“But who in this wild wood
May credit give to either eye, or ear?
From rocky precipice or hollow cave,
‘Midst the confused sound of rustling leaves,
And creaking boughs, and cries of nightly birds,
Returning seeming answer!”
Joanna Baihie, “Rayner: A Tragedy,” II.L3–4, 6-g.
Fear, as much as calculation, had induced Hetty to cease paddling, when she found that her pursuers did not know in which direction to proceed. She remained stationary until the Ark had pulled in near the encampment, as has been related in the preceding chapter, when she resumed the paddle and with cautious strokes made the best of her way towards the western shore. In order to avoid her pursuers, however, who, she rightly suspected, would soon be rowing along that shore themselves, the head of the canoe was pointed so far north as to bring her to land on a point that thrust itself into the lake, at the distance of near a league from the outlet. Nor was this altogether the result of a desire to escape, for, feeble minded as she was, Hetty Hutter had a good deal of that instinctive caution which so often keeps those whom God has thus visited from harm. She was perfectly aware of the importance of keeping the canoes from falling into the hands of the Iroquois, and long familiarity with the lake had suggested one of the simplest expedients, by which this great object could be rendered compatible with her own purpose.
The point in question was the first projection that offered on that side of the lake, where a canoe, if set adrift with a southerly air would float clear of the land, and where it would be no great violation of probabilities to suppose it might even hit the castle; the latter lying above it, almost in a direct line with the wind. Such then was Hetty’s intention, and she landed on the extremity of the gravelly point, beneath an overhanging oak, with the express intention of shoving the canoe off from the shore, in order that it might drift up towards her father’s insulated abode. She knew, too, from the logs that occasionally floated about the lake, that did it miss the castle and its appendages the wind would be likely to change before the canoe could reach the northern extremity of the lake, and that Deerslayer might have an opportunity of regaining it in the morning, when no doubt he would be earnestly sweeping the surface of the water, and the whole of its wooded shores, with glass. In all this, too, Hetty was less governed by any chain of reasoning than by her habits, the latter often supplying the place of mind, in human beings, as they perform the same for animals of the inferior classes.
The girl was quite an hour finding her way to the point, the distance and the obscurity equally detaining her, but she was no sooner on the gravelly beach than she prepared to set the canoe adrift, in the manner mentioned. While in the act of pushing it from her, she heard low voices that seemed to come among the trees behind her. Startled at this unexpected danger Hetty was on the point of springing into the canoe in order to seek safety in flight, when she thought she recognized the tones of Judith’s melodious voice. Bending forward so as to catch the sounds more directly, they evidently came from the water, and then she understood that the Ark was approaching from the south, and so close in with the western shore, as necessarily to cause it to pass the point within twenty yards of the spot where she stood. Here, then, was all she could desire; the canoe was shoved off into the lake, leaving its late occupant alone on the narrow strand.
When this act of self-devotion was performed, Hetty did not retire. The foliage of the overhanging trees and bushes would have almost concealed her person, had there been light, but in that obscurity it was utterly impossible to discover any object thus shaded, at the distance of a few feet. Flight, too, was perfectly easy, as twenty steps would effectually bury her in the forest. She remained, therefore, watching with intense anxiety the result of her expedient, intending to call the attention of the others to the canoe with her voice, should they appear to pass without observing it. The Ark approached under its sail, again, Deerslayer standing in its bow, with Judith near him, and the Delaware at the helm. It would seem that in the bay below it had got too close to the shore, in the lingering hope of intercepting Hetty, for, as it came nearer, the latter distinctly heard the directions that the young man forward gave to his companion aft, in order to clear the point.
“Lay her head more off the shore, Delaware,” said Deerslayer for the third time, speaking in English that his fair companion might understand his words —“Lay her head well off shore. We have got embayed here, and needs keep the mast clear of the trees. Judith, there’s a canoe!”
The last words were uttered with great earnestness, and Deerslayer’s hand was on his rifle ere they were fairly out of his mouth. But the truth flashed on the mind of the quick-witted girl, and she instantly told her companion that the boat must be that in which her sister had fled.
