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Chapter 28

CHAPTER 28

"Brief, I pray for you; for you see, 'tis a busy time with

me."--Much Ado About Nothing

The tribe, or rather half tribe, of Delawares, which has

been so often mentioned, and whose present place of

encampment was so nigh the temporary village of the Hurons,

could assemble about an equal number of warriors with the

latter people. Like their neighbors, they had followed

Montcalm into the territories of the English crown, and were

making heavy and serious inroads on the hunting-grounds of

the Mohawks; though they had seen fit, with the mysterious

reserve so common among the natives, to withhold their

assistance at the moment when it was most required. The

French had accounted for this unexpected defection on the

part of their ally in various ways. It was the prevalent

opinion, however, that they had been influenced by

veneration for the ancient treaty, that had once made them

dependent on the Six Nations for military protection, and

now rendered them reluctant to encounter their former

masters. As for the tribe itself, it had been content to

announce to Montcalm, through his emissaries, with Indian

brevity, that their hatchets were dull, and time was

necessary to sharpen them. The politic captain of the

Canadas had deemed it wiser to submit to entertain a passive

friend, than by any acts of ill-judged severity to convert

him into an open enemy.

On that morning when Magua led his silent party from the

settlement of the beavers into the forests, in the manner

described, the sun rose upon the Delaware encampment as if

it had suddenly burst upon a busy people, actively employed

in all the customary avocations of high noon. The women ran

from lodge to lodge, some engaged in preparing their

morning's meal, a few earnestly bent on seeking the comforts

necessary to their habits, but more pausing to exchange

hasty and whispered sentences with their friends. The

warriors were lounging in groups, musing more than they

conversed and when a few words were uttered, speaking like

men who deeply weighed their opinions. The instruments of

the chase were to be seen in abundance among the lodges; but

none departed. Here and there a warrior was examining his

arms, with an attention that is rarely bestowed on the

implements, when no other enemy than the beasts of the

forest is expected to be encountered. And occasionally, the

eyes of a whole group were turned simultaneously toward a

large and silent lodge in the center of the village, as if

it contained the subject of their common thoughts.

During the existence of this scene, a man suddenly appeared

at the furthest extremity of a platform of rock which formed

the level of the village. He was without arms, and his

paint tended rather to soften than increase the natural

sternness of his austere countenance. When in full view of

the Delawares he stopped, and made a gesture of amity, by

throwing his arm upward toward heaven, and then letting it

fall impressively on his breast. The inhabitants of the

village answered his salute by a low murmur of welcome, and

encouraged him to advance by similar indications of

friendship. Fortified by these assurances, the dark figure

left the brow of the natural rocky terrace, where it had

stood a moment, drawn in a strong outline against the

blushing morning sky, and moved with dignity into the very

center of the huts. As he approached, nothing was audible

but the rattling of the light silver ornaments that loaded

his arms and neck, and the tinkling of the little bells that

fringed his deerskin moccasins. He made, as he advanced,

many courteous signs of greeting to the men he passed,

neglecting to notice the women, however, like one who deemed

their favor, in the present enterprise, of no importance.

When he had reached the group in which it was evident, by

the haughtiness of their common mien, that the principal

chiefs were collected, the stranger paused, and then the

Delawares saw that the active and erect form that stood

before them was that of the well-known Huron chief, Le

Renard Subtil.

His reception was grave, silent, and wary. The warriors in

front stepped aside, opening the way to their most approved

orator by the action; one who spoke all those languages that

were cultivated among the northern aborigines.

"The wise Huron is welcome," said the Delaware, in the

language of the Maquas; "he is come to eat his 'succotash'*,

with his brothers of the lakes."

* A dish composed of cracked corn and beans. It is

much used also by the whites. By corn is meant maise.

"He is come," repeated Magua, bending his head with the

dignity of an eastern prince.

The chief extended his arm and taking the other by the

wrist, they once more exchanged friendly salutations. Then

the Delaware invited his guest to enter his own lodge, and

share his morning meal. The invitation was accepted; and

the two warriors, attended by three or four of the old men,

walked calmly away, leaving the rest of the tribe devoured

by a desire to understand the reasons of so unusual a visit,

and yet not betraying the least impatience by sign or word.

During the short and frugal repast that followed, the

conversation was extremely circumspect, and related entirely

to the events of the hunt, in which Magua had so lately been

engaged. It would have been impossible for the most

finished breeding to wear more of the appearance of

considering the visit as a thing of course, than did his

hosts, notwithstanding every individual present was

perfectly aware that it must be connected with some secret

object and that probably of importance to themselves. When

the appetites of the whole were appeased, the squaws removed

the trenchers and gourds, and the two parties began to

prepare themselves for a subtle trial of their wits.

