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Chapter 32

 

“Who measured earth, described the starry spheres, And traced the long records of lunar years. “—Pope.

Richard did not return from the exercise of his official duties until late in the evening of the following day. It had been one portion of his business to superintend the arrest of part of a gang of counterfeiters, that had, even at that early period, buried themselves in the woods, to manufacture their base coin, which they afterward circulated from one end of the Union to the other. The expedition had been completely successful, and about midnight the sheriff entered the village, at the head of a posse of deputies and constables, in the centre of whom rode, pinioned, four of the malefactors. At the gate of the mansion-house they separated, Mr. Jones directing his assist ants to proceed with their charge to the county jail, while he pursued his own way up the gravel walk, with the kind of self-satisfaction that a man of his organization would feel, who had really for once done a very clever thing.

“Holla! Aggy!” shouted the sheriff, when he reached the door; “where are you, you black dog? will you keep me here in the dark all night? Holla! Aggy! Brave! Brave! hoy, hoy—where have you got to, Brave? Off his watch! Everybody is asleep but myself! Poor I must keep my eyes open, that others may sleep in safety. Brave! Brave! Well, I will say this for the dog, lazy as he’s grown, that it is the first time I ever knew him to let any one come to the door after dark, without having a smell to know whether it was an honest man or not. He could tell by his nose, almost as well as I could myself by looking at them. Holla! you Agamemnon! where are you? Oh! here comes the dog at last.”

By this time the sheriff had dismounted, and observed a form, which he supposed to be that of Brave, slowly creeping out of the kennel; when, to his astonishment, it reared itself on two legs instead of four, and he was able to distinguish, by the starlight, the curly head and dark visage of the negro.

“Ha! what the devil are you doing there, you black rascal?” he cried. “Is it not hot enough for your Guinea blood in the house this warm night, but you must drive out the poor dog, and sleep in his straw?”

By this time the boy was quite awake, and, with a blubbering whine, he attempted to reply to his master.

“Oh! masser Richard! masser Richard! such a ting! such a ting! I nebber tink a could ‘appen! neber tink he die! Oh, Lor-a-gor! ain’t bury—keep ‘em till masser Richard get back—got a grabe dug—” Here the feelings of the negro completely got the mastery, and, instead of making any intelligible explanation of the causes of his grief, he blubbered aloud.

“Eh! what! buried! grave! dead!” exclaimed Richard, with a tremor in his voice; “nothing serious? Nothing has happened to Benjamin, I hope? I know he has been bilious, but I gave him—”

“Oh, worser ‘an dat! worser ‘an dat!” sobbed the negro. “ Oh! de Lor! Miss ’Lizzy an’ Miss Grant—walk—mountain—poor Bravy ‘—kill a lady— painter-—Oh, Lor, Lor!—Natty Bumppo—tare he troat open—come a see, masser Richard—here he be—here he be.”

As all this was perfectly inexplicable to the sheriff, he was very glad to wait patiently until the black brought a lantern from the kitchen, when he followed Aggy to the kennel, where he beheld poor Brave, indeed, lying in his blood, stiff and cold, but decently covered with the great coat of the negro. He was on the point of demanding an explanation; but the grief of the black, who had fallen asleep on his voluntary watch, having burst out afresh on his waking, utterly disqualified the lad from giving one. Luckily, at this moment the principal door of the house opened, and the coarse features of Benjamin were thrust over the threshold, with a candle elevated above them, shedding its dim rays around in such a manner as to exhibit the lights and shadows of his countenance. Richard threw his bridle to the black, and, bidding him look to the horse, he entered the hall. What is the meaning of the dead dog?” he cried.

“Where is Miss Temple?”

Benjamin made one of his square gestures, with the thumb of his left hand pointing over his right shoulder, as he answered:

“Turned in.”

“Judge Temple—where is he?”

“In his berth.”

“But explain; why is Brave dead? and what is the cause of Aggy’s grief?”

“Why, it’s all down, squire,” said Benjamin, pointing to a slate that lay on the table, by the side of a mug of toddy, a short pipe in which the tobacco was yet burning, and a prayer-book.

