“She speaks much of her father; says she hears,
There’s tricks i’ the world; and hems, and beats her breast;
Spurns enviously at straws; speaks things in doubt,
That carry but half sense; her speech is nothing,
Yet the unshaped use of it doth move
The hearers to collection;”
We left the occupants of the castle and the ark, buried in sleep. Once, or twice, in the course of the night, it is true, Deerslayer or the Delaware, arose and looked out upon the tranquil lake; when, finding all safe, each returned to his pallet, and slept like a man who was not easily deprived of his natural rest. At the first signs of the dawn the former arose, however, and made his personal arrangements for the day; though his companion, whose nights had not been tranquil or without disturbances of late, continued on his blanket until the sun had fairly risen; Judith, too, was later than common that morning, for the earlier hours of the night had brought her little of either refreshment or sleep. But ere the sun had shown himself over the eastern hills these too were up and afoot, even the tardy in that region seldom remaining on their pallets after the appearance of the great luminary. Chingachgook was in the act of arranging his forest toilet, when Deerslayer entered the cabin of the Ark and threw him a few coarse but light summer vestments that belonged to Hutter.
“Judith hath given me them for your use, chief,” said the latter, as he cast the jacket and trousers at the feet of the Indian, “for it’s ag’in all prudence and caution to be seen in your war dress and paint. Wash off all them fiery streaks from your cheeks, put on these garments, and here is a hat, such as it is, that will give you an awful oncivilized sort of civilization, as the missionaries call it. Remember that Hist is at hand, and what we do for the maiden must be done while we are doing for others. I know it’s ag’in your gifts and your natur’ to wear clothes, unless they are cut and carried in a red man’s fashion, but make a vartue of necessity and put these on at once, even if they do rise a little in your throat.”
Chingachgook, or the Serpent, eyed the vestments with strong disgust; but he saw the usefulness of the disguise, if not its absolute necessity. Should the Iroquois discover a red man, in or about the Castle, it might, indeed, place them more on their guard, and give their suspicions a direction towards their female captive. Any thing was better than a failure, as it regarded his betrothed, and, after turning the different garments round and round, examining them with a species of grave irony, affecting to draw them on in a way that defeated itself, and otherwise manifesting the reluctance of a young savage to confine his limbs in the usual appliances of civilized life, the chief submitted to the directions of his companion, and finally stood forth, so far as the eye could detect, a red man in colour alone. Little was to be apprehended from this last peculiarity, however, the distance from the shore, and the want of glasses preventing any very close scrutiny, and Deerslayer, himself, though of a brighter and fresher tint, had a countenance that was burnt by the sun to a hue scarcely less red than that of his Mohican companion. The awkwardness of the Delaware in his new attire caused his friend to smile more than once that day, but he carefully abstained from the use of any of those jokes which would have been bandied among white men on such an occasion, the habits of a chief, the dignity of a warrior on his first path, and the gravity of the circumstances in which they were placed uniting to render so much levity out of season.
The meeting at the morning meal of the three islanders, if we may use the term, was silent, grave and thoughtful. Judith showed by her looks that she had passed an unquiet night, while the two men had the future before them, with its unseen and unknown events. A few words of courtesy passed between Deerslayer and the girl, in the course of the breakfast, but no allusion was made to their situation. At length Judith, whose heart was full, and whose novel feelings disposed her to entertain sentiments more gentle and tender than common, introduced the subject, and this in a way to show how much of her thoughts it had occupied, in the course of the last sleepless night.
“It would be dreadful, Deerslayer,” the girl abruptly exclaimed, “should anything serious befall my father and Hetty! We cannot remain quietly here and leave them in the hands of the Iroquois, without bethinking us of some means of serving them.”
“I’m ready, Judith, to sarve them, and all others who are in trouble, could the way to do it be p’inted out. It’s no trifling matter to fall into red-skin hands, when men set out on an ar’n’d like that which took Hutter and Hurry ashore; that I know as well as another, and I wouldn’t wish my worst inimy in such a strait, much less them with whom I’ve journeyed, and eat, and slept. Have you any scheme, that you would like to have the Sarpent and me indivour to carry out?”
“I know of no other means to release the prisoners, than by bribing the Iroquois. They are not proof against presents, and we might offer enough, perhaps, to make them think it better to carry away what to them will be rich gifts, than to carry away poor prisoners; if, indeed, they should carry them away at all!”
