"Hetty got broder, as well as fader? — " she said — "Why no talk of broder, as well as fader?"
"I have no brother, Hist. I had one once, they say, but he is dead many a year, and lies buried in the lake, by the side of my mother."
"No got broder — got a young warrior — Love him, almost as much as fader, eh? Very handsome, and brave-looking; fit to be chief, if he good as he seem to be."
"It's wicked to love any man as well as I love my father, and so I strive not to do it, Hist," returned the conscientious Hetty, who knew not how to conceal an emotion, by an approach to an untruth as venial as an evasion, though powerfully tempted by female shame to err, "though I sometimes think wickedness will get the better of me, if Hurry comes so often to the lake. I must tell you the truth, dear Hist, because you ask me, but I should fall down and die in the woods, if he knew it!"
"Why he no ask you, himself? — Brave looking — why not bold speaking? Young warrior ought to ask young girl, no make young girl speak first. Mingo girls too shame for that."
This was said indignantly, and with the generous warmth a young female of spirit would be apt to feel, at what she deemed an invasion of her sex's most valued privilege. It had little influence on the simple-minded, but also just-minded Hetty, who, though inherently feminine in all her impulses, was much more alive to the workings of her own heart, than to any of the usages with which convention has protected the sensitiveness of her sex.
"Ask me what?' the startled girl demanded, with a suddenness that proved how completely her fears had been aroused. 'Ask me, if I like him as well as I do my own father! Oh! I hope he will never put such a question to me, for I should have to answer, and that would kill me!"
"No — no — no kill, quite — almost," returned the other, laughing in spite of herself. "Make blush come — make shame come too; but he no stay great while; then feel happier than ever. Young warrior must tell young girl he want to make wife, else never can live in his wigwam."
"Hurry don't want to marry me — nobody will ever want to marry me, Hist."
"How you can know? P'raps every body want to marry you, and by-and-bye, tongue say what heart feel. Why nobody want to marry you?"
"I am not full witted, they say. Father often tells me this; and so does Judith, sometimes, when she is vexed; but I shouldn't so much mind them, as I did mother. She said so once and then she cried as if her heart would break; and, so, I know I'm not full witted."
Hist gazed at the gentle, simple girl, for quite a minute without speaking, and then the truth appeared to flash all at once on the mind of the young Indian maid. Pity, reverence and tenderness seemed struggling together in her breast, and then rising suddenly, she indicated a wish to her companion that she would accompany her to the camp, which was situated at no great distance. This unexpected change from the precautions that Hist had previously manifested a desire to use, in order to prevent being seen, to an open exposure of the person of her friend, arose from the perfect conviction that no Indian would harm a being whom the Great Spirit had disarmed, by depriving it of its strongest defence, reason. In this respect, nearly all unsophisticated nations resemble each other, appearing to offer spontaneously, by a feeling creditable to human nature, that protection by their own forbearance, which has been withheld by the inscrutable wisdom of Providence. Wah-ta-Wah, indeed, knew that in many tribes the mentally imbecile and the mad were held in a species of religious reverence, receiving from these untutored inhabitants of the forest respect and honors, instead of the contumely and neglect that it is their fortune to meet with among the more pretending and sophisticated.
Hetty accompanied her new friend without apprehension or reluctance. It was her wish to reach the camp, and, sustained by her motives, she felt no more concern for the consequences than did her companion herself, now the latter was apprised of the character of the protection that the pale-face maiden carried with her. Still, as they proceeded slowly along a shore that was tangled with overhanging bushes, Hetty continued the discourse, assuming the office of interrogating which the other had instantly dropped, as soon as she ascertained the character of the mind to which her questions had been addressed.
"But you are not half-witted," said Hetty, "and there's no reason why the Serpent should not marry you."
"Hist prisoner, and Mingo got big ear. No speak of Chingachgook when they by. Promise Hist that, good Hetty."
"I know — I know — " returned Hetty, half-whispering, in her eagerness to let the other see she understood the necessity of caution. "I know — Deerslayer and the Serpent mean to get you away from the Iroquois, and you wish me not to tell the secret."
"How you know?" said Hist, hastily, vexed at the moment that the other was not even more feeble minded than was actually the case. "How you know? Better not talk of any but fader and Hurry — Mingo understand dat; he no understand t'udder. Promise you no talk about what you no understand."
"But I do understand this, Hist, and so I must talk about it. Deerslayer as good as told father all about it, in my presence, and as nobody told me not to listen, I overheard it all, as I did Hurry and father's discourse about the scalps."
"Very bad for pale-faces to talk about scalps, and very bad for young woman to hear! Now you love Hist, I know, Hetty, and so, among Injins, when love hardest never talk most."
"That's not the way among white people, who talk most about them they love best. I suppose it's because I'm only half-witted that I don't see the reason why it should be so different among red people."
"That what Deerslayer call gift. One gift to talk; t'udder gift to hold tongue. Hold tongue your gift, among Mingos. If Sarpent want to see Hist, so Hetty want to see Hurry. Good girl never tell secret of friend."
Hetty understood this appeal, and she promised the Delaware girl not to make any allusion to the presence of Chingachgook, or to the motive of his visit to the lake.
"Maybe he get off Hurry and fader, as well as Hist, if let him have his way," whispered Wah-ta-Wah to her companion, in a confiding flattering way, just as they got near enough to the encampment to hear the voices of several of their own sex, who were apparently occupied in the usual toils of women of their class. "Tink of dat, Hetty, and put two, twenty finger on mouth. No get friend free without Sarpent do it."
A better expedient could not have been adopted, to secure the silence and discretion of Hetty, than that which was now presented to her mind. As the liberation of her father and the young frontier man was the great object of her adventure, she felt the connection between it and the services of the Delaware, and with an innocent laugh, she nodded her head, and in the same suppressed manner, promised a due attention to the wishes of her friend. Thus assured, Hist tarried no longer, but immediately and openly led the way into the encampment of her captors.