"Upon two stony tables, spread before her,
She lean'd her bosom, more than stony hard,
There slept th' impartial judge, and strict restorer
Of wrong, or right, with pain or with reward;
There hung the score of all our debts, the card
Where good, and bad, and life, and death, were painted;
Was never heart of mortal so untainted,
But when the roll was read, with thousand terrors fainted."
— Giles Fletcher, Christ's Victory in Heaven, lxv.
"We've done an unthoughtful thing, Sarpent — yes, Judith, we've done an unthoughtful thing in taking life with an object no better than vanity!" exclaimed Deerslayer, when the Delaware held up the enormous bird, by its wings, and exhibited the dying eyes riveted on its enemies with the gaze that the helpless ever fasten on their destroyers. "Twas more becomin' two boys to gratify their feelin's in this onthoughtful manner, than two warriors on a warpath, even though it be their first. Ah's! me; well, as a punishment I'll quit you at once, and when I find myself alone with them bloody-minded Mingos, it's more than like I'll have occasion to remember that life is sweet, even to the beasts of the woods and the fowls of the air. There, Judith; there's Kildeer; take him back, ag'in, and keep him for some hand that's more desarving to own such a piece."
"I know of none as deserving as your own, Deerslayer," answered the girl in haste; "none but yours shall keep the rifle."
"If it depended on skill, you might be right enough, gal, but we should know when to use firearms, as well as how to use 'em. I haven't l'arnt the first duty yet, it seems; so keep the piece till I have. The sight of a dyin' and distressed creatur', even though it be only a bird, brings wholesome thoughts to a man who don't know how soon his own time may come, and who is pretty sartain that it will come afore the sun sets; I'd give back all my vain feelin's, and rej'icin's in hand and eye, if that poor eagle was only on its nest ag'in, with its young, praisin' the Lord for anything that we can know about the matter, for health and strength!"
The listeners were confounded with this proof of sudden repentance in the hunter, and that too for an indulgence so very common, that men seldom stop to weigh its consequences, or the physical suffering it may bring on the unoffending and helpless. The Delaware understood what was said, though he scarce understood the feelings which had prompted the words, and by way of disposing of the difficulty, he drew his keen knife, and severed the head of the sufferer from its body.
"What a thing is power!" continued the hunter, "and what a thing it is to have it, and not to know how to use it. It's no wonder, Judith, that the great so often fail of their duties, when even the little and the humble find it so hard to do what's right, and not to do what's wrong. Then, how one evil act brings others a'ter it! Now, wasn't it for this furlough of mine, which must soon take me back to the Mingos, I'd find this creatur's nest, if I travelled the woods a fortnight — though an eagle's nest is soon found by them that understands the bird's natur', — but I'd travel a fortnight rather than not find it, just to put the young, too, out of their pain."
"I'm glad to hear you say this, Deerslayer," observed Hetty, "and God will be more apt to remember your sorrow for what you've done, than the wickedness itself. I thought how wicked it was to kill harmless birds, while you were shooting, and meant to tell you so; but, I don't know how it happened, — I was so curious to see if you could hit an eagle at so great a height, that I forgot altogether to speak, 'till the mischief was done."
"That's it; that's just it, my good Hetty. We can all see our faults and mistakes when it's too late to help them! Howsever I'm glad you didn't speak, for I don't think a word or two would have stopped me, just at that moment, and so the sin stands in its nakedness, and not aggravated by any unheeded calls to forbear. Well, well, bitter thoughts are hard to be borne at all times, but there's times when they're harder than at others."
Little did Deerslayer know, while thus indulging in feelings that were natural to the man, and so strictly in accordance with his own unsophisticated and just principles, that, in the course of the inscrutable providence, which so uniformly and yet so mysteriously covers all events with its mantle, the very fault he was disposed so severely to censure was to be made the means of determining his own earthly fate. The mode and the moment in which he was to feel the influence of this interference, it would be premature to relate, but both will appear in the course of the succeeding chapters. As for the young man, he now slowly left the Ark, like one sorrowing for his misdeeds, and seated himself in silence on the platform. By this time the sun had ascended to some height, and its appearance, taken in connection with his present feelings, induced him to prepare to depart. The Delaware got the canoe ready for his friend, as soon as apprised of his intention, while Hist busied herself in making the few arrangements that were thought necessary to his comfort. All this was done without ostentation, but in a way that left Deerslayer fully acquainted with, and equally disposed to appreciate, the motive. When all was ready, both returned to the side of Judith and Hetty, neither of whom had moved from the spot where the young hunter sat.
"The best fri'nds must often part," the last began, when he saw the whole party grouped around him — "yes, fri'ndship can't alter the ways of Providence, and let our feelin's be as they may, we must part. I've often thought there's moments when our words dwell longer on the mind than common, and when advice is remembered, just because the mouth that gives it isn't likely to give it ag'in. No one knows what will happen in this world, and therefore it may be well, when fri'nds separate under a likelihood that the parting may be long, to say a few words in kindness, as a sort of keepsakes. If all but one will go into the Ark, I'll talk to each in turn, and what is more, I'll listen to what you may have to say back ag'in, for it's a poor counsellor that won't take as well as give."
As the meaning of the speaker was understood, the two Indians immediately withdrew as desired, leaving the sisters, however, still standing at the young man's side. A look of Deerslayer's induced Judith to explain.
"You can advise Hetty as you land," she said hastily, "for I intend that she shall accompany you to the shore."
"Is this wise, Judith? It's true, that under common sarcumstances a feeble mind is a great protection among red-skins, but when their feelin's are up, and they're bent on revenge, it's hard to say what may come to pass. Besides — "
"What were you about to say, Deerslayer?" asked Judith, whose gentleness of voice and manner amounted nearly to tenderness, though she struggled hard to keep her emotions and apprehensions in subjection.
"Why, simply that there are sights and doin's that one even as little gifted with reason and memory as Hetty here, might better not witness. So, Judith, you would do well to let me land alone, and to keep your sister back."
"Never fear for me, Deerslayer," put in Hetty, who comprehended enough of the discourse to know its general drift, "I'm feeble minded, and that they say is an excuse for going anywhere; and what that won't excuse, will be overlooked on account of the Bible I always carry. It is wonderful, Judith, how all sorts of men; the trappers as well as the hunters; red-men as well as white; Mingos as well as Delawares do reverence and fear the Bible!"
"I think you have not the least ground to fear any injury, Hetty," answered the sister, "and therefore I shall insist on your going to the Huron camp with our friend. Your being there can do no harm, not even to yourself, and may do great good to Deerslayer."
"This is not a moment, Judith, to dispute, and so have the matter your own way," returned the young man. "Get yourself ready, Hetty, and go into the canoe, for I've a few parting words to say to your sister, which can do you no good."
Judith and her companion continued silent, until Hetty had so far complied as to leave them alone, when Deerslayer took up the subject, as if it had been interrupted by some ordinary occurrence, and in a very matter of fact way.