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Chapter 30

 

“The court awards it, and the law doth give it.”—Merchant of Venice.

Remarkable Pettibone, who had forgotten the wound received by her pride, in contemplation of the ease and comforts of her situation, and who still retained her station in the family of judge Temple, was dispatched to the humble dwelling which Richard already styled “The Rectory,” in attendance on Louisa, who was soon consigned to the arms of her father.

In the mean time, Marmaduke and his daughter were closeted for more than an hour, nor shall we invade the sanctuary of parental love, by relating the conversation. When the curtain rises on the reader, the Judge is seen walking up and down the apartment, with a tender melancholy in his air, and his child reclining on a settee, with a flushed cheek, and her dark eyes seeming to float in crystals.

“It was a timely rescue! it was, indeed, a timely rescue, my child!” cried the Judge. “Then thou didst not desert thy friend, my noble Bess?”

“I believe I may as well take the credit of fortitude,” said Elizabeth, “though I much doubt if flight would have availed me anything, had I even courage to execute such an intention. But I thought not of the expedient.”

“Of what didst thou think, love? where did thy thoughts dwell most, at that fearful moment?”

“The beast! the beast!” cried Elizabeth, veiling her face with her hand. “Oh! I saw nothing, I thought of nothing but the beast. I tried to think of better things, but the horror was too glaring, the danger too much before my eyes.”

“Well, well, thou art safe, and we will converse no more on the unpleasant subject. I did not think such an animal yet remained in our forests; but they will stray far from their haunts when pressed by hunger, and—”

A loud knocking at the door of the apartment interrupted what he was about to utter, and he bid the applicant enter. The door was opened by Benjamin, who came in with a discontented air, as if he felt that he had a communication to make that would be out of season.

“Here is Squire Doolittle below, sir,” commenced the major-domo. “He has been standing off and on in the door-yard for the matter of a glass; and he has summat on his mind that he wants to heave up, d’ye see; but I tells him, says I, man, would you be coming aboard with your complaints, said I, when the judge has gotten his own child, as it were, out of the jaws of a lion? But damn the bit of manners has the fellow, any more than if he was one of them Guineas down in the kitchen there; and so as he was sheering nearer, every stretch he made toward the house, I could do no better than to let your honor know that the chap was in the offing.”

“He must have business of importance,” said Marmaduke: “something in relation to his office, most probably, as the court sits so shortly.”

“Ay, ay, you have it, sir,” cried Benjamin; “it’s summat about a complaint that he has to make of the old Leather-Stocking, who, to my judgment, is the better man of the two. It’s a very good sort of a man is this Master Bumppo, and he has a way with a spear, all the same as if he was brought up at the bow-oar of the captain’s barge, or was born with a boat-hook in his hand.”

“Against the Leather-Stocking!” cried Elizabeth, rising from her reclining posture.

“Rest easy, my child; some trifle, I pledge you; I believe I am already acquainted with its import Trust me, Bess, your champion shall be safe in my care. Show Mr. Doolittle in, Benjamin”

Miss Temple appeared satisfied with this assurance, but fastened her dark eyes on the person of the architect, who profited by the permission, and instantly made his appearance.

All the impatience of Hiram seemed to vanish the instant he entered the apartment. After saluting the Judge and his daughter, he took the chair to which Marmaduke pointed, and sat for a minute, composing his straight black hair, with a gravity of demeanor that was in tended to do honor to his official station. At length he said:

“It’s likely, from what I hear, that Miss Temple had a narrow chance with the painters, on the mountain.”

Marmaduke made a gentle inclination of his head, by way of assent, but continued silent.

“I s’pose the law gives a bounty on the scalps,” continued Hiram, “in which case the Leather-Stocking will make a good job on’t.”

“It shall be my care to see that he is rewarded,” returned the Judge.

