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Chapter 29

CHAPTER 29

"The assembly seated, rising o'er the rest, Achilles thus

the king of men addressed."--Pope's Illiad

Cora stood foremost among the prisoners, entwining her arms

in those of Alice, in the tenderness of sisterly love.

Notwithstanding the fearful and menacing array of savages on

every side of her, no apprehension on her own account could

prevent the nobler-minded maiden from keeping her eyes

fastened on the pale and anxious features of the trembling

Alice. Close at their side stood Heyward, with an interest

in both, that, at such a moment of intense uncertainty,

scarcely knew a preponderance in favor of her whom he most

loved. Hawkeye had placed himself a little in the rear,

with a deference to the superior rank of his companions,

that no similarity in the state of their present fortunes

could induce him to forget. Uncas was not there.

When perfect silence was again restored, and after the usual

long, impressive pause, one of the two aged chiefs who sat

at the side of the patriarch arose, and demanded aloud, in

very intelligible English:

"Which of my prisoners is La Longue Carabine?"

Neither Duncan nor the scout answered. The former, however,

glanced his eyes around the dark and silent assembly, and

recoiled a pace, when they fell on the malignant visage of

Magua. He saw, at once, that this wily savage had some

secret agency in their present arraignment before the

nation, and determined to throw every possible impediment in

the way of the execution of his sinister plans. He had

witnessed one instance of the summary punishments of the

Indians, and now dreaded that his companion was to be

selected for a second. In this dilemma, with little or no

time for reflection, he suddenly determined to cloak his

invaluable friend, at any or every hazard to himself.

Before he had time, however, to speak, the question was

repeated in a louder voice, and with a clearer utterance.

"Give us arms," the young man haughtily replied, "and place

us in yonder woods. Our deeds shall speak for us!"

"This is the warrior whose name has filled our ears!"

returned the chief, regarding Heyward with that sort of

curious interest which seems inseparable from man, when

first beholding one of his fellows to whom merit or

accident, virtue or crime, has given notoriety. "What has

brought the white man into the camp of the Delawares?"

"My necessities. I come for food, shelter, and friends."

"It cannot be. The woods are full of game. The head of a

warrior needs no other shelter than a sky without clouds;

and the Delawares are the enemies, and not the friends of

the Yengeese. Go, the mouth has spoken, while the heart

said nothing."

Duncan, a little at a loss in what manner to proceed,

remained silent; but the scout, who had listened attentively

to all that passed, now advanced steadily to the front.

"That I did not answer to the call for La Longue Carabine,

was not owing either to shame or fear," he said, "for

neither one nor the other is the gift of an honest man. But

I do not admit the right of the Mingoes to bestow a name on

one whose friends have been mindful of his gifts, in this

particular; especially as their title is a lie, 'killdeer'

being a grooved barrel and no carabyne. I am the man,

however, that got the name of Nathaniel from my kin; the

compliment of Hawkeye from the Delawares, who live on their

own river; and whom the Iroquois have presumed to style the

'Long Rifle', without any warranty from him who is most

concerned in the matter."

The eyes of all present, which had hitherto been gravely

scanning the person of Duncan, were now turned, on the

instant, toward the upright iron frame of this new pretender

to the distinguished appellation. It was in no degree

remarkable that there should be found two who were willing

to claim so great an honor, for impostors, though rare, were

not unknown among the natives; but it was altogether

material to the just and severe intentions of the Delawares,

that there should be no mistake in the matter. Some of

their old men consulted together in private, and then, as it

would seem, they determined to interrogate their visitor on

the subject.

"My brother has said that a snake crept into my camp," said

the chief to Magua; "which is he?"

The Huron pointed to the scout.

"Will a wise Delaware believe the barking of a wolf?"

exclaimed Duncan, still more confirmed in the evil

intentions of his ancient enemy: " a dog never lies, but

when was a wolf known to speak the truth?"

The eyes of Magua flashed fire; but suddenly recollecting

the necessity of maintaining his presence of mind, he turned

away in silent disdain, well assured that the sagacity of

the Indians would not fail to extract the real merits of the

point in controversy. He was not deceived; for, after

another short consultation, the wary Delaware turned to him

again, and expressed the determination of the chiefs, though

in the most considerate language.

