, who brought the governorís pardon to the Leather-Stocking. In the mean time, proper means were employed to satisfy Hiram for the assaults on his person ; and on the same day the two comrades issued together into society again, with their characters not at all affected by the imprisonment.
Mr. Doolittle began to discover that neither architecture nor his law was quite suitable to the growing wealth and intelligence of the settlement; and after exacting the last cent that was attainable in his compromise, to use the language of the country he "pulled up stakes," and proceeded farther west, scattering his professional science and legal learning through the land; vestiges of both of which are to be discovered there even to the present hour.
Poor Jotham, whose life paid the forfeiture of his folly, acknowledged, before he died, that his reasons for believing in a mine were extracted from the lips of a sibyl, who, by looking in a magic glass, was enabled to discover the hidden treasures of the earth. Such superstition was frequent in the new settlements; and, after the first surprise was over, the better part of the community forgot the subject. But, at the same time that it removed from the breast of Richard a lingering suspicion of the acts of the three hunter, it conveyed a mortifying lesson to him, which brought many quiet hours, in future, to his cousin Marmaduke. It may be remembered that the sheriff confidently pronounced this to be no " visionary "scheme, and that word was enough to shut his lips, at any time within the next ten years.
Monsieur Le Quoi, who has been introduced to our readers because no picture of that country would be faithful without some such character, found the island of Martinique, and his "sucreboosh," in possession of the English but Marmaduke and his family were much gratified in soon hearing that he had returned to his bureau, in Paris; where he afterward issued yearly bulletins of his happiness, and of his gratitude to his friends in America.
With this brief explanation, we must return to our narrative. Let the American reader imagine one of our mildest October mornings, when the sun seems a ball of silvery fire, and the elasticity of the air is felt while it is inhaled, imparting vigor and life to the whole system ; the weather, neither too warm nor too cold, but of that happy temperature which stirs the blood, without bringing the lassitude of spring. It was on such a morning, about the middle of the month, that Oliver entered the hall where Elizabeth was issuing her usual orders for the day, and requesting her to join him in a short excursion to the lakeside. The tender melancholy in the manner of her husband caught the attention of Elizabeth, who instantly abandoned her concerns, threw a light shawl across her shoulders, and, concealing her raven hair under a gypsy hat, and took his arm, and submitted herself, without a question, to his guidance. They crossed the bridge, and had turned from the highway, along the margin of the lake, before a word was exchanged. Elizabeth well knew, by the direction, the object of the walk, and respected the feelings of her companion too much to indulge in untimely conversation. But when they gained the open fields, and her eye roamed over the placid lake, covered with wild fowl already journeying from the great northern waters to seek a warmer sun, but lingering to play in the limpid sheet of the Otsego, and to the sides of the mountain, which were gay with the thou- sand dyes of autumn, as if to grace their bridal, the swelling heart of the young wife burst out in speech.
"This is not a time for silence, Oliver!" she said, clinging more fondly to his arm; "everything in Nature seems to speak the praises of the Creator; why should we, who have so much to be grateful for, be silent?"
"Speak on!" said her husband, smiling; "I love the sounds of your voice. You must anticipate our errand hither: I have told you my plans: how do you like them?"
"I must first see them," returned his wife. "But I have had my plans, too; it is time I should begin to divulge them."
"You! It is something for the comfort of my old friend, Natty, I know."
"Certainly of Natty; but we have other friends besides the Leather- Stocking to serve. Do you forget Louisa and her father?"
"No, surely; have I not given one of the best farms in the county to the good divine? As for Louisa, I should wish you to keep her always near us."
"You do!" said Elizabeth, slightly compressing her lips; "but poor Louisa may have other views for herself; she may wish to follow my example, and marry."
"I donít think it," said Effingham, musing a moment, really donít know any one hereabouts good enough for her."
"Perhaps not her; but there are other places besides Templeton, and other churches besides ĎNew St. Paulís.í"
"Churches, Elizabeth! you would not wish to lose Mr. Grant, surely! Though simple, he is an excellent man I shall never find another who has half the veneration for my orthodoxy. You would humble me from a saint to a very common sinner."
"It must be done, sir," returned the lady, with a half-concealed smile, "though it degrades you from an angel to a man."
"But you forget the farm?"
"He can lease it, as others do. Besides, would you have a clergyman toil in the fields?"
"Where can he go? You forget Louisa."
"No, I do not forget Louisa," said Elizabeth, again compressing her beautiful lips. "You know, Effingham, that my father has told you that I ruled him, and that I should rule you. I am now about to exert my power."
"Anything, anything, dear Elizabeth, but not at the expense of us all: not at the expense of your friend."
