The Deerslayer, by James Fenimore Cooper

Chapter 24

“Thy secret pleasure turns to open shame;

Thy private feasting to a public fast;

Thy smoothing titles to a ragged name;

Thy sugar’d tongue to bitter worm wood taste:

Thy violent vanities can never last.”

Shakespeare, Rape of Lucrece, 11. 890–94.

Judith was waiting the return of Deerslayer on the platform, with stifled impatience, when the latter reached the hut. Hist and Hetty were both in a deep sleep, on the bed usually occupied by the two daughters of the house, and the Delaware was stretched on the floor of the adjoining room, his rifle at his side, and a blanket over him, already dreaming of the events of the last few days. There was a lamp burning in the Ark, for the family was accustomed to indulge in this luxury on extraordinary occasions, and possessed the means, the vessel being of a form and material to render it probable it had once been an occupant of the chest.

As soon as the girl got a glimpse of the canoe, she ceased her hurried walk up and down the platform and stood ready to receive the young man, whose return she had now been anxiously expecting for some time. She helped him to fasten the canoe, and by aiding in the other little similar employments, manifested her desire to reach a moment of liberty as soon as possible. When this was done, in answer to an inquiry of his, she informed him of the manner in which their companions had disposed of themselves. He listened attentively, for the manner of the girl was so earnest and impressive as to apprise him that she had something on her mind of more than common concern.

“And now, Deerslayer,” Judith continued, “you see I have lighted the lamp, and put it in the cabin of the Ark. That is never done with us, unless on great occasions, and I consider this night as the most important of my life. Will you follow me and see what I have to show you — hear what I have to say.”

The hunter was a little surprised, but, making no objections, both were soon in the scow, and in the room that contained the light. Here two stools were placed at the side of the chest, with the lamp on another, and a table near by to receive the different articles as they might be brought to view. This arrangement had its rise in the feverish impatience of the girl, which could brook no delay that it was in her power to obviate. Even all the padlocks were removed, and it only remained to raise the heavy lid, again, to expose all the treasures of this long secreted hoard.

“I see, in part, what all this means,” observed Deerslayer —“yes, I see through it, in part. But why is not Hetty present? Now Thomas Hutter is gone, she is one of the owners of these cur’osities, and ought to see them opened and handled.”

“Hetty sleeps —” answered Judith, huskily. “Happily for her, fine clothes and riches have no charms. Besides she has this night given her share of all that the chest may hold to me, that I may do with it as I please.”

“Is poor Hetty compass enough for that, Judith?” demanded the just-minded young man. “It’s a good rule and a righteous one, never to take when them that give don’t know the valie of their gifts; and such as God has visited heavily in their wits ought to be dealt with as carefully as children that haven’t yet come to their understandings.”

Judith was hurt at this rebuke, coming from the person it did, but she would have felt it far more keenly had not her conscience fully acquitted her of any unjust intentions towards her feeble-minded but confiding sister. It was not a moment, however, to betray any of her usual mountings of the spirit, and she smothered the passing sensation in the desire to come to the great object she had in view.

“Hetty will not be wronged,” she mildly answered; “she even knows not only what I am about to do, Deerslayer, but why I do it. So take your seat, raise the lid of the chest, and this time we will go to the bottom. I shall be disappointed if something is not found to tell us more of the history of Thomas Hutter and my mother.”

“Why Thomas Hutter, Judith, and not your father? The dead ought to meet with as much reverence as the living!”

“I have long suspected that Thomas Hutter was not my father, though I did think he might have been Hetty’s, but now we know he was the father of neither. He acknowledged that much in his dying moments. I am old enough to remember better things than we have seen on this lake, though they are so faintly impressed on my memory that the earlier part of my life seems like a dream.”

“Dreams are but miserable guides when one has to detarmine about realities, Judith,” returned the other admonishingly. “Fancy nothing and hope nothing on their account, though I’ve known chiefs that thought ’em useful.”

“I expect nothing for the future from them, my good friend, but cannot help remembering what has been. This is idle, however, when half an hour of examination may tell us all, or even more than I want to know.”

Deerslayer, who comprehended the girl’s impatience, now took his seat and proceeded once more to bring to light the different articles that the chest contained. As a matter of course, all that had been previously examined were found where they had been last deposited, and they excited much less interest or comment than when formerly exposed to view. Even Judith laid aside the rich brocade with an air of indifference, for she had a far higher aim before her than the indulgence of vanity, and was impatient to come at the still hidden, or rather unknown, treasures.

“All these we have seen before,” she said, “and will not stop to open. The bundle under your hand, Deerslayer, is a fresh one; that we will look into. God send it may contain something to tell poor Hetty and myself who we really are!”