“Keep the scow straight, Delaware; steer as straight as your bullet flies when sent ag’in a buck; there — I have it.”
The canoe was seized, and immediately secured again to the side of the Ark. At the next moment the sail was lowered, and the motion of the Ark arrested by means of the oars.
“Hetty!” called out Judith, concern, even affection betraying itself in her tones. “Are you within hearing, sister — for God’s sake answer, and let me hear the sound of your voice, again! Hetty! — dear Hetty.”
“I’m here, Judith — here on the shore, where it will be useless to follow me, as I will hide in the woods.”
“Oh! Hetty what is’t you do! Remember ’tis drawing near midnight, and that the woods are filled with savages and wild beasts!”
“Neither will harm a poor half-witted girl, Judith. God is as much with me, here, as he would be in the Ark or in the hut. I am going to help my father, and poor Hurry Harry, who will be tortured and slain unless some one cares for them.”
“We all care for them, and intend to-morrow to send them a flag of truce, to buy their ransom. Come back then, sister; trust to us, who have better heads than you, and who will do all we can for father.”
“I know your head is better than mine, Judith, for mine is very weak, to be sure; but I must go to father and poor Hurry. Do you and Deerslayer keep the castle, sister; leave me in the hands of God.”
“God is with us all, Hetty — in the castle, or on the shore — father as well as ourselves, and it is sinful not to trust to his goodness. You can do nothing in the dark; will lose your way in the forest, and perish for want of food.”
“God will not let that happen to a poor child that goes to serve her father, sister. I must try and find the savages.”
“Come back for this night only; in the morning, we will put you ashore, and leave you to do as you may think right.”
“You say so, Judith, and you think so; but you would not. Your heart would soften, and you’d see tomahawks and scalping knives in the air. Besides, I’ve got a thing to tell the Indian chief that will answer all our wishes, and I’m afraid I may forget it, if I don’t tell it to him at once. You’ll see that he will let father go, as soon as he hears it!”
“Poor Hetty! What can you say to a ferocious savage that will be likely to change his bloody purpose!”
“That which will frighten him, and make him let father go —” returned the simple-minded girl, positively. “You’ll see, sister; you’ll see, how soon it will bring him to, like a gentle child!”
“Will you tell me, Hetty, what you intend to say?” asked Deerslayer. “I know the savages well, and can form some idee how far fair words will be likely, or not, to work on their bloody natur’s. If it’s not suited to the gifts of a red-skin, ’twill be of no use; for reason goes by gifts, as well as conduct.”
“Well, then,” answered Hetty, dropping her voice to a low, confidential, tone, for the stillness of the night, and the nearness of the Ark, permitted her to do this and still to be heard —“Well, then, Deerslayer, as you seem a good and honest young man I will tell you. I mean not to say a word to any of the savages until I get face to face with their head chief, let them plague me with as many questions as they please I’ll answer none of them, unless it be to tell them to lead me to their wisest man — Then, Deerslayer, I’ll tell him that God will not forgive murder, and thefts; and that if father and Hurry did go after the scalps of the Iroquois, he must return good for evil, for so the Bible commands, else he will go into everlasting punishment. When he hears this, and feels it to be true, as feel it he must, how long will it be before he sends father, and Hurry, and me to the shore, opposite the castle, telling us all three to go our way in peace?”
The last question was put in a triumphant manner, and then the simple-minded girl laughed at the impression she never doubted that her project had made on her auditors. Deerslayer was dumb-founded at this proof of guileless feebleness of mind, but Judith had suddenly bethought her of a means of counteracting this wild project, by acting on the very feelings that had given it birth. Without adverting to the closing question, or the laugh, therefore, she hurriedly called to her sister by name, as one suddenly impressed with the importance of what she had to say. But no answer was given to the call.
