Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Chapter 31

CHAPTER 31

"Flue.--Kill the poys and the luggage! 'Tis expressly

against the law of arms; 'tis as arrant a piece of knavery,

mark you now, as can be offered in the 'orld."--King

Henry V

So long as their enemy and his victim continued in sight,

the multitude remained motionless as beings charmed to the

place by some power that was friendly to the Huron; but, the

instant he disappeared, it became tossed and agitated by

fierce and powerful passion. Uncas maintained his elevated

stand, keeping his eyes on the form of Cora, until the

colors of her dress were blended with the foliage of the

forest; when he descended, and, moving silently through the

throng, he disappeared in that lodge from which he had so

recently issued. A few of the graver and more attentive

warriors, who caught the gleams of anger that shot from the

eyes of the young chief in passing, followed him to the

place he had selected for his meditations. After which,

Tamenund and Alice were removed, and the women and children

were ordered to disperse. During the momentous hour that

succeeded, the encampment resembled a hive of troubled bees,

who only awaited the appearance and example of their leader

to take some distant and momentous flight.

A young warrior at length issued from the lodge of Uncas;

and, moving deliberately, with a sort of grave march, toward

a dwarf pine that grew in the crevices of the rocky terrace,

he tore the bark from its body, and then turned whence he

came without speaking. He was soon followed by another, who

stripped the sapling of its branches, leaving it a naked and

blazed* trunk. A third colored the post with stripes of a

dark red paint; all which indications of a hostile design in

the leaders of the nation were received by the men without

in a gloomy and ominous silence. Finally, the Mohican

himself reappeared, divested of all his attire, except his

girdle and leggings, and with one-half of his fine features

hid under a cloud of threatening black.

* A tree which has been partially or entirely stripped

of its bark is said, in the language of the country, to be

"blazed." The term is strictly English, for a horse is said

to be blazed when it has a white mark.

Uncas moved with a slow and dignified tread toward the post,

which he immediately commenced encircling with a measured

step, not unlike an ancient dance, raising his voice, at the

same time, in the wild and irregular chant of his war song.

The notes were in the extremes of human sounds; being

sometimes melancholy and exquisitely plaintive, even

rivaling the melody of birds--and then, by sudden and

startling transitions, causing the auditors to tremble by

their depth and energy. The words were few and often

repeated, proceeding gradually from a sort of invocation, or

hymn, to the Deity, to an intimation of the warrior's

object, and terminating as they commenced with an

acknowledgment of his own dependence on the Great Spirit.

If it were possible to translate the comprehensive and

melodious language in which he spoke, the ode might read

something like the following: "Manitou! Manitou! Manitou!

Thou art great, thou art good, thou art wise: Manitou!

Manitou! Thou art just. "In the heavens, in the clouds,

oh, I see Many spots--many dark, many red: In the heavens,

oh, I see Many clouds. "In the woods, in the air, oh, I

hear The whoop, the long yell, and the cry: In the woods,

oh, I hear The loud whoop! "Manitou! Manitou! Manitou! I

am weak--thou art strong; I am slow; Manitou! Manitou!

Give me aid."

At the end of what might be called each verse he made a

pause, by raising a note louder and longer than common, that

was peculiarly suited to the sentiment just expressed. The

first close was solemn, and intended to convey the idea of

veneration; the second descriptive, bordering on the

alarming; and the third was the well-known and terrific war-

whoop, which burst from the lips of the young warrior, like

a combination of all the frightful sounds of battle. The

last was like the first, humble and imploring. Three times

did he repeat this song, and as often did he encircle the

post in his dance.

At the close of the first turn, a grave and highly esteemed

chief of the Lenape followed his example, singing words of

his own, however, to music of a similar character. Warrior

after warrior enlisted in the dance, until all of any renown

and authority were numbered in its mazes. The spectacle now

became wildly terrific; the fierce-looking and menacing

visages of the chiefs receiving additional power from the

appalling strains in which they mingled their guttural

tones. Just then Uncas struck his tomahawk deep into the

post, and raised his voice in a shout, which might be termed

his own battle cry. The act announced that he had assumed

the chief authority in the intended expedition.