“Ay, if some bundles could speak, they might tell wonderful secrets,” returned the young man deliberately undoing the folds of another piece of course canvass, in order to come at the contents of the roll that lay on his knees: “though this doesn’t seem to be one of that family, seeing ’tis neither more nor less than a sort of flag, though of what nation, it passes my l’arnin’ to say.”

“That flag must have some meaning to it —” Judith hurriedly interposed. “Open it wider, Deerslayer, that we may see the colours.”

“Well, I pity the ensign that has to shoulder this cloth, and to parade it about on the field. Why ’tis large enough, Judith, to make a dozen of them colours the King’s officers set so much store by. These can be no ensign’s colours, but a gin’ral’s!”

“A ship might carry it, Deerslayer, and ships I know do use such things. Have you never heard any fearful stories about Thomas Hutter’s having once been concerned with the people they call buccaneers?”

“Buck-ah-near! Not I— not I— I never heard him mentioned as good at a buck far off, or near by. Hurry Harry did till me something about its being supposed that he had formerly, in some way or other, dealings with sartain sea robbers, but, Lord, Judith, it can’t surely give you any satisfaction to make out that ag’in your mother’s own husband, though he isn’t your father.”

“Anything will give me satisfaction that tells me who I am, and helps to explain the dreams of childhood. My mother’s husband! Yes, he must have been that, though why a woman like her, should have chosen a man like him, is more than mortal reason can explain. You never saw mother, Deerslayer, and can’t feel the vast, vast difference there was between them!”

“Such things do happen, howsever; — yes, they do happen; though why providence lets them come to pass is more than I understand. I’ve knew the f’ercest warriors with the gentlest wives of any in the tribe, and awful scolds fall to the lot of Injins fit to be missionaries.”

“That was not it, Deerslayer; that was not it. Oh! if it should prove that — no; I cannot wish she should not have been his wife at all. That no daughter can wish for her own mother! Go on, now, and let us see what the square looking bundle holds.”

Deerslayer complied, and he found that it contained a small trunk of pretty workmanship, but fastened. The next point was to find a key; but, search proving ineffectual, it was determined to force the lock. This Deerslayer soon effected by the aid of an iron instrument, and it was found that the interior was nearly filled with papers. Many were letters; some fragments of manuscripts, memorandums, accounts, and other similar documents. The hawk does not pounce upon the chicken with a more sudden swoop than Judith sprang forward to seize this mine of hitherto concealed knowledge. Her education, as the reader will have perceived, was far superior to her situation in life, and her eye glanced over page after page of the letters with a readiness that her schooling supplied, and with an avidity that found its origin in her feelings. At first it was evident that the girl was gratified; and we may add with reason, for the letters written by females, in innocence and affection, were of a character to cause her to feel proud of those with whom she had every reason to think she was closely connected by the ties of blood. It does not come within the scope of our plan to give more of these epistles, however, than a general idea of their contents, and this will best be done by describing the effect they produced on the manner, appearance, and feeling of her who was so eagerly perusing them.

It has been said, already, that Judith was much gratified with the letters that first met her eye. They contained the correspondence of an affectionate and inteffigent mother to an absent daughter, with such allusions to the answers as served in a great measure to fill up the vacuum left by the replies. They were not without admonitions and warnings, however, and Judith felt the blood mounting to her temples, and a cold shudder succeeding, as she read one in which the propriety of the daughter’s indulging in as much intimacy as had evidently been described in one of the daughter’s own letters, with an officer “who came from Europe, and who could hardly be supposed to wish to form an honorable connection in America,” was rather coldly commented on by the mother. What rendered it singular was the fact that the signatures had been carefully cut from every one of these letters, and wherever a name occurred in the body of the epistles it had been erased with so much diligence as to render it impossible to read it. They had all been enclosed in envelopes, according to the fashion of the age, and not an address either was to be found. Still the letters themselves had been religiously preserved, and Judith thought she could discover traces of tears remaining on several. She now remembered to have seen the little trunk in her mother’s keeping, previously to her death, and she supposed it had first been deposited in the chest, along with the other forgotten or concealed objects, when the letters could no longer contribute to that parent’s grief or happiness.