Among the other pursuits of Richard, he had a passion to keep a register of all passing events; and his diary, which was written in the manner of a journal, or log. book, embraced not only such circumstances as affected himself, but observations on the weather, and all the occurrences of the family, and frequently of the village. Since his appointment to the office of sheriff and his consequent absences from home, he had employed Benjamin to make memoranda on a slate, of whatever might be thought worth remembering, which, on his return, were regularly transferred to the journal with proper notations of the time, manner, and other little particulars. There was, to be sure, one material objection to the clerkship of Benjamin, which the ingenuity of no one but Richard could have overcome. The steward read nothing but his prayer-book, and that only in particular parts, and by the aid of a good deal of spelling, and some misnomers; but he could not form a single letter with a pen. This would have been an insuperable bar to journalizing with most men; but Richard invented a kind of hieroglyphical character, which was intended to note all the ordinary occurrences of a day, such as how the wind blew, whether the sun shone, or whether it rained, the hours, etc. ; and for the extraordinary, after giving certain elementary lectures on the subject, the sheriff was obliged to trust to the ingenuity of the major-domo. The reader will at once perceive, that it was to this chronicle that Benjamin pointed, instead of directly answering the sheriff’s interrogatory.

When Mr. Jones had drunk a glass of toddy, he brought forth from its secret place his proper journal, and, seating himself by the table, he prepared to transfer the contents of the slate to the paper, at the same time that he appeased his curiosity. Benjamin laid one hand on the back of the sheriff’s chair, in a familiar manner, while he kept the other at liberty to make use of a forefinger, that was bent like some of his own characters, as an index to point out his meaning.

The first thing referred to by the sheriff was the diagram of a compass, cut in one corner of the slate for permanent use. The cardinal points were plainly marked on it, and all the usual divisions were indicated in such a manner that no man who had ever steered a ship could mistake them.

“Oh!” said the sheriff, seating himself down comfort ably in his chair, “you’d the wind southeast, I see, all last night I thought it would have blown up rain.”

“Devil the drop, sir,” said Benjamin; “I believe that the scuttle-butt up aloft is emptied, for there hasn’t so much water fell in the country for the last three weeks as would float Indian John’s canoe, and that draws just one inch nothing, light.”

“Well but didn’t the wind change here this morning? there was a change where I was.”

“To be sure it did, squire; and haven’t I logged it as a shift of wind?”

“I don’t see where, Benjamin—”

“Don’t see!” interrupted the steward, a little crustily; “ain’t there a mark agin’ east-and-by-nothe-half-nothe, with summat like a rising sun at the end of it, to show ‘twas in the morning watch?”

“Yes, yes, that is very legible; but where is the change noted?”

“Where! why doesn’t it see this here tea-kettle, with a mark run from the spout straight, or mayhap a little crooked or so, into west-and-by-southe-half-southe? now I call this a shift of wind, squire. Well, do you see this here boar’s head that you made for me, alongside of the compass—”

“Ay, ay—Boreas—-—I see. Why, you’ve drawn lines from its mouth, extending from one of your marks to the other.”

“It’s no fault of mine, Squire Dickens; ‘tis your d—d climate. The wind has been at all them there marks this very day, and that’s all round the compass, except a little matter of an Irishman’s hurricane at meridium, which you’ll find marked right up and down. Now, I’ve known a sow-wester blow for three weeks, in the channel, with a clean drizzle, in which you might wash your face and hands without the trouble of hauling in water from alongside.”

“Very well, Benjamin,” said the sheriff, writing in his journal; “I believe I have caught the idea. Oh! here’s a cloud over the rising sun—so you had it hazy in the morning?”

“Ay, ay, sir,” said Benjamin.

“Ah it’s Sunday. and here are the marks for the length of the sermon— one, two, three, four—what! did Mr. Grant preach forty minutes?”

“Ay, summat like it; it was a good half-hour by my own glass, and then there was the time lost in turning it, and some little allowance for leeway in not being over-smart about it.”

“Benjamin, this is as long as a Presbyterian; you never could have been ten minutes in turning the glass!”