By the snapping of twigs, and the rustling of leaves, Hetty had evidently quitted the shore, and was already burying herself in the forest. To follow would have been fruitless, since the darkness, as well as the dense cover that the woods everywhere offered, would have rendered her capture next to impossible, and there was also the never ceasing danger of falling into the hands of their enemies. After a short and melancholy discussion, therefore, the sail was again set, and the Ark pursued its course towards its habitual moorings, Deerslayer silently felicitating himself on the recovery of the canoe, and brooding over his plans for the morrow. The wind rose as the party quitted the point, and in less than an hour they reached the castle. Here all was found as it had been left, and the reverse of the ceremonies had to be taken in entering the building, that had been used on quitting it. Judith occupied a solitary bed that night bedewing the pillow with her tears, as she thought of the innocent and hitherto neglected creature, who had been her companion from childhood, and bitter regrets came over her mind, from more causes than one, as the weary hours passed away, making it nearly morning before she lost her recollection in sleep. Deerslayer and the Delaware took their rest in the Ark, where we shall leave them enjoying the deep sleep of the honest, the healthful and fearless, to return to the girl we have last seen in the midst of the forest.
When Hetty left the shore, she took her way unhesitatingly into the woods, with a nervous apprehension of being followed. Luckily, this course was the best she could have hit on to effect her own purpose, since it was the only one that led her from the point. The night was so intensely dark, beneath the branches of the trees, that her progress was very slow, and the direction she went altogether a matter of chance, after the first few yards. The formation of the ground, however, did not permit her to deviate far from the line in which she desired to proceed. On one hand it was soon bounded by the acclivity of the hill, while the lake, on the other, served as a guide. For two hours did this single-hearted and simple-minded girl toil through the mazes of the forest, sometimes finding herself on the brow of the bank that bounded the water, and at others struggling up an ascent that warned her to go no farther in that direction, since it necessarily ran at right angles to the course on which she wished to proceed. Her feet often slid from beneath her, and she got many falls, though none to do her injury; but, by the end of the period mentioned, she had become so weary as to want strength to go any farther. Rest was indispensable, and she set about preparing a bed, with the readiness and coolness of one to whom the wilderness presented no unnecessary terrors. She knew that wild beasts roamed through all the adjacent forest, but animals that preyed on the human species were rare, and of dangerous serpents there were literally none. These facts had been taught her by her father, and whatever her feeble mind received at all, it received so confidingly as to leave her no uneasiness from any doubts, or scepticism. To her the sublimity of the solitude in which she was placed, was soothing, rather than appalling, and she gathered a bed of leaves, with as much indifference to the circumstances that would have driven the thoughts of sleep entirely from the minds of most of her sex, as if she had been preparing her place of nightly rest beneath the paternal roof. As soon as Hetty had collected a sufficient number of the dried leaves to protect her person from the damps of the ground, she kneeled beside the humble pile, clasped her raised hands in an attitude of deep devotion, and in a soft, low, but audible voice repeated the Lord’s Prayer. This was followed by those simple and devout verses, so familiar to children, in which she recommended her soul to God, should it be called away to another state of existence, ere the return of morning. This duty done, she lay down and disposed herself to sleep. The attire of the girl, though suited to the season, was sufficiently warm for all ordinary purposes, but the forest is ever cool, and the nights of that elevated region of country, have always a freshness about them, that renders clothing more necessary than is commonly the case in the summers of a low latitude. This had been foreseen by Hetty, who had brought with her a coarse heavy mantle, which, when laid over her body, answered all the useful purposes of a blanket Thus protected, she dropped asleep in a few minutes, as tranquilly as if watched over by the guardian care of that mother, who had so recently been taken from her forever, affording in this particular a most striking contrast between her own humble couch, and the sleepless pillow of her sister.