Next came another bundle, and these were filled with the protestations of love, written with passion certainly, but also with that deceit which men so often think it justifiable to use to the other sex. Judith had shed tears abundantly over the first packet, but now she felt a sentiment of indignation and pride better sustaining her. Her hand shook, however, and cold shivers again passed through her frame, as she discovered a few points of strong resemblance between these letters and some it had been her own fate to receive. Once, indeed, she laid the packet down, bowed her head to her knees, and seemed nearly convulsed. All this time Deerslayer sat a silent but attentive observer of every thing that passed. As Judith read a letter she put it into his hands to hold until she could peruse the next; but this served in no degree to enlighten her companion, as he was totally unable to read. Nevertheless he was not entirely at fault in discovering the passions that were contending in the bosom of the fair creature by his side, and, as occasional sentences escaped her in murmurs, he was nearer the truth, in his divinations, or conjectures, than the girl would have been pleased at discovering.

Judith had commenced with the earliest letters, luckily for a ready comprehension of the tale they told, for they were carefully arranged in chronological order, and to any one who would take the trouble to peruse them, would have revealed a sad history of gratified passion, coldness, and finally of aversion. As she obtained the clue to their import, her impatience would not admit of delay, and she soon got to glancing her eyes over a page by way of coming at the truth in the briefest manner possible. By adopting this expedient, one to which all who are eager to arrive at results without encumbering themselves with details are so apt to resort, Judith made a rapid progress in these melancholy revelations of her mother’s failing and punishment. She saw that the period of her own birth was distinctly referred to, and even learned that the homely name she bore was given her by the father, of whose person she retained so faint an impression as to resemble a dream. This name was not obliterated from the text of the letters, but stood as if nothing was to be gained by erasing it. Hetty’s birth was mentioned once, and in that instance the name was the mother’s, but ere this period was reached came the signs of coldness, shadowing forth the desertion that was so soon to follow. It was in this stage of the correspondence that her mother had recourse to the plan of copying her own epistles. They were but few, but were eloquent with the feelings of blighted affection, and contrition. Judith sobbed over them, until again and again she felt compelled to lay them aside from sheer physical inability to see; her eyes being literally obscured with tears. Still she returned to the task, with increasing interest, and finally succeeded in reaching the end of the latest communication that had probably ever passed between her parents.

All this occupied fully an hour, for near a hundred letters were glanced at, and some twenty had been closely read. The truth now shone clear upon the acute mind of Judith, so far as her own birth and that of Hetty were concerned. She sickened at the conviction, and for the moment the rest of the world seemed to be cut off from her, and she had now additional reasons for wishing to pass the remainder of her life on the lake, where she had already seen so many bright and so many sorrowing days.

There yet remained more letters to examine. Judith found these were a correspondence between her mother and Thomas Hovey. The originals of both parties were carefully arranged, letter and answer, side by side; and they told the early history of the connection between the ill-assorted pair far more plainly than Judith wished to learn it. Her mother made the advances towards a marriage, to the surprise, not to say horror of her daughter, and she actually found a relief when she discovered traces of what struck her as insanity — or a morbid desperation, bordering on that dire calamity — in the earlier letters of that ill-fated woman. The answers of Hovey were coarse and illiterate, though they manifested a sufficient desire to obtain the hand of a woman of singular personal attractions, and whose great error he was willing to overlook for the advantage of possessing one every way so much his superior, and who it also appeared was not altogether destitute of money. The remainder of this part of the correspondence was brief, and it was soon confined to a few communications on business, in which the miserable wife hastened the absent husband in his preparations to abandon a world which there was a sufficient reason to think was as dangerous to one of the parties as it was disagreeable to the other. But a sincere expression had escaped her mother, by which Judith could get a clue to the motives that had induced her to marry Hovey, or Hutter, and this she found was that feeling of resentment which so often tempts the injured to inflict wrongs on themselves by way of heaping coals on the heads of those through whom they have suffered. Judith had enough of the spirit of that mother to comprehend this sentiment, and for a moment did she see the exceeding folly which permitted such revengeful feelings to get the ascendancy.

There what may be called the historical part of the papers ceased. Among the loose fragments, however, was an old newspaper that contained a proclamation offering a reward for the apprehension of certain free-booters by name, among which was that of Thomas Hovey. The attention of the girl was drawn to the proclamation and to this particular name by the circumstance that black lines had been drawn under both, in ink. Nothing else was found among the papers that could lead to a discovery of either the name or the place of residence of the wife of Hutter. All the dates, signatures, and addresses had been cut from the letters, and wherever a word occurred in the body of the communications that might furnish a clue, it was scrupulously erased. Thus Judith found all her hopes of ascertaining who her parents were defeated, and she was obliged to fall back on her own resources and habits for everything connected with the future. Her recollection of her mother’s manners, conversation, and sufferings filled up many a gap in the historical facts she had now discovered, and the truth, in its outlines, stood sufficiently distinct before her to take away all desire, indeed, to possess any more details. Throwing herself back in her seat, she simply desired her companion to finish the examination of the other articles in the chest, as it might yet contain something of importance.

