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Chapter 24

CHAPTER 24

"Thus spoke the sage: the kings without delay Dissolve the

council, and their chief obey."--Pope's Iliad

A single moment served to convince the youth that he was

mistaken. A hand was laid, with a powerful pressure, on his

arm, and the low voice of Uncas muttered in his ear:

"The Hurons are dogs. The sight of a coward's blood can

never make a warrior tremble. The 'Gray Head' and the

Sagamore are safe, and the rifle of Hawkeye is not asleep.

Go--Uncas and the 'Open Hand' are now strangers. It is

enough."

Heyward would gladly have heard more, but a gentle push from

his friend urged him toward the door, and admonished him of

the danger that might attend the discovery of their

intercourse. Slowly and reluctantly yielding to the

necessity, he quitted the place, and mingled with the throng

that hovered nigh. The dying fires in the clearing cast a

dim and uncertain light on the dusky figures that were

silently stalking to and fro; and occasionally a brighter

gleam than common glanced into the lodge, and exhibited the

figure of Uncas still maintaining its upright attitude near

the dead body of the Huron.

A knot of warriors soon entered the place again, and

reissuing, they bore the senseless remains into the adjacent

woods. After this termination of the scene, Duncan wandered

among the lodges, unquestioned and unnoticed, endeavoring to

find some trace of her in whose behalf he incurred the risk

he ran. In the present temper of the tribe it would have

been easy to have fled and rejoined his companions, had such

a wish crossed his mind. But, in addition to the never-

ceasing anxiety on account of Alice, a fresher though

feebler interest in the fate of Uncas assisted to chain him

to the spot. He continued, therefore, to stray from hut to

hut, looking into each only to encounter additional

disappointment, until he had made the entire circuit of the

village. Abandoning a species of inquiry that proved so

fruitless, he retraced his steps to the council-lodge,

resolved to seek and question David, in order to put an end

to his doubts.

On reaching the building, which had proved alike the seat of

judgment and the place of execution, the young man found

that the excitement had already subsided. The warriors had

reassembled, and were now calmly smoking, while they

conversed gravely on the chief incidents of their recent

expedition to the head of the Horican. Though the return of

Duncan was likely to remind them of his character, and the

suspicious circumstances of his visit, it produced no

visible sensation. So far, the terrible scene that had just

occurred proved favorable to his views, and he required no

other prompter than his own feelings to convince him of the

expediency of profiting by so unexpected an advantage.

Without seeming to hesitate, he walked into the lodge, and

took his seat with a gravity that accorded admirably with

the deportment of his hosts. A hasty but searching glance

sufficed to tell him that, though Uncas still remained where

he had left him, David had not reappeared. No other

restraint was imposed on the former than the watchful looks

of a young Huron, who had placed himself at hand; though an

armed warrior leaned against the post that formed one side

of the narrow doorway. In every other respect, the captive

seemed at liberty; still he was excluded from all

participation in the discourse, and possessed much more of

the air of some finely molded statue than a man having life

and volition.

Heyward had too recently witnessed a frightful instance of

the prompt punishments of the people into whose hands he had

fallen to hazard an exposure by any officious boldness. He

would greatly have preferred silence and meditation to

speech, when a discovery of his real condition might prove

so instantly fatal. Unfortunately for this prudent

resolution, his entertainers appeared otherwise disposed.

He had not long occupied the seat wisely taken a little in

the shade, when another of the elder warriors, who spoke the

French language, addressed him:

"My Canada father does not forget his children," said the

chief; "I thank him. An evil spirit lives in the wife of

one of my young men. Can the cunning stranger frighten him

away?"

Heyward possessed some knowledge of the mummery practised

among the Indians, in the cases of such supposed

visitations. He saw, at a glance, that the circumstance

might possibly be improved to further his own ends. It

would, therefore, have been difficult, just then to have

uttered a proposal that would have given him more

satisfaction. Aware of the necessity of preserving the

dignity of his imaginary character, however, he repressed

his feelings, and answered with suitable mystery:

"Spirits differ; some yield to the power of wisdom, while

others are too strong."

"My brother is a great medicine," said the cunning savage;

"he will try?"

A gesture of assent was the answer. The Huron was content

with the assurance, and, resuming his pipe, he awaited the

proper moment to move. The impatient Heyward, inwardly

execrating the cold customs of the savages, which required

such sacrifices to appearance, was fain to assume an air of

indifference, equal to that maintained by the chief, who

was, in truth, a near relative of the afflicted woman. The

minutes lingered, and the delay had seemed an hour to the

adventurer in empiricism, when the Huron laid aside his pipe

and drew his robe across his breast, as if about to lead the

way to the lodge of the invalid. Just then, a warrior of

powerful frame, darkened the door, and stalking silently

among the attentive group, he seated himself on one end of

the low pile of brush which sustained Duncan. The latter

cast an impatient look at his neighbor, and felt his flesh

creep with uncontrollable horror when he found himself in

actual contact with Magua.

