The Pioneers/Chapter 18
"Poor wretch! the mother that him bare,
If she had been in presence there,
In his wan face, and sunburnt hair,
She had not known her child." – Scott.
It diminished, in no degree, the effect produced by the conversation which passed between Judge Temple and the young hunter, that the former took the arm of his daughter and drew it through his own, when he advanced from the spot whither Richard had led him to that where the youth was standing, leaning on his rifle, and contemplating the dead bird at his feet. The presence of Marmaduke did not interrupt the sports, which were resumed by loud and clamorous disputes concerning the conditions of a chance that involved the life of a bird of much inferior quality to the last. Leather-Stocking and Mohegan had alone drawn aside to their youthful companion; and, although in the immediate vicinity of such a throng, the following conversation was heard only by those who were interested in it.
"I have greatly injured you, Mr. Edwards," said the Judge; but the sudden and inexplicable start with which the person spoken to received this unexpected address, caused him to pause a moment. As no answer was given, and the strong emotion exhibited in the countenance of the youth gradually passed away, he continued: "But fortunately it is in some measure in my power to compensate you for what I have done. My kinsman, Richard Jones, has received an appointment that will, in future, deprive me of his assistance, and leave me, just now, destitute of one who might greatly aid me with his pen. Your manner, notwithstanding appearances, is a sufficient proof of your education, nor will thy shoulder suffer thee to labor, for some time to come." (Marmaduke insensibly relapsed into the language of the Friends as he grew warm.) "My doors are open to thee, my young friend, for in this infant country we harbor no suspicions; little offering to tempt the cupidity of the evil-disposed. Become my assistant, for at least a season, and receive such compensation as thy services will deserve."
There was nothing in the manner of the offer of the Judge to justify the reluctance, amounting nearly to loathing, with which the youth listened to his speech; but, after a powerful effort for self-command, he replied:
"I would serve you, sir, or any other man, for an honest support, for I do not affect to conceal that my necessities are very great, even beyond what appearances would indicate; but I am fearful that such new duties would interfere too much with more important business; so that I must decline your offer, and depend on my rifle, as before, for subsistence."
Richard here took occasion to whisper to the young lady, who had shrunk a little from the foreground of the picture:
"This, you see, Cousin Bess, is the natural reluctance of a half-breed to leave the savage state. Their attachment to a wandering life is, I verily believe, unconquerable."
"It is a precarious life," observed Marmaduke, without hearing the sheriff’s observation, "and one that brings more evils with it than present suffering. Trust me, young friend, my experience is greater than thine, when I tell thee that the unsettled life of these hunters is of vast disadvantage for temporal purposes, and it totally removes one from the influence of more sacred things."
"No, no, Judge," interrupted the Leather-Stocking, who was hitherto unseen, or disregarded; "take him into your shanty in welcome, but tell him truth. I have lived in the woods for forty long years, and have spent five at a time without seeing the light of a clearing bigger than a window in the trees; and I should like to know where you’ll find a man, in his sixty-eighth year, who can get an easier living, for all your betterments and your deer laws; and, as for honesty, or doing what’s right between man and man, I’ll not turn my back to the longest-winded deacon on your Patent."
"Thou art an exception, Leather-Stocking," returned the Judge, nodding good-naturedly at the hunter; "for thou hast a temperance unusual in thy class, and a hardihood exceeding thy years. But this youth is made of I materials too precious to be wasted in the forest--I entreat thee to join my family, if it be but till thy arm is healed. My daughter here, who is mistress of my dwelling, wilt tell thee that thou art welcome."
"Certainly," said Elizabeth, whose earnestness was a little checked by female reserve. "The unfortunate would be welcome at any time, but doubly so when we feel that we have occasioned the evil ourselves," "Yes," said Richard, "and if you relish turkey, young man, there are plenty in the coops, and of the best kind, I can assure you."
Finding himself thus ably seconded, Marmaduke pushed his advantage to the utmost. He entered into a detail of the duties that would attend the situation, and circumstantially mentioned the reward, and all those points which are deemed of importance among men of business. The youth listened in extreme agitation. There was an evident contest in his feelings; at times he appeared to wish eagerly for the change, and then again the incomprehensible expression of disgust would cross his features, like a dark cloud obscuring a noonday sun.
The Indian, in whose manner the depression of self-abasement was most powerfully exhibited, listened to the offers of the Judge with an interest that increased with each syllable. Gradually he drew nigher to the group and when, with his keen glance, he detected the most marked evidence of yielding in the countenance of his young companion, he changed at once from his attitude and look of shame to the front of an Indian warrior, and moving, with great dignity, closer to the parties, he spoke.
"Listen to your father," he said; "his words are old. Let the Young Eagle and the Great Land Chief eat together; let them sleep, without fear, near each other. The children of Miquon love not blood: they are just, and will do right. The sun must rise and set often, be fore men can make one family; it is not the work of a day, but of many winters. The Mingoes and the Delawares are born enemies; their blood can never mix in the wigwam; it never will run in the same stream in the battle. What makes the brother of Miquon and the Young Eagle foes? They are of the same tribe; their fathers and mothers are one. Learn to wait, my son, you are a Delaware, and an Indian warrior knows how to be patient."