"Is the face of my great Canada father turned again toward

his Huron children?" demanded the orator of the Delawares.

"When was it ever otherwise?" returned Magua. "He calls my

people 'most beloved'."

The Delaware gravely bowed his acquiescence to what he knew

to be false, and continued:

"The tomahawks of your young men have been very red."

"It is so; but they are now bright and dull; for the

Yengeese are dead, and the Delawares are our neighbors."

The other acknowledged the pacific compliment by a gesture

of the hand, and remained silent. Then Magua, as if

recalled to such a recollection, by the allusion to the

massacre, demanded:

"Does my prisoner give trouble to my brothers?"

"She is welcome."

"The path between the Hurons and the Delawares is short and

it is open; let her be sent to my squaws, if she gives

trouble to my brother."

"She is welcome," returned the chief of the latter nation,

still more emphatically.

The baffled Magua continued silent several minutes,

apparently indifferent, however, to the repulse he had

received in this his opening effort to regain possession of

Cora.

"Do my young men leave the Delawares room on the mountains

for their hunts?" he at length continued.

"The Lenape are rulers of their own hills," returned the

other a little haughtily.

"It is well. Justice is the master of a red-skin. Why

should they brighten their tomahawks and sharpen their

knives against each other? Are not the pale faces thicker

than the swallows in the season of flowers?"

"Good!" exclaimed two or three of his auditors at the same

time.

Magua waited a little, to permit his words to soften the

feelings of the Delawares, before he added:

"Have there not been strange moccasins in the woods? Have

not my brothers scented the feet of white men?"

"Let my Canada father come," returned the other, evasively;

"his children are ready to see him."

"When the great chief comes, it is to smoke with the Indians

in their wigwams. The Hurons say, too, he is welcome. But

the Yengeese have long arms, and legs that never tire! My

young men dreamed they had seen the trail of the Yengeese

nigh the village of the Delawares!"

"They will not find the Lenape asleep."

"It is well. The warrior whose eye is open can see his

enemy," said Magua, once more shifting his ground, when he

found himself unable to penetrate the caution of his

companion. "I have brought gifts to my brother. His nation

would not go on the warpath, because they did not think it

well, but their friends have remembered where they lived."

When he had thus announced his liberal intention, the crafty

chief arose, and gravely spread his presents before the

dazzled eyes of his hosts. They consisted principally of

trinkets of little value, plundered from the slaughtered

females of William Henry. In the division of the baubles

the cunning Huron discovered no less art than in their

selection. While he bestowed those of greater value on the

two most distinguished warriors, one of whom was his host,

he seasoned his offerings to their inferiors with such well-

timed and apposite compliments, as left them no ground of

complaint. In short, the whole ceremony contained such a

happy blending of the profitable with the flattering, that

it was not difficult for the donor immediately to read the

effect of a generosity so aptly mingled with praise, in the

eyes of those he addressed.

This well-judged and politic stroke on the part of Magua was

not without instantaneous results. The Delawares lost their

gravity in a much more cordial expression; and the host, in

particular, after contemplating his own liberal share of the

spoil for some moments with peculiar gratification, repeated

with strong emphasis, the words:

"My brother is a wise chief. He is welcome."

"The Hurons love their friends the Delawares," returned

Magua. "Why should they not? they are colored by the same

sun, and their just men will hunt in the same grounds after

death. The red-skins should be friends, and look with open

eyes on the white men. Has not my brother scented spies in

the woods?"

The Delaware, whose name in English signified "Hard Heart,"

an appellation that the French had translated into "le Coeur-

dur," forgot that obduracy of purpose, which had probably

obtained him so significant a title. His countenance grew

very sensibly less stern and he now deigned to answer more

directly.

"There have been strange moccasins about my camp. They have

been tracked into my lodges."

"Did my brother beat out the dogs?" asked Magua, without

adverting in any manner to the former equivocation of the

chief.

"It would not do. The stranger is always welcome to the

children of the Lenape."

"The stranger, but not the spy."

"Would the Yengeese send their women as spies? Did not the

Huron chief say he took women in the battle?"

"He told no lie. The Yengeese have sent out their scouts.

They have been in my wigwams, but they found there no one to

say welcome. Then they fled to the Delawares--for, say

they, the Delawares are our friends; their minds are turned

from their Canada father!"