The sudden return of this artful and dreaded chief caused a

delay in the departure of the Huron. Several pipes, that

had been extinguished, were lighted again; while the

newcomer, without speaking a word, drew his tomahawk from

his girdle, and filling the bowl on its head began to inhale

the vapors of the weed through the hollow handle, with as

much indifference as if he had not been absent two weary

days on a long and toilsome hunt. Ten minutes, which

appeared so many ages to Duncan, might have passed in this

manner; and the warriors were fairly enveloped in a cloud of

white smoke before any of them spoke.

"Welcome!" one at length uttered; "has my friend found the

moose?"

"The young men stagger under their burdens," returned Magua.

"Let 'Reed-that-bends' go on the hunting path; he will meet

them."

A deep and awful silence succeeded the utterance of the

forbidden name. Each pipe dropped from the lips of its

owner as though all had inhaled an impurity at the same

instant. The smoke wreathed above their heads in little

eddies, and curling in a spiral form it ascended swiftly

through the opening in the roof of the lodge, leaving the

place beneath clear of its fumes, and each dark visage

distinctly visible. The looks of most of the warriors were

riveted on the earth; though a few of the younger and less

gifted of the party suffered their wild and glaring eyeballs

to roll in the direction of a white-headed savage, who sat

between two of the most venerated chiefs of the tribe.

There was nothing in the air or attire of this Indian that

would seem to entitle him to such a distinction. The former

was rather depressed, than remarkable for the bearing of the

natives; and the latter was such as was commonly worn by the

ordinary men of the nation. Like most around him for more

than a minute his look, too, was on the ground; but,

trusting his eyes at length to steal a glance aside, he

perceived that he was becoming an object of general

attention. Then he arose and lifted his voice in the

general silence.

"It was a lie," he said; "I had no son. He who was called

by that name is forgotten; his blood was pale, and it came

not from the veins of a Huron; the wicked Chippewas cheated

my squaw. The Great Spirit has said, that the family of

Wiss-entush should end; he is happy who knows that the evil

of his race dies with himself. I have done."

The speaker, who was the father of the recreant young

Indian, looked round and about him, as if seeking

commendation of his stoicism in the eyes of the auditors.

But the stern customs of his people had made too severe an

exaction of the feeble old man. The expression of his eye

contradicted his figurative and boastful language, while

every muscle in his wrinkled visage was working with

anguish. Standing a single minute to enjoy his bitter

triumph, he turned away, as if sickening at the gaze of men,

and, veiling his face in his blanket, he walked from the

lodge with the noiseless step of an Indian seeking, in the

privacy of his own abode, the sympathy of one like himself,

aged, forlorn and childless.

The Indians, who believe in the hereditary transmission of

virtues and defects in character, suffered him to depart in

silence. Then, with an elevation of breeding that many in a

more cultivated state of society might profitably emulate,

one of the chiefs drew the attention of the young men from

the weakness they had just witnessed, by saying, in a

cheerful voice, addressing himself in courtesy to Magua, as

the newest comer:

"The Delawares have been like bears after the honey pots,

prowling around my village. But who has ever found a Huron

asleep?"

The darkness of the impending cloud which precedes a burst

of thunder was not blacker than the brow of Magua as he

exclaimed:

"The Delawares of the Lakes!"

"Not so. They who wear the petticoats of squaws, on their

own river. One of them has been passing the tribe."

"Did my young men take his scalp?"

"His legs were good, though his arm is better for the hoe

than the tomahawk," returned the other, pointing to the

immovable form of Uncas.

Instead of manifesting any womanish curiosity to feast his

eyes with the sight of a captive from a people he was known

to have so much reason to hate, Magua continued to smoke,

with the meditative air that he usually maintained, when

there was no immediate call on his cunning or his eloquence.

Although secretly amazed at the facts communicated by the

speech of the aged father, he permitted himself to ask no

questions, reserving his inquiries for a more suitable

moment. It was only after a sufficient interval that he

shook the ashes from his pipe, replaced the tomahawk,

tightened his girdle, and arose, casting for the first time

a glance in the direction of the prisoner, who stood a

little behind him. The wary, though seemingly abstracted

Uncas, caught a glimpse of the movement, and turning

suddenly to the light, their looks met. Near a minute these

two bold and untamed spirits stood regarding one another

steadily in the eye, neither quailing in the least before

the fierce gaze he encountered. The form of Uncas dilated,

and his nostrils opened like those of a tiger at bay; but so

rigid and unyielding was his posture, that he might easily

have been converted by the imagination into an exquisite and

faultless representation of the warlike deity of his tribe.