“This is well enough, Judith; yes, it’s well enough, if the inimy is to be bought, and we can find articles to make the purchase with. Your father has a convenient lodge, and it is most cunningly placed, though it doesn’t seem overstock’d with riches that will be likely to buy his ransom. There’s the piece he calls Killdeer, might count for something, and I understand there’s a keg of powder about, which might be a make-weight, sartain; and yet two able bodied men are not to be bought off for a trifle — besides —”
“Besides what?” demanded Judith impatiently, observing that the other hesitated to proceed, probably from a reluctance to distress her.
“Why, Judith, the Frenchers offer bounties as well as our own side, and the price of two scalps would purchase a keg of powder, and a rifle; though I’ll not say one of the latter altogether as good as Killdeer, there, which your father va’nts as uncommon, and unequalled, like. But fair powder, and a pretty sartain rifle; then the red men are not the expartest in fire arms, and don’t always know the difference atwixt that which is ra’al, and that which is seeming.”
“This is horrible!” muttered the girl, struck by the homely manner in which her companion was accustomed to state his facts. “But you overlook my own clothes, Deerslayer, and they, I think, might go far with the women of the Iroquois.”
“No doubt they would; no doubt they would, Judith,” returned the other, looking at her keenly, as if he would ascertain whether she were really capable of making such a sacrifice. “But, are you sartain, gal, you could find it in your heart to part with your own finery for such a purpose? Many is the man who has thought he was valiant till danger stared him in the face; I’ve known them, too, that consaited they were kind and ready to give away all they had to the poor, when they’ve been listening to other people’s hard heartedness; but whose fists have clench’d as tight as the riven hickory when it came to downright offerings of their own. Besides, Judith, you’re handsome — uncommon in that way, one might observe and do no harm to the truth — and they that have beauty, like to have that which will adorn it. Are you sartain you could find it in your heart to part with your own finery?”
The soothing allusion to the personal charms of the girl was well timed, to counteract the effect produced by the distrust that the young man expressed of Judith’s devotion to her filial duties. Had another said as much as Deerslayer, the compliment would most probably have been overlooked in the indignation awakened by the doubts, but even the unpolished sincerity, that so often made this simple minded hunter bare his thoughts, had a charm for the girl; and while she colored, and for an instant her eyes flashed fire, she could not find it in her heart to be really angry with one whose very soul seemed truth and manly kindness. Look her reproaches she did, but conquering the desire to retort, she succeeded in answering in a mild and friendly manner.
“You must keep all your favorable opinions for the Delaware girls, Deerslayer, if you seriously think thus of those of your own colour,” she said, affecting to laugh. “But try me; if you find that I regret either ribbon or feather, silk or muslin, then may you think what you please of my heart, and say what you think.”
“That’s justice! The rarest thing to find on ‘arth is a truly just man. So says Tamenund, the wisest prophet of the Delawares, and so all must think that have occasion to see, and talk, and act among Mankind. I love a just man, Sarpent. His eyes are never covered with darkness towards his inimies, while they are all sunshine and brightness towards his fri’nds. He uses the reason that God has given him, and he uses it with a feelin’ of his being ordered to look at, and to consider things as they are, and not as he wants them to be. It’s easy enough to find men who call themselves just, but it’s wonderful oncommon to find them that are the very thing, in fact. How often have I seen Indians, gal, who believed they were lookin’ into a matter agreeable to the will of the Great Spirit, when in truth they were only striving to act up to their own will and pleasure, and this, half the time, with a temptation to go wrong that could no more be seen by themselves, than the stream that runs in the next valley can be seen by us through yonder mountain’, though any looker on might have discovered it as plainly as we can discover the parch that are swimming around this hut.”
“Very true, Deerslayer,” rejoined Judith, losing every trace of displeasure in a bright smile —“very true, and I hope to see you act on this love of justice in all matters in which I am concerned. Above all, I hope you will judge for yourself, and not believe every evil story that a prating idler like Hurry Harry may have to tell, that goes to touch the good name of any young woman, who may not happen to have the same opinion of his face and person that the blustering gallant has of himself.”
“Hurry Harry’s idees do not pass for gospel with me, Judith; but even worse than he may have eyes and ears”, returned the other gravely.
