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.