John Brown Dunbar James Fenimore Cooper.

Cooper's The last of the Mohicans: a narrative of 1757 online

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1 5 his son, in the language of the Delawares, and with the
pride of a conqueror, the brief history of the skirmish
which had been fought in his youth in that secluded
spot. A strain of melancholy, however, blended with his
triumph, rendering his voice, as usual, soft and musical.
. 2o In the meantime the sisters gladly dismounted and

1 Some years since, the writer was shooting in the vicinity of the
ruins of Fort Oswego, which stands on the shores of Lake Ontario.
His game was deer, and his chase a forest that stretched, with little
interruption, fifty miles inland. Unexpectedly he came upon six or
eight ladders lying in the woods within a short distance of each
other. They were rudely made and much decayed. Wondering
what could have assembled so many of these instruments in such a
place, he sought an old man who resided near for the explanation.

During the war of 1776 Fort Oswego was held by the British.
An expedition had been sent two hundred miles through the wilder-
ness to surprise the fort. It appears that the Americans, on reach-
ing the spot named, which was within a mile or two of the fort, first
learned that they were expected, and in great danger of being cut
off. They threw away their scaling ladders, and made a rapid
retreat. These ladders had lain unmolested thirty years, in the spot
where they had thus been cast. — Cooper's Note,

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prepared to enjoy their halt in the coolness of the evening,
and in a security which they believed nothing but the
beasts of the forest could invade. '

" Would not our resting place have been more retired,
my worthy friend," demanded the more vigilant Duncan, 5
perceiving that the scout had already finished his short
survey, " had we chosen a spot less known, and one more
rarely visited than this ? "

" Few live who know the blockhouse was ever raised,"
was the slow and musing answer ; " \ is not often that 10
books are made and narratives written of such a skrim-
mage as was here fou*t atween the Mohicans and the
Mohawks, in a war of their own waging. I was then a
younker, and went out with the DelawareSj because I
know'd they were a scandalized and wronged race. Forty 15
days and forty nights did the imps crave our blood around
this pile of logs which I designed and partly reared, being,
as you '11 remember, no Indian myself, but a man without
a cross. The Delawares lent themselves to the work, and
we made it good, ten to twenty, until our numbers were 20
nearly equal, and then we sallied out upon the hounds,
and not a man of them ever got back to tell the fate of
his party. Yes, yes ; I was then young, and new to the
sight of blood ; and not relishing the thought that crea-
tures who had spirits like myself should lay on the naked 25
ground, to be torn asunder by beasts or to bleach in the
rains, I buried the dead with my own hands, under that
very little hillock where you have placed yourselves ; and
no bad seat does it make neither, though it be raised by
the bones of mortal men." 30

He)rward and the sisters arose on the instant from the
grassy sepulchre ; nor could the two latter, notwithstand-
ing the terrific scenes they had so recently passed through,
entirely suppress an emotion of natural horror, when they

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found themselves in such familiar contact with the grave
of the dead Mohawks. The gray light, the gloomy little
area of dark grass, surrounded by its border of brush,
beyond which the pines rose in breathing silence, appar-
5 ently into the very clouds, and the deathlike stillness
of the vast forest, were all in unison to deepen such a

"They are gone, and they are harmless," continued
Hawkeye, waving his hand with a melancholy smile at

lo their manifest alarm : " they '11 never shout the war-whoop
nor strike a blow with the tomahawk again ! And of all
those who -aided in placing them where they lie, Chingach-
gook and I only are living ! The brothers and family of
the Mohican formed our war-party; and you see before

15 you all that are now left of his race."

The eyes of the listeners involuntarily sought the forms
of the Indians, with a compassionate interest in their
desolate fortune. Their dark persons were still to be seen
within the shadows of the blockhouse, the son listening

20 to the relation of his father with that sort of intenseness
which would be created by a narrative that redounded
so much to the honor of those whose names he had long
revered for their courage and savage virtues.

