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Chapter 27

CHAPTER 27

"Ant. I shall remember: When C‘sar says Do this, it is

performed."--Julius Caesar

The impatience of the savages who lingered about the prison

of Uncas, as has been seen, had overcome their dread of the

conjurer's breath. They stole cautiously, and with beating

hearts, to a crevice, through which the faint light of the

fire was glimmering. For several minutes they mistook the

form of David for that of the prisoner; but the very

accident which Hawkeye had foreseen occurred. Tired of

keeping the extremities of his long person so near together,

the singer gradually suffered the lower limbs to extend

themselves, until one of his misshapen feet actually came in

contact with and shoved aside the embers of the fire. At

first the Hurons believed the Delaware had been thus

deformed by witchcraft. But when David, unconscious of

being observed, turned his head, and exposed his simple,

mild countenance, in place of the haughty lineaments of

their prisoner, it would have exceeded the credulity of even

a native to have doubted any longer. They rushed together

into the lodge, and, laying their hands, with but little

ceremony, on their captive, immediately detected the

imposition. They arose the cry first heard by the

fugitives. It was succeeded by the most frantic and angry

demonstrations of vengeance. David, however, firm in his

determination to cover the retreat of his friends, was

compelled to believe that his own final hour had come.

Deprived of his book and his pipe, he was fain to trust to a

memory that rarely failed him on such subjects; and breaking

forth in a loud and impassioned strain, he endeavored to

smooth his passage into the other world by singing the

opening verse of a funeral anthem. The Indians were

seasonably reminded of his infirmity, and, rushing into the

open air, they aroused the village in the manner described.

A native warrior fights as he sleeps, without the protection

of anything defensive. The sounds of the alarm were,

therefore, hardly uttered before two hundred men were afoot,

and ready for the battle or the chase, as either might be

required. The escape was soon known; and the whole tribe

crowded, in a body, around the council-lodge, impatiently

awaiting the instruction of their chiefs. In such a sudden

demand on their wisdom, the presence of the cunning Magua

could scarcely fail of being needed. His name was

mentioned, and all looked round in wonder that he did not

appear. Messengers were then despatched to his lodge

requiring his presence.

In the meantime, some of the swiftest and most discreet of

the young men were ordered to make the circuit of the

clearing, under cover of the woods, in order to ascertain

that their suspected neighbors, the Delawares, designed no

mischief. Women and children ran to and fro; and, in short,

the whole encampment exhibited another scene of wild and

savage confusion. Gradually, however, these symptoms of

disorder diminished; and in a few minutes the oldest and

most distinguished chiefs were assembled in the lodge, in

grave consultation.

The clamor of many voices soon announced that a party

approached, who might be expected to communicate some

intelligence that would explain the mystery of the novel

surprise. The crowd without gave way, and several warriors

entered the place, bringing with them the hapless conjurer,

who had been left so long by the scout in duress.

Notwithstanding this man was held in very unequal estimation

among the Hurons, some believing implicitly in his power,

and others deeming him an impostor, he was now listened to

by all with the deepest attention. When his brief story was

ended, the father of the sick woman stepped forth, and, in a

few pithy expression, related, in his turn, what he knew.

These two narratives gave a proper direction to the

subsequent inquiries, which were now made with the

characteristic cunning of savages.

Instead of rushing in a confused and disorderly throng to

the cavern, ten of the wisest and firmest among the chiefs

were selected to prosecute the investigation. As no time

was to be lost, the instant the choice was made the

individuals appointed rose in a body and left the place

without speaking. On reaching the entrance, the younger men

in advance made way for their seniors; and the whole

proceeded along the low, dark gallery, with the firmness of

warriors ready to devote themselves to the public good,

though, at the same time, secretly doubting the nature of

the power with which they were about to contend.

The outer apartment of the cavern was silent and gloomy.

The woman lay in her usual place and posture, though there

were those present who affirmed they had seen her borne to

the woods by the supposed "medicine of the white men." Such

a direct and palpable contradiction of the tale related by

the father caused all eyes to be turned on him. Chafed by

the silent imputation, and inwardly troubled by so

unaccountable a circumstance, the chief advanced to the side

of the bed, and, stooping, cast an incredulous look at the

features, as if distrusting their reality. His daughter was

dead.

The unerring feeling of nature for a moment prevailed and

the old warrior hid his eyes in sorrow. Then, recovering

his self-possession, he faced his companions, and, pointing

toward the corpse, he said, in the language of his people:

"The wife of my young man has left us! The Great Spirit is

angry with his children."

The mournful intelligence was received in solemn silence.