“Yes, yes, I rather guess that nobody hereabouts doubts the Judge’s generosity. Does he know whether the sheriff has fairly made up his mind to have a reading desk or a deacon’s pew under the pulpit?” “I have not heard my cousin speak on that subject, lately,” replied Marmaduke. “I think it’s likely that we will have a pretty dull court on’t, from what I can gather. I hear that Jotham Riddel and the man who bought his betterments have agreed to leave their difference to men, and I don’t think there’ll be more than two civil cases in the calendar.”

“I am glad of it,” said the judge; “nothing gives me more pain than to see my settlers wasting their time and substance in the unprofitable struggles of the law. I hope it may prove true, sir.”

“I rather guess ‘twill be left out to men,” added Hiram, with an air equally balanced between doubt and assurance, but which judge Temple understood to mean certainty; “I some think that I am appointed a referee in the case myself; Jotham as much as told me that he should take me. The defendant, I guess, means to take Captain Hollister, and we two have partly agreed on Squire Jones for the third man.”

“Are there any criminals to be tried?” asked Marmaduke.

“There’s the counterfeiters,” returned the magistrate, “as they were caught in the act, I think it likely that they’ll be indicted, in which case it’s probable they’ll be tried.”

“Certainly, sir; I had forgotten those men. There are no more, I hope.” “Why, there is a threaten to come forward with an assault that happened at the last independence day; but I’m not sartain that the law’ll take hold on’t. There was plaguey hard words passed, but whether they struck or not I haven’t heard. There’s some folks talk of a deer or two being killed out of season, over on the west side of the Patent, by some of the squatters on the ‘Fractions.’”

“Let a complaint be made, by all means,” said the Judge; “I am determined to see the law executed to the letter, on all such depredators.”

“Why, yes, I thought the judge was of that mind; I came partly on such a business myself.”

“You!” exclaimed Marmaduke, comprehending in an instant how completely he had been caught by the other’s cunning; “and what have you to say, sir?”

“I some think that Natty Bumppo has the carcass of a deer in his hut at this moment, and a considerable part of my business was to get a search-warrant to examine.”

“You think, sir! do you know that the law exacts an oath, before I can issue such a precept? The habitation of a citizen is not to be idly invaded on light suspicion.”

“I rather think I can swear to it myself,” returned the immovable Hiram; “and Jotham is in the street, and as good as ready to come in and make oath to the same thing.”

“Then issue the warrant thyself; thou art a magistrate, Mr. Doolittle; why trouble me with the matter?”

“Why, seeing it’s the first complaint under the law, and knowing the judge set his heart on the thing, I thought it best that the authority to search should come from himself. Besides, as I’m much in the woods, among the timber, I don’t altogether like making an enemy of the Leather Stocking. Now, the Judge has a weight in the county that puts him above fear.”

Miss Temple turned her face to the callous Architect as she said’ “And what has any honest person to dread from so kind a man as Bumppo?”

“Why, it’s as easy, miss, to pull a rifle trigger on a magistrate as on a painter. But if the Judge don’t conclude to issue the warrant, I must go home and make it out myself.”

“I have not refused your application, sir,” said Marmaduke, perceiving at once that his reputation for impartiality was at stake; “go into my office, Mr. Doolittle, where I will join you, and sign the warrant.” Judge Temple stopped the remonstrances which Elizabeth was about to utter, after Hiram had withdrawn, by laying his hand on her mouth, and saying:

“It is more terrible in sound than frightful in reality, my child. I suppose that the Leather-Stocking has shot a deer, for the season is nearly over, and you say that he was hunting with his dogs when he came so timely to your assistance. But it will be only to examine his cabin, and find the animal, when you can pay the penalty out of your own pocket, Bess. Nothing short of the twelve dollars and a half will satisfy this harpy, I perceive; and surely my reputation as judge is worth that trifle.”

Elizabeth was a good deal pacified with this assurance, and suffered her father to leave her, to fulfil his promise to Hiram.

