While this soliloquy was being pronounced, the hunter advanced into the area, where to his surprise he saw Hetty alone, evidently awaiting his return. The girl carried the Bible under her arm, and her face, over which a shadow of gentle melancholy was usually thrown, now seemed sad and downcast. Moving nearer, Deerslayer spoke.
"Poor Hetty," he said, "times have been so troublesome, of late, that I'd altogether forgotten you; we meet, as it might be to mourn over what is to happen. I wonder what has become of Chingachgook and Wah!"
"Why did you kill the Huron, Deerslayer? — " returned the girl reproachfully. "Don't you know your commandments, which say 'Thou shalt not kill!' They tell me you have now slain the woman's husband and brother!"
"It's true, my good Hetty — 'tis gospel truth, and I'll not deny what has come to pass. But, you must remember, gal, that many things are lawful in war, which would be onlawful in peace. The husband was shot in open fight — or, open so far as I was consarned, while he had a better cover than common — and the brother brought his end on himself, by casting his tomahawk at an unarmed prisoner. Did you witness that deed, gal?"
"I saw it, and was sorry it happened, Deerslayer, for I hoped you wouldn't have returned blow for blow, but good for evil."
"Ah, Hetty, that may do among the Missionaries, but 'twould make an onsartain life in the woods! The Panther craved my blood, and he was foolish enough to throw arms into my hands, at the very moment he was striving a'ter it. 'Twould have been ag'in natur' not to raise a hand in such a trial, and 'twould have done discredit to my training and gifts. No — no — I'm as willing to give every man his own as another, and so I hope you'll testify to them that will be likely to question you as to what you've seen this day."
"Deerslayer, do you mean to marry Sumach, now she has neither husband nor brother to feed her?"
"Are such your idees of matrimony, Hetty! Ought the young to wive with the old — the pale-face with the red-skin — the Christian with the heathen? It's ag'in reason and natur', and so you'll see, if you think of it a moment."
"I've always heard mother say," returned Hetty, averting her face more from a feminine instinct than from any consciousness of wrong, "that people should never marry until they loved each other better than brothers and sisters, and I suppose that is what you mean. Sumach is old, and you are young!"
"Ay and she's red, and I'm white. Beside, Hetty, suppose you was a wife, now, having married some young man of your own years, and state, and colour — Hurry Harry, for instance — " Deerslayer selected this example simply from the circumstance that he was the only young man known to both — "and that he had fallen on a war path, would you wish to take to your bosom, for a husband, the man that slew him?"
"Oh! no, no, no — " returned the girl shuddering — "That would be wicked as well as heartless! No Christian girl could, or would do that! I never shall be the wife of Hurry, I know, but were he my husband no man should ever be it, again, after his death!"
"I thought it would get to this, Hetty, when you come to understand sarcumstances. 'Tis a moral impossibility that I should ever marry Sumach, and, though Injin weddin's have no priests and not much religion, a white man who knows his gifts and duties can't profit by that, and so make his escape at the fitting time. I do think death would be more nat'ral like, and welcome, than wedlock with this woman."
"Don't say it too loud," interrupted Hetty impatiently; "I suppose she will not like to hear it. I'm sure Hurry would rather marry even me than suffer torments, though I am feeble minded; and I am sure it would kill me to think he'd prefer death to being my husband."
"Ay, gal, you ain't Sumach, but a comely young Christian, with a good heart, pleasant smile, and kind eye. Hurry might be proud to get you, and that, too, not in misery and sorrow, but in his best and happiest days. Howsever, take my advice, and never talk to Hurry about these things; he's only a borderer, at the best."
"I wouldn't tell him, for the world!" exclaimed the girl, looking about her like one affrighted, and blushing, she knew not why. "Mother always said young women shouldn't be forward, and speak their minds before they're asked; Oh! I never forget what mother told me. Tis a pity Hurry is so handsome, Deerslayer; I do think fewer girls would like him then, and he would sooner know his own mind."
"Poor gal, poor gal, it's plain enough how it is, but the Lord will bear in mind one of your simple heart and kind feelin's! We'll talk no more of these things; if you had reason, you'd be sorrowful at having let others so much into your secret. Tell me, Hetty, what has become of all the Hurons, and why they let you roam about the p'int as if you, too, was a prisoner?"
"I'm no prisoner, Deerslayer, but a free girl, and go when and where I please. Nobody dare hurt me! If they did, God would be angry, as I can show them in the Bible. No — no — Hetty Hutter is not afraid; she's in good hands. The Hurons are up yonder in the woods, and keep a good watch on us both, I'll answer for it, since all the women and children are on the look-out. Some are burying the body of the poor girl who was shot, so that the enemy and the wild beasts can't find it. I told 'em that father and mother lay in the lake, but I wouldn't let them know in what part of it, for Judith and I don't want any of their heathenish company in our burying ground."
"Ahs! me; Well, it is an awful despatch to be standing here, alive and angry, and with the feelin's up and ferocious, one hour, and then to be carried away at the next, and put out of sight of mankind in a hole in the 'arth! No one knows what will happen to him on a warpath, that's sartain."
Here the stirring of leaves and the cracking of dried twigs interrupted the discourse, and apprised Deerslayer of the approach of his enemies. The Hurons closed around the spot that had been prepared for the coming scene, and in the centre of which the intended victim now stood, in a circle, the armed men being so distributed among the feebler members of the band, that there was no safe opening through which the prisoner could break. But the latter no longer contemplated flight, the recent trial having satisfied him of his inability to escape when pursued so closely by numbers. On the contrary, all his energies were aroused in order to meet his expected fate, with a calmness that should do credit to his colour and his manhood; one equally removed from recreant alarm, and savage boasting.
When Rivenoak re-appeared in the circle, he occupied his old place at the head of the area. Several of the elder warriors stood near him, but, now that the brother of Sumach had fallen, there was no longer any recognised chief present whose influence and authority offered a dangerous rivalry to his own. Nevertheless, it is well known that little which could be called monarchical or despotic entered into the politics of the North American tribes, although the first colonists, bringing with them to this hemisphere the notions and opinions of their own countries, often dignified the chief men of those primitive nations with the titles of kings and princes. Hereditary influence did certainly exist, but there is much reason to believe it existed rather as a consequence of hereditary merit and acquired qualifications, than as a birthright. Rivenoak, however, had not even this claim, having risen to consideration purely by the force of talents, sagacity, and, as Bacon expresses it in relation to all distinguished statesmen, "by a union of great and mean qualities;" a truth of which the career of the profound Englishman himself furnishes so apt an illustration. Next to arms, eloquence offers the great avenue to popular favor, whether it be in civilized or savage life, and Rivenoak had succeeded, as so many have succeeded before him, quite as much by rendering fallacies acceptable to his listeners, as by any profound or learned expositions of truth, or the accuracy of his logic. Nevertheless, he had influence; and was far from being altogether without just claims to its possession. Like most men who reason more than they feel, the Huron was not addicted to the indulgence of the more ferocious passions of his people: he had been commonly found on the side of mercy, in all the scenes of vindictive torture and revenge that had occurred in his tribe since his own attainment to power. On the present occasion, he was reluctant to proceed to extremities, although the provocation was so great. Still it exceeded his ingenuity to see how that alternative could well be avoided. Sumach resented her rejection more than she did the deaths of her husband and brother, and there was little probability that the woman would pardon a man who had so unequivocally preferred death to her embraces. Without her forgiveness, there was scarce a hope that the tribe could be induced to overlook its loss, and even to Rivenoak, himself, much as he was disposed to pardon, the fate of our hero now appeared to be almost hopelessly sealed.