" I had thought the Delawares a pacific people," said

25 Duncan, "and that they never waged war in person,
trusting the defence of their lands to those very Mohawks
that you slew 1 "

" 'T is true in part," returned the scout ; "and yet, at
the bottom, 't is a wicked lie. Such a treaty was made in

30 ages gone by, through the deviltries of the Butchers, who
wished to disarm the natives that had the best right to
the country where they had settled themselves. The
Mohicans, though a part of the same nation, having to
deal with the English, never entered into the silly bargain.

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but kept to their manhood ; as in truth did the Delawares,
when their eyes were opened to their folly. You see
before you a chief of the great Mohican sagamores I
Once his family could chase their deer over tracts of
country wider than that which belongs to the Albany 5
Patteroon, without crossing brook or hill that was not
their own ; but what is left to their descendant ? He may
find his six feet of earth when God chooses, and keep it
in peace, perhaps, if he has a friend who will take the
pains to sink his head so low that the ploughshares can- 10
not reach it ! "

" Enough 1 " said Heyward, apprehensive that the sub-
ject might lead to a discussion that would interrupt the
harmony so necessary to the preservation of his fair com-
panions; "we have journeyed far, and few among us are 15
blessed with forms like that of yours, which seems to
know neither fatigue nor weakness."

" The sinews and bones of a man carry me through it
all," said the hunter, surveying his muscular limbs with a
simplicity that betrayed the honest pleasure the compli- 20
ment afforded him ; " there are larger and heavier men
to be found in the settlements, but you might travel many
days in the city before you could meet one able to walk
fifty miles without stopping to take breath, or who has
kept the hounds within hearing during a chase of hours. 25
However, as flesh and blood are not always the same, it
is quite reasonable to suppose that the gentle ones are
willing to rest after all they have seen and done this day.
Uncas, clear out the spring, while your father and I make
a cover for their tender heads of these chestnut shoots, 30
and a bed of grass and leaves."

The dialogue ceased, while the hunter and his com-
panions busied themselves in preparations for the comfort
and protection of those they guided. A spring, which

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many long years before had induced the natives to select
the place for their temporary fortification, was soon
cleared of leaves, and a fountain of crystal gushed from
the bed, diffusing its waters over the verdant hillock. A

5 comer of the building was then roofed in such a manner
as to exclude the heavy dew of the climate, and piles of
sweet shrubs and dried leaves were laid beneath it for the
sisters to repose on.

While the diligent woodsmen were employed in this

lo manner, Cora and Alice partook of that refreshment which
duty required much more than inclination prompted them
to accept. They then retired within the walls, and first
offering up their thanksgivings for past mercies, and peti-
tioning for a continuance of the Divine favor through-

15 out the coming night, they laid their tender forms on the
fragrant couch, and in spite of recollections and fore-
bodings soon sank into those slumbers which nature
so imperiously demanded, and which were sweetened by
hopes for the morrow. Duncan had prepared himself to

20 pass the night in watchfulness near them, just without the
ruin ; but the scout, perceiving his intention, pointed
towards Chingachgook, as he coolly disposed his own
person on the grass, and said, —

" The eyes of a white man are too heavy and too blind

25 for such a watch as this 1 The Mohican will be our sen-
tinel ; therefore let us sleep."

"I proved myself a sluggard on my post during the
past night," said Heyward, " and have less need of repose
than you, who did more credit to the character of a

30 soldier. Let all the party seek their rest, then, while I
hold the guard."

" If we lay among the white tents of the 60th, and in
front of an enemy like the French, I could not ask for a
better watchman," returned the scout ; " but in the dark-

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ness and among the signs of the wilderness your judgment
would be like the folly of a child, and your vigilance
thrown away. Do then, like Uncas and myself, sleep,
and sleep in safety."

