“Why, let the strucken deer go weep,
The hart ungalled play,
For some must watch, while some must sleep,
Thus runs the world away.”
Another consultation took place in the forward part of the scow, at which both Judith and Hetty were present. As no danger could now approach unseen, immediate uneasiness had given place to the concern which attended the conviction that enemies were in considerable force on the shores of the lake, and that they might be sure no practicable means of accomplishing their own destruction would be neglected. As a matter of course Hutter felt these truths the deepest, his daughters having an habitual reliance on his resources, and knowing too little to appreciate fully all the risks they ran; while his male companions were at liberty to quit him at any moment they saw fit. His first remark showed that he had an eye to the latter circumstance, and might have betrayed, to a keen observer, the apprehension that was just then uppermost.
“We’ve a great advantage over the Iroquois, or the enemy, whoever they are, in being afloat,” he said.
“There’s not a canoe on the lake that I don’t know where it’s hid; and now yours is here. Hurry, there are but three more on the land, and they’re so snug in hollow logs that I don’t believe the Indians could find them, let them try ever so long.”
“There’s no telling that — no one can say that,” put in Deerslayer; “a hound is not more sartain on the scent than a red-skin, when he expects to get anything by it. Let this party see scalps afore ’em, or plunder, or honor accordin’ to their idees of what honor is, and ‘t will be a tight log that hides a canoe from their eyes.”
“You’re right, Deerslayer,” cried Harry March; “you’re downright Gospel in this matter, and I rej’ice that my bunch of bark is safe enough here, within reach of my arm. I calcilate they’ll be at all the rest of the canoes afore to-morrow night, if they are in ra’al ‘arnest to smoke you out, old Tom, and we may as well overhaul our paddles for a pull.”
Hutter made no immediate reply. He looked about him in silence for quite a minute, examining the sky, the lake, and the belt of forest which inclosed it, as it might be hermetically, like one consulting their signs. Nor did he find any alarming symptoms. The boundless woods were sleeping in the deep repose of nature, the heavens were placid, but still luminous with the light of the retreating sun, while the lake looked more lovely and calm than it had before done that day. It was a scene altogether soothing, and of a character to lull the passions into a species of holy calm. How far this effect was produced, however, on the party in the ark, must appear in the progress of our narrative.
“Judith,” called out the father, when he had taken this close but short survey of the omens, “night is at hand; find our friends food; a long march gives a sharp appetite.”
“We’re not starving, Master Hutter,” March observed, “for we filled up just as we reached the lake, and for one, I prefer the company of Jude even to her supper. This quiet evening is very agreeable to sit by her side.”
“Natur’ is natur’,” objected Hutter, “and must be fed. Judith, see to the meal, and take your sister to help you. I’ve a little discourse to hold with you, friends,” he continued, as soon as his daughters were out of hearing, “and wish the girls away. You see my situation, and I should like to hear your opinions concerning what is best to be done. Three times have I been burnt out already, but that was on the shore; and I’ve considered myself as pretty safe ever since I got the castle built, and the ark afloat. My other accidents, however, happened in peaceable times, being nothing more than such flurries as a man must meet with, in the woods; but this matter looks serious, and your ideas would greatly relieve my mind.”
“It’s my notion, old Tom, that you, and your huts, and your traps, and your whole possessions, hereaway, are in desperate jippardy,” returned the matter-of-fact Hurry, who saw no use in concealment. “Accordin’ to my idees of valie, they’re altogether not worth half as much today as they was yesterday, nor would I give more for ’em, taking the pay in skins.”
“Then I’ve children!” continued the father, making the allusion in a way that it might have puzzled even an indifferent observer to say was intended as a bait, or as an exclamation of paternal concern, “daughters, as you know, Hurry, and good girls too, I may say, though I am their father.”
“A man may say anything, Master Hutter, particularly when pressed by time and circumstances. You’ve darters, as you say, and one of them hasn’t her equal on the frontiers for good looks, whatever she may have for good behavior. As for poor Hetty, she’s Hetty Hutter, and that’s as much as one can say about the poor thing. Give me Jude, if her conduct was only equal to her looks!”
