James Fenimore Cooper.

The last of the Mohicans; a narrative of 1757 (Volume 3) online

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THE PIONEERS," &c. &c.

14 Mislike me not, for my complexion,
The shadowed livery of the burnished suu."





ShacVell, Arrowsnaitb, and Hodges, Johnson Wourt, Fleet-street.




" But though the beast of game
The privilege of chase may claim ;
Though space and law the stag we lend,
Ere hound we slip, or bow we bend ;
Whoever recked, where, how, or when,
The prowling fox was trapped or slain.' Lady of the. Lake.

IT is unusual to find an encampment of
the natives, like those of the more instruct
ed whites, guarded by the presence of
armed men. Well informed of the approach
of every danger, while it is yet at a distance,
the Indian generally rests secure under his
knowledge of the signs of the forest, and
the long and difficult paths that separate

VOL. in. B


him from those he has most reason to dread.
But the enemy who, by any lucky concur
rence of accidents, has found means to
elude the vigilance of the scouts, will
seldom meet with sentinels nearer home to
sound the alarm. In addition to this gene
ral usage, the tribes friendly to the French
king knew too well the weight of the blow
that had just been struck, to apprehend
any immediate danger from the hostile
nations that were tributary to the crown of

When Duncan and David, therefore
found themselves in the centre of the busy
children, who played the antics already
mentioned, it was without the least pre
vious intimation of their approach. But
so soon as they were observed, the whole of
the juvenile pack raised, by common con
sent, a single shrill and warning whoop ;
and then sunk, as it were by magic, from
before the sight of their visiters. The
naked, tawny bodies of the crouching
urchins, blended so nicely, at that hour,
with the withered herbage, that at first it
seemed as if the earth had, in truth swal-


lowed up their forms; though, when surprise
had permitted Duncan to bend his own
wondering looks more curiously about the
spot, he found them every where met by
dark, quick, and rolling eye-balls.

Gathering no encouragement from this
startling presage, of the nature of the scru
tiny he was likely to undergo from the
more mature judgments of the men, there
was an instant when the young soldier
would gladly have retreated. It was, how
ever, too late to appear even to hesitate.
The cry of the children had drawn a dozen
warriors to the door of the nearest lodge,
where they stood, clustered in a dark and
savage groupe, gravely awaiting the nearer
approach of those who had thus unexpect
edly come among them.

David, in some measure familiarized to
the scene, led the way, with a steadiness
that no slight obstacle was likely to discon
cert, into this very building. It was the prin
cipal edifice of the village, though roughly
constructed of the bark and branches of
trees ; being the lodge in which the tribe
held its councils and public meetings, during
B 2


their temporary residence on the borders of
the English province. Duncan found it dif
ficult to assume the necessary appearance
of unconcern, as he brushed the dark and
powerful frames of the savages who thronged
its threshold j but, conscious that his exist
ence depended on his presence of mind,
he trusted to the discretion of his com
panion, whose footsteps he closely fol
lowed, endeavouring as he proceeded, to
rally his thoughts for the occasion. His
blood had stagnated for a moment, when
he found himself in absolute contact with
such fierce and implacable enemies ; but he
so far mastered his feelings, as to pursue
his way into the centre of the lodge, with
an exterior that did not betray the weakness.
Imitating the example of the deliberate
Gamut, he drew a bundle of fragrant brush
from beneath a pile, that filled a corner of
the hut, and seated himself in silence.

So soon as their visiter had passed, the
observant warriors fell back from the en
trance, and arranging themselves about
him, they seemed patiently to await the
moment when it might comport with the


dignity of the stranger to speak. By far
the greater number stood leaning, in lazy,
lounging attitudes, against the upright
posts that supported the crazy building,
while three or four of the oldest and most
distinguished of the chiefs placed them
selves, in their ordinary manner, on the
earth, a little more in advance,