“Enough of this!” exclaimed Judith, with flashing eye and a flush that mounted to her temples, “and more of my father and his ransom. ’Tis as you say, Deerslayer; the Indians will not be likely to give up their prisoners without a heavier bribe than my clothes can offer, and father’s rifle and powder. There is the chest.”
“Ay, there is the chest as you say, Judith, and when the question gets to be between a secret and a scalp, I should think most men would prefer keeping the last. Did your father ever give you any downright commands consarning that chist?”
“Never. He has always appeared to think its locks, and its steel bands, and its strength, its best protection.”
“’Tis a rare chest, and altogether of curious build,” returned Deerslayer, rising and approaching the thing in question, on which he seated himself, with a view to examine it with greater ease. “Chingachgook, this is no wood that comes of any forest that you or I have ever trailed through! ‘Tisn’t the black walnut, and yet it’s quite as comely, if not more so, did the smoke and the treatment give it fair play.”
The Delaware drew near, felt of the wood, examined its grain, endeavored to indent the surface with a nail, and passed his hand curiously over the steel bands, the heavy padlocks, and the other novel peculiarities of the massive box.
“No — nothing like this grows in these regions,” resumed Deerslayer. “I’ve seen all the oaks, both the maples, the elms, the bass woods, all the walnuts, the butternuts, and every tree that has a substance and colour, wrought into some form or other, but never have I before seen such a wood as this! Judith, the chest itself would buy your father’s freedom, or Iroquois cur’osity isn’t as strong as red-skin cur’osity, in general; especially in the matter of woods.”
“The purchase might be cheaper made, perhaps, Deerslayer. The chest is full, and it would be better to part with half than to part with the whole. Besides, father — I know not why — but father values that chest highly.”
“He would seem to prize what it holds more than the chest, itself, judging by the manner in which he treats the outside, and secures the inside. Here are three locks, Judith; is there no key?”
“I’ve never seen one, and yet key there must be, since Hetty told us she had often seen the chest opened.”
“Keys no more lie in the air, or float on the water, than humans, gal; if there is a key, there must be a place in which it is kept.”
“That is true, and it might not be difficult to find it, did we dare to search!”
“This is for you, Judith; it is altogether for you. The chist is your’n, or your father’s; and Hutter is your father, not mine. Cur’osity is a woman’s, and not a man’s failing, and there you have got all the reasons before you. If the chist has articles for ransom, it seems to me they would be wisely used in redeeming their owner’s life, or even in saving his scalp; but that is a matter for your judgment, and not for ourn. When the lawful owner of a trap, or a buck, or a canoe, isn’t present, his next of kin becomes his riprisentyve by all the laws of the woods. We therefore leave you to say whether the chist shall, or shall not be opened.”
“I hope you do not believe I can hesitate, when my father’s life’s in danger, Deerslayer!”
“Why, it’s pretty much putting a scolding ag’in tears and mourning. It’s not onreasonable to foretell that old Tom may find fault with what you’ve done, when he sees himself once more in his hut, here, but there’s nothing unusual in men’s falling out with what has been done for their own good; I dare to say that even the moon would seem a different thing from what it now does, could we look at it from the other side.”
“Deerslayer, if we can find the key, I will authorize you to open the chest, and to take such things from it as you may think will buy father’s ransom.”
“First find the key, gal; we’ll talk of the rest a’terwards. Sarpent, you’ve eyes like a fly, and a judgment that’s seldom out. Can you help us in calculating where Floating Tom would be apt to keep the key of a chist that he holds to be as private as this?”
The Delaware had taken no part in the discourse until he was thus directly appealed to, when he quitted the chest, which had continued to attract his attention, and cast about him for the place in which a key would be likely to be concealed under such circumstances. As Judith and Deerslayer were not idle the while, the whole three were soon engaged in an anxious and spirited search. As it was certain that the desired key was not to be found in any of the common drawers or closets, of which there were several in the building, none looked there, but all turned their inquiries to those places that struck them as ingenious hiding places, and more likely to be used for such a purpose. In this manner the outer room was thoroughly but fruitlessly examined, when they entered the sleeping apartment of Hutter. This part of the rude building was better furnished than the rest of the structure, containing several articles that had been especially devoted to the service of the deceased wife of its owner, but as Judith had all the rest of the keys, it was soon rummaged without bringing to light the particular key desired.