“I’ll do it, Judith; I’ll do it,” returned the patient Deerslayer, “but if there’s many more letters to read, we shall see the sun ag’in afore you’ve got through with the reading of them! Two good hours have you been looking at them bits of papers!”

“They tell me of my parents, Deerslayer, and have settled my plans for life. A girl may be excused, who reads about her own father and mother, and that too for the first time in her life! I am sorry to have kept you waiting.”

“Never mind me, gal; never mind me. It matters little whether I sleep or watch; but though you be pleasant to look at, and are so handsome, Judith, it is not altogether agreeable to sit so long to behold you shedding tears. I know that tears don’t kill, and that some people are better for shedding a few now and then, especially young women; but I’d rather see you smile any time, Judith, than see you weep.”

This gallant speech was rewarded with a sweet, though a melancholy smile; and then the girl again desired her companion to finish the examination of the chest. The search necessarily continued some time, during which Judith collected her thoughts and regained her composure. She took no part in the search, leaving everything to the young man, looking listlessly herself at the different articles that came uppermost. Nothing further of much interest or value, however, was found. A sword or two, such as were then worn by gentlemen, some buckles of silver, or so richly plated as to appear silver, and a few handsome articles of female dress, composed the principal discoveries. It struck both Judith and the Deerslayer, notwithstanding, that some of these things might be made useful in effecting a negotiation with the Iroquois, though the latter saw a difficulty in the way that was not so apparent to the former. The conversation was first renewed in connection with this point.

“And now, Deerslayer,” said Judith, “we may talk of yourself, and of the means of getting you out of the hands of the Hurons. Any part, or all of what you have seen in the chest, will be cheerfully given by me and Hetty to set you at liberty.”

“Well, that’s gin’rous — yes, ’tis downright free-hearted, and free-handed, and gin’rous. This is the way with women; when they take up a fri’ndship, they do nothing by halves, but are as willing to part with their property as if it had no value in their eyes. However, while I thank you both, just as much as if the bargain was made, and Rivenoak, or any of the other vagabonds, was here to accept and close the treaty, there’s two principal reasons why it can never come to pass, which may be as well told at once, in order no onlikely expectations may be raised in you, or any onjustifiable hopes in me.”

“What reason can there be, if Hetty and I are willing to part with the trifles for your sake, and the savages are willing to receive them?”

“That’s it, Judith; you’ve got the idees, but they’re a little out of their places, as if a hound should take the back’ard instead of the leading scent. That the Mingos will be willing to receive them things, or any more like ’em you may have to offer is probable enough, but whether they’ll pay valie for ’em is quite another matter. Ask yourself, Judith, if any one should send you a message to say that, for such or such a price, you and Hetty might have that chist and all it holds, whether you’d think it worth your while to waste many words on the bargain?”

“But this chest and all it holds, are already ours; there is no reason why we should purchase what is already our own.”

“Just so the Mingos caculate! They say the chist is theirn, already; or, as good as theirn, and they’ll not thank anybody for the key.”

“I understand you, Deerslayer; surely we are yet in possession of the lake, and we can keep possession of it until Hurry sends troops to drive off the enemy. This we may certainly do provided you will stay with us, instead of going back and giving yourself up a prisoner, again, as you now seem determined on.”

“That Hurry Harry should talk in thisaway, is nat’ral, and according to the gifts of the man. He knows no better, and, therefore, he is little likely to feel or to act any better; but, Judith, I put it to your heart and conscience — would you, could you think of me as favorably, as I hope and believe you now do, was I to forget my furlough and not go back to the camp?”

“To think more favorably of you than I now do, Deerslayer, would not be easy; but I might continue to think as favorably — at least it seems so — I hope I could, for a world wouldn’t tempt me to let you do anything that might change my real opinion of you.”

“Then don’t try to entice me to overlook my furlough, gal! A furlough is a sacred thing among warriors and men that carry their lives in their hands, as we of the forests do, and what a grievous disapp’intment would it be to old Tamenund, and to Uncas, the father of the Sarpent, and to my other fri’nds in the tribe, if I was so to disgrace myself on my very first war-path. This you will pairceive, moreover, Judith, is without laying any stress on nat’ral gifts, and a white man’s duties, to say nothing of conscience. The last is king with me, and I try never to dispute his orders.”

“I believe you are right, Deerslayer,” returned the girl, after a little reflection and in a saddened voice: “a man like you ought not to act as the selfish and dishonest would be apt to act; you must, indeed, go back. We will talk no more of this, then. Should I persuade you to anything for which you would be sorry hereafter, my own regret would not be less than yours. You shall not have it to say, Judith — I scarce know by what name to call myself, now!”