“Why, do you see, Squire, the parson was very solemn, and I just closed my eyes in order to think the better with myself, just the same as you’d put in the dead-lights to make all snug, and when I opened them agin I found the congregation were getting under way for home, so I calculated the ten minutes would cover the leeway after the glass was out. It was only some such matter as a cat’s nap.”

“Oh, ho! Master Benjamin, you were asleep, were you? but I’ll set down no such slander against an orthodox divine.” Richard wrote twenty-nine minutes in his journal, and continued: “Why, what’s this you’ve got opposite ten o’clock A.M.? A full moon! had you a moon visible by day? I have heard of such portents before now, but—eh! what’s this alongside of it? an hour-glass?”

“That!” said Benjamin, looking coolly over the sheriff’s shoulder, and rolling the tobacco about in his mouth with a jocular air; “why, that’s a small matter of my own. It’s no moon, squire, but only Betty Hollister’s face; for, dye see, sir, hearing all the same as if she had got up a new cargo of Jamaiky from the river, I called in as I was going to the church this morning—ten A.M. was it?—just the time—and tried a glass; and so I logged it, to put me in mind of calling to pay her like an honest man.”

“That was it, was it?” said the sheriff, with some displeasure at this innovation on his memoranda; “and could you not make a better glass than this? it looks like a death’s-head and an hour-glass.”

“Why, as I liked the stuff, squire,” returned the steward, “I turned in, homeward bound, and took t’other glass, which I set down at the bottom of the first, and that gives the thing the shape it has. But as I was there again to-night, and paid for the three at once, your honor may as well run the sponge over the whole business.”

“I will buy you a slate for your own affairs, Benjamin,” said the sheriff; “I don’t like to have the journal marked over in this manner.”

“You needn’t—you needn’t, squire; for, seeing that I was likely to trade often with the woman while this barrel lasted. I’ve opened a fair account with Betty, and she keeps her marks on the back of her bar-door, and I keeps the tally on this here bit of a stick.” As Benjamin concluded he produced a piece of wood, on which five very large, honest notches were apparent. The sheriff cast his eyes on this new ledger for a moment, and continued:

“What have we here! Saturday, two P.M.—Why here’s a whole family piece! two wine-glasses upside-down!”

“That’s two women; the one this a-way is Miss ‘Lizzy, and t’other is the parson’s young‘un.”

“Cousin Bess and Miss Grant!” exclaimed the sheriff, in amazement; “what have they to do with my journal?”

“They’d enough to do to get out of the jaws of that there painter or panther,” said the immovable steward. “This here thingumy, squire, that maybe looks summat like a rat, is the beast, d’ye see; and this here t’other thing, keel uppermost, is poor old Brave, who died nobly, all the same as an admiral fighting for his king and country; and that there—”

“Scarecrow,” interrupted Richard.

“Ay, mayhap it do look a little wild or so,” continued the steward; “but to my judgment, squire, it’s the best image I’ve made, seeing it’s most like the man himself; well, that’s Natty Bumppo, who shot this here painter, that killed that there dog, who would have eaten or done worse to them here young ladies.”

“And what the devil does all this mean?” cried Richard, impatiently.

“Mean!” echoed Benjamin; “it is as true as the Boadishey’s log book—” He was interrupted by the sheriff, who put a few direct questions to him, that obtained more intelligible answers, by which means he became possessed of a tolerably correct idea of the truth, When the wonder, and we must do Richard the justice to say, the feelings also, that were created by this narrative, had in some degree subsided, the sheriff turned his eyes again on his journal, where more inexplicable hieroglyphics met his view.

“What have we here?” he cried; “two men boxing! Has there been a breach of the peace? Ah, that’s the way, the moment my back is turned— -.”

“That’s the Judge and young Master Edwards,” interrupted the steward, very cavalierly.

“How! ‘Duke fighting with Oliver! what the devil has got into you all? More things have happened within the last thirty-six hours than in the preceding six months.” “Yes, it’s so indeed, squire,” returned the steward “I’ve known a smart chase, and a fight at the tail of it”, where less has been logged than I’ve got on that there slate. Howsomnever, they didn’t come to facers, only passed a little jaw fore and aft.”

