A better expedient could not have been adopted, to secure the silence and discretion of Hetty, than that which was now presented to her mind. As the liberation of her father and the young frontier man was the great object of her adventure, she felt the connection between it and the services of the Delaware, and with an innocent laugh, she nodded her head, and in the same suppressed manner, promised a due attention to the wishes of her friend. Thus assured, Hist tarried no longer, but immediately and openly led the way into the encampment of her captors.
"The great King of Kings Hath in the table of his law commanded, That thou shalt do no murder. Take heed; for he holds vengeance in his hand, To hurl upon their heads that break his law."
Richard III, I.iv.i95-97 199-200.
That the party to which Hist compulsorily belonged was not one that was regularly on the war path, was evident by the presence of females. It was a small fragment of a tribe that had been hunting and fishing within the English limits, where it was found by the commencement of hostilities, and, after passing the winter and spring by living on what was strictly the property of its enemies, it chose to strike a hostile blow before it finally retired. There was also deep Indian sagacity in the manoeuvre which had led them so far into the territory of their foes. When the runner arrived who announced the breaking out of hostilities between the English and French—a struggle that was certain to carry with it all the tribes that dwelt within the influence of the respective belligerents—this particular party of the Iroquois were posted on the shores of the Oneida, a lake that lies some fifty miles nearer to their own frontier than that which is the scene of our tale.
To have fled in a direct line for the Canadas would have exposed them to the dangers of a direct pursuit, and the chiefs had determined to adopt the expedient of penetrating deeper into a region that had now become dangerous, in the hope of being able to retire in the rear of their pursuers, instead of having them on their trail. The presence of the women had induced the attempt at this ruse, the strength of these feebler members of the party being unequal to the effort of escaping from the pursuit of warriors. When the reader remembers the vast extent of the American wilderness, at that early day, he will perceive that it was possible for even a tribe to remain months undiscovered in particular portions of it; nor was the danger of encountering a foe, the usual precautions being observed, as great in the woods, as it is on the high seas, in a time of active warfare.
The encampment being temporary, it offered to the eye no more than the rude protection of a bivouac, relieved in some slight degree by the ingenious expedients which suggested themselves to the readiness of those who passed their lives amid similar scenes. One fire, that had been kindled against the roots of a living oak, sufficed for the whole party; the weather being too mild to require it for any purpose but cooking. Scattered around this centre of attraction, were some fifteen or twenty low huts, or perhaps kennels would be a better word, into which their different owners crept at night, and which were also intended to meet the exigencies of a storm.
These little huts were made of the branches of trees, put together with some ingenuity, and they were uniformly topped with bark that had been stripped from fallen trees; of which every virgin forest possesses hundreds, in all stages of decay. Of furniture they had next to none. Cooking utensils of the simplest sort were lying near the fire, a few articles of clothing were to be seen in or around the huts, rifles, horns, and pouches leaned against the trees, or were suspended from the lower branches, and the carcasses of two or three deer were stretched to view on the same natural shambles.
As the encampment was in the midst of a dense wood, the eye could not take in its tout ensemble at a glance, but hut after hut started out of the gloomy picture, as one gazed about him in quest of objects. There was no centre, unless the fire might be so considered, no open area where the possessors of this rude village might congregate, but all was dark, covert and cunning, like its owners. A few children strayed from hut to hut, giving the spot a little of the air of domestic life, and the suppressed laugh and low voices of the women occasionally broke in upon the deep stillness of the sombre forest. As for the men, they either ate, slept, or examined their arms. They conversed but little, and then usually apart, or in groups withdrawn from the females, whilst an air of untiring, innate watchfulness and apprehension of danger seemed to be blended even with their slumbers.
As the two girls came near the encampment, Hetty uttered a slight exclamation, on catching a view of the person of her father. He was seated on the ground with his back to a tree, and Hurry stood near him indolently whittling a twig. Apparently they were as much at liberty as any others in or about the camp, and one unaccustomed to Indian usages would have mistaken them for visitors, instead of supposing them to be captives. Wah-ta-Wah led her new friend quite near them, and then modestly withdrew, that her own presence might be no restraint on her feelings. But Hetty was not sufficiently familiar with caresses or outward demonstrations of fondness, to indulge in any outbreaking of feeling. She merely approached and stood at her father's side without speaking, resembling a silent statue of filial affection. The old man expressed neither alarm nor surprise at her sudden appearance. In these particulars he had caught the stoicism of the Indians, well knowing that there was no more certain mode of securing their respect than by imitating their self-command. Nor did the savages themselves betray the least sign of surprise at this sudden appearance of a stranger among them. In a word, this arrival produced much less visible sensation, though occurring under circumstances so peculiar, than would be seen in a village of higher pretensions to civilization did an ordinary traveler drive up to the door of its principal inn.