After a short pause, one of the elder Indians was about to

speak, when a dark-looking object was seen rolling out of an

adjoining apartment, into the very center of the room where

they stood. Ignorant of the nature of the beings they had

to deal with, the whole party drew back a little, and,

rising on end, exhibited the distorted but still fierce and

sullen features of Magua. The discovery was succeeded by a

general exclamation of amazement.

As soon, however, as the true situation of the chief was

understood, several knives appeared, and his limbs and

tongue were quickly released. The Huron arose, and shook

himself like a lion quitting his lair. Not a word escaped

him, though his hand played convulsively with the handle of

his knife, while his lowering eyes scanned the whole party,

as if they sought an object suited to the first burst of his

vengeance.

It was happy for Uncas and the scout, and even David, that

they were all beyond the reach of his arm at such a moment;

for, assuredly, no refinement in cruelty would then have

deferred their deaths, in opposition to the promptings of

the fierce temper that nearly choked him. Meeting

everywhere faces that he knew as friends, the savage grated

his teeth together like rasps of iron, and swallowed his

passion for want of a victim on whom to vent it. This

exhibition of anger was noted by all present; and from an

apprehension of exasperating a temper that was already

chafed nearly to madness, several minutes were suffered to

pass before another word was uttered. When, however,

suitable time had elapsed, the oldest of the party spoke.

"My friend has found an enemy," he said. "Is he nigh that

the Hurons might take revenge?"

"Let the Delaware die!" exclaimed Magua, in a voice of

thunder.

Another longer and expressive silence was observed, and was

broken, as before, with due precaution, by the same

individual.

"The Mohican is swift of foot, and leaps far," he said; "but

my young men are on his trail."

"Is he gone?" demanded Magua, in tones so deep and guttural,

that they seemed to proceed from his inmost chest.

"An evil spirit has been among us, and the Delaware has

blinded our eyes."

"An evil spirit!" repeated the other, mockingly; "'tis the

spirit that has taken the lives of so many Hurons; the

spirit that slew my young men at 'the tumbling river'; that

took their scalps at the 'healing spring'; and who has, now,

bound the arms of Le Renard Subtil!"

"Of whom does my friend speak?"

"Of the dog who carries the heart and cunning of a Huron

under a pale skin--La Longue Carabine."

The pronunciation of so terrible a name produced the usual

effect among his auditors. But when time was given for

reflection, and the warriors remembered that their

formidable and daring enemy had even been in the bosom of

their encampment, working injury, fearful rage took the

place of wonder, and all those fierce passions with which

the bosom of Magua had just been struggling were suddenly

transferred to his companions. Some among them gnashed

their teeth in anger, others vented their feelings in yells,

and some, again, beat the air as frantically as if the

object of their resentment were suffering under their blows.

But this sudden outbreaking of temper as quickly subsided in

the still and sullen restraint they most affected in their

moments of inaction.

Magua, who had in his turn found leisure for reflection, now

changed his manner, and assumed the air of one who knew how

to think and act with a dignity worthy of so grave a

subject.

"Let us go to my people," he said; "they wait for us."

His companions consented in silence, and the whole of the

savage party left the cavern and returned to the council-

lodge. When they were seated, all eyes turned on Magua, who

understood, from such an indication, that, by common

consent, they had devolved the duty of relating what had

passed on him. He arose, and told his tale without

duplicity or reservation. The whole deception practised by

both Duncan and Hawkeye was, of course, laid naked, and no

room was found, even for the most superstitious of the

tribe, any longer to affix a doubt on the character of the

occurrences. It was but too apparent that they had been

insultingly, shamefully, disgracefully deceived. When he

had ended, and resumed his seat, the collected tribe--for

his auditors, in substance, included all the fighting men of

the party--sat regarding each other like men astonished

equally at the audacity and the success of their enemies.

The next consideration, however, was the means and

opportunities for revenge.

Additional pursuers were sent on the trail of the fugitives;

and then the chiefs applied themselves, in earnest, to the

business of consultation. Many different expedients were

proposed by the elder warriors, in succession, to all of

which Magua was a silent and respectful listener. That

subtle savage had recovered his artifice and self-command,

and now proceeded toward his object with his customary

caution and skill. It was only when each one disposed to

speak had uttered his sentiments, that he prepared to

advance his own opinions. They were given with additional

weight from the circumstance that some of the runners had

already returned, and reported that their enemies had been

traced so far as to leave no doubt of their having sought

safety in the neighboring camp of their suspected allies,

the Delawares. With the advantage of possessing this

important intelligence, the chief warily laid his plans

before his fellows, and, as might have been anticipated from

his eloquence and cunning, they were adopted without a

dissenting voice. They were, briefly, as follows, both in

opinions and in motives.