This figurative address seemed to have great weight with the young man, who gradually yielded to the representations of Marmaduke, and eventually consented to his proposal. It was, however, to be an experiment only; and, if either of the parties thought fit to rescind the engagement, it was left at his option so to do. The remarkable and ill-concealed reluctance of the youth to accept of an offer, which most men in his situation would consider as an unhoped-for elevation, occasioned no little surprise in those to whom he was a stranger; and it left a slight impression to his disadvantage. When the parties separated, they very naturally made the subject the topic of a conversation, which we shall relate; first commencing with the Judge, his daughter, and Richard, who were slowly pursuing the way back to the mansion-house.
"I have surely endeavored to remember the holy man dates of our Redeemer, when he bids us ‘love them who despitefully use you,’ in my intercourse with this incomprehensible boy," said Marmaduke. "I know not what there is in my dwelling to frighten a lad of his years, unless it may he thy presence and visage, Bess,"
"No, no," said Richard, with great simplicity, "it is not Cousin Bess. But when did you ever know a half-breed, ‘Duke, who could bear civilization? For that mat ter, they are worse than the savages themselves! Did you notice how knock-kneed he stood, Elizabeth, and what a wild look he had in his eyes?"
"I heeded not his eyes, nor his knees, which would be all the better for a little humbling. Really, my dear sir, I think you did exercise the Christian virtue of patience to the utmost. I was disgusted with his airs, long before he consented to make one of our family. Truly we are much honored by the association! In what apartment is he to be placed, sir; and at what table is he to receive his nectar and ambrosia?"
"With Benjamin and Remarkable," interrupted Mr. Jones; "you sorely would not make the youth eat with the blacks! He is part Indian, it is true; but the natives hold the negroes in great contempt. No, no; he would starve before he would break a crust with the negroes."
"I am but too happy, Dickon, to tempt him to eat with ourselves," said Marmaduke, "to think of offering even the indignity you propose."
"Then, sir," said Elizabeth, with an air that was slightly affected, as if submitting to her father’s orders in opposition to her own will, "it is your pleasure that he be a gentleman."
"Certainly; he is to fill the station of one. Let him receive the treatment that is due to his place, until we find him unworthy of it."
"Well, well, ‘Duke," cried the sheriff, " you will find it no easy matter to make a gentleman of him. The old proverb says that ‘it takes three generations to make a gentleman.’ There was my father whom everybody knew my grandfather was an M.D., and his father a D.D.; and his father came from England, I never could come at the truth of his origin; but he was either a great mer chant in London, or a great country lawyer, or the youngest son of a bishop."
"Here is a true American genealogy for you," said Marmaduke, laughing. "It does very well till you get across the water, where, as everything is obscure, it is certain to deal in the superlative. You are sure that your English progenitor was great, Dickon, whatever his profession might have been?"
"To be sure I am," returned the other. "I have heard my old aunt talk of him by the month. We are of a good family, Judge Temple, and have never filled any but honorable stations in life."
"I marvel that you should be satisfied with so scanty a provision of gentility in the olden time, Dickon. Most of the American genealogists commence their traditions like the stories for children, with three brothers, taking especial care that one of the triumvirate shall be the pro genitor of any of the same name who may happen to be better furnished with worldly gear than themselves. But, here, all are equal who know how to conduct themselves with propriety; and Oliver Edwards comes into my family on a footing with both the high sheriff and the judge."
"Well, ‘Duke, I call this democracy, not republicanism; but I say nothing; only let him keep within the law, or I shall show him that the freedom of even this country is under wholesome restraint."
"Surely, Dickon, you will not execute till I condemn! But what says Bess to the new inmate? We must pay a deference to the ladies in this matter, after all."
"Oh, sir!" returned Elizabeth, "I believe I am much like a certain Judge Temple in this particular--not easily to be turned from my opinion. But, to be serious, although I must think the introduction of a demi-savage into the family a somewhat startling event, whomsoever you think proper to countenance may be sure of my respect."
The Judge drew her arm more closely in his own and smiled, while Richard led the way through the gate of the little court-yard in the rear of the dwelling, dealing out his ambiguous warnings with his accustomed loquacity.
On the other hand, the foresters--for the three hunters, notwithstanding their difference in character, well deserved this common name--pursued their course along the skirts of the village in silence. It was not until they had reached the lake, and were moving over its frozen surface toward the foot of the mountain, where the hut stood, that the youth exclaimed:
"Who could have foreseen this a month since! I have consented to serve Marmaduke Temple--to be an inmate in the dwelling of the greatest enemy of my race; yet what better could I do? The servitude cannot be long; and, when the motive for submitting to it ceases to exist, I will shake it off like the dust from my feet."
"Is he a Mingo, that you will call him enemy?" said Mohegan. "The Delaware warrior sits still, and waits the time of the Great Spirit. He is no woman, to cry out like a child."
