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Chapter 30

CHAPTER 30


"If you deny me, fie upon your law! There is no force in

the decrees of Venice: I stand for judgment: answer, shall I

have it?"--Merchant of Venice

The silence continued unbroken by human sounds for many

anxious minutes. Then the waving multitude opened and shut

again, and Uncas stood in the living circle. All those

eyes, which had been curiously studying the lineaments of

the sage, as the source of their own intelligence, turned on

the instant, and were now bent in secret admiration on the

erect, agile, and faultless person of the captive. But

neither the presence in which he found himself, nor the

exclusive attention that he attracted, in any manner

disturbed the self-possession of the young Mohican. He cast

a deliberate and observing look on every side of him,

meeting the settled expression of hostility that lowered in

the visages of the chiefs with the same calmness as the

curious gaze of the attentive children. But when, last in

this haughty scrutiny, the person of Tamenund came under his

glance, his eye became fixed, as though all other objects

were already forgotten. Then, advancing with a slow and

noiseless step up the area, he placed himself immediately

before the footstool of the sage. Here he stood unnoted,

though keenly observant himself, until one of the chiefs

apprised the latter of his presence.

"With what tongue does the prisoner speak to the Manitou?"

demanded the patriarch, without unclosing his eyes.

"Like his fathers," Uncas replied; "with the tongue of a

Delaware."

At this sudden and unexpected annunciation, a low, fierce

yell ran through the multitude, that might not inaptly be

compared to the growl of the lion, as his choler is first

awakened--a fearful omen of the weight of his future

anger. The effect was equally strong on the sage, though

differently exhibited. He passed a hand before his eyes, as

if to exclude the least evidence of so shameful a spectacle,

while he repeated, in his low, guttural tones, the words he

had just heard.

"A Delaware! I have lived to see the tribes of the Lenape

driven from their council-fires, and scattered, like broken

herds of deer, among the hills of the Iroquois! I have seen

the hatchets of a strong people sweep woods from the

valleys, that the winds of heaven have spared! The beasts

that run on the mountains, and the birds that fly above the

trees, have I seen living in the wigwams of men; but never

before have I found a Delaware so base as to creep, like a

poisonous serpent, into the camps of his nation."

"The singing-birds have opened their bills," returned Uncas,

in the softest notes of his own musical voice; "and Tamenund

has heard their song."

The sage started, and bent his head aside, as if to catch

the fleeting sounds of some passing melody.

"Does Tamenund dream!" he exclaimed. "What voice is at his

ear! Have the winters gone backward! Will summer come

again to the children of the Lenape!"

A solemn and respectful silence succeeded this incoherent

burst from the lips of the Delaware prophet. His people

readily constructed his unintelligible language into one of

those mysterious conferences he was believed to hold so

frequently with a superior intelligence and they awaited the

issue of the revelation in awe. After a patient pause,

however, one of the aged men, perceiving that the sage had

lost the recollection of the subject before them, ventured

to remind him again of the presence of the prisoner.

"The false Delaware trembles lest he should hear the words

of Tamenund," he said. "'Tis a hound that howls, when the

Yengeese show him a trail."

"And ye," returned Uncas, looking sternly around him, "are

dogs that whine, when the Frenchman casts ye the offals of

his deer!"

Twenty knives gleamed in the air, and as many warriors

sprang to their feet, at this biting, and perhaps merited

retort; but a motion from one of the chiefs suppressed the

outbreaking of their tempers, and restored the appearance of

quiet. The task might probably have been more difficult,

had not a movement made by Tamenund indicated that he was

again about to speak.

"Delaware!" resumed the sage, "little art thou worthy of thy

name. My people have not seen a bright sun in many winters;

and the warrior who deserts his tribe when hid in clouds is

doubly a traitor. The law of the Manitou is just. It is

so; while the rivers run and the mountains stand, while the

blossoms come and go on the trees, it must be so. He is

thine, my children; deal justly by him."

Not a limb was moved, nor was a breath drawn louder and

longer than common, until the closing syllable of this final

decree had passed the lips of Tamenund. Then a cry of

vengeance burst at once, as it might be, from the united

lips of the nation; a frightful augury of their ruthless

intentions. In the midst of these prolonged and savage

yells, a chief proclaimed, in a high voice, that the captive

was condemned to endure the dreadful trial of torture by

fire. The circle broke its order, and screams of delight

mingled with the bustle and tumult of preparation. Heyward

struggled madly with his captors; the anxious eye of Hawkeye

began to look around him, with an expression of peculiar

earnestness; and Cora again threw herself at the feet of the

patriarch, once more a suppliant for mercy.

