"Never mind that, Hetty. All men can't read; though mother knew so much and taught us so much, father knows very little about books, and he can barely read the Bible you know."
"Oh! I never thought fathers could read much, but mothers ought all to read, else how can they teach their children? Depend on it, Judith, Deerslayer could never have had a mother, else he would know how to read."
"Did you tell him I sent you ashore, Hetty, and how much concern I feel for his misfortune?" asked the other, impatiently.
"I believe I did, Judith; but you know I am feeble-minded, and I may have forgotten. I did tell him you brought me ashore. And he told me a great deal that I was to say to you, which I remember well, for it made my blood run cold to hear him. He told me to say that his friends — I suppose you are one of them, sister?"
"How can you torment me thus, Hetty! Certainly, I am one of the truest friends he has on earth."
"Torment you! yes, now I remember all about it. I am glad you used that word, Judith, for it brings it all back to my mind. Well, he said he might be tormented by the savages, but he would try to bear it as becomes a Christian white man, and that no one need be afeard — why does Deerslayer call it afeard, when mother always taught us to say afraid?"
"Never mind, dear Hetty, never mind that, now," cried the other, almost gasping for breath. "Did Deerslayer really tell you that he thought the savages would put him to the torture? Recollect now, well, Hetty, for this is a most awful and serious thing."
"Yes he did; and I remember it by your speaking about my tormenting you. Oh! I felt very sorry for him, and Deerslayer took all so quietly and without noise! Deerslayer is not as handsome as Hurry Harry, Judith, but he is more quiet."
"He's worth a million Hurrys! yes, he's worth all the young men who ever came upon the lake put together," said Judith, with an energy and positiveness that caused her sister to wonder. "He is true. There is no lie about Deerslayer. You, Hetty, may not know what a merit it is in a man to have truth, but when you get — no — I hope you will never know it. Why should one like you be ever made to learn the hard lesson to distrust and hate!"
Judith bowed her face, dark as it was, and unseen as she must have been by any eye but that of Omniscience, between her hands, and groaned. This sudden paroxysm of feeling, however, lasted but for a moment, and she continued more calmly, still speaking frankly to her sister, whose intelligence, and whose discretion in any thing that related to herself, she did not in the least distrust. Her voice, however, was low and husky, instead of having its former clearness and animation.
"It is a hard thing to fear truth, Hetty," she said, "and yet do I more dread Deerslayer's truth, than any enemy! One cannot tamper with such truth — so much honesty — such obstinate uprightness! But we are not altogether unequal, sister — Deerslayer and I? He is not altogether my superior?"
It was not usual for Judith so far to demean herself as to appeal to Hetty's judgment. Nor did she often address her by the title of sister, a distinction that is commonly given by the junior to the senior, even where there is perfect equality in all other respects. As trifling departures from habitual deportment oftener strike the imagination than more important changes, Hetty perceived the circumstances, and wondered at them in her own simple way. Her ambition was a little quickened, and the answer was as much out of the usual course of things as the question; the poor girl attempting to refine beyond her strength.
"Superior, Judith!" she repeated with pride. "In what can Deerslayer be your superior? Are you not mother's child — and does he know how to read — and wasn't mother before any woman in all this part of the world? I should think, so far from supposing himself your superior, he would hardly believe himself mine. You are handsome, and he is ugly — "
"No, not ugly, Hetty," interrupted Judith. "Only plain. But his honest face has a look in it that is far better than beauty. In my eyes, Deerslayer is handsomer than Hurry Harry."
"Judith Hutter! you frighten me. Hurry is the handsomest mortal in the world — even handsomer than you are yourself; because a man's good looks, you know, are always better than a woman's good looks."
This little innocent touch of natural taste did not please the elder sister at the moment, and she did not scruple to betray it. "Hetty, you now speak foolishly, and had better say no more on this subject," she answered. "Hurry is not the handsomest mortal in the world, by many; and there are officers in the garrisons — " Judith stammered at the words — "there are officers in the garrisons, near us, far comelier than he. But why do you think me the equal of Deerslayer — speak of that, for I do not like to hear you show so much admiration of a man like Hurry Harry, who has neither feelings, manners, nor conscience. You are too good for him, and he ought to be told it, at once."
"I! Judith, how you forget! Why I am not beautiful, and am feeble-minded."
"You are good, Hetty, and that is more than can be said of Harry March. He may have a face, and a body, but he has no heart. But enough of this, for the present. Tell me what raises me to an equality with Deerslayer."
"To think of you asking me this, Judith! He can't read, and you can. He don't know how to talk, but speaks worse than Hurry even; — for, sister, Harry doesn't always pronounce his words right! Did you ever notice that?"
"Certainly, he is as coarse in speech as in everything else. But I fear you flatter me, Hetty, when you think I can be justly called the equal of a man like Deerslayer. It is true, I have been better taught; in one sense am more comely; and perhaps might look higher; but then his truth — his truth — makes a fearful difference between us! Well, I will talk no more of this; and we will bethink us of the means of getting him out of the hands of the Hurons. We have father's chest in the ark, Hetty, and might try the temptation of more elephants; though I fear such baubles will not buy the liberty of a man like Deerslayer. I am afraid father and Hurry will not be as willing to ransom Deerslayer, as Deerslayer was to ransom them!"
"Why not, Judith? Hurry and Deerslayer are friends, and friends should always help one another."
"Alas! poor Hetty, you little know mankind! Seeming friends are often more to be dreaded than open enemies; particularly by females. But you'll have to land in the morning, and try again what can be done for Deerslayer. Tortured he shall not be, while Judith Hutter lives, and can find means to prevent it."
The conversation now grew desultory, and was drawn out, until the elder sister had extracted from the younger every fact that the feeble faculties of the latter permitted her to retain, and to communicate. When Judith was satisfied — though she could never be said to be satisfied, whose feelings seemed to be so interwoven with all that related to the subject, as to have excited a nearly inappeasable curiosity — but, when Judith could think of no more questions to ask, without resorting to repetition, the canoe was paddled towards the scow. The intense darkness of the night, and the deep shadows which the hills and forest cast upon the water, rendered it difficult to find the vessel, anchored, as it had been, as close to the shore as a regard to safety rendered prudent. Judith was expert in the management of a bark canoe, the lightness of which demanded skill rather than strength; and she forced her own little vessel swiftly over the water, the moment she had ended her conference with Hetty, and had come to the determination to return. Still no ark was seen. Several times the sisters fancied they saw it, looming up in the obscurity, like a low black rock; but on each occasion it was found to be either an optical illusion, or some swell of the foliage on the shore. After a search that lasted half an hour, the girls were forced to the unwelcome conviction that the ark had departed. Most young women would have felt the awkwardness of their situation, in a physical sense, under the circumstances in which the sisters were left, more than any apprehensions of a different nature. Not so with Judith, however; and even Hetty felt more concern about the motives that might have influenced her father and Hurry, than any fears for her own safety.