“I see, Harry March, I can only count on you as a fair-weather friend; and I suppose that your companion will be of the same way of thinking,” returned the other, with a slight show of pride, that was not altogether without dignity; “well, I must depend on Providence, which will not turn a deaf ear, perhaps, to a father’s prayers.”
“If you’ve understood Hurry, here, to mean that he intends to desart you,” said Deerslayer, with an earnest simplicity that gave double assurance of its truth, “I think you do him injustice, as I know you do me, in supposing I would follow him, was he so ontrue-hearted as to leave a family of his own color in such a strait as this. I’ve come on this at take, Master Hutter, to rende’vous a fri’nd, and I only wish he was here himself, as I make no doubt he will be at sunset tomorrow, when you’d have another rifle to aid you; an inexper’enced one, I’ll allow, like my own, but one that has proved true so often ag’in the game, big and little, that I’ll answer for its sarvice ag’in mortals.”
“May I depend on you to stand by me and my daughters, then, Deerslayer?” demanded the old man, with a father’s anxiety in his countenance.
“That may you, Floating Tom, if that’s your name; and as a brother would stand by a sister, a husband his wife, or a suitor his sweetheart. In this strait you may count on me, through all advarsities; and I think Hurry does discredit to his natur’ and wishes, if you can’t count on him.”
“Not he,” cried Judith, thrusting her handsome face out of the door; “his nature is hurry, as well as his name, and he’ll hurry off, as soon as he thinks his fine figure in danger. Neither ‘old Tom,’ nor his ‘gals,’ will depend much on Master March, now they know him, but you they will rely on, Deerslayer; for your honest face and honest heart tell us that what you promise you will perform.”
This was said, as much, perhaps, in affected scorn for Hurry, as in sincerity. Still, it was not said without feeling. The fine face of Judith sufficiently proved the latter circumstance; and if the conscious March fancied that he had never seen in it a stronger display of contempt — a feeling in which the beauty was apt to indulge — than while she was looking at him, it certainly seldom exhibited more of a womanly softness and sensibility, than when her speaking blue eyes were turned on his travelling companion.
“Leave us, Judith,” Hutter ordered sternly, before either of the young men could reply; “leave us; and do not return until you come with the venison and fish. The girl has been spoilt by the flattery of the officers, who sometimes find their way up here, Master March, and you’ll not think any harm of her silly words.”
“You never said truer syllable, old Tom,” retorted Hurry, who smarted under Judith’s observations; “the devil-tongued youngsters of the garrison have proved her undoing! I scarce know Jude any longer, and shall soon take to admiring her sister, who is getting to be much more to my fancy.”
“I’m glad to hear this, Harry, and look upon it as a sign that you’re coming to your right senses. Hetty would make a much safer and more rational companion than Jude, and would be much the most likely to listen to your suit, as the officers have, I greatly fear, unsettled her sister’s mind.”
“No man needs a safer wife than Hetty,” said Hurry, laughing, “though I’ll not answer for her being of the most rational. But no matter; Deerslayer has not misconceived me, when he told you I should be found at my post. I’ll not quit you, Uncle Tom, just now, whatever may be my feelin’s and intentions respecting your eldest darter.”
Hurry had a respectable reputation for prowess among his associates, and Hutter heard this pledge with a satisfaction that was not concealed. Even the great personal strength of such an aid became of moment, in moving the ark, as well as in the species of hand-to-hand conflicts, that were not unfrequent in the woods; and no commander who was hard pressed could feel more joy at hearing of the arrival of reinforcements, than the borderer experienced at being told this important auxiliary was not about to quit him. A minute before, Hutter would have been well content to compromise his danger, by entering into a compact to act only on the defensive; but no sooner did he feel some security on this point, than the restlessness of man induced him to think of the means of carrying the war into the enemy’s country.
“High prices are offered for scalps on both sides.” he observed, with a grim smile, as if he felt the force of the inducement, at the very time he wished to affect a superiority to earning money by means that the ordinary feelings of those who aspire to be civilized men repudiated, even while they were adopted. “It isn’t right, perhaps, to take gold for human blood; and yet, when mankind is busy in killing one another, there can be no great harm in adding a little bit of skin to the plunder. What’s your sentiments, Hurry, touching these p’ints?”