When Marmaduke left his office after executing his disagreeable duty, he met Oliver Edwards, walking up the gravelled walk in front of the mansion-house with great strides, and with a face agitated by feeling. On seeing judge Temple, the youth turned aside, and with a warmth in his manner that was not often exhibited to Marmaduke, he cried:

“I congratulate you, sir; from the bottom of my soul, I congratulate you, Judge Temple. Oh! it would have been too horrid to have recollected for a moment! I have just left the hut, where, after showing me his scalps, old Natty told me of the escape of the ladies, as the thing to be mentioned last. Indeed, indeed, sir, no words of mine can express half of what I have felt “—the youth paused a moment, as if suddenly recollecting that he was overstepping prescribed limits, and concluded with a good deal of embarrassment—” what I have felt at this danger to Miss—Grant, and—and your daughter, sir,”

But the heart of Marmaduke was too much softened to admit his cavilling at trifles, and, without regarding the confusion of the other, he replied:

“I thank thee, thank thee, Oliver; as thou sayest, it is almost too horrid to be remembered. But come, let us hasten to Bess, for Louisa has already gone to the rectory.”

The young man sprang forward, and, throwing open a door, barely permitted the Judge to precede him, when he was in the presence of Elizabeth in a moment.

The cold distance that often crossed the demeanor of the heiress, in her intercourse with Edwards, was now entirely banished, and two hours were passed by the party, in the free, unembarrassed, and confiding manner of old and esteemed friends. Judge Temple had forgotten the suspicions engendered during his morning’s ride, and the youth and maiden conversed, laughed, and were sad by turns, as impulse directed.

At length, Edwards, after repeating his intention to do so for the third time, left the mansion-house to go to the rectory on a similar errand of friendship.

During this short period, a scene was passing at the hut that completely frustrated the benevolent intentions of Judge Temple in favor of the Leather-Stocking, and at once destroyed the short-lived harmony between the youth and Marmaduke.

When Hiram Doolittle had obtained his search-warrant, his first business was to procure a proper officer to see it executed. The sheriff was absent, summoning in person the grand inquest for the county; the deputy who resided in the village was riding on the same errand, in a different part of the settlement; and the regular constable of the township had been selected for his station from motives of charity, being lame of a leg. Hiram intended to accompany the officer as a spectator, but he felt no very strong desire to bear the brunt of the battle. It was, however, Saturday, and the sun was already turning the shadows of the pines toward the east; on the morrow the conscientious magistrate could not engage in such an expedition at the peril of his soul and long before Monday, the venison, and all vestiges of the death of the deer, might be secreted or destroyed. Happily, the lounging form of Billy Kirby met his eye, and Hiram, at all time fruitful in similar expedients, saw his way clear at once. Jotham, who was associated in the whole business, and who had left the mountain in consequence of a summons from his coadjutor, but who failed, equally with Hiram, in the unfortunate particular of nerve, was directed to summon the wood-chopper to the dwelling of the magistrate.

When Billy appeared, he was very kindly invited to take the chair in which he had already seated himself, and was treated in all respects as if he were an equal.

“Judge Temple has set his heart on putting the deer law in force,” said Hiram, after the preliminary civilities were over, “and a complaint has been laid before him that a deer has been killed. He has issued a search-warrant, and sent for me to get somebody to execute it.”

Kirby, who had no idea of being excluded from the deliberative part of any affair in which he was engaged, drew up his bushy head in a reflecting attitude, and after musing a moment, replied by asking a few questions,

“The sheriff has gone out of the way?”

“Not to be found.”

“And his deputy too?”

“Both gone on the skirts of the Patent.”

“But I saw the constable hobbling about town an hour ago.”

“Yes, yes,” said Hiram, with a coaxing smile and knowing nod, “but this business wants a man—not a cripple.”

“Why,” said Billy, laughing, “ will the chap make fight?” “He’s a little quarrelsome at times, and thinks he’s the best man in the country at rough and tumble.”

“I heard him brag once,” said Jotham, “that there wasn’t a man ‘twixt the Mohawk Flats and the Pennsylvany line that was his match at a close hug.”

