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The Last of the Mohicans
A Narrative of 1757
by James Fenimore Cooper

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"Sola, sola, wo ha, ho, sola!"--Shakespeare


While one of the lovely beings we have so cursorily
presented to the reader was thus lost in thought, the other
quickly recovered from the alarm which induced the
exclamation, and, laughing at her own weakness, she inquired
of the youth who rode by her side:

"Are such specters frequent in the woods, Heyward, or is
this sight an especial entertainment ordered on our behalf?
If the latter, gratitude must close our mouths; but if the
former, both Cora and I shall have need to draw largely on
that stock of hereditary courage which we boast, even before
we are made to encounter the redoubtable Montcalm."

"Yon Indian is a 'runner' of the army; and, after the
fashion of his people, he may be accounted a hero," returned
the officer. "He has volunteered to guide us to the lake,
by a path but little known, sooner than if we followed the
tardy movements of the column; and, by consequence, more

"I like him not," said the lady, shuddering, partly in
assumed, yet more in real terror. "You know him, Duncan, or
you would not trust yourself so freely to his keeping?"

"Say, rather, Alice, that I would not trust you. I do know
him, or he would not have my confidence, and least of all at
this moment. He is said to be a Canadian too; and yet he
served with our friends the Mohawks, who, as you know, are
one of the six allied nations. He was brought among us, as
I have heard, by some strange accident in which your father
was interested, and in which the savage was rigidly dealt
by; but I forget the idle tale, it is enough, that he is now
our friend."

"If he has been my father's enemy, I like him still less!"
exclaimed the now really anxious girl. "Will you not speak
to him, Major Heyward, that I may hear his tones? Foolish
though it may be, you have often heard me avow my faith in
the tones of the human voice!"

"It would be in vain; and answered, most probably, by an
ejaculation. Though he may understand it, he affects, like
most of his people, to be ignorant of the English; and least
of all will he condescend to speak it, now that the war
demands the utmost exercise of his dignity. But he stops;
the private path by which we are to journey is, doubtless,
at hand."

The conjecture of Major Heyward was true. When they reached
the spot where the Indian stood, pointing into the thicket
that fringed the military road; a narrow and blind path,
which might, with some little inconvenience, receive one
person at a time, became visible.

"Here, then, lies our way," said the young man, in a low
voice. "Manifest no distrust, or you may invite the danger
you appear to apprehend."

"Cora, what think you?" asked the reluctant fair one. "If
we journey with the troops, though we may find their
presence irksome, shall we not feel better assurance of our

"Being little accustomed to the practices of the savages,
Alice, you mistake the place of real danger," said Heyward.
"If enemies have reached the portage at all, a thing by no
means probable, as our scouts are abroad, they will surely
be found skirting the column, where scalps abound the most.
The route of the detachment is known, while ours, having
been determined within the hour, must still be secret."

"Should we distrust the man because his manners are not our
manners, and that his skin is dark?" coldly asked Cora.

Alice hesitated no longer; but giving her Narrangansett* a
smart cut of the whip, she was the first to dash aside the
slight branches of the bushes, and to follow the runner
along the dark and tangled pathway. The young man regarded
the last speaker in open admiration, and even permitted her
fairer, though certainly not more beautiful companion, to
proceed unattended, while he sedulously opened the way
himself for the passage of her who has been called Cora. It
would seem that the domestics had been previously
instructed; for, instead of penetrating the thicket, they
followed the route of the column; a measure which Heyward
stated had been dictated by the sagacity of their guide, in
order to diminish the marks of their trail, if, haply, the
Canadian savages should be lurking so far in advance of
their army. For many minutes the intricacy of the route
admitted of no further dialogue; after which they emerged
from the broad border of underbrush which grew along the
line of the highway, and entered under the high but dark
arches of the forest. Here their progress was less
interrupted; and the instant the guide perceived that the
females could command their steeds, he moved on, at a pace
between a trot and a walk, and at a rate which kept the sure-
footed and peculiar animals they rode at a fast yet easy
amble. The youth had turned to speak to the dark-eyed Cora,
when the distant sound of horses; hoofs, clattering over the
roots of the broken way in his rear, caused him to check his
charger; and, as his companions drew their reins at the same
instant, the whole party came to a halt, in order to obtain
an explanation of the unlooked-for interruption.