"My brother has been called a liar," he said, "and his

friends are angry. They will show that he has spoken the

truth. Give my prisoners guns, and let them prove which is

the man."

Magua affected to consider the expedient, which he well knew

proceeded from distrust of himself, as a compliment, and

made a gesture of acquiescence, well content that his

veracity should be supported by so skillful a marksman as

the scout. The weapons were instantly placed in the hands

of the friendly opponents, and they were bid to fire, over

the heads of the seated multitude, at an earthen vessel,

which lay, by accident, on a stump, some fifty yards from

the place where they stood.

Heyward smiled to himself at the idea of a competition with

the scout, though he determined to persevere in the

deception, until apprised of the real designs of Magua.

Raising his rifle with the utmost care, and renewing his aim

three several times, he fired. The bullet cut the wood

within a few inches of the vessel; and a general exclamation

of satisfaction announced that the shot was considered a

proof of great skill in the use of a weapon. Even Hawkeye

nodded his head, as if he would say, it was better than he

expected. But, instead of manifesting an intention to

contend with the successful marksman, he stood leaning on

his rifle for more than a minute, like a man who was

completely buried in thought. From this reverie, he was,

however, awakened by one of the young Indians who had

furnished the arms, and who now touched his shoulder, saying

in exceedingly broken English:

"Can the pale face beat it?"

"Yes, Huron!" exclaimed the scout, raising the short rifle

in his right hand, and shaking it at Magua, with as much

apparent ease as if it were a reed; "yes, Huron, I could

strike you now, and no power on earth could prevent the

deed! The soaring hawk is not more certain of the dove than

I am this moment of you, did I choose to send a bullet to

your heart! Why should I not? Why!--because the gifts of

my color forbid it, and I might draw down evil on tender and

innocent heads. If you know such a being as God, thank Him,

therefore, in your inward soul; for you have reason!"

The flushed countenance, angry eye and swelling figure of

the scout, produced a sensation of secret awe in all that

heard him. The Delawares held their breath in expectation;

but Magua himself, even while he distrusted the forbearance

of his enemy, remained immovable and calm, where he stood

wedged in by the crowd, as one who grew to the spot.

"Beat it," repeated the young Delaware at the elbow of the

scout.

"Beat what, fool!--what?" exclaimed Hawkeye, still

flourishing the weapon angrily above his head, though his

eye no longer sought the person of Magua.

"If the white man is the warrior he pretends," said the aged

chief, "let him strike nigher to the mark."

The scout laughed aloud--a noise that produced the

startling effect of an unnatural sound on Heyward; then

dropping the piece, heavily, into his extended left hand, it

was discharged, apparently by the shock, driving the

fragments of the vessel into the air, and scattering them on

every side. Almost at the same instant, the rattling sound

of the rifle was heard, as he suffered it to fall,

contemptuously, to the earth.

The first impression of so strange a scene was engrossing

admiration. Then a low, but increasing murmur, ran through

the multitude, and finally swelled into sounds that denoted

a lively opposition in the sentiments of the spectators.

While some openly testified their satisfaction at so

unexampled dexterity, by far the larger portion of the tribe

were inclined to believe the success of the shot was the

result of accident. Heyward was not slow to confirm an

opinion that was so favorable to his own pretensions.

"It was chance!" he exclaimed; "none can shoot without an

aim!"

"Chance!" echoed the excited woodsman, who was now

stubbornly bent on maintaining his identity at every hazard,

and on whom the secret hints of Heyward to acquiesce in the

deception were entirely lost. "Does yonder lying Huron,

too, think it chance? Give him another gun, and place us

face to face, without cover or dodge, and let Providence,

and our own eyes, decide the matter atween us! I do not

make the offer, to you, major; for our blood is of a color,

and we serve the same master."

"That the Huron is a liar, is very evident," returned

Heyward, coolly; "you have yourself heard him asset you to

be La Longue Carabine."

It were impossible to say what violent assertion the

stubborn Hawkeye would have next made, in his headlong wish

to vindicate his identity, had not the aged Delaware once

more interposed.

"The hawk which comes from the clouds can return when he

will," he said; "give them the guns."

