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Chapter 22

CHAPTER 22

"Bot.--Abibl we all met? Qui.--Pat--pat; and here's

a marvelous convenient place for our rehearsal."--

Midsummer Night's Dream

The reader may better imagine, that we describe the surprise

of Heyward. His lurking Indians were suddenly converted

into four-footed beasts; his lake into a beaver pond; his

cataract into a dam, constructed by those industrious and

ingenious quadrupeds; and a suspected enemy into his tried

friend, David Gamut, the master of psalmody. The presence

of the latter created so many unexpected hopes relative to

the sisters that, without a moment's hesitation, the young

man broke out of his ambush, and sprang forward to join the

two principal actors in the scene.

The merriment of Hawkeye was not easily appeased. Without

ceremony, and with a rough hand, he twirled the supple Gamut

around on his heel, and more than once affirmed that the

Hurons had done themselves great credit in the fashion of

his costume. Then, seizing the hand of the other, he

squeezed it with a grip that brought tears into the eyes of

the placid David, and wished him joy of his new condition.

"You were about opening your throat-practisings among the

beavers, were ye?" he said. "The cunning devils know half

the trade already, for they beat the time with their tails,

as you heard just now; and in good time it was, too, or

'killdeer' might have sounded the first note among them. I

have known greater fools, who could read and write, than an

experienced old beaver; but as for squalling, the animals

are born dumb! What think you of such a song as this?"

David shut his sensitive ears, and even Heyward apprised as

he was of the nature of the cry, looked upward in quest of

the bird, as the cawing of a crow rang in the air about

them.

"See!" continued the laughing scout, as he pointed toward

the remainder of the party, who, in obedience to the signal,

were already approaching; "this is music which has its

natural virtues; it brings two good rifles to my elbow, to

say nothing of the knives and tomahawks. But we see that

you are safe; now tell us what has become of the maidens."

"They are captives to the heathen," said David; "and, though

greatly troubled in spirit, enjoying comfort and safety in

the body."

"Both!" demanded the breathless Heyward.

"Even so. Though our wayfaring has been sore and our

sustenance scanty, we have had little other cause for

complaint, except the violence done our feelings, by being

thus led in captivity into a far land."

"Bless ye for these very words!" exclaimed the trembling

Munro; "I shall then receive my babes, spotless and angel-

like, as I lost them!"

"I know not that their delivery is at hand," returned the

doubting David; "the leader of these savages is possessed of

an evil spirit that no power short of Omnipotence can tame.

I have tried him sleeping and waking, but neither sounds nor

language seem to touch his soul."

"Where is the knave?" bluntly interrupted the scout.

"He hunts the moose to-day, with his young men; and

tomorrow, as I hear, they pass further into the forests, and

nigher to the borders of Canada. The elder maiden is

conveyed to a neighboring people, whose lodges are situate

beyond yonder black pinnacle of rock; while the younger is

detained among the women of the Hurons, whose dwellings are

but two short miles hence, on a table-land, where the fire

had done the office of the axe, and prepared the place for

their reception."

"Alice, my gentle Alice!" murmured Heyward; "she has lost

the consolation of her sister's presence!"

"Even so. But so far as praise and thanksgiving in psalmody

can temper the spirit in affliction, she has not suffered."

"Has she then a heart for music?"

"Of the graver and more solemn character; though it must be

acknowledged that, in spite of all my endeavors, the maiden

weeps oftener than she smiles. At such moments I forbear to

press the holy songs; but there are many sweet and

comfortable periods of satisfactory communication, when the

ears of the savages are astounded with the upliftings of our

voices."

"And why are you permitted to go at large, unwatched?"

David composed his features into what he intended should

express an air of modest humility, before he meekly replied:

"Little be the praise to such a worm as I. But, though the

power of psalmody was suspended in the terrible business of

that field of blood through which we have passed, it has

recovered its influence even over the souls of the heathen,

and I am suffered to go and come at will."

The scout laughed, and, tapping his own forehead

significantly, he perhaps explained the singular indulgence

more satisfactorily when he said:

"The Indians never harm a non-composser. But why, when the

path lay open before your eyes, did you not strike back on

your own trail (it is not so blind as that which a squirrel

would make), and bring in the tidings to Edward?"