“That you’ve made a vast mistake, old man, in calling savage blood human blood, at all. I think no more of a red-skin’s scalp than I do of a pair of wolf’s ears; and would just as lief finger money for the one as for the other. With white people ‘t is different, for they’ve a nat’ral avarsion to being scalped; whereas your Indian shaves his head in readiness for the knife, and leaves a lock of hair by way of braggadocio, that one can lay hold of in the bargain.”
“That’s manly, however, and I felt from the first that we had only to get you on our side, to have your heart and hand,” returned Tom, losing all his reserve, as he gained a renewed confidence in the disposition of his companions. “Something more may turn up from this inroad of the red-skins than they bargained for. Deerslayer, I conclude you’re of Hurry’s way of thinking, and look upon money ‘arned in this way as being as likely to pass as money ‘arned in trapping or hunting.”
“I’ve no such feelin’, nor any wish to harbor it, not I,” returned the other. “My gifts are not scalpers’ gifts, but such as belong to my religion and color. I’ll stand by you, old man, in the ark or in the castle, the canoe or the woods, but I’ll not unhumanize my natur’ by falling into ways that God intended for another race. If you and Hurry have got any thoughts that lean towards the colony’s gold, go by yourselves in s’arch of it, and leave the females to my care. Much as I must differ from you both on all gifts that do not properly belong to a white man, we shall agree that it is the duty of the strong to take care of the weak, especially when the last belong to them that natur’ intended man to protect and console by his gentleness and strength.”
“Hurry Harry, that is a lesson you might learn and practise on to some advantage,” said the sweet, but spirited voice of Judith, from the cabin; a proof that she had over-heard all that had hitherto been said.
“No more of this, Jude,” called out the father angrily. “Move farther off; we are about to talk of matters unfit for a woman to listen to.”
Hutter did not take any steps, however, to ascertain whether he was obeyed or not; but dropping his voice a little, he pursued the discourse.
“The young man is right, Hurry,” he said; “and we can leave the children in his care. Now, my idea is just this; and I think you’ll agree that it is rational and correct. There’s a large party of these savages on shore and, though I didn’t tell it before the girls, for they’re womanish, and apt to be troublesome when anything like real work is to be done, there’s women among ’em. This I know from moccasin prints; and ‘t is likely they are hunters, after all, who have been out so long that they know nothing of the war, or of the bounties.”
“In which case, old Tom, why was their first salute an attempt to cut our throats?”
“We don’t know that their design was so bloody. It’s natural and easy for an Indian to fall into ambushes and surprises; and, no doubt they wished to get on board the ark first, and to make their conditions afterwards. That a disapp’inted savage should fire at us, is in rule; and I think nothing of that. Besides, how often they burned me out, and robbed my traps — ay, and pulled trigger on me, in the most peaceful times?”
“The blackguards will do such things, I must allow; and we pay ’em off pretty much in their own c’ine. Women would not be on the war-path, sartainly; and, so far, there’s reason in your idee.”
“Nor would a hunter be in his war-paint,” returned Deerslayer. “I saw the Mingos, and know that they are out on the trail of mortal men; and not for beaver or deer.”
“There you have it ag’in, old fellow,” said Hurry. “In the way of an eye, now, I’d as soon trust this young man, as trust the oldest settler in the colony; if he says paint, why paint it was.”
“Then a hunting-party and a war-party have met, for women must have been with ’em. It’s only a few days since the runner went through with the tidings of the troubles; and it may be that warriors have come out to call in their women and children, to get an early blow.”
“That would stand the courts, and is just the truth,” cried Hurry; “you’ve got it now, old Tom, and I should like to hear what you mean to make out of it.”
“The bounty,” returned the other, looking up at his attentive companion in a cool, sullen manner, in which, however, heartless cupidity and indifference to the means were far more conspicuous than any feelings of animosity or revenge.
“If there’s women, there’s children; and big and little have scalps; the colony pays for all alike.”
