"Why then does the pale-face use them? If he is ordered to give double to him that asks only for one thing, why does he take double from the poor Indian who ask for no thing. He comes from beyond the rising sun, with this book in his hand, and he teaches the red man to read it, but why does he forget himself all it says? When the Indian gives, he is never satisfied; and now he offers gold for the scalps of our women and children, though he calls us beasts if we take the scalp of a warrior killed in open war. My name is Rivenoak."
When Hetty had got this formidable question fairly presented to her mind in the translation, and Hist did her duty with more than usual readiness on this occasion, it scarcely need be said that she was sorely perplexed. Abler heads than that of this poor girl have frequently been puzzled by questions of a similar drift, and it is not surprising that with all her own earnestness and sincerity she did not know what answer to make.
"What shall I tell them, Hist," she asked imploringly — "I know that all I have read from the book is true, and yet it wouldn't seem so, would it, by the conduct of those to whom the book was given?"
"Give 'em pale-face reason," returned Hist, ironically — "that always good for one side; though he bad for t'other."
"No — no — Hist, there can't be two sides to truth — and yet it does seem strange! I'm certain I have read the verses right, and no one would be so wicked as to print the word of God wrong. That can never be, Hist."
"Well, to poor Injin girl, it seem every thing can be to pale-faces," returned the other, coolly. "One time 'ey say white, and one time 'ey say black. Why never can be?"
Hetty was more and more embarrassed, until overcome with the apprehension that she had failed in her object, and that the lives of her father and Hurry would be the forfeit of some blunder of her own, she burst into tears. From that moment the manner of Hist lost all its irony and cool indifference, and she became the fond caressing friend again. Throwing her arms around the afflicted girl, she attempted to soothe her sorrows by the scarcely ever failing remedy of female sympathy.
"Stop cry — no cry — " she said, wiping the tears from the face of Hetty, as she would have performed the same office for a child, and stopping to press her occasionally to her own warm bosom with the affection of a sister. "Why you so trouble? You no make he book, if he be wrong, and you no make he pale-face if he wicked. There wicked red man, and wicked white man — no colour all good — no colour all wicked. Chiefs know that well enough."
Hetty soon recovered from this sudden burst of grief, and then her mind reverted to the purpose of her visit, with all its single-hearted earnestness. Perceiving that the grim looking chiefs were still standing around her in grave attention, she hoped that another effort to convince them of the right might be successful. "Listen, Hist," she said, struggling to suppress her sobs, and to speak distinctly — "Tell the chiefs that it matters not what the wicked do — right is right — The words of The Great Spirit are the words of The Great Spirit — and no one can go harmless for doing an evil act, because another has done it before him. 'Render good for evil,' says this book, and that is the law for the red man as well as for the white man."
"Never hear such law among Delaware, or among Iroquois — " answered Hist soothingly. "No good to tell chiefs any such laws as dat. Tell 'em somet'ing they believe."
Hist was about to proceed, notwithstanding, when a tap on the shoulder from the finger of the oldest chief caused her to look up. She then perceived that one of the warriors had left the group, and was already returning to it with Hutter and Hurry. Understanding that the two last were to become parties in the inquiry, she became mute, with the unhesitating obedience of an Indian woman. In a few seconds the prisoners stood face to face with the principal men of the captors.
"Daughter," said the senior chief to the young Delaware, "ask this grey beard why he came into our camp?"
The question was put by Hist, in her own imperfect English, but in a way that was easy to be understood. Hutter was too stern and obdurate by nature to shrink from the consequences of any of his acts, and he was also too familiar with the opinions of the savages not to understand that nothing was to be gained by equivocation or an unmanly dread of their anger. Without hesitating, therefore, he avowed the purpose with which he had landed, merely justifying it by the fact that the government of the province had bid high for scalps. This frank avowal was received by the Iroquois with evident satisfaction, not so much, however, on account of the advantage it gave them in a moral point of view, as by its proving that they had captured a man worthy of occupying their thoughts and of becoming a subject of their revenge. Hurry, when interrogated, confessed the truth, though he would have been more disposed to concealment than his sterner companion, did the circumstances very well admit of its adoption. But he had tact enough to discover that equivocation would be useless, at that moment, and he made a merit of necessity by imitating a frankness, which, in the case of Hutter, was the offspring of habits of indifference acting on a disposition that was always ruthless, and reckless of personal consequences.
