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Chapter 19

CHAPTER 19

"Salar.--Why, I am sure, if he forfeit, thou wilt not

take his flesh; what's that good for? Shy.--To bait fish

withal; if it will feed nothing else, it will feed my

revenge."--Merchant of Venice

The shades of evening had come to increase the dreariness of

the place, when the party entered the ruins of William

Henry. The scout and his companions immediately made their

preparations to pass the night there; but with an

earnestness and sobriety of demeanor that betrayed how much

the unusual horrors they had just witnessed worked on even

their practised feelings. A few fragments of rafters were

reared against a blackened wall; and when Uncas had covered

them slightly with brush, the temporary accommodations were

deemed sufficient. The young Indian point3ed toward his

rude hut when his labor was ended; and Heyward, who

understood the meaning of the silent gestures, gently urged

Munro to enter. Leaving the bereaved old man alone with his

sorrows, Duncan immediately returned into the open air, too

much excited himself to seek the repose he had recommended

to his veteran friend.

While Hawkeye and the Indians lighted their fire and took

their evening's repast, a frugal meal of dried bear's meat,

the young man paid a visit to that curtain of the

dilapidated fort which looked out on the sheet of the

Horican. The wind had fallen, and the waves were already

rolling on the sandy beach beneath him, in a more regular

and tempered succession. The clouds, as if tired of their

furious chase, were breaking asunder; the heavier volumes,

gathering in black masses about the horizon, while the

lighter scud still hurried above the water, or eddied among

the tops of the mountains, like broken flights of birds,

hovering around their roosts. Here and there, a red and

fiery star struggled through the drifting vapor, furnishing

a lurid gleam of brightness to the dull aspect of the

heavens. Within the bosom of the encircling hills, an

impenetrable darkness had already settled; and the plain lay

like a vast and deserted charnel-house, without omen or

whisper to disturb the slumbers of its numerous and hapless

tenants.

Of this scene, so chillingly in accordance with the past,

Duncan stood for many minutes a rapt observer. His eyes

wandered from the bosom of the mound, where the foresters

were seated around their glimmering fire, to the fainter

light which still lingered in the skies, and then rested

long and anxiously on the embodied gloom, which lay like a

dreary void on that side of him where the dead reposed. He

soon fancied that inexplicable sounds arose from the place,

though so indistinct and stolen, as to render not only their

nature but even their existence uncertain. Ashamed of his

apprehensions, the young man turned toward the water, and

strove to divert his attention to the mimic stars that dimly

glimmered on its moving surface. Still, his too-conscious

ears performed their ungrateful duty, as if to warn him of

some lurking danger. At length, a swift trampling seemed,

quite audibly, to rush athwart the darkness. Unable any

longer to quiet his uneasiness, Duncan spoke in a low voice

to the scout, requesting him to ascend the mound to the

place where he stood. Hawkeye threw his rifle across an arm

and complied, but with an air so unmoved and calm, as to

prove how much he counted on the security of their position.

"Listen!" said Duncan, when the other placed himself

deliberately at his elbow; "there are suppressed noises on

the plain which may show Montcalm has not yet entirely

deserted his conquest."

"Then ears are better than eyes," said the undisturbed

scout, who, having just deposited a portion of a bear

between his grinders, spoke thick and slow, like one whose

mouth was doubly occupied. "I myself saw him caged in Ty,

with all his host; for your Frenchers, when they have done a

clever thing, like to get back, and have a dance, or a merry-

making, with the women over their success."

"I know not. An Indian seldom sleeps in war, and plunder

may keep a Huron here after his tribe has departed. It

would be well to extinguish the fire, and have a watch--

listen! you hear the noise I mean!"

"An Indian more rarely lurks about the graves. Though ready

to slay, and not over regardful of the means, he is commonly

content with the scalp, unless when blood is hot, and temper

up; but after spirit is once fairly gone, he forgets his

enmity, and is willing to let the dead find their natural

rest. Speaking of spirits, major, are you of opinion that

the heaven of a red-skin and of us whites will be of one and

the same?"