They now entered the bed room of the daughters. Chingachgook was immediately struck with the contrast between the articles and the arrangement of that side of the room that might be called Judith’s, and that which more properly belonged to Hetty. A slight exclamation escaped him, and pointing in each direction he alluded to the fact in a low voice, speaking to his friend in the Delaware tongue.
“’Tis as you think, Sarpent,” answered Deerslayer, whose remarks we always translate into English, preserving as much as possible of the peculiar phraseology and manner of the man, “’Tis just so, as any one may see, and ’tis all founded in natur’. One sister loves finery, some say overmuch; while t’other is as meek and lowly as God ever created goodness and truth. Yet, after all, I dare say that Judith has her vartues, and Hetty has her failin’s.”
“And the ‘Feeble–Mind’ has seen the chist opened?” inquired Chingachgook, with curiosity in his glance.
“Sartain; that much I’ve heard from her own lips; and, for that matter, so have you. It seems her father doesn’t misgive her discretion, though he does that of his eldest darter.”
“Then the key is hid only from the Wild Rose?” for so Chingachgook had begun gallantly to term Judith, in his private discourse with his friend.
“That’s it! That’s just it! One he trusts, and the other he doesn’t. There’s red and white in that, Sarpent, all tribes and nations agreeing in trusting some, and refusing to trust other some. It depends on character and judgment.”
“Where could a key be put, so little likely to be found by the Wild Rose, as among coarse clothes?”
Deerslayer started, and turning to his friend with admiration expressed in every lineament of his face, he fairly laughed, in his silent but hearty manner, at the ingenuity and readiness of the conjecture.
“Your name’s well bestowed, Sarpent — yes, ’tis well bestowed! Sure enough, where would a lover of finery be so little likely to s’arch, as among garments as coarse and onseemly as these of poor Hetty’s. I dares to say, Judith’s delicate fingers haven’t touched a bit of cloth as rough and oncomely as that petticoat, now, since she first made acquaintance with the officers! Yet, who knows? The key may be as likely to be on the same peg, as in any other place. Take down the garment, Delaware, and let us see if you are ra’ally a prophet.” Chingachgook did as desired, but no key was found. A coarse pocket, apparently empty, hung on the adjoining peg, and this was next examined. By this time, the attention of Judith was called in that direction, and she spoke hurriedly and like one who wished to save unnecessary trouble.
“Those are only the clothes of poor Hetty, dear simple girl!” she said, “Nothing we seek would be likely to be there.”
The words were hardly out of the handsome mouth of the speaker, when Chingachgook drew the desired key from the pocket. Judith was too quick of apprehension not to understand the reason a hiding place so simple and exposed had been used. The blood rushed to her face, as much with resentment, perhaps, as with shame, and she bit her lip, though she continued silent. Deerslayer and his friend now discovered the delicacy of men of native refinement, neither smiling or even by a glance betraying how completely he understood the motives and ingenuity of this clever artifice. The former, who had taken the key from the Indian, led the way into the adjoining room, and applying it to a lock ascertained that the right instrument had actually been found. There were three padlocks, each of which however was easily opened by this single key. Deerslayer removed them all, loosened the hasps, raised the lid a little to make certain it was loose, and then he drew back from the chest several feet, signing to his friend to follow.
“This is a family chist, Judith,” he said, “and ’tis like to hold family secrets. The Sarpent and I will go into the Ark, and look to the canoes, and paddles, and oars, while you can examine it by yourself, and find out whether any thing that will be a make-weight in a ransom is, or is not, among the articles. When you’ve got through give us a call, and we’ll all sit in council together touching the valie of the articles.”
“Stop, Deerslayer,” exclaimed the girl, as he was about to withdraw. “Not a single thing will I touch — I will not even raise the lid — unless you are present. Father and Hetty have seen fit to keep the inside of this chest a secret from me, and I am much too proud to pry into their hidden treasures unless it were for their own good. But on no account will I open the chest alone. Stay with me, then; I want witnesses of what I do.”
“I rather think, Sarpent, that the gal is right! Confidence and reliance beget security, but suspicion is like to make us all wary. Judith has a right to ask us to be present, and should the chist hold any of Master Hutter’s secrets, they will fall into the keeping of two as close mouthed young men as are to be found. We will stay with you, Judith — but first let us take a look at the lake and the shore, for this chist will not be emptied in a minute.”
