Judith had scarce attended to this rude attempt of Hurry's at consolation, although she necessarily understood its general drift, and had a tolerably accurate notion of its manner. She was weeping at the recollection of her mother's early tenderness, and painful images of long forgotten lessons and neglected precepts were crowding her mind. The words of Hurry, however, recalled her to the present time, and abrupt and unseasonable as was their import, they did not produce those signs of distaste that one might have expected from the girl's character. On the contrary, she appeared to be struck with some sudden idea, gazed intently for a moment at the young man, dried her eyes, and led the way to the other end of the scow, signifying her wish for him to follow. Here she took a seat and motioned for March to place himself at her side. The decision and earnestness with which all this was done a little intimidated her companion, and Judith found it necessary to open the subject herself.
"You wish to speak to me of marriage, Harry March," she said, "and I have come here, over the grave of my parents, as it might be — no — no — over the grave of my poor, dear, dear, mother, to hear what you have to say."
"This is oncommon, and you have a skearful way with you this evening, Judith," answered Hurry, more disturbed than he would have cared to own, "but truth is truth, and it shall come out, let what will follow. You well know, gal, that I've long thought you the comeliest young woman my eyes ever beheld, and that I've made no secret of that fact, either here on the lake, out among the hunters and trappers, or in the settlements."
"Yes — yes, I've heard this before, and I suppose it to be true," answered Judith with a sort of feverish impatience.
"When a young man holds such language of any particular young woman, it's reasonable to calculate he sets store by her."
"True — true, Hurry — all this you've told me, again and again."
"Well, if it's agreeable, I should think a woman coul'n't hear it too often. They all tell me this is the way with your sex, that nothing pleases them more than to repeat over and over, for the hundredth time, how much you like 'em, unless it be to talk to 'em of their good looks!"
"No doubt — we like both, on most occasions, but this is an uncommon moment, Hurry, and vain words should not be too freely used. I would rather hear you speak plainly."
"You shall have your own way, Judith, and I some suspect you always will. I've often told you that I not only like you better than any other young woman going, or, for that matter, better than all the young women going, but you must have obsarved, Judith, that I've never asked you, in up and down tarms, to marry me."
"I have observed both," returned the girl, a smile struggling about her beautiful mouth, in spite of the singular and engrossing intentness which caused her cheeks to flush and lighted her eyes with a brilliancy that was almost dazzling — "I have observed both, and have thought the last remarkable for a man of Harry March's decision and fearlessness."
"There's been a reason, gal, and it's one that troubles me even now-nay, don't flush up so, and look fiery like, for there are thoughts which will stick long in any man's mind, as there be words that will stick in his throat — but, then ag'in, there's feelin's that will get the better of 'em all, and to these feelin's I find I must submit. You've no longer a father, or a mother, Judith, and it's morally unpossible that you and Hetty could live here, alone, allowing it was peace and the Iroquois was quiet; but, as matters stand, not only would you starve, but you'd both be prisoners, or scalped, afore a week was out. It's time to think of a change and a husband, and, if you'll accept of me, all that's past shall be forgotten, and there's an end on't."
Judith had difficulty in repressing her impatience until this rude declaration and offer were made, which she evidently wished to hear, and which she now listened to with a willingness that might well have excited hope. She hardly allowed the young man to conclude, so eager was she to bring him to the point, and so ready to answer.
"There — Hurry — that's enough," she said, raising a hand as if to stop him — "I understand you as well as if you were to talk a month. You prefer me to other girls, and you wish me to become your wife."
"You put it in better words than I can do, Judith, and I wish you to fancy them said just as you most like to hear 'em."
"They're plain enough, Harry, and 'tis fitting they should be so. This is no place to trifle or deceive in. Now, listen to my answer, which shall be, in every tittle, as sincere as your offer. There is a reason, March, why I should never —
"I suppose I understand you, Judith, but if I'm willing to overlook that reason, it's no one's consarn but mine — Now, don't brighten up like the sky at sundown, for no offence is meant, and none should be taken."
"I do not brighten up, and will not take offence," said Judith, struggling to repress her indignation, in a way she had never found it necessary to exert before. "There is a reason why I should not, cannot, ever be your wife, Hurry, that you seem to overlook, and which it is my duty now to tell you, as plainly as you have asked me to consent to become so. I do not, and I am certain that I never shall, love you well enough to marry you. No man can wish for a wife who does not prefer him to all other men, and when I tell you this frankly, I suppose you yourself will thank me for my sincerity."
