"That point in misery, which makes the oppressed man regardless
of his own life, makes him too Lord of the oppressor's."
— Coleridge, Remorse, V.i.201-04.
All this time Hetty had remained seated in the head of the scow, looking sorrowfully into the water which held the body of her mother, as well as that of the man whom she had been taught to consider her father. Hist stood near her in gentle quiet, but had no consolation to offer in words. The habits of her people taught her reserve in this respect, and the habits of her sex induced her to wait patiently for a moment when she might manifest some soothing sympathy by means of acts, rather than of speech. Chingachgook held himself a little aloof, in grave reserve, looking like a warrior, but feeling like a man.
Judith joined her sister with an air of dignity and solemnity it was not her practice to show, and, though the gleamings of anguish were still visible on her beautiful face, when she spoke it was firmly and without tremor. At that instant Hist and the Delaware withdrew, moving towards Hurry, in the other end of the boat.
"Sister," said Judith kindly, "I have much to say to you; we will get into this canoe, and paddle off to a distance from the Ark — The secrets of two orphans ought not to be heard by every ear."
"Certainly, Judith, by the ears of their parents? Let Hurry lift the grapnel and move away with the Ark, and leave us here, near the graves of father and mother, to say what we may have to say."
"Father!" repeated Judith slowly, the blood for the first time since her parting with March mounting to her cheeks — "He was no father of ours, Hetty! That we had from his own mouth, and in his dying moments."
"Are you glad, Judith, to find you had no father! He took care of us, and fed us, and clothed us, and loved us; a father could have done no more. I don't understand why he wasn't a father."
"Never mind, dear child, but let us do as you have said. It may be well to remain here, and let the Ark move a little away. Do you prepare the canoe, and I will tell Hurry and the Indians our wishes."
This was soon and simply done, the Ark moving with measured strokes of the sweeps a hundred yards from the spot, leaving the girls floating, seemingly in air, above the place of the dead; so buoyant was the light vessel that held them, and so limpid the element by which it was sustained.
"The death of Thomas Hutter," Judith commenced, after a short pause had prepared her sister to receive her communications, "has altered all our prospects, Hetty. If he was not our father, we are sisters, and must feel alike and live together."
"How do I know, Judith, that you wouldn't be as glad to find I am not your sister, as you are in finding that Thomas Hutter, as you call him, was not your father. I am only half witted, and few people like to have half witted relations; and then I'm not handsome — at least, not as handsome as you — and you may wish a handsomer sister."
"No, no Hetty. You and you only are my sister — my heart, and my love for you tell me that — and mother was my mother — of that too am I glad, and proud; for she was a mother to be proud of — but father was not father!"
"Hush, Judith! His spirit may be near; it would grieve it to hear his children talking so, and that, too, over his very grave. Children should never grieve parents, mother often told me, and especially when they are dead!"
"Poor Hetty! They are happily removed beyond all cares on our account. Nothing that I can do or say will cause mother any sorrow now — there is some consolation in that, at least! And nothing you can say or do will make her smile, as she used to smile on your good conduct when living."
"You don't know that, Judith. Spirits can see, and mother may see as well as any spirit. She always told us that God saw all we did, and that we should do nothing to offend him; and now she has left us, I strive to do nothing that can displease her. Think how her spirit would mourn and feel sorrow, Judith, did it see either of us doing what is not right; and spirits may see, after all; especially the spirits of parents that feel anxious about their children."
"Hetty — Hetty — you know not what you say!" murmured Judith, almost livid with emotion — "The dead cannot see, and know nothing of what passes here! But, we will not talk of this any longer. The bodies of Mother and Thomas Hutter lie together in the lake, and we will hope that the spirits of both are with God. That we, the children of one of them, remain on earth is certain; it is now proper to know what we are to do in future."
"If we are not Thomas Hutter's children, Judith, no one will dispute our right to his property. We have the castle and the Ark, and the canoes, and the woods, and the lakes, the same as when he was living, and what can prevent us from staying here, and passing our lives just as we ever have done?"
"No, no poor sister — this can no longer be. Two girls would not be safe here, even should these Hurons fail in getting us into their power. Even father had as much as he could sometimes do, to keep peace upon the lake, and we should fail altogether. We must quit this spot, Hetty, and remove into the settlements."
"I am sorry you think so, Judith," returned Hetty, dropping her head on her bosom, and looking thoughtfully down at the spot where the funeral pile of her mother could just be seen. "I am very sorry to hear it. I would rather stay here, where, if I wasn't born, I've passed my life. I don't like the settlements — they are full of wickedness and heart burnings, while God dwells unoffended in these hills! I love the trees, and the mountains, and the lake, and the springs; all that his bounty has given us, and it would grieve me sorely, Judith, to be forced to quit them. You are handsome, and not at all half-witted, and one day you will marry, and then you will have a husband, and I a brother to take care of us, if women can't really take care of themselves in such a place as this."
"Ah! if this could be so, Hetty, then, indeed, I could now be a thousand times happier in these woods, than in the settlements. Once I did not feel thus, but now I do. Yet where is the man to turn this beautiful place into such a garden of Eden for us?"
"Harry March loves you, sister," returned poor Hetty, unconsciously picking the bark off the canoe as she spoke. "He would be glad to be your husband, I'm sure, and a stouter and a braver youth is not to be met with the whole country round."
"Harry March and I understand each other, and no more need be said about him. There is one — but no matter. It is all in the hands of providence, and we must shortly come to some conclusion about our future manner of living. Remain here — that is, remain here, alone, we cannot — and perhaps no occasion will ever offer for remaining in the manner you think of. It is time, too, Hetty, we should learn all we can concerning our relations and family. It is not probable we are altogether without relations, and they may be glad to see us. The old chest is now our property, and we have a right to look into it, and learn all we can by what it holds. Mother was so very different from Thomas Hutter, that, now I know we are not his children, I burn with a desire to know whose children we can be. There are papers in that chest, I am certain, and those papers may tell us all about our parents and natural friends."
"Well, Judith, you know best, for you are cleverer than common, mother always said, and I am only half-witted. Now father and mother are dead, I don't much care for any relation but you, and don't think I could love them I never saw, as well as I ought. If you don't like to marry Hurry, I don't see who you can choose for a husband, and then I fear we shall have to quit the lake, after all."