"And why should your warpath, as you call it, come so near to an end, Deerslayer?"
"Because, my good girl, my furlough comes so near to an end. They're likely to have pretty much the same tarmination, as regards time, one following on the heels of the other, as a matter of course."
"I don't understand your meaning, Deerslayer — " returned the girl, looking a little bewildered. "Mother always said people ought to speak more plainly to me than to most other persons, because I'm feeble minded. Those that are feeble minded, don't understand as easily as those that have sense."
"Well then, Hetty, the simple truth is this. You know that I'm now a captyve to the Hurons, and captyves can't do, in all things, as they please — "
"But how can you be a captive," eagerly interrupted the girl-"when you are out here on the lake, in father's best canoe, and the Indians are in the woods with no canoe at all? That can't be true, Deerslayer!"
"I wish with all my heart and soul, Hetty, that you was right, and that I was wrong, instead of your bein' all wrong, and I bein' only too near the truth. Free as I seem to your eyes, gal, I'm bound hand and foot in ra'ality."
"Well it is a great misfortune not to have sense! Now I can't see or understand that you are a captive, or bound in any manner. If you are bound, with what are your hands and feet fastened?"
"With a furlough, gal; that's a thong that binds tighter than any chain. One may be broken, but the other can't. Ropes and chains allow of knives, and desait, and contrivances; but a furlough can be neither cut, slipped nor sarcumvented."
"What sort of a thing is a furlough, then, if it be stronger than hemp or iron? I never saw a furlough."
"I hope you may never feel one, gal; the tie is altogether in the feelin's, in these matters, and therefore is to be felt and not seen. You can understand what it is to give a promise, I dare to say, good little Hetty?"
"Certainly. A promise is to say you will do a thing, and that binds you to be as good as your word. Mother always kept her promises to me, and then she said it would be wicked if I didn't keep my promises to her, and to every body else."
"You have had a good mother, in some matters, child, whatever she may have been in other some. That is a promise, and as you say it must be kept. Now, I fell into the hands of the Mingos last night, and they let me come off to see my fri'nds and send messages in to my own colour, if any such feel consarn on my account, on condition that I shall be back when the sun is up today, and take whatever their revenge and hatred can contrive, in the way of torments, in satisfaction for the life of a warrior that fell by my rifle, as well as for that of the young woman shot by Hurry, and other disapp'intments met with on and about this lake. What is called a promise atween mother and darter, or even atween strangers in the settlements is called a furlough when given by one soldier to another, on a warpath. And now I suppose you understand my situation, Hetty."
The girl made no answer for some time, but she ceased paddling altogether, as if the novel idea distracted her mind too much to admit of other employment. Then she resumed the dialogue earnestly and with solicitude.
"Do you think the Hurons will have the heart to do what you say, Deerslayer?" she asked. "I have found them kind and harmless."
"That's true enough as consarns one like you, Hetty, but it's a very different affair when it comes to an open inimy, and he too the owner of a pretty sartain rifle. I don't say that they bear me special malice on account of any expl'ites already performed, for that would be bragging, as it might be, on the varge of the grave, but it's no vanity to believe that they know one of their bravest and cunnin'est chiefs fell by my hands. Such bein' the case, the tribe would reproach them if they failed to send the spirit of a pale-face to keep the company of the spirit of their red brother; always supposin' that he can catch it. I look for no marcy, Hetty, at their hands; and my principal sorrow is that such a calamity should befall me on my first warpath: that it would come sooner or later, every soldier counts on and expects."
"The Hurons shall not harm you, Deerslayer," cried the girl, much excited — "Tis wicked as well as cruel; I have the Bible, here, to tell them so. Do you think I would stand by and see you tormented?"
"I hope not, my good Hetty, I hope not; and, therefore, when the moment comes, I expect you will move off, and not be a witness of what you can't help, while it would grieve you. But, I haven't stopped the paddles to talk of my own afflictions and difficulties, but to speak a little plainly to you, gal, consarnin' your own matters."
"What can you have to say to me, Deerslayer! Since mother died, few talk to me of such things."
"So much the worse, poor gal; yes, 'tis so much the worse, for one of your state of mind needs frequent talking to, in order to escape the snares and desaits of this wicked world. You haven't forgotten Hurry Harry, gal, so soon, I calculate?"