The two men now went out on the platform, and Deerslayer swept the shore with the glass, while the Indian gravely turned his eye on the water and the woods, in quest of any sign that might betray the machinations of their enemies. Nothing was visible, and assured of their temporary security, the three collected around the chest again, with the avowed object of opening it.
Judith had held this chest and its unknown contents in a species of reverence as long as she could remember. Neither her father nor her mother ever mentioned it in her presence, and there appeared to be a silent convention that in naming the different objects that occasionally stood near it, or even lay on its lid, care should be had to avoid any allusion to the chest itself. Habit had rendered this so easy, and so much a matter of course, that it was only quite recently the girl had began even to muse on the singularity of the circumstance. But there had never been sufficient intimacy between Hutter and his eldest daughter to invite confidence. At times he was kind, but in general, with her more especially, he was stern and morose. Least of all had his authority been exercised in a way to embolden his child to venture on the liberty she was about to take, without many misgivings of the consequences, although the liberty proceeded from a desire to serve himself. Then Judith was not altogether free from a little superstition on the subject of this chest, which had stood a sort of tabooed relic before her eyes from childhood to the present hour. Nevertheless the time had come when it would seem that this mystery was to be explained, and that under circumstances, too, which left her very little choice in the matter.
Finding that both her companions were watching her movements, in grave silence, Judith placed a hand on the lid and endeavored to raise it. Her strength, however, was insufficient, and it appeared to the girl, who was fully aware that all the fastenings were removed, that she was resisted in an unhallowed attempt by some supernatural power.
“I cannot raise the lid, Deerslayer!” she said —“Had we not better give up the attempt, and find some other means of releasing the prisoners?”
“Not so — Judith; not so, gal. No means are as sartain and easy, as a good bribe,” answered the other. “As for the lid, ’tis held by nothing but its own weight, which is prodigious for so small a piece of wood, loaded with iron as it is.”
As Deerslayer spoke, he applied his own strength to the effort, and succeeded in raising the lid against the timbers of the house, where he took care to secure it by a sufficient prop. Judith fairly trembled as she cast her first glance at the interior, and she felt a temporary relief in discovering that a piece of canvas, that was carefully tucked in around the edges, effectually concealed all beneath it. The chest was apparently well stored, however, the canvas lying within an inch of the lid.
“Here’s a full cargo,” said Deerslayer, eyeing the arrangement, “and we had needs go to work leisurely and at our ease. Sarpent, bring some stools while I spread this blanket on the floor, and then we’ll begin work orderly and in comfort.”
The Delaware complied, Deerslayer civilly placed a stool for Judith, took one himself, and commenced the removal of the canvas covering. This was done deliberately, and in as cautious a manner as if it were believed that fabrics of a delicate construction lay hidden beneath. When the canvass was removed, the first articles that came in view were some of the habiliments of the male sex. They were of fine materials, and, according to the fashions of the age, were gay in colours and rich in ornaments. One coat in particular was of scarlet, and had button holes worked in gold thread. Still it was not military, but was part of the attire of a civilian of condition, at a period when social rank was rigidly respected in dress. Chingachgook could not refrain from an exclamation of pleasure, as soon as Deerslayer opened this coat and held it up to view, for, notwithstanding all his trained self-command, the splendor of the vestment was too much for the philosophy of an Indian. Deerslayer turned quickly, and he regarded his friend with momentary displeasure as this burst of weakness escaped him, and then he soliloquized, as was his practice whenever any strong feeling suddenly got the ascendancy.
“’Tis his gift! — yes, ’tis the gift of a red-skin to love finery, and he is not to be blamed. This is an extr’ornary garment, too, and extr’ornary things get up extr’ornary feelin’s. I think this will do, Judith, for the Indian heart is hardly to be found in all America that can withstand colours like these, and glitter like that. If this coat was ever made for your father, you’ve come honestly by the taste for finery, you have.”
“That coat was never made for father,” answered the girl, quickly —“it is much too long, while father is short and square.”
“Cloth was plenty if it was, and glitter cheap,” answered Deerslayer, with his silent, joyous laugh. “Sarpent, this garment was made for a man of your size, and I should like to see it on your shoulders.”
Chingachgook, nothing loath, submitted to the trial, throwing aside the coarse and thread bare jacket of Hutter, to deck his person in a coat that was originally intended for a gentleman. The transformation was ludicrous, but as men are seldom struck with incongruities in their own appearance, any more than in their own conduct, the Delaware studied this change in a common glass, by which Hutter was in the habit of shaving, with grave interest. At that moment he thought of Hist, and we owe it to truth, to say, though it may militate a little against the stern character of a warrior to avow it, that he wished he could be seen by her in his present improved aspect.
