Judith spoke bitterly, and with her usual force, but her listener was too much struck with the novelty of the sensations he experienced to advert to her manner. There was something so soothing to the humility of a man of his temperament, to hear qualities that he could not but know he possessed himself, thus highly extolled by the loveliest female he had ever beheld, that, for the moment, his faculties seemed suspended in a natural and excusable pride. Then it was that the idea of the possibility of such a creature as Judith becoming his companion for life first crossed his mind. The image was so pleasant, and so novel, that he continued completely absorbed by it for more than a minute, totally regardless of the beautiful reality that was seated before him, watching the expression of his upright and truth-telling countenance with a keenness that gave her a very fair, if not an absolutely accurate clue to his thoughts. Never before had so pleasing a vision floated before the mind's eye of the young hunter, but, accustomed most to practical things, and little addicted to submitting to the power of his imagination, even while possessed of so much true poetical feeling in connection with natural objects in particular, he soon recovered his reason, and smiled at his own weakness, as the fancied picture faded from his mental sight, and left him the simple, untaught, but highly moral being he was, seated in the Ark of Thomas Hutter, at midnight, with the lovely countenance of its late owner's reputed daughter, beaming on him with anxious scrutiny, by the light of the solitary lamp.
"You're wonderful handsome, and enticing, and pleasing to look on, Judith!" he exclaimed, in his simplicity, as fact resumed its ascendency over fancy. "Wonderful! I don't remember ever to have seen so beautiful a gal, even among the Delawares; and I'm not astonished that Hurry Harry went away soured as well as disapp'inted!"
"Would you have had me, Deerslayer, become the wife of such a man as Henry March?"
"There's that which is in his favor, and there's that which is ag'in him. To my taste, Hurry wouldn't make the best of husbands, but I fear that the tastes of most young women, hereaway, wouldn't be so hard upon him."
"No — no — Judith without a name would never consent to be called Judith March! Anything would be better than that."
"Judith Bumppo wouldn't sound as well, gal; and there's many names that would fall short of March, in pleasing the ear."
"Ah! Deerslayer, the pleasantness of the sound, in such cases, doesn't come through the ear, but through the heart. Everything is agreeable, when the heart is satisfied. Were Natty Bumppo, Henry March, and Henry March, Natty Bumppo, I might think the name of March better than it is; or were he, you, I should fancy the name of Bumppo horrible!"
"That's just it — yes, that's the reason of the matter. Now, I'm nat'rally avarse to sarpents, and I hate even the word, which, the missionaries tell me, comes from human natur', on account of a sartain sarpent at the creation of the 'arth, that outwitted the first woman; yet, ever since Chingachgook has 'arned the title he bears, why the sound is as pleasant to my ears as the whistle of the whippoorwill of a calm evening — it is. The feelin's make all the difference in the world, Judith, in the natur' of sounds; ay, even in that of looks, too."
"This is so true, Deerslayer, that I am surprised you should think it remarkable a girl, who may have some comeliness herself, should not think it necessary that her husband should have the same advantage, or what you fancy an advantage. To me, looks in a man is nothing provided his countenance be as honest as his heart."
"Yes, honesty is a great advantage, in the long run; and they that are the most apt to forget it in the beginning, are the most apt to l'arn it in the ind. Nevertheless, there's more, Judith, that look to present profit than to the benefit that is to come after a time. One they think a sartainty, and the other an onsartainty. I'm glad, howsever, that you look at the thing in its true light, and not in the way in which so many is apt to deceive themselves."
"I do thus look at it, Deerslayer," returned the girl with emphasis, still shrinking with a woman's sensitiveness from a direct offer of her hand, "and can say, from the bottom of my heart, that I would rather trust my happiness to a man whose truth and feelings may be depended on, than to a false-tongued and false-hearted wretch that had chests of gold, and houses and lands — yes, though he were even seated on a throne!"
"These are brave words, Judith; they're downright brave words; but do you think that the feelin's would keep 'em company, did the ch'ice actually lie afore you? If a gay gallant in a scarlet coat stood on one side, with his head smelling like a deer's foot, his face smooth and blooming as your own, his hands as white and soft as if God hadn't bestowed 'em that man might live by the sweat of his brow, and his step as lofty as dancing-teachers and a light heart could make it; and the other side stood one that has passed his days in the open air till his forehead is as red as his cheek; had cut his way through swamps and bushes till his hand was as rugged as the oaks he slept under; had trodden on the scent of game till his step was as stealthy as the catamount's, and had no other pleasant odor about him than such as natur' gives in the free air and the forest — now, if both these men stood here, as suitors for your feelin's, which do you think would win your favor?"