"No doubt--no doubt. I thought I heard it again! or was

it the rustling of the leaves in the top of the beech?"

"For my own part," continued Hawkeye, turning his face for a

moment in the direction indicated by Heyward, but with a

vacant and careless manner, "I believe that paradise is

ordained for happiness; and that men will be indulged in it

according to their dispositions and gifts. I, therefore,

judge that a red-skin is not far from the truth when he

believes he is to find them glorious hunting grounds of

which his traditions tell; nor, for that matter, do I think

it would be any disparagement to a man without a cross to

pass his time--"

"You hear it again?" interrupted Duncan.

"Ay, ay; when food is scarce, and when food is plenty, a

wolf grows bold," said the unmoved scout. "There would be

picking, too, among the skins of the devils, if there was

light and time for the sport. But, concerning the life that

is to come, major; I have heard preachers say, in the

settlements, that heaven was a place of rest. Now, men's

minds differ as to their ideas of enjoyment. For myself,

and I say it with reverence to the ordering of Providence,

it would be no great indulgence to be kept shut up in those

mansions of which they preach, having a natural longing for

motion and the chase."

Duncan, who was now made to understand the nature of the

noise he had heard, answered, with more attention to the

subject which the humor of the scout had chosen for

discussion, by saying:

"It is difficult to account for the feelings that may attend

the last great change."

"It would be a change, indeed, for a man who has passed his

days in the open air," returned the single-minded scout;

"and who has so often broken his fast on the head waters of

the Hudson, to sleep within sound of the roaring Mohawk.

But it is a comfort to know we serve a merciful Master,

though we do it each after his fashion, and with great

tracts of wilderness atween us--what goes there?"

"Is it not the rushing of the wolves you have mentioned?"

Hawkeye slowly shook his head, and beckoned for Duncan to

follow him to a spot to which the glare from the fire did

not extend. When he had taken this precaution, the scout

placed himself in an attitude of intense attention and

listened long and keenly for a repetition of the low sound

that had so unexpectedly startled him. His vigilance,

however, seemed exercised in vain; for after a fruitless

pause, he whispered to Duncan:

"We must give a call to Uncas. The boy has Indian senses,

and he may hear what is hid from us; for, being a white-

skin, I will not deny my nature."

The young Mohican, who was conversing in a low voice with

his father, started as he heard the moaning of an owl, and,

springing on his feet, he looked toward the black mounds, as

if seeking the place whence the sounds proceeded. The scout

repeated the call, and in a few moments, Duncan saw the

figure of Uncas stealing cautiously along the rampart, to

the spot where they stood.

Hawkeye explained his wishes in a very few words, which were

spoken in the Delaware tongue. So soon as Uncas was in

possession of the reason why he was summoned, he threw

himself flat on the turf; where, to the eyes of Duncan, he

appeared to lie quiet and motionless. Surprised at the

immovable attitude of the young warrior, and curious to

observe the manner in which he employed his faculties to

obtain the desired information, Heyward advanced a few

steps, and bent over the dark object on which he had kept

his eye riveted. Then it was he discovered that the form of

Uncas vanished, and that he beheld only the dark outline of

an inequality in the embankment.

"What has become of the Mohican?" he demanded of the scout,

stepping back in amazement; "it was here that I saw him

fall, and could have sworn that here he yet remained."

"Hist! speak lower; for we know not what ears are open, and

the Mingoes are a quick-witted breed. As for Uncas, he is

out on the plain, and the Maquas, if any such are about us,

will find their equal."

"You think that Montcalm has not called off all his Indians?

Let us give the alarm to our companions, that we may stand

to our arms. Here are five of us, who are not unused to

meet an enemy."

"Not a word to either, as you value your life. Look at the

Sagamore, how like a grand Indian chief he sits by the fire.

If there are any skulkers out in the darkness, they will

never discover, by his countenance, that we suspect danger

at hand."

