The young man then gave his friend a succinct, but clear account, of the event of the morning, concealing nothing of any moment, and yet touching on every thing modestly and with a careful attention to avoid the Indian habit of boasting. Chingachgook again expressed his satisfaction at the honour won by his friend, and then both arose, the hour having arrived when it became prudent to move the Ark further from the land.
It was now quite dark, the heavens having become clouded, and the stars hid. The north wind had ceased — as was usual with the setting of the sun, and a light air arose from the south. This change favoring the design of Deerslayer, he lifted his grapnel, and the scow immediately and quite perceptibly began to drift more into the lake. The sail was set, when the motion of the craft increased to a rate not much less than two miles in the hour. As this superseded the necessity of rowing, an occupation that an Indian would not be likely to desire, Deerslayer, Chingachgook and Judith seated themselves in the stern of the scow, where they first governed its movements by holding the oar. Here they discoursed on their future movements, and on the means that ought to be used in order to effect the liberation of their friends.
In this dialogue Judith held a material part, the Delaware readily understanding all she said, while his own replies and remarks, both of which were few and pithy, were occasionally rendered into English by his friend. Judith rose greatly in the estimation of her companions, in the half hour that followed. Prompt of resolution and firm of purpose, her suggestions and expedients partook of her spirit and sagacity, both of which were of a character to find favor with men of the frontier. The events that had occurred since their meeting, as well as her isolated and dependant situation, induced the girl to feel towards Deerslayer like the friend of a year instead of an acquaintance of a day, and so completely had she been won by his guileless truth of character and of feeling, pure novelties in our sex, as respected her own experience, that his peculiarities excited her curiosity, and created a confidence that had never been awakened by any other man. Hitherto she had been compelled to stand on the defensive in her intercourse with men, with what success was best known to herself, but here had she been suddenly thrown into the society and under the protection of a youth, who evidently as little contemplated evil towards herself as if he had been her brother. The freshness of his integrity, the poetry and truth of his feelings, and even the quaintness of his forms of speech, all had their influence, and aided in awakening an interest that she found as pure as it was sudden and deep. Hurry's fine face and manly form had never compensated for his boisterous and vulgar tone, and her intercourse with the officers had prepared her to make comparisons under which even his great natural advantages suffered. But this very intercourse with the officers who occasionally came upon the lake to fish and hunt, had an effect in producing her present sentiments towards the young stranger. With them, while her vanity had been gratified, and her self-love strongly awakened, she had many causes deeply to regret the acquaintance — if not to mourn over it, in secret sorrow — for it was impossible for one of her quick intellect not to perceive how hollow was the association between superior and inferior, and that she was regarded as the play thing of an idle hour, rather than as an equal and a friend, by even the best intentioned and least designing of her scarlet-clad admirers. Deerslayer, on the other hand, had a window in his breast through which the light of his honesty was ever shining; and even his indifference to charms that so rarely failed to produce a sensation, piqued the pride of the girl, and gave him an interest that another, seemingly more favored by nature, might have failed to excite.
In this manner half an hour passed, during which time the Ark had been slowly stealing over the water, the darkness thickening around it; though it was easy to see that the gloom of the forest at the southern end of the lake was getting to be distant, while the mountains that lined the sides of the beautiful basin were overshadowing it, nearly from side to side. There was, indeed, a narrow stripe of water, in the centre of the lake where the dim light that was still shed from the heavens, fell upon its surface in a line extending north and south; and along this faint track, a sort of inverted milky way, in which the obscurity was not quite as dense as in other places, the scow held her course, he who steered well knowing that it led in the direction he wished to go. The reader is not to suppose, however, that any difficulty could exist as to the course. This would have been determined by that of the air, had it not been possible to distinguish the mountains, as well as by the dim opening to the south, which marked the position of the valley in that quarter, above the plain of tall trees, by a sort of lessened obscurity; the difference between the darkness of the forest, and that of the night, as seen only in the air. The peculiarities at length caught the attention of Judith and the Deerslayer, and the conversation ceased, to allow each to gaze at the solemn stillness and deep repose of nature.