The scout, remembering only his own sturdy and iron nature,

had probably exacted a task that David, under no

circumstances, could have performed. But, without entirely

losing the meekness of his air, the latter was content to

answer:

"Though my soul would rejoice to visit the habitations of

Christendom once more, my feet would rather follow the

tender spirits intrusted to my keeping, even into the

idolatrous province of the Jesuits, than take one step

backward, while they pined in captivity and sorrow."

Though the figurative language of David was not very

intelligible, the sincere and steady expression of his eye,

and the glow of his honest countenance, were not easily

mistaken. Uncas pressed closer to his side, and regarded

the speaker with a look of commendation, while his father

expressed his satisfaction by the ordinary pithy exclamation

of approbation. The scout shook his head as he rejoined:

"The Lord never intended that the man should place all his

endeavors in his throat, to the neglect of other and better

gifts! But he has fallen into the hands of some silly

woman, when he should have been gathering his education

under a blue sky, among the beauties of the forest. Here,

friend; I did intend to kindle a fire with this tooting-

whistle of thine; but, as you value the thing, take it, and

blow your best on it."

Gamut received his pitch-pipe with as strong an expression

of pleasure as he believed compatible with the grave

functions he exercised. After essaying its virtues

repeatedly, in contrast with his own voice, and, satisfying

himself that none of its melody was lost, he made a very

serious demonstration toward achieving a few stanzas of one

of the longest effusions in the little volume so often

mentioned.

Heyward, however, hastily interrupted his pious purpose by

continuing questions concerning the past and present

condition of his fellow captives, and in a manner more

methodical than had been permitted by his feelings in the

opening of their interview. David, though he regarded his

treasure with longing eyes, was constrained to answer,

especially as the venerable father took a part in the

interrogatories, with an interest too imposing to be denied.

Nor did the scout fail to throw in a pertinent inquiry,

whenever a fitting occasion presented. In this manner,

though with frequent interruptions which were filled with

certain threatening sounds from the recovered instrument,

the pursuers were put in possession of such leading

circumstances as were likely to prove useful in

accomplishing their great and engrossing object--the

recovery of the sisters. The narrative of David was simple,

and the facts but few.

Magua had waited on the mountain until a safe moment to

retire presented itself, when he had descended, and taken

the route along the western side of the Horican in direction

of the Canadas. As the subtle Huron was familiar with the

paths, and well knew there was no immediate danger of

pursuit, their progress had been moderate, and far from

fatiguing. It appeared from the unembellished statement of

David, that his own presence had been rather endured than

desired; though even Magua had not been entirely exempt from

that veneration with which the Indians regard those whom the

Great Spirit had visited in their intellects. At night, the

utmost care had been taken of the captives, both to prevent

injury from the damps of the woods and to guard against an

escape. At the spring, the horses were turned loose, as has

been seen; and, notwithstanding the remoteness and length of

their trail, the artifices already named were resorted to,

in order to cut off every clue to their place of retreat.

On their arrival at the encampment of his people, Magua, in

obedience to a policy seldom departed from, separated his

prisoners. Cora had been sent to a tribe that temporarily

occupied an adjacent valley, though David was far too

ignorant of the customs and history of the natives, to be

able to declare anything satisfactory concerning their name

or character. He only knew that they had not engaged in the

late expedition against William Henry; that, like the Hurons

themselves they were allies of Montcalm; and that they

maintained an amicable, though a watchful intercourse with

the warlike and savage people whom chance had, for a time,

brought in such close and disagreeable contact with

themselves.

The Mohicans and the scout listened to his interrupted and

imperfect narrative, with an interest that obviously

increased as he proceeded; and it was while attempting to

explain the pursuits of the community in which Cora was

detained, that the latter abruptly demanded:

"Did you see the fashion of their knives? wee they of

English or French formation?"

"My thoughts were bent on no such vanities, but rather

mingled in consolation with those of the maidens."

"The time may come when you will not consider the knife of a

savage such a despicable vanity," returned the scout, with a

strong expression of contempt for the other's dullness.

"Had they held their corn feast--or can you say anything

of the totems of the tribe?"

"Of corn, we had many and plentiful feasts; for the grain,

being in the milk is both sweet to the mouth and comfortable

to the stomach. Of totem, I know not the meaning; but if it

appertaineth in any wise to the art of Indian music, it need

not be inquired after at their hands. They never join their

voices in praise, and it would seem that they are among the

profanest of the idolatrous."