Still a few warriors collected, and it was evident by the manner in which they glanced at Hetty as they conversed together, that she was the subject of their discourse, and probable that the reasons of her unlooked-for appearance were matters of discussion. This phlegm of manner is characteristic of the North American Indian—some say of his white successor also—but, in this case much should be attributed to the peculiar situation in which the party was placed. The force in the Ark, the presence of Chingachgook excepted, was well known, no tribe or body of troops was believed to be near, and vigilant eyes were posted round the entire lake, watching day and night the slightest movement of those whom it would not be exaggerated now to term the besieged.
Hutter was inwardly much moved by the conduct of Hetty, though he affected so much indifference of manner. He recollected her gentle appeal to him before he left the Ark, and misfortune rendered that of weight which might have been forgotten amid the triumph of success. Then he knew the simple, single-hearted fidelity of his child, and understood why she had come, and the total disregard of self that reigned in all her acts.
"This is not well, Hetty," he said, deprecating the consequences to the girl herself more than any other evil. "These are fierce Iroquois, and are as little apt to forget an injury, as a favor."
"Tell me, father—" returned the girl, looking furtively about her as if fearful of being overheard, "did God let you do the cruel errand on which you came? I want much to know this, that I may speak to the Indians plainly, if he did not."
"You should not have come hither, Hetty; these brutes will not understand your nature or your intentions!"
"How was it, father; neither you nor Hurry seems to have any thing that looks like scalps."
"If that will set your mind at peace, child, I can answer you, no. I had caught the young creatur' who came here with you, but her screeches soon brought down upon me a troop of the wild cats, that was too much for any single Christian to withstand. If that will do you any good, we are as innocent of having taken a scalp, this time, as I make no doubt we shall also be innocent of receiving the bounty."
"Thank God for that, father! Now I can speak boldly to the Iroquois, and with an easy conscience. I hope Hurry, too, has not been able to harm any of the Indians?"
"Why, as to that matter, Hetty," returned the individual in question, "you've put it pretty much in the natyve character of the religious truth. Hurry has not been able, and that is the long and short of it. I've seen many squalls, old fellow, both on land and on the water, but never did I feel one as lively and as snappish as that which come down upon us, night afore last, in the shape of an Indian hurrah-boys! Why, Hetty, you're no great matter at a reason, or an idee that lies a little deeper than common, but you're human and have some human notions—now I'll just ask you to look at them circumstances. Here was old Tom, your father, and myself, bent on a legal operation, as is to be seen in the words of the law and the proclamation; thinking no harm; when we were set upon by critturs that were more like a pack of hungry wolves than mortal savages even, and there they had us tethered like two sheep, in less time than it has taken me to tell you the story."
"You are free now, Hurry," returned Hetty, glancing timidly at the fine unfettered limbs of the young giant—"You have no cords, or withes, to pain your arms, or legs, now."
"Not I, Hetty. Natur' is natur', and freedom is natur', too. My limbs have a free look, but that's pretty much the amount of it, sin' I can't use them in the way I should like. Even these trees have eyes; ay, and tongues too; for was the old man, here, or I, to start one single rod beyond our gaol limits, sarvice would be put on the bail afore we could 'gird up our loins' for a race, and, like as not, four or five rifle bullets would be travelling arter us, carrying so many invitations to curb our impatience. There isn't a gaol in the colony as tight as this we are now in; for I've tried the vartues of two or three on 'em, and I know the mater'als they are made of, as well as the men that made 'em; takin' down being the next step in schoolin', to puttin' up, in all such fabrications."
Lest the reader should get an exaggerated opinion of Hurry's demerits from this boastful and indiscreet revelation, it may be well to say that his offences were confined to assaults and batteries, for several of which he had been imprisoned, when, as he has just said, he often escaped by demonstrating the flimsiness of the constructions in which he was confined, by opening for himself doors in spots where the architects had neglected to place them. But Hetty had no knowledge of gaols, and little of the nature of crimes, beyond what her unadulterated and almost instinctive perceptions of right and wrong taught her, and this sally of the rude being who had spoken was lost upon her. She understood his general meaning, however, and answered in reference to that alone.
"It's so best, Hurry," she said. "It is best father and you should be quiet and peaceable, 'till I have spoken to the Iroquois, when all will be well and happy. I don't wish either of you to follow, but leave me to myself. As soon as all is settled, and you are at liberty to go back to the castle, I will come and let you know it."
Hetty spoke with so much simple earnestness, seemed so confident of success, and wore so high an air of moral feeling and truth, that both the listeners felt more disposed to attach an importance to her mediation, than might otherwise have happened. When she manifested an intention to quit them, therefore, they offered no obstacle, though they saw she was about to join the group of chiefs who were consulting apart, seemingly on the manner and motive of her own sudden appearance.