* In the state of Rhode Island there is a bay called
Narragansett, so named after a powerful tribe of Indians,
which formerly dwelt on its banks. Accident, or one of
those unaccountable freaks which nature sometimes plays in
the animal world, gave rise to a breed of horses which were
once well known in America, and distinguished by their habit
of pacing. Horses of this race were, and are still, in much
request as saddle horses, on account of their hardiness and
the ease of their movements. As they were also sure of
foot, the Narragansetts were greatly sought for by females
who were obliged to travel over the roots and holes in the
"new countries."

In a few moments a colt was seen gliding, like a fallow
deer, among the straight trunks of the pines; and, in
another instant, the person of the ungainly man, described
in the preceding chapter, came into view, with as much
rapidity as he could excite his meager beast to endure
without coming to an open rupture. Until now this personage
had escaped the observation of the travelers. If he
possessed the power to arrest any wandering eye when
exhibiting the glories of his altitude on foot, his
equestrian graces were still more likely to attract

Notwithstanding a constant application of his one armed heel
to the flanks of the mare, the most confirmed gait that he
could establish was a Canterbury gallop with the hind legs,
in which those more forward assisted for doubtful moments,
though generally content to maintain a loping trot. Perhaps
the rapidity of the changes from one of these paces to the
other created an optical illusion, which might thus magnify
the powers of the beast; for it is certain that Heyward, who
possessed a true eye for the merits of a horse, was unable,
with his utmost ingenuity, to decide by what sort of
movement his pursuer worked his sinuous way on his footsteps
with such persevering hardihood.

The industry and movements of the rider were not less
remarkable than those of the ridden. At each change in the
evolutions of the latter, the former raised his tall person
in the stirrups; producing, in this manner, by the undue
elongation of his legs, such sudden growths and diminishings
of the stature, as baffled every conjecture that might be
made as to his dimensions. If to this be added the fact
that, in consequence of the ex parte application of the
spur, one side of the mare appeared to journey faster than
the other; and that the aggrieved flank was resolutely
indicated by unremitted flourishes of a bushy tail, we
finish the picture of both horse and man.

The frown which had gathered around the handsome, open, and
manly brow of Heyward, gradually relaxed, and his lips
curled into a slight smile, as he regarded the stranger.
Alice made no very powerful effort to control her merriment;
and even the dark, thoughtful eye of Cora lighted with a
humor that it would seem, the habit, rather than the nature,
of its mistress repressed.

"Seek you any here?" demanded Heyward, when the other had
arrived sufficiently nigh to abate his speed; "I trust you
are no messenger of evil tidings?"

"Even so," replied the stranger, making diligent use of his
triangular castor, to produce a circulation in the close air
of the woods, and leaving his hearers in doubt to which of
the young man's questions he responded; when, however, he
had cooled his face, and recovered his breath, he continued,
"I hear you are riding to William Henry; as I am journeying
thitherward myself, I concluded good company would seem
consistent to the wishes of both parties."

"You appear to possess the privilege of a casting vote,"
returned Heyward; "we are three, while you have consulted no
one but yourself."

"Even so. The first point to be obtained is to know one's
own mind. Once sure of that, and where women are concerned
it is not easy, the next is, to act up to the decision. I
have endeavored to do both, and here I am."

"If you journey to the lake, you have mistaken your route,"
said Heyward, haughtily; "the highway thither is at least
half a mile behind you."