A flaring torch was burning in the place,
and sent its red glare from face to face, and
figure to figure, as it wavered, inconstantly,
in the currents of air. Duncan profited by
its light, to read, with jealous looks, the
probable character of his reception, in the
countenances of his hosts. But his in
genuity availed him little, against the cold
artifices of the people he had encountered.
The chiefs in front scarce cast a glance at
his person, keeping their eyes fastened on
the ground, with an air that might have
been intended for respect, but which it was
quite easy to construe into distrust. The
men, in shadow, were less reserved. Duncan
soon detected their searching, but stolen
looks, which, in truth, scanned his person
and attire inch by inch ; leaving no emotion


of the countenance, no gesture, no line of
the paint, nor even the fashion of a garment,
unheeded, and without its secret comment.
At length, one whose hair was beginning
to be sprinkled with gray, but whose sinewy
limbs and firm tread announced that he
was still equal to the arduous duties of
manhood, advanced from out the gloom of
a corner, whither he had probably posted
himself to make his observations unseen,
and spoke. He used the language of the
Wyandots, or Hurons : his words were,
consequently, unintelligible to Hey ward,
though they seemed, by the gestures that
accompanied them, to be uttered more in
courtesy than anger. The latter shook
his head, and made a gesture indicative of
his inability to reply.

"Do none of my brothers speak the
French or the English ?'' he said, in the
former language, looking about him, from
countenance to countenance, in hopes of
finding a nod of assent.

Though more than one head turned, as
if to catch the meaning of his words, they
remained unanswered.


c< I should be grieved to think," con
tinued Duncan, speaking slowly, and using
the simplest French of which he was the
master, " to believe that none of this wise
and brave nation understand the language
that the ' Grand Monarque' uses, when he
talks to his children. His heart would be
heavy, did he believe his red warriors paid
him so little respect !"

A long and grave pause succeeded,
during which no movement of a limb, nor
any expression of an eye, betrayed the im
pression produced by his remark. Duncan,
who knew that silence was a virtue amongst
his hosts, gladly had recourse to the custom,
in order to arrange his ideas. At length,
the same warrior, who had before addressed
him, replied, by dryly demanding, in the
slight patois of the Canadas

" When our Great Father speaks to his
people, is it with the tongue of a Huron?"

" He knows no difference in his children,
whether the colour of the skin be red, or
black, or white/' returned Duncan, eva
sively ; " though chiefly is he satisfied with
the brave Hurons."


" In "what manner will he speak," de
manded the wary chief, " when the run
ners count, to him, the scalps which five
nights ago grew on the heads of the Yen-

"They were his enemies," said Duncan,
shuddering involuntarily; " and, doubtless,
he will say it is good my Hurons are very

" Our Canada father does not think it.
Instead of looking forward to reward his
Indians, his eyes are turned backward. He
sees the dead Yengeese, but no Huron.
What can this mean ?"

"A great chief, like him, has more
thoughts than tongues. He looks to see
that no enemies are on his trail."

" The canoe of a dead warrior will not
float on the Horican," returned the savage,
gloomily. " His ears are open to the Dela-
wares, who are not our friends, and they
fill them with lies."

" It cannot be. See ; he has bid me,
who am a man that knows the art of healing,
to go to his children, the red Hurons of
the Great Lakes, and ask if any are sick!"


Another long and deep silence succeeded
this annunciation of the character Duncan
had assumed. Every eye was simultaneously
bent on his person, as if to enquire into the
truth or falsehood of the declaration, with
an intelligence and keenness, that caused
the subject of their scrutiny to tremble for
the result. He was, however, relieved
again, by the former speaker.

" Do the cunning men of the Canadas
paint their skins," the Huron, coldly, con
tinued ; " we have heard them boast that
their faces were pale ?"

" When an Indian chief comes among
his white fathers," returned Duncan, with
great steadiness, " he lays aside his buffalo
robe, to carry the shirt that is offered him.
My brothers have given me paint, and I
wear it."

A low murmur of applause announced
that the compliment to the tribe was favour
ably received. The elderly chief made a
gesture of commendation, which was
answered by most of his companions, who
each threw forth a hand, and uttered the
usual brief exclamation of pleasure. Dun-



can began to breathe more freely, believing
that the weight of his examination was past j
and as he had already prepared a simple
and probable tale to support his pretended
occupation, his hopes of ultimate success
grew brighter.