This time the scout seized the rifle with avidity; nor had

Magua, though he watched the movements of the marksman with

jealous eyes, any further cause for apprehension.

"Now let it be proved, in the face of this tribe of

Delawares, which is the better man," cried the scout,

tapping the butt of his piece with that finger which had

pulled so many fatal triggers.

"You see that gourd hanging against yonder tree, major; if

you are a marksman fit for the borders, let me see you break

its shell!"

Duncan noted the object, and prepared himself to renew the

trial. The gourd was one of the usual little vessels used

by the Indians, and it was suspended from a dead branch of a

small pine, by a thong of deerskin, at the full distance of

a hundred yards. So strangely compounded is the feeling of

self-love, that the young soldier, while he knew the utter

worthlessness of the suffrages of his savage umpires, forgot

the sudden motives of the contest in a wish to excel. It

had been seen, already, that his skill was far from being

contemptible, and he now resolved to put forth its nicest

qualities. Had his life depended on the issue, the aim of

Duncan could not have been more deliberate or guarded. He

fired; and three or four young Indians, who sprang forward

at the report, announced with a shout, that the ball was in

the tree, a very little on one side of the proper object.

The warriors uttered a common ejaculation of pleasure, and

then turned their eyes, inquiringly, on the movements of his

rival.

"It may do for the Royal Americans!" said Hawkeye, laughing

once more in his own silent, heartfelt manner; "but had my

gun often turned so much from the true line, many a marten,

whose skin is now in a lady's muff, would still be in the

woods; ay, and many a bloody Mingo, who has departed to his

final account, would be acting his deviltries at this very

day, atween the provinces. I hope the squaw who owns the

gourd has more of them in her wigwam, for this will never

hold water again!"

The scout had shook his priming, and cocked his piece, while

speaking; and, as he ended, he threw back a foot, and slowly

raised the muzzle from the earth: the motion was steady,

uniform, and in one direction. When on a perfect level, it

remained for a single moment, without tremor or variation,

as though both man and rifle were carved in stone. During

that stationary instant, it poured forth its contents, in a

bright, glancing sheet of flame. Again the young Indians

bounded forward; but their hurried search and disappointed

looks announced that no traces of the bullet were to be

seen.

"Go!" said the old chief to the scout, in a tone of strong

disgust; "thou art a wolf in the skin of a dog. I will talk

to the 'Long Rifle' of the Yengeese."

"Ah! had I that piece which furnished the name you use, I

would obligate myself to cut the thong, and drop the gourd

without breaking it!" returned Hawkeye, perfectly

undisturbed by the other's manner. "Fools, if you would

find the bullet of a sharpshooter in these woods, you must

look in the object, and not around it!"

The Indian youths instantly comprehended his meaning--for

this time he spoke in the Delaware tongue--and tearing the

gourd from the tree, they held it on high with an exulting

shout, displaying a hole in its bottom, which had been but

by the bullet, after passing through the usual orifice in

the center of its upper side. At this unexpected

exhibition, a loud and vehement expression of pleasure burst

from the mouth of every warrior present. It decided the

question, and effectually established Hawkeye in the

possession of his dangerous reputation. Those curious and

admiring eyes which had been turned again on Heyward, were

finally directed to the weather-beaten form of the scout,

who immediately became the principal object of attention to

the simple and unsophisticated beings by whom he was

surrounded. When the sudden and noisy commotion had a

little subsided, the aged chief resumed his examination.

"Why did you wish to stop my ears?" he said, addressing

Duncan; "are the Delawares fools that they could not know

the young panther from the cat?"

"They will yet find the Huron a singing-bird," said Duncan,

endeavoring to adopt the figurative language of the natives.

"It is good. We will know who can shut the ears of men.

Brother," added the chief turning his eyes on Magua, "the

Delawares listen."

Thus singled, and directly called on to declare his object,

the Huron arose; and advancing with great deliberation and

dignity into the very center of the circle, where he stood

confronted by the prisoners, he placed himself in an

attitude to speak. Before opening his mouth, however, he

bent his eyes slowly along the whole living boundary of

earnest faces, as if to temper his expressions to the

capacities of his audience. On Hawkeye he cast a glance of

respectful enmity; on Duncan, a look of inextinguishable

hatred; the shrinking figure of Alice he scarcely deigned to

notice; but when his glance met the firm, commanding, and

yet lovely form of Cora, his eye lingered a moment, with an

expression that it might have been difficult to define.