"But they may discover him, and it will prove his death.

His person can be too plainly seen by the light of that

fire, and he will become the first and most certain victim."

"It is undeniable that now you speak the truth," returned

the scout, betraying more anxiety than was usual; "yet what

can be done? A single suspicious look might bring on an

attack before we are ready to receive it. He knows, by the

call I gave to Uncas, that we have struck a scent; I will

tell him that we are on the trail of the Mingoes; his Indian

nature will teach him how to act."

The scout applied his fingers to his mouth, and raised a low

hissing sound, that caused Duncan at first to start aside,

believing that he heard a serpent. The head of Chingachgook

was resting on a hand, as he sat musing by himself but the

moment he had heard the warning of the animal whose name he

bore, he arose to an upright position, and his dark eyes

glanced swiftly and keenly on every side of him. With his

sudden and, perhaps, involuntary movement, every appearance

of surprise or alarm ended. His rifle lay untouched, and

apparently unnoticed, within reach of his hand. The

tomahawk that he had loosened in his belt for the sake of

ease, was even suffered to fall from its usual situation to

the ground, and his form seemed to sink, like that of a man

whose nerves and sinews were suffered to relax for the

purpose of rest. Cunningly resuming his former position,

though with a change of hands, as if the movement had been

made merely to relieve the limb, the native awaited the

result with a calmness and fortitude that none but an Indian

warrior would have known how to exercise.

But Heyward saw that while to a less instructed eye the

Mohican chief appeared to slumber, his nostrils were

expanded, his head was turned a little to one side, as if to

assist the organs of hearing, and that his quick and rapid

glances ran incessantly over every object within the power

of his vision.

"See the noble fellow!" whispered Hawkeye, pressing the arm

of Heyward; "he knows that a look or a motion might

disconsart our schemes, and put us at the mercy of them imps

--"

He was interrupted by the flash and report of a rifle. The

air was filled with sparks of fire, around that spot where

the eyes of Heyward were still fastened, with admiration and

wonder. A second look told him that Chingachgook had

disappeared in the confusion. In the meantime, the scout

had thrown forward his rifle, like one prepared for service,

and awaited impatiently the moment when an enemy might rise

to view. But with the solitary and fruitless attempt made

on the life of Chingachgook, the attack appeared to have

terminated. Once or twice the listeners thought they could

distinguish the distant rustling of bushes, as bodies of

some unknown description rushed through them; nor was it

long before Hawkeye pointed out the "scampering of the

wolves," as they fled precipitately before the passage of

some intruder on their proper domains. After an impatient

and breathless pause, a plunge was heard in the water, and

it was immediately followed by the report of another rifle.

"There goes Uncas!" said the scout; "the boy bears a smart

piece! I know its crack, as well as a father knows the

language of his child, for I carried the gun myself until a

better offered."

"What can this mean?" demanded Duncan' "we are watched, and,

as it would seem, marked for destruction."

"Yonder scattered brand can witness that no good was

intended, and this Indian will testify that no harm has been

done," returned the scout, dropping his rifle across his arm

again, and following Chingachgook, who just then reappeared

within the circle of light, into the bosom of the work.

"How is it, Sagamore? Are the Mingoes upon us in earnest,

or is it only one of those reptiles who hang upon the skirts

of a war-party, to scalp the dead, go in, and make their

boast among the squaws of the valiant deeds done on the pale

faces?"

Chingachgook very quietly resumed his seat; nor did he make

any reply, until after he had examined the firebrand which

had been struck by the bullet that had nearly proved fatal

to himself. After which he was content to reply, holding a

single finger up to view, with the English monosyllable:

"One."

"I thought as much," returned Hawkeye, seating himself; "and

as he had got the cover of the lake afore Uncas pulled upon

him, it is more than probable the knave will sing his lies

about some great ambushment, in which he was outlying on the

trail of two Mohicans and a white hunter--for the officers

can be considered as little better than idlers in such a

scrimmage. Well, let him--let him. There are always some

honest men in every nation, though heaven knows, too, that

they are scarce among the Maquas, to look down an upstart

when he brags ag'in the face of reason. The varlet sent his

lead within whistle of your ears, Sagamore."