The lineaments of the quivering features of Magua proved

more ductile; his countenance gradually lost its character

of defiance in an expression of ferocious joy, and heaving a

breath from the very bottom of his chest, he pronounced

aloud the formidable name of:

"Le Cerf Agile!"

Each warrior sprang upon his feet at the utterance of the

well-known appellation, and there was a short period during

which the stoical constancy of the natives was completely

conquered by surprise. The hated and yet respected name was

repeated as by one voice, carrying the sound even beyond the

limits of the lodge. The women and children, who lingered

around the entrance, took up the words in an echo, which was

succeeded by another shrill and plaintive howl. The latter

was not yet ended, when the sensation among the men had

entirely abated. Each one in presence seated himself, as

though ashamed of his precipitation; but it was many minutes

before their meaning eyes ceased to roll toward their

captive, in curious examination of a warrior who had so

often proved his prowess on the best and proudest of their

nation. Uncas enjoyed his victory, but was content with

merely exhibiting his triumph by a quiet smile--an emblem

of scorn which belongs to all time and every nation.

Magua caught the expression, and raising his arm, he shook

it at the captive, the light silver ornaments attached to

his bracelet rattling with the trembling agitation of the

limb, as, in a tone of vengeance, he exclaimed, in English:

"Mohican, you die!"

"The healing waters will never bring the dead Hurons to

life," returned Uncas, in the music of the Delawares; "the

tumbling river washes their bones; their men are squaws:

their women owls. Go! call together the Huron dogs, that

they may look upon a warrior, My nostrils are offended; they

scent the blood of a coward."

The latter allusion struck deep, and the injury rankled.

Many of the Hurons understood the strange tongue in which

the captive spoke, among which number was Magua. This

cunning savage beheld, and instantly profited by his

advantage. Dropping the light robe of skin from his

shoulder, he stretched forth his arm, and commenced a burst

of his dangerous and artful eloquence. However much his

influence among his people had been impaired by his

occasional and besetting weakness, as well as by his

desertion of the tribe, his courage and his fame as an

orator were undeniable. He never spoke without auditors,

and rarely without making converts to his opinions. On the

present occasion, his native powers were stimulated by the

thirst of revenge.

He again recounted the events of the attack on the island at

Glenn's, the death of his associates and the escape of their

most formidable enemies. Then he described the nature and

position of the mount whither he had led such captives as

had fallen into their hands. Of his own bloody intentions

toward the maidens, and of his baffled malice he made no

mention, but passed rapidly on to the surprise of the party

by "La Longue Carabine," and its fatal termination. Here he

paused, and looked about him, in affected veneration for the

departed, but, in truth, to note the effect of his opening

narrative. As usual, every eye was riveted on his face.

Each dusky figure seemed a breathing statue, so motionless

was the posture, so intense the attention of the individual.

Then Magua dropped his voice which had hitherto been clear,

strong and elevated, and touched upon the merits of the

dead. No quality that was likely to command the sympathy of

an Indian escaped his notice. One had never been known to

follow the chase in vain; another had been indefatigable on

the trail of their enemies. This was brave, that generous.

In short, he so managed his allusions, that in a nation

which was composed of so few families, he contrived to

strike every chord that might find, in its turn, some breast

in which to vibrate.

"Are the bones of my young men," he concluded, "in the

burial-place of the Hurons? You know they are not. Their

spirits are gone toward the setting sun, and are already

crossing the great waters, to the happy hunting-grounds.

But they departed without food, without guns or knives,

without moccasins, naked and poor as they were born. Shall

this be? Are their souls to enter the land of the just like

hungry Iroquois or unmanly Delawares, or shall they meet

their friends with arms in their hands and robes on their

backs? What will our fathers think the tribes of the

Wyandots have become? They will look on their children with

a dark eye, and say, 'Go! a Chippewa has come hither with

the name of a Huron' Brothers, we must not forget the dead;

a red-skin never ceases to remember. We will load the back

of this Mohican until he staggers under our bounty, and

dispatch him after my young men. They call to us for aid,

though our ears are not open; they say, 'Forget us not' When

they see the spirit of this Mohican toiling after them with

his burden, they will know we are of that mind. Then will

they go on happy; and our children will say, 'So did our

fathers to their friends, so must we do to them' What is a

Yengee? we have slain many, but the earth is still pale. A

stain on the name of Huron can only be hid by blood that

comes from the veins of an Indian. Let this Delaware die."

