Here the dialogue terminated. Hetty announced that the breakfast was ready, and the whole party was soon seated around the simple board, in the usual primitive manner of borderers. Judith was the last to take her seat, pale, silent, and betraying in her countenance that she had passed a painful, if not a sleepless, night. At this meal scarce a syllable was exchanged, all the females manifesting want of appetites, though the two men were unchanged in this particular. It was early when the party arose, and there still remained several hours before it would be necessary for the prisoner to leave his friends. The knowledge of this circumstance, and the interest all felt in his welfare, induced the whole to assemble on the platform again, in the desire to be near the expected victim, to listen to his discourse, and if possible to show their interest in him by anticipating his wishes. Deerslayer, himself, so far as human eyes could penetrate, was wholly unmoved, conversing cheerfully and naturally, though he avoided any direct allusions to the expected and great event of the day. If any evidence could be discovered of his thought's reverting to that painful subject at all, it was in the manner in which he spoke of death and the last great change.
"Grieve not, Hetty," he said, for it was while consoling this simple-minded girl for the loss of her parents that he thus betrayed his feelings, "since God has app'inted that all must die. Your parents, or them you fancied your parents, which is the same thing, have gone afore you; this is only in the order of natur', my good gal, for the aged go first, and the young follow. But one that had a mother like your'n, Hetty, can be at no loss to hope the best, as to how matters will turn out in another world. The Delaware, here, and Hist, believe in happy hunting grounds, and have idees befitting their notions and gifts as red-skins, but we who are of white blood hold altogether to a different doctrine. Still, I rather conclude our heaven is their land of spirits, and that the path which leads to it will be travelled by all colours alike. Tis onpossible for the wicked to enter on it, I will allow, but fri'nds can scarce be separated, though they are not of the same race on 'arth. Keep up your spirits, poor Hetty, and look forward to the day when you will meet your mother ag'in, and that without pain, or sorrowing."
"I do expect to see mother," returned the truth-telling and simple girl, "but what will become of father?"
"That's a non-plusser, Delaware," said the hunter, in the Indian dialect — "yes, that is a downright non-plusser! The Muskrat was not a saint on 'arth, and it's fair to guess he'll not be much of one, hereafter! Howsever, Hetty," dropping into the English by an easy transition, "howsever, Hetty, we must all hope for the best. That is wisest, and it is much the easiest to the mind, if one can only do it. I ricommend to you, trusting to God, and putting down all misgivings and fainthearted feelin's. It's wonderful, Judith, how different people have different notions about the futur', some fancying one change, and some fancying another. I've known white teachers that have thought all was spirit, hereafter, and them, ag'in, that believed the body will be transported to another world, much as the red-skins themselves imagine, and that we shall walk about in the flesh, and know each other, and talk together, and be fri'nds there as we've been fri'nds here."
"Which of these opinions is most pleasing to you, Deerslayer?" asked the girl, willing to indulge his melancholy mood, and far from being free from its influence herself. "Would it be disagreeable to think that you should meet all who are now on this platform in another world? Or have you known enough of us here, to be glad to see us no more.
"The last would make death a bitter portion; yes it would. It's eight good years since the Sarpent and I began to hunt together, and the thought that we were never to meet ag'in would be a hard thought to me. He looks forward to the time when he shall chase a sort of spirit-deer, in company, on plains where there's no thorns, or brambles, or marshes, or other hardships to overcome, whereas I can't fall into all these notions, seeing that they appear to be ag'in reason. Spirits can't eat, nor have they any use for clothes, and deer can only rightfully be chased to be slain, or slain, unless it be for the venison or the hides. Now, I find it hard to suppose that blessed spirits can be put to chasing game without an object, tormenting the dumb animals just for the pleasure and agreeableness of their own amusements. I never yet pulled a trigger on buck or doe, Judith, unless when food or clothes was wanting."
"The recollection of which, Deerslayer, must now be a great consolation to you."
"It is the thought of such things, my fri'nds, that enables a man to keep his furlough. It might be done without it, I own; for the worst red-skins sometimes do their duty in this matter; but it makes that which might otherwise be hard, easy, if not altogether to our liking. Nothing truly makes a bolder heart than a light conscience."
Judith turned paler than ever, but she struggled for self-command, and succeeded in obtaining it. The conflict had been severe, however, and it left her so little disposed to speak that Hetty pursued the subject. This was done in the simple manner natural to the girl.
