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Chapter 26

CHAPTER 26

"Bot.--Let me play the lion too."--Midsummer Night's

Dream

Notwithstanding the high resolution of Hawkeye he fully

comprehended all the difficulties and danger he was about to

incur. In his return to the camp, his acute and practised

intellects were intently engaged in devising means to

counteract a watchfulness and suspicion on the part of his

enemies, that he knew were, in no degree, inferior to his

own. Nothing but the color of his skin had saved the lives

of Magua and the conjurer, who would have been the first

victims sacrificed to his own security, had not the scout

believed such an act, however congenial it might be to the

nature of an Indian, utterly unworthy of one who boasted a

descent from men that knew no cross of blood. Accordingly,

he trusted to the withes and ligaments with which he had

bound his captives, and pursued his way directly toward the

center of the lodges. As he approached the buildings, his

steps become more deliberate, and his vigilant eye suffered

no sign, whether friendly or hostile, to escape him. A

neglected hut was a little in advance of the others, and

appeared as if it had been deserted when half completed--

most probably on account of failing in some of the more

important requisites; such as wood or water. A faint light

glimmered through its cracks, however, and announced that,

notwithstanding its imperfect structure, it was not without

a tenant. Thither, then, the scout proceeded, like a

prudent general, who was about to feel the advanced

positions of his enemy, before he hazarded the main attack.

Throwing himself into a suitable posture for the beast he

represented, Hawkeye crawled to a little opening, where he

might command a view of the interior. It proved to be the

abiding place of David Gamut. Hither the faithful singing-

master had now brought himself, together with all his

sorrows, his apprehensions, and his meek dependence on the

protection of Providence. At the precise moment when his

ungainly person came under the observation of the scout, in

the manner just mentioned, the woodsman himself, though in

his assumed character, was the subject of the solitary

being's profounded reflections.

However implicit the faith of David was in the performance

of ancient miracles, he eschewed the belief of any direct

supernatural agency in the management of modern morality.

In other words, while he had implicit faith in the ability

of Balaam's ass to speak, he was somewhat skeptical on the

subject of a bear's singing; and yet he had been assured of

the latter, on the testimony of his own exquisite organs.

There was something in his air and manner that betrayed to

the scout the utter confusion of the state of his mind. He

was seated on a pile of brush, a few twigs from which

occasionally fed his low fire, with his head leaning on his

arm, in a posture of melancholy musing. The costume of the

votary of music had undergone no other alteration from that

so lately described, except that he had covered his bald

head with the triangular beaver, which had not proved

sufficiently alluring to excite the cupidity of any of his

captors.

The ingenious Hawkeye, who recalled the hasty manner in

which the other had abandoned his post at the bedside of the

sick woman, was not without his suspicions concerning the

subject of so much solemn deliberation. First making the

circuit of the hut, and ascertaining that it stood quite

alone, and that the character of its inmate was likely to

protect it from visitors, he ventured through its low door,

into the very presence of Gamut. The position of the latter

brought the fire between them; and when Hawkeye had seated

himself on end, near a minute elapsed, during which the two

remained regarding each other without speaking. The

suddenness and the nature of the surprise had nearly proved

too much for--we will not say the philosophy--but for

the pitch and resolution of David. He fumbled for his pitch-

pipe, and arose with a confused intention of attempting a

musical exorcism.

"Dark and mysterious monster!" he exclaimed, while with

trembling hands he disposed of his auxiliary eyes, and

sought his never-failing resource in trouble, the gifted

version of the psalms; "I know not your nature nor intents;

but if aught you meditate against the person and rights of

one of the humblest servants of the temple, listen to the

inspired language of the youth of Israel, and repent."

The bear shook his shaggy sides, and then a well-known voice

replied:

"Put up the tooting we'pon, and teach your throat modesty.

Five words of plain and comprehendible English are worth

just now an hour of squalling."

"What art thou?" demanded David, utterly disqualified to

pursue his original intention, and nearly gasping for

breath.

