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Chapter 18

CHAPTER 18

"Why, anything; An honorable murderer, if you will; For

naught I did in hate, but all in honor."--Othello

The bloody and inhuman scene rather incidentally mentioned

than described in the preceding chapter, is conspicuous in

the pages of colonial history by the merited title of "The

Massacre of William Henry." It so far deepened the stain

which a previous and very similar event had left upon the

reputation of the French commander that it was not entirely

erased by his early and glorious death. It is now becoming

obscured by time; and thousands, who know that Montcalm died

like a hero on the plains of Abraham, have yet to learn how

much he was deficient in that moral courage without which no

man can be truly great. Pages might yet be written to prove,

from this illustrious example, the defects of human

excellence; to show how easy it is for generous sentiments,

high courtesy, and chivalrous courage to lose their

influence beneath the chilling blight of selfishness, and to

exhibit to the world a man who was great in all the minor

attributes of character, but who was found wanting when it

became necessary to prove how much principle is superior to

policy. But the task would exceed our prerogatives; and, as

history, like love, is so apt to surround her heroes with an

atmosphere of imaginary brightness, it is probable that

Louis de Saint Veran will be viewed by posterity only as the

gallant defender of his country, while his cruel apathy on

the shores of the Oswego and of the Horican will be

forgotten. Deeply regretting this weakness on the part of a

sister muse, we shall at once retire from her sacred

precincts, within the proper limits of our own humble

vocation.

The third day from the capture of the fort was drawing to a

close, but the business of the narrative must still detain

the reader on the shores of the "holy lake." When last

seen, the environs of the works were filled with violence

and uproar. They were now possessed by stillness and death.

The blood-stained conquerors had departed; and their camp,

which had so lately rung with the merry rejoicings of a

victorious army, lay a silent and deserted city of huts.

The fortress was a smoldering ruin; charred rafters,

fragments of exploded artillery, and rent mason-work

covering its earthen mounds in confused disorder.

A frightful change had also occurred in the season. The sun

had hid its warmth behind an impenetrable mass of vapor, and

hundreds of human forms, which had blackened beneath the

fierce heats of August, were stiffening in their deformity

before the blasts of a premature November. The curling and

spotless mists, which had been seen sailing above the hills

toward the north, were now returning in an interminable

dusky sheet, that was urged along by the fury of a tempest.

The crowded mirror of the Horican was gone; and, in its

place, the green and angry waters lashed the shores, as if

indignantly casting back its impurities to the polluted

strand. Still the clear fountain retained a portion of its

charmed influence, but it reflected only the somber gloom

that fell from the impending heavens. That humid and

congenial atmosphere which commonly adorned the view,

veiling its harshness, and softening its asperities, had

disappeared, the northern air poured across the waste of

water so harsh and unmingled, that nothing was left to be

conjectured by the eye, or fashioned by the fancy.

The fiercer element had cropped the verdure of the plain,

which looked as though it were scathed by the consuming

lightning. But, here and there, a dark green tuft rose in

the midst of the desolation; the earliest fruits of a soil

that had been fattened with human blood. The whole

landscape, which, seen by a favoring light, and in a genial

temperature, had been found so lovely, appeared now like

some pictured allegory of life, in which objects were

arrayed in their harshest but truest colors, and without the

relief of any shadowing.

The solitary and arid blades of grass arose from the passing

gusts fearfully perceptible; the bold and rocky mountains

were too distinct in their barrenness, and the eye even

sought relief, in vain, by attempting to pierce the

illimitable void of heaven, which was shut to its gaze by

the dusky sheet of ragged and driving vapor.

The wind blew unequally; sometimes sweeping heavily along

the ground, seeming to whisper its moanings in the cold ears

of the dead, then rising in a shrill and mournful whistling,

it entered the forest with a rush that filled the air with

the leaves and branches it scattered in its path. Amid the

unnatural shower, a few hungry ravens struggled with the

gale; but no sooner was the green ocean of woods which

stretched beneath them, passed, than they gladly stopped, at

random, to their hideous banquet.

In short, it was a scene of wildness and desolation; and it

appeared as if all who had profanely entered it had been

stricken, at a blow, by the relentless arm of death. But

the prohibition had ceased; and for the first time since the

perpetrators of those foul deeds which had assisted to

disfigure the scene were gone, living human beings had now

presumed to approach the place.