“Did you?” exclaimed Kirby, raising his huge frame in his seat, like a lion stretching in his lair; “I rather guess he never felt a Varmounter’s knuckles on his backbone-But who is the chap?”

“Why,” said Jotham, “ it’s—”

“It’s agin’ law to tell,” interrupted Hiram unless you’ll qualify to sarve. You’d be the very man to take him, Bill, and I’ll make out a special deputation in a minute, when you will get the fees.”

“What’s the fees?” said Kirby, laying his large hand on the leaves of a statute-book that Hiram had opened in order to give dignity to his office, which he turned over in his rough manner, as if he were reflecting on a subject about which he had, in truth, already decided; “will they pay a man for a broken head?”

“They’ll be something handsome,” said Hiram.

“Damn the fees,” said Billy, again laughing—” does the fellow think he’s the best wrestler in the county, though? what’s his inches?”

“He’s taller than you be,” said Jotham, “and one of the biggest—”

Talkers, he was about to add, but the impatience of Kirby interrupted him. The wood-chopper had nothing fierce or even brutal in his appearance; the character of his expression was that of good-natured vanity. It was evident he prided himself on the powers of the physical man, like all who have nothing better to boast of; and, stretching out his broad hand, with the palm downward, he said, keeping his eyes fastened on his own bones and sinews:

“Come, give us a touch of the book. I’ll swear, and you’ll see that I’m a man to keep my oath.”

Hiram did not give the wood-chopper time to change his mind, but the oath was administered without unnecessary delay. So soon as this preliminary was completed, the three worthies left the house, and proceeded by the nearest road toward the hut. They had reached the bank of the lake, and were diverging from the route of the highway, before Kirby recollected that he was now entitled to the privilege of the initiated, and repeated his question as to the name of the offender,

“Which way, which way, squire?” exclaimed the hardy wood-chopper; “I thought it was to search a house that you wanted me, not the woods. There is nobody lives on this side of the lake, for six miles, unless you count the Leather-Stocking and old John for settlers. Come, tell me the chap’s name, and I warrant me that I lead you to his clearing by a straighter path than this, for I know every sapling that grows within two miles of Templeton.”

“This is the way,” said Hiram, pointing forward and quickening his step, as if apprehensive that Kirby would desert, “and Bumppo is the man.”

Kirby stopped short, and looked from one of his companions to the other in astonishment. He then burst into a loud laugh, and cried:

“Who? Leather-Stocking! He may brag of his aim and his rifle, for he has the best of both, as I will own myself, for sin’ he shot the pigeon I knock under to him; but for a wrestle! why, I would take the creatur’ between my finger and thumb, and tie him in a bow-knot around my neck for a Barcelony. The man is seventy, and was never anything particular for strength.”

“He’s a deceiving man,” said Hiram, “like all the hunters; he is stronger than he seems; besides, he has his rifle.”

“That for his rifle!” cried Billy; “he’d no more hurt me with his rifle than he’d fly. He’s a harmless creatur’, and I must say that I think he has as good right to kill deer as any man on the Patent. It’s his main support, and this is a free country, where a man is privileged to follow any calling he likes.”

“According to that doctrine,” said Jotham, “anybody may shoot a deer.”

This is the man’s calling, I tell you,” returned Kirby, “and the law was never made for such as he.”

“The law was made for all,” observed Hiram, who began to think that the danger was likely to fall to his own share, notwithstanding his management; “and the law is particular in noticing parjury.”

“See here, Squire Doolittle,” said the reckless woodchopper; “I don’t care the valie of a beetlering for you and your parjury too. But as I have come so far, I’ll go down and have a talk with the old man, and maybe we’ll fry a steak of the deer together.”

“Well, if you can get in peaceably, so much the better,” said the magistrate. “To my notion, strife is very unpopular; I prefar, at all times, clever conduct to an ugly temper.”

As the whole party moved at a great pace, they soon reached the hut, where Hiram thought it prudent to halt on the outside of the top of the fallen pine, which formed a chevaux-de-frise, to defend the approach to the fortress, on the side next the village. The delay was little relished by Kirby, who clapped his hands to his mouth, and gave a loud halloo that brought the dogs out of their kennel, and, almost at the same instant, the scantily-covered head of Natty from the door.