“Off with it, Sarpent — off with it,” resumed the inflexible Deerslayer. “Such garments as little become you as they would become me. Your gifts are for paint, and hawk’s feathers, and blankets, and wampum, and mine are for doublets of skins, tough leggings, and sarviceable moccasins. I say moccasins, Judith, for though white, living as I do in the woods it’s necessary to take to some of the practyces of the woods, for comfort’s sake and cheapness.”
“I see no reason, Deerslayer, why one man may not wear a scarlet coat, as well as another,” returned the girl. “I wish I could see you in this handsome garment.”
“See me in a coat fit for a Lord! — Well, Judith, if you wait till that day, you’ll wait until you see me beyond reason and memory. No — no — gal, my gifts are my gifts, and I’ll live and die in ’em, though I never bring down another deer, or spear another salmon. What have I done that you should wish to see me in such a flaunting coat, Judith?”
“Because I think, Deerslayer, that the false-tongued and false-hearted young gallants of the garrisons, ought not alone to appear in fine feathers, but that truth and honesty have their claims to be honored and exalted.”
“And what exaltification”— the reader will have remarked that Deerslayer had not very critically studied his dictionary —“and what exaltification would it be to me, Judith, to be bedizened and bescarleted like a Mingo chief that has just got his presents up from Quebec? No — no — I’m well as I am; and if not, I can be no better. Lay the coat down on the blanket, Sarpent, and let us look farther into the chist.”
The tempting garment, one surely that was never intended for Hutter, was laid aside, and the examination proceeded. The male attire, all of which corresponded with the coat in quality, was soon exhausted, and then succeeded female. A beautiful dress of brocade, a little the worse from negligent treatment, followed, and this time open exclamations of delight escaped the lips of Judith. Much as the girl had been addicted to dress, and favorable as had been her opportunities of seeing some little pretension in that way among the wives of the different commandants, and other ladies of the forts, never before had she beheld a tissue, or tints, to equal those that were now so unexpectedly placed before her eyes. Her rapture was almost childish, nor would she allow the inquiry to proceed, until she had attired her person in a robe so unsuited to her habits and her abode. With this end, she withdrew into her own room, where with hands practised in such offices, she soon got rid of her own neat gown of linen, and stood forth in the gay tints of the brocade. The dress happened to fit the fine, full person of Judith, and certainly it had never adorned a being better qualified by natural gifts to do credit to its really rich hues and fine texture. When she returned, both Deerslayer and Chingachgook, who had passed the brief time of her absence in taking a second look at the male garments, arose in surprise, each permitting exclamations of wonder and pleasure to escape him, in a way so unequivocal as to add new lustre to the eyes of Judith, by flushing her cheeks with a glow of triumph. Affecting, however, not to notice the impression she had made, the girl seated herself with the stateliness of a queen, desiring that the chest might be looked into, further.
“I don’t know a better way to treat with the Mingos, gal,” cried Deerslayer, “than to send you ashore as you be, and to tell ’em that a queen has arrived among ’em! They’ll give up old Hutter, and Hurry, and Hetty, too, at such a spectacle!”
“I thought your tongue too honest to flatter, Deerslayer,” returned the girl, gratified at this admiration more than she would have cared to own. “One of the chief reasons of my respect for you, was your love for truth.”
“And ’tis truth, and solemn truth, Judith, and nothing else. Never did eyes of mine gaze on as glorious a lookin’ creatur’ as you be yourself, at this very moment! I’ve seen beauties in my time, too, both white and red; and them that was renowned and talk’d of, far and near; but never have I beheld one that could hold any comparison with what you are at this blessed instant, Judith; never.”
The glance of delight which the girl bestowed on the frank-speaking hunter in no degree lessened the effect of her charms, and as the humid eyes blended with it a look of sensibility, perhaps Judith never appeared more truly lovely, than at what the young man had called that “blessed instant.” He shook his head, held it suspended a moment over the open chest, like one in doubt, and then proceeded with the examination.
