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Authors: James Fenimore Cooper

The Pioneers (5 page)

Without attending to the soliloquy of Natty, the youth bowed his head silently to the offer of the bank note and replied:
“Excuse me; I have need of the venison.”
“But this will buy you many deer,” said the Judge. “Take it, I entreat you,” and lowering his voice to a whisper, he added; “it is for a hundred dollars.”
For an instant only, the youth seemed to hesitate, and then, blushing even through the high color that the cold had given to his cheeks, as if with inward shame at his own weakness, he again declined the offer.
During this scene the female arose, and, regardless of the cold air, she threw back the hood which concealed her features and now spoke with great earnestness.
“Surely, surely—young man—sir—you would not pain my father so much as to have him think that he leaves a fellow creature in this wilderness whom his own hand has injured. I entreat you will go with us and receive medical aid.”
Whether his wound became more painful, or there was something irresistible in the voice and manner of the fair pleader for her father's feelings, we know not; but the distance of the young man's manner was sensibly softened by this appeal, and he stood in apparent doubt, as if reluctant to comply with and yet unwilling to refuse her request. The Judge, for such being his office must in future be his title, watched, with no little interest, the display of this singular contention in the feelings of the youth; and advancing, kindly took his hand, and as he pulled him gently towards the sleigh, urged him to enter it.
“There is no human aid nearer than Templeton,” he said, “and the hut of Natty is full three miles from this; come—come, my young friend, go with us, and let the new doctor look to this shoulder of thine. Here is Natty will take the tidings of thy welfare to thy friend, and shouldst thou require it, thou shalt return home in the morning.”
The young man succeeded in extricating his hand from the warm grasp of the Judge, but he continued to gaze on the face of the female, who, regardless of the cold, was still standing with her fine features exposed, which expressed feelings that eloquently seconded the request of her father. Leatherstocking stood, in the meantime, leaning upon his long rifle with his head turned a little to one side, as if engaged in sagacious musing; when, having apparently satisfied his doubts by revolving the subject in his mind, he broke silence.
“It may be best to go, lad, after all; for if the shot hangs under the skin, my hand is getting too old to be cutting into human flesh as I once used to. Though some thirty years agone, in the old war, when I was out under Sir William, I traveled seventy miles alone in the howling wilderness with a rifle bullet in my thigh and then cut it out with my own jackknife. Old Indian John knows the time well. I met him with a party of the Delawares, on the trail of the Iroquois, who had been down and taken five scalps on the Schoharie. But I made a mark on the redskin that I'll warrant he carried to his grave! I took him on his posteerum, saving the lady's presence, as he got up from the ambushment, and rattled three buckshot into his naked hide, so close that you might have laid a broad joe upon them all.” Here Natty stretched out his long neck and straightened his body as he opened his mouth, which exposed a single tusk of yellow bone, while his eyes, his face, even his whole frame seemed to laugh, although no sound was emitted except a kind of thick hissing as he inhaled his breath in quavers. “I had lost my bullet mold in crossing the Oneida outlet, and had to make shift with the buckshot; but the rifle was true and didn't scatter like your two-legged thing there, Judge, which don't do, I find, to hunt in company with.”
Natty's apology to the delicacy of the young lady was unnecessary, for, while he was speaking, she was too much employed in helping her father to remove certain articles of baggage to hear him. Unable to resist the kind urgency of the travelers any longer, the youth, though still with an unaccountable reluctance, suffered himself to be persuaded to enter the sleigh. The black, with the aid of his master, threw the buck across the baggage, and entering the vehicle themselves, the Judge invited the hunter to do so likewise.
“No, no,” said the old man, shaking his head; “I have work to do at home this Christmas Eve—drive on with the boy, and let your doctor look to the shoulder; though if he will only cut out the shot, I have yarbs that will heal the wound quicker than all his foreign 'intments.” He turned and was about to move off when, suddenly recollecting himself, he again faced the party and added—“If you see anything of Indian John, about the foot of the lake, you had better take him with you and let him lend the doctor a hand; for old as he is, he is curious at cuts and bruises, and it's likelier than not he'll be in with brooms to sweep your Christmas ha'arths.”