When Hist—for so we love best to call her—quitted her companion, she strayed near one or two of the elder warriors, who had shown her most kindness in her captivity, the principal man of whom had even offered to adopt her as his child if she would consent to become a Huron. In taking this direction, the shrewd girl did so to invite inquiry. She was too well trained in the habits of her people to obtrude the opinions of one of her sex and years on men and warriors, but nature had furnished a tact and ingenuity that enabled her to attract the attention she desired, without wounding the pride of those to whom it was her duty to defer and respect. Even her affected indifference stimulated curiosity, and Hetty had hardly reached the side of her father, before the Delaware girl was brought within the circle of the warriors, by a secret but significant gesture. Here she was questioned as to the person of her companion, and the motives that had brought her to the camp. This was all that Hist desired. She explained the manner in which she had detected the weakness of Hetty's reason, rather exaggerating than lessening the deficiency in her intellect, and then she related in general terms the object of the girl in venturing among her enemies. The effect was all that the speaker expected, her account investing the person and character of their visitor with a sacredness and respect that she well knew would prove her protection. As soon as her own purpose was attained, Hist withdrew to a distance, where, with female consideration and a sisterly tenderness she set about the preparation of a meal, to be offered to her new friend as soon as the latter might be at liberty to partake of it. While thus occupied, however, the ready girl in no degree relaxed in her watchfulness, noting every change of countenance among the chiefs, every movement of Hetty's, and the smallest occurrence that could be likely to affect her own interests, or that of her new friend.
As Hetty approached the chiefs they opened their little circle, with an ease and deference of manner that would have done credit to men of more courtly origin. A fallen tree lay near, and the oldest of the warriors made a quiet sign for the girl to be seated on it, taking his place at her side with the gentleness of a father. The others arranged themselves around the two with grave dignity, and then the girl, who had sufficient observation to perceive that such a course was expected of her, began to reveal the object of her visit. The moment she opened her mouth to speak, however, the old chief gave a gentle sign for her to forbear, said a few words to one of his juniors, and then waited in silent patience until the latter had summoned Hist to the party. This interruption proceeded from the chief's having discovered that there existed a necessity for an interpreter, few of the Hurons present understanding the English language, and they but imperfectly.
Wah-ta-Wah was not sorry to be called upon to be present at the interview, and least of all in the character in which she was now wanted. She was aware of the hazards she ran in attempting to deceive one or two of the party, but was none the less resolved to use every means that offered, and to practice every artifice that an Indian education could supply, to conceal the facts of the vicinity of her betrothed, and of the errand on which he had come. One unpracticed in the expedients and opinions of savage life would not have suspected the readiness of invention, the wariness of action, the high resolution, the noble impulses, the deep self-devotion, and the feminine disregard of self when the affections were concerned, that lay concealed beneath the demure looks, the mild eyes, and the sunny smiles of this young Indian beauty. As she approached them, the grim old warriors regarded her with pleasure, for they had a secret pride in the hope of engrafting so rare a scion on the stock of their own nation; adoption being as regularly practised, and as distinctly recognized among the tribes of America, as it ever had been among those nations that submit to the sway of the Civil Law.
As soon as Hist was seated by the side of Hetty, the old chief desired her to ask "the fair young pale-face" what had brought her among the Iroquois, and what they could do to serve her.
"Tell them, Hist, who I am—Thomas Hutter's youngest daughter; Thomas Hutter, the oldest of their two prisoners; he who owns the castle and the Ark, and who has the best right to be thought the owner of these hills, and that lake, since he has dwelt so long, and trapped so long, and fished so long, among them—They'll know whom you mean by Thomas Hutter, if you tell them, that. And then tell them that I've come here to convince them they ought not to harm father and Hurry, but let them go in peace, and to treat them as brethren rather than as enemies. Now tell them all this plainly, Hist, and fear nothing for yourself or me. God will protect us."
Wah-ta-Wah did as the other desired, taking care to render the words of her friend as literally as possible into the Iroquois tongue, a language she used with a readiness almost equal to that with which she spoke her own. The chiefs heard this opening explanation with grave decorum, the two who had a little knowledge of English intimating their satisfaction with the interpreter by furtive but significant glances of the eyes.
"And, now, Hist," continued Hetty, as soon as it was intimated to her that she might proceed, "and, now, Hist, I wish you to tell these red men, word for word, what I am about to say. Tell them first, that father and Hurry came here with an intention to take as many scalps as they could, for the wicked governor and the province have offered money for scalps, whether of warriors, or women, men or children, and the love of gold was too strong for their hearts to withstand it. Tell them this, dear Hist, just as you have heard it from me, word for word."
Wah-ta-Wah hesitated about rendering this speech as literally as had been desired, but detecting the intelligence of those who understood English, and apprehending even a greater knowledge than they actually possessed she found herself compelled to comply. Contrary to what a civilized man would have expected, the admission of the motives and of the errands of their prisoners produced no visible effect on either the countenances or the feelings of the listeners. They probably considered the act meritorious, and that which neither of them would have hesitated to perform in his own person, he would not be apt to censure in another.
"And, now, Hist," resumed Hetty, as soon as she perceived that her first speeches were understood by the chiefs, "you can tell them more. They know that father and Hurry did not succeed, and therefore they can bear them no grudge for any harm that has been done. If they had slain their children and wives it would not alter the matter, and I'm not certain that what I am about to tell them would not have more weight had there been mischief done. But ask them first, Hist, if they know there is a God, who reigns over the whole earth, and is ruler and chief of all who live, let them be red, or white, or what color they may?"