"A man like yourself; and one whose blood is as little

tainted by the cross of a bear, or an Indian, as your own.

Have you so soon forgotten from whom you received the

foolish instrument you hold in your hand?"

"Can these things be?" returned David, breathing more

freely, as the truth began to dawn upon him. "I have found

many marvels during my sojourn with the heathen, but surely

nothing to excel this."

"Come, come," returned Hawkeye, uncasing his honest

countenance, the better to assure the wavering confidence of

his companion; "you may see a skin, which, if it be not as

white as one of the gentle ones, has no tinge of red to it

that the winds of the heaven and the sun have not bestowed.

Now let us to business."

"First tell me of the maiden, and of the youth who so

bravely sought her," interrupted David.

"Ay, they are happily freed from the tomahawks of these

varlets. But can you put me on the scent of Uncas?"

"The young man is in bondage, and much I fear his death is

decreed. I greatly mourn that one so well disposed should

die in his ignorance, and I have sought a goodly hymn--"

"Can you lead me to him?"

"The task will not be difficult," returned David,

hesitating; "though I greatly fear your presence would

rather increase than mitigate his unhappy fortunes."

"No more words, but lead on," returned Hawkeye, concealing

his face again, and setting the example in his own person,

by instantly quitting the lodge.

As they proceeded, the scout ascertained that his companion

found access to Uncas, under privilege of his imaginary

infirmity, aided by the favor he had acquired with one of

the guards, who, in consequence of speaking a little

English, had been selected by David as the subject of a

religious conversion. How far the Huron comprehended the

intentions of his new friend may well be doubted; but as

exclusive attention is as flattering to a savage as to a

more civilized individual, it had produced the effect we

have mentioned. It is unnecessary to repeat the shrewd

manner with which the scout extracted these particulars from

the simple David; neither shall we dwell in this place on

the nature of the instruction he delivered, when completely

master of all the necessary facts; as the whole will be

sufficiently explained to the reader in the course of the

narrative.

The lodge in which Uncas was confined was in the very center

of the village, and in a situation, perhaps, more difficult

than any other to approach, or leave, without observation.

But it was not the policy of Hawkeye to affect the least

concealment. Presuming on his disguise, and his ability to

sustain the character he had assumed, he took the most plain

and direct route to the place. The hour, however, afforded

him some little of that protection which he appeared so much

to despise. The boys were already buried in sleep, and all

the women, and most of the warriors, had retired to their

lodges for the night. Four or five of the latter only

lingered about the door of the prison of Uncas, wary by

close observers of the manner of their captive.

At the sight of Gamut, accompanied by one in the well-known

masquerade of their most distinguished conjurer, they

readily made way for them both. Still they betrayed no

intention to depart. On the other hand, they were evidently

disposed to remain bound to the place by an additional

interest in the mysterious mummeries that they of course

expected from such a visit.

From the total inability of the scout to address the Hurons

in their own language, he was compelled to trust the

conversation entirely to David. Notwithstanding the

simplicity of the latter, he did ample justice to the

instructions he had received, more than fulfilling the

strongest hopes of his teacher.

"The Delawares are women!" he exclaimed, addressing himself

to the savage who had a slight understanding of the language

in which he spoke; "the Yengeese, my foolish countrymen,

have told them to take up the tomahawk, and strike their

fathers in the Canadas, and they have forgotten their sex.

Does my brother wish to hear 'Le Cerf Agile' ask for his

petticoats, and see him weep before the Hurons, at the

stake?"

The exclamation "Hugh!" delivered in a strong tone of

assent, announced the gratification the savage would receive

in witnessing such an exhibition of weakness in an enemy so

long hated and so much feared.

"Then let him step aside, and the cunning man will blow upon

the dog. Tell it to my brothers."