"I! — I forget Henry March!" exclaimed Hetty, starting. "Why should I forget him, Deerslayer, when he is our friend, and only left us last night. Then the large bright star that mother loved so much to gaze at was just over the top of yonder tall pine on the mountain, as Hurry got into the canoe; and when you landed him on the point, near the east bay, it wasn't more than the length of Judith's handsomest ribbon above it."
"And how can you know how long I was gone, or how far I went to land Hurry, seein' you were not with us, and the distance was so great, to say nothing of the night?"
"Oh! I know when it was, well enough," returned Hetty positively-"There's more ways than one for counting time and distance. When the mind is engaged, it is better than any clock. Mine is feeble, I know, but it goes true enough in all that touches poor Hurry Harry. Judith will never marry March, Deerslayer."
"That's the p'int, Hetty; that's the very p'int I want to come to. I suppose you know that it's nat'ral for young people to have kind feelin's for one another, more especially when one happens to be a youth and t'other a maiden. Now, one of your years and mind, gal, that has neither father nor mother, and who lives in a wilderness frequented by hunters and trappers, needs be on her guard against evils she little dreams of."
"What harm can it be to think well of a fellow creature," returned Hetty simply, though the conscious blood was stealing to her cheeks in spite of a spirit so pure that it scarce knew why it prompted the blush, "the Bible tells us to 'love them who despitefully use' us, and why shouldn't we like them that do not."
"Ah! Hetty, the love of the missionaries isn't the sort of likin' I mean. Answer me one thing, child; do you believe yourself to have mind enough to become a wife, and a mother?"
"That's not a proper question to ask a young woman, Deerslayer, and I'll not answer it," returned the girl, in a reproving manner — much as a parent rebukes a child for an act of indiscretion. "If you have any thing to say about Hurry, I'll hear that — but you must not speak evil of him; he is absent, and 'tis unkind to talk evil of the absent."
"Your mother has given you so many good lessons, Hetty, that my fears for you are not as great as they were. Nevertheless, a young woman without parents, in your state of mind, and who is not without beauty, must always be in danger in such a lawless region as this. I would say nothin' amiss of Hurry, who, in the main, is not a bad man for one of his callin', but you ought to know one thing, which it may not be altogether pleasant to tell you, but which must be said. March has a desperate likin' for your sister Judith."
"Well, what of that? Everybody admires Judith, she's so handsome, and Hurry has told me, again and again, how much he wishes to marry her. But that will never come to pass, for Judith don't like Hurry. She likes another, and talks about him in her sleep; though you need not ask me who he is, for all the gold in King George's crown, and all the jewels too, wouldn't tempt me to tell you his name. If sisters can't keep each other's secrets, who can?"
"Sartainly, I do not wish you to tell me, Hetty, nor would it be any advantage to a dyin' man to know. What the tongue says when the mind's asleep, neither head nor heart is answerable for."
"I wish I knew why Judith talks so much in her sleep, about officers, and honest hearts, and false tongues, but I suppose she don't like to tell me, as I'm feeble minded. Isn't it odd, Deerslayer, that Judith don't like Hurry — he who is the bravest looking youth that ever comes upon the lake, and is as handsome as she is herself. Father always said they would be the comeliest couple in the country, though mother didn't fancy March any more than Judith. There's no telling what will happen, they say, until things actually come to pass."
"Ahs! me — well, poor Hetty, 'tis of no great use to talk to them that can't understand you, and so I'll say no more about what I did wish to speak of, though it lay heavy on my mind. Put the paddle in motion ag'in, gal, and we'll push for the shore, for the sun is nearly up, and my furlough is almost out."
The canoe now glided ahead, holding its way towards the point where Deerslayer well knew that his enemies expected him, and where he now began to be afraid he might not arrive in season to redeem his plighted faith. Hetty, perceiving his impatience without very clearly comprehending its cause, however, seconded his efforts in a way that soon rendered their timely return no longer a matter of doubt. Then, and then only, did the young man suffer his exertions to flag, and Hetty began, again, to prattle in her simple confiding manner, though nothing farther was uttered that it may be thought necessary to relate.