“And why not? Why not, gal? Children take the names of their parents, nat’rally, and by a sort of gift, like, and why shouldn’t you and Hetty do as others have done afore ye? Hutter was the old man’s name, and Hutter should be the name of his darters; — at least until you are given away in lawful and holy wedlock.”

“I am Judith, and Judith only,” returned the girl positively —“until the law gives me a right to another name. Never will I use that of Thomas Hutter again; nor, with my consent, shall Hetty! Hutter was not even his own name, I find, but had he a thousand rights to it, it would give none to me. He was not my father, thank heaven; though I may have no reason to be proud of him that was!”

“This is strange!” said Deerslayer, looking steadily at the excited girl, anxious to know more, but unwilling to inquire into matters that did not properly concern him; “yes, this is very strange and oncommon! Thomas Hutter wasn’t Thomas Hutter, and his darters weren’t his darters! Who, then, could Thomas Hutter be, and who are his darters?”

“Did you never hear anything whispered against the former life of this person, Deerslayer?” demanded Judith “Passing, as I did, for his child, such reports reached even me.”

“I’ll not deny it, Judith; no, I’ll not deny it. Sartain things have been said, as I’ve told you, but I’m not very credible as to reports. Young as I am, I’ve lived long enough to l’arn there’s two sorts of characters in the world — them that is ‘arned by deeds, and them that is ‘arned by tongues, and so I prefar to see and judge for myself, instead of letting every jaw that chooses to wag become my judgment. Hurry Harry spoke pretty plainly of the whole family, as we journeyed this-a-way, and he did hint something consarning Thomas Hutter’s having been a free-liver on the water, in his younger days. By free-liver, I mean that he made free to live on other men’s goods.”

“He told you he was a pirate — there is no need of mincing matters between friends. Read that, Deerslayer, and you will see that he told you no more than the truth. This Thomas Hovey was the Thomas Hutter you knew, as is seen by these letters.”

As Judith spoke, with a flushed cheek and eyes dazzling with the brilliancy of excitement, she held the newspaper towards her companion, pointing to the proclamation of a Colonial Governor, already mentioned.

“Bless you, Judith!” answered the other laughing, “you might as well ask me to print that — or, for that matter to write it. My edication has been altogether in the woods; the only book I read, or care about reading, is the one which God has opened afore all his creatur’s in the noble forests, broad lakes, rolling rivers, blue skies, and the winds and tempests, and sunshine, and other glorious marvels of the land! This book I can read, and I find it full of wisdom and knowledge.”

“I crave your pardon, Deerslayer,” said Judith, earnestly, more abashed than was her wont, in finding that she had in advertently made an appeal that might wound her compan ion’s pride. “I had forgotten your manner of life, and least of all did I wish to hurt your feelings.”

“Hurt my feelin’s? Why should it hurt my feelin’s to ask me to read, when I can’t read. I’m a hunter — and I may now begin to say a warrior, and no missionary, and therefore books and papers are of no account with such as I— No, no — Judith,” and here the young man laughed cordially, “not even for wads, seeing that your true deerkiller always uses the hide of a fa’a’n, if he’s got one, or some other bit of leather suitably prepared. There’s some that do say, all that stands in print is true, in which case I’ll own an unl’arned man must be somewhat of a loser; nevertheless, it can’t be truer than that which God has printed with his own hand in the sky, and the woods, and the rivers, and the springs.”

“Well, then, Hutter, or Hovey, was a pirate, and being no father of mine, I cannot wish to call him one. His name shall no longer be my name.”

“If you dislike the name of that man, there’s the name of your mother, Judith. Her’n may sarve you just as good a turn.”

“I do not know it. I’ve look’d through those papers, Deerslayer, in the hope of finding some hint by which I might discover who my mother was, but there is no more trace of the past, in that respect, than the bird leaves in the air.”

“That’s both oncommon, and onreasonable. Parents are bound to give their offspring a name, even though they give ’em nothing else. Now I come of a humble stock, though we have white gifts and a white natur’, but we are not so poorly off as to have no name. Bumppo we are called, and I’ve heard it said —” a touch of human vanity glowing on his cheek, “that the time has been when the Bumppos had more standing and note among mankind than they have just now.”

“They never deserved them more, Deerslayer, and the name is a good one; either Hetty, or myself, would a thousand times rather be called Hetty Bumppo, or Judith Bumppo, than to be called Hetty or Judith Hutter.”

“That’s a moral impossible,” returned the hunter, good humouredly, “onless one of you should so far demean herself as to marry me.”