“More shame to it, that it should do so,” interrupted Deerslayer; “more shame to it, that it don’t understand its gifts, and pay greater attention to the will of God.”
“Hearken to reason, lad, and don’t cry out afore you understand a case,” returned the unmoved Hurry; “the savages scalp your fri’nds, the Delawares, or Mohicans whichever they may be, among the rest; and why shouldn’t we scalp? I will own, it would be ag’in right for you and me now, to go into the settlements and bring out scalps, but it’s a very different matter as concerns Indians. A man shouldn’t take scalps, if he isn’t ready to be scalped, himself, on fitting occasions. One good turn desarves another, the world over. That’s reason, and I believe it to be good religion.”
“Ay, Master Hurry,” again interrupted the rich voice of Judith, “is it religion to say that one bad turn deserves another?”
“I’ll never reason ag’in you, Judy, for you beat me with beauty, if you can’t with sense. Here’s the Canadas paying their Injins for scalps, and why not we pay-”
“Our Indians!” exclaimed the girl, laughing with a sort of melancholy merriment. “Father, father! think no more of this, and listen to the advice of Deerslayer, who has a conscience; which is more than I can say or think of Harry March.”
Hutter now rose, and, entering the cabin, he compelled his daughters to go into the adjoining room, when he secured both the doors, and returned. Then he and Hurry pursued the subject; but, as the purport of all that was material in this discourse will appear in the narrative, it need not be related here in detail. The reader, however, can have no difficulty in comprehending the morality that presided over their conference. It was, in truth, that which, in some form or other, rules most of the acts of men, and in which the controlling principle is that one wrong will justify another. Their enemies paid for scalps, and this was sufficient to justify the colony for retaliating. It is true, the French used the same argument, a circumstance, as Hurry took occasion to observe in answer to one of Deerslayer’s objections, that proved its truth, as mortal enemies would not be likely to have recourse to the same reason unless it were a good one. But neither Hutter nor Hurry was a man likely to stick at trifles in matters connected with the right of the aborigines, since it is one of the consequences of aggression that it hardens the conscience, as the only means of quieting it. In the most peaceable state of the country, a species of warfare was carried on between the Indians, especially those of the Canadas, and men of their caste; and the moment an actual and recognized warfare existed, it was regarded as the means of lawfully revenging a thousand wrongs, real and imaginary. Then, again, there was some truth, and a good deal of expediency, in the principle of retaliation, of which they both availed themselves, in particular, to answer the objections of their juster-minded and more scrupulous companion.
“You must fight a man with his own we’pons, Deerslayer,” cried Hurry, in his uncouth dialect, and in his dogmatical manner of disposing of all oral propositions; “if he’s f’erce you must be f’ercer; if he’s stout of heart, you must be stouter. This is the way to get the better of Christian or savage: by keeping up to this trail, you’ll get soonest to the ind of your journey.”
“That’s not Moravian doctrine, which teaches that all are to be judged according to their talents or l’arning; the Injin like an Injin; and the white man like a white man. Some of their teachers say, that if you’re struck on the cheek, it’s a duty to turn the other side of the face, and take another blow, instead of seeking revenge, whereby I understand-”
“That’s enough!” shouted Hurry; “that’s all I want, to prove a man’s doctrine! How long would it take to kick a man through the colony — in at one ind and out at the other, on that principle?”
“Don’t mistake me, March,” returned the young hunter, with dignity; “I don’t understand by this any more than that it’s best to do this, if possible. Revenge is an Injin gift, and forgiveness a white man’s. That’s all. Overlook all you can is what’s meant; and not revenge all you can. As for kicking, Master Hurry,” and Deerslayer’s sunburnt cheek flushed as he continued, “into the colony, or out of the colony, that’s neither here nor there, seeing no one proposes it, and no one would be likely to put up with it. What I wish to say is, that a red-skin’s scalping don’t justify a pale-face’s scalping.”
“Do as you’re done by, Deerslayer; that’s ever the Christian parson’s doctrine.”