After a silence of a few moments, as if
adjusting his thoughts, in order to make a
suitable answer to the declaration their
guest had just given, another warrior arose,
and placed himself in an attitude to speak.
While his lips were yet in the act of parting;
a low, but fearful sound, arose from the
forest, and was immediately succeeded by a
high, shrill yell, that was drawn out, until
it equalled the longest and most plaintive
howl of the wolf. The sudden and terrible
interruption caused Duncan to start from
his seat, unconscious of everything, but the
effect produced by so frightful a cry. At
the same moment, the warriors glided in a
body from the lodge, and the outer air was
filled with loud shouts, that nearly drowned
those awful sounds, which the organs of
Duncan occasionally announced, were still
ringing beneath the arches of the woods.


Unable to command himself any longer, the
youth broke from the place, and presently
stood in the centre of a disorderly throng,
that included nearly everything having
life, within the limits of the encampment.
Men, women, and children ; the aged, the
infirm, the active, and the strong, were alike
abroad ; some exclaiming aloud, others
clapping their hands with a joy that seemed
frantic, and all expressing their savage plea
sure in some unexpected event. Though
astounded, at first, by the uproar, Hey-
ward was soon enabled to find its solution
by the scene that followed.

There yet lingered sufficient light in the
heavens, to exhibit those bright openings
among the tree-tops, where different paths
left the clearing to enter the depths of the
wilderness. Beneath one of them, a line
of warriors issued from the woods, and ad-
vanced slowly toward the dwellings. One
in front bore a short pole, on which, as it
afterwards appeared, were suspended several
human scalps. The startling sounds that
Duncan had heard, were what the whites
have, not inappropriately, called the " death


halloo ;" and each repetition of the cry
was intended to announce to the tribe, the
fate of an enemy. Thus far the knowledge
of Hey ward assisted him in the explanation;
and as he now knew that the interruption
was caused by the unlooked-for return of
a successful war-party, every disagreeable
sensation was quieted in inward congratu
lations, for the opportune relief and insig
nificance it conferred on himself.

When at the distance of a few hundred
feet from the lodges, the newly arrived
warriors halted. Their plaintive and terrific
cry, which was intended to represent,
equally, the wailings of the dead and the
triumph of the victors, had entirely ceased.
One of their number now called aloud, in
words that were far from appalling, though
not more intelligible to those for whose ears
they were intended, than their expressive
yells. It would be difficult to convey a
suitable idea, of the savage ecstacy with
which the news, thus imparted, was receiv
ed. The whole encampment, in a moment,
became a scene of the most violent bustle
and commotion. The warriors drew their


knives, and flourishing them on high, they
arranged themselves in two lines, forming
a lane, that extended from the war- party
to the lodges. The squaws seized clubs,
axes, or whatever weapon of offence first
offered itself to their hands, and rushed
eagerly to act their part in the cruel game
that was at hand. Even the children would
not be excluded ; but boys, little able to
wield the instruments, tore the tomahawks
from the belts of their fathers, and stole
into the ranks, apt imitators of the savage
traits exhibited by their parents.

Large piles of brush lay scattered about
the clearing, and a wary and aged squaw was
occupied in firing as many as might serve to
light the coming exhibition. As the flame
arose, its power exceeded that of the parting
day, and assisted to render objects, at the
same time, more distinct and more hideous.
The whole scene formed a striking picture,
whose frame was composed by the dark
and tall border of pines. The warriors just
arrived were the most distant figures. A
little in advance, stood two men, who were
apparently selected from the rest, as the


principal actors in what was to follow.
The light was not strong enough to render
their features distinct, though it was quite
evident that they were governed by very
different emotions. While one stood erect
and firm, prepared to meet his fate like a
hero, the other bowed his head as if palsied
by terror, or stricken with shame. The
high spirited Duncan felt a powerful im
pulse of admiration and pity towards the
former, though no opportunity could offer
to exhibit his generous emotions. He
watched his slightest movement, however,
with eager eyes ; and as he traced the fine
outline of his admirably proportioned and
active frame, he endeavoured to persuade
himself, that if the powers of man, seconded
by such noble resolution, could bear one
harmless through so severe a trial, the
youthful captive before him might hope
for success in the hazardous race he was
about to run. Insensibly, the young man
drew nigher to the swarthy lines of the
Hurons, and scarcely breathed, so intense
became his interest in the spectacle. Just
then the signal yell was given, and the