“Lie down, old fool,” cried the hunter; “do you think there’s more painters about you?”

“Ha! Leather-Stocking, I’ve an arrand with you,” cried Kirby; “here’s the good people of the State have been writing you a small letter, and they’ve hired me to ride post.”

“What would you have with me, Billy Kirby?” said Natty, stepping across his threshold, and raising his hand over his eyes, to screen them from the rays of the setting sun, while he took a survey of his visitor. ‘I’ve no land to clear, and Heaven knows I would set out six trees afore I would cut down one.—Down, Hector, I say; into your kennel with ye.”

“Would you, old boy?” roared Billy; “then so much the better for me. But I must do my arrand. Here’s a letter for you, Leather-Stocking. If you can read it, it’s all well, and if you can’t, here’s Squire Doolittle at hand, to let you know what it means. It seems you mistook the twentieth of July for the first of August. that’s all.”

By this time Natty had discovered the lank person of Hiram, drawn up under the cover of a high stump; and all that was complacent in his manner instantly gave way to marked distrust and dissatisfaction. He placed his head within the door of his hut, and said a few words in an undertone, when he again appeared, and continued:

“I’ve nothing for ye; so away, afore the Evil One tempts me to do you harm. I owe you no spite, Billy Kirby, and what for should you trouble an old man who has done you no harm?”

Kirby advanced through the top of the pine, to within a few feet of the hunter, where he seated himself on the end of a log, with great composure, and began to examine the nose of Hector, with whom he was familiar, from their frequently meeting in the woods, where he sometimes fed the dog from his own basket of provisions.

“You’ve outshot me, and I’m not ashamed to say it,” said the wood-chopper; “but I don’t owe you a grudge for that, Natty! though it seems that you’ve shot once too often, for the story goes that you’ve killed a buck.”

“I’ve fired but twice to-day, and both times at the painters,” returned the Leather-Stocking; “see, here are the scalps! I was just going in with them to the Judge’s to ask the bounty.”

While Natty was speaking, he tossed the ears to Kirby, who continued playing with them with a careless air, holding them to the dogs, and laughing at their movements when they scented the unusual game.

But Hiram, emboldened by the advance of the deputed constable, now ventured to approach also, and took up the discourse with the air of authority that became his commission. His first measure was to read the warrant aloud, taking care to give due emphasis to the most material parts, and concluding with the name of the Judge in very audible and distinct tones.

“Did Marmaduke Temple put his name to that bit of paper?” said Natty, shaking his head; “well, well, that man loves the new ways, and his betterments, and his lands, afore his own flesh and blood. But I won’t mistrust the gal; she has an eye like a full-grown buck! poor thing, she didn’t choose her father, and can’t help it. I know but little of the law, Mr. Doolittle; what is to be done, now you’ve read your commission?”

“Oh! it’s nothing but form, Natty,” said Hiram, endeavoring to assume a friendly aspect. “Let’s go in, and talk the thing over in reason; I dare to say that the money can be easily found, and I partly conclude, from what passed, that Judge Temple will pay it himself.”

The old hunter had kept a keen eye on the movements of his three visitors, from the beginning, and had maintained his position, just without the threshold of the cabin, with a determined manner, that showed he was not to be easily driven from his post. When Hiram drew nigher, as if expecting his proposition would be accepted, Natty lifted his hand, and motioned for him to retreat.

“Haven’t I told you more than once, not to tempt me?” he said. “I trouble no man; why can’t the law leave me to myself? Go back—go back, and tell your Judge that he may keep his bounty; but I won’t have his wasty ways brought into my hut.”

This offer, however, instead of appeasing the curiosity of Hiram, seemed to inflame it the more; while Kirby cried:

“Well, that’s fair, squire; he forgives the county his demand, and the county should forgive him the fine; it’s what I call an even trade, and should be concluded on the spot. I like quick dealings, and what’s fair ‘twixt man and man.”