“No, Hurry, I’ve asked the Moravians consarning that; and it’s altogether different. ‘Do as you would be done by,’ they tell me, is the true saying, while men practyse the false. They think all the colonies wrong that offer bounties for scalps, and believe no blessing will follow the measures. Above all things, they forbid revenge.”
“That for your Moravians!” cried March, snapping his fingers; “they’re the next thing to Quakers; and if you’d believe all they tell you, not even a ‘rat would be skinned, out of marcy. Who ever heard of marcy on a muskrat!”
The disdainful manner of Hurry prevented a reply, and he and the old man resumed the discussion of their plans in a more quiet and confidential manner. This confidence lasted until Judith appeared, bearing the simple but savory supper. March observed, with a little surprise, that she placed the choicest bits before Deerslayer, and that in the little nameless attentions it was in her power to bestow, she quite obviously manifested a desire to let it be seen that she deemed him the honored guest. Accustomed, however, to the waywardness and coquetry of the beauty, this discovery gave him little concern, and he ate with an appetite that was in no degree disturbed by any moral causes. The easily-digested food of the forests offering the fewest possible obstacles to the gratification of this great animal indulgence, Deerslayer, notwithstanding the hearty meal both had taken in the woods, was in no manner behind his companion in doing justice to the viands.
An hour later the scene had greatly changed. The lake was still placid and glassy, but the gloom of the hour had succeeded to the soft twilight of a summer evening, and all within the dark setting of the woods lay in the quiet repose of night. The forests gave up no song, or cry, or even murmur, but looked down from the hills on the lovely basin they encircled, in solemn stillness; and the only sound that was audible was the regular dip of the sweeps, at which Hurry and Deerslayer lazily pushed, impelling the ark towards the castle. Hutter had withdrawn to the stern of the scow, in order to steer, but, finding that the young men kept even strokes, and held the desired course by their own skill, he permitted the oar to drag in the water, took a seat on the end of the vessel, and lighted his pipe. He had not been thus placed many minutes, ere Hetty came stealthily out of the cabin, or house, as they usually termed that part of the ark, and placed herself at his feet, on a little bench that she brought with her. As this movement was by no means unusual in his feeble-minded child, the old man paid no other attention to it than to lay his hand kindly on her head, in an affectionate and approving manner; an act of grace that the girl received in meek silence.
After a pause of several minutes, Hetty began to sing. Her voice was low and tremulous, but it was earnest and solemn. The words and the tune were of the simplest form, the first being a hymn that she had been taught by her mother, and the last one of those natural melodies that find favor with all classes, in every age, coming from and being addressed to the feelings. Hutter never listened to this simple strain without finding his heart and manner softened; facts that his daughter well knew, and by which she had often profited, through the sort of holy instinct that enlightens the weak of mind, more especially in their aims toward good.
Hetty’s low, sweet tones had not been raised many moments, when the dip of the oars ceased, and the holy strain arose singly on the breathing silence of the wilderness. As if she gathered courage with the theme, her powers appeared to increase as she proceeded; and though nothing vulgar or noisy mingled in her melody, its strength and melancholy tenderness grew on the ear, until the air was filled with this simple homage of a soul that seemed almost spotless. That the men forward were not indifferent to this touching interruption, was proved by their inaction; nor did their oars again dip until the last of the sweet sounds had actually died among the remarkable shores, which, at that witching hour, would waft even the lowest modulations of the human voice more than a mile. Hutter was much affected; for rude as he was by early habits, and even ruthless as he had got to be by long exposure to the practices of the wilderness, his nature was of that fearful mixture of good and evil that so generally enters into the moral composition of man.
“You are sad tonight, child,” said the father, whose manner and language usually assumed some of the gentleness and elevation of the civilized life he had led in youth, when he thus communed with this particular child; “we have just escaped from enemies, and ought rather to rejoice.”
“You can never do it, father!” said Hetty, in a low, remonstrating manner, taking his hard, knotty hand into both her own; “you have talked long with Harry March; but neither of you have the heart to do it!”
“This is going beyond your means, foolish child; you must have been naughty enough to have listened, or you could know nothing of our talk.”
“Why should you and Hurry kill people — especially women and children?”