Throughout the whole of these trying moments, Uncas had

alone preserved his serenity. He looked on the preparations

with a steady eye, and when the tormentors came to seize

him, he met them with a firm and upright attitude. One

among them, if possible more fierce and savage than his

fellows, seized the hunting-shirt of the young warrior, and

at a single effort tore it from his body. Then, with a yell

of frantic pleasure, he leaped toward his unresisting victim

and prepared to lead him to the stake. But, at that moment,

when he appeared most a stranger to the feelings of

humanity, the purpose of the savage was arrested as suddenly

as if a supernatural agency had interposed in the behalf of

Uncas. The eyeballs of the Delaware seemed to start from

their sockets; his mouth opened and his whole form became

frozen in an attitude of amazement. Raising his hand with a

slow and regulated motion, he pointed with a finger to the

bosom of the captive. His companions crowded about him in

wonder and every eye was like his own, fastened intently on

the figure of a small tortoise, beautifully tattooed on the

breast of the prisoner, in a bright blue tint.

For a single instant Uncas enjoyed his triumph, smiling

calmly on the scene. Then motioning the crowd away with a

high and haughty sweep of his arm, he advanced in front of

the nation with the air of a king, and spoke in a voice

louder than the murmur of admiration that ran through the

multitude.

"Men of the Lenni Lenape!" he said, "my race upholds the

earth! Your feeble tribe stands on my shell! What fire

that a Delaware can light would burn the child of my

fathers," he added, pointing proudly to the simple blazonry

on his skin; "the blood that came from such a stock would

smother your flames! My race is the grandfather of

nations!"

"Who art thou?" demanded Tamenund, rising at the startling

tones he heard, more than at any meaning conveyed by the

language of the prisoner.

"Uncas, the son of Chingachgook," answered the captive

modestly, turning from the nation, and bending his head in

reverence to the other's character and years; "a son of the

great Unamis."*

* Turtle.

"The hour of Tamenund is nigh!" exclaimed the sage; "the day

is come, at last, to the night! I thank the Manitou, that

one is here to fill my place at the council-fire. Uncas,

the child of Uncas, is found! Let the eyes of a dying eagle

gaze on the rising sun."

The youth stepped lightly, but proudly on the platform,

where he became visible to the whole agitated and wondering

multitude. Tamenund held him long at the length of his arm

and read every turn in the fine lineaments of his

countenance, with the untiring gaze of one who recalled days

of happiness.

"Is Tamenund a boy?" at length the bewildered prophet

exclaimed. "Have I dreamed of so many snows--that my

people were scattered like floating sands--of Yengeese,

more plenty than the leaves on the trees! The arrow of

Tamenund would not frighten the fawn; his arm if withered

like the branch of a dead oak; the snail would be swifter in

the race; yet is Uncas before him as they went to battle

against the pale faces! Uncas, the panther of his tribe,

the eldest son of the Lenape, the wisest Sagamore of the

Mohicans! Tell me, ye Delawares has Tamenund been a sleeper

for a hundred winters?"

The calm and deep silence which succeeded these words

sufficiently announced the awful reverence with which his

people received the communication of the patriarch. None

dared to answer, though all listened in breathless

expectation of what might follow. Uncas, however, looking

in his face with the fondness and veneration of a favored

child, presumed on his own high and acknowledged rank, to

reply.

"Four warriors of his race have lived and died," he said,

"since the friend of Tamenund led his people in battle. The

blood of the turtle has been in many chiefs, but all have

gone back into the earth from whence they came, except

Chingachgook and his son."

"It is true--it is true," returned the sage, a flash of

recollection destroying all his pleasing fancies, and

restoring him at once to a consciousness of the true history

of his nation. "Our wise men have often said that two

warriors of the unchanged race were in the hills of the

Yengeese; why have their seats at the council-fires of the

Delawares been so long empty?"

At these words the young man raised his head, which he had

still kept bowed a little, in reverence; and lifting his

voice so as to be heard by the multitude, as if to explain

at once and forever the policy of his family, he said aloud:

"Once we slept where we could hear the salt lake speak in

its anger. Then we were rulers and Sagamores over the land.

