The Pioneers/Chapter 38
Even from the land of shadows, now
FOR an hour after Louisa Grant was left by Miss Temple, in the situation already mentioned, she continued in feverish anxiety, awaiting the return of her friend. But as the time passed by without the reappearance of Elizabeth, the terror of Louisa gradually increased, until her alarmed fancy had conjured every species of danger that appertained to the woods, excepting the one that really existed. The heavens had become obscured by degrees, and vast volumes of smoke were pouring over the valley; but the thoughts of Louisa were still recurring to beasts, without dreaming of the real cause for apprehension. She was stationed in the edge of the low pines and chestnuts that succeed the first or large growth of the forest, and directly above the angle where the highway turned from the straight course to the village, and ascended the mountain laterally. Consequently, she commanded a view, not only of the valley, but of the road beneath her. The few travellers that passed, she observed, were engaged in earnest conversation, and frequently raised their eyes to the hill, and at length she saw the people leaving the court house, and gazing upward also. While under the influence of the alarm excited by such unusual movements, reluctant to go, and yet fearful to remain, Louisa was startled by the low, cracking, but cautious treads of some one approaching through the bushes. She was on the eve of flight, when Natty emerged from the cover, and stood at her side. The old man laughed as he shook her kindly by a hand that was passive with fear.
"I am glad to meet you here, child," he said; "for the back of the mountain is a-fire, and it would be dangerous to go up it now, till it has been burnt over once, and the dead wood is gone. There’s a foolish man, the comrade of that varmint who has given me all this trouble, digging for ore on the east side. I told him that the kearless fellows, who thought to catch a practysed hunter in the woods after dark, had thrown the lighted pine-knots in the brush, and that 'twould kindle like tow, and warned him to leave the hill. But he was set upon his business, and nothing short of Providence could move him. If he isn’t burnt and buried in a grave of his own digging, he's made of salamanders. Why, what ails the child? You look as skeary as if you’d seed more painters. I wish there were more to be found! they’d count up faster than the beaver. But where's the good child with a bad father? Did she forget her promise to the old man?"
"The hill! the hill!" shrieked Louisa; "she seeks you on the hill with the powder!"
Natty recoiled several feet at this unexpected intelligence.
"The Lord of Heaven have mercy on her! She’s on the Vision, and that's a sheet of fire agin' this. Child, if ye love the dear one, and hope to find a friend when ye need it most, to the village, and give the alarm. The men are used to fighting fire, and there may be a chance left, Fly! I bid ye fly! nor stop even for breath."
The Leather-Stocking had no sooner uttered this injunction, than he disappeared in the bushes, and, when last seen by Louisa, was rushing up the mountain, with a speed that none but those who were accustomed to the toil could attain.
"Have I found ye!" the old man exclaimed, when he burst out of the smoke; "God be praised that I have found ye; but follow — there’s no time for talking."
"My dress!" said Elizabeth; " it would be fatal to trust myself nearer to the flames in it."
"I bethought me of your flimsy things," cried Natty, throwing loose the folds of a covering buckskin that he carried on his arm, and wrapping her form in it, in such a manner as to envelop her whole person; " now follow, for it’s a matter of life and death to us all."
"But John! what will become of John?" cried Edwards; "can we leave the old warrior here to perish?"
The eyes of Natty followed the direction of Edwards’ finger, where he beheld the Indian still seated as before, with the very earth under his feet consuming with fire. Without delay the hunter approached the spot, and spoke in Delaware:
"Up and away, Chingachgook! will ye stay here to burn, like a Mingo at the stake? The Moravians have teached ye better, I hope; the Lord preserve me if the powder hasn’t flashed atween his legs, and the skin of his back is roasting. Will ye come, I say; will ye follow me?"
"Why should Mohegan go?" returned the Indian, gloomily. "He has seen the days of an eagle, and his eye grows dim. He looks on the valley; he looks on the water; he looks in the hunting-grounds — but he sees no Delawares. Every one has a white skin. My fathers say, from the far-off land, Come. My women, my young warriors, my tribe, say, Come. The Great Spirit says, Come. Let Mohegan die."
