"Before these fields were shorn
and till'd, Full to the brim
our rivers flow'd; The melody of waters fill'd The fresh and
boundless wood; And torrents dash'd, and rivulets play'd,
And fountains spouted in the shade."--Bryant
Leaving the unsuspecting Heyward and his confiding
companions to penetrate still deeper into a forest that
contained such treacherous inmates, we must use an author's
privilege, and shift the scene a few miles to the westward
of the place where we have last seen them.
On that day, two men were lingering on the banks of a small
but rapid stream, within an hour's journey of the encampment
of Webb, like those who awaited the appearance of an absent
person, or the approach of some expected event. The vast
canopy of woods spread itself to the margin of the river,
overhanging the water, and shadowing its dark current with a
deeper hue. The rays of the sun were beginning to grow less
fierce, and the intense heat of the day was lessened, as the
cooler vapors of the springs and fountains rose above their
leafy beds, and rested in the atmosphere. Still that
breathing silence, which marks the drowsy sultriness of an
American landscape in July, pervaded the secluded spot,
interrupted only by the low voices of the men, the
occasional and lazy tap of a woodpecker, the discordant cry
of some gaudy jay, or a swelling on the ear, from the dull
roar of a distant waterfall. These feeble and broken sounds
were, however, too familiar to the foresters to draw their
attention from the more interesting matter of their
dialogue. While one of these loiterers showed the red skin
and wild accouterments of a native of the woods, the other
exhibited, through the mask of his rude and nearly savage
equipments, the brighter, though sun-burned and long-faced
complexion of one who might claim descent from a European
parentage. The former was seated on the end of a mossy log,
in a posture that permitted him to heighten the effect of
his earnest language, by the calm but expressive gestures of
an Indian engaged in debate. his body, which was nearly
naked, presented a terrific emblem of death, drawn in
intermingled colors of white and black. His closely-shaved
head, on which no other hair than the well-known and
chivalrous scalping tuft* was preserved, was without
ornament of any kind, with the exception of a solitary
eagle's plume, that crossed his crown, and depended over the
left shoulder. A tomahawk and scalping knife, of English
manufacture, were in his girdle; while a short military
rifle, of that sort with which the policy of the whites
armed their savage allies, lay carelessly across his bare
and sinewy knee. The expanded chest, full formed limbs, and
grave countenance of this warrior, would denote that he had
reached the vigor of his days, though no symptoms of decay
appeared to have yet weakened his manhood.
* The North American warrior caused
the hair to be
plucked from his whole body; a small tuft was left on the
crown of his head, in order that his enemy might avail
himself of it, in wrenching off the scalp in the event of
his fall. The scalp was the only admissible trophy of
victory. Thus, it was deemed more important to obtain the
scalp than to kill the man. Some tribes lay great stress on
the honor of striking a dead body. These practices have
nearly disappeared among the Indians of the Atlantic states.
The frame of the white man, judging by such parts as were
not concealed by his clothes, was like that of one who had
known hardships and exertion from his earliest youth. His
person, though muscular, was rather attenuated than full;
but every nerve and muscle appeared strung and indurated by
unremitted exposure and toil. He wore a hunting shirt of
forest-green, fringed with faded yellow*, and a summer cap
of skins which had been shorn of their fur. He also bore a
knife in a girdle of wampum, like that which confined the
scanty garments of the Indian, but no tomahawk. His
moccasins were ornamented after the gay fashion of the
natives, while the only part of his under dress which
appeared below the hunging frock was a pair of buckskin
leggings, that laced at the sides, and which were gartered
above the knees, with the sinews of a deer. A pouch and
horn completed his personal accouterments, though a rifle of
great length**, which the theory of the more ingenious whites
had taught them was the most dangerous of all firearms,
leaned against a neighboring sapling. The eye of the
hunter, or scout, whichever he might be, was small, quick,
keen, and restless, roving while he spoke, on every side of
him, as if in quest of game, or distrusting the sudden
approach of some lurking enemy. Notwithstanding the
symptoms of habitual suspicion, his countenance was not only
without guile, but at the moment at which he is introduced,
it was charged with an expression of sturdy honesty.
* The hunting-shirt is a picturesque
being shorter, and ornamented with fringes and tassels. The
colors are intended to imitate the hues of the wood, with a
view to concealment. Many corps of American riflemen have
been thus attired, and the dress is one of the most striking
of modern times. The hunting-shirt is frequently white.
** The rifle of the army is short; that of the hunter
is always long.
"Even your traditions make the case in my favor,
Chingachgook," he said, speaking in the tongue which was
known to all the natives who formerly inhabited the country
between the Hudson and the Potomac, and of which we shall
give a free translation for the benefit of the reader;
endeavoring, at the same time, to preserve some of the
peculiarities, both of the individual and of the language.
"Your fathers came from the setting sun, crossed the big
river*, fought the people of the country, and took the land;
and mine came from the red sky of the morning, over the salt
lake, and did their work much after the fashion that had
been set them by yours; then let God judge the matter
between us, and friends spare their words!"
* The Mississippi. The scout alludes
to a tradition
which is very popular among the tribes of the Atlantic
states. Evidence of their Asiatic origin is deduced from
the circumstances, though great uncertainty hangs over the
whole history of the Indians.
"My fathers fought with the naked red man!" returned the
Indian, sternly, in the same language. "Is there no
difference, Hawkeye, between the stone-headed arrow of the
warrior, and the leaden bullet with which you kill?"
"There is reason in an Indian, though nature has made him
with a red skin!" said the white man, shaking his head like
one on whom such an appeal to his justice was not thrown
away. For a moment he appeared to be conscious of having
the worst of the argument, then, rallying again, he answered
the objection of his antagonist in the best manner his
limited information would allow:
"I am no scholar, and I care not who knows it; but, judging
from what I have seen, at deer chases and squirrel hunts, of
the sparks below, I should think a rifle in the hands of
their grandfathers was not so dangerous as a hickory bow and
a good flint-head might be, if drawn with Indian judgment,
and sent by an Indian eye."
"You have the story told by your fathers," returned the
other, coldly waving his hand. "What say your old men? Do
they tell the young warriors that the pale faces met the red
men, painted for war and armed with the stone hatchet and
"I am not a prejudiced man, nor one who vaunts himself on
his natural privileges, though the worst enemy I have on
earth, and he is an Iroquois, daren't deny that I am genuine
white," the scout replied, surveying, with secret
satisfaction, the faded color of his bony and sinewy hand,
"and I am willing to own that my people have many ways, of
which, as an honest man, I can't approve. It is one of
their customs to write in books what they have done and
seen, instead of telling them in their villages, where the
lie can be given to the face of a cowardly boaster, and the
brave soldier can call on his comrades to witness for the
truth of his words. In consequence of this bad fashion, a
man, who is too conscientious to misspend his days among the
women, in learning the names of black marks, may never hear
of the deeds of his fathers, nor feel a pride in striving to
outdo them. For myself, I conclude the Bumppos could shoot,
for I have a natural turn with