Judith could not refrain from smiling, when she found how simply and naturally the conversation had come round to the very point at which she had aimed to bring it. Although far from unfeminine or forward, either in her feelings or her habits, the girl was goaded by a sense of wrongs not altogether merited, incited by the hopelessness of a future that seemed to contain no resting place, and still more influenced by feelings that were as novel to her as they proved to be active and engrossing. The opening was too good, therefore, to be neglected, though she came to the subject with much of the indirectness and perhaps justifiable address of a woman.

“I do not think Hetty will ever marry, Deerslayer,” she said, “and if your name is to be borne by either of us, it must be borne by me.”

“There’s been handsome women too, they tell me, among the Bumppos, Judith, afore now, and should you take up with the name, oncommon as you be in this particular, them that knows the family won’t be altogether surprised.”

“This is not talking as becomes either of us, Deerslayer, for whatever is said on such a subject, between man and woman, should be said seriously and in sincerity of heart. Forgetting the shame that ought to keep girls silent until spoken to, in most cases, I will deal with you as frankly as I know one of your generous nature will most like to be dealt by. Can you — do you think, Deerslayer, that you could be happy with such a wife as a woman like myself would make?”

“A woman like you, Judith! But where’s the sense in trifling about such a thing? A woman like you, that is handsome enough to be a captain’s lady, and fine enough, and so far as I know edicated enough, would be little apt to think of becoming my wife. I suppose young gals that feel themselves to be smart, and know themselves to be handsome, find a sartain satisfaction in passing their jokes ag’in them that’s neither, like a poor Delaware hunter.”

This was said good naturedly, but not without a betrayal of feeling which showed that something like mortified sensibility was blended with the reply. Nothing could have occurred more likely to awaken all Judith’s generous regrets, or to aid her in her purpose, by adding the stimulant of a disinterested desire to atone to her other impulses, and cloaking all under a guise so winning and natural, as greatly to lessen the unpleasant feature of a forwardness unbecoming the sex.

“You do me injustice if you suppose I have any such thought, or wish,” she answered, earnestly. “Never was I more serious in my life, or more willing to abide by any agreement that we may make to-night. I have had many suitors, Deerslayer — nay, scarce an unmarried trapper or hunter has been in at the Lake these four years, who has not offered to take me away with him, and I fear some that were married, too —”

“Ay, I’ll warrant that!” interrupted the other —“I’ll warrant all that! Take ’em as a body, Judith, ‘arth don’t hold a set of men more given to theirselves, and less given to God and the law.”

“Not one of them would I— could I listen to; happily for myself perhaps, has it been that such was the case. There have been well looking youths among them too, as you may have seen in your acquaintance, Henry March.”

“Yes, Harry is sightly to the eye, though, to my idees, less so to the judgment. I thought, at first, you meant to have him, Judith, I did; but afore he went, it was easy enough to verify that the same lodge wouldn’t be big enough for you both.”

“You have done me justice in that at least, Deerslayer. Hurry is a man I could never marry, though he were ten times more comely to the eye, and a hundred times more stout of heart than he really is.”

“Why not, Judith, why not? I own I’m cur’ous to know why a youth like Hurry shouldn’t find favor with a maiden like you?”

“Then you shall know, Deerslayer,” returned the girl, gladly availing herself of the opportunity of indirectly extolling the qualities which had so strongly interested her in her listener; hoping by these means covertly to approach the subject nearest her heart. “In the first place, looks in a man are of no importance with a woman, provided he is manly, and not disfigured, or deformed.”

“There I can’t altogether agree with you,” returned the other thoughtfully, for he had a very humble opinion of his own personal appearance; “I have noticed that the comeliest warriors commonly get the best-looking maidens of the tribe for wives, and the Sarpent, yonder, who is sometimes wonderful in his paint, is a gineral favorite with all the Delaware young women, though he takes to Hist, himself, as if she was the only beauty on ‘arth!”

“It may be so with Indians; but it is different with white girls. So long as a young man has a straight and manly frame, that promises to make him able to protect a woman, and to keep want from the door, it is all they ask of the figure. Giants like Hurry may do for grenadiers, but are of little account as lovers. Then as to the face, an honest look, one that answers for the heart within, is of more value than any shape or colour, or eyes, or teeth, or trifles like them. The last may do for girls, but who thinks of them at all, in a hunter, or a warrior, or a husband? If there are women so silly, Judith is not among them.”

“Well, this is wonderful! I always thought that handsome liked handsome, as riches love riches!”

“It may be so with you men, Deerslayer, but it is not always so with us women. We like stout-hearted men, but we wish to see them modest; sure on a hunt, or the war-path, ready to die for the right, and unwilling to yield to the wrong. Above all we wish for honesty — tongues that are not used to say what the mind does not mean, and hearts that feel a little for others, as well as for themselves. A true-hearted girl could die for such a husband! while the boaster, and the double-tongued suitor gets to be as hateful to the sight, as he is to the mind.”