Several of the minor articles of female dress came next, all of a quality to correspond with the gown. These were laid at Judith’s feet, in silence, as if she had a natural claim to their possession. One or two, such as gloves, and lace, the girl caught up, and appended to her already rich attire in affected playfulness, but with the real design of decorating her person as far as circumstances would allow. When these two remarkable suits, male and female they might be termed, were removed, another canvas covering separated the remainder of the articles from the part of the chest which they had occupied. As soon as Deerslayer perceived this arrangement he paused, doubtful of the propriety of proceeding any further.
“Every man has his secrets, I suppose,” he said, “and all men have a right to their enj’yment. We’ve got low enough in this chist in my judgment to answer our wants, and it seems to me we should do well by going no farther; and by letting Master Hutter have to himself, and his own feelin’s, all that’s beneath this cover.
“Do you mean, Deerslayer, to offer these clothes to the Iroquois as ransom?” demanded Judith, quickly.
“Sartain. What are we prying into another man’s chist for, but to sarve its owner in the best way we can. This coat, alone, would be very apt to gain over the head chief of the riptyles, and if his wife or darter should happen to be out with him, that there gownd would soften the heart of any woman that is to be found atween Albany and Montreal. I do not see that we want a larger stock in trade than them two articles.”
“To you it may seem so, Deerslayer,” returned the disappointed girl, “but of what use could a dress like this be to any Indian woman? She could not wear it among the branches of the trees, the dirt and smoke of the wigwam would soon soil it, and how would a pair of red arms appear, thrust through these short, laced sleeves!”
“All very true, gal, and you might go on and say it is altogether out of time, and place and season, in this region at all. What is it to us how the finery is treated, so long as it answers our wishes? I do not see that your father can make any use of such clothes, and it’s lucky he has things that are of no valie to himself, that will bear a high price with others. We can make no better trade for him, than to offer these duds for his liberty. We’ll throw in the light frivol’ties, and get Hurry off in the bargain.”
“Then you think, Deerslayer, that Thomas Hutter has no one in his family — no child — no daughter, to whom this dress may be thought becoming, and whom you could wish to see in it, once and awhile, even though it should be at long intervals, and only in playfulness?”
“I understand you, Judith — yes, I now understand your meaning, and I think I can say, your wishes. That you are as glorious in that dress as the sun when it rises or sets in a soft October day, I’m ready to allow, and that you greatly become it is a good deal more sartain than that it becomes you. There’s gifts in clothes, as well as in other things. Now I do not think that a warrior on his first path ought to lay on the same awful paints as a chief that has had his virtue tried, and knows from exper’ence he will not disgrace his pretensions. So it is with all of us, red or white. You are Thomas Hutter’s darter, and that gownd was made for the child of some governor, or a lady of high station, and it was intended to be worn among fine furniture, and in rich company. In my eyes, Judith, a modest maiden never looks more becoming than when becomingly clad, and nothing is suitable that is out of character. Besides, gal, if there’s a creatur’ in the colony that can afford to do without finery, and to trust to her own good looks and sweet countenance, it’s yourself.”
“I’ll take off the rubbish this instant, Deerslayer,” cried the girl, springing up to leave the room, “and never do I wish to see it on any human being, again.”
“So it is with ’em, all, Sarpent,” said the other, turning to his friend and laughing, as soon as the beauty had disappeared. “They like finery, but they like their natyve charms most of all. I’m glad the gal has consented to lay aside her furbelows, howsever, for it’s ag’in reason for one of her class to wear em; and then she is handsome enough, as I call it, to go alone. Hist would show oncommon likely, too, in such a gownd, Delaware!”
“Wah-ta-Wah is a red-skin girl, Deerslayer,” returned the Indian, “like the young of the pigeon, she is to be known by her own feathers. I should pass by without knowing her, were she dressed in such a skin. It’s wisest always to be so clad that our friends need not ask us for our names. The ‘Wild Rose’ is very pleasant, but she is no sweeter for so many colours.”
“That’s it! — that’s natur’, and the true foundation for love and protection. When a man stoops to pick a wild strawberry, he does not expect to find a melon; and when he wishes to gather a melon, he’s disapp’inted if it proves to be a squash; though squashes be often brighter to the eye than melons. That’s it, and it means stick to your gifts, and your gifts will stick to you.”
The two men had now a little discussion together, touching the propriety of penetrating any farther into the chest of Hutter, when Judith re-appeared, divested of her robes, and in her own simple linen frock again.