“Peace, girl, peace; we are at war, and must do to our enemies as our enemies would do to us.”
“That’s not it, father! I heard Deerslayer say how it was. You must do to your enemies as you wish your enemies would do to you. No man wishes his enemies to kill him.”
“We kill our enemies in war, girl, lest they should kill us. One side or the other must begin; and them that begin first, are most apt to get the victory. You know nothing about these things, poor Hetty, and had best say nothing.”
“Judith says it is wrong, father; and Judith has sense though I have none.”
“Jude understands better than to talk to me of these matters; for she has sense, as you say, and knows I’ll not bear it. Which would you prefer, Hetty; to have your own scalp taken, and sold to the French, or that we should kill our enemies, and keep them from harming us?”
“That’s not it, father! Don’t kill them, nor let them kill us. Sell your skins, and get more, if you can; but don’t sell human blood.”
“Come, come, child; let us talk of matters you understand. Are you glad to see our old friend, March, back again? You like Hurry, and must know that one day he may be your brother — if not something nearer.”
“That can’t be, father,” returned the girl, after a considerable pause; “Hurry has had one father, and one mother; and people never have two.”
“So much for your weak mind, Hetty. When Jude marries, her husband’s father will be her father, and her husband’s sister her sister. If she should marry Hurry, then he will be your brother.”
“Judith will never have Hurry,” returned the girl mildly, but positively; “Judith don’t like Hurry.”
“That’s more than you can know, Hetty. Harry March is the handsomest, and the strongest, and the boldest young man that ever visits the lake; and, as Jude is the greatest beauty, I don’t see why they shouldn’t come together. He has as much as promised that he will enter into this job with me, on condition that I’ll consent.”
Hetty began to move her body back and forth, and other-wise to express mental agitation; but she made no answer for more than a minute. Her father, accustomed to her manner, and suspecting no immediate cause of concern, continued to smoke with the apparent phlegm which would seem to belong to that particular species of enjoyment.
“Hurry is handsome, father,” said Hetty, with a simple emphasis, that she might have hesitated about using, had her mind been more alive to the inferences of others.
“I told you so, child,” muttered old Hutter, without removing the pipe from between his teeth; “he’s the likeliest youth in these parts; and Jude is the likeliest young woman I’ve met with since her poor mother was in her best days.”
“Is it wicked to be ugly, father?’”
“One might be guilty of worse things — but you’re by no means ugly; though not so comely as Jude.”
“Is Judith any happier for being so handsome?”
“She may be, child, and she may not be. But talk of other matters now, for you hardly understand these, poor Hetty. How do you like our new acquaintance, Deerslayer?”
“He isn’t handsome, father. Hurry is far handsomer than Deerslayer.”
“That’s true; but they say he is a noted hunter! His fame had reached me before I ever saw him; and I did hope he would prove to be as stout a warrior as he is dexterous with the deer. All men are not alike, howsever, child; and it takes time, as I know by experience, to give a man a true wilderness heart.”
“Have I got a wilderness heart, father — and Hurry, is his heart true wilderness?”
“You sometimes ask queer questions, Hetty! Your heart is good, child, and fitter for the settlements than for the woods; while your reason is fitter for the woods than for the settlements.”
“Why has Judith more reason than I, father?”
“Heaven help thee, child: this is more than I can answer. God gives sense, and appearance, and all these things; and he grants them as he seeth fit. Dost thou wish for more sense?”
“Not I. The little I have troubles me; for when I think the hardest, then I feel the unhappiest. I don’t believe thinking is good for me, though I do wish I was as handsome as Judith!”
“Why so, poor child? Thy sister’s beauty may cause her trouble, as it caused her mother before her. It’s no advantage, Hetty, to be so marked for anything as to become an object of envy, or to be sought after more than others.”
“Mother was good, if she was handsome,” returned the girl, the tears starting to her eyes, as usually happened when she adverted to her deceased parent.