Wah-ta-Wah looked a little surprised at this question, for the idea of the Great Spirit is seldom long absent from the mind of an Indian girl. She put the question as literally as possible, however, and received a grave answer in the affirmative.
"This is right," continued Hetty, "and my duty will now be light. This Great Spirit, as you call our God, has caused a book to be written, that we call a Bible, and in this book have been set down all his commandments, and his holy will and pleasure, and the rules by which all men are to live, and directions how to govern the thoughts even, and the wishes, and the will. Here, this is one of these holy books, and you must tell the chiefs what I am about to read to them from its sacred pages."
As Hetty concluded, she reverently unrolled a small English Bible from its envelope of coarse calico, treating the volume with the sort of external respect that a Romanist would be apt to show to a religious relic. As she slowly proceeded in her task the grim warriors watched each movement with riveted eyes, and when they saw the little volume appear a slight expression of surprise escaped one or two of them. But Hetty held it out towards them in triumph, as if she expected the sight would produce a visible miracle, and then, without betraying either surprise or mortification at the Stoicism of the Indian, she turned eagerly to her new friend, in order to renew the discourse.
"This is the sacred volume, Hist," she said—"and these words, and lines, and verses, and chapters, all came from God."
"Why Great Spirit no send book to Injin, too?" demanded Hist, with the directness of a mind that was totally unsophisticated.
"Why?" answered Hetty, a little bewildered by a question so unexpected. "Why?—Ah! you know the Indians don't know how to read."
If Hist was not satisfied with this explanation, she did not deem the point of sufficient importance to be pressed. Simply bending her body, in a gentle admission of the truth of what she heard, she sat patiently awaiting the further arguments of the pale-face enthusiast.
"You can tell these chiefs that throughout this book, men are ordered to forgive their enemies; to treat them as they would brethren; and never to injure their fellow creatures, more especially on account of revenge or any evil passions. Do you think you can tell them this, so that they will understand it, Hist?"
"Tell him well enough, but he no very easy to understand." Hist then conveyed the ideas of Hetty, in the best manner she could, to the attentive Indians, who heard her words with some such surprise as an American of our own times would be apt to betray at a suggestion that the great modern but vacillating ruler of things human, public opinion, might be wrong. One or two of their number, however, having met with missionaries, said a few words in explanation, and then the group gave all its attention to the communications that were to follow. Before Hetty resumed she inquired earnestly of Hist if the chiefs had understood her, and receiving an evasive answer, was fain to be satisfied.
"I will now read to the warriors some of the verses that it is good for them to know," continued the girl, whose manner grew more solemn and earnest as she proceeded—"and they will remember that they are the very words of the Great Spirit. First, then, ye are commanded to 'love thy neighbor as Thyself.' Tell them that, dear Hist."
"Neighbor, for Injin, no mean pale-face," answered the Delaware girl, with more decision than she had hitherto thought it necessary to use. "Neighbor mean Iroquois for Iroquois, Mohican for Mohican, Pale-face for pale face. No need tell chief any thing else."
"You forget, Hist, these are the words of the Great Spirit, and the chiefs must obey them as well as others. Here is another commandment—'Whosoever shall smite thee on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.'"
"What that mean?" demanded Hist, with the quickness of lightning.
Hetty explained that it was an order not to resent injuries, but rather to submit to receive fresh wrongs from the offender.
"And hear this, too, Hist," she added. "'Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you.'"
By this time Hetty had become excited; her eye gleamed with the earnestness of her feelings, her cheeks flushed, and her voice, usually so low and modulated, became stronger and more impressive. With the Bible she had been early made familiar by her mother, and she now turned from passage to passage with surprising rapidity, taking care to cull such verses as taught the sublime lessons of Christian charity and Christian forgiveness. To translate half she said, in her pious earnestness, Wah-ta-Wah would have found impracticable, had she made the effort, but wonder held her tongue tied, equally with the chiefs, and the young, simple-minded enthusiast had fairly become exhausted with her own efforts, before the other opened her mouth, again, to utter a syllable. Then, indeed, the Delaware girl gave a brief translation of the substance of what had been both read and said, confining herself to one or two of the more striking of the verses, those that had struck her own imagination as the most paradoxical, and which certainly would have been the most applicable to the case, could the uninstructed minds of the listeners embrace the great moral truths they conveyed.
It will be scarcely necessary to tell the reader the effect that such novel duties would be likely to produce among a group of Indian warriors, with whom it was a species of religious principle never to forget a benefit, or to forgive an injury. Fortunately, the previous explanations of Hist had prepared the minds of the Hurons for something extravagant, and most of that which to them seemed inconsistent and paradoxical, was accounted for by the fact that the speaker possessed a mind that was constituted differently from those of most of the human race. Still there were one or two old men who had heard similar doctrines from the missionaries, and these felt a desire to occupy an idle moment by pursuing a subject that they found so curious.