About an hour before the setting of the sun, on the day

already mentioned, the forms of five men might have been

seen issuing from the narrow vista of trees, where the path

to the Hudson entered the forest, and advancing in the

direction of the ruined works. At first their progress was

slow and guarded, as though they entered with reluctance

amid the horrors of the post, or dreaded the renewal of its

frightful incidents. A light figure preceded the rest of

the party, with the caution and activity of a native;

ascending every hillock to reconnoiter, and indicating by

gestures, to his companions, the route he deemed it most

prudent to pursue. Nor were those in the rear wanting in

every caution and foresight known to forest warfare. One

among them, he also was an Indian, moved a little on one

flank, and watched the margin of the woods, with eyes long

accustomed to read the smallest sign of danger. The

remaining three were white, though clad in vestments

adapted, both in quality and color, to their present

hazardous pursuit--that of hanging on the skirts of a

retiring army in the wilderness.

The effects produced by the appalling sights that constantly

arose in their path to the lake shore, were as different as

the characters of the respective individuals who composed

the party. The youth in front threw serious but furtive

glances at the mangled victims, as he stepped lightly across

the plain, afraid to exhibit his feelings, and yet too

inexperienced to quell entirely their sudden and powerful

influence. His red associate, however, was superior to such

a weakness. He passed the groups of dead with a steadiness

of purpose, and an eye so calm, that nothing but long and

inveterate practise could enable him to maintain. The

sensations produced in the minds of even the white men were

different, though uniformly sorrowful. One, whose gray

locks and furrowed lineaments, blending with a martial air

and tread, betrayed, in spite of the disguise of a

woodsman's dress, a man long experienced in scenes of war,

was not ashamed to groan aloud, whenever a spectacle of more

than usual horror came under his view. The young man at his

elbow shuddered, but seemed to suppress his feelings in

tenderness to his companion. Of them all, the straggler who

brought up the rear appeared alone to betray his real

thoughts, without fear of observation or dread of

consequences. He gazed at the most appalling sight with

eyes and muscles that knew not how to waver, but with

execrations so bitter and deep as to denote how much he

denounced the crime of his enemies.

The reader will perceive at once, in these respective

characters, the Mohicans, and their white friend, the scout;

together with Munro and Heyward. It was, in truth, the

father in quest of his children, attended by the youth who

felt so deep a stake in their happiness, and those brave and

trusty foresters, who had already proved their skill and

fidelity through the trying scenes related.

When Uncas, who moved in front, had reached the center of

the plain, he raised a cry that drew his companions in a

body to the spot. The young warrior had halted over a group

of females who lay in a cluster, a confused mass of dead.

Notwithstanding the revolting horror of the exhibition,

Munro and Heyward flew toward the festering heap,

endeavoring, with a love that no unseemliness could

extinguish, to discover whether any vestiges of those they

sought were to be seen among the tattered and many-colored

garments. The father and the lover found instant relief in

the search; though each was condemned again to experience

the misery of an uncertainty that was hardly less

insupportable than the most revolting truth. They were

standing, silent and thoughtful, around the melancholy pile,

when the scout approached. Eyeing the sad spectacle with an

angry countenance, the sturdy woodsman, for the first time

since his entering the plain, spoke intelligibly and aloud:

"I have been on many a shocking field, and have followed a

trail of blood for weary miles," he said, "but never have I

found the hand of the devil so plain as it is here to be

seen! Revenge is an Indian feeling, and all who know me

know that there is no cross in my veins; but this much will

I say--here, in the face of heaven, and with the power of

the Lord so manifest in this howling wilderness--that

should these Frenchers ever trust themselves again within

the range of a ragged bullet, there is one rifle which shall

play its part so long as flint will fire or powder burn! I

leave the tomahawk and knife to such as have a natural gift

to use them. What say you, Chingachgook," he added, in

Delaware; "shall the Hurons boast of this to their women

when the deep snows come?"

A gleam of resentment flashed across the dark lineaments of

the Mohican chief; he loosened his knife in his sheath; and

then turning calmly from the sight, his countenance settled

into a repose as deep as if he knew the instigation of

passion.

"Montcalm! Montcalm!" continued the deeply resentful and

less self-restrained scout; "they say a time must come when

all the deeds done in the flesh will be seen at a single

look; and that by eyes cleared from mortal infirmities. Woe

betide the wretch who is born to behold this plain, with the

judgment hanging about his soul! Ha--as I am a man of

white blood, yonder lies a red-skin, without the hair of his

head where nature rooted it! Look to him, Delaware; it may

be one of your missing people; and he should have burial

like a stout warrior. I see it in your eye, Sagamore; a

Huron pays for this, afore the fall winds have blown away

the scent of the blood!"