Chingachgook turned a calm and incurious eye toward the

place where the ball had struck, and then resumed his former

attitude, with a composure that could not be disturbed by so

trifling an incident. Just then Uncas glided into the

circle, and seated himself at the fire, with the same

appearance of indifference as was maintained by his father.

Of these several moments Heyward was a deeply interested and

wondering observer. It appeared to him as though the

foresters had some secret means of intelligence, which had

escaped the vigilance of his own faculties. In place of

that eager and garrulous narration with which a white youth

would have endeavored to communicate, and perhaps

exaggerate, that which had passed out in the darkness of the

plain, the young warrior was seemingly content to let his

deeds speak for themselves. It was, in fact, neither the

moment nor the occasion for an Indian to boast of his

exploits; and it is probably that, had Heyward neglected to

inquire, not another syllable would, just then, have been

uttered on the subject.

"What has become of our enemy, Uncas?" demanded Duncan; "we

heard your rifle, and hoped you had not fired in vain."

The young chief removed a fold of his hunting skirt, and

quietly exposed the fatal tuft of hair, which he bore as the

symbol of victory. Chingachgook laid his hand on the scalp,

and considered it for a moment with deep attention. Then

dropping it, with disgust depicted in his strong features,

he ejaculated:

"Oneida!"

"Oneida!" repeated the scout, who was fast losing his

interest in the scene, in an apathy nearly assimilated to

that of his red associates, but who now advanced in uncommon

earnestness to regard the bloody badge. "By the Lord, if

the Oneidas are outlying upon the trail, we shall by flanked

by devils on every side of us! Now, to white eyes there is

no difference between this bit of skin and that of any other

Indian, and yet the Sagamore declares it came from the poll

of a Mingo; nay, he even names the tribe of the poor devil,

with as much ease as if the scalp was the leaf of a book,

and each hair a letter. What right have Christian whites to

boast of their learning, when a savage can read a language

that would prove too much for the wisest of them all! What

say you, lad, of what people was the knave?"

Uncas raised his eyes to the face of the scout, and

answered, in his soft voice:

"Oneida."

"Oneida, again! when one Indian makes a declaration it is

commonly true; but when he is supported by his people, set

it down as gospel!"

"The poor fellow has mistaken us for French," said Heyward;

"or he would not have attempted the life of a friend."

"He mistake a Mohican in his paint for a Huron! You would

be as likely to mistake the white-coated grenadiers of

Montcalm for the scarlet jackets of the Royal Americans,"

returned the scout. "No, no, the sarpent knew his errand;

nor was there any great mistake in the matter, for there is

but little love atween a Delaware and a Mingo, let their

tribes go out to fight for whom they may, in a white

quarrel. For that matter, though the Oneidas do serve his

sacred majesty, who is my sovereign lord and master, I

should not have deliberated long about letting off

'killdeer' at the imp myself, had luck thrown him in my

way."

"That would have been an abuse of our treaties, and unworthy

of your character."

"When a man consort much with a people," continued Hawkeye,

"if they were honest and he no knave, love will grow up

atwixt them. It is true that white cunning has managed to

throw the tribes into great confusion, as respects friends

and enemies; so that the Hurons and the Oneidas, who speak

the same tongue, or what may be called the same, take each

other's scalps, and the Delawares are divided among

themselves; a few hanging about their great council-fire on

their own river, and fighting on the same side with the

Mingoes while the greater part are in the Canadas, out of

natural enmity to the Maquas--thus throwing everything

into disorder, and destroying all the harmony of warfare.

Yet a red natur' is not likely to alter with every shift of

policy; so that the love atwixt a Mohican and a Mingo is

much like the regard between a white man and a sarpent."