"This is the Good Book of the pale-faces," observed one of these chiefs, taking the volume from the unresisting hands of Hetty, who gazed anxiously at his face while he turned the leaves, as if she expected to witness some visible results from the circumstance. "This is the law by which my white brethren professes to live?"
Hist, to whom this question was addressed, if it might be considered as addressed to any one, in particular, answered simply in the affirmative; adding that both the French of the Canadas, and the Yengeese of the British provinces equally admitted its authority, and affected to revere its principles.
"Tell my young sister," said the Huron, looking directly at Hist, "that I will open my mouth and say a few words."
"The Iroquois chief go to speak—my pale-face friend listen," said Hist.
"I rejoice to hear it!" exclaimed Hetty. "God has touched his heart, and he will now let father and Hurry go."
"This is the pale-face law," resumed the chief. "It tells him to do good to them that hurt him, and when his brother asks him for his rifle to give him the powder horn, too. Such is the pale-face law?"
"Not so—not so—" answered Hetty earnestly, when these words had been interpreted—"There is not a word about rifles in the whole book, and powder and bullets give offence to the Great Spirit."
"Why then does the pale-face use them? If he is ordered to give double to him that asks only for one thing, why does he take double from the poor Indian who ask for no thing. He comes from beyond the rising sun, with this book in his hand, and he teaches the red man to read it, but why does he forget himself all it says? When the Indian gives, he is never satisfied; and now he offers gold for the scalps of our women and children, though he calls us beasts if we take the scalp of a warrior killed in open war. My name is Rivenoak."
When Hetty had got this formidable question fairly presented to her mind in the translation, and Hist did her duty with more than usual readiness on this occasion, it scarcely need be said that she was sorely perplexed. Abler heads than that of this poor girl have frequently been puzzled by questions of a similar drift, and it is not surprising that with all her own earnestness and sincerity she did not know what answer to make.
"What shall I tell them, Hist," she asked imploringly—"I know that all I have read from the book is true, and yet it wouldn't seem so, would it, by the conduct of those to whom the book was given?"
"Give 'em pale-face reason," returned Hist, ironically—"that always good for one side; though he bad for t'other."
"No—no—Hist, there can't be two sides to truth—and yet it does seem strange! I'm certain I have read the verses right, and no one would be so wicked as to print the word of God wrong. That can never be, Hist."
"Well, to poor Injin girl, it seem every thing can be to pale-faces," returned the other, coolly. "One time 'ey say white, and one time 'ey say black. Why never can be?"
Hetty was more and more embarrassed, until overcome with the apprehension that she had failed in her object, and that the lives of her father and Hurry would be the forfeit of some blunder of her own, she burst into tears. From that moment the manner of Hist lost all its irony and cool indifference, and she became the fond caressing friend again. Throwing her arms around the afflicted girl, she attempted to soothe her sorrows by the scarcely ever failing remedy of female sympathy.
"Stop cry—no cry—" she said, wiping the tears from the face of Hetty, as she would have performed the same office for a child, and stopping to press her occasionally to her own warm bosom with the affection of a sister. "Why you so trouble? You no make he book, if he be wrong, and you no make he pale-face if he wicked. There wicked red man, and wicked white man—no colour all good—no colour all wicked. Chiefs know that well enough."
Hetty soon recovered from this sudden burst of grief, and then her mind reverted to the purpose of her visit, with all its single-hearted earnestness. Perceiving that the grim looking chiefs were still standing around her in grave attention, she hoped that another effort to convince them of the right might be successful. "Listen, Hist," she said, struggling to suppress her sobs, and to speak distinctly—"Tell the chiefs that it matters not what the wicked do—right is right—The words of The Great Spirit are the words of The Great Spirit—and no one can go harmless for doing an evil act, because another has done it before him. 'Render good for evil,' says this book, and that is the law for the red man as well as for the white man."
"Never hear such law among Delaware, or among Iroquois—" answered Hist soothingly. "No good to tell chiefs any such laws as dat. Tell 'em somet'ing they believe."
Hist was about to proceed, notwithstanding, when a tap on the shoulder from the finger of the oldest chief caused her to look up. She then perceived that one of the warriors had left the group, and was already returning to it with Hutter and Hurry. Understanding that the two last were to become parties in the inquiry, she became mute, with the unhesitating obedience of an Indian woman. In a few seconds the prisoners stood face to face with the principal men of the captors.
"Daughter," said the senior chief to the young Delaware, "ask this grey beard why he came into our camp?"
The question was put by Hist, in her own imperfect English, but in a way that was easy to be understood. Hutter was too stern and obdurate by nature to shrink from the consequences of any of his acts, and he was also too familiar with the opinions of the savages not to understand that nothing was to be gained by equivocation or an unmanly dread of their anger. Without hesitating, therefore, he avowed the purpose with which he had landed, merely justifying it by the fact that the government of the province had bid high for scalps. This frank avowal was received by the Iroquois with evident satisfaction, not so much, however, on account of the advantage it gave them in a moral point of view, as by its proving that they had captured a man worthy of occupying their thoughts and of becoming a subject of their revenge. Hurry, when interrogated, confessed the truth, though he would have been more disposed to concealment than his sterner companion, did the circumstances very well admit of its adoption. But he had tact enough to discover that equivocation would be useless, at that moment, and he made a merit of necessity by imitating a frankness, which, in the case of Hutter, was the offspring of habits of indifference acting on a disposition that was always ruthless, and reckless of personal consequences.