It has been already stated that, in obedience to a policy

rarely departed from, the sisters were separated so soon as

they reached the Huron village. Magua had early discovered

that in retaining the person of Alice, he possessed the most

effectual check on Cora. When they parted, therefore, he

kept the former within reach of his hand, consigning the one

he most valued to the keeping of their allies. The

arrangement was understood to be merely temporary, and was

made as much with a view to flatter his neighbors as in

obedience to the invariable rule of Indian policy.

While goaded incessantly by these revengeful impulses that

in a savage seldom slumber, the chief was still attentive to

his more permanent personal interests. The follies and

disloyalty committed in his youth were to be expiated by a

long and painful penance, ere he could be restored to the

full enjoyment of the confidence of his ancient people; and

without confidence there could be no authority in an Indian

tribe. In this delicate and arduous situation, the crafty

native had neglected no means of increasing his influence;

and one of the happiest of his expedients had been the

success with which he had cultivated the favor of their

powerful and dangerous neighbors. The result of his

experiment had answered all the expectations of his policy;

for the Hurons were in no degree exempt from that governing

principle of nature, which induces man to value his gifts

precisely in the degree that they are appreciated by others.

But, while he was making this ostensible sacrifice to

general considerations, Magua never lost sight of his

individual motives. The latter had been frustrated by the

unlooked-for events which had placed all his prisoners

beyond his control; and he now found himself reduced to the

necessity of suing for favors to those whom it had so lately

been his policy to oblige.

Several of the chiefs had proposed deep and treacherous

schemes to surprise the Delawares and, by gaining possession

of their camp, to recover their prisoners by the same blow;

for all agreed that their honor, their interests, and the

peace and happiness of their dead countrymen, imperiously

required them speedily to immolate some victims to their

revenge. But plans so dangerous to attempt, and of such

doubtful issue, Magua found little difficulty in defeating.

He exposed their risk and fallacy with his usual skill; and

it was only after he had removed every impediment, in the

shape of opposing advice, that he ventured to propose his

own projects.

He commenced by flattering the self-love of his auditors; a

never-failing method of commanding attention. When he had

enumerated the many different occasions on which the Hurons

had exhibited their courage and prowess, in the punishment

of insults, he digressed in a high encomium on the virtue of

wisdom. He painted the quality as forming the great point

of difference between the beaver and other brutes; between

the brutes and men; and, finally, between the Hurons, in

particular, and the rest of the human race. After he had

sufficiently extolled the property of discretion, he

undertook to exhibit in what manner its use was applicable

to the present situation of their tribe. On the one hand,

he said, was their great pale father, the governor of the

Canadas, who had looked upon his children with a hard eye

since their tomahawks had been so red; on the other, a

people as numerous as themselves, who spoke a different

language, possessed different interests, and loved them not,

and who would be glad of any pretense to bring them in

disgrace with the great white chief. Then he spoke of their

necessities; of the gifts they had a right to expect for

their past services; of their distance from their proper

hunting-grounds and native villages; and of the necessity of

consulting prudence more, and inclination less, in so

critical circumstances. When he perceived that, while the

old men applauded his moderation, many of the fiercest and

most distinguished of the warriors listened to these politic

plans with lowering looks, he cunningly led them back to the

subject which they most loved. He spoke openly of the

fruits of their wisdom, which he boldly pronounced would be

a complete and final triumph over their enemies. He even

darkly hinted that their success might be extended, with

proper caution, in such a manner as to include the

destruction of all whom they had reason to hate. In short,

he so blended the warlike with the artful, the obvious with

the obscure, as to flatter the propensities of both parties,

and to leave to each subject of hope, while neither could

say it clearly comprehended his intentions.

The orator, or the politician, who can produce such a state

of things, is commonly popular with his contemporaries,

however he may be treated by posterity. All perceived that

more was meant than was uttered, and each one believed that

the hidden meaning was precisely such as his own faculties

enabled him to understand, or his own wishes led him to

anticipate.

In this happy state of things, it is not surprising that the

management of Magua prevailed. The tribe consented to act

with deliberation, and with one voice they committed the

direction of the whole affair to the government of the chief

who had suggested such wise and intelligible expedients.

Magua had now attained one great object of all his cunning

and enterprise. The ground he had lost in the favor of his

people was completely regained, and he found himself even

placed at the head of affairs. He was, in truth, their

ruler; and, so long as he could maintain his popularity, no

monarch could be more despotic, especially while the tribe

continued in a hostile country. Throwing off, therefore,

the appearance of consultation, he assumed the grave air of

authority necessary to support the dignity of his office.