Old Hutter, if not equally affected, was moody and silent at this allusion to his wife. He continued smoking, without appearing disposed to make any answer, until his simple-minded daughter repeated her remark, in a way to show that she felt uneasiness lest he might be inclined to deny her assertion. Then he knocked the ashes out of his pipe, and laying his hand in a sort of rough kindness on the girl’s head, he made a reply.
“Thy mother was too good for this world,” he said; “though others might not think so. Her good looks did not befriend her; and you have no occasion to mourn that you are not as much like her as your sister. Think less of beauty, child, and more of your duty, and you’ll be as happy on this lake as you could be in the king’s palace.”
“I know it, father; but Hurry says beauty is everything in a young woman.”
Hutter made an ejaculation expressive of dissatisfaction, and went forward, passing through the house in order to do so. Hetty’s simple betrayal of her weakness in behalf of March gave him uneasiness on a subject concerning which he had never felt before, and he determined to come to an explanation at once with his visitor; for directness of speech and decision in conduct were two of the best qualities of this rude being, in whom the seeds of a better education seemed to be constantly struggling upwards, to be choked by the fruits of a life in which his hard struggles for subsistence and security had steeled his feelings and indurated his nature. When he reached the forward end of the scow, he manifested an intention to relieve Deerslayer at the oar, directing the latter to take his own place aft. By these changes, the old man and Hurry were again left alone, while the young hunter was transferred to the other end of the ark.
Hetty had disappeared when Deerslayer reached his new post, and for some little time he directed the course of the slow-moving craft by himself. It was not long, however, before Judith came out of the cabin, as if disposed to do the honors of the place to a stranger engaged in the service of her family. The starlight was sufficient to permit objects to be plainly distinguished when near at hand, and the bright eyes of the girl had an expression of kindness in them, when they met those of the youth, that the latter was easily enabled to discover. Her rich hair shaded her spirited and yet soft countenance, even at that hour rendering it the more beautiful-as the rose is loveliest when reposing amid the shadows and contrasts of its native foliage. Little ceremony is used in the intercourse of the woods; and Judith had acquired a readiness of address, by the admiration that she so generally excited, which, if it did not amount to forwardness, certainly in no degree lent to her charms the aid of that retiring modesty on which poets love to dwell.
“I thought I should have killed myself with laughing, Deerslayer,” the beauty abruptly but coquettishly commenced, “when I saw that Indian dive into the river! He was a good-looking savage, too,” the girl always dwelt on personal beauty as a sort of merit, “and yet one couldn’t stop to consider whether his paint would stand water!”
“And I thought they would have killed you with their we’pons, Judith,” returned Deerslayer; “it was an awful risk for a female to run in the face of a dozen Mingos!”
“Did that make you come out of the cabin, in spite of their rifles, too?” asked the girl, with more real interest than she would have cared to betray, though with an indifference of manner that was the result of a good deal of practice united to native readiness.
“Men ar’n’t apt to see females in danger, and not come to their assistance. Even a Mingo knows that.”
This sentiment was uttered with as much simplicity of manner as of feeling, and Judith rewarded it with a smile so sweet, that even Deerslayer, who had imbibed a prejudice against the girl in consequence of Hurry’s suspicions of her levity, felt its charm, notwithstanding half its winning influence was lost in the feeble light. It at once created a sort of confidence between them, and the discourse was continued on the part of the hunter, without the lively consciousness of the character of this coquette of the wilderness, with which it had certainly commenced.
“You are a man of deeds, and not of words, I see plainly, Deerslayer,” continued the beauty, taking her seat near the spot where the other stood, “and I foresee we shall be very good friends. Hurry Harry has a tongue, and, giant as he is, he talks more than he performs.”
“March is your fri’nd, Judith; and fri’nds should be tender of each other, when apart.”
“We all know what Hurry’s friendship comes to! Let him have his own way in everything, and he’s the best fellow in the colony; but ‘head him off,’ as you say of the deer, and he is master of everything near him but himself. Hurry is no favorite of mine, Deerslayer; and I dare say, if the truth was known, and his conversation about me repeated, it would be found that he thinks no better of me than I own I do of him.”