Judith spoke bitterly, and with her usual force, but her listener was too much struck with the novelty of the sensations he experienced to advert to her manner. There was something so soothing to the humility of a man of his temperament, to hear qualities that he could not but know he possessed himself, thus highly extolled by the loveliest female he had ever beheld, that, for the moment, his faculties seemed suspended in a natural and excusable pride. Then it was that the idea of the possibility of such a creature as Judith becoming his companion for life first crossed his mind. The image was so pleasant, and so novel, that he continued completely absorbed by it for more than a minute, totally regardless of the beautiful reality that was seated before him, watching the expression of his upright and truth-telling countenance with a keenness that gave her a very fair, if not an absolutely accurate clue to his thoughts. Never before had so pleasing a vision floated before the mind’s eye of the young hunter, but, accustomed most to practical things, and little addicted to submitting to the power of his imagination, even while possessed of so much true poetical feeling in connection with natural objects in particular, he soon recovered his reason, and smiled at his own weakness, as the fancied picture faded from his mental sight, and left him the simple, untaught, but highly moral being he was, seated in the Ark of Thomas Hutter, at midnight, with the lovely countenance of its late owner’s reputed daughter, beaming on him with anxious scrutiny, by the light of the solitary lamp.

“You’re wonderful handsome, and enticing, and pleasing to look on, Judith!” he exclaimed, in his simplicity, as fact resumed its ascendency over fancy. “Wonderful! I don’t remember ever to have seen so beautiful a gal, even among the Delawares; and I’m not astonished that Hurry Harry went away soured as well as disapp’inted!”

“Would you have had me, Deerslayer, become the wife of such a man as Henry March?”

“There’s that which is in his favor, and there’s that which is ag’in him. To my taste, Hurry wouldn’t make the best of husbands, but I fear that the tastes of most young women, hereaway, wouldn’t be so hard upon him.”

“No — no — Judith without a name would never consent to be called Judith March! Anything would be better than that.”

“Judith Bumppo wouldn’t sound as well, gal; and there’s many names that would fall short of March, in pleasing the ear.”

“Ah! Deerslayer, the pleasantness of the sound, in such cases, doesn’t come through the ear, but through the heart. Everything is agreeable, when the heart is satisfied. Were Natty Bumppo, Henry March, and Henry March, Natty Bumppo, I might think the name of March better than it is; or were he, you, I should fancy the name of Bumppo horrible!”

“That’s just it — yes, that’s the reason of the matter. Now, I’m nat’rally avarse to sarpents, and I hate even the word, which, the missionaries tell me, comes from human natur’, on account of a sartain sarpent at the creation of the ‘arth, that outwitted the first woman; yet, ever since Chingachgook has ‘arned the title he bears, why the sound is as pleasant to my ears as the whistle of the whippoorwill of a calm evening — it is. The feelin’s make all the difference in the world, Judith, in the natur’ of sounds; ay, even in that of looks, too.”

“This is so true, Deerslayer, that I am surprised you should think it remarkable a girl, who may have some comeliness herself, should not think it necessary that her husband should have the same advantage, or what you fancy an advantage. To me, looks in a man is nothing provided his countenance be as honest as his heart.”

“Yes, honesty is a great advantage, in the long run; and they that are the most apt to forget it in the beginning, are the most apt to l’arn it in the ind. Nevertheless, there’s more, Judith, that look to present profit than to the benefit that is to come after a time. One they think a sartainty, and the other an onsartainty. I’m glad, howsever, that you look at the thing in its true light, and not in the way in which so many is apt to deceive themselves.”

“I do thus look at it, Deerslayer,” returned the girl with emphasis, still shrinking with a woman’s sensitiveness from a direct offer of her hand, “and can say, from the bottom of my heart, that I would rather trust my happiness to a man whose truth and feelings may be depended on, than to a false-tongued and false-hearted wretch that had chests of gold, and houses and lands — yes, though he were even seated on a throne!”

“These are brave words, Judith; they’re downright brave words; but do you think that the feelin’s would keep ’em company, did the ch’ice actually lie afore you? If a gay gallant in a scarlet coat stood on one side, with his head smelling like a deer’s foot, his face smooth and blooming as your own, his hands as white and soft as if God hadn’t bestowed ’em that man might live by the sweat of his brow, and his step as lofty as dancing-teachers and a light heart could make it; and the other side stood one that has passed his days in the open air till his forehead is as red as his cheek; had cut his way through swamps and bushes till his hand was as rugged as the oaks he slept under; had trodden on the scent of game till his step was as stealthy as the catamount’s, and had no other pleasant odor about him than such as natur’ gives in the free air and the forest — now, if both these men stood here, as suitors for your feelin’s, which do you think would win your favor?”