As soon as the chiefs had received the answers to their questions, they walked away in silence, like men who deemed the matter disposed of, all Hetty's dogmas being thrown away on beings trained in violence from infancy to manhood. Hetty and Hist were now left alone with Hutter and Hurry, no visible restraint being placed on the movements of either; though all four, in fact, were vigilantly and unceasingly watched. As respects the men, care was had to prevent them from getting possession of any of the rifles that lay scattered about, their own included; and there all open manifestations of watchfulness ceased. But they, who were so experienced in Indian practices, knew too well how great was the distance between appearances and reality, to become the dupes of this seeming carelessness. Although both thought incessantly of the means of escape, and this without concert, each was aware of the uselessness of attempting any project of the sort that was not deeply laid, and promptly executed. They had been long enough in the encampment, and were sufficiently observant to have ascertained that Hist, also, was a sort of captive, and, presuming on the circumstance, Hutter spoke in her presence more openly than he might otherwise have thought it prudent to do; inducing Hurry to be equally unguarded by his example.
"I'll not blame you, Hetty, for coming on this errand, which was well meant if not very wisely planned," commenced the father, seating himself by the side of his daughter and taking her hand; a sign of affection that this rude being was accustomed to manifest to this particular child. "But preaching, and the Bible, are not the means to turn an Indian from his ways. Has Deerslayer sent any message; or has he any scheme by which he thinks to get us free?"
"Ay, that's the substance of it!" put in Hurry. "If you can help us, gal, to half a mile of freedom, or even a good start of a short quarter, I'll answer for the rest. Perhaps the old man may want a little more, but for one of my height and years that will meet all objections."
Hetty looked distressed, turning her eyes from one to the other, but she had no answer to give to the question of the reckless Hurry.
"Father," she said, "neither Deerslayer nor Judith knew of my coming until I had left the Ark. They are afraid the Iroquois will make a raft and try to get off to the hut, and think more of defending that than of coming to aid you."
"No—no—no—" said Hist hurriedly, though in a low voice, and with her face bent towards the earth, in order to conceal from those whom she knew to be watching them the fact of her speaking at all. "No—no—no—Deerslayer different man. He no t'ink of defending 'self, with friend in danger. Help one another, and all get to hut."
"This sounds well, old Tom," said Hurry, winking and laughing, though he too used the precaution to speak low—"Give me a ready witted squaw for a fri'nd, and though I'll not downright defy an Iroquois, I think I would defy the devil."
"No talk loud," said Hist. "Some Iroquois got Yengeese tongue, and all got Yengeese ear."
"Have we a friend in you, young woman?" enquired Hutter with an increasing interest in the conference. "If so, you may calculate on a solid reward, and nothing will be easier than to send you to your own tribe, if we can once fairly get you off with us to the castle. Give us the Ark and the canoes, and we can command the lake, spite of all the savages in the Canadas. Nothing but artillery could drive us out of the castle, if we can get back to it.
"S'pose 'ey come ashore to take scalp?" retorted Hist, with cool irony, at which the girl appeared to be more expert than is common for her sex.
"Ay—ay—that was a mistake; but there is little use in lamentations, and less still, young woman, in flings."
"Father," said Hetty, "Judith thinks of breaking open the big chest, in hopes of finding something in that which may buy your freedom of the savages."
A dark look came over Hutter at the announcement of this fact, and he muttered his dissatisfaction in a way to render it intelligible enough.
"What for no break open chest?" put in Hist. "Life sweeter than old chest—scalp sweeter than old chest. If no tell darter to break him open, Wah-ta-Wah no help him to run away."
"Ye know not what ye ask—ye are but silly girls, and the wisest way for ye both is to speak of what ye understand and to speak of nothing else. I little like this cold neglect of the savages, Hurry; it's a proof that they think of something serious, and if we are to do any thing, we must do it soon. Can we count on this young woman, think you?"
"Listen—" said Hist quickly, and with an earnestness that proved how much her feelings were concerned—"Wah-ta-Wah no Iroquois—All over Delaware—got Delaware heart—Delaware feeling. She prisoner, too. One prisoner help t'udder prisoner. No good to talk more, now. Darter stay with fader—Wah-ta-Wah come and see friend—all look right—Then tell what he do."
This was said in a low voice, but distinctly, and in a manner to make an impression. As soon as it was uttered the girl arose and left the group, walking composedly towards the hut she occupied, as if she had no further interest in what might pass between the pale-faces.
"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.
"An oaken, broken, elbow-chair; A caudle-cup without an ear; A battered, shattered ash bedstead; A box of deal without a lid; A pair of tongs, but out of joint; A back-sword poker, without point; A dish which might good meat afford once; An Ovid, and an old Concordance."