"'Tis a gloomy night — " observed the girl, after a pause of several minutes — "I hope we may be able to find the castle."
"Little fear of our missing that, if we keep this path in the middle of the lake," returned the young man. "Natur' has made us a road here, and, dim as it is, there'll be little difficulty following it."
"Do you hear nothing, Deerslayer? — It seemed as if the water was stirring quite near us!"
"Sartainly something did move the water, oncommon like; must have been a fish. Them creatur's prey upon each other like men and animals on the land; one has leaped into the air and fallen hard, back into his own element. 'Tis of little use Judith, for any to strive to get out of their elements, since it's natur' to stay in 'em, and natur' will have its way. Ha! That sounds like a paddle, used with more than common caution!"
At this moment the Delaware bent forward and pointed significantly into the boundary of gloom, as if some object had suddenly caught his eye. Both Deerslayer and Judith followed the direction of his gesture, and each got a view of a canoe at the same instant. The glimpse of this startling neighbor was dim, and to eyes less practised it might have been uncertain, though to those in the Ark the object was evidently a canoe with a single individual in it; the latter standing erect and paddling. How many lay concealed in its bottom, of course could not be known. Flight, by means of oars, from a bark canoe impelled by vigorous and skilful hands, was utterly impracticable, and each of the men seized his rifle in expectation of a conflict.
"I can easily bring down the paddler," whispered Deerslayer, "but we'll first hail him, and ask his arrn'd." Then raising his voice, he continued in a solemn manner — "hold! If ye come nearer, I must fire, though contrary to my wishes, and then sartain death will follow. Stop paddling, and answer."
"Fire, and slay a poor defenseless girl," returned a soft tremulous female voice. "And God will never forgive you! Go your way, Deerslayer, and let me go mine."
"Hetty!" exclaimed the young man and Judith in a breath; and the former sprang instantly to the spot where he had left the canoe they had been towing. It was gone, and he understood the whole affair. As for the fugitive, frightened at the menace she ceased paddling, and remained dimly visible, resembling a spectral outline of a human form, standing on the water. At the next moment the sail was lowered, to prevent the Ark from passing the spot where the canoe lay. This last expedient, however, was not taken in time, for the momentum of so heavy a craft, and the impulsion of the air, soon set her by, bringing Hetty directly to windward, though still visible, as the change in the positions of the two boats now placed her in that species of milky way which has been mentioned.
"What can this mean, Judith?" demanded Deerslayer — "Why has your sister taken the canoe, and left us?"
"You know she is feeble-minded, poor girl! — and she has her own ideas of what ought to be done. She loves her father more than most children love their parents — and — then — "
"Then, what, gal? This is a trying moment; one in which truth must be spoken!"
Judith felt a generous and womanly regret at betraying her sister, and she hesitated ere she spoke again. But once more urged by Deerslayer, and conscious herself of all the risks the whole party was running by the indiscretion of Hetty, she could refrain no longer.
"Then, I fear, poor, weak-minded Hetty has not been altogether able to see all the vanity, and rudeness and folly, that lie hid behind the handsome face and fine form of Hurry Harry. She talks of him in her sleep, and sometimes betrays the inclination in her waking moments."
"You think, Judith, that your sister is now bent on some mad scheme to serve her father and Hurry, which will, in all likelihood, give them riptyles the Mingos, the mastership of a canoe?"
"Such, I fear, will turn out to be the fact, Deerslayer. Poor Hetty has hardly sufficient cunning to outwit a savage."
All this while the canoe, with the form of Hetty erect in one end of it, was dimly perceptible, though the greater drift of the Ark rendered it, at each instant, less and less distinct. It was evident no time was to be lost, lest it should altogether disappear. The rifles were now laid aside as useless, the two men seizing the oars and sweeping the head of the scow round in the direction of the canoe. Judith, accustomed to the office, flew to the other end of the Ark, and placed herself at what might be called the helm. Hetty took the alarm at these preparations, which could not be made without noise, and started off like a bird that had been suddenly put up by the approach of unexpected danger.