Hour passed after hour, in a tranquility as undisturbed and a rest as sweet as if angels, expressly commissioned for that object, watched around the bed of Hetty Hutter. Not once did her soft eyes open, until the grey of the dawn came struggling through the tops of the trees, falling on their lids, and, united to the freshness of a summer’s morning, giving the usual summons to awake. Ordinarily, Hetty was up ere the rays of the sun tipped the summits of the mountains, but on this occasion her fatigue had been so great, and her rest was so profound, that the customary warnings failed of their effect. The girl murmured in her sleep, threw an arm forward, smiled as gently as an infant in its cradle, but still slumbered. In making this unconscious gesture, her hand fell on some object that was warm, and in the half unconscious state in which she lay, she connected the circumstance with her habits. At the next moment, a rude attack was made on her side, as if a rooting animal were thrusting its snout beneath, with a desire to force her position, and then, uttering the name of “Judith” she awoke. As the startled girl arose to a sitting attitude she perceived that some dark object sprang from her, scattering the leaves and snapping the fallen twigs in its haste. Opening her eyes, and recovering from the first confusion and astonishment of her situation, Hetty perceived a cub, of the common American brown bear, balancing itself on its hinder legs, and still looking towards her, as if doubtful whether it would be safe to trust itself near her person again. The first impulse of Hetty, who had been mistress of several of these cubs, was to run and seize the little creature as a prize, but a loud growl warned her of the danger of such a procedure. Recoiling a few steps, the girl looked hurriedly round, and perceived the dam, watching her movements with fiery eyes at no great distance. A hollow tree, that once been the home of bees, having recently fallen, the mother with two more cubs was feasting on the dainty food that this accident had placed within her reach; while the first kept a jealous eye on the situation of its truant and reckless young.
It would exceed all the means of human knowledge to presume to analyze the influences that govern the acts of the lower animals. On this occasion, the dam, though proverbially fierce when its young is thought to be in danger, manifested no intention to attack the girl. It quitted the honey, and advanced to a place within twenty feet of her, where it raised itself on its hind legs and balanced its body in a sort of angry, growling discontent, but approached no nearer. Happily, Hetty did not fly. On the contrary, though not without terror, she knelt with her face towards the animal, and with clasped hands and uplifted eyes, repeated the prayer of the previous night. This act of devotion was not the result of alarm, but it was a duty she never neglected to perform ere she slept, and when the return of consciousness awoke her to the business of the day. As the girl arose from her knees, the bear dropped on its feet again, and collecting its cubs around her, permitted them to draw their natural sustenance. Hetty was delighted with this proof of tenderness in an animal that has but a very indifferent reputation for the gentler feelings, and as a cub would quit its mother to frisk and leap about in wantonness, she felt a strong desire again to catch it up in her arms, and play with it. But admonished by the growl, she had self-command sufficient not to put this dangerous project in execution, and recollecting her errand among the hills, she tore herself away from the group, and proceeded on her course along the margin of the lake, of which she now caught glimpses again through the trees. To her surprise, though not to her alarm, the family of bears arose and followed her steps, keeping a short distance behind her; apparently watching every movement as if they had a near interest in all she did.
In this manner, escorted by the dam and cubs, the girl proceeded nearly a mile, thrice the distance she had been able to achieve in the darkness, during the same period of time. She then reached a brook that had dug a channel for itself into the earth, and went brawling into the lake, between steep and high banks, covered with trees. Here Hetty performed her ablutions; then drinking of the pure mountain water, she went her way, refreshed and lighter of heart, still attended by her singular companions. Her course now lay along a broad and nearly level terrace, which stretched from the top of the bank that bounded the water, to a low acclivity that rose to a second and irregular platform above. This was at a part of the valley where the mountains ran obliquely, forming the commencement of a plain that spread between the hills, southward of the sheet of water. Hetty knew, by this circumstance, that she was getting near to the encampment, and had she not, the bears would have given her warning of the vicinity of human beings. Snuffing the air, the dam refused to follow any further, though the girl looked back and invited her to come by childish signs, and even by direct appeals made in her own sweet voice. It was while making her way slowly through some bushes, in this manner, with averted face and eyes riveted on the immovable animals, that the girl suddenly found her steps arrested by a human hand, that was laid lightly on her shoulder.