Thomas Sheridan, "A True and Faithful Inventory of the Goods belonging to Dr. Swift," ll.i-6, 13-14.
No sooner did Deerslayer raise the pistols, than he turned to the Delaware and held them up for his admiration.
"Child gun," said the Serpent, smiling, while he handled one of the instruments as if it had been a toy.
"Not it, Sarpent; not it—'twas made for a man and would satisfy a giant, if rightly used. But stop; white men are remarkable for their carelessness in putting away fire arms, in chists and corners. Let me look if care has been given to these."
As Deerslayer spoke, he took the weapon from the hand of his friend and opened the pan. The last was filled with priming, caked like a bit of cinder, by time, moisture and compression. An application of the ramrod showed that both the pistols were charged, although Judith could testify that they had probably lain for years in the chest. It is not easy to portray the surprise of the Indian at this discovery, for he was in the practice of renewing his priming daily, and of looking to the contents of his piece at other short intervals.
"This is white neglect," said Deerslayer, shaking his head, "and scarce a season goes by that some one in the settlements doesn't suffer from it. It's extr'ornary too, Judith—yes, it's downright extr'ornary that the owner shall fire his piece at a deer, or some other game, or perhaps at an inimy, and twice out of three times he'll miss; but let him catch an accident with one of these forgotten charges, and he makes it sartain death to a child, or a brother, or a fri'nd! Well, we shall do a good turn to the owner if we fire these pistols for him, and as they're novelties to you and me, Sarpent, we'll try our hands at a mark. Freshen that priming, and I'll do the same with this, and then we'll see who is the best man with a pistol; as for the rifle, that's long been settled atween us."
Deerslayer laughed heartily at his own conceit, and, in a minute or two, they were both standing on the platform, selecting some object in the Ark for their target. Judith was led by curiosity to their side.
"Stand back, gal, stand a little back; these we'pons have been long loaded," said Deerslayer, "and some accident may happen in the discharge." "Then you shall not fire them! Give them both to the Delaware; or it would be better to unload them without firing."
"That's ag'in usage—and some people say, ag'in manhood; though I hold to no such silly doctrine. We must fire 'em, Judith; yes, we must fire 'em; though I foresee that neither will have any great reason to boast of his skill."
Judith, in the main, was a girl of great personal spirit, and her habits prevented her from feeling any of the terror that is apt to come over her sex at the report of fire arms. She had discharged many a rifle, and had even been known to kill a deer, under circumstances that were favorable to the effort. She submitted therefore, falling a little back by the side of Deerslayer, giving the Indian the front of the platform to himself. Chingachgook raised the weapon several times, endeavored to steady it by using both hands, changed his attitude from one that was awkward to another still more so, and finally drew the trigger with a sort of desperate indifference, without having, in reality, secured any aim at all. The consequence was, that instead of hitting the knot which had been selected for the mark, he missed the ark altogether; the bullet skipping along the water like a stone that was thrown by hand.
"Well done—Sarpent—well done—" cried Deerslayer laughing, with his noiseless glee, "you've hit the lake, and that's an expl'ite for some men! I know'd it, and as much as said it, here, to Judith; for your short we'pons don't belong to red-skin gifts. You've hit the lake, and that's better than only hitting the air! Now, stand back and let us see what white gifts can do with a white we'pon. A pistol isn't a rifle, but colour is colour."
The aim of Deerslayer was both quick and steady, and the report followed almost as soon as the weapon rose. Still the pistol hung fire, as it is termed, and fragments of it flew in a dozen directions, some falling on the roof of the castle, others in the Ark, and one in the water. Judith screamed, and when the two men turned anxiously towards the girl she was as pale as death, trembling in every limb.
"She's wounded—yes, the poor gal's wounded, Sarpent, though one couldn't foresee it, standing where she did. We'll lead her in to a seat, and we must do the best for her that our knowledge and skill can afford."
Judith allowed herself to be supported to a seat, swallowed a mouthful of the water that the Delaware offered her in a gourd, and, after a violent fit of trembling that seemed ready to shake her fine frame to dissolution, she burst into tears.
"The pain must be borne, poor Judith—yes, it must be borne," said Deerslayer, soothingly, "though I am far from wishing you not to weep; for weeping often lightens galish feelin's. Where can she be hurt, Sarpent? I see no signs of blood, nor any rent of skin or garments?"
"I am uninjured, Deerslayer," stammered the girl through her tears. "It's fright—nothing more, I do assure you, and, God be praised! no one, I find, has been harmed by the accident."
"This is extr'ornary!" exclaimed the unsuspecting and simple minded hunter—"I thought, Judith, you'd been above settlement weaknesses, and that you was a gal not to be frightened by the sound of a bursting we'pon—No—I didn't think you so skeary! Hetty might well have been startled; but you've too much judgment and reason to be frightened when the danger's all over. They're pleasant to the eye, chief, and changeful, but very unsartain in their feelin's!"