momentary quiet which had preceded it
was broken by a burst of cries, that far
exceeded any before heard. The most
abject of the two victims continued motion
less ; but the other bounded from the place,
at the cry, with the activity and swiftness
of a deer. Instead of rushing through the
hostile lines, as had been expected, he just
entered the dangerous defile, and before
time was given for a single blow, turned
short, and leaping the heads of a row of
children, he gained at once the exterior and
safer side of the formidable array. The
artifice was answered by a hundred voices
raised in imprecations, and the whole of
the excited multitude broke from their
order, and spread themselves about the
place in wild confusion.

A dozen blazing piles now shed their
lurid brightness on the place, which resem
bled some unhallowed and supernatural
arena, in which malicious demons had as
sembled to act their bloody and lawless
rights. Those forms in the back ground
looked like unearthly beings, gliding before
the eye, and cleaving the air with frantic


and unmeaning gestures ; while the savage
passions of such as passed the flames, were
rendered fearfully distinct, by the gleams
that shot athwart their dusky but inflamed

It will easily be understood, that amid
such a concourse of vindictive enemies, no
breathing time was permitted to the fugi
tive. There was a single moment, when
it seemed as if he would have reached the
forest, but the whole body of his captors
threw themselves before him, and drove
him back into the centre of his relentless
persecutors. Turning like a headed deer,
he shot, with the swiftness of an arrow,
through a pillar of forked flame, and pass
ing the whole multitude harmless, he ap
peared on the opposite side of the clearing.
Here, too, he was met and turned by a few
of the older and more subtle of the Hurons.
Once more he tried the throng, as if seek
ing safety in its blindness, and then several
moments succeeded, during which Duncan
believed the active and courageous young
stranger was irretrievably lost.

Nothing could be distinguished but a


dark mass of human forms, tossed and in
volved in inexplicable confusion. Arms,
gleaming knives, and formidable clubs, ap
peared above them, but the blows were
evidently given at random. The awful
effect was heightened by the piercing
shrieks of the women, and the fierce yells
of the warriors. Now and then, Duncan
caught a glimpse of a light form cleaving
the air in some desperate bound, and he
rather hoped than believed, that the cap
tive yet retained the command of his asto
nishing powers of activity. Suddenly, the
multitude rolled backward, and approached
the spot where he himself stood. The
heavy body in the rear pressed upon the
women and children in front, and bore
them to the earth. The stranger re-ap
peared in the confusion. Human power
could not, however, much longer endure
so severe a trial. Of this the captive
seemed conscious. Profiting by the mo
mentary opening, he darted from among
the warriors, and made a desperate, and
what seemed to Duncan, a final effort to
gain the wood. As if aware that no


danger was to be apprehended from the
young soldier, the fugitive nearly brushed
his person in his flight. A tall and power
ful Huron, who had husbanded his forces,
pressed close upon his heels, and with an
uplifted arm, menaced a fatal blow. Dun
can thrust forth a foot, and the shock pre
cipitated the eager savage headlong, many
feet in advance of his intended victim.
Thought itself is not quicker than was the
motion with which the latter profited by
the advantage ; he turned, gleamed like a
meteor again before the eyes of Duncan,
and at the next moment, when the latter re
covered his recollection, and gazed around
in quest of the captive, he saw him quietly
leaning against a small painted post, which
stood before the door of the principal

Apprehensive that the part he had taken
in the escape might prove fatal to himself,
Duncan left the place without delay. He
followed the crowd, which drew nigh the
lodges, gloomy and sullen, like any other
multitude that had been disappointed in
an execution. Curiosity, or, perhaps, a



better feeling, induced him to approach the
stranger. He found him, standing with
one arm cast about the protecting post, and
breathing thick and hard, after his incre
dible exertions, but still disdaining to per
mit a single sign of suffering to escape.
His person was now protected, by imme
morial and sacred usage, until the tribe in
council had deliberated and determined
on his fate. It was not difficult, however,
to foretel the result, if any presage could
be drawn from the feelings of those who
crowded the place.