“Where go? —” said a soft female voice, speaking hurriedly, and in concern. —“Indian — red man savage — wicked warrior — thataway.”
This unexpected salutation alarmed the girl no more than the presence of the fierce inhabitants of the woods. It took her a little by surprise, it is true, but she was in a measure prepared for some such meeting, and the creature who stopped her was as little likely to excite terror as any who ever appeared in the guise of an Indian. It was a girl, not much older than herself, whose smile was sunny as Judith’s in her brightest moments, whose voice was melody itself, and whose accents and manner had all the rebuked gentleness that characterizes the sex among a people who habitually treat their women as the attendants and servitors of the warriors. Beauty among the women of the aboriginal Americans, before they have become exposed to the hardships of wives and mothers, is by no means uncommon. In this particular, the original owners of the country were not unlike their more civilized successors, nature appearing to have bestowed that delicacy of mien and outline that forms so great a charm in the youthful female, but of which they are so early deprived; and that, too, as much by the habits of domestic life as from any other cause.
The girl who had so suddenly arrested the steps of Hetty was dressed in a calico mantle that effectually protected all the upper part of her person, while a short petticoat of blue cloth edged with gold lace, that fell no lower than her knees, leggings of the same, and moccasins of deer-skin, completed her attire. Her hair fell in long dark braids down her shoulders and back, and was parted above a low smooth forehead, in a way to soften the expression of eyes that were full of archness and natural feeling. Her face was oval, with delicate features, the teeth were even and white, while the mouth expressed a melancholy tenderness, as if it wore this peculiar meaning in intuitive perception of the fate of a being who was doomed from birth to endure a woman’s sufferings, relieved by a woman’s affections. Her voice, as has been already intimated, was soft as the sighing of the night air, a characteristic of the females of her race, but which was so conspicuous in herself as to have produced for her the name of Wah-ta-Wah; which rendered into English means Hist-oh-Hist.
In a word, this was the betrothed of Chingachgook, who — having succeeded in lulling their suspicions, was permitted to wander around the encampment of her captors. This indulgence was in accordance with the general policy of the red man, who well knew, moreover, that her trail could have been easily followed in the event of flight. It will also be remembered that the Iroquois, or Hurons, as it would be better to call them, were entirely ignorant of the proximity of her lover, a fact, indeed, that she did not know herself.
It is not easy to say which manifested the most self-possession at this unexpected meeting; the pale-face, or the red girl. But, though a little surprised, Wah-ta-Wah was the most willing to speak, and far the readier in foreseeing consequences, as well as in devising means to avert them. Her father, during her childhood, had been much employed as a warrior by the authorities of the Colony, and dwelling for several years near the forts, she had caught a knowledge of the English tongue, which she spoke in the usual, abbreviated manner of an Indian, but fluently, and without any of the ordinary reluctance of her people.
“Where go? —” repeated Wah-ta-Wah, returning the smile of Hetty, in her own gentle, winning, manner —“wicked warrior that-a-way — good warrior, far off.”
“What’s your name?” asked Hetty, with the simplicity of a child.
“Wah-ta-Wah. I no Mingo — good Delaware — Yengeese friend. Mingo cruel, and love scalp, for blood — Delaware love him, for honor. Come here, where no eyes.”
Wah-ta-Wah now led her companion towards the lake, descending the bank so as to place its overhanging trees and bushes between them and any probable observers. Nor did she stop until they were both seated, side by side, on a fallen log, one end of which actually lay buried in the water.
“Why you come for?” the young Indian eagerly inquired —“Where you come for?” Hetty told her tale in her own simple and truth-loving manner. She explained the situation of her father, and stated her desire to serve him, and if possible to procure his release.
“Why your father come to Mingo camp in night?” asked the Indian girl, with a directness, which if not borrowed from the other, partook largely of its sincerity. “He know it war-time, and he no boy — he no want beard — no want to be told Iroquois carry tomahawk, and knife, and rifle. Why he come night time, seize me by hair, and try to scalp Delaware girl?”