"But you forget your friend," cried Edwards.
"'Tis useless to talk to an Indian with the death-fit on him, lad," interrupted Natty, who seized the strips of the blanket, and with wonderful dexterity strapped the passive chieftain to his own back; when he turned, and with a strength that seemed to bid defiance, not only to his years, but to his load, he led the way to the point whence he had issued. As they crossed the little terrace of rock, one of the dead trees, that had been tottering for several minutes, fell on the spot where they had stood, and filled the air with its cinders.
Such an event quickened the steps of the party, who followed the Leather-Stocking with the urgency required by the occasion.
"Tread on the soft ground," he cried, when they were in a gloom where sight availed them but little, "and keep in the white smoke; keep the skin close on her, lad; she’s a precious one — another will be hard to be found."
Obedient to the hunter's directions, they followed his steps and advice implicitly; and, although the narrow passage along the winding of the spring led amid burning logs and falling branches, they happily achieved it in safety. No one but a man long accustomed to the woods could have traced his route through the smoke, in which respiration was difficult, and sight nearly useless; but the experience of Natty conducted them to an opening through the rocks, where, with a little difficulty, they soon descended to another terrace, and emerged at once into a tolerably clear atmosphere.
The feelings of Edwards and Elizabeth at reaching this spot may be imagined, though not easily described. No one seemed to exult more than their guide, who turned, with Mohegan still lashed to his back, and, laughing in his own manner, said:
"I knowed 'twa the Frenchman's powder, gal; it went so all together; your coarse grain will squib for a minute. The Iroquois had none of the best powder when I went agin' the Canada tribes, under Sir William. Did I ever tell you the story, lad, consarning the scrimmage with —"
"For God’s sake, tell me nothing now, Natty, until we are entirely safe. Where shall we go next?"
"Why, on the platform of rock over the cave, to be sure; you will be safe enough there, or we’ll go Into It, if you be so minded." The young man started, and appeared agitated; but, Looking around him with an anxious eye, said quickly:
"Shalt we be safe on the rock? cannot the fire reach us there, too?"
"Can’t the boy see?" said Natty, with the coolness of one accustomed to the kind of danger he had just encountered. "Had ye stayed in the place above ten minutes longer, you would both have been in ashes, but here you may stay forever, and no fire can touch you, until they burn the rocks as well as the woods."
With this assurance, which was obviously true, they proceeded to the spot, and Natty deposited his load, placing the Indian on the ground with his back against a fragment of the rocks. Elizabeth sank on the ground, and buried her face in her hands, while her heart was swelling with a variety of conflicting emotions.
"Let me urge you to take a restorative, Miss Temple," said Edwards respectfully; "your frame will sink else."
"Leave me, leave me," she said, raising her beaming eyes for a moment to his; "I feel too much for words! I am grateful, Oliver, for this miraculous escape; and next to my God to you."
Edwards withdrew to the edge of the rock, and shouted:
"Benjamin! where are you, Benjamin?"
A hoarse voice replied, as if from the bowels of the earth:
"Hereaway, master; stowed in this here bit of a hole, which is all the time as hot as the cook’s coppers. I’m tired of my berth, d'ye see, and if-so-be that Leather-Stocking has got much overhauling to do before he sails after them said beaver I'll go into dock again, and ride out my quarantine, till I can get prottick from the law, and so hold on upon the rest of my 'spaniolas."
"Bring up a glass of water from the spring," continued Edwards, "and throw a little wine in it; hasten, I entreat you!"
"I knows but little of your small drink, Master Oliver," returned the steward, his voice issuing out of the cave into the open air, "and the Jamaikey held out no longer than to take a parting kiss with Billy Kirby, when he anchored me alongside the highway last night, where you run me down in the chase. But here’s summat of a red color that may suit a weak stomach, mayhap. That Master Kirby is no first-rate in a boat; but he’ll tack a cart among the stumps, all the same as a Lon'on pilot will back and fill, through the colliers in the Pool."
As the steward ascended while talking, by the time he had ended his speech he appeared on the rock with the desired restoratives, exhibiting the worn-out and bloated features of a man who had run deep in a debauch, and that lately.