Heyward perceived, in truth, that the younger Indian 5
had thrown his form on the side Of the hillock while
they were talking, like one who sought to make the most
of the time allotted to rest, and that his example had been
followed by David, whose voice literally "clove to his
jaws," with the fever of his wound heightened, as it was, 10
by their toilsome march. Unwilling to prolong a useless
discussion, the young man affected to comply by posting
his back against the logs of the blockhouse, in a half-
recumbent posture, though resolutely determined, in his
own mind, not to close an eye until he had delivered his 15
precious charge into the arms of Munro himself. Hawk-
eye, believing he had prevailed, soon fell asleep, and a
silence as deep as the solitude in which they had found
it pervaded the retired spot

For many minutes Duncan succeeded in keeping his 20
senses on the alert, and alive to every moaning sound that
arose from the forest. His vision became more acute as
the shades of evening settled on the place; and even
after the stars Were glimmering above his head, he was
able to distinguish the recumbent forms of his com- 25
panions, as they lay stretched on the grass, and to note
the person of Chingachgook,who sat upright and motion-
less as one of the trees which formed the dark barrier on
every side of them. He still heard the gentle breathings
of the sisters who lay within a few feet of him, and not 30
a leaf was ruffled by the passing air, of which his ear did
not detect the whispering sound. At length, however, the
mournful notes of a whippoorwill became blended with the
moanings of an owl ; his heavy eyes occasionally sought

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the bright rays of the stars, and then he fancied he saw
them through the fallen lids. At instants of momentary
wakefulness he mistook a bush for his associate sentinel ;
his head next sank upon his shoulder, which, in its turn,
5 sought the support of the ground ; and, finally, his whole
person became relaxed and pliant, and the young man
sank into a deep sleep, dreaming that he was a knight
of ancient chivalry, holding his midnight vigils before
the tent of a recaptured princess, whose favor he did

lo not despair of gaining by such a proof of devotion and

How long the tired Duncan lay in this insensible state
he never knew himself, but his slumbering visions had
been long lost in total forgetfulness, when he was awak-

15 ened by a light tap on the shoulder. Aroused by this

signal, slight as it was, he sprang upon his feet with

a confused recollection of the self-imposed duty he had

assumed with the commencement of the night —

" Who comes ? " he demanded, feeling for his sword at

20 the place where it was usually suspended. '* Speak ! friend
or enemy ? *'

" Friend," replied the low voice of Chingachgook, who,
pointing upwards at the luminary which was shedding its
mild light through the opening in the trees directly on

25 their bivouac, immediately added, in his rude English,
"moon comes, and white man's fort far — far off; time to
move, when sleep shuts both eyes of the Frenchman ! "

"You say true ! call up your friends, and bridle the
horses, while I prepare my own companions for the march I "

30 " We are awake, Duncan," said the soft, silvery tones
of Alice within the building, " and ready to travel very
fast after so refreshing a sleep ; but you have watched
through the tedious night in our behalf, after having
endured so much fatigue the livelong day ! "

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" Say, rather, I would have watched, but my treacherous
eyes betrayed me; twice have I proved myself unfit for the
trust I bear."

" Nay, Duncan, deny it not," interrupted the smiling
Alice, issuing from the shadows of the building into the 5
light of the moon, in all the loveliness of her freshened
beauty ; " I know you to be a heedless one, when self is
the object of your care, and but too vigilant in favor of
others. Can we not tarry here a little longer, while you
find the rest you need ? Cheerfully, most cheerfully, will 10
Cora and I keep the vigils, while you and all these brave
men endeavor to snatch a little sleep ! "

" If shame could cure me of my drowsiness, I should
never close an eye again," said the uneasy youth, gazing
at the ingenuous countenance of Alice, where, however, 15
in its sweet solicitude, he read nothing to confirm his
half-awakened suspicion. " It is but too true, that after
leading you into danger by my heedlessness, I have not
even the merit of guarding your pillows as should become
a soldier." 20

" No one but Duncan himself should accuse Duncan of
such a weakness. Go, then, and sleep ; believe me, neither
of us, weak girls as we are, will betray our watch."

The young man was relieved from the awkwardness
of making any further protestations of his own demerits 25
by an exclamation from Chingachgook, and the attitude of
riveted attention assumed by his son.

" The Mohicans hear an enemy ! " whispered Hawkeye,
who, by this time, in common with the whole party, was
awake and stirring. " They scent danger in the wind 1 " 30

" God forbid ! " exclaimed Heyward. " Surely we have
had enough of bloodshed 1 "

While he spoke, however, the young soldier seized his
rifle, and advancing towards the front, prepared to atone

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for his venial remissness, by freely exposing his life in
defence of those he attended.