“You!” said Hetty, almost sickening with horror —“Did he seize you — did he try to scalp you?”
“Why no? Delaware scalp sell for much as Mingo scalp. Governor no tell difference. Wicked t’ing for pale-face to scalp. No his gifts, as the good Deerslayer always tell me.”
“And do you know the Deerslayer?” said Hetty, coloring with delight and surprise; forgetting her regrets, at the moment, in the influence of this new feeling. “I know him, too. He is now in the Ark, with Judith and a Delaware who is called the Big Serpent. A bold and handsome warrior is this Serpent, too!”
Spite of the rich deep colour that nature had bestowed on the Indian beauty, the tell-tale blood deepened on her cheeks, until the blush gave new animation and intelligence to her jet-black eyes. Raising a finger in an attitude of warning, she dropped her voice, already so soft and sweet, nearly to a whisper, as she continued the discourse.
“Chingachgook!” returned the Delaware girl, sighing out the harsh name, in sounds so softly guttural, as to cause it to reach the ear in melody —“His father, Uncas — great chief of the Mahicanni — next to old Tamenund! — More as warrior, not so much gray hair, and less at Council Fire. You know Serpent?”
“He joined us last evening, and was in the Ark with me, for two or three hours before I left it. I’m afraid, Hist —” Hetty could not pronounce the Indian name of her new friend, but having heard Deerslayer give her this familiar appellation, she used it without any of the ceremony of civilized life —“I’m afraid Hist, he has come after scalps, as well as my poor father and Hurry Harry.”
“Why he shouldn’t — ha? Chingachgook red warrior — very red — scalp make his honor — Be sure he take him.”
“Then,” said Hetty, earnestly, “he will be as wicked as any other. God will not pardon in a red man, what he will not pardon in a white man.
“No true —” returned the Delaware girl, with a warmth that nearly amounted to passion. “No true, I tell you! The Manitou smile and pleased when he see young warrior come back from the war path, with two, ten, hundred scalp on a pole! Chingachgook father take scalp — grandfather take scalp — all old chief take scalp, and Chingachgook take as many scalp as he can carry, himself.”
“Then, Hist, his sleep of nights must be terrible to think of. No one can be cruel, and hope to be forgiven.”
“No cruel — plenty forgiven —” returned Wah-ta-Wah, stamping her little foot on the stony strand, and shaking her head in a way to show how completely feminine feeling, in one of its aspects, had gotten the better of feminine feeling in another. “I tell you, Serpent brave; he go home, this time, with four — yes — two scalp.”
“And is that his errand, here? — Did he really come all this distance, across mountain, and valley, rivers and lakes, to torment his fellow creatures, and do so wicked a thing?”
This question at once appeased the growing ire of the half-offended Indian beauty. It completely got the better of the prejudices of education, and turned all her thoughts to a gentler and more feminine channel. At first, she looked around her, suspiciously, as if distrusting eavesdroppers; then she gazed wistfully into the face of her attentive companion; after which this exhibition of girlish coquetry and womanly feeling, terminated by her covering her face with both her hands, and laughing in a strain that might well be termed the melody of the woods. Dread of discovery, however, soon put a stop to this naive exhibition of feeling, and removing her hands, this creature of impulses gazed again wistfully into the face of her companion, as if inquiring how far she might trust a stranger with her secret. Although Hetty had no claims to her sister’s extraordinary beauty, many thought her countenance the most winning of the two. It expressed all the undisguised sincerity of her character, and it was totally free from any of the unpleasant physical accompaniments that so frequently attend mental imbecility. It is true that one accustomed to closer observations than common, might have detected the proofs of her feebleness of intellect in the language of her sometimes vacant eyes, but they were signs that attracted sympathy by their total want of guile, rather than by any other feeling. The effect on Hist, to use the English and more familiar translation of the name, was favorable, and yielding to an impulse of tenderness, she threw her arms around Hetty, and embraced her with an outpouring emotion, so natural that it was only equaled by its warmth.
