"What do you think of Deerslayer, Hetty?" asked Judith, bending forward like her unsophisticated sister, and endeavoring to conceal her embarrassment in a similar manner. "Would he not make a brother-in-law to your liking?"
"Deerslayer!" repeated the other, looking up in unfeigned surprise. "Why, Judith, Deerslayer isn't in the least comely, and is altogether unfit for one like you!"
"He is not ill-looking, Hetty, and beauty in a man is not of much matter."
"Do you think so, Judith? I know that beauty is of no great matter, in man or woman, in the eyes of God, for mother has often told me so, when she thought I might have been sorry I was not as handsome as you, though she needn't have been uneasy on that account, for I never coveted any thing that is yours, sister — but, tell me so she did — still, beauty is very pleasant to the eye, in both! I think, if I were a man, I should pine more for good looks than I do as a girl. A handsome man is a more pleasing sight than a handsome woman."
"Poor child! You scarce know what you say, or what you mean! Beauty in our sex is something, but in men, it passes for little. To be sure, a man ought to be tall, but others are tall, as well as Hurry; and active — and I think I know those that are more active — and strong; well, he hasn't all the strength in the world — and brave — I am certain I can name a youth who is braver!"
"This is strange, Judith! — I didn't think the earth held a handsomer, or a stronger, or a more active or a braver man than Hurry Harry! I'm sure I never met his equal in either of these things."
"Well, well, Hetty — say no more of this. I dislike to hear you talking in this manner. Tis not suitable to your innocence, and truth, and warm-hearted sincerity. Let Harry March go. He quits us tonight, and no regret of mine will follow him, unless it be that he has staid so long, and to so little purpose."
"Ah! Judith; that is what I've long feared — and I did so hope he might be my brother-in-law!"
"Never mind it now. Let us talk of our poor mother — and of Thomas Hutter."
"Speak kindly then, sister, for you can't be quite certain that spirits don't both hear and see. If father wasn't father, he was good to us, and gave us food and shelter. We can't put any stones over their graves, here in the water, to tell people all this, and so we ought to say it with our tongues."
"They will care little for that, girl. 'Tis a great consolation to know, Hetty, that if mother ever did commit any heavy fault when young, she lived sincerely to repent of it; no doubt her sins were forgiven her."
"Tisn't right, Judith, for children to talk of their parents' sins. We had better talk of our own."
"Talk of your sins, Hetty! — If there ever was a creature on earth without sin, it is you! I wish I could say, or think the same of myself; but we shall see. No one knows what changes affection for a good husband can make in a woman's heart. I don't think, child, I have even now the same love for finery I once had."
"It would be a pity, Judith, if you did think of clothes, over your parents' graves! We will never quit this spot, if you say so, and will let Hurry go where he pleases."
"I am willing enough to consent to the last, but cannot answer for the first, Hetty. We must live, in future, as becomes respectable young women, and cannot remain here, to be the talk and jest of all the rude and foul tongu'd trappers and hunters that may come upon the lake. Let Hurry go by himself, and then I'll find the means to see Deerslayer, when the future shall be soon settled. Come, girl, the sun has set, and the Ark is drifting away from us; let us paddle up to the scow, and consult with our friends. This night I shall look into the chest, and to-morrow shall determine what we are to do. As for the Hurons, now we can use our stores without fear of Thomas Hutter, they will be easily bought off. Let me get Deerslayer once out of their hands, and a single hour shall bring things to an understanding."
Judith spoke with decision, and she spoke with authority, a habit she had long practised towards her feeble-minded sister. But, while thus accustomed to have her way, by the aid of manner and a readier command of words, Hetty occasionally checked her impetuous feelings and hasty acts by the aid of those simple moral truths that were so deeply engrafted in all her own thoughts and feelings; shining through both with a mild and beautiful lustre that threw a sort of holy halo around so much of what she both said and did. On the present occasion, this healthful ascendancy of the girl of weak intellect, over her of a capacity that, in other situations, might have become brilliant and admired, was exhibited in the usual simple and earnest manner.
"You forget, Judith, what has brought us here," she said reproachfully. "This is mother's grave, and we have just laid the body of father by her side. We have done wrong to talk so much of ourselves at such a spot, and ought now to pray God to forgive us, and ask him to teach us where we are to go, and what we are to do."
Judith involuntarily laid aside her paddle, while Hetty dropped on her knees, and was soon lost in her devout but simple petitions. Her sister did not pray. This she had long ceased to do directly, though anguish of spirit frequently wrung from her mental and hasty appeals to the great source of benevolence, for support, if not for a change of spirit. Still she never beheld Hetty on her knees, that a feeling of tender recollection, as well as of profound regret at the deadness of her own heart, did not come over her. Thus had she herself done in childhood, and even down to the hour of her ill fated visits to the garrisons, and she would willingly have given worlds, at such moments, to be able to exchange her present sensations for the confiding faith, those pure aspirations, and the gentle hope that shone through every lineament and movement of her otherwise, less favored sister. All she could do, however, was to drop her head to her bosom, and assume in her attitude some of that devotion in which her stubborn spirit refused to unite. When Hetty rose from her knees, her countenance had a glow and serenity that rendered a face that was always agreeable, positively handsome. Her mind was at peace, and her conscience acquitted her of a neglect of duty.
"Now, you may go if you want to, Judith," she said, "for God has been kind to me, and lifted a burden off my heart. Mother had many such burdens, she used to tell me, and she always took them off in this way. Tis the only way, sister, such things can be done. You may raise a stone, or a log, with your hands; but the heart must be lightened by prayer. I don't think you pray as often as you used to do, when younger, Judith!"
"Never mind — never mind, child," answered the other huskily, "'tis no matter, now. Mother is gone, and Thomas Hutter is gone, and the time has come when we must think and act for ourselves."
As the canoe moved slowly away from the place, under the gentle impulsion of the elder sister's paddle, the younger sat musing, as was her wont whenever her mind was perplexed by any idea more abstract and difficult of comprehension than common.
"I don't know what you mean by 'future', Judith," she at length, suddenly observed. "Mother used to call Heaven the future, but you seem to think it means next week, or tomorrow!"
"It means both, dear sister — every thing that is yet to come, whether in this world or another. It is a solemn word, Hetty, and most so, I fear, to them that think the least about it. Mother's future is eternity; ours may yet mean what will happen while we live in this world — Is not that a canoe just passing behind the castle — here, more in the direction of the point, I mean; it is hid, now; but certainly I saw a canoe stealing behind the logs!"
"I've seen it some time," Hetty quietly answered, for the Indians had few terrors for her, "but I didn't think it right to talk about such things over mother's grave! The canoe came from the camp, Judith, and was paddled by a single man. He seemed to be Deerslayer, and no Iroquois."
"Deerslayer!" returned the other, with much of her native impetuosity-"That cannot be! Deerslayer is a prisoner, and I have been thinking of the means of setting him free. Why did you fancy it Deerslayer, child?"
"You can look for yourself, sister, for there comes the canoe in sight, again, on this side of the hut."