"Therein you belie the natur' of an Indian. Even the Mingo

adores but the true and loving God. 'Tis wicked fabrication

of the whites, and I say it to the shame of my color that

would make the warrior bow down before images of his own

creation. It is true, they endeavor to make truces to the

wicked one--as who would not with an enemy he cannot

conquer! but they look up for favor and assistance to the

Great and Good Spirit only."

"It may be so," said David; "but I have seen strange and

fantastic images drawn in their paint, of which their

admiration and care savored of spiritual pride; especially

one, and that, too, a foul and loathsome object."

"Was it a sarpent?" quickly demanded the scout.

"Much the same. It was in the likeness of an abject and

creeping tortoise."

"Hugh!" exclaimed both the attentive Mohicans in a breath;

while the scout shook his head with the air of one who had

made an important but by no means a pleasing discovery.

Then the father spoke, in the language of the Delawares, and

with a calmness and dignity that instantly arrested the

attention even of those to whom his words were

unintelligible. His gestures were impressive, and at times

energetic. Once he lifted his arm on high; and, as it

descended, the action threw aside the folds of his light

mantle, a finger resting on his breast, as if he would

enforce his meaning by the attitude. Duncan's eyes followed

the movement, and he perceived that the animal just

mentioned was beautifully, though faintly, worked in blue

tint, on the swarthy breast of the chief. All that he had

ever heard of the violent separation of the vast tribes of

the Delawares rushed across his mind, and he awaited the

proper moment to speak, with a suspense that was rendered

nearly intolerable by his interest in the stake. His wish,

however, was anticipated by the scout who turned from his

red friend, saying:

"We have found that which may be good or evil to us, as

heaven disposes. The Sagamore is of the high blood of the

Delawares, and is the great chief of their Tortoises! That

some of this stock are among the people of whom the singer

tells us, is plain by his words; and, had he but spent half

the breath in prudent questions that he has blown away in

making a trumpet of his throat, we might have known how many

warriors they numbered. It is, altogether, a dangerous path

we move in; for a friend whose face is turned from you often

bears a bloodier mind than the enemy who seeks your scalp."

"Explain," said Duncan.

"'Tis a long and melancholy tradition, and one I little like

to think of; for it is not to be denied that the evil has

been mainly done by men with white skins. But it has ended

in turning the tomahawk of brother against brother, and

brought the Mingo and the Delaware to travel in the same

path."

"You, then, suspect it is a portion of that people among

whom Cora resides?"

The scout nodded his head in assent, though he seemed

anxious to waive the further discussion of a subject that

appeared painful. The impatient Duncan now made several

hasty and desperate propositions to attempt the release of

the sisters. Munro seemed to shake off his apathy, and

listened to the wild schemes of the young man with a

deference that his gray hairs and reverend years should have

denied. But the scout, after suffering the ardor of the

lover to expend itself a little, found means to convince him

of the folly of precipitation, in a manner that would

require their coolest judgment and utmost fortitude.

"It would be well," he added, "to let this man go in again,

as usual, and for him to tarry in the lodges, giving notice

to the gentle ones of our approach, until we call him out,

by signal, to consult. You know the cry of a crow, friend,

from the whistle of the whip-poor-will?"

"'Tis a pleasing bird," returned David, "and has a soft and

melancholy note! though the time is rather quick and ill-

measured."

"He speaks of the wish-ton-wish," said the scout; "well,

since you like his whistle, it shall be your signal.

Remember, then, when you hear the whip-poor-will's call

three times repeated, you are to come into the bushes where

the bird might be supposed--"

"Stop," interrupted Heyward; "I will accompany him."

"You!" exclaimed the astonished Hawkeye; "are you tired of

seeing the sun rise and set?"

"David is a living proof that the Hurons can be merciful."

"Ay, but David can use his throat, as no man in his senses

would pervart the gift."

"I too can play the madman, the fool, the hero; in short,

any or everything to rescue her I love. Name your

objections no longer: I am resolved."