"How do you know, sir, that it will be so much at the expense of my friend?" said the lady, fixing her eyes with a searching look on his countenance, where they met only the unsuspecting expression of manly regret.
"How do I know it? Why, it is natural that she should regret us." It is our duty to struggle with our natural feelings," returned the lady; "and there is but little cause to fear that such a spirit as Louisaís will not effect it."
"But what is your plan?"
"Listen, and you shall know. My father has procured a call for Mr. Grant, to one of the towns on the Hudson where he can live more at his ease than in journeying through these woods; where he can spend the evening of his life in comfort and quiet; and where his daughter may meet with such society, and form such a connection, as may be proper for one of her years and character."
"Bess! you amaze me! I did not think you had been such a manager!"
"Oh! I manage more deeply than you imagine, sir," said the wife, archly smiling again; " but it is thy will and it is your duty to submit--for a time at least."
Effingham laughed; but, as they approached the end of their walk, the subject was changed by common consent.
The place at which they arrived was the little spot of level ground where the cabin of the Leather-Stocking had so long stood. Elizabeth found it entirely cleared of rubbish, and beautifully laid down in turf, by the removal of sods, which, in common with the surrounding country, had grown gay, under the influence of profuse showers, as if a second spring had passed over the land. This little place was surrounded by a circle of mason-work, and they entered by a small gate, near which, to the surprise of both, the rifle of Natty was leaning against the wall. Hector and the slut reposed on the grass by its side, as if conscious that, however altered, they were lying on the ground and were surrounded by objects with which they were familiar. The hunter himself was stretched on the earth, before a head-stone of white marble, pushing aside with his fingers the long grass that had already sprung up from the luxuriant soil around its base, apparently to lay bare the inscription. By the side of this stone, which was a simple slab at the head of a grave, stood a rich monument, decorated with an urn and ornamented with the chisel.
Oliver and Elizabeth approached the graves with a light tread, unheard by the old hunter, whose sunburnt face was working, and whose eyes twinkled as if something impeded their vision. After some little time Natty raised himself slowly from the ground, and said aloud:
"Well, well--Iím bold to say itís all right! Thereís something that I suppose is reading; but I canít make anything of it; though the pipe and the tomahawk, and the moccasins, be pretty well--pretty well, for a man that, I dares to say, never seed Ďither of the things. Ahís me! there they lie, side by side, happy enough! Who will there be to put me in the Ďarth when my time comes?"
"When that unfortunate hour arrives, Natty, friends shall not be wanting to perform the last offices for you," said Oliver, a little touched at the hunterís soliloquy.
The old man turned, without manifesting surprise, for he had got the Indian habits in this particular, and, running his hand under the bottom of his nose, seemed to wipe away his sorrow with the action.
"Youíve come out to see the graves, children, have ye?" he said; " well, well, theyíre wholesome sights to young as well as old."
"I hope they are fitted to your liking," said Effingham, "no one has a better right than yourself to be consulted in the matter."
"Why, seeing that I ainít used to fine graves," returned the old man, "it is but little matter consarning my taste. Ye laid the Majorís head to the west, and Moheganís to the east, did ye, lad?"
"At your request it was done,"
"Itís so best," said the hunter; "they thought they had to journey different ways, children: though there is One greater than all, whoíll bring the just together, at His own time, and whoíll whiten the skin of a blackamoor, and place him on a footing with princes."
"There is but little reason to doubt that," said Elizabeth, whose decided tones were changed to a soft, melancholy voice; "I trust we shall all meet again, and be happy together."
"Shall we, child, shall we?" exclaimed the hunter, with unusual fervor, "thereís comfort in that thought too. But before I go, I should like to know what 'tis you tell these people, that be flocking into the country like pigeons in the spring, of the old Delaware, and of the bravest white man that ever trod the hills?"
Effingham and Elizabeth were surprised at the manner of the Leather- Stocking, which was unusually impressive and solemn; but, attributing it to the scene, the young man turned to the monument, and read aloud:
"Sacred to the memory of Oliver Effingham Esquire, formally a Major in his B. Majestyís 60th Foot; a soldier of tried valor; a subject of chivalrous loyalty; and a man of honesty. To these virtues he added the graces of a Christian. The morning of his life was spent in honor, wealth, and power; but its evening was obscured by poverty, neglect, and disease, which were alleviated only by the tender care of his old, faithful, and upright friend and attendant Nathaniel Bumppo. His descendants rest this stone to the virtues of the master, and to the enduring gratitude of the servant."
The Leather-Stocking started at the sound of his own name, and a smile of joy illuminated his wrinkled features, as he said:
"And did ye say It, lad? have you then got the old manís name cut in the stone, by the side of his masterís! God bless ye, children! Ďtwas a kind thought, and kindness goes to the heart as Life shortens."