“Explain! explain!” cried Richard; “it was about the mines, ha! Ay, ay, I see it, I see it; here is a man with a pick on his shoulder. So you heard it all, Benjamin?”

“Why, yes, it was about their minds, I believe, squire, returned the steward; “and, by what I can learn, they spoke them pretty plainly to one another. Indeed, I may say that I overheard a small matter of it myself, seeing that the windows was open, and I hard by. But this here is no pick. but an anchor on a man’s shoulder; and here’s the other fluke down his back, maybe a little too close, which signifies that the lad has got under way and left his moorings.”

“Has Edwards left the house?”

“He has.”

Richard pursued this advantage; and, after a long and close examination, he succeeded in getting out of Benjamin all that he knew, not only concerning the misunderstanding, but of the attempt to search the hut, and Hiram’s discomfiture. The sheriff was no sooner possessed of these facts, which Benjamin related with all possible tenderness to the Leather-Stocking, than, snatching up his hat, and bidding the astonished steward secure the doors and go to his bed, he left the house.

For at least five minutes, after Richard disappeared, Benjamin stood with his arms akimbo, and his eyes fastened on the door; when, having collected his astonished faculties, he prepared to execute the orders he had received.

It has been already said that the “court of common pleas and general sessions of the peace,” or, as it is commonly called, the “county court,” over which Judge Temple presided, held one of its stated sessions on the following morning. The attendants of Richard were officers who had come to the village, as much to discharge their usual duties at this court, as to escort the prisoners and the sheriff knew their habits too well, not to feel confident that he should find most, if not all of them, in the public room of the jail, discussing the qualities of the keeper’s liquors. Accordingly he held his way through the silent streets of the village, directly to the small and insecure building that contained all the unfortunate debt ors and some of the criminals of the county, and where justice was administered to such unwary applicants as were so silly as to throw away two dollars in order to obtain one from their neighbors. The arrival of four malefactors in the custody of a dozen officers was an event, at that day, in Templeton; and, when the sheriff reached the jail, he found every indication that his subordinates in tended to make a night of it.

The nod of the sheriff brought two of his deputies to the door, who in their turn drew off six or seven of the constables. With this force Richard led the way through the village, toward the bank of the lake, undisturbed by any noise, except the barking of one or two curs, who were alarmed by the measured tread of the party, and by the low murmurs that ran through their own numbers, as a few cautious questions and answers were exchanged, relative to the object of their expedition. When they had crossed the little bridge of hewn logs that was thrown over the Susquehanna, they left the highway, and struck into that field which had been the scene of the victory over the pigeons. From this they followed their leader into the low bushes of pines and chestnuts which had sprung up along the shores of the lake, where the plough had not succeeded the fall of the trees, and soon entered the forest itself. Here Richard paused and collected his troop around him.

“I have required your assistance, my friends,” he cried, in a low voice, “in order to arrest Nathaniel Bumppo, commonly called the Leather-Stocking He has assaulted a magistrate, and resisted the execution of a search-war rant, by threatening the life of a constable with his rifle. In short, my friends, he has set an example of rebellion to the laws, and has become a kind of outlaw. He is suspected of other misdemeanors and offences against private rights; and I have this night taken on myself. by the virtue of my office as sheriff, to arrest the said Bumppo, and bring him to the county jail, that he may be present and forthcoming to answer to these heavy charges before the court to-morrow morning. In executing this duty, friends and fellow-citizens, you are to use courage and discretion; courage, that you may not be daunted by any lawless attempt that this man may make with his rifle and his dogs to oppose you; and discretion, which here means caution and prudence, that he may not escape from this sudden attack—and for other good reasons that I need not mention. You will form yourselves in a complete circle around his hut, and at the word ‘advance,’ called aloud by me, you will rush forward and, without giving the criminal time for deliberation, enter his dwelling by force, and make him your prisoner. Spread yourselves for this purpose, while I shall descend to the shore with a deputy, to take charge of that point; and all communications must be made directly to me, under the bank in front of the hut, where I shall station myself and remain, in order to receive them.”