This insinuation was a home thrust, and one that in a more

advanced state of society would have entitled Magua to the

reputation of a skillful diplomatist. The recent defection

of the tribe had, as they well knew themselves, subjected

the Delawares to much reproach among their French allies;

and they were now made to feel that their future actions

were to be regarded with jealousy and distrust. There was

no deep insight into causes and effects necessary to foresee

that such a situation of things was likely to prove highly

prejudicial to their future movements. Their distant

villages, their hunting-grounds and hundreds of their women

and children, together with a material part of their

physical force, were actually within the limits of the

French territory. Accordingly, this alarming annunciation

was received, as Magua intended, with manifest

disapprobation, if not with alarm.

"Let my father look in my face," said Le Coeur-dur; "he will

see no change. It is true, my young men did not go out on

the war-path; they had dreams for not doing so. But they

love and venerate the great white chief."

"Will he think so when he hears that his greatest enemy is

fed in the camp of his children? When he is told a bloody

Yengee smokes at your fire? That the pale face who has

slain so many of his friends goes in and out among the

Delawares? Go! my great Canada father is not a fool!"

"Where is the Yengee that the Delawares fear?" returned the

other; "who has slain my young men? Who is the mortal enemy

of my Great Father?"

"La Longue Carabine!"

The Delaware warriors started at the well-known name,

betraying by their amazement, that they now learned, for the

first time, one so famous among the Indian allies of France

was within their power.

"What does my brother mean?" demanded Le Coeur-dur, in a

tone that, by its wonder, far exceeded the usual apathy of

his race.

"A Huron never lies!" returned Magua, coldly, leaning his

head against the side of the lodge, and drawing his slight

robe across his tawny breast. "Let the Delawares count

their prisoners; they will find one whose skin is neither

red nor pale."

A long and musing pause succeeded. The chief consulted

apart with his companions, and messengers despatched to

collect certain others of the most distinguished men of the

tribe.

As warrior after warrior dropped in, they were each made

acquainted, in turn, with the important intelligence that

Magua had just communicated. The air of surprise, and the

usual low, deep, guttural exclamation, were common to them

all. The news spread from mouth to mouth, until the whole

encampment became powerfully agitated. The women suspended

their labors, to catch such syllables as unguardedly fell

from the lips of the consulting warriors. The boys deserted

their sports, and walking fearlessly among their fathers,

looked up in curious admiration, as they heard the brief

exclamations of wonder they so freely expressed the temerity

of their hated foe. In short, every occupation was

abandoned for the time, and all other pursuits seemed

discarded in order that the tribe might freely indulge,

after their own peculiar manner, in an open expression of

feeling.

When the excitement had a little abated, the old men

disposed themselves seriously to consider that which it

became the honor and safety of their tribe to perform, under

circumstances of so much delicacy and embarrassment. During

all these movements, and in the midst of the general

commotion, Magua had not only maintained his seat, but the

very attitude he had originally taken, against the side of

the lodge, where he continued as immovable, and, apparently,

as unconcerned, as if he had no interest in the result. Not

a single indication of the future intentions of his hosts,

however, escaped his vigilant eyes. With his consummate

knowledge of the nature of the people with whom he had to

deal, he anticipated every measure on which they decided;

and it might almost be said, that, in many instances, he

knew their intentions, even before they became known to

themselves.

The council of the Delawares was short. When it was ended,

a general bustle announced that it was to be immediately

succeeded by a solemn and formal assemblage of the nation.

As such meetings were rare, and only called on occasions of

the last importance, the subtle Huron, who still sat apart,

a wily and dark observer of the proceedings, now knew that

all his projects must be brought to their final issue. He,

therefore, left the lodge and walked silently forth to the

place, in front of the encampment, whither the warriors were

already beginning to collect.

It might have been half an hour before each individual,

including even the women and children, was in his place.

The delay had been created by the grave preparations that

were deemed necessary to so solemn and unusual a conference.

But when the sun was seen climbing above the tops of that

mountain, against whose bosom the Delawares had constructed

their encampment, most were seated; and as his bright rays

darted from behind the outline of trees that fringed the

eminence, they fell upon as grave, as attentive, and as

deeply interested a multitude, as was probably ever before

lighted by his morning beams. Its number somewhat exceeded

a thousand souls.

In a collection of so serious savages, there is never to be

found any impatient aspirant after premature distinction,

standing ready to move his auditors to some hasty, and,

perhaps, injudicious discussion, in order that his own

reputation may be the gainer. An act of so much

precipitancy and presumption would seal the downfall of

precocious intellect forever. It rested solely with the

oldest and most experienced of the men to lay the subject of

the conference before the people. Until such a one chose to

make some movement, no deeds in arms, no natural gifts, nor

any renown as an orator, would have justified the slightest

interruption. On the present occasion, the aged warrior

whose privilege it was to speak, was silent, seemingly

oppressed with the magnitude of his subject. The delay had

already continued long beyond the usual deliberative pause

that always preceded a conference; but no sign of impatience

or surprise escaped even the youngest boy. Occasionally an

eye was raised from the earth, where the looks of most were

riveted, and strayed toward a particular lodge, that was,

however, in no manner distinguished from those around it,

except in the peculiar care that had been taken to protect

it against the assaults of the weather.