“You good —” whispered the young Indian —“you good, I know; it so long since Wah-ta-Wah have a friend — a sister — any body to speak her heart to! You Hist friend; don’t I say trut’?”
“I never had a friend,” answered Hetty returning the warm embrace with unfeigned earnestness. “I’ve a sister, but no friend. Judith loves me, and I love Judith; but that’s natural, and as we are taught in the Bible — but I should like to have a friend! I’ll be your friend, with all my heart, for I like your voice and your smile, and your way of thinking in every thing, except about the scalps —”
“No t’ink more of him — no say more of scalp —” interrupted Hist, soothingly —“You pale-face, I red-skin; we bring up different fashion. Deerslayer and Chingachgook great friend, and no the same colour, Hist and — what your name, pretty pale-face?”
“I am called Hetty, though when they spell the name in the bible, they always spell it Esther.”
“What that make? — no good, no harm. No need to spell name at all — Moravian try to make Wah-ta-Wah spell, but no won’t let him. No good for Delaware girl to know too much — know more than warrior some time; that great shame. My name Wah-ta-Wah that say Hist in your tongue; you call him, Hist — I call him, Hetty.”
These preliminaries settled to their mutual satisfaction, the two girls began to discourse of their several hopes and projects. Hetty made her new friend more fully acquainted with her intentions in behalf of her father, and, to one in the least addicted to prying into the affairs, Hist would have betrayed her own feelings and expectations in connection with the young warrior of her own tribe. Enough was revealed on both sides, however, to let each party get a tolerable insight into the views of the other, though enough still remained in mental reservation, to give rise to the following questions and answers, with which the interview in effect closed. As the quickest witted, Hist was the first with her interrogatories. Folding an arm about the waist of Hetty, she bent her head so as to look up playfully into the face of the other, and, laughing, as if her meaning were to be extracted from her looks, she spoke more plainly.
“Hetty got broder, as well as fader? —” she said —“Why no talk of broder, as well as fader?”
“I have no brother, Hist. I had one once, they say, but he is dead many a year, and lies buried in the lake, by the side of my mother.”
“No got broder — got a young warrior — Love him, almost as much as fader, eh? Very handsome, and brave-looking; fit to be chief, if he good as he seem to be.”
“It’s wicked to love any man as well as I love my father, and so I strive not to do it, Hist,” returned the conscientious Hetty, who knew not how to conceal an emotion, by an approach to an untruth as venial as an evasion, though powerfully tempted by female shame to err, “though I sometimes think wickedness will get the better of me, if Hurry comes so often to the lake. I must tell you the truth, dear Hist, because you ask me, but I should fall down and die in the woods, if he knew it!”
“Why he no ask you, himself? — Brave looking — why not bold speaking? Young warrior ought to ask young girl, no make young girl speak first. Mingo girls too shame for that.”
This was said indignantly, and with the generous warmth a young female of spirit would be apt to feel, at what she deemed an invasion of her sex’s most valued privilege. It had little influence on the simple-minded, but also just-minded Hetty, who, though inherently feminine in all her impulses, was much more alive to the workings of her own heart, than to any of the usages with which convention has protected the sensitiveness of her sex.
“Ask me what?’ the startled girl demanded, with a suddenness that proved how completely her fears had been aroused. ‘Ask me, if I like him as well as I do my own father! Oh! I hope he will never put such a question to me, for I should have to answer, and that would kill me!”
“No — no — no kill, quite — almost,” returned the other, laughing in spite of herself. “Make blush come — make shame come too; but he no stay great while; then feel happier than ever. Young warrior must tell young girl he want to make wife, else never can live in his wigwam.”
“Hurry don’t want to marry me — nobody will ever want to marry me, Hist.”
“How you can know? P’raps every body want to marry you, and by-and-bye, tongue say what heart feel. Why nobody want to marry you?”
“I am not full witted, they say. Father often tells me this; and so does Judith, sometimes, when she is vexed; but I shouldn’t so much mind them, as I did mother. She said so once and then she cried as if her heart would break; and, so, I know I’m not full witted.”