There was no term of abuse known to
the Huron vocabulary, that the disap
pointed women did not lavishly expend on
the successful stranger. They flouted at
his efforts, and told him, with many and
bitter scoifs, that his feet were better than
his hands, and that he merited wings, while
he knew not the use of an arrow or a
knife. To all this the captive made no
reply, but was content to preserve an atti
tude, in which dignity was singularly
blended with disdain. Exasperated as
much by his composure as by his good for-


tune, their words became unintelligible,
and were succeeded by shrill, piercing
yells. Just then, the crafty squaw, who
had taken the necessary precaution to fire
the piles, made her way through the throng,
and cleared a place for herself in front of
the captive. The squalid and withered
person of this hag, might well have ob
tained for her the character of possessing
more than human cunning. Throwing
back her light vestment, she stretched
forth her long, skinny arm in derision,
and using the language of the Lenape, as
more intelligible to tire subject of her
jibes, she commenced aloud.

" Look you, Delaware !" she said, snap
ping her fingers in his face ; " your nation
is a race of women, and the hoe is better
fitted to your hands than the gun ! Your
squaws are the mothers of deer ; but if a
bear, or a wild cat, or a serpent, were born
among you, ye would flee ! The Huron
girls shall make you petticoats, and we will
find you a husband."

A loud burst of savage and taunting
laughter succeeded this attack, during


which the soft and musical, merriment of
the younger females, strangely chimed
with the cracked voice of their older and
more malignant companion. But the
stranger was superior to all their efforts.
His head was immovable ; nor did he be
tray the slightest consciousness that any
were present, except when his haughty eye
rolled proudly towards the dusky forms
of the warriors, who stalked in the back
ground, silent and sullen observers of the

Infuriated at the self-command of the
captive, the woman placed her arms akimbo,
and throwing herself into a posture of
defiance, she broke out anew, in a torrent
of words, that no art of ours could commit
successfully to paper. Her breath was,
however, expended in vain ; for, although
distinguished in her nation as a proficient
in the art of abuse, she was permitted to
work herself into such a fury, as actually
to foam at the mouth, without causing a
muscle to vibrate in the motionless figure
of the stranger. The effect of his indif
ference began to extend itself to the other


spectators; and a youngster who was just
quitting the condition of a boy, to enter
the state of manhood, attempted to assit
the termagant, by flourishing his tomahawk
before their victim, and adding his empty
boasts to the taunts of the woman. Then,
indeed, the captive turned his face towards
the light, and looked down on the stripling
with a loftiness of expression, that was
even superior to contempt. At the next
moment, he resumed his quiet and reclining
attitude against the post. But the action
and the change of posture had permitted
Duncan to exchange glances with the firm
and piercing eyes of Uncas.

Breathless with amazement, and heavily
oppressed with the critical situation of his
friend, Heyward recoiled before the look,
trembling lest its meaning expression might,
in some unknown manner, hasten the
prisoner's fate. There was not, however,
any instant cause for such an apprehension.
Just then a warrior forced his way into the
exasperated crowd. Motioning the women
and children aside with a stern gesture, he
took Uncas by the arm, and led him towards


the door of the council lodge. Thither all
the chiefs, and most of the distinguished
warriors, followed, among whom the
anxious Heyward found means to enter,
without attracting any dangerous attention
to himself.

A few minutes were consumed in dis
posing of those present in a manner suita
ble to their rank and influence in the tribe.
An order very similar to that adopted in
the preceding interview was observed ; the
aged and superior chief occupying the
area of the spacious apartment, within the
powerful light of a glaring torch, while their
juniors and inferiors were arranged in the
back ground, presenting a dark outline to
the picture, of swarthy and sternly marked
visages. In the very centre of the lodge,
immediately under an opening that admit
ted the twinkling light of one or two stars,
stood Uncas, calm, elevated, and collected.

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Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperThe last of the Mohicans; a narrative of 1757 (Volume 3) → online text (page 1 of 13)