But when a pale face was seen on every brook, we followed

the deer back to the river of our nation. The Delawares

were gone. Few warriors of them all stayed to drink of the

stream they loved. Then said my fathers, 'Here will we

hunt. The waters of the river go into the salt lake. If we

go toward the setting sun, we shall find streams that run

into the great lakes of sweet water; there would a Mohican

die, like fishes of the sea, in the clear springs. When the

Manitou is ready and shall say "Come," we will follow the

river to the sea, and take our own again' Such, Delawares,

is the belief of the children of the Turtle. Our eyes are

on the rising and not toward the setting sun. We know

whence he comes, but we know not whither he goes. It is

enough."

The men of the Lenape listened to his words with all the

respect that superstition could lend, finding a secret charm

even in the figurative language with which the young

Sagamore imparted his ideas. Uncas himself watched the

effect of his brief explanation with intelligent eyes, and

gradually dropped the air of authority he had assumed, as he

perceived that his auditors were content. Then, permitting

his looks to wander over the silent throng that crowded

around the elevated seat of Tamenund, he first perceived

Hawkeye in his bonds. Stepping eagerly from his stand, he

made way for himself to the side of his friend; and cutting

his thongs with a quick and angry stroke of his own knife,

he motioned to the crowd to divide. The Indians silently

obeyed, and once more they stood ranged in their circle, as

before his appearance among them. Uncas took the scout by

the hand, and led him to the feet of the patriarch.

"Father," he said, "look at this pale face; a just man, and

the friend of the Delawares."

"Is he a son of Minquon?"

"Not so; a warrior known to the Yengeese, and feared by the

Maquas."

"What name has he gained by his deeds?"

"We call him Hawkeye," Uncas replied, using the Delaware

phrase; "for his sight never fails. The Mingoes know him

better by the death he gives their warriors; with them he is

'The Long Rifle'."

"La Longue Carabine!" exclaimed Tamenund, opening his eyes,

and regarding the scout sternly. "My son has not done well

to call him friend."

"I call him so who proves himself such," returned the young

chief, with great calmness, but with a steady mien. "If

Uncas is welcome among the Delawares, then is Hawkeye with

his friends."

"The pale face has slain my young men; his name is great for

the blows he has struck the Lenape."

"If a Mingo has whispered that much in the ear of the

Delaware, he has only shown that he is a singing-bird," said

the scout, who now believed that it was time to vindicate

himself from such offensive charges, and who spoke as the

man he addressed, modifying his Indian figures, however,

with his own peculiar notions. "That I have slain the

Maquas I am not the man to deny, even at their own council-

fires; but that, knowingly, my hand has never harmed a

Delaware, is opposed to the reason of my gifts, which is

friendly to them, and all that belongs to their nation."

A low exclamation of applause passed among the warriors who

exchanged looks with each other like men that first began to

perceive their error.

"Where is the Huron?" demanded Tamenund. "Has he stopped my

ears?"

Magua, whose feelings during that scene in which Uncas had

triumphed may be much better imagined than described,

answered to the call by stepping boldly in front of the

patriarch.

"The just Tamenund," he said, "will not keep what a Huron

has lent."

"Tell me, son of my brother," returned the sage, avoiding

the dark countenance of Le Subtil, and turning gladly to the

more ingenuous features of Uncas, "has the stranger a

conqueror's right over you?"

"He has none. The panther may get into snares set by the

women; but he is strong, and knows how to leap through

them."

"La Longue Carabine?"

"Laughs at the Mingoes. Go, Huron, ask your squaws the

color of a bear."

"The stranger and white maiden that come into my camp

together?"

"Should journey on an open path."

"And the woman that Huron left with my warriors?"

Uncas made no reply.

"And the woman that the Mingo has brought into my camp?"

repeated Tamenund, gravely.

"She is mine," cried Magua, shaking his hand in triumph at

Uncas. "Mohican, you know that she is mine."

"My son is silent," said Tamenund, endeavoring to read the

expression of the face that the youth turned from him in

sorrow.

"It is so," was the low answer.

A short and impressive pause succeeded, during which it was

very apparent with what reluctance the multitude admitted

the justice of the Mingo's claim. At length the sage, on

whom alone the decision depended, said, in a firm voice:

"Huron, depart."

"As he came, just Tamenund," demanded the wily Magua, "or

with hands filled with the faith of the Delawares? The

wigwam of Le Renard Subtil is empty. Make him strong with

his own."

The aged man mused with himself for a time; and then,

bending his head toward one of his venerable companions, he

asked:

"Are my ears open?"

"It is true."

"Is this Mingo a chief?"

"The first in his nation."