Elizabeth took from the hands of Edwards the liquor which he offered and then motioned to be left again to herself.
The youth turned at her bidding, and observed Natty kindly assiduous around the person of Mohegan. When their eyes met, the hunter said sorrowfully:
"His time has come, lad; see it in his eyes — when an Indian fixes his eye, he means to go but to one place; and what the wilful creatures put their minds on, they're sure to do."
A quick tread prevented the reply, and in a few moments, to the amazement of the whole party, Mr. Grant was seen clinging to the side of the mountain, and striving to reach the place where they stood. Oliver sprang to his assistance, and by their united efforts the worthy divine was soon placed safely among them.
"How came you added to our number?" cried Edwards. "Is the hill alive with people at a time like this?"
The hasty but pious thanksgivings of the clergyman were soon ejaculated, and, when he succeeded in collecting his bewildered senses, he replied:
"I heard that my child was seen coming to the mountain; and, when the fire broke over its summit, my uneasiness drew me up the road, where I found Louisa, in terror for Miss Temple. It was to seek her that I came into this dangerous place; and I think, but for God’s mercy, through the dogs of Natty, I should have perished in the flames myself."
"Ay! follow the hounds, and if there's an opening they’ll scent it out," said Natty; "their noses be given them the same as man's reason."
"I did so, and they led me to this place; but, praise be to God that I see you all safe and well."
"No, no," returned the hunter; "safe we be, but as for well, John can’t be called in a good way, unless you'll say that for a man that's taking his last look at 'arth."
"He speaks the truth!" said the divine, with the holy awe with which he ever approached the dying; "I have been by too many death-beds, not to see that the hand of the tyrant is laid on this old warrior. Oh! how consoling it is to know that he has not rejected the offered mercy in the hour of his strength and of worldly temptations! The offspring of a race of heathens, he has in truth been 'as a brand plucked from the burning.'"
"No, no," returned Natty, who alone stood with him by the side of the dying warrior; "it is no burning that ails him, though his Indian feelings made him scorn to move, unless it be the burning of man's wicked thoughts for near fourscore years; but it's natur' giving out in a chasm that’s run too long. — Down with ye, Hector! down, I say! Flesh Isn't iron, that a man can live forever, and see his kith and kin driven to a far country, and he left to mourn, with none to keep him company."
"John," said the divine, tenderly, "do you hear me? do you wish the prayers appointed by the church, at this trying moment?"
The Indian turned his ghastly face toward the speaker, and fastened his dark eyes on him, steadily, but vacantly.
No sign of recognition was made: and in a moment he moved his head again slowly toward the vale, and began to sing, using his own language, in those low, guttural tones, that have been so often mentioned, his notes rising with his theme, till they swelled so loud as to be distinct.
"I will come! I will come! to the land of the just I will come! The Maquas I have slain! I have slain the Maquas! and the Great Spirit calls to his son. I will come! I will come to the land of the just! I will come!"
"What says he, Leather-Stocking?" Inquired the priest, with tender interest; "sings he the Redeemer’s praise?" "No, no &mdash 'tis his own praise that he speaks now," said Natty, turning in a melancholy manner from the sight of his dying friend; "and a good right he has to say it all, for I know every word to be true."
"May heaven avert such self-righteousness from his heart! Humility and penitence are the seals of Christianity; and, without feeling them deeply seated in the soul, all hope is delusive, and leads to vain expectations. Praise himself when his whole soul and body should unite to praise his Maker! John! you have enjoyed the blessings of a gospel ministry, and have been called from out a multitude of sinners and pagans, and, I trust. for a wise and gracious purpose. Do you now feel what it is to be justified by our Saviour’s death, and reject all weak and idle dependence on good works, that spring from man’s pride and vainglory?"
The Indian did not regard his interrogator, but he raised his head again, and said in a low, distinct voice:
"Who can say that the Maquas know the back of the Mohegan? What enemy that trusted in him did not see the morning? What Mingo that he chased ever sang the song of triumph? Did Mohegan ever he? No; the truth lived in him, and none else could come out of him. In his youth he was a warrior, and his moccasins left the stain of blood. In his age he was wise; his words at the council fire did not blow away with the winds."