Then, filled with his own dark intentions, he spoke in the

language of the Canadas, a tongue that he well knew was

comprehended by most of his auditors.

"The Spirit that made men colored them differently,"

commenced the subtle Huron. "Some are blacker than the

sluggish bear. These He said should be slaves; and He

ordered them to work forever, like the beaver. You may hear

them groan, when the south wind blows, louder than the

lowing buffaloes, along the shores of the great salt lake,

where the big canoes come and go with them in droves. Some

He made with faces paler than the ermine of the forests; and

these He ordered to be traders; dogs to their women, and

wolves to their slaves. He gave this people the nature of

the pigeon; wings that never tire; young, more plentiful

than the leaves on the trees, and appetites to devour the

earth. He gave them tongues like the false call of the

wildcat; hearts like rabbits; the cunning of the hog (but

none of the fox), and arms longer than the legs of the

moose. With his tongue he stops the ears of the Indians;

his heart teaches him to pay warriors to fight his battles;

his cunning tells him how to get together the goods of the

earth; and his arms inclose the land from the shores of the

salt-water to the islands of the great lake. His gluttony

makes him sick. God gave him enough, and yet he wants all.

Such are the pale faces.

"Some the Great Spirit made with skins brighter and redder

than yonder sun," continued Magua, pointing impressively

upward to the lurid luminary, which was struggling through

the misty atmosphere of the horizon; "and these did He

fashion to His own mind. He gave them this island as He had

made it, covered with trees, and filled with game. The wind

made their clearings; the sun and rain ripened their fruits;

and the snows came to tell them to be thankful. What need

had they of roads to journey by! They saw through the

hills! When the beavers worked, they lay in the shade, and

looked on. The winds cooled them in summer; in winter,

skins kept them warm. If they fought among themselves, it

was to prove that they were men. They were brave; they were

just; they were happy."

Here the speaker paused, and again looked around him to

discover if his legend had touched the sympathies of his

listeners. He met everywhere, with eyes riveted on his own,

heads erect and nostrils expanded, as if each individual

present felt himself able and willing, singly, to redress

the wrongs of his race.

"If the Great Spirit gave different tongues to his red

children," he continued, in a low, still melancholy voice,

"it was that all animals might understand them. Some He

placed among the snows, with their cousin, the bear. Some

he placed near the setting sun, on the road to the happy

hunting grounds. Some on the lands around the great fresh

waters; but to His greatest, and most beloved, He gave the

sands of the salt lake. Do my brothers know the name of

this favored people?"

"It was the Lenape!" exclaimed twenty eager voices in a

breath.

"It was the Lenni Lenape," returned Magua, affecting to bend

his head in reverence to their former greatness. "It was

the tribes of the Lenape! The sun rose from water that was

salt, and set in water that was sweet, and never hid himself

from their eyes. But why should I, a Huron of the woods,

tell a wise people their own traditions? Why remind them of

their injuries; their ancient greatness; their deeds; their

glory; their happiness; their losses; their defeats; their

misery? Is there not one among them who has seen it all,

and who knows it to be true? I have done. My tongue is

still for my heart is of lead. I listen."

As the voice of the speaker suddenly ceased, every face and

all eyes turned, by a common movement, toward the venerable

Tamenund. From the moment that he took his seat, until the

present instant, the lips of the patriarch had not severed,

and scarcely a sign of life had escaped him. He sat bent in

feebleness, and apparently unconscious of the presence he

was in, during the whole of that opening scene, in which the

skill of the scout had been so clearly established. At the

nicely graduated sound of Magua's voice, however, he

betrayed some evidence of consciousness, and once or twice

he even raised his head, as if to listen. But when the

crafty Huron spoke of his nation by name, the eyelids of the

old man raised themselves, and he looked out upon the

multitude with that sort of dull, unmeaning expression which

might be supposed to belong to the countenance of a specter.