Hist gazed at the gentle, simple girl, for quite a minute without speaking, and then the truth appeared to flash all at once on the mind of the young Indian maid. Pity, reverence and tenderness seemed struggling together in her breast, and then rising suddenly, she indicated a wish to her companion that she would accompany her to the camp, which was situated at no great distance. This unexpected change from the precautions that Hist had previously manifested a desire to use, in order to prevent being seen, to an open exposure of the person of her friend, arose from the perfect conviction that no Indian would harm a being whom the Great Spirit had disarmed, by depriving it of its strongest defence, reason. In this respect, nearly all unsophisticated nations resemble each other, appearing to offer spontaneously, by a feeling creditable to human nature, that protection by their own forbearance, which has been withheld by the inscrutable wisdom of Providence. Wah-ta-Wah, indeed, knew that in many tribes the mentally imbecile and the mad were held in a species of religious reverence, receiving from these untutored inhabitants of the forest respect and honors, instead of the contumely and neglect that it is their fortune to meet with among the more pretending and sophisticated.
Hetty accompanied her new friend without apprehension or reluctance. It was her wish to reach the camp, and, sustained by her motives, she felt no more concern for the consequences than did her companion herself, now the latter was apprised of the character of the protection that the pale-face maiden carried with her. Still, as they proceeded slowly along a shore that was tangled with overhanging bushes, Hetty continued the discourse, assuming the office of interrogating which the other had instantly dropped, as soon as she ascertained the character of the mind to which her questions had been addressed.
“But you are not half-witted,” said Hetty, “and there’s no reason why the Serpent should not marry you.”
“Hist prisoner, and Mingo got big ear. No speak of Chingachgook when they by. Promise Hist that, good Hetty.”
“I know — I know —” returned Hetty, half-whispering, in her eagerness to let the other see she understood the necessity of caution. “I know — Deerslayer and the Serpent mean to get you away from the Iroquois, and you wish me not to tell the secret.”
“How you know?” said Hist, hastily, vexed at the moment that the other was not even more feeble minded than was actually the case. “How you know? Better not talk of any but fader and Hurry — Mingo understand dat; he no understand t’udder. Promise you no talk about what you no understand.”
“But I do understand this, Hist, and so I must talk about it. Deerslayer as good as told father all about it, in my presence, and as nobody told me not to listen, I overheard it all, as I did Hurry and father’s discourse about the scalps.”
“Very bad for pale-faces to talk about scalps, and very bad for young woman to hear! Now you love Hist, I know, Hetty, and so, among Injins, when love hardest never talk most.”
“That’s not the way among white people, who talk most about them they love best. I suppose it’s because I’m only half-witted that I don’t see the reason why it should be so different among red people.”
“That what Deerslayer call gift. One gift to talk; t’udder gift to hold tongue. Hold tongue your gift, among Mingos. If Sarpent want to see Hist, so Hetty want to see Hurry. Good girl never tell secret of friend.”
Hetty understood this appeal, and she promised the Delaware girl not to make any allusion to the presence of Chingachgook, or to the motive of his visit to the lake.
“Maybe he get off Hurry and fader, as well as Hist, if let him have his way,” whispered Wah-ta-Wah to her companion, in a confiding flattering way, just as they got near enough to the encampment to hear the voices of several of their own sex, who were apparently occupied in the usual toils of women of their class. “Tink of dat, Hetty, and put two, twenty finger on mouth. No get friend free without Sarpent do it.”
A better expedient could not have been adopted, to secure the silence and discretion of Hetty, than that which was now presented to her mind. As the liberation of her father and the young frontier man was the great object of her adventure, she felt the connection between it and the services of the Delaware, and with an innocent laugh, she nodded her head, and in the same suppressed manner, promised a due attention to the wishes of her friend. Thus assured, Hist tarried no longer, but immediately and openly led the way into the encampment of her captors.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:07