This speech, which Richard had been studying during his walk, had the effect that all similar performances produce, of bringing the dangers of the expedition immediately before the eyes of his forces. The men divided, some plunging deeper into the forest, in order to gain their stations without giving an alarm, and others Continuing to advance, at a gait that would allow the whole party to go in order; but all devising the best plan to repulse the attack of a dog, or to escape a rifle-bullet. It was a moment of dread expectation and interest.

When the sheriff thought time enough had elapsed for the different divisions of his force to arrive at their stations, he raised his voice in the silence of the forest, and shouted the watchword. The sounds played among the arched branches of the trees in hollow cadences; but when the last sinking tone was lost on the ear, in place of the expected howls of the dogs, no other noises were returned but the crackling of torn branches and dried sticks, as they yielded before the advancing steps of the officers. Even this soon ceased, as if by a common consent, when the curiosity and impatience of the sheriff getting the complete ascendency over discretion, he rushed up the bank, and in a moment stood on the little piece of cleared ground in front of the spot where Natty had so long lived, To his amazement, in place of the hut he saw only its smouldering ruins.

The party gradually drew together about the heap of ashes and the ends of smoking logs; while a dim flame in the centre of the ruin, which still found fuel to feed its lingering life, threw its pale light, flickering with the passing currents of the air, around the circle—now showing a face with eyes fixed in astonishment, and then glancing to another countenance, leaving the former shaded in the obscurity of night. Not a voice was raised in inquiry, nor an exclamation made in astonishment. The transition from excitement to disappointment was too powerful for Speech; and even Richard lost the use of an organ that was seldom known to fail him.

The whole group were yet in the fullness of their surprise, when a tall form stalked from the gloom into the circle, treading down the hot ashes and dying embers with callous feet; and, standing over the light, lifted his cap, and exposed the bare head and weather-beaten features of the Leather-Stocking. For a moment he gazed at the dusky figures who surrounded him, more in sorrow than in anger before he spoke.

“What would ye with an old and helpless man?” he said, “You’ve driven God’s creatur’s from the wilder ness, where His providence had put them for His own pleasure; and you’ve brought in the troubles and diviltries of the law, where no man was ever known to disturb another. You have driven me, that have lived forty long years of my appointed time in this very spot, from my home and the shelter of my head, lest you should put your wicked feet and wasty ways in my cabin. You’ve driven me to burn these logs, under which I’ve eaten and drunk—the first of Heaven’s gifts, and the other of the pure springs—for the half of a hundred years; and to mourn the ashes under my feet, as a man would weep and mourn for the children of his body. You’ve rankled the heart of an old man, that has never harmed you or your’n, with bitter feelings toward his kind, at a time when his thoughts should be on a better world; and you’ve driven him to wish that the beasts of the forest, who never feast on the blood of their own families, was his kindred and race; and now, when he has come to see the last brand of his hut, before it is incited into ashes, you follow him up, at midnight, like hungry hounds on the track of a worn-out and dying deer. What more would ye have? for I am here—one too many. I come to mourn, not to fight; and, if it is God’s pleasure, work your will on me.”

When the old man ended he stood, with the light glimmering around his thinly covered head, looking earnestly at the group, which receded from the pile with an involuntary movement, without the reach of the quivering rays, leaving a free passage for his retreat into the bushes, where pursuit in the dark would have been fruit less. Natty seemed not to regard this advantage, but stood facing each individual in the circle in succession, as if to see who would he the first to arrest him. After a pause of a few moments Richard began to rally his confused faculties, and, advancing, apologized for his duty, and made him his prisoner. The party flow collected, and, preceded by the sheriff, with Natty in their centre, they took their way toward the village.

During the walk, divers questions were put to the prisoner concerning his reasons for burning the hut, and whither Mohegan had retreated; but to all of them he observed a profound silence, until, fatigued with their previous duties, and the lateness of the hour, the sheriff and his followers reached the village, and dispersed to their several places of rest, after turning the key of a jail on the aged and apparently friendless Leather-Stocking.