"'Tis some creature of the forest prowling around us
in quest of food," he said in a whisper, as soon as the
5 low and apparently distant sounds, which had startled the
Mohicans, reached his own ears.

" Hist ! " returned the attentive scout ; " 'tis man; even
I can now tell his tread, poor as my senses are when
compared to an Indian's ! That scampering Huron has

10 fallen in with one of Montcalm's outlying parties, and
they have struck upon our trail. I should n't like, myself,
to spill more human blood in this spot," he added, look-
ing around with anxiety in his features at the dim objects
by which he was surrounded ; " but what must be, must I

15 Lead the horses into the blockhouse, Uncas; and, friends,
do you follow to the same shelter. Poor and old as it is,
it offers a cover, and has rung with the crack of a rifle
afore to-night ! "

He was instantly obeyed, the Mohicans leading the

20 Narragansetts within the ruin, whither the whole party
repaired with the most guarded silence.

The sounds of approaching footsteps were now too
distinctly audible to leave any doubts as to the nature of
the interruption. They were soon mingled with voices

25 calling to each other in an Indian dialect which the
hunter, in a whisper, affirmed to Heyward was the lan-
guage of the Huron s. When the party reached the point
where the horses had entered the thicket which sur-
rounded the blockhouse, they were evidently at fault,

30 having lost those marks which until that moment had
directed their pursuit.

It would seem by the voices that twenty men were soon
collected at that one spot, mingling their different opinions
and advice in noisy clamor.

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" The knaves know our weakness," whispered Hawkeye,
who stood by the side of Heyward, in deep shade, look-
ing through an opening in the logs, " or they would n't
indulge their idleness in such a squaw's march. Listen to
the reptiles 1 each man among them seems to have two 5
tongues, and but a single leg."

Duncan, brave as he was in the combat, could not, in
such a moment of painful suspense, make any reply to
the cool and characteristic remark of the scout. He only
grasped his rifle more firmly, and fastened his eyes upon 10
the narrow opening, through which he gazed upon the
moonlight view with increasing anxiety. The deeper
tones of one who spoke as having authority were next
heard, amid a silence that denoted the respect with which
his orders, or rather advice, was received. After which, 15
by the rustling of leaves and cracking of dried twigs, it
was apparent the savages were separating in pursuit
of the lost trail. Fortunately for the pursued, the light of
the moon, while it shed a flood of mild lustre upon the
little area around the ruin, was not sufficiently strong to 20
penetrate the deep arches of the forest, where the objects
still lay in deceptive shadow. The search proved fruit-
less; for so short and sudden had been the passage
from the faint path the travellers had journeyed into the
thicket, that every trace of their footsteps was lost in the 25
obscurity of the woods.

It was not long, however, before the restless savages
were heard beating the brush, and gradually approaching
the inner edge of that dense border of young chestnuts
which encircled the little area. 30

" They are coming," muttered Heyward, endeavoring
to thrust his rifle through the chink in the logs ; " let us
fire on their approach."

" Keep everything in the shade," returned the scout ;

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" the snapping of a flint, or even the smell of a single
karnel of the brimstone, would bring the hungry varlets
upon us in a body. Should it please God that we must
give battle for the scalps, trust to the experience of men

5 who know the ways of the savages, and who are not often
backward when the war-whoop is howled."

Duncan cast his eyes behind him, and saw that the
trembling sisters were cowering in the far corner of the
building, while the Mohicans stood in the shadow, like

lo two upright posts, ready, and apparently willing to strike,
when the blow should be needed. Curbing his impatience,
he again looked out upon the area and awaited the result
in silence. ' At that instant the thicket opened, and a tall
and armed Huron advanced a few paces into the open

1 5 space. As he gazed upon the silent blockhouse, the moon
fell full upon his swarthy countenance and betrayed its
surprise and curiosity. He made the exclamation which
usually accompanies the former emotion in an Indian,
and, calling in a low voice, soon drew a companion to his

20 side.