The effect of such an harangue, delivered in the nervous

language and with the emphatic manner of a Huron orator,

could scarcely be mistaken. Magua had so artfully blended

the natural sympathies with the religious superstition of

his auditors, that their minds, already prepared by custom

to sacrifice a victim to the manes of their countrymen, lost

every vestige of humanity in a wish for revenge. One

warrior in particular, a man of wild and ferocious mien, had

been conspicuous for the attention he had given to the words

of the speaker. His countenance had changed with each

passing emotion, until it settled into a look of deadly

malice. As Magua ended he arose and, uttering the yell of a

demon, his polished little axe was seen glancing in the

torchlight as he whirled it above his head. The motion and

the cry were too sudden for words to interrupt his bloody

intention. It appeared as if a bright gleam shot from his

hand, which was crossed at the same moment by a dark and

powerful line. The former was the tomahawk in its passage;

the latter the arm that Magua darted forward to divert its

aim. The quick and ready motion of the chief was not

entirely too late. The keen weapon cut the war plume from

the scalping tuft of Uncas, and passed through the frail

wall of the lodge as though it were hurled from some

formidable engine.

Duncan had seen the threatening action, and sprang upon his

feet, with a heart which, while it leaped into his throat,

swelled with the most generous resolution in behalf of his

friend. A glance told him that the blow had failed, and

terror changed to admiration. Uncas stood still, looking

his enemy in the eye with features that seemed superior to

emotion. Marble could not be colder, calmer, or steadier

than the countenance he put upon this sudden and vindictive

attack. Then, as if pitying a want of skill which had

proved so fortunate to himself, he smiled, and muttered a

few words of contempt in his own tongue.

"No!" said Magua, after satisfying himself of the safety of

the captive; "the sun must shine on his shame; the squaws

must see his flesh tremble, or our revenge will be like the

play of boys. Go! take him where there is silence; let us

see if a Delaware can sleep at night, and in the morning

die."

The young men whose duty it was to guard the prisoner

instantly passed their ligaments of bark across his arms,

and led him from the lodge, amid a profound and ominous

silence. It was only as the figure of Uncas stood in the

opening of the door that his firm step hesitated. There he

turned, and, in the sweeping and haughty glance that he

threw around the circle of his enemies, Duncan caught a look

which he was glad to construe into an expression that he was

not entirely deserted by hope.

Magua was content with his success, or too much occupied

with his secret purposes to push his inquiries any further.

Shaking his mantle, and folding it on his bosom, he also

quitted the place, without pursuing a subject which might

have proved so fatal to the individual at his elbow.

Notwithstanding his rising resentment, his natural firmness,

and his anxiety on behalf of Uncas, Heyward felt sensibly

relieved by the absence of so dangerous and so subtle a foe.

The excitement produced by the speech gradually subsided.

The warriors resumed their seats and clouds of smoke once

more filled the lodge. For near half an hour, not a

syllable was uttered, or scarcely a look cast aside; a grave

and meditative silence being the ordinary succession to

every scene of violence and commotion among these beings,

who were alike so impetuous and yet so self-restrained.

When the chief, who had solicited the aid of Duncan,

finished his pipe, he made a final and successful movement

toward departing. A motion of a finger was the intimation

he gave the supposed physician to follow; and passing

through the clouds of smoke, Duncad was glad, on more

accounts than one, to be able at last to breathe the pure

air of a cool and refreshing summer evening.

Instead of pursuing his way among those lodges where Heyward

had already made his unsuccessful search, his companion

turned aside, and proceeded directly toward the base of an

adjacent mountain, which overhung the temporary village. A

thicket of brush skirted its foot, and it became necessary

to proceed through a crooked and narrow path. The boys had

resumed their sports in the clearing, and were enacting a

mimic chase to the post among themselves. In order to

render their games as like the reality as possible, one of

the boldest of their number had conveyed a few brands into

some piles of tree-tops that had hitherto escaped the

burning. The blaze of one of these fires lighted the way of

the chief and Duncan, and gave a character of additional

wildness to the rude scenery. At a little distance from a

bald rock, and directly in its front, they entered a grassy

opening, which they prepared to cross. Just then fresh fuel

was added to the fire, and a powerful light penetrated even

to that distant spot. It fell upon the white surface of the

mountain, and was reflected downward upon a dark and

mysterious-looking being that arose, unexpectedly, in their

path. The Indian paused, as if doubtful whether to proceed,

and permitted his companion to approach his side. A large

black ball, which at first seemed stationary, now began to

move in a manner that to the latter was inexplicable. Again

the fire brightened and its glare fell more distinctly on

the object. Then even Duncan knew it, by its restless and

sidling attitudes, which kept the upper part of its form in

constant motion, while the animal itself appeared seated, to

be a bear. Though it growled loudly and fiercely, and there

were instants when its glistening eyeballs might be seen, it

gave no other indications of hostility. The Huron, at

least, seemed assured that the intentions of this singular

intruder were peaceable, for after giving it an attentive

examination, he quietly pursued his course.