Shame kept Judith silent. There had been no acting in her agitation, but all had fairly proceeded from sudden and uncontrollable alarm—an alarm that she found almost as inexplicable to herself, as it proved to be to her companions. Wiping away the traces of tears, however, she smiled again, and was soon able to join in the laugh at her own folly.
"And you, Deerslayer," she at length succeeded in saying—"are you, indeed, altogether unhurt? It seems almost miraculous that a pistol should have burst in your hand, and you escape without the loss of a limb, if not of life!"
"Such wonders ar'n't oncommon, at all, among worn out arms. The first rifle they gave me play'd the same trick, and yet I liv'd through it, though not as onharmless as I've got out of this affair. Thomas Hutter is master of one pistol less than he was this morning, but, as it happened in trying to sarve him, there's no ground of complaint. Now, draw near, and let us look farther into the inside of the chist."
Judith, by this time, had so far gotten the better of her agitation as to resume her seat, and the examination went on. The next article that offered was enveloped in cloth, and on opening it, it proved to be one of the mathematical instruments that were then in use among seamen, possessing the usual ornaments and fastenings in brass. Deerslayer and Chingachgook expressed their admiration and surprise at the appearance of the unknown instrument, which was bright and glittering, having apparently been well cared for.
"This goes beyond the surveyors, Judith!" Deerslayer exclaimed, after turning the instrument several times in his hands. "I've seen all their tools often, and wicked and heartless enough are they, for they never come into the forest but to lead the way to waste and destruction; but none of them have as designing a look as this! I fear me, after all, that Thomas Hutter has journeyed into the wilderness with no fair intentions towards its happiness. Did you ever see any of the cravings of a surveyor about your father, gal?"
"He is no surveyor, Deerslayer, nor does he know the use of that instrument, though he seems to own it. Do you suppose that Thomas Hutter ever wore that coat? It is as much too large for him, as this instrument is beyond his learning."
"That's it—that must be it, Sarpent, and the old fellow, by some onknown means, has fallen heir to another man's goods! They say he has been a mariner, and no doubt this chist, and all it holds—ha! What have we here?—This far out does the brass and black wood of the tool!"
Deerslayer had opened a small bag, from which he was taking, one by one, the pieces of a set of chessmen. They were of ivory, much larger than common, and exquisitely wrought. Each piece represented the character or thing after which it is named; the knights being mounted, the castles stood on elephants, and even the pawns possessed the heads and busts of men. The set was not complete, and a few fractures betrayed bad usage; but all that was left had been carefully put away and preserved. Even Judith expressed wonder, as these novel objects were placed before her eyes, and Chingachgook fairly forgot his Indian dignity in admiration and delight. The latter took up each piece, and examined it with never tiring satisfaction, pointing out to the girl the more ingenious and striking portions of the workmanship. But the elephants gave him the greatest pleasure. The "Hughs!" that he uttered, as he passed his fingers over their trunks, and ears, and tails, were very distinct, nor did he fail to note the pawns, which were armed as archers. This exhibition lasted several minutes, during which time Judith and the Indian had all the rapture to themselves. Deerslayer sat silent, thoughtful, and even gloomy, though his eyes followed each movement of the two principal actors, noting every new peculiarity about the pieces as they were held up to view. Not an exclamation of pleasure, nor a word of condemnation passed his lips. At length his companions observed his silence, and then, for the first time since the chessmen had been discovered, did he speak.
"Judith," he asked earnestly, but with a concern that amounted almost to tenderness of manner, "did your parents ever talk to you of religion?"
The girl coloured, and the flashes of crimson that passed over her beautiful countenance were like the wayward tints of a Neapolitan sky in November. Deerslayer had given her so strong a taste for truth, however, that she did not waver in her answer, replying simply and with sincerity.
"My mother did often," she said, "my father never. I thought it made my mother sorrowful to speak of our prayers and duties, but my father has never opened his mouth on such matters, before or since her death."
"That I can believe—that I can believe. He has no God—no such God as it becomes a man of white skin to worship, or even a red-skin. Them things are idols!"
Judith started, and for a moment she seemed seriously hurt. Then she reflected, and in the end she laughed. "And you think, Deerslayer, that these ivory toys are my father's Gods? I have heard of idols, and know what they are."
"Them are idols!" repeated the other, positively. "Why should your father keep 'em, if he doesn't worship 'em."
"Would he keep his gods in a bag, and locked up in a chest? No, no, Deerslayer; my poor father carries his God with him, wherever he goes, and that is in his own cravings. These things may really be idols—I think they are myself, from what I have heard and read of idolatry, but they have come from some distant country, and like all the other articles, have fallen into Thomas Hutter's hands when he was a sailor."
"I'm glad of it—I am downright glad to hear it, Judith, for I do not think I could have mustered the resolution to strive to help a white idolater out of his difficulties! The old man is of my colour and nation and I wish to sarve him, but as one who denied all his gifts, in the way of religion, it would have come hard to do so. That animal seems to give you great satisfaction, Sarpent, though it's an idolatrous beast at the best."