"It would be cruel to kill the poor deer," she said, "in this world, or any other, when you don't want their venison, or their skins. No good white man, and no good red man would do it. But it's wicked for a Christian to talk about chasing anything in heaven. Such things are not done before the face of God, and the missionary that teaches these doctrines can't be a true missionary. He must be a wolf in sheep's clothing. I suppose you know what a sheep is, Deerslayer."
"That I do, gal, and a useful creatur' it is, to such as like cloths better than skins for winter garments. I understand the natur' of sheep, though I've had but little to do with 'em, and the natur' of wolves too, and can take the idee of a wolf in the fleece of a sheep, though I think it would be like to prove a hot jacket for such a beast, in the warm months!"
"And sin and hypocrisy are hot jackets, as they will find who put them on," returned Hetty, positively, "so the wolf would be no worse off than the sinner. Spirits don't hunt, nor trap, nor fish, nor do anything that vain men undertake, since they've none of the longings of this world to feed. Oh! Mother told me all that, years ago, and I don't wish to hear it denied."
"Well, my good Hetty, in that case you'd better not broach your doctrine to Hist, when she and you are alone, and the young Delaware maiden is inclined to talk religion. It's her fixed idee, I know, that the good warriors do nothing but hunt and fish in the other world, though I don't believe that she fancies any of them are brought down to trapping, which is no empl'yment for a brave. But of hunting and fishing, accordin' to her notion, they've their fill, and that, too, over the most agreeablest hunting grounds, and among game that is never out of season, and which is just actyve and instinctyve enough to give a pleasure to death. So I wouldn't ricommend it to you to start Hist on that idee."
"Hist can't be so wicked as to believe any such thing," returned the other, earnestly. "No Indian hunts after he is dead."
"No wicked Indian, I grant you; no wicked Indian, sartainly. He is obliged to carry the ammunition, and to look on without sharing in the sport, and to cook, and to light the fires, and to do every thing that isn't manful. Now, mind; I don't tell you these are my idees, but they are Hist's idees, and, therefore, for the sake of peace the less you say to her ag'in 'em, the better."
"And what are your ideas of the fate of an Indian, in the other world?" demanded Judith, who had just found her voice.
"Ah! gal, any thing but that! I am too Christianized to expect any thing so fanciful as hunting and fishing after death, nor do I believe there is one Manitou for the red-skin and another for a pale-face. You find different colours on 'arth, as any one may see, but you don't find different natur's. Different gifts, but only one natur'."
"In what is a gift different from a nature? Is not nature itself a gift from God?"
"Sartain; that's quick-thoughted, and creditable, Judith, though the main idee is wrong. A natur' is the creatur' itself; its wishes, wants, idees and feelin's, as all are born in him. This natur' never can be changed, in the main, though it may undergo some increase, or lessening. Now, gifts come of sarcumstances. Thus, if you put a man in a town, he gets town gifts; in a settlement, settlement gifts; in a forest, gifts of the woods. A soldier has soldierly gifts, and a missionary preaching gifts. All these increase and strengthen, until they get to fortify natur', as it might be, and excuse a thousand acts and idees. Still the creatur' is the same at the bottom; just as a man who is clad in regimentals is the same as the man that is clad in skins. The garments make a change to the eye, and some change in the conduct, perhaps; but none in the man. Herein lies the apology for gifts; seein' that you expect different conduct from one in silks and satins, from one in homespun; though the Lord, who didn't make the dresses, but who made the creatur's themselves, looks only at his own work. This isn't ra'al missionary doctrine, but it's as near it as a man of white colour need be. Ah's! me; little did I think to be talking of such matters, to-day, but it's one of our weaknesses never to know what will come to pass. Step into the Ark with me, Judith, for a minute; I wish to convarse with you."
Judith complied with a willingness she could scarce conceal. Following the hunter into the cabin, she took a seat on a stool, while the young man brought Killdeer, the rifle she had given him, out of a corner, and placed himself on another, with the weapon laid upon his knees. After turning the piece round and round, and examining its lock and its breech with a sort of affectionate assiduity, he laid it down and proceeded to the subject which had induced him to desire the interview.
"I understand you, Judith, to say that you gave me this rifle," he said. "I agreed to take it, because a young woman can have no particular use for firearms. The we'pon has a great name, and it desarves it, and ought of right to be carried by some known and sure hand, for the best repitation may be lost by careless and thoughtless handling."
"Can it be in better hands than those in which it is now, Deerslayer? Thomas Hutter seldom missed with it; with you it must turn out to be — "