"Girl, what wouldst thou? A great warrior takes thee to

wife. Go! thy race will not end."

"Better, a thousand times, it should," exclaimed the horror-

struck Cora, "than meet with such a degradation!"

"Huron, her mind is in the tents of her fathers. An

unwilling maiden makes an unhappy wigwam."

"She speaks with the tongue of her people," returned Magua,

regarding his victim with a look of bitter irony.

"She is of a race of traders, and will bargain for a bright

look. Let Tamenund speak the words."

"Take you the wampum, and our love."

"Nothing hence but what Magua brought hither."

"Then depart with thine own. The Great Manitou forbids that

a Delaware should be unjust."

Magua advanced, and seized his captive strongly by the arm;

the Delawares fell back, in silence; and Cora, as if

conscious that remonstrance would be useless, prepared to

submit to her fate without resistance.

"Hold, hold!" cried Duncan, springing forward; "Huron, have

mercy! her ransom shall make thee richer than any of thy

people were ever yet known to be."

"Magua is a red-skin; he wants not the beads of the pale

faces."

"Gold, silver, powder, lead--all that a warrior needs

shall be in thy wigwam; all that becomes the greatest

chief."

"Le Subtil is very strong," cried Magua, violently shaking

the hand which grasped the unresisting arm of Cora; "he has

his revenge!"

"Mighty ruler of Providence!" exclaimed Heyward, clasping

his hands together in agony, "can this be suffered! To you,

just Tamenund, I appeal for mercy."

"The words of the Delaware are said," returned the sage,

closing his eyes, and dropping back into his seat, alike

wearied with his mental and his bodily exertion. "Men speak

not twice."

"That a chief should not misspend his time in unsaying what

has once been spoken is wise and reasonable," said Hawkeye,

motioning to Duncan to be silent; "but it is also prudent in

every warrior to consider well before he strikes his

tomahawk into the head of his prisoner. Huron, I love you

not; nor can I say that any Mingo has ever received much

favor at my hands. It is fair to conclude that, if this war

does not soon end, many more of your warriors will meet me

in the woods. Put it to your judgment, then, whether you

would prefer taking such a prisoner as that into your

encampment, or one like myself, who am a man that it would

greatly rejoice your nation to see with naked hands."

"Will 'The Long Rifle' give his life for the woman?"

demanded Magua, hesitatingly; for he had already made a

motion toward quitting the place with his victim.

"No, no; I have not said so much as that," returned Hawkeye,

drawing back with suitable discretion, when he noted the

eagerness with which Magua listened to his proposal. "It

would be an unequal exchange, to give a warrior, in the

prime of his age and usefulness, for the best woman on the

frontiers. I might consent to go into winter quarters, now

--at least six weeks afore the leaves will turn--on

condition you will release the maiden."

Magua shook his head, and made an impatient sign for the

crowd to open.

"Well, then," added the scout, with the musing air of a man

who had not half made up his mind; "I will throw 'killdeer'

into the bargain. Take the word of an experienced hunter,

the piece has not its equal atween the provinces."

Magua still disdained to reply, continuing his efforts to

disperse the crowd.

"Perhaps," added the scout, losing his dissembled coolness

exactly in proportion as the other manifested an

indifference to the exchange, "if I should condition to

teach your young men the real virtue of the we'pon, it would

smoothe the little differences in our judgments."

Le Renard fiercely ordered the Delawares, who still lingered

in an impenetrable belt around him, in hopes he would listen

to the amicable proposal, to open his path, threatening, by

the glance of his eye, another appeal to the infallible

justice of their "prophet."

"What is ordered must sooner or later arrive," continued

Hawkeye, turning with a sad and humbled look to Uncas. "The

varlet knows his advantage and will keep it! God bless you,

boy; you have found friends among your natural kin, and I

hope they will prove as true as some you have met who had no

Indian cross. As for me, sooner or later, I must die; it

is, therefore, fortunate there are but few to make my death-

howl. After all, it is likely the imps would have managed

to master my scalp, so a day or two will make no great

difference in the everlasting reckoning of time. God bless

you," added the rugged woodsman, bending his head aside, and

then instantly changing its direction again, with a wistful

look toward the youth; "I loved both you and your father,

Uncas, though our skins are not altogether of a color, and

our gifts are somewhat difficult. Tell the Sagamore I never

lost sight of him in my greatest trouble; and, as for you,

think of me sometimes when on a lucky trail, and depend on

it, boy, whether there be one heaven or two, there is a path

in the other world by which honest men may come together

again. You'll find the rifle in the place we hid it; take

it, and keep it for my sake; and, harkee, lad, as your

natural gifts don't deny you the use of vengeance, use it a

little freely on the Mingoes; it may unburden griefs at my

loss, and ease your mind. Huron, I accept your offer;

release the woman. I am your prisoner!"