Duncan, who knew that the animal was often domesticated

among the Indians, followed the example of his companion,

believing that some favorite of the tribe had found its way

into the thicket, in search of food. They passed it

unmolested. Though obliged to come nearly in contact with

the monster, the Huron, who had at first so warily

determined the character of his strange visitor, was now

content with proceeding without wasting a moment in further

examination; but Heyward was unable to prevent his eyes from

looking backward, in salutary watchfulness against attacks

in the rear. His uneasiness was in no degree diminished

when he perceived the beast rolling along their path, and

following their footsteps. He would have spoken, but the

Indian at that moment shoved aside a door of bark, and

entered a cavern in the bosom of the mountain.

Profiting by so easy a method of retreat, Duncan stepped

after him, and was gladly closing the slight cover to the

opening, when he felt it drawn from his hand by the beast,

whose shaggy form immediately darkened the passage. They

were now in a straight and long gallery, in a chasm of the

rocks, where retreat without encountering the animal was

impossible. Making the best of the circumstances, the young

man pressed forward, keeping as close as possible to his

conductor. The bear growled frequently at his heels, and

once or twice its enormous paws were laid on his person, as

if disposed to prevent his further passage into the den.

How long the nerves of Heyward would have sustained him in

this extraordinary situation, it might be difficult to

decide, for, happily, he soon found relief. A glimmer of

light had constantly been in their front, and they now

arrived at the place whence it proceeded.

A large cavity in the rock had been rudely fitted to answer

the purposes of many apartments. The subdivisions were

simple but ingenious, being composed of stone, sticks, and

bark, intermingled. Openings above admitted the light by

day, and at night fires and torches supplied the place of

the sun. Hither the Hurons had brought most of their

valuables, especially those which more particularly

pertained to the nation; and hither, as it now appeared, the

sick woman, who was believed to be the victim of

supernatural power, had been transported also, under an

impression that her tormentor would find more difficulty in

making his assaults through walls of stone than through the

leafy coverings of the lodges. The apartment into which

Duncan and his guide first entered, had been exclusively

devoted to her accommodation. The latter approached her

bedside, which was surrounded by females, in the center of

whom Heyward was surprised to find his missing friend David.

A single look was sufficient to apprise the pretended leech

that the invalid was far beyond his powers of healing. She

lay in a sort of paralysis, indifferent to the objects which

crowded before her sight, and happily unconscious of

suffering. Heyward was far from regretting that his

mummeries were to be performed on one who was much too ill

to take an interest in their failure or success. The slight

qualm of conscience which had been excited by the intended

deception was instantly appeased, and he began to collect

his thoughts, in order to enact his part with suitable

spirit, when he found he was about to be anticipated in his

skill by an attempt to prove the power of music.

Gamut, who had stood prepared to pour forth his spirit in

song when the visitors entered, after delaying a moment,

drew a strain from his pipe, and commenced a hymn that might

have worked a miracle, had faith in is efficacy been of much

avail. He was allowed to proceed to the close, the Indians

respecting his imaginary infirmity, and Duncan too glad of

the delay to hazard the slightest interruption. As the

dying cadence of his strains was falling on the ears of the

latter, he started aside at hearing them repeated behind

him, in a voice half human and half sepulchral. Looking

around, he beheld the shaggy monster seated on end in a

shadow of the cavern, where, while his restless body swung

in the uneasy manner of the animal, it repeated, in a sort

of low growl, sounds, if not words, which bore some slight

resemblance to the melody of the singer.

The effect of so strange an echo on David may better be

imagined than described. His eyes opened as if he doubted

their truth; and his voice became instantly mute in excess

of wonder. A deep-laid scheme, of communicating some

important intelligence to Heyward, was driven from his

recollection by an emotion which very nearly resembled fear,

but which he was fain to believe was admiration. Under its

influence, he exclaimed aloud: "She expects you, and is at

hand"; and precipitately left the cavern.

James Fenimore Cooper