Then he made an effort to rise, and being upheld by his

supporters, he gained his feet, in a posture commanding by

its dignity, while he tottered with weakness.

"Who calls upon the children of the Lenape?" he said, in a

deep, guttural voice, that was rendered awfully audible by

the breathless silence of the multitude; "who speaks of

things gone? Does not the egg become a worm--the worm a

fly, and perish? Why tell the Delawares of good that is

past? Better thank the Manitou for that which remains."

"It is a Wyandot," said Magua, stepping nigher to the rude

platform on which the other stood; "a friend of Tamenund."

"A friend!" repeated the sage, on whose brow a dark frown

settled, imparting a portion of that severity which had

rendered his eye so terrible in middle age. "Are the

Mingoes rulers of the earth? What brings a Huron in here?"

"Justice. His prisoners are with his brothers, and he comes

for his own."

Tamenund turned his head toward one of his supporters, and

listened to the short explanation the man gave.

Then, facing the applicant, he regarded him a moment with

deep attention; after which he said, in a low and reluctant

voice:

"Justice is the law of the great Manitou. My children, give

the stranger food. Then, Huron, take thine own and depart."

On the delivery of this solemn judgment, the patriarch

seated himself, and closed his eyes again, as if better

pleased with the images of his own ripened experience than

with the visible objects of the world. Against such a

decree there was no Delaware sufficiently hardy to murmur,

much less oppose himself. The words were barely uttered

when four or five of the younger warriors, stepping behind

Heyward and the scout, passed thongs so dexterously and

rapidly around their arms, as to hold them both in instant

bondage. The former was too much engrossed with his

precious and nearly insensible burden, to be aware of their

intentions before they were executed; and the latter, who

considered even the hostile tribes of the Delawares a

superior race of beings, submitted without resistance.

Perhaps, however, the manner of the scout would not have

been so passive, had he fully comprehended the language in

which the preceding dialogue had been conducted.

Magua cast a look of triumph around the whole assembly

before he proceeded to the execution of his purpose.

Perceiving that the men were unable to offer any resistance,

he turned his looks on her he valued most. Cora met his

gaze with an eye so calm and firm, that his resolution

wavered. Then, recollecting his former artifice, he raised

Alice from the arms of the warrior against whom she leaned,

and beckoning Heyward to follow, he motioned for the

encircling crowd to open. But Cora, instead of obeying the

impulse he had expected, rushed to the feet of the

patriarch, and, raising her voice, exclaimed aloud:

"Just and venerable Delaware, on thy wisdom and power we

lean for mercy! Be deaf to yonder artful and remorseless

monster, who poisons thy ears with falsehoods to feed his

thirst for blood. Thou that hast lived long, and that hast

seen the evil of the world, should know how to temper its

calamities to the miserable."

The eyes of the old man opened heavily, and he once more

looked upward at the multitude. As the piercing tones of

the suppliant swelled on his ears, they moved slowly in the

direction of her person, and finally settled there in a

steady gaze. Cora had cast herself to her knees; and, with

hands clenched in each other and pressed upon her bosom, she

remained like a beauteous and breathing model of her sex,

looking up in his faded but majestic countenance, with a

species of holy reverence. Gradually the expression of

Tamenund's features changed, and losing their vacancy in

admiration, they lighted with a portion of that intelligence

which a century before had been wont to communicate his

youthful fire to the extensive bands of the Delawares.

Rising without assistance, and seemingly without an effort,

he demanded, in a voice that startled its auditors by its

firmness:

"What art thou?"

"A woman. One of a hated race, it thou wilt--a Yengee.

But one who has never harmed thee, and who cannot harm thy

people, if she would; who asks for succor."

"Tell me, my children," continued the patriarch, hoarsely,

motioning to those around him, though his eyes still dwelt

upon the kneeling form of Cora, "where have the Delawares

camped?"

"In the mountains of the Iroquois, beyond the clear springs

of the Horican."

"Many parching summers are come and gone," continued the

sage, "since I drank of the water of my own rivers. The

children of Minquon* are the justest white men, but they

were thirsty and they took it to themselves. Do they follow

us so far?"