As soon as the chiefs had received the answers to their questions, they walked away in silence, like men who deemed the matter disposed of, all Hetty's dogmas being thrown away on beings trained in violence from infancy to manhood. Hetty and Hist were now left alone with Hutter and Hurry, no visible restraint being placed on the movements of either; though all four, in fact, were vigilantly and unceasingly watched. As respects the men, care was had to prevent them from getting possession of any of the rifles that lay scattered about, their own included; and there all open manifestations of watchfulness ceased. But they, who were so experienced in Indian practices, knew too well how great was the distance between appearances and reality, to become the dupes of this seeming carelessness. Although both thought incessantly of the means of escape, and this without concert, each was aware of the uselessness of attempting any project of the sort that was not deeply laid, and promptly executed. They had been long enough in the encampment, and were sufficiently observant to have ascertained that Hist, also, was a sort of captive, and, presuming on the circumstance, Hutter spoke in her presence more openly than he might otherwise have thought it prudent to do; inducing Hurry to be equally unguarded by his example.
"I'll not blame you, Hetty, for coming on this errand, which was well meant if not very wisely planned," commenced the father, seating himself by the side of his daughter and taking her hand; a sign of affection that this rude being was accustomed to manifest to this particular child. "But preaching, and the Bible, are not the means to turn an Indian from his ways. Has Deerslayer sent any message; or has he any scheme by which he thinks to get us free?"
"Ay, that's the substance of it!" put in Hurry. "If you can help us, gal, to half a mile of freedom, or even a good start of a short quarter, I'll answer for the rest. Perhaps the old man may want a little more, but for one of my height and years that will meet all objections."
Hetty looked distressed, turning her eyes from one to the other, but she had no answer to give to the question of the reckless Hurry.
"Father," she said, "neither Deerslayer nor Judith knew of my coming until I had left the Ark. They are afraid the Iroquois will make a raft and try to get off to the hut, and think more of defending that than of coming to aid you."
"No — no — no — " said Hist hurriedly, though in a low voice, and with her face bent towards the earth, in order to conceal from those whom she knew to be watching them the fact of her speaking at all. "No — no — no — Deerslayer different man. He no t'ink of defending 'self, with friend in danger. Help one another, and all get to hut."
"This sounds well, old Tom," said Hurry, winking and laughing, though he too used the precaution to speak low — "Give me a ready witted squaw for a fri'nd, and though I'll not downright defy an Iroquois, I think I would defy the devil."
"No talk loud," said Hist. "Some Iroquois got Yengeese tongue, and all got Yengeese ear."
"Have we a friend in you, young woman?" enquired Hutter with an increasing interest in the conference. "If so, you may calculate on a solid reward, and nothing will be easier than to send you to your own tribe, if we can once fairly get you off with us to the castle. Give us the Ark and the canoes, and we can command the lake, spite of all the savages in the Canadas. Nothing but artillery could drive us out of the castle, if we can get back to it.
"S'pose 'ey come ashore to take scalp?" retorted Hist, with cool irony, at which the girl appeared to be more expert than is common for her sex.
"Ay — ay — that was a mistake; but there is little use in lamentations, and less still, young woman, in flings."
"Father," said Hetty, "Judith thinks of breaking open the big chest, in hopes of finding something in that which may buy your freedom of the savages."
A dark look came over Hutter at the announcement of this fact, and he muttered his dissatisfaction in a way to render it intelligible enough.
"What for no break open chest?" put in Hist. "Life sweeter than old chest — scalp sweeter than old chest. If no tell darter to break him open, Wah-ta-Wah no help him to run away."
"Ye know not what ye ask — ye are but silly girls, and the wisest way for ye both is to speak of what ye understand and to speak of nothing else. I little like this cold neglect of the savages, Hurry; it's a proof that they think of something serious, and if we are to do any thing, we must do it soon. Can we count on this young woman, think you?"
"Listen — " said Hist quickly, and with an earnestness that proved how much her feelings were concerned — "Wah-ta-Wah no Iroquois — All over Delaware — got Delaware heart — Delaware feeling. She prisoner, too. One prisoner help t'udder prisoner. No good to talk more, now. Darter stay with fader — Wah-ta-Wah come and see friend — all look right — Then tell what he do."
This was said in a low voice, but distinctly, and in a manner to make an impression. As soon as it was uttered the girl arose and left the group, walking composedly towards the hut she occupied, as if she had no further interest in what might pass between the pale-faces.