It was a signal that awakened all the slumbering passions of

the nation. A hundred youths, who had hitherto been

restrained by the diffidence of their years, rushed in a

frantic body on the fancied emblem of their enemy, and

severed it asunder, splinter by splinter, until nothing

remained of the trunk but its roots in the earth. During

this moment of tumult, the most ruthless deeds of war were

performed on the fragments of the tree, with as much

apparent ferocity as if they were the living victims of

their cruelty. Some were scalped; some received the keen

and trembling axe; and others suffered by thrusts from the

fatal knife. In short, the manifestations of zeal and

fierce delight were so great and unequivocal, that the

expedition was declared to be a war of the nation.

The instant Uncas had struck the blow, he moved out of the

circle, and cast his eyes up to the sun, which was just

gaining the point, when the truce with Magua was to end.

The fact was soon announced by a significant gesture,

accompanied by a corresponding cry; and the whole of the

excited multitude abandoned their mimic warfare, with shrill

yells of pleasure, to prepare for the more hazardous

experiment of the reality.

The whole face of the encampment was instantly changed. The

warriors, who were already armed and painted, became as

still as if they were incapable of any uncommon burst of

emotion. On the other hand, the women broke out of the

lodges, with the songs of joy and those of lamentation so

strangely mixed that it might have been difficult to have

said which passion preponderated. None, however, was idle.

Some bore their choicest articles, others their young, and

some their aged and infirm, into the forest, which spread

itself like a verdant carpet of bright green against the

side of the mountain. Thither Tamenund also retired, with

calm composure, after a short and touching interview with

Uncas; from whom the sage separated with the reluctance that

a parent would quit a long lost and just recovered child.

In the meantime, Duncan saw Alice to a place of safety, and

then sought the scout, with a countenance that denoted how

eagerly he also panted for the approaching contest.

But Hawkeye was too much accustomed to the war song and the

enlistments of the natives, to betray any interest in the

passing scene. He merely cast an occasional look at the

number and quality of the warriors, who, from time to time,

signified their readiness to accompany Uncas to the field.

In this particular he was soon satisfied; for, as has been

already seen, the power of the young chief quickly embraced

every fighting man in the nation. After this material point

was so satisfactorily decided, he despatched an Indian boy

in quest of "killdeer" and the rifle of Uncas, to the place

where they had deposited their weapons on approaching the

camp of the Delawares; a measure of double policy, inasmuch

as it protected the arms from their own fate, if detained as

prisoners, and gave them the advantage of appearing among

the strangers rather as sufferers than as men provided with

means of defense and subsistence. In selecting another to

perform the office of reclaiming his highly prized rifle,

the scout had lost sight of none of his habitual caution.

He knew that Magua had not come unattended, and he also knew

that Huron spies watched the movements of their new enemies,

along the whole boundary of the woods. It would, therefore,

have been fatal to himself to have attempted the experiment;

a warrior would have fared no better; but the danger of a

boy would not be likely to commence until after his object

was discovered. When Heyward joined him, the scout was

coolly awaiting the result of this experiment.

The boy , who had been well instructed, and was sufficiently

crafty, proceeded, with a bosom that was swelling with the

pride of such a confidence, and all the hopes of young

ambition, carelessly across the clearing to the wood, which

he entered at a point at some little distance from the place

where the guns were secreted. The instant, however, he was

concealed by the foliage of the bushes, his dusky form was

to be seen gliding, like that of a serpent, toward the

desired treasure. He was successful; and in another moment

he appeared flying across the narrow opening that skirted

the base of the terrace on which the village stood, with the

velocity of an arrow, and bearing a prize in each hand. He

had actually gained the crags, and was leaping up their

sides with incredible activity, when a shot from the woods

showed how accurate had been the judgment of the scout. The

boy answered it with a feeble but contemptuous shout; and

immediately a second bullet was sent after him from another

part of the cover. At the next instant he appeared on the

level above, elevating his guns in triumph, while he moved

with the air of a conqueror toward the renowned hunter who

had honored him by so glorious a commission.