The Huron explained the meaning of David to his fellows,

who, in their turn, listened to the project with that sort

of satisfaction that their untamed spirits might be expected

to find in such a refinement in cruelty. They drew back a

little from the entrance and motioned to the supposed

conjurer to enter. But the bear, instead of obeying,

maintained the seat it had taken, and growled:

"The cunning man is afraid that his breath will blow upon

his brothers, and take away their courage too," continued

David, improving the hint he received; "they must stand

further off."

The Hurons, who would have deemed such a misfortune the

heaviest calamity that could befall them, fell back in a

body, taking a position where they were out of earshot,

though at the same time they could command a view of the

entrance to the lodge. Then, as if satisfied of their

safety, the scout left his position, and slowly entered the

place. It was silent and gloomy, being tenanted solely by

the captive, and lighted by the dying embers of a fire,

which had been used for the purposed of cookery.

Uncas occupied a distant corner, in a reclining attitude,

being rigidly bound, both hands and feet, by strong and

painful withes. When the frightful object first presented

itself to the young Mohican, he did not deign to bestow a

single glance on the animal. The scout, who had left David

at the door, to ascertain they were not observed, thought it

prudent to preserve his disguise until assured of their

privacy. Instead of speaking, therefore, he exerted himself

to enact one of the antics of the animal he represented.

The young Mohican, who at first believed his enemies had

sent in a real beast to torment him, and try his nerves,

detected in those performances that to Heyward had appeared

so accurate, certain blemishes, that at once betrayed the

counterfeit. Had Hawkeye been aware of the low estimation

in which the skillful Uncas held his representations, he

would probably have prolonged the entertainment a little in

pique. But the scornful expression of the young man's eye

admitted of so many constructions, that the worthy scout was

spared the mortification of such a discovery. As soon,

therefore, as David gave the preconcerted signal, a low

hissing sound was heard in the lodge in place of the fierce

growlings of the bear.

Uncas had cast his body back against the wall of the hut and

closed his eyes, as if willing to exclude so contemptible

and disagreeable an object from his sight. But the moment

the noise of the serpent was heard, he arose, and cast his

looks on each side of him, bending his head low, and turning

it inquiringly in every direction, until his keen eye rested

on the shaggy monster, where it remained riveted, as though

fixed by the power of a charm. Again the same sounds were

repeated, evidently proceeding from the mouth of the beast.

Once more the eyes of the youth roamed over the interior of

the lodge, and returning to the former resting place, he

uttered, in a deep, suppressed voice:

"Hawkeye!"

"Cut his bands," said Hawkeye to David, who just then

approached them.

The singer did as he was ordered, and Uncas found his limbs

released. At the same moment the dried skin of the animal

rattled, and presently the scout arose to his feet, in

proper person. The Mohican appeared to comprehend the

nature of the attempt his friend had made, intuitively,

neither tongue nor feature betraying another symptom of

surprise. When Hawkeye had cast his shaggy vestment, which

was done by simply loosing certain thongs of skin, he drew a

long, glittering knife, and put it in the hands of Uncas.

"The red Hurons are without," he said; "let us be ready."

At the same time he laid his finger significantly on another

similar weapon, both being the fruits of his prowess among

their enemies during the evening.

"We will go," said Uncas.

"Whither?"

"To the Tortoises; they are the children of my

grandfathers."

"Ay, lad," said the scout in English--a language he was

apt to use when a little abstracted in mind; "the same blood

runs in your veins, I believe; but time and distance has a

little changed its color. What shall we do with the Mingoes

at the door? They count six, and this singer is as good as

nothing."

"The Hurons are boasters," said Uncas, scornfully; "their

'totem' is a moose, and they run like snails. The Delawares

are children of the tortoise, and they outstrip the deer."

"Ay, lad, there is truth in what you say; and I doubt not,

on a rush, you would pass the whole nation; and, in a

straight race of two miles, would be in, and get your breath

again, afore a knave of them all was within hearing of the

other village. But the gift of a white man lies more in his

arms than in his legs. As for myself, I can brain a Huron

as well as a better man; but when it comes to a race the

knaves would prove too much for me."