The latter part of this speech was not uttered without uneasiness. Had the girl’s companion been more sophisticated, he might have observed the averted face, the manner in which the pretty little foot was agitated, and other signs that, for some unexplained reason, the opinions of March were not quite as much a matter of indifference to her as she thought fit to pretend. Whether this was no more than the ordinary working of female vanity, feeling keenly even when it affected not to feel at all, or whether it proceeded from that deeply-seated consciousness of right and wrong which God himself has implanted in our breasts that we may know good from evil, will be made more apparent to the reader as we proceed in the tale. Deerslayer felt embarrassed. He well remembered the cruel imputations left by March’s distrust; and, while he did not wish to injure his associate’s suit by exciting resentment against him, his tongue was one that literally knew no guile. To answer without saying more or less than he wished, was consequently a delicate duty.
“March has his say of all things in natur’, whether of fri’nd or foe,” slowly and cautiously rejoined the hunter. “He’s one of them that speak as they feel while the tongue’s a-going, and that’s sometimes different from what they’d speak if they took time to consider. Give me a Delaware, Judith, for one that reflects and ruminates on his idees! Inmity has made him thoughtful, and a loose tongue is no ricommend at their council fires.”
“I dare say March’s tongue goes free enough when it gets on the subject of Judith Hutter and her sister,” said the girl, rousing herself as if in careless disdain. “Young women’s good names are a pleasant matter of discourse with some that wouldn’t dare be so open-mouthed if there was a brother in the way. Master March may find it pleasant to traduce us, but sooner or later he’ll repent.
“Nay, Judith, this is taking the matter up too much in ‘arnest. Hurry has never whispered a syllable ag’in the good name of Hetty, to begin with-”
“I see how it is — I see how it is,” impetuously interrupted Judith. “I am the one he sees fit to scorch with his withering tongue! Hetty, indeed! Poor Hetty!” she continued, her voice sinking into low, husky tones, that seemed nearly to stifle her in the utterance; “she is beyond and above his slanderous malice! Poor Hetty! If God has created her feeble-minded, the weakness lies altogether on the side of errors of which she seems to know nothing. The earth never held a purer being than Hetty Hutter, Deerslayer.”
“I can believe it — yes, I can believe that, Judith, and I hope ‘arnestly that the same can be said of her handsome sister.”
There was a soothing sincerity in the voice of Deerslayer, which touched the girl’s feelings; nor did the allusion to her beauty lessen the effect with one who only knew too well the power of her personal charms. Nevertheless, the still, small voice of conscience was not hushed, and it prompted the answer which she made, after giving herself time to reflect.
“I dare say Hurry had some of his vile hints about the people of the garrisons,” she added. “He knows they are gentlemen, and can never forgive any one for being what he feels he can never become himself.”
“Not in the sense of a king’s officer, Judith, sartainly, for March has no turn thataway; but in the sense of reality, why may not a beaver-hunter be as respectable as a governor? Since you speak of it yourself, I’ll not deny that he did complain of one as humble as you being so much in the company of scarlet coats and silken sashes. But ‘t was jealousy that brought it out of him, and I do think he mourned over his own thoughts as a mother would have mourned over her child.”
Perhaps Deerslayer was not aware of the full meaning that his earnest language conveyed. It is certain that he did not see the color that crimsoned the whole of Judith’s fine face, nor detect the uncontrollable distress that immediately after changed its hue to deadly paleness. A minute or two elapsed in profound stillness, the splash of the water seeming to occupy all the avenues of sound; and then Judith arose, and grasped the hand of the hunter, almost convulsively, with one of her own.
“Deerslayer,” she said, hurriedly, “I’m glad the ice is broke between us. They say that sudden friendships lead to long enmities, but I do not believe it will turn out so with us. I know not how it is-but you are the first man I ever met, who did not seem to wish to flatter — to wish my ruin — to be an enemy in disguise — never mind; say nothing to Hurry, and another time we’ll talk together again.”
As the girl released her grasp, she vanished in the house, leaving the astonished young man standing at the steering-oar, as motionless as one of the pines on the hills. So abstracted, indeed, had his thoughts become, that he was hailed by Hutter to keep the scow’s head in the right direction, before he remembered his actual situation.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:07