Notwithstanding the lively interest Hawkeye had taken in the

fate of his messenger, he received "killdeer" with a

satisfaction that, momentarily, drove all other

recollections from his mind. After examining the piece with

an intelligent eye, and opening and shutting the pan some

ten or fifteen times, and trying sundry other equally

important experiments on the lock, he turned to the boy and

demanded with great manifestations of kindness, if he was

hurt. The urchin looked proudly up in his face, but made no

reply.

"Ah! I see, lad, the knaves have barked your arm!" added the

scout, taking up the limb of the patient sufferer, across

which a deep flesh wound had been made by one of the

bullets; "but a little bruised alder will act like a charm.

In the meantime I will wrap it in a badge of wampum! You

have commenced the business of a warrior early, my brave

boy, and are likely to bear a plenty of honorable scars to

your grave. I know many young men that have taken scalps

who cannot show such a mark as this. Go! " having bound up

the arm; "you will be a chief!"

The lad departed, prouder of his flowing blood than the

vainest courtier could be of his blushing ribbon; and

stalked among the fellows of his age, an object of general

admiration and envy.

But, in a moment of so many serious and important duties,

this single act of juvenile fortitude did not attract the

general notice and commendation it would have received under

milder auspices. It had, however, served to apprise the

Delawares of the position and the intentions of their

enemies. Accordingly a party of adventurers, better suited

to the task than the weak though spirited boy, was ordered

to dislodge the skulkers. The duty was soon performed; for

most of the Hurons retired of themselves when they found

they had been discovered. The Delawares followed to a

sufficient distance from their own encampment, and then

halted for orders, apprehensive of being led into an ambush.

As both parties secreted themselves, the woods were again as

still and quiet as a mild summer morning and deep solitude

could render them.

The calm but still impatient Uncas now collected his chiefs,

and divided his power. He presented Hawkeye as a warrior,

often tried, and always found deserving of confidence. When

he found his friend met with a favorable reception, he

bestowed on him the command of twenty men, like himself,

active, skillful and resolute. He gave the Delawares to

understand the rank of Heyward among the troops of the

Yengeese, and then tendered to him a trust of equal

authority. But Duncan declined the charge, professing his

readiness to serve as a volunteer by the side of the scout.

After this disposition, the young Mohican appointed various

native chiefs to fill the different situations of

responsibility, and, the time pressing, he gave forth the

word to march. He was cheerfully, but silently obeyed by

more than two hundred men.

Their entrance into the forest was perfectly unmolested; nor

did they encounter any living objects that could either give

the alarm, or furnish the intelligence they needed, until

they came upon the lairs of their own scouts. Here a halt

was ordered, and the chiefs were assembled to hold a

"whispering council."

At this meeting divers plans of operation were suggested,

though none of a character to meet the wishes of their

ardent leader. Had Uncas followed the promptings of his own

inclinations, he would have led his followers to the charge

without a moment's delay, and put the conflict to the hazard

of an instant issue; but such a course would have been in

opposition to all the received practises and opinions of his

countrymen. He was, therefore, fain to adopt a caution that

in the present temper of his mind he execrated, and to

listen to advice at which his fiery spirit chafed, under the

vivid recollection of Cora's danger and Magua's insolence.

After an unsatisfactory conference of many minutes, a

solitary individual was seen advancing from the side of the

enemy, with such apparent haste, as to induce the belief he

might be a messenger charged with pacific overtures. When

within a hundred yards, however, of the cover behind which

the Delaware council had assembled, the stranger hesitated,

appeared uncertain what course to take, and finally halted.

All eyes were turned now on Uncas, as if seeking directions

how to proceed.

"Hawkeye," said the young chief, in a low voice, "he must

never speak to the Hurons again."