"Ah! Judith, them flaunting, gay, scarlet-coated officers of the garrisons have done all this mischief!"
"Hush, March; do not calumniate a daughter over her mother's grave! Do not, when I only wish to treat you fairly, give me reason to call for evil on your head in bitterness of heart! Do not forget that I am a woman, and that you are a man; and that I have neither father, nor brother, to revenge your words!"
"Well, there is something in the last, and I'll say no more. Take time, Judith, and think better on this."
"I want no time — my mind has long been made up, and I have only waited for you to speak plainly, to answer plainly. We now understand each other, and there is no use in saying any more."
The impetuous earnestness of the girl awed the young man, for never before had he seen her so serious and determined. In most, of their previous interviews she had met his advances with evasion or sarcasm, but these Hurry had mistaken for female coquetry, and had supposed might easily be converted into consent. The struggle had been with himself, about offering, nor had he ever seriously believed it possible that Judith would refuse to become the wife of the handsomest man on all that frontier. Now that the refusal came, and that in terms so decided as to put all cavilling out of the question; if not absolutely dumbfounded, he was so much mortified and surprised as to feel no wish to attempt to change her resolution.
"The Glimmerglass has now no great call for me," he exclaimed after a minute's silence. "Old Tom is gone, the Hurons are as plenty on the shore as pigeons in the woods, and altogether it is getting to be an onsuitable place."
"Then leave it. You see it is surrounded by dangers, and there is no reason why you should risk your life for others. Nor do I know that you can be of any service to us. Go, tonight; we'll never accuse you of having done any thing forgetful, or unmanly."
"If I do go, 'twill be with a heavy heart on your account, Judith; I would rather take you with me."
"That is not to be spoken of any longer, March; but, I will land you in one of the canoes, as soon as it is dark and you can strike a trail for the nearest garrison. When you reach the fort, if you send a party — "
Judith smothered the words, for she felt that it was humiliating to be thus exposing herself to the comments and reflections of one who was not disposed to view her conduct in connection with all in those garrisons, with an eye of favor. Hurry, however, caught the idea, and without perverting it, as the girl dreaded, he answered to the purpose.
"I understand what you would say, and why you don't say it." he replied. "If I get safe to the fort, a party shall start on the trail of these vagabonds, and I'll come with it, myself, for I should like to see you and Hetty in a place of safety, before we part forever."
"Ah, Harry March, had you always spoken thus, felt thus, my feelings towards you might have been different!"
"Is it too late, now, Judith? I'm rough and a woodsman, but we all change under different treatment from what we have been used to."
"It is too late, March. I can never feel towards you, or any other man but one, as you would wish to have me. There, I've said enough, surely, and you will question me no further. As soon as it is dark, I or the Delaware will put you on the shore. You will make the best of your way to the Mohawk, and the nearest garrison, and send all you can to our assistance. And, Hurry, we are now friends, and I may trust in you, may I not?"
"Sartain, Judith; though our fri'ndship would have been all the warmer, could you look upon me as I look upon you."
Judith hesitated, and some powerful emotion was struggling within her. Then, as if determined to look down all weaknesses, and accomplish her purposes at every hazard, she spoke more plainly.
"You will find a captain of the name of Warley at the nearest post," she said, pale as death, and even trembling as she spoke; "I think it likely he will wish to head the party, but I would greatly prefer it should be another. If Captain Warley can be kept back, 't would make me very happy!"
"That's easier said than done, Judith, for these officers do pretty much as they please. The Major will order, and captains, and lieutenants, and ensigns must obey. I know the officer you mean, a red faced, gay, oh! be joyful sort of a gentleman, who swallows madeira enough to drown the Mohawk, and yet a pleasant talker. All the gals in the valley admire him, and they say he admires all the gals. I don't wonder he is your dislike, Judith, for he's a very gin'ral lover, if he isn't a gin'ral officer."
Judith did not answer, though her frame shook, and her colour changed from pale to crimson, and from crimson back again to the hue of death.
"Alas! my poor mother!" she ejaculated mentally instead of uttering it aloud, "We are over thy grave, but little dost thou know how much thy lessons have been forgotten; thy care neglected; thy love defeated!"
As this goading of the worm that never dies was felt, she arose and signified to Hurry, that she had no more to communicate.