At length one of those low murmurs, that are so apt to

disturb a multitude, was heard, and the whole nation arose

to their feet by a common impulse. At that instant the door

of the lodge in question opened, and three men, issuing from

it, slowly approached the place of consultation. They were

all aged, even beyond that period to which the oldest

present had reached; but one in the center, who leaned on

his companions for support, had numbered an amount of years

to which the human race is seldom permitted to attain. His

frame, which had once been tall and erect, like the cedar,

was now bending under the pressure of more than a century.

The elastic, light step of an Indian was gone, and in its

place he was compelled to toil his tardy way over the

ground, inch by inch. His dark, wrinkled countenance was in

singular and wild contrast with the long white locks which

floated on his shoulders, in such thickness, as to announce

that generations had probably passed away since they had

last been shorn.

The dress of this patriarch--for such, considering his

vast age, in conjunction with his affinity and influence

with his people, he might very properly be termed--was

rich and imposing, though strictly after the simple fashions

of the tribe. His robe was of the finest skins, which had

been deprived of their fur, in order to admit of a

hieroglyphical representation of various deeds in arms, done

in former ages. His bosom was loaded with medals, some in

massive silver, and one or two even in gold, the gifts of

various Christian potentates during the long period of his

life. He also wore armlets, and cinctures above the ankles,

of the latter precious metal. His head, on the whole of

which the hair had been permitted to grow, the pursuits of

war having so long been abandoned, was encircled by a sort

of plated diadem, which, in its turn, bore lesser and more

glittering ornaments, that sparkled amid the glossy hues of

three drooping ostrich feathers, dyed a deep black, in

touching contrast to the color of his snow-white locks. His

tomahawk was nearly hid in silver, and the handle of his

knife shone like a horn of solid gold.

So soon as the first hum of emotion and pleasure, which the

sudden appearance of this venerated individual created, had

a little subsided, the name of "Tamenund" was whispered from

mouth to mouth. Magua had often heard the fame of this wise

and just Delaware; a reputation that even proceeded so far

as to bestow on him the rare gift of holding secret

communion with the Great Spirit, and which has since

transmitted his name, with some slight alteration, to the

white usurpers of his ancient territory, as the imaginary

tutelar saint* of a vast empire. The Huron chief,

therefore, stepped eagerly out a little from the throng, to

a spot whence he might catch a nearer glimpse of the

features of the man, whose decision was likely to produce so

deep an influence on his own fortunes.

* The Americans sometimes called their tutelar saint

Tamenay, a corruption of the name of the renowned chief here

introduced. There are many traditions which speak of the

character and power of Tamenund.

The eyes of the old man were closed, as though the organs

were wearied with having so long witnessed the selfish

workings of the human passions. The color of his skin

differed from that of most around him, being richer and

darker, the latter having been produced by certain delicate

and mazy lines of complicated and yet beautiful figures,

which had been traced over most of his person by the

operation of tattooing. Notwithstanding the position of the

Huron, he passed the observant and silent Magua without

notice, and leaning on his two venerable supporters

proceeded to the high place of the multitude, where he

seated himself in the center of his nation, with the dignity

of a monarch and the air of a father.

Nothing could surpass the reverence and affection with which

this unexpected visit from one who belongs rather to another

world than to this, was received by his people. After a

suitable and decent pause, the principal chiefs arose, and,

approaching the patriarch, they placed his hands reverently

on their heads, seeming to entreat a blessing. The younger

men were content with touching his robe, or even drawing

nigh his person, in order to breathe in the atmosphere of

one so aged, so just, and so valiant. None but the most

distinguished among the youthful warriors even presumed to

far as to perform the latter ceremony, the great mass of the

multitude deeming it a sufficient happiness to look upon a

form so deeply venerated, and so well beloved. When these

acts of affection and respect were performed, the chiefs

drew back again to their several places, and silence reigned

in the whole encampment.

After a short delay, a few of the young men, to whom

instructions had been whispered by one of the aged

attendants of Tamenund, arose, left the crowd, and entered

the lodge which has already been noted as the object of so

much attention throughout that morning. In a few minutes

they reappeared, escorting the individuals who had caused

all these solemn preparations toward the seat of judgment.

The crowd opened in a lane; and when the party had re-

entered, it closed in again, forming a large and dense belt

of human bodies, arranged in an open circle.

James Fenimore Cooper