These children of the woods stood together for several
moments, pointing at the crumbling edifice and conversing
in the unintelligible language of their tribe. They then
approached, though with slow and cautious steps, pausing

2$ every instant to look at the building, like startled deer
whose curiosity struggled powerfully with their awakened
apprehensions for the mastery. The foot of one of them
suddenly rested on the mound, and he stooped to examine
its nature. At this moment Heyward observed that the

30 scout loosened his knife in its sheath, and lowered the
muzzle of his rifle. Imitating these movements, the young
man prepared himself for the struggle which now seemed

The savages were so near that the least motion in one

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of the horses, or even a breath louder than common, would
have betrayed the fugitives. But, in discovering the
character of the mound, the attention of the Hurons
appeared directed to a different object. They spoke
together, and the sounds of their voices were low and 5
solemn, as if influenced by a reverence that was deeply
blended with awe. Then they drew warily back, keeping
their eyes riveted on the ruin, as if they expected to see
the apparitions of the dead issue from its silent walls,
until, having reached the boundary of the area, they 10
moved slowly into the thicket and disappeared.

Hawkeye dropped the breech of his rifle to the earth,
and drawing a long, free breath, exclaimed in an audible
whisper, —

" Ay 1 they respect the dead, and it has this time saved 15
their own lives, and, it may be, the lives of better men

Hey ward lent his attention, for a single moment, to his
companion, but, without replying, he again turned towards
those who just then interested him more. He heard the 20
two Hurons leave the bushes, and it was soon plain that
all the pursuers were gathered about them in deep atten-
tion to their report. After a few minutes of earnest
and solemn dialogue, altogether different from the noisy
clamor with which they had first collected about the spot, 25
the sounds grew fainter and more distant, and finally
were lost in the depths of the forest.

Hawkeye waited until a signal from the listening
Chingachgook assured him that every sound from the
retiring party was completely swallowed by the distance, 30
when he motioned to Heyward to lead forth the horses
and to assist the sisters into their saddles. The instant
this was done, they issued through the broken gateway,
and, stealing out by a direction opposite to the one by

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which they had entered, they quitted the spot, the sisters
casting furtive glances at the silent grave and crumbling
ruin, as they left the soft light of the moon, to bury them-
selves in the gloom of the woods.

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Puc, — Paysans, pauvres gens de France 1

Shakspbrb, King Henry VJ, Pt. I, III, ii.

During the rapid movement from the blockhouse, and
until the party was deeply buried in the forest, each indi-
vidual was too much interested in the escape to hazard
a word even in whispers. The scout resumed his post
in the advance, though his steps, after he had thrown a 5
safe distance between himself and his enemies, were more .
deliberate than in their previous march, in consequence
of his utter ignorance of the localities of the surround-
ing woods. More than once he halted to consult with
his confederates, the Mohicans, pointing upwards at the 10
moon and examining the barks of trees with care. In
these brief pauses Heyward and the sisters listened, with
senses rendered doubly acute by the danger, to detect
any symptoms which might apnounce the proximity of
their foes. At such moments it seemed as if a vast range 15
of country lay buried in eternal sleep, not the least sound
arising from the forest, unless it was the distant and
scarcely audible rippling of a water course. Birds, beasts,
and man appeared to slumber alike, if, indeed, any of the
latter were to be found in that wide tract of wilderness. 20
But the sounds of the rivulet, feeble and murmuring as
they were, relieved the guides at once from no trifling
embarrassment, and towards it they immediately held
their way.

When the banks of the little stream were gained. Hawk- 25
eye made another halt ; and, taking the moccasins from

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his feet, he invited Heyward and Gamut to follow his
example. He then entered the water, and for near an
hour they travelled in the bed of the brook, leaving no
trail. The moon had already sunk into an immense pile
5 of black clouds which lay impending above the western
horizon, when they issued from the low and devious
water course to rise again to the light and level of the
sandy but wooded plain. Here the scout seemed to be
once more at home, for he held on his way with the

10 certainty and diligence of a man who moved in the secur-
ity of his own knowledge. The path soon became more
uneven, and the travellers could plainly perceive that the
mountains drew nigher to them on each hand, and that
• they were, in truth, about entering one of their gorges.

Online LibraryJohn Brown Dunbar James Fenimore CooperCooper's The last of the Mohicans: a narrative of 1757 → online text (page 15 of 41)