Chingachgook approached the mutilated form, and, turning it

over, he found the distinguishing marks of one of those six

allied tribes, or nations, as they were called, who, while

they fought in the English ranks, were so deadly hostile to

his own people. Spurning the loathsome object with his

foot, he turned from it with the same indifference he would

have quitted a brute carcass. The scout comprehended the

action, and very deliberately pursued his own way,

continuing, however, his denunciations against the French

commander in the same resentful strain.

"Nothing but vast wisdom and unlimited power should dare to

sweep off men in multitudes," he added; "for it is only the

one that can know the necessity of the judgment; and what is

there, short of the other, that can replace the creatures of

the Lord? I hold it a sin to kill the second buck afore the

first is eaten, unless a march in front, or an ambushment,

be contemplated. It is a different matter with a few

warriors in open and rugged fight, for 'tis their gift to

die with the rifle or the tomahawk in hand; according as

their natures may happen to be, white or red. Uncas, come

this way, lad, and let the ravens settle upon the Mingo. I

know, from often seeing it, that they have a craving for the

flesh of an Oneida; and it is as well to let the bird follow

the gift of its natural appetite."

"Hugh!" exclaimed the young Mohican, rising on the

extremities of his feet, and gazing intently in his front,

frightening the ravens to some other prey by the sound and

the action.

"What is it, boy?" whispered the scout, lowering his tall

form into a crouching attitude, like a panther about to take

his leap; "God send it be a tardy Frencher, skulking for

plunder. I do believe 'killdeer' would take an uncommon

range today!"

Uncas, without making any reply, bounded away from the spot,

and in the next instant he was seen tearing from a bush, and

waving in triumph, a fragment of the green riding-veil of

Cora. The movement, the exhibition, and the cry which again

burst from the lips of the young Mohican, instantly drew the

whole party about him.

"My child!" said Munro, speaking quickly and wildly; "give

me my child!"

"Uncas will try," was the short and touching answer.

The simple but meaning assurance was lost on the father, who

seized the piece of gauze, and crushed it in his hand, while

his eyes roamed fearfully among the bushes, as if he equally

dreaded and hoped for the secrets they might reveal.

"Here are no dead," said Heyward; "the storm seems not to

have passed this way."

"That's manifest; and clearer than the heavens above our

heads," returned the undisturbed scout; "but either she, or

they that have robbed her, have passed the bush; for I

remember the rag she wore to hide a face that all did love

to look upon. Uncas, you are right; the dark-hair has been

here, and she has fled like a frightened fawn, to the wood;

none who could fly would remain to be murdered. Let us

search for the marks she left; for, to Indian eyes, I

sometimes think a humming-bird leaves his trail in the air."

The young Mohican darted away at the suggestion, and the

scout had hardly done speaking, before the former raised a

cry of success from the margin of the forest. On reaching

the spot, the anxious party perceived another portion of the

veil fluttering on the lower branch of a beech.

"Softly, softly," said the scout, extending his long rifle

in front of the eager Heyward; "we now know our work, but

the beauty of the trail must not be deformed. A step too

soon may give us hours of trouble. We have them, though;

that much is beyond denial."

"Bless ye, bless ye, worthy man!" exclaimed Munro; "whither

then, have they fled, and where are my babes?"

"The path they have taken depends on many chances. If they

have gone alone, they are quite as likely to move in a

circle as straight, and they may be within a dozen miles of

us; but if the Hurons, or any of the French Indians, have

laid hands on them, 'tis probably they are now near the

borders of the Canadas. But what matters that?" continued

the deliberate scout, observing the powerful anxiety and

disappointment the listeners exhibited; "here are the

Mohicans and I on one end of the trail, and, rely on it, we

find the other, though they should be a hundred leagues

asunder! Gently, gently, Uncas, you are as impatient as a

man in the settlements; you forget that light feet leave but

faint marks!"

"Hugh!" exclaimed Chingachgook, who had been occupied in

examining an opening that had been evidently made through

the low underbrush which skirted the forest; and who now

stood erect, as he pointed downward, in the attitude and

with the air of a man who beheld a disgusting serpent.

"Here is the palpable impression of the footstep of a man,"

cried Heyward, bending over the indicated spot; "he has trod

in the margin of this pool, and the mark cannot be mistaken.