"I regret to hear it; for I had believed those natives who

dwelt within our boundaries had found us too just and

liberal, not to identify themselves fully with our

quarrels."

"Why, I believe it is natur' to give a preference to one's

own quarrels before those of strangers. Now, for myself, I

do love justice; and, therefore, I will not say I hate a

Mingo, for that may be unsuitable to my color and my

religion, though I will just repeat, it may have been owing

to the night that 'killdeer' had no hand in the death of

this skulking Oneida."

Then, as if satisfied with the force of his own reasons,

whatever might be their effect on the opinions of the other

disputant, the honest but implacable woodsman turned from

the fire, content to let the controversy slumber. Heyward

withdrew to the rampart, too uneasy and too little

accustomed to the warfare of the woods to remain at ease

under the possibility of such insidious attacks. Not so,

however, with the scout and the Mohicans. Those acute and

long-practised senses, whose powers so often exceed the

limits of all ordinary credulity, after having detected the

danger, had enabled them to ascertain its magnitude and

duration. Not one of the three appeared in the least to

doubt their perfect security, as was indicated by the

preparations that were soon made to sit in council over

their future proceedings.

The confusion of nations, and even of tribes, to which

Hawkeye alluded, existed at that period in the fullest

force. The great tie of language, and, of course, of a

common origin, was severed in many places; and it was one of

its consequences, that the Delaware and the Mingo (as the

people of the Six Nations were called) were found fighting

in the same ranks, while the latter sought the scalp of the

Huron, though believed to be the root of his own stock. The

Delawares were even divided among themselves. Though love

for the soil which had belonged to his ancestors kept the

Sagamore of the Mohicans with a small band of followers who

were serving at Edward, under the banners of the English

king, by far the largest portion of his nation were known to

be in the field as allies of Montcalm. The reader probably

knows, if enough has not already been gleaned form this

narrative, that the Delaware, or Lenape, claimed to be the

progenitors of that numerous people, who once were masters

of most of the eastern and northern states of America, of

whom the community of the Mohicans was an ancient and highly

honored member.

It was, of course, with a perfect understanding of the

minute and intricate interests which had armed friend

against friend, and brought natural enemies to combat by

each other's side, that the scout and his companions now

disposed themselves to deliberate on the measures that were

to govern their future movements, amid so many jarring and

savage races of men. Duncan knew enough of Indian customs

to understand the reason that the fire was replenished, and

why the warriors, not excepting Hawkeye, took their seats

within the curl of its smoke with so much gravity and

decorum. Placing himself at an angle of the works, where he

might be a spectator of the scene without, he awaited the

result with as much patience as he could summon.

After a short and impressive pause, Chingachgook lighted a

pipe whose bowl was curiously carved in one of the soft

stones of the country, and whose stem was a tube of wood,

and commenced smoking. When he had inhaled enough of the

fragrance of the soothing weed, he passed the instrument

into the hands of the scout. In this manner the pipe had

made its rounds three several times, amid the most profound

silence, before either of the party opened his lips. Then

the Sagamore, as the oldest and highest in rank, in a few

calm and dignified words, proposed the subject for

deliberation. He was answered by the scout; and

Chingachgook rejoined, when the other objected to his

opinions. But the youthful Uncas continued a silent and

respectful listener, until Hawkeye, in complaisance,

demanded his opinion. Heyward gathered from the manners of

the different speakers, that the father and son espoused one

side of a disputed question, while the white man maintained

the other. The contest gradually grew warmer, until it was

quite evident the feelings of the speakers began to be

somewhat enlisted in the debate.

Notwithstanding the increasing warmth of the amicable

contest, the most decorous Christian assembly, not even

excepting those in which its reverend ministers are

collected, might have learned a wholesome lesson of

moderation from the forbearance and courtesy of the

disputants. The words of Uncas were received with the same

deep attention as those which fell from the maturer wisdom

of his father; and so far from manifesting any impatience,

neither spoke in reply, until a few moments of silent

meditation were, seemingly, bestowed in deliberating on what

had already been said.