“Thank you, Judith,” said Deerslayer, taking her kindly by the hand-“for I know it went a little ag’in the nat’ral cravings of woman, to lay aside so much finery, as it might be in a lump. But you’re more pleasing to the eye as you stand, you be, than if you had a crown on your head, and jewels dangling from your hair. The question now is, whether to lift this covering to see what will be ra’ally the best bargain we can make for Master Hutter, for we must do as we think he would be willing to do, did he stand here in our places.”
Judith looked very happy. Accustomed as she was to adulation, the homely homage of Deerslayer had given her more true satisfaction, than she had ever yet received from the tongue of man. It was not the terms in which this admiration had been expressed, for they were simple enough, that produced so strong an impression; nor yet their novelty, or their warmth of manner, nor any of those peculiarities that usually give value to praise; but the unflinching truth of the speaker, that carried his words so directly to the heart of the listener. This is one of the great advantages of plain dealing and frankness. The habitual and wily flatterer may succeed until his practices recoil on himself, and like other sweets his aliment cloys by its excess; but he who deals honestly, though he often necessarily offends, possesses a power of praising that no quality but sincerity can bestow, since his words go directly to the heart, finding their support in the understanding. Thus it was with Deerslayer and Judith. So soon and so deeply did this simple hunter impress those who knew him with a conviction of his unbending honesty, that all he uttered in commendation was as certain to please, as all he uttered in the way of rebuke was as certain to rankle and excite enmity, where his character had not awakened a respect and affection, that in another sense rendered it painful. In after life, when the career of this untutored being brought him in contact with officers of rank, and others entrusted with the care of the interests of the state, this same influence was exerted on a wider field, even generals listening to his commendations with a glow of pleasure, that it was not always in the power of their official superiors to awaken. Perhaps Judith was the first individual of his own colour who fairly submitted to this natural consequence of truth and fair-dealing on the part of Deerslayer. She had actually pined for his praise, and she had now received it, and that in the form which was most agreeable to her weaknesses and habits of thought. The result will appear in the course of the narrative.
“If we knew all that chest holds, Deerslayer,” returned the girl, when she had a little recovered from the immediate effect produced by his commendations of her personal appearance, “we could better determine on the course we ought to take.”
“That’s not onreasonable, gal, though it’s more a pale-face than a red-skin gift to be prying into other people’s secrets.”
“Curiosity is natural, and it is expected that all human beings should have human failings. Whenever I’ve been at the garrisons, I’ve found that most in and about them had a longing to learn their neighbor’s secrets.”
“Yes, and sometimes to fancy them, when they couldn’t find ’em out! That’s the difference atween an Indian gentleman and a white gentleman. The Sarpent, here, would turn his head aside if he found himself onknowingly lookin’ into another chief’s wigwam, whereas in the settlements while all pretend to be great people, most prove they’ve got betters, by the manner in which they talk of their consarns. I’ll be bound, Judith, you wouldn’t get the Sarpent, there, to confess there was another in the tribe so much greater than himself, as to become the subject of his idees, and to empl’y his tongue in conversations about his movements, and ways, and food, and all the other little matters that occupy a man when he’s not empl’y’d in his greater duties. He who does this is but little better than a blackguard, in the grain, and them that encourages him is pretty much of the same kidney, let them wear coats as fine as they may, or of what dye they please.”
“But this is not another man’s wigwam; it belongs to my father, these are his things, and they are wanted in his service.”
“That’s true, gal; that’s true, and it carries weight with it. Well, when all is before us we may, indeed, best judge which to offer for the ransom, and which to withhold.”
Judith was not altogether as disinterested in her feelings as she affected to be. She remembered that the curiosity of Hetty had been indulged in connection with this chest, while her own had been disregarded, and she was not sorry to possess an opportunity of being placed on a level with her less gifted sister in this one particular. It appearing to be admitted all round that the enquiry into the contents of the chest ought to be renewed, Deerslayer proceeded to remove the second covering of canvass.
The articles that lay uppermost, when the curtain was again raised on the secrets of the chest, were a pair of pistols, curiously inlaid with silver. Their value would have been considerable in one of the towns, though as weapons in the woods they were a species of arms seldom employed; never, indeed, unless it might be by some officer from Europe, who visited the colonies, as many were then wont to do, so much impressed with the superiority of the usages of London as to fancy they were not to be laid aside on the frontiers of America. What occurred on the discovery of these weapons will appear in the succeeding chapter.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:53