Uncas, who had already approached the door, in readiness to

lead the way, now recoiled, and placed himself, once more,

in the bottom of the lodge. But Hawkeye, who was too much

occupied with his own thoughts to note the movement,

continued speaking more to himself than to his companion.

"After all," he said, "it is unreasonable to keep one man in

bondage to the gifts of another. So, Uncas, you had better

take the lead, while I will put on the skin again, and trust

to cunning for want of speed."

The young Mohican made no reply, but quietly folded his

arms, and leaned his body against one of the upright posts

that supported the wall of the hut.

"Well," said the scout looking up at him, "why do you tarry?

There will be time enough for me, as the knaves will give

chase to you at first."

"Uncas will stay," was the calm reply.

"For what?"

"To fight with his father's brother, and die with the friend

of the Delawares."

"Ay, lad," returned Hawkeye, squeezing the hand of Uncas

between his own iron fingers; "'twould have been more like a

Mingo than a Mohican had you left me. But I thought I would

make the offer, seeing that youth commonly loves life.

Well, what can't be done by main courage, in war, must be

done by circumvention. Put on the skin; I doubt not you can

play the bear nearly as well as myself."

Whatever might have been the private opinion of Uncas of

their respective abilities in this particular, his grave

countenance manifested no opinion of his superiority. He

silently and expeditiously encased himself in the covering

of the beast, and then awaited such other movements as his

more aged companion saw fit to dictate.

"Now, friend," said Hawkeye, addressing David, "an exchange

of garments will be a great convenience to you, inasmuch as

you are but little accustomed to the make-shifts of the

wilderness. Here, take my hunting shirt and cap, and give

me your blanket and hat. You must trust me with the book

and spectacles, as well as the tooter, too; if we ever meet

again, in better times, you shall have all back again, with

many thanks into the bargain."

David parted with the several articles named with a

readiness that would have done great credit to his

liberality, had he not certainly profited, in many

particulars, by the exchange. Hawkeye was not long in

assuming his borrowed garments; and when his restless eyes

were hid behind the glasses, and his head was surmounted by

the triangular beaver, as their statures were not

dissimilar, he might readily have passed for the singer, by

starlight. As soon as these dispositions were made, the

scout turned to David, and gave him his parting

instructions.

"Are you much given to cowardice?" he bluntly asked, by way

of obtaining a suitable understanding of the whole case

before he ventured a prescription.

"My pursuits are peaceful, and my temper, I humbly trust, is

greatly given to mercy and love," returned David, a little

nettled at so direct an attack on his manhood; "but there

are none who can say that I have ever forgotten my faith in

the Lord, even in the greatest straits."

"Your chiefest danger will be at the moment when the savages

find out that they have been deceived. If you are not then

knocked on the head, your being a non-composser will protect

you; and you'll then have a good reason to expect to die in

your bed. If you stay, it must be to sit down here in the

shadow, and take the part of Uncas, until such times as the

cunning of the Indians discover the cheat, when, as I have

already said, your times of trial will come. So choose for

yourself--to make a rush or tarry here."

"Even so," said David, firmly; "I will abide in the place of

the Delaware. Bravely and generously has he battled in my

behalf, and this, and more, will I dare in his service."

"You have spoken as a man, and like one who, under wiser

schooling, would have been brought to better things. Hold

your head down, and draw in your legs; their formation might

tell the truth too early. Keep silent as long as may be;

and it would be wise, when you do speak, to break out

suddenly in one of your shoutings, which will serve to

remind the Indians that you are not altogether as

responsible as men should be. If however, they take your

scalp, as I trust and believe they will not, depend on it,

Uncas and I will not forget the deed, but revenge it as

becomes true warriors and trusty friends."

"Hold!" said David, perceiving that with this assurance they

were about to leave him; "I am an unworthy and humble

follower of one who taught not the damnable principle of

revenge. Should I fall, therefore, seek no victims to my

manes, but rather forgive my destroyers; and if you remember

them at all, let it be in prayers for the enlightening of

their minds, and for their eternal welfare."