A suppressed, but still distinct murmur of approbation ran

through the crowd at this generous proposition; even the

fiercest among the Delaware warriors manifesting pleasure at

the manliness of the intended sacrifice. Magua paused, and

for an anxious moment, it might be said, he doubted; then,

casting his eyes on Cora, with an expression in which

ferocity and admiration were strangely mingled, his purpose

became fixed forever.

He intimated his contempt of the offer with a backward

motion of his head, and said, in a steady and settled voice:

"Le Renard Subtil is a great chief; he has but one mind.

Come," he added, laying his hand too familiarly on the

shoulder of his captive to urge her onward; "a Huron is no

tattler; we will go."

The maiden drew back in lofty womanly reserve, and her dark

eye kindled, while the rich blood shot, like the passing

brightness of the sun, into her very temples, at the

indignity.

"I am your prisoner, and, at a fitting time shall be ready

to follow, even to my death. But violence is unnecessary,"

she coldly said; and immediately turning to Hawkeye, added:

"Generous hunter! from my soul I thank you. Your offer is

vain, neither could it be accepted; but still you may serve

me, even more than in your own noble intention. Look at

that drooping humbled child! Abandon her not until you

leave her in the habitations of civilized men. I will not

say," wringing the hard hand of the scout, "that her father

will reward you--for such as you are above the rewards of

men--but he will thank you and bless you. And, believe

me, the blessing of a just and aged man has virtue in the

sight of Heaven. Would to God I could hear one word from

his lips at this awful moment!" Her voice became choked,

and, for an instant, she was silent; then, advancing a step

nigher to Duncan, who was supporting her unconscious sister,

she continued, in more subdued tones, but in which feeling

and the habits of her sex maintained a fearful struggle: "I

need not tell you to cherish the treasure you will possess.

You love her, Heyward; that would conceal a thousand faults,

though she had them. She is kind, gentle, sweet, good, as

mortal may be. There is not a blemish in mind or person at

which the proudest of you all would sicken. She is fair--

oh! how surpassingly fair!" laying her own beautiful, but

less brilliant, hand in melancholy affection on the

alabaster forehead of Alice, and parting the golden hair

which clustered about her brows; "and yet her soul is pure

and spotless as her skin! I could say much--more,

perhaps, than cooler reason would approve; but I will spare

you and myself--" Her voice became inaudible, and her face

was bent over the form of her sister. After a long and

burning kiss, she arose, and with features of the hue of

death, but without even a tear in her feverish eye, she

turned away, and added, to the savage, with all her former

elevation of manner: "Now, sir, if it be your pleasure, I

will follow."

"Ay, go," cried Duncan, placing Alice in the arms of an

Indian girl; "go, Magua, go. these Delawares have their

laws, which forbid them to detain you; but I--I have no

such obligation. Go, malignant monster--why do you

delay?"

It would be difficult to describe the expression with which

Magua listened to this threat to follow. There was at first

a fierce and manifest display of joy, and then it was

instantly subdued in a look of cunning coldness.

"The words are open," he was content with answering, "'The

Open Hand' can come."

"Hold," cried Hawkeye, seizing Duncan by the arm, and

detaining him by violence; "you know not the craft of the

imp. He would lead you to an ambushment, and your death--

"

"Huron," interrupted Uncas, who submissive to the stern

customs of his people, had been an attentive and grave

listener to all that passed; "Huron, the justice of the

Delawares comes from the Manitou. Look at the sun. He is

now in the upper branches of the hemlock. Your path is

short and open. When he is seen above the trees, there will

be men on your trail."

"I hear a crow!" exclaimed Magua, with a taunting laugh.

"Go!" he added, shaking his hand at the crowd, which had

slowly opened to admit his passage. "Where are the

petticoats of the Delawares! Let them send their arrows and

their guns to the Wyandots; they shall have venison to eat,

and corn to hoe. Dogs, rabbits, thieves--I spit on you!"

His parting gibes were listened to in a dead, boding

silence, and, with these biting words in his mouth, the

triumphant Magua passed unmolested into the forest, followed

by his passive captive, and protected by the inviolable laws

of Indian hospitality.

James Fenimore Cooper