They are captives."

"Better so than left to starve in the wilderness," returned

the scout; "and they will leave a wider trail. I would

wager fifty beaver skins against as many flints, that the

Mohicans and I enter their wigwams within the month! Stoop

to it, Uncas, and try what you can make of the moccasin; for

moccasin it plainly is, and no shoe."

The young Mohican bent over the track, and removing the

scattered leaves from around the place, he examined it with

much of that sort of scrutiny that a money dealer, in these

days of pecuniary doubts, would bestow on a suspected due-

bill. At length he arose from his knees, satisfied with the

result of the examination.

"Well, boy," demanded the attentive scout; "what does it

say? Can you make anything of the tell-tale?"

"Le Renard Subtil!"

"Ha! that rampaging devil again! there will never be an end

of his loping till 'killdeer' has said a friendly word to

him."

Heyward reluctantly admitted the truth of this intelligence,

and now expressed rather his hopes than his doubts by

saying:

"One moccasin is so much like another, it is probable there

is some mistake."

"One moccasin like another! you may as well say that one

foot is like another; though we all know that some are long,

and others short; some broad and others narrow; some with

high, and some with low insteps; some intoed, and some out.

One moccasin is no more like another than one book is like

another: though they who can read in one are seldom able to

tell the marks of the other. Which is all ordered for the

best, giving to every man his natural advantages. Let me

get down to it, Uncas; neither book nor moccasin is the

worse for having two opinions, instead of one." The scout

stooped to the task, and instantly added:

"You are right, boy; here is the patch we saw so often in

the other chase. And the fellow will drink when he can get

an opportunity; your drinking Indian always learns to walk

with a wider toe than the natural savage, it being the gift

of a drunkard to straddle, whether of white or red skin.

'Tis just the length and breadth, too! look at it, Sagamore;

you measured the prints more than once, when we hunted the

varmints from Glenn's to the health springs."

Chingachgook complied; and after finishing his short

examination, he arose, and with a quiet demeanor, he merely

pronounced the word:

"Magua!"

"Ay, 'tis a settled thing; here, then, have passed the dark-

hair and Magua."

"And not Alice?" demanded Heyward.

"Of her we have not yet seen the signs," returned the scout,

looking closely around at the trees, the bushes and the

ground. "What have we there? Uncas, bring hither the thing

you see dangling from yonder thorn-bush."

When the Indian had complied, the scout received the prize,

and holding it on high, he laughed in his silent but

heartfelt manner.

"'Tis the tooting we'pon of the singer! now we shall have a

trail a priest might travel," he said. "Uncas, look for the

marks of a shoe that is long enough to uphold six feet two

of tottering human flesh. I begin to have some hopes of the

fellow, since he has given up squalling to follow some

better trade."

"At least he has been faithful to his trust," said Heyward.

"And Cora and Alice are not without a friend."

"Yes," said Hawkeye, dropping his rifle, and leaning on it

with an air of visible contempt, "he will do their singing.

Can he slay a buck for their dinner; journey by the moss on

the beeches, or cut the throat of a Huron? If not, the

first catbird* he meets is the cleverer of the two. Well,

boy, any signs of such a foundation?"

* The powers of the American mocking-bird are

generally known. But the true mocking-bird is not found so

far north as the state of New York, where it has, however,

two substitutes of inferior excellence, the catbird, so

often named by the scout, and the bird vulgarly called

ground-thresher. Either of these last two birds is superior

to the nightingale or the lark, though, in general, the

American birds are less musical than those of Europe.

"Here is something like the footstep of one who has worn a

shoe; can it be that of our friend?"

"Touch the leaves lightly or you'll disconsart the

formation. That! that is the print of a foot, but 'tis the

dark-hair's; and small it is, too, for one of such a noble

height and grand appearance. The singer would cover it with

his heel."

"Where! let me look on the footsteps of my child," said

Munro, shoving the bushes aside, and bending fondly over the

nearly obliterated impression. Though the tread which had

left the mark had been light and rapid, it was still plainly

visible. The aged soldier examined it with eyes that grew

dim as he gazed; nor did he rise from this stooping posture

until Heyward saw that he had watered the trace of his

daughter's passage with a scalding tear. Willing to divert

a distress which threatened each moment to break through the

restraint of appearances, by giving the veteran something to

do, the young man said to the scout:

"As we now possess these infallible signs, let us commence

our march. A moment, at such a time, will appear an age to

the captives."