Runners were despatched for intelligence in different

directions; spies were ordered to approach and feel the

encampment of the Delawares; the warriors were dismissed to

their lodges, with an intimation that their services would

soon be needed; and the women and children were ordered to

retire, with a warning that it was their province to be

silent. When these several arrangements were made, Magua

passed through the village, stopping here and there to pay a

visit where he thought his presence might be flattering to

the individual. He confirmed his friends in their

confidence, fixed the wavering, and gratified all. Then he

sought his own lodge. The wife the Huron chief had

abandoned, when he was chased from among his people, was

dead. Children he had none; and he now occupied a hut,

without companion of any sort. It was, in fact, the

dilapidated and solitary structure in which David had been

discovered, and whom he had tolerated in his presence, on

those few occasions when they met, with the contemptuous

indifference of a haughty superiority.

Hither, then, Magua retired, when his labors of policy were

ended. While others slept, however, he neither knew or

sought repose. Had there been one sufficiently curious to

have watched the movements of the newly elected chief, he

would have seen him seated in a corner of his lodge, musing

on the subject of his future plans, from the hour of his

retirement to the time he had appointed for the warriors to

assemble again. Occasionally the air breathed through the

crevices of the hut, and the low flame that fluttered about

the embers of the fire threw their wavering light on the

person of the sullen recluse. At such moments it would not

have been difficult to have fancied the dusky savage the

Prince of Darkness brooding on his own fancied wrongs, and

plotting evil.

Long before the day dawned, however, warrior after warrior

entered the solitary hut of Magua, until they had collected

to the number of twenty. Each bore his rifle, and all the

other accouterments of war, though the paint was uniformly

peaceful. The entrance of these fierce-looking beings was

unnoticed: some seating themselves in the shadows of the

place, and others standing like motionless statues, until

the whole of the designated band was collected.

Then Magua arose and gave the signal to proceed, marching

himself in advance. They followed their leader singly, and

in that well-known order which has obtained the

distinguishing appellation of "Indian file." Unlike other

men engaged in the spirit-stirring business of war, they

stole from their camp unostentatiously and unobserved

resembling a band of gliding specters, more than warriors

seeking the bubble reputation by deeds of desperate daring.

Instead of taking the path which led directly toward the

camp of the Delawares, Magua led his party for some distance

down the windings of the stream, and along the little

artificial lake of the beavers. The day began to dawn as

they entered the clearing which had been formed by those

sagacious and industrious animals. Though Magua, who had

resumed his ancient garb, bore the outline of a fox on the

dressed skin which formed his robe, there was one chief of

his party who carried the beaver as his peculiar symbol, or

"totem." There would have been a species of profanity in

the omission, had this man passed so powerful a community of

his fancied kindred, without bestowing some evidence of his

regard. Accordingly, he paused, and spoke in words as kind

and friendly as if he were addressing more intelligent

beings. He called the animals his cousins, and reminded

them that his protecting influence was the reason they

remained unharmed, while many avaricious traders were

prompting the Indians to take their lives. He promised a

continuance of his favors, and admonished them to be

grateful. After which, he spoke of the expedition in which

he was himself engaged, and intimated, though with

sufficient delicacy and circumlocution, the expediency of

bestowing on their relative a portion of that wisdom for

which they were so renowned.*

* These harangues of the beasts were frequent among

the Indians. They often address their victims in this way,

reproaching them for cowardice or commending their

resolution, as they may happen to exhibit fortitude or the

reverse, in suffering.

During the utterance of this extraordinary address, the

companions of the speaker were as grave and as attentive to

his language as though they were all equally impressed with

its propriety. Once or twice black objects were seen rising

to the surface of the water, and the Huron expressed

pleasure, conceiving that his words were not bestowed in

vain. Just as he ended his address, the head of a large

beaver was thrust from the door of a lodge, whose earthen

walls had been much injured, and which the party had

believed, from its situation, to be uninhabited. Such an

extraordinary sign of confidence was received by the orator

as a highly favorable omen; and though the animal retreated

a little precipitately, he was lavish of his thanks and

commendations.

When Magua thought sufficient time had been lost in

gratifying the family affection of the warrior, he again

made the signal to proceed. As the Indians moved away in a

body, and with a step that would have been inaudible to the

ears of any common man, the same venerable-looking beaver

once more ventured his head from its cover. Had any of the

Hurons turned to look behind them, they would have seen the

animal watching their movements with an interest and

sagacity that might easily have been mistaken for reason.

Indeed, so very distinct and intelligible were the devices

of the quadruped, that even the most experienced observer

would have been at a loss to account for its actions, until

the moment when the party entered the forest, when the whole

would have been explained, by seeing the entire animal issue

from the lodge, uncasing, by the act, the grave features of

Chingachgook from his mask of fur.

James Fenimore Cooper