* William Penn was termed Minquon by the Delawares,

and, as he never used violence or injustice in his dealings

with them, his reputation for probity passed into a proverb.

The American is justly proud of the origin of his nation,

which is perhaps unequaled in the history of the world; but

the Pennsylvanian and Jerseyman have more reason to value

themselves in their ancestors than the natives of any other

state, since no wrong was done the original owners of the

soil.

"We follow none, we covet nothing," answered Cora.

"Captives against our wills, have we been brought amongst

you; and we ask but permission to depart to our own in

peace. Art thou not Tamenund--the father, the judge, I

had almost said, the prophet--of this people?"

"I am Tamenund of many days."

"'Tis now some seven years that one of thy people was at the

mercy of a white chief on the borders of this province. He

claimed to be of the blood of the good and just Tamenund.

'Go', said the white man, 'for thy parent's sake thou art

free' Dost thou remember the name of that English warrior?"

"I remember, that when a laughing boy," returned the

patriarch, with the peculiar recollection of vast age, "I

stood upon the sands of the sea shore, and saw a big canoe,

with wings whiter than the swan's, and wider than many

eagles, come from the rising sun."

"Nay, nay; I speak not of a time so very distant, but of

favor shown to thy kindred by one of mine, within the memory

of thy youngest warrior."

"Was it when the Yengeese and the Dutchmanne fought for the

hunting-grounds of the Delawares? Then Tamenund was a

chief, and first laid aside the bow for the lightning of the

pale faces--"

"Not yet then," interrupted Cora, "by many ages; I speak of

a thing of yesterday. Surely, surely, you forget it not."

"It was but yesterday," rejoined the aged man, with touching

pathos, "that the children of the Lenape were masters of the

world. The fishes of the salt lake, the birds, the beasts,

and the Mengee of the woods, owned them for Sagamores."

Cora bowed her head in disappointment, and, for a bitter

moment struggled with her chagrin. Then, elevating her rich

features and beaming eyes, she continued, in tones scarcely

less penetrating than the unearthly voice of the patriarch

himself:

"Tell me, is Tamenund a father?"

The old man looked down upon her from his elevated stand,

with a benignant smile on his wasted countenance, and then

casting his eyes slowly over the whole assemblage, he

answered:

"Of a nation."

"For myself I ask nothing. Like thee and thine, venerable

chief," she continued, pressing her hands convulsively on

her heart, and suffering her head to droop until her burning

cheeks were nearly concealed in the maze of dark, glossy

tresses that fell in disorder upon her shoulders, "the curse

of my ancestors has fallen heavily on their child. But

yonder is one who has never known the weight of Heaven's

displeasure until now. She is the daughter of an old and

failing man, whose days are near their close. She has many,

very many, to love her, and delight in her; and she is too

good, much too precious, to become the victim of that

villain."

"I know that the pale faces are a proud and hungry race. I

know that they claim not only to have the earth, but that

the meanest of their color is better than the Sachems of the

red man. The dogs and crows of their tribes," continued the

earnest old chieftain, without heeding the wounded spirit of

his listener, whose head was nearly crushed to the earth in

shame, as he proceeded, "would bark and caw before they

would take a woman to their wigwams whose blood was not of

the color of snow. But let them not boast before the face

of the Manitou too loud. They entered the land at the

rising, and may yet go off at the setting sun. I have often

seen the locusts strip the leaves from the trees, but the

season of blossoms has always come again."

"It is so," said Cora, drawing a long breath, as if reviving

from a trance, raising her face, and shaking back her

shining veil, with a kindling eye, that contradicted the

death-like paleness of her countenance; "but why--it is

not permitted us to inquire. There is yet one of thine own

people who has not been brought before thee; before thou

lettest the Huron depart in triumph, hear him speak."

Observing Tamenund to look about him doubtingly, one of his

companions said:

"It is a snake--a red-skin in the pay of the Yengeese. We

keep him for the torture."

"Let him come," returned the sage.

Then Tamenund once more sank into his seat, and a silence so

deep prevailed while the young man prepared to obey his

simple mandate, that the leaves, which fluttered in the

draught of the light morning air, were distinctly heard

rustling in the surrounding forest.

James Fenimore Cooper