"It is not the swiftest leaping deer that gives the longest

chase," returned Hawkeye, without moving his eyes from the

different marks that had come under his view; "we know that

the rampaging Huron has passed, and the dark-hair, and the

singer, but where is she of the yellow locks and blue eyes?

Though little, and far from being as bold as her sister, she

is fair to the view, and pleasant in discourse. Has she no

friend, that none care for her?"

"God forbid she should ever want hundreds! Are we not now

in her pursuit? For one, I will never cease the search till

she be found."

"In that case we may have to journey by different paths; for

here she has not passed, light and little as her footsteps

would be."

Heyward drew back, all his ardor to proceed seeming to

vanish on the instant. Without attending to this sudden

change in the other's humor, the scout after musing a moment

continued:

"There is no woman in this wilderness could leave such a

print as that, but the dark-hair or her sister. We know

that the first has been here, but where are the signs of the

other? Let us push deeper on the trail, and if nothing

offers, we must go back to the plain and strike another

scent. Move on, Uncas, and keep your eyes on the dried

leaves. I will watch the bushes, while your father shall

run with a low nose to the ground. Move on, friends; the

sun is getting behind the hills."

"Is there nothing that I can do?" demanded the anxious

Heyward.

"You?" repeated the scout, who, with his red friends, was

already advancing in the order he had prescribed; "yes, you

can keep in our rear and be careful not to cross the trail."

Before they had proceeded many rods, the Indians stopped,

and appeared to gaze at some signs on the earth with more

than their usual keenness. Both father and son spoke quick

and loud, now looking at the object of their mutual

admiration, and now regarding each other with the most

unequivocal pleasure.

"They have found the little foot!" exclaimed the scout,

moving forward, without attending further to his own portion

of the duty. "What have we here? An ambushment has been

planted in the spot! No, by the truest rifle on the

frontiers, here have been them one-sided horses again! Now

the whole secret is out, and all is plain as the north star

at midnight. Yes, here they have mounted. There the beasts

have been bound to a sapling, in waiting; and yonder runs

the broad path away to the north, in full sweep for the

Canadas."

"But still there are no signs of Alice, of the younger Miss

Munro," said Duncan.

"Unless the shining bauble Uncas has just lifted from the

ground should prove one. Pass it this way, lad, that we may

look at it."

Heyward instantly knew it for a trinket that Alice was fond

of wearing, and which he recollected, with the tenacious

memory of a lover, to have seen, on the fatal morning of the

massacre, dangling from the fair neck of his mistress. He

seized the highly prized jewel; and as he proclaimed the

fact, it vanished from the eyes of the wondering scout, who

in vain looked for it on the ground, long after it was

warmly pressed against the beating heart of Duncan.

"Pshaw!" said the disappointed Hawkeye, ceasing to rake the

leaves with the breech of his rifle; "'tis a certain sign of

age, when the sight begins to weaken. Such a glittering

gewgaw, and not to be seen! Well, well, I can squint along

a clouded barrel yet, and that is enough to settle all

disputes between me and the Mingoes. I should like to find

the thing, too, if it were only to carry it to the right

owner, and that would be bringing the two ends of what I

call a long trail together, for by this time the broad St.

Lawrence, or perhaps, the Great Lakes themselves, are

between us."

"So much the more reason why we should not delay our march,"

returned Heyward; "let us proceed."

"Young blood and hot blood, they say, are much the same

thing. We are not about to start on a squirrel hunt, or to

drive a deer into the Horican, but to outlie for days and

nights, and to stretch across a wilderness where the feet of

men seldom go, and where no bookish knowledge would carry

you through harmless. An Indian never starts on such an

expedition without smoking over his council-fire; and,

though a man of white blood, I honor their customs in this

particular, seeing that they are deliberate and wise. We

will, therefore, go back, and light our fire to-night in the

ruins of the old fort, and in the morning we shall be fresh,

and ready to undertake our work like men, and not like

babbling women or eager boys."

Heyward saw, by the manner of the scout, that altercation

would be useless. Munro had again sunk into that sort of

apathy which had beset him since his late overwhelming

misfortunes, and from which he was apparently to be roused

only by some new and powerful excitement. Making a merit of

necessity, the young man took the veteran by the arm, and

followed in the footsteps of the Indians and the scout, who

had already begun to retrace the path which conducted them

to the plain.

James Fenimore Cooper