"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."
"It is an elephant," interrupted Judith. "I've often seen pictures of such animals, at the garrisons, and mother had a book in which there was a printed account of the creature. Father burnt that with all the other books, for he said Mother loved reading too well. This was not long before mother died, and I've sometimes thought that the loss hastened her end."
This was said equally without levity and without any very deep feeling. It was said without levity, for Judith was saddened by her recollections, and yet she had been too much accustomed to live for self, and for the indulgence of her own vanities, to feel her mother's wrongs very keenly. It required extraordinary circumstances to awaken a proper sense of her situation, and to stimulate the better feelings of this beautiful, but misguided girl, and those circumstances had not yet occurred in her brief existence.
"Elephant, or no elephant, 'tis an idol," returned the hunter, "and not fit to remain in Christian keeping."
"Good for Iroquois!" said Chingachgook, parting with one of the castles with reluctance, as his friend took it from him to replace it in the bag — "Elephon buy whole tribe — buy Delaware, almost!"
"Ay, that it would, as any one who comprehends red-skin natur' must know," answered Deerslayer, "but the man that passes false money, Sarpent, is as bad as he who makes it. Did you ever know a just Injin that wouldn't scorn to sell a 'coon skin for the true marten, or to pass off a mink for a beaver. I know that a few of these idols, perhaps one of them elephants, would go far towards buying Thomas Hutter's liberty, but it goes ag'in conscience to pass such counterfeit money. Perhaps no Injin tribe, hereaway, is downright idolators but there's some that come so near it, that white gifts ought to be particular about encouraging them in their mistake."
"If idolatry is a gift, Deerslayer, and gifts are what you seem to think them, idolatry in such people can hardly be a sin," said Judith with more smartness than discrimination.
"God grants no such gifts to any of his creatur's, Judith," returned the hunter, seriously. "He must be adored, under some name or other, and not creatur's of brass or ivory. It matters not whether the Father of All is called God, or Manitou, Deity or Great Spirit, he is none the less our common maker and master; nor does it count for much whether the souls of the just go to Paradise, or Happy Hunting Grounds, since He may send each his own way, as suits his own pleasure and wisdom; but it curdles my blood, when I find human mortals so bound up in darkness and consait, as to fashion the 'arth, or wood, or bones, things made by their own hands, into motionless, senseless effigies, and then fall down afore them, and worship 'em as a Deity!"
"After all, Deerslayer, these pieces of ivory may not be idols, at all. I remember, now, to have seen one of the officers at the garrison with a set of fox and geese made in some such a design as these, and here is something hard, wrapped in cloth, that may belong to your idols."
Deerslayer took the bundle the girl gave him, and unrolling it, he found the board within. Like the pieces it was large, rich, and inlaid with ebony and ivory. Putting the whole in conjunction the hunter, though not without many misgivings, slowly came over to Judith's opinion, and finally admitted that the fancied idols must be merely the curiously carved men of some unknown game. Judith had the tact to use her victory with great moderation, nor did she once, even in the most indirect manner, allude to the ludicrous mistake of her companion.
This discovery of the uses of the extraordinary-looking little images settled the affair of the proposed ransom. It was agreed generally, and all understood the weaknesses and tastes of Indians, that nothing could be more likely to tempt the cupidity of the Iroquois than the elephants, in particular. Luckily the whole of the castles were among the pieces, and these four tower-bearing animals it was finally determined should be the ransom offered. The remainder of the men, and, indeed, all the rest of the articles in the chest, were to be kept out of view, and to be resorted to only as a last appeal. As soon as these preliminaries were settled, everything but those intended for the bribe was carefully replaced in the chest, all the covers were 'tucked in' as they had been found, and it was quite possible, could Hutter have been put in possession of the castle again, that he might have passed the remainder of his days in it without even suspecting the invasion that had been made on the privacy of the chest. The rent pistol would have been the most likely to reveal the secret, but this was placed by the side of its fellow, and all were pressed down as before, some half a dozen packages in the bottom of the chest not having been opened at all. When this was done the lid was lowered, the padlocks replaced, and the key turned. The latter was then replaced in the pocket from which it had been taken.