“I demand entrance into this house,” said Hiram, summoning all the dignity he could muster to his assistance, “in the name of the people; and by virtue of this war rant, and of my office, and with this peace officer.”

“Stand back, stand back, squire, and don’t tempt me,” said the Leather-Stocking, motioning him to retire, with great earnestness.

“Stop us at your peril,” continued Hiram. “Billy! Jotham! close up—I want testimony.”

Hiram had mistaken the mild but determined air of Natty for submission, and had already put his foot on the threshold to enter, when he was seized unexpectedly by his shoulders, and hurled over the little bank toward the lake, to the distance of twenty feet. The suddenness of the movement, and the unexpected display of strength on the part of Natty, created a momentary astonishment in his invaders, that silenced all noises; but at the next instant Billy Kirby gave vent to his mirth in peals of laughter, that he seemed to heave up from his very soul.

“Well done, old stub!” he shouted; “the squire knowed you better than I did. Come, come, here’s a green spot; take it out like men, while Jotham and I see fair play.”

“William Kirby, I order you to do your duty,” cried Hiram, from under the bank; “seize that man; I order you to seize him in the name of the people.”

But the Leather-Stocking now assumed a more threatening attitude; his rifle was in his hand, and its muzzle was directed toward the wood-chopper.

“Stand off, I bid ye,” said Natty; “you know my aim, Billy Kirby; I don’t crave your blood, but mine and your’n both shall turn this green grass red, afore you put foot into the hut.”

While the affair appeared trifling, the wood-chopper seemed disposed to take sides with the weaker party; but, when the firearms were introduced, his manner very sensibly changed. He raised his large frame from the log, and, facing the hunter with an open front, he replied:

“I didn’t come here as your enemy, Leather-Stocking; but I don’t value the hollow piece of iron in your hand so much as a broken axe-helve; so, squire, say the word, and keep within the law, and we’ll soon see who’s the best main of the two.”

But no magistrate was to be seen! The instant the rifle was produced Hiram and Jotham vanished; and when the wood-chopper bent his eyes about him in surprise at receiving no answer, he discovered their retreating figures moving toward the village at a rate that sufficiently indicated that they had not only calculated the velocity of a rifle-bullet, but also its probable range.

“You’ve scared the creatur’s off,” said Kirby, with great contempt expressed on his broad features; “but you are not going to scare me; so, Mr. Bumppo, down with your gun, or there’ll be trouble ‘twixt us.” Natty dropped his rifle, and replied:

“I wish you no harm, Billy Kirby; but I leave it to yourself, whether an old man’s hut is to be run down by such varmint. I won’t deny the buck to you, Billy, and you may take the skin in, if you please, and show it as testimony. The bounty will pay the fine, and that ought to satisfy any man,”

“Twill, old boy, ‘twill,” cried Kirby, every- shade of displeasure vanishing from his open brow at the peace-offering; “throw out the hide, and that shall satisfy the law.”

Natty entered the hut, and soon reappeared, bringing with him the desired testimonial; and the wood-chopper departed, as thoroughly reconciled to the hunter as if nothing had happened. As he paced along the margin of the lake he would burst into frequent fits of laughter, while he recollected the summerset of Hiram: and, on the whole, he thought the affair a very capital joke.

Long before Billy’ reached the village, however, the news of his danger, and of Natty’s disrespect of the law, and of Hiram’s discomfiture, were in circulation. A good deal was said about sending for the sheriff; some hints were given about calling out the posse comitatus to avenge the insulted laws; and many of the citizens were collected, deliberating how to proceed. The arrival of Billy with the skin, by removing all grounds for a search, changed the complexion of things materially. Nothing now remained but to collect the fine and assert the dignity of the people; all of which, it was unanimously agreed, could be done as well on the succeeding Monday as on Saturday night—a time kept sacred by large portion of the settlers. Accordingly, all further proceedings were suspended for six-and-thirty hours.