Elizabeth turned her back to the speakers. Effingham made a fruitless effort before he succeeded in saying:
"It is there cut in plain marble; but it should have been written in letters of gold!"
"Show me the name, boy," said Natty, with simple eagerness; "let me see my own name placed in such honor. ĎTis a ginírous gift to a man who leaves none of his name and family behind him in a country where he has tarried so long."
Effingham guided his finger to the spot, and Natty followed the windings of the letters to the end with deep interest, when he raised himself from the tomb, and said:
"I suppose itís all right; and itís kindly thought, and kindly done! But what have ye put over the red-skin"
"You shall hear: This stone is raised to the memory of an Indian Chief of the Delaware tribe, who was known by the several names of John Mohegan Mohican------í"
"Mo-hee-can, lad, they call theirselves! Ďhecan."
"Mohican; and Chingagook--"
"ĎGach, boy; Ďgach-gook; Chingachgook, which interpreted, means Big- sarpent. The name should he set down right, for an Indianís name has always some meaning in it."
"I will see it altered. ĎHe was the last of his people who continued to inhabit this country; and it may he said of him that his faults were those of an Indian, and his virtues those of a man.í"
"You never said truer word, Mr. Oliver; ahís me! if you had knowed him as I did, in his prime, in that very battle where the old gentleman, who sleeps by his side saved his life, when them thieves, the Iroquois, had him at the stake, youíd have said all that, and more too. I cut the thongs with this very hand, and gave him my own tomahawk and knife, seeing that the rifle was always my fav'rite weapon. He did lay about him like a man! I met him as I was coming home from the trail, with eleven Mingo scalps on his pole. You neednít shudder, Madam Effingham, for they was all from shaved heads and warriors. When I look about me, at these hills, where I used to could count sometimes twenty smokes, curling over the tree-tops, from the Delaware camps, it raises mournful thoughts, to think that not a red-skin is left of them all; unless it be a drunken vagabond from the Oneidas, or them Yankee Indians, who, they say, be moving up from the seashore; and who belong to none of Gods creatures, to my seeming, being, as it were, neither fish nor flesh--neither white man nor savage. Well, well! the time has come at last, and I must go----"
"Go!" echoed Edwards, " whither do you go?"
The Leather-Stocking; who had imbibed unconsciously, many of the Indian qualities, though he always thought of himself as of a civilized being, compared with even the Delawares, averted his face to conceal the workings of his muscles, as he stooped to lift a large pack from behind the tomb, which he placed deliberately on his shoulders.
"Go!" exclaimed Elizabeth, approaching him with a hurried step; "you should not venture so far in the woods alone, at your time of life, Natty; indeed, it Is Imprudent, He is bent, Effingham, on some distant hunting."
"What Mrs. Effingham tells you is true, Leather-Stockingí said Edwards; "there can be no necessity for your submitting to such hardships now. So throw aside your pack, and confine your hunt to the mountains near us, if you will go."
"Hardship! Ďtis a pleasure, children, and the greatest that is left me on this side the grave."
"No, no; you shall not go to such a distance," cried Elizabeth, laying her white hand on his deer-skin pack--" I am right! I feel his camp- kettle, and a canister of powder! He must not be suffered to wander so far from us, Oliver; remember how suddenly Mohegan dropped away."
"I knowed the parting would come hard, children--I knowed it would!" said Natty, "and so I got aside to look at the graves by myself, and thought if I left ye the keep sake which the Major gave me, when we first parted in the woods, ye wouldnít take it unkind, but would know that, let the old manís body go where it might, his feelings stayed behind him."
"This means something more than common," exclaimed the youth. "Where is it, Natty, that you purpose going?"
The hunter drew nigh him with a confident, reasoning air, as If what he had to say would silence all objections, and replied:
"Why, lad, they tell me that on the big lakes thereís the best of hunting, and a great range without a white man on it unless it may be one like myself. Iím weary of living in clearings, and where the hammer is sounding in my ears from sunrise to sundown. And though Iím much bound to ye both, children--I wouldnít say it if It was not true--I crave to go into the woods agin--I do."
"Woods!" echoed Elizabeth, trembling with her feelings; "do you not call these endless forests woods?"
"Ah! child, these be nothing to a man thatís used to the wilderness. I have took but little comfort siní your father come on with his settlers; but I wouldnít go far, while the life was in the body that lies under the sod there. But now heís gone, and Chingachgook Is gone; and you be both young and happy. Yes! the big house has rung with merriment this month past! And now I thought was the time to get a little comfort in the close of my days. Woods! indeed! I doesnít call these woods, Madam Effingham, where I lose myself every day of my life in the clearings."