"Even so," returned the stranger, nothing daunted by this
cold reception; "I have tarried at 'Edward' a week, and I
should be dumb not to have inquired the road I was to
journey; and if dumb there would be an end to my calling."
After simpering in a small way, like one whose modesty
prohibited a more open expression of his admiration of a
witticism that was perfectly unintelligible to his hearers,
he continued, "It is not prudent for any one of my
profession to be too familiar with those he has to instruct;
for which reason I follow not the line of the army; besides
which, I conclude that a gentleman of your character has the
best judgment in matters of wayfaring; I have, therefore,
decided to join company, in order that the ride may be made
agreeable, and partake of social communion."

"A most arbitrary, if not a hasty decision!" exclaimed
Heyward, undecided whether to give vent to his growing
anger, or to laugh in the other's face. "But you speak of
instruction, and of a profession; are you an adjunct to the
provincial corps, as a master of the noble science of
defense and offense; or, perhaps, you are one who draws
lines and angles, under the pretense of expounding the

The stranger regarded his interrogator a moment in wonder;
and then, losing every mark of self-satisfaction in an
expression of solemn humility, he answered:

"Of offense, I hope there is none, to either party: of
defense, I make none--by God's good mercy, having
committed no palpable sin since last entreating his
pardoning grace. I understand not your allusions about
lines and angles; and I leave expounding to those who have
been called and set apart for that holy office. I lay claim
to no higher gift than a small insight into the glorious art
of petitioning and thanksgiving, as practiced in psalmody."

"The man is, most manifestly, a disciple of Apollo," cried
the amused Alice, "and I take him under my own especial
protection. Nay, throw aside that frown, Heyward, and in
pity to my longing ears, suffer him to journey in our train.
Besides," she added, in a low and hurried voice, casting a
glance at the distant Cora, who slowly followed the
footsteps of their silent, but sullen guide, "it may be a
friend added to our strength, in time of need."

"Think you, Alice, that I would trust those I love by this
secret path, did I imagine such need could happen?"

"Nay, nay, I think not of it now; but this strange man
amuses me; and if he 'hath music in his soul', let us not
churlishly reject his company." She pointed persuasively
along the path with her riding whip, while their eyes met in
a look which the young man lingered a moment to prolong;
then, yielding to her gentle influence, he clapped his spurs
into his charger, and in a few bounds was again at the side
of Cora.

"I am glad to encounter thee, friend," continued the maiden,
waving her hand to the stranger to proceed, as she urged her
Narragansett to renew its amble. "Partial relatives have
almost persuaded me that I am not entirely worthless in a
duet myself; and we may enliven our wayfaring by indulging
in our favorite pursuit. It might be of signal advantage to
one, ignorant as I, to hear the opinions and experience of a
master in the art."

"It is refreshing both to the spirits and to the body to
indulge in psalmody, in befitting seasons," returned the
master of song, unhesitatingly complying with her intimation
to follow; "and nothing would relieve the mind more than
such a consoling communion. But four parts are altogether
necessary to the perfection of melody. You have all the
manifestations of a soft and rich treble; I can, by especial
aid, carry a full tenor to the highest letter; but we lack
counter and bass! Yon officer of the king, who hesitated to
admit me to his company, might fill the latter, if one may
judge from the intonations of his voice in common dialogue."

"Judge not too rashly from hasty and deceptive appearances,"
said the lady, smiling; "though Major Heyward can assume
such deep notes on occasion, believe me, his natural tones
are better fitted for a mellow tenor than the bass you

"Is he, then, much practiced in the art of psalmody?"
demanded her simple companion.

Alice felt disposed to laugh, though she succeeded in
suppressing her merriment, ere she answered:

"I apprehend that he is rather addicted to profane song.
The chances of a soldier's life are but little fitted for
the encouragement of more sober inclinations."

"Man's voice is given to him, like his other talents, to be
used, and not to be abused. None can say they have ever
known me to neglect my gifts! I am thankful that, though my
boyhood may be said to have been set apart, like the youth
of the royal David, for the purposes of music, no syllable
of rude verse has ever profaned my lips."

"You have, then, limited your efforts to sacred song?"