The scout hesitated, and appeared to muse.

"There is a principle in that," he said, "different from the

law of the woods; and yet it is fair and noble to reflect

upon." Then heaving a heavy sigh, probably among the last

he ever drew in pining for a condition he had so long

abandoned, he added: "it is what I would wish to practise

myself, as one without a cross of blood, though it is not

always easy to deal with an Indian as you would with a

fellow Christian. God bless you, friend; I do believe your

scent is not greatly wrong, when the matter is duly

considered, and keeping eternity before the eyes, though

much depends on the natural gifts, and the force of

temptation."

So saying, the scout returned and shook David cordially by

the hand; after which act of friendship he immediately left

the lodge, attended by the new representative of the beast.

The instant Hawkeye found himself under the observation of

the Hurons, he drew up his tall form in the rigid manner of

David, threw out his arm in the act of keeping time, and

commenced what he intended for an imitation of his psalmody.

Happily for the success of this delicate adventure, he had

to deal with ears but little practised in the concord of

sweet sounds, or the miserable effort would infallibly have

been detected. It was necessary to pass within a dangerous

proximity of the dark group of the savages, and the voice of

the scout grew louder as they drew nigher. When at the

nearest point the Huron who spoke the English thrust out an

arm, and stopped the supposed singing-master.

"The Delaware dog!" he said, leaning forward, and peering

through the dim light to catch the expression of the other's

features; "is he afraid? Will the Hurons hear his groans?"

A growl, so exceedingly fierce and natural, proceeded from

the beast, that the young Indian released his hold and

started aside, as if to assure himself that it was not a

veritable bear, and no counterfeit, that was rolling before

him. Hawkeye, who feared his voice would betray him to his

subtle enemies, gladly profited by the interruption, to

break out anew in such a burst of musical expression as

would, probably, in a more refined state of society have

been termed "a grand crash." Among his actual auditors,

however, it merely gave him an additional claim to that

respect which they never withhold from such as are believed

to be the subjects of mental alienation. The little knot on

Indians drew back in a body, and suffered, as they thought,

the conjurer and his inspired assistant to proceed.

It required no common exercise of fortitude in Uncas and the

scout to continue the dignified and deliberate pace they had

assumed in passing the lodge; especially as they immediately

perceived that curiosity had so far mastered fear, as to

induce the watchers to approach the hut, in order to witness

the effect of the incantations. The least injudicious or

impatient movement on the part of David might betray them,

and time was absolutely necessary to insure the safety of

the scout. The loud noise the latter conceived it politic

to continue, drew many curious gazers to the doors of the

different huts as thy passed; and once or twice a dark-

looking warrior stepped across their path, led to the act by

superstition and watchfulness. They were not, however,

interrupted, the darkness of the hour, and the boldness of

the attempt, proving their principal friends.

The adventurers had got clear of the village, and were now

swiftly approaching the shelter of the woods, when a loud

and long cry arose from the lodge where Uncas had been

confined. The Mohican started on his feet, and shook his

shaggy covering, as though the animal he counterfeited was

about to make some desperate effort.

"Hold!" said the scout, grasping his friend by the shoulder,

"let them yell again! 'Twas nothing but wonderment."

He had no occasion to delay, for at the next instant a burst

of cries filled the outer air, and ran along the whole

extent of the village. Uncas cast his skin, and stepped

forth in his own beautiful proportions. Hawkeye tapped him

lightly on the shoulder, and glided ahead.

"Now let the devils strike our scent!" said the scout,

tearing two rifles, with all their attendant accouterments,

from beneath a bush, and flourishing "killdeer" as he handed

Uncas his weapon; "two, at least, will find it to their

deaths."

Then, throwing their pieces to a low trail, like sportsmen

in readiness for their game, they dashed forward, and were

soon buried in the somber darkness of the forest.

James Fenimore Cooper