“Stop, stop,” cried the youth, catching the arm of the black as he prepared to urge his horses forward. “Natty—you need say nothing of the shot, nor of where I am going—remember, Natty, as you love me.”
“Trust old Leatherstocking,” returned the hunter significantly; “he hasn't lived fifty years in the wilderness and not larnt from the savages how to hold his tongue—trust to me, lad, and remember old Indian John.”
“And, Natty,” said the youth eagerly, still holding the black by the arm, “I will just get the shot extracted and bring you up tonight a quarter of the buck for the Christmas dinner.”
He was interrupted by the hunter, who held up his finger with an expressive gesture for silence. He then moved softly along the margin of the road, keeping his eyes steadfastly fixed on the branches of a pine. When he had obtained such a position as he wished, he stopped, and cocking his rifle, threw one leg far behind him, and stretching his left arm to its utmost extent along the barrel of his piece, he began slowly to raise its muzzle in a line with the straight trunk of the tree. The eyes of the group in the sleigh naturally preceded the movement of the rifle, and they soon discovered the object of Natty's aim. On a small dead branch of the pine, which, at the distance of seventy feet from the ground, shot out horizontally immediately beneath the living members of the tree, sat a bird that in the vulgar language of the country was indiscriminately called a pheasant or a partridge. In size it was but little smaller than a common barnyard fowl. The baying of the dogs and the conversation that had passed near the root of the tree on which it was perched had alarmed the bird, which was now drawn up near the body of the pine with a head and neck so erect as to form nearly a straight line with its legs. As soon as the rifle bore on the victim, Natty drew his trigger, and the partridge fell from its height with a force that buried it in the snow.
“Lie down, you old villain,” exclaimed Leatherstocking, shaking his ramrod at Hector as he bounded towards the foot of the tree, “lie down, I say.” The dog obeyed, and Natty proceeded with great rapidity, though with the nicest accuracy, to reload his piece. When this was ended, he took up his game, and showing it to the party without a head, he cried, “Here is a titbit for an old man's Christmas—never mind the venison, boy, and remember Indian John; his yarbs are better than all the foreign 'intments. Here, Judge,” holding up the bird again, “do you think a smoothbore would pick game off their roost and not ruffle a feather?” The old man gave another of his remarkable laughs, which partook so largely of exultation, mirth, and irony, and shaking his head, he turned, with his rifle at a trail, and moved into the forest with steps that were between a walk and a trot. At each movement he made, his body lowered several inches, his knees yielding with an inclination inwards; but as the sleigh turned at a bend in the road, the youth cast his eyes in quest of his old companion, and he saw that he was already nearly concealed by the trunks of the trees, while his dogs were following quietly in his footsteps, occasionally scenting the deer track that they seemed to know instinctively was now of no further use to them. Another jerk was given to the sleigh, and Leatherstocking was hid from view.
All places that the eye of Heaven visits
Are to a wise man ports and happy havens:—
Think not the king did banish thee.
But thou the king.
AN ancestor of Marmaduke Temple had, about one hundred and twenty years before the commencement of our tale, come to the colony of Pennsylvania, a friend and co-religionist of its great patron. Old Marmaduke, for this formidable praenomen was a kind of appellative to the race, brought with him to that asylum of the persecuted an abundance of the good things of this life. He became the master of many thousands of acres of uninhabited territory and the supporter of many a score of dependents. He lived greatly respected for his piety, and not a little distinguished as a sectary; was intrusted by his associates with many important political stations; and died just in time to escape the knowledge of his own poverty. It was his lot to share the fortune of most of those who brought wealth with them into the new settlements of the middle colonies.
The consequence of an emigrant into these provinces was generally to be ascertained by the number of his white servants or dependents and the nature of the public situations that he held. Taking this rule as a guide, the ancestor of our Judge must have been a man of no little note.