Judith's fine face flushed, for the picture that her companion had so simply drawn of a gay officer of the garrisons had once been particularly grateful to her imagination, though experience and disappointment had not only chilled all her affections, but given them a backward current, and the passing image had a momentary influence on her feelings; but the mounting colour was succeeded by a paleness so deadly, as to make her appear ghastly.
"As God is my judge," the girl solemnly answered, "did both these men stand before me, as I may say one of them does, my choice, if I know my own heart, would be the latter. I have no wish for a husband who is any way better than myself."
"This is pleasant to listen to, and might lead a young man in time to forget his own onworthiness, Judith! Howsever, you hardly think all that you say. A man like me is too rude and ignorant for one that has had such a mother to teach her. Vanity is nat'ral, I do believe, but vanity like that, would surpass reason."
"Then you do not know of what a woman's heart is capable! Rude you are not, Deerslayer, nor can one be called ignorant that has studied what is before his eyes as closely as you have done. When the affections are concerned, all things appear in their pleasantest colors, and trifles are overlooked, or are forgotten. When the heart feels sunshine, nothing is gloomy, even dull looking objects, seeming gay and bright, and so it would be between you and the woman who should love you, even though your wife might happen, in some matters, to possess what the world calls the advantage over you."
"Judith, you come of people altogether above mine, in the world, and onequal matches, like onequal fri'ndships can't often tarminate kindly. I speak of this matter altogether as a fanciful thing, since it's not very likely that you, at least, would be apt to treat it as a matter that can ever come to pass."
Judith fastened her deep blue eyes on the open, frank countenance of her companion, as if she would read his soul. Nothing there betrayed any covert meaning, and she was obliged to admit to herself, that he regarded the conversation as argumentative, rather than positive, and that he was still without any active suspicion that her feelings were seriously involved in the issue. At first, she felt offended; then she saw the injustice of making the self-abasement and modesty of the hunter a charge against him, and this novel difficulty gave a piquancy to the state of affairs that rather increased her interest in the young man. At that critical instant, a change of plan flashed on her mind, and with a readiness of invention that is peculiar to the quick-witted and ingenious, she adopted a scheme by which she hoped effectually to bind him to her person. This scheme partook equally of her fertility of invention, and of the decision and boldness of her character. That the conversation might not terminate too abruptly, however, or any suspicion of her design exist, she answered the last remark of Deerslayer, as earnestly and as truly as if her original intention remained unaltered.
"I, certainly, have no reason to boast of parentage, after what I have seen this night," said the girl, in a saddened voice. "I had a mother, it is true; but of her name even, I am ignorant — and, as for my father, it is better, perhaps, that I should never know who he was, lest I speak too bitterly of him!"
"Judith," said Deerslayer, taking her hand kindly, and with a manly sincerity that went directly to the girl's heart, "tis better to say no more to-night. Sleep on what you've seen and felt; in the morning things that now look gloomy, may look more che'rful. Above all, never do anything in bitterness, or because you feel as if you'd like to take revenge on yourself for other people's backslidings. All that has been said or done atween us, this night, is your secret, and shall never be talked of by me, even with the Sarpent, and you may be sartain if he can't get it out of me no man can. If your parents have been faulty, let the darter be less so; remember that you're young, and the youthful may always hope for better times; that you're more quick-witted than usual, and such gin'rally get the better of difficulties, and that, as for beauty, you're oncommon, which is an advantage with all. It is time to get a little rest, for to-morrow is like to prove a trying day to some of us."
Deerslayer arose as he spoke, and Judith had no choice but to comply. The chest was closed and secured, and they parted in silence, she to take her place by the side of Hist and Hetty, and he to seek a blanket on the floor of the cabin he was in. It was not five minutes ere the young man was in a deep sleep, but the girl continued awake for a long time. She scarce knew whether to lament, or to rejoice, at having failed in making herself understood. On the one hand were her womanly sensibilities spared; on the other was the disappointment of defeated, or at least of delayed expectations, and the uncertainty of a future that looked so dark. Then came the new resolution, and the bold project for the morrow, and when drowsiness finally shut her eyes, they closed on a scene of success and happiness, that was pictured by the fancy, under the influence of a sanguine temperament, and a happy invention.