Hawkeye regarded the young man a moment in speechless

amazement. But Duncan, who, in deference to the other's

skill and services, had hitherto submitted somewhat

implicitly to his dictation, now assumed the superior, with

a manner that was not easily resisted. He waved his hand,

in sign of his dislike to all remonstrance, and then, in

more tempered language, he continued:

"You have the means of disguise; change me; paint me, too,

if you will; in short, alter me to anything--a fool."

"It is not for one like me to say that he who is already

formed by so powerful a hand as Providence, stands in need

of a change," muttered the discontented scout. "When you

send your parties abroad in war, you find it prudent, at

least, to arrange the marks and places of encampment, in

order that they who fight on your side may know when and

where to expect a friend."

"Listen," interrupted Duncan; "you have heard from this

faithful follower of the captives, that the Indians are of

two tribes, if not of different nations. With one, whom you

think to be a branch of the Delawares, is she you call the

'dark-hair'; the other, and younger, of the ladies, is

undeniably with our declared enemies, the Hurons. It

becomes my youth and rank to attempt the latter adventure.

While you, therefore, are negotiating with your friends for

the release of one of the sisters, I will effect that of the

other, or die."

The awakened spirit of the young soldier gleamed in his

eyes, and his form became imposing under its influence.

Hawkeye, though too much accustomed to Indian artifices not

to foresee the danger of the experiment, knew not well how

to combat this sudden resolution.

Perhaps there was something in the proposal that suited his

own hardy nature, and that secret love of desperate

adventure, which had increased with his experience, until

hazard and danger had become, in some measure, necessary to

the enjoyment of his existence. Instead of continuing to

oppose the scheme of Duncan, his humor suddenly altered, and

he lent himself to its execution.

"Come," he said, with a good-humored smile; "the buck that

will take to the water must be headed, and not followed.

Chingachgook has as many different paints as the engineer

officer's wife, who takes down natur' on scraps of paper,

making the mountains look like cocks of rusty hay, and

placing the blue sky in reach of your hand. The Sagamore

can use them, too. Seat yourself on the log; and my life on

it, he can soon make a natural fool of you, and that well to

your liking."

Duncan complied; and the Mohican, who had been an attentive

listener to the discourse, readily undertook the office.

Long practised in all the subtle arts of his race, he drew,

with great dexterity and quickness, the fantastic shadow

that the natives were accustomed to consider as the evidence

of a friendly and jocular disposition. Every line that

could possibly be interpreted into a secret inclination for

war, was carefully avoided; while, on the other hand, he

studied those conceits that might be construed into amity.

In short, he entirely sacrificed every appearance of the

warrior to the masquerade of a buffoon. Such exhibitions

were not uncommon among the Indians, and as Duncan was

already sufficiently disguised in his dress, there certainly

did exist some reason for believing that, with his knowledge

of French, he might pass for a juggler from Ticonderoga,

straggling among the allied and friendly tribes.

When he was thought to be sufficiently painted, the scout

gave him much friendly advice; concerted signals, and

appointed the place where they should meet, in the event of

mutual success. The parting between Munro and his young

friend was more melancholy; still, the former submitted to

the separation with an indifference that his warm and honest

nature would never have permitted in a more healthful state

of mind. The scout led Heyward aside, and acquainted him

with his intention to leave the veteran in some safe

encampment, in charge of Chingachgook, while he and Uncas

pursued their inquires among the people they had reason to

believe were Delawares. Then, renewing his cautions and

advice, he concluded by saying, with a solemnity and warmth

of feeling, with which Duncan was deeply touched:

"And, now, God bless you! You have shown a spirit that I

like; for it is the gift of youth, more especially one of

warm blood and a stout heart. But believe the warning of a

man who has reason to know all he says to be true. You will

have occasion for your best manhood, and for a sharper wit

than what is to be gathered in books, afore you outdo the

cunning or get the better of the courage of a Mingo. God

bless you! if the Hurons master your scalp, rely on the

promise of one who has two stout warriors to back him. They

shall pay for their victory, with a life for every hair it

holds. I say, young gentleman, may Providence bless your

undertaking, which is altogether for good; and, remember,

that to outwit the knaves it is lawful to practise things

that may not be naturally the gift of a white-skin."

Duncan shook his worthy and reluctant associate warmly by

the hand, once more recommended his aged friend to his care,

and returning his good wishes, he motioned to David to

proceed. Hawkeye gazed after the high-spirited and

adventurous young man for several moments, in open

admiration; then, shaking his head doubtingly, he turned,

and led his own division of the party into the concealment

of the forest.