It is, however, a subject of curious inquiry at the present day to look into the brief records of that early period and observe how regular, and with few exceptions how inevitable, were the gradations, on the one hand, of the masters to poverty, and on the other, of their servants to wealth. Accustomed to ease and unequal to the struggles incident to an infant society, the affluent emigrant was barely enabled to maintain his own rank by the weight of his personal superiority and acquirements; but the moment that his head was laid in the grave, his indolent and comparatively uneducated offspring were compelled to yield precedency to the more active energies of a class whose exertions had been stimulated by necessity. This is a very common course of things, even in the present state of the Union; but it was peculiarly the fortunes of the two extremes of society in the peaceful and unenterprising colonies of Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
The posterity of Marmaduke did not escape the common lot of those who depend rather on their hereditary possessions than on their own powers, and in the third generation they had descended to a point below which, in this happy country, it is barely possible for honesty, intellect, and sobriety to fall. The same pride of family that had, by its self-satisfied indolence, conduced to aid their fall now became a principle to stimulate them to endeavor to rise again. The feeling, from being morbid, was changed to a healthful and active desire to emulate the character, the condition, and, peradventure, the wealth of their ancestors also. It was the father of our new acquaintance, the Judge, who first began to reascend in the scale of society; and in this undertaking he was not a little assisted by a marriage which aided in furnishing the means of educating his only son in a rather better manner than the low state of the common schools in Pennsylvania could promise, or than had been the practice in the family for the two or three preceding generations.
At the school where the reviving prosperity of his father was enabled to maintain him, young Marmaduke formed an intimacy with a youth whose years were about equal to his own. This was a fortunate connection for our Judge and paved the way to most of his future elevation in life.
There was not only great wealth, but high court interest, among the connections of Edward Effingham. They were one of the few families then resident in the colonies who thought it a degradation to its members to descend to the pursuits of commerce and who never emerged from the privacy of domestic life, unless to preside in the councils of the colony or to bear arms in her defense. The latter had, from youth, been the only employment of Edward's father. Military rank under the crown of Great Britain was attained with much longer probation, and by much more toilsome services, sixty years ago, than at the present time. Years were passed without murmuring in the subordinate grades of the service; and those soldiers who were stationed in the colonies felt when they obtained the command of a company that they were entitled to receive the greatest deference from the peaceful occupants of the soil. Any one of our readers who has occasion to cross the Niagara may easily observe not only the self-importance, but the real estimation enjoyed by the humblest representative of the crown, even in that polar region of royal sunshine. Such, and at no very distant period, was the respect paid to the military in these states, where now, happily, no symbol of war is ever seen, unless at the free and fearless voice of their people. When, therefore, the father of Marmaduke's friend, after forty years' service, retired with the rank of Major, maintaining in his domestic establishment a comparative splendor, he became a man of the first consideration in his native colony—which was that of New York. He had served with fidelity and courage, and having been, according to the custom of the provinces, intrusted with commands much superior to those to which he was entitled by rank, with reputation also. When Major Effingham yielded to the claims of age, he retired with dignity, refusing his half pay or any other compensation for services that he felt he could no longer perform.
The ministry proffered various civil offices, which yielded not only honor but profit; but he declined them all, with the chivalrous independence and loyalty that had marked his character through life. The veteran soon caused this act of patriotic disinterestedness to be followed by another of private munificence that, however little it accorded with prudence, was in perfect conformity with the simple integrity of his own views.
The friend of Marmaduke was his only child; and to this son, on his marriage with a lady to whom the father was particularly partial, the Major gave a complete conveyance of his whole estate, consisting of moneys in the funds, a town and country residence, sundry valuable farms in the old parts of the colony, and large tracts of wild land in the new—in this manner throwing himself upon the filial piety of his child for his own future maintenance. Major Effingham, in declining the liberal offers of the British ministry, had subjected himself to the suspicion of having attained his dotage, by all those who throng the avenues to court patronage, even in the remotest corners of that vast empire; but, when he thus voluntarily stripped himself of his great personal wealth, the remainder of the community seemed instinctively to adopt the conclusion also, that he had reached a second childhood. This may explain the fact of his importance rapidly declining; and, if privacy was his object, the veteran had soon a free indulgence of his wishes. Whatever views the world might entertain of this act of the Major, to himself and to his child it seemed no more than a natural gift by a father, of those immunities which he could no longer enjoy or improve, to a son, who was formed, both by nature and education, to do both. The younger Effingham did not object to the amount of the donation; for he felt that while his parent reserved a moral control over his actions, he was relieving himself from a fatiguing burden: such, indeed, was the confidence existing between them, that to neither did it seem anything more than removing money from one pocket to another.

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