"Even so. As the psalms of David exceed all other language,
so does the psalmody that has been fitted to them by the
divines and sages of the land, surpass all vain poetry.
Happily, I may say that I utter nothing but the thoughts and
the wishes of the King of Israel himself; for though the
times may call for some slight changes, yet does this
version which we use in the colonies of New England so much
exceed all other versions, that, by its richness, its
exactness, and its spiritual simplicity, it approacheth, as
near as may be, to the great work of the inspired writer. I
never abid in any place, sleeping or waking, without an
example of this gifted work. 'Tis the six-and-twentieth
edition, promulgated at Boston, Anno Domini 1744; and is
entitled, 'The Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs of the Old
and New Testaments; faithfully translated into English
Metre, for the Use, Edification, and Comfort of the Saints,
in Public and Private, especially in New England'."

During this eulogium on the rare production of his native
poets, the stranger had drawn the book from his pocket, and
fitting a pair of iron-rimmed spectacles to his nose, opened
the volume with a care and veneration suited to its sacred
purposes. Then, without circumlocution or apology, first
pronounced the word "Standish," and placing the unknown
engine, already described, to his mouth, from which he drew
a high, shrill sound, that was followed by an octave below,
from his own voice, he commenced singing the following
words, in full, sweet, and melodious tones, that set the
music, the poetry, and even the uneasy motion of his ill-
trained beast at defiance; "How good it is, O see, And how
it pleaseth well, Together e'en in unity, For brethren so to
dwell. "It's like the choice ointment, From the head to the
beard did go; Down Aaron's head, that downward went His
garment's skirts unto."

The delivery of these skillful rhymes was accompanied, on
the part of the stranger, by a regular rise and fall of his
right hand, which terminated at the descent, by suffering
the fingers to dwell a moment on the leaves of the little
volume; and on the ascent, by such a flourish of the member
as none but the initiated may ever hope to imitate. It
would seem long practice had rendered this manual
accompaniment necessary; for it did not cease until the
preposition which the poet had selected for the close of his
verse had been duly delivered like a word of two syllables.

Such an innovation on the silence and retirement of the
forest could not fail to enlist the ears of those who
journeyed at so short a distance in advance. The Indian
muttered a few words in broken English to Heyward, who, in
his turn, spoke to the stranger; at once interrupting, and,
for the time, closing his musical efforts.

"Though we are not in danger, common prudence would teach us
to journey through this wilderness in as quiet a manner as
possible. You will then, pardon me, Alice, should I
diminish your enjoyments, by requesting this gentleman to
postpone his chant until a safer opportunity."

"You will diminish them, indeed," returned the arch girl;
"for never did I hear a more unworthy conjunction of
execution and language than that to which I have been
listening; and I was far gone in a learned inquiry into the
causes of such an unfitness between sound and sense, when
you broke the charm of my musings by that bass of yours,

"I know not what you call my bass," said Heyward, piqued at
her remark, "but I know that your safety, and that of Cora,
is far dearer to me than could be any orchestra of Handel's
music." He paused and turned his head quickly toward a
thicket, and then bent his eyes suspiciously on their guide,
who continued his steady pace, in undisturbed gravity. The
young man smiled to himself, for he believed he had mistaken
some shining berry of the woods for the glistening eyeballs
of a prowling savage, and he rode forward, continuing the
conversation which had been interrupted by the passing

Major Heyward was mistaken only in suffering his youthful
and generous pride to suppress his active watchfulness. The
cavalcade had not long passed, before the branches of the
bushes that formed the thicket were cautiously moved
asunder, and a human visage, as fiercely wild as savage art
and unbridled passions could make it, peered out on the
retiring footsteps of the travelers. A gleam of exultation
shot across the darkly-painted lineaments of the inhabitant
of the forest, as he traced the route of his intended
victims, who rode unconsciously onward, the light and
graceful forms of the females waving among the trees, in the
curvatures of their path, followed at each bend by the manly
figure of Heyward, until, finally, the shapeless person of
the singing master was concealed behind the numberless
trunks of trees, that rose, in dark lines, in the
intermediate space.



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