"Ah! he has abandoned that vain relic of paganism, his songs," cried the divine; "what says he now? is he sensible of his lost state?"
"Lord! man," said Natty, "he knows his end is at hand as well as you or I; but, so far from thinking it a loss, he believes it to be a great gain. He is old and stiff, and you have made the game so scarce and shy, that better shots than him find it hard to get a livelihood. Now he thinks he shall travel where it will always be good hunting ; Where no wicked or unjust Indians can go; and where he shall meet all his tribe together agin. There’s not much loss in that, to a man whose hands are hardly fit for basket-making. Loss! if there be any loss, ‘twill be to me. I’m sure after he’s gone, there will be but little left for me but to follow."
"His example and end, which, I humbly trust, shall yet be made glorious," returned Mr. Grant, "should lead your mind to dwell on the things of another life. But I feel it to be my duty to smooth the way for the parting spirit. This is the moment, John, when the reflection that you did not reject the mediation of the Redeemer, will bring balm to your soul. Trust not to any act of former days, but lay the burden of your sins at his feet, and you have his own blessed assurance that he will not desert you."
"Though all you say be true, and you have scriptur' gospels for it, too," said Natty, "you will make nothing of the Indian. He hasn’t seen a Moravian priest sin’ the war; and it’s hard to keep them from going hack to their native ways. I should think 'twould be as well to let the old man pass in peace. He's happy now; I know it by his eye; and that's more than I would say for the chief, sin' the time the Delawares broke up from the head waters of their river and went west. Ah’s me! 'tis a grevous long time that, and many dark days have we seen together sin' it."
"Hawk-eye!" said Mohegan, rousing with the last glimmering of life. "Hawk-eye! listen to the words of your brother."
"Yes, John," said the hunter, in English, strongly affected by the appeal, and drawing to his side, we have been brothers; and more so than it means in the Indian tongue. What would ye have with me, Chingachgook?"
"Hawk-eye! my fathers call me to the happy hunting grounds. The path is clear, and the eyes of Mohegan grow young. I look — but I see no white-skins ; there are none to be seen but just and brave Indians. Farewell, Hawk-eye — you shall go with the Fire-eater and the Young Eagle to the white man's heaven; but I go after my fathers. Let the bow, and tomahawk, and pipe, and the wampum of Mohegan he laid in his grave; for when he starts 'twil be in the night, like a warrior on a war-party, and he can not stop to seek them."
"What says he, Nathaniel?" cried Mr. Grant, earnestly, and with obvious anxiety; "does he recall the promises of the mediation? and trust his salvation to the Rock of Ages?"
Although the faith of the hunter was by no means clear, yet the fruits of early instruction had not entirely fallen in the wilderness. He believed in one Cod, and one heaven; and when the strong feeling excited by the leave-taking of his old companion, which was exhibited by the powerful working of every muscle in his weather-beaten face, suffered him to speak, he replied:
"No — no — he trusts only to the Great Spirit of the savages, and to his own good deeds. He thinks, like all his people, that he is to be young agin, and to hunt, and be happy to the end of etarnity. its pretty much the same with all colors, parson. I could never bring myself to think that I shall meet with these hounds, or my piece, in another world; though the thought of leaving them forever sometimes brings hard feelings over me, and makes me cling to life with a greater craving than beseems three-Score-and-ten."
"The Lord in his mercy avert such a death from one who has been sealed with the sign of the cross!" cried the minister, in holy fervor. John —"
He paused for the elements. During the period occupied by the events which we have related, the dark clouds in the horizon had continued to increase in numbers and multitude; and the awful stillness that now pervaded the air, announced a crisis in the state of the atmosphere. The flames, which yet continued to rage along the sides of the mountain, no longer whirled in uncertain currents of their own eddies, but blazed high and steadily toward the heavens. There was even a quietude in the ravages of the destructive element, as if it foresaw that a hand greater titan even its own desolating power, was about to stay its progress. The piles of smoke which lay above the valley began to rise, and were dispelling rapidly; and streaks of vivid lightning were dancing through the masses of clouds that impended over the western hills. While Mr. Grant was speaking, a flash, which sent its quivering light through the gloom, laying bare the whole opposite horizon, was followed by a loud crash of thunder, that rolled away among the hills, seeming to shake the foundations of the earth to their centre. Mohegan raised himself, as if in obedience to a signal for his departure, and stretched his wasted arm toward the west. His dark face lighted with a look of joy; which, with all other expressions, gradually disappeared; the muscles stiffening as they retreated to a state of rest; a slight convulsion played, for a single instant, about his lips; and his arm slowly dropped by his side, leaving the frame of the dead warrior reposing against the rock with its glassy eyes open, and fixed on the distant hills, as if the deserted shell were tracing the flight of the spirit to its new abode.
