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.