"If there be anything wanting to your comfort, name it, Leather- Stocking; if it be attainable it is yours."
"You mean all for the best, lad, I know; and so does madam, too; but your ways isnít my ways. ĎTis like the dead there, who thought, when the breath was in them, that one went east, and one went west, to find their heavens; but theyíll meet at last, and so shall we, children. Yes, and as youíve begun, and we shall meet in the land of the just at last."
"This is so new! so unexpected!" said Elizabeth, in almost breathless excitement; "I had thought you meant to live with us and die with us, Natty."
"Words are of no avail," exclaimed her husband: "the habits of forty years are not to he dispossessed by the ties of a day. I know you too well to urge you further, Natty; unless you will let me build you a hut on one of the distant hills, where we can sometimes see you, and know that you are comfortable."
"Donít fear for the Leather-Stocking, children; God will see that his days be provided for, and his ind happy. I know you mean all for the best, but our ways doesn't agree. I love the woods, and ye relish the face of man; I eat when hungry, and drink when a-dry; and ye keep stated hours and rules; nay, nay, you even over-feed the dogs, lad, from pure kindness; and hounds should be gaunty to run well. The meanest of Godís creatures be made for some use, and Iím formed for the wilderness, If ye love me, let me go where my soul craves to be agin!"
The appeal was decisive; and not another word of en treaty for him to remain was then uttered; but Elizabeth bent her head to her bosom and wept, while her husband dashed away the tears from his eyes; and, with hands that almost refused to perform their office, he procured his pocket-book, and extended a parcel of bank-notes to the hunter.
"Take these," he said, "at least take these; secure them about your person, and in the hour of need they will do you good service."
The old man took the notes, and examined them with curious eye.
"This, then, is some of the new-fashioned money that theyíve been making at Albany, out of paper! It can't be worth much to they that hasnít larning! No, no, lad-----take back the stuff; it will do me no sarvice, I took kear to get all the Frenchmanís powder afore he broke up, and they say lead grows where Iím going. it isnít even fit for wads, seeing that I use none but leather!--Madam Effingham, let an old man kiss your hand, and wish Godís choicest blessings on you and yourín"
"Once more let me beseech you, stay!" cried Elizabeth. Do not, Leather-Stocking, leave me to grieve for the man who has twice rescued me from death, and who has served those I love so faithfully. For my sake, if not for your own, stay. I shall see you in those frightful dreams that still haunt my nights, dying in poverty and age, by the side of those terrific beasts you slew. There will be no evil, that sickness, want, and solitude can inflict, that my fancy will not conjure as your fate. Stay with us, old man, if not for your own sake, at least for ours."
"Such thoughts and bitter dreams, Madam Effingham," returned the hunter, solemnly, " will never haunt an innocent parson long. Theyíll pass away with Godís pleasure. And if the cat-a-mounts be yet brought to your eyes in sleep, tis not for my sake, but to show you the power of Him that led me there to save you. Trust in God, madam, and your honorable husband, and the thoughts for an old man like me can never be long nor bitter. I pray that the Lord will keep you in mind--the Lord that lives in clearings as well as in the wilderness--and bless you, and all that belong to you, from this time till the great day when the whites shall meet the red-skins in judgement, and justice shall be the law, and not power."
Elizabeth raised her head, and offered her colorless cheek to his salute, when he lifted his cap and touched it respectfully. His hand was grasped with convulsive fervor by the youth, who continued silent. The hunter prepared himself for his journey, drawing his belt tighter, and wasting his moments in the little reluctant movements of a sorrowful departure. Once or twice he essayed to speak, but a rising in his throat prevented it. At length he shouldered his rifle, and cried with a clear huntsmanís call that echoed through the woods: He-e-e-re, he-e-e-re, pups--away, dogs, away!--ye'll be footsore afore ye see the end of the journey!"
The hounds leaped from the earth at this cry, and scenting around the grave and silent pair, as if conscious of their own destination, they followed humbly at the heels of their master. A short pause succeeded, during which even the youth concealed his face on his grandfatherís tomb. When the pride of manhood, however, had sup pressed the feelings of nature, he turned to renew his en treaties, but saw that the cemetery was occupied only by himself and his wife.
"He is gone!" cried Effingham.
Elizabeth raised her face, and saw the old hunter standing looking back for a moment, on the verge of the wood. As he caught their glances, he drew his hard hand hastily across his eyes again, waved it on high for an adieu, and, uttering a forced cry to his dogs, who were crouching at his feet, he entered the forest.
This was the last they ever saw of the Leather-Stocking, whose rapid movements preceded the pursuit which Judge Temple both ordered and conducted. He had gone far toward the setting sun--the foremost in that band of pioneers who are opening the way for the march of the nation across the continent.