All this Mr. Grant witnessed in silent awe; but when the last echoes of the thunder died away he clasped his bands together, with pious energy, and repeated, in the full, rich tones of assured faith:
"Lord! how unsearchable are Thy judgments; and Thy ways past finding out! 'I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth; and though after my skin, worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God, whom I shall see for my self, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another."
As the divine closed this burst of devotion, he bowed his head meekly to his bosom, and looked all the dependence and humility that the inspired language expressed.
When Mr. Grant retired from the body, the hunter approached, and taking the rigid hand of his friend, looked him wistfully in the face for some time without speaking, when he gave vent to his feelings by saying, in the mournful voice of one who felt deeply:
"Red skin or white, it’s all over now! he's to be judged by a righteous Judge, and by no laws that’s made to suit times, and new ways. Well, there’s only one more death, and the world will be left to me and the hounds, Ah’s me! a man must wait the time of God's pleasure, but I begin to weary of life. There is scarcely a tree standing that I know, and it’s hard to find a face that I was ac- quainted with in my younger days."
Large drops of rain now began to fall, and diffuse them selves over the dry rock, while the approach of the thunder shower was rapid and certain. ‘the body of the Indian was hastily removed into the cave beneath, followed by the whining hounds, who missed and moaned for the look of intelligence that had always met their salutations to the chief.
Edwards made some hasty and confused excuse for not taking Elizabeth into the same place, which was now completely closed in front with logs and bark, saying some-thing that she hardly understood about its darkness, and the unpleasantness of being with the dead body. Miss Temple, however, found a sufficient shelter against the torrent of rain that fell, under the projection of a rock which overhung them, But long before the shower was over, the sounds of voices were heard below them crying aloud for Elizabeth, and men soon appeared beating the dying embers of the bushes, as they worked their way cautiously among the unextinguished brands.
At the first short cessation in the rain, Oliver conducted Elizabeth to the road, where he left her. Before parting, however, he found time to say, in a fervent manner that his companion was now at no loss to interpret.
"The moment of concealment is over, Miss Temple. By this time tomorrow, I shall remove a veil that perhaps it has been weakness to keep around me and my allaus so long. But I have had romantic and foolish wishes and weakness; and who has not, that is young and torn by conflicting passions? God bless you! I hear your father's voice; he is coming up the road, and I would not, just now, subject myself to detention. Thank Heaven, you are safe again; that alone removes the weight of a world from my spirit!"
He waited for no answer, but sprang into the woods. Elizabeth, notwithstanding she heard the cries of her father as he called upon her name, paused until he was concealed among the smoking trees, when she turned, and in a moment rushed into the arms of her half-distracted Parent.
A carriage had been provided, into which Miss Temple hastily entered; when the cry was passed along the hill, that the lost one was found, and the people returned to the village wet and dirty, but elated with the thought that the daughter of their landlord had escaped from so horrid and untimely an end.
-  The probability of a fire in the woods similar to that here described has been questioned. The writer can only say that he once witnessed a fire in another part of New York that compelled a man to desert his wagon and horses in the highway, and in which the latter were destroyed. In order to estimate the probability of such an event, it is necessary to remember the effects of a long drought in that climate and the abundance of dead wood which is found in a forest like that described, The fires in the American forests frequently rage to such an extent as to produce a sensible effect on the atmosphere at a distance of fifty miles. Houses, barns, and fences are quite commonly swept away in their course.
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.