The language of the Mohicans was accompanied by gestures so

direct and natural that Heyward had but little difficulty in

following the thread of their argument. On the other hand,

the scout was obscure; because from the lingering pride of

color, he rather affected the cold and artificial manner

which characterizes all classes of Anglo-Americans when

unexcited. By the frequency with which the Indians

described the marks of a forest trial, it was evident they

urged a pursuit by land, while the repeated sweep of

Hawkeye's arm toward the Horican denoted that he was for a

passage across its waters.

The latter was to every appearance fast losing ground, and

the point was about to be decided against him, when he arose

to his feet, and shaking off his apathy, he suddenly assumed

the manner of an Indian, and adopted all the arts of native

eloquence. Elevating an arm, he pointed out the track of

the sun, repeating the gesture for every day that was

necessary to accomplish their objects. Then he delineated a

long and painful path, amid rocks and water-courses. The

age and weakness of the slumbering and unconscious Munro

were indicated by signs too palpable to be mistaken. Duncan

perceived that even his own powers were spoken lightly of,

as the scout extended his palm, and mentioned him by the

appellation of the "Open Hand"--a name his liberality had

purchased of all the friendly tribes. Then came a

representation of the light and graceful movements of a

canoe, set in forcible contrast to the tottering steps of

one enfeebled and tired. He concluded by pointing to the

scalp of the Oneida, and apparently urging the necessity of

their departing speedily, and in a manner that should leave

no trail.

The Mohicans listened gravely, and with countenances that

reflected the sentiments of the speaker. Conviction

gradually wrought its influence, and toward the close of

Hawkeye's speech, his sentences were accompanied by the

customary exclamation of commendation. In short, Uncas and

his father became converts to his way of thinking,

abandoning their own previously expressed opinions with a

liberality and candor that, had they been the

representatives of some great and civilized people, would

have infallibly worked their political ruin, by destroying

forever their reputation for consistency.

The instant the matter in discussion was decided, the

debate, and everything connected with it, except the result

appeared to be forgotten. Hawkeye, without looking round to

read his triumph in applauding eyes, very composedly

stretched his tall frame before the dying embers, and closed

his own organs in sleep.

Left now in a measure to themselves, the Mohicans, whose

time had been so much devoted to the interests of others,

seized the moment to devote some attention to themselves.

Casting off at once the grave and austere demeanor of an

Indian chief, Chingachgook commenced speaking to his son in

the soft and playful tones of affection. Uncas gladly met

the familiar air of his father; and before the hard

breathing of the scout announced that he slept, a complete

change was effected in the manner of his two associates.

It is impossible to describe the music of their language,

while thus engaged in laughter and endearments, in such a

way as to render it intelligible to those whose ears have

never listened to its melody. The compass of their voices,

particularly that of the youth, was wonderful--extending

from the deepest bass to tones that were even feminine in

softness. The eyes of the father followed the plastic and

ingenious movements of the son with open delight, and he

never failed to smile in reply to the other's contagious but

low laughter. While under the influence of these gentle and

natural feelings, no trace of ferocity was to be seen in the

softened features of the Sagamore. His figured panoply of

death looked more like a disguise assumed in mockery than a

fierce annunciation of a desire to carry destruction in his

footsteps.

After an hour had passed in the indulgence of their better

feelings, Chingachgook abruptly announced his desire to

sleep, by wrapping his head in his blanket and stretching

his form on the naked earth. The merriment of Uncas

instantly ceased; and carefully raking the coals in such a

manner that they should impart their warmth to his father's

feet, the youth sought his own pillow among the ruins of the

place.

Imbibing renewed confidence from the security of these

experienced foresters, Heyward soon imitated their example;

and long before the night had turned, they who lay in the

bosom of the ruined work, seemed to slumber as heavily as

the unconscious multitude whose bones were already beginning

to bleach on the surrounding plain.

James Fenimore Cooper