"Well, I’m mistrustful, John," said Leather-Stocking, in whose air there had been, during the whole business, a strong expression of doubt and uncertainty. "They say that there’s new laws in the land, and I’m sartin that there’s new ways in the mountains. One hardly knows the lakes and streams, they’ve altered the country so much. I must say I’m mistrustful of such smooth speakers; for I've known the whites talk fair when they wanted the Indian lands most. This I will say, though I’m a white myself, and was born nigh York, and of honest parents, too."
"I will submit," said the youth; "I will forget who I am. Cease to remember, old Mohegan, that I am the descendant of a Delaware chief, who once was master of these noble hills, these beautiful vales, and of this water, over which we tread. Yes, yes; I will become his bonds man--his slave, Is it not an honorable servitude, old man?"
"Old man!" repeated the Indian solemnly, and pausing in his walk, as usual, when much excited; "yes, John is old. Son of my brother! if Mohegan was young, when would his rifle be still? Where would the deer hide, and he not find him? But John is old; his hand is the hand of a squaw; his tomahawk is a hatchet; brooms and baskets are his enemies-- he strikes no other. Hunger and old age come together. See Hawk-eye! when young, he would go days and eat nothing; but should he not put the brush on the fire now, the blaze would go out. Take the son of Miquon by the hand, and he will help you."
"I’m not the man I was, I’ll own, Chingachgook," returned the Leather- Stocking; "but I can go without a meal now, on occasion. When we tracked the Iroquois through the ‘Beech-woods,’ they drove the game afore them, for I hadn’t a morsel to eat from Monday morning come Wednesday sundown, and then I shot as fat a buck, on the Pennsylvany line, as ever mortal laid eyes on. It would have done your heart good to have seen the Delaware eat; for I was out scouting and skrimmaging with their tribe at the time. Lord! The Indians, lad, lay still, and just waited till Providence should send them their game, but I foraged about, and put a deer up, and put him down too, afore he had made a dozen jumps. I was too weak and too ravenous to stop for his flesh, so I took a good drink of his blood, and the Indians ate of his meat raw. John was there, and John knows. But then starvation would be apt to be too much for me now, I will own, though I’m no great eater at any time."
"Enough is said, my friend," cried the youth. "I feel that everywhere the sacrifice is required at my hands, and it shall be made; but say no more, I entreat you; I can not bear this subject now."
His companions were silent; and they soon reached the hut, which they entered, after removing certain complicated and ingenious fastenings, that were put there apparently to guard a property of but very little value. Immense piles of snow lay against the log walls of this secluded habitation on one side; while fragments of small trees, and branches of oak and chestnut, that had been torn from their parent stems by the winds, were thrown into a pile on the other. A small column of smoke rose through a chimney of sticks, cemented with clay, along the side of the rock, and had marked the snow above with its dark tinges, in a wavy line, from the point of emission to an other, where the hill receded from the brow of a precipice, and held a soil that nourished trees of a gigantic growth, that overhung the little bottom beneath.
The remainder of the day passed off as such days are commonly spent in a new country. The settlers thronged to the academy again, to witness the second effort of Mr. Grant; and Mohegan was one of his hearers. But, not withstanding the divine fixed his eyes intently on the Indian when he invited his congregation to advance to the table, the shame of last night’s abasement was yet too keen in the old chief to suffer him to move.
When the people were dispersing, the clouds that had been gathering all the morning were dense and dirty, and before half of the curious congregation had reached their different cabins, that were placed in every glen and hollow of the mountains, or perched on the summits of the hills themselves, the rain was falling in torrents. The dark edges of the stumps began to exhibit themselves, as the snow settled rapidly; the fences of logs and brush, which before had been only traced by long lines of white mounds, that ran across the valley and up the mountains, peeped out from their covering, and the black stubs were momentarily becoming more distinct, as large masses of snow and ice fell from their sides, under the influence of the thaw.
Sheltered in the warm hall of her father’s comfortable mansion, Elizabeth, accompanied by Louisa Grant, looked abroad with admiration at the ever-varying face of things without. Even the village, which had just before been glittering with the color of the frozen element, reluctantly dropped its mask, and the houses exposed their dark roofs and smoked chimneys. The pines shook off the covering of snow, and everything seemed to he assuming its proper hues with a transition that bordered on the supernatural.
James Fenimore Cooper, The Pioneers, Ch.1, Ch.2, Ch.3, Ch.4, Ch.5, Ch.6, Ch.7, Ch.8, Ch.9, Ch.10, Ch.11, Ch.12, Ch.13, Ch.14, Ch.15, Ch.16, Ch.17, Ch.18, Ch.19, Ch.20, Ch.21, Ch.22, Ch.23, Ch.24, Ch.25, Ch.26, Ch.27, Ch.28, Ch.29, Ch.30, Ch.31, Ch.32, Ch.33, Ch.34, Ch.35, Ch.36, Ch.37, Ch.38, Ch.39, Ch.40, Ch.41, Characters.