Judith’s fine face flushed, for the picture that her companion had so simply drawn of a gay officer of the garrisons had once been particularly grateful to her imagination, though experience and disappointment had not only chilled all her affections, but given them a backward current, and the passing image had a momentary influence on her feelings; but the mounting colour was succeeded by a paleness so deadly, as to make her appear ghastly.

“As God is my judge,” the girl solemnly answered, “did both these men stand before me, as I may say one of them does, my choice, if I know my own heart, would be the latter. I have no wish for a husband who is any way better than myself.”

“This is pleasant to listen to, and might lead a young man in time to forget his own onworthiness, Judith! Howsever, you hardly think all that you say. A man like me is too rude and ignorant for one that has had such a mother to teach her. Vanity is nat’ral, I do believe, but vanity like that, would surpass reason.”

“Then you do not know of what a woman’s heart is capable! Rude you are not, Deerslayer, nor can one be called ignorant that has studied what is before his eyes as closely as you have done. When the affections are concerned, all things appear in their pleasantest colors, and trifles are overlooked, or are forgotten. When the heart feels sunshine, nothing is gloomy, even dull looking objects, seeming gay and bright, and so it would be between you and the woman who should love you, even though your wife might happen, in some matters, to possess what the world calls the advantage over you.”

“Judith, you come of people altogether above mine, in the world, and onequal matches, like onequal fri’ndships can’t often tarminate kindly. I speak of this matter altogether as a fanciful thing, since it’s not very likely that you, at least, would be apt to treat it as a matter that can ever come to pass.”

Judith fastened her deep blue eyes on the open, frank countenance of her companion, as if she would read his soul. Nothing there betrayed any covert meaning, and she was obliged to admit to herself, that he regarded the conversation as argumentative, rather than positive, and that he was still without any active suspicion that her feelings were seriously involved in the issue. At first, she felt offended; then she saw the injustice of making the self-abasement and modesty of the hunter a charge against him, and this novel difficulty gave a piquancy to the state of affairs that rather increased her interest in the young man. At that critical instant, a change of plan flashed on her mind, and with a readiness of invention that is peculiar to the quick-witted and ingenious, she adopted a scheme by which she hoped effectually to bind him to her person. This scheme partook equally of her fertility of invention, and of the decision and boldness of her character. That the conversation might not terminate too abruptly, however, or any suspicion of her design exist, she answered the last remark of Deerslayer, as earnestly and as truly as if her original intention remained unaltered.

“I, certainly, have no reason to boast of parentage, after what I have seen this night,” said the girl, in a saddened voice. “I had a mother, it is true; but of her name even, I am ignorant — and, as for my father, it is better, perhaps, that I should never know who he was, lest I speak too bitterly of him!”

“Judith,” said Deerslayer, taking her hand kindly, and with a manly sincerity that went directly to the girl’s heart, “tis better to say no more to-night. Sleep on what you’ve seen and felt; in the morning things that now look gloomy, may look more che’rful. Above all, never do anything in bitterness, or because you feel as if you’d like to take revenge on yourself for other people’s backslidings. All that has been said or done atween us, this night, is your secret, and shall never be talked of by me, even with the Sarpent, and you may be sartain if he can’t get it out of me no man can. If your parents have been faulty, let the darter be less so; remember that you’re young, and the youthful may always hope for better times; that you’re more quick-witted than usual, and such gin’rally get the better of difficulties, and that, as for beauty, you’re oncommon, which is an advantage with all. It is time to get a little rest, for to-morrow is like to prove a trying day to some of us.”

Deerslayer arose as he spoke, and Judith had no choice but to comply. The chest was closed and secured, and they parted in silence, she to take her place by the side of Hist and Hetty, and he to seek a blanket on the floor of the cabin he was in. It was not five minutes ere the young man was in a deep sleep, but the girl continued awake for a long time. She scarce knew whether to lament, or to rejoice, at having failed in making herself understood. On the one hand were her womanly sensibilities spared; on the other was the disappointment of defeated, or at least of delayed expectations, and the uncertainty of a future that looked so dark. Then came the new resolution, and the bold project for the morrow, and when drowsiness finally shut her eyes, they closed on a scene of success and happiness, that was pictured by the fancy, under the influence of a sanguine temperament, and a happy invention.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/c/cooper/james_fenimore/deerslayer/chapter24.html

Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:37