"His time has come," said the laconic scout, thrusting the

long barrel of his rifle through the leaves, and taking his

deliberate and fatal aim. But, instead of pulling the

trigger, he lowered the muzzle again, and indulged himself

in a fit of his peculiar mirth. "I took the imp for a

Mingo, as I'm a miserable sinner!" he said; "but when my eye

ranged along his ribs for a place to get the bullet in--

would you think it, Uncas--I saw the musicianer's blower;

and so, after all, it is the man they call Gamut, whose

death can profit no one, and whose life, if this tongue can

do anything but sing, may be made serviceable to our own

ends. If sounds have not lost their virtue, I'll soon have

a discourse with the honest fellow, and that in a voice

he'll find more agreeable than the speech of 'killdeer'."

So saying, Hawkeye laid aside his rifle; and, crawling

through the bushes until within hearing of David, he

attempted to repeat the musical effort, which had conducted

himself, with so much safety and eclat, through the Huron

encampment. The exquisite organs of Gamut could not readily

be deceived (and, to say the truth, it would have been

difficult for any other than Hawkeye to produce a similar

noise), and, consequently, having once before heard the

sounds, he now knew whence they proceeded. The poor fellow

appeared relieved from a state of great embarrassment; for,

pursuing the direction of the voice--a task that to him

was not much less arduous that it would have been to have

gone up in the face of a battery--he soon discovered the

hidden songster.

"I wonder what the Hurons will think of that!" said the

scout, laughing, as he took his companion by the arm, and

urged him toward the rear. "If the knaves lie within

earshot, they will say there are two non-compossers instead

of one! But here we are safe," he added, pointing to Uncas

and his associates. "Now give us the history of the Mingo

inventions in natural English, and without any ups and downs

of voice."

David gazed about him, at the fierce and wild-looking

chiefs, in mute wonder; but assured by the presence of faces

that he knew, he soon rallied his faculties so far as to

make an intelligent reply.

"The heathen are abroad in goodly numbers," said David;

"and, I fear, with evil intent. There has been much howling

and ungodly revelry, together with such sounds as it is

profanity to utter, in their habitations within the past

hour, so much so, in truth, that I have fled to the

Delawares in search of peace."

"Your ears might not have profited much by the exchange, had

you been quicker of foot," returned the scout a little

dryly. "But let that be as it may; where are the Hurons?"

"They lie hid in the forest, between this spot and their

village in such force, that prudence would teach you

instantly to return."

Uncas cast a glance along the range of trees which concealed

his own band and mentioned the name of:

"Magua?"

"Is among them. He brought in the maiden that had sojourned

with the Delawares; and, leaving her in the cave, has put

himself, like a raging wolf, at the head of his savages. I

know not what has troubled his spirit so greatly!"

"He has left her, you say, in the cave!" interrupted

Heyward; "'tis well that we know its situation! May not

something be done for her instant relief?"

Uncas looked earnestly at the scout, before he asked:

"What says Hawkeye?"

"Give me twenty rifles, and I will turn to the right, along

the stream; and, passing by the huts of the beaver, will

join the Sagamore and the colonel. You shall then hear the

whoop from that quarter; with this wind one may easily send

it a mile. Then, Uncas, do you drive in the front; when

they come within range of our pieces, we will give them a

blow that, I pledge the good name of an old frontiersman,

shall make their line bend like an ashen bow. After which,

we will carry the village, and take the woman from the cave;

when the affair may be finished with the tribe, according to

a white man's battle, by a blow and a victory; or, in the

Indian fashion, with dodge and cover. There may be no great

learning, major, in this plan, but with courage and patience

it can all be done."

"I like it very much," cried Duncan, who saw that the

release of Cora was the primary object in the mind of the

scout; "I like it much. Let it be instantly attempted."

After a short conference, the plan was matured, and rendered

more intelligible to the several parties; the different

signals were appointed, and the chiefs separated, each to

his allotted station.

James Fenimore Cooper