The route taken by Duncan and David lay directly across the

clearing of the beavers, and along the margin of their pond.

When the former found himself alone with one so simple, and

so little qualified to render any assistance in desperate

emergencies, he first began to be sensible of the

difficulties of the task he had undertaken. The fading

light increased the gloominess of the bleak and savage

wilderness that stretched so far on every side of him, and

there was even a fearful character in the stillness of those

little huts, that he knew were so abundantly peopled. It

struck him, as he gazed at the admirable structures and the

wonderful precautions of their sagacious inmates, that even

the brutes of these vast wilds were possessed of an instinct

nearly commensurate with his own reason; and he could not

reflect, without anxiety, on the unequal contest that he had

so rashly courted. Then came the glowing image of Alice;

her distress; her actual danger; and all the peril of his

situation was forgotten. Cheering David, he moved on with

the light and vigorous step of youth and enterprise.

After making nearly a semicircle around the pond, they

diverged from the water-course, and began to ascend to the

level of a slight elevation in that bottom land, over which

they journeyed. Within half an hour they gained the margin

of another opening that bore all the signs of having been

also made by the beavers, and which those sagacious animals

had probably been induced, by some accident, to abandon, for

the more eligible position they now occupied. A very

natural sensation caused Duncan to hesitate a moment,

unwilling to leave the cover of their bushy path, as a man

pauses to collect his energies before he essays any

hazardous experiment, in which he is secretly conscious they

will all be needed. He profited by the halt, to gather such

information as might be obtained from his short and hasty

glances.

On the opposite side of the clearing, and near the point

where the brook tumbled over some rocks, from a still higher

level, some fifty or sixty lodges, rudely fabricated of logs

brush, and earth intermingled, were to be discovered. They

were arranged without any order, and seemed to be

constructed with very little attention to neatness or

beauty. Indeed, so very inferior were they in the two

latter particulars to the village Duncan had just seen, that

he began to expect a second surprise, no less astonishing

that the former. This expectation was is no degree

diminished, when, by the doubtful twilight, he beheld twenty

or thirty forms rising alternately from the cover of the

tall, coarse grass, in front of the lodges, and then sinking

again from the sight, as it were to burrow in the earth. By

the sudden and hasty glimpses that he caught of these

figures, they seemed more like dark, glancing specters, or

some other unearthly beings, than creatures fashioned with

the ordinary and vulgar materials of flesh and blood. A

gaunt, naked form was seen, for a single instant, tossing

its arms wildly in the air, and then the spot it had filled

was vacant; the figure appearing suddenly in some other and

distant place, or being succeeded by another, possessing the

same mysterious character. David, observing that his

companion lingered, pursued the direction of his gaze, and

in some measure recalled the recollection of Heyward, by

speaking.

"There is much fruitful soil uncultivated here," he said;

"and, I may add, without the sinful leaven of self-

commendation, that, since my short sojourn in these

heathenish abodes, much good seed has been scattered by the

wayside."

"The tribes are fonder of the chase than of the arts of men

of labor," returned the unconscious Duncan, still gazing at

the objects of his wonder.

"It is rather joy than labor to the spirit, to lift up the

voice in praise; but sadly do these boys abuse their gifts.

Rarely have I found any of their age, on whom nature has so

freely bestowed the elements of psalmody; and surely,

surely, there are none who neglect them more. Three nights

have I now tarried here, and three several times have I

assembled the urchins to join in sacred song; and as often

have they responded to my efforts with whoopings and

howlings that have chilled my soul!"

"Of whom speak you?"

"Of those children of the devil, who waste the precious

moments in yonder idle antics. Ah! the wholesome restraint

of discipline is but little known among this self-abandoned

people. In a country of birches, a rod is never seen, and

it ought not to appear a marvel in my eyes, that the

choicest blessings of Providence are wasted in such cries as

these."

David closed his ears against the juvenile pack, whose yell

just then rang shrilly through the forest; and Duncan,

suffering his lip to curl, as in mockery of his own

superstition, said firmly:

"We will proceed."

Without removing the safeguards form his ears, the master of

song complied, and together they pursued their way toward

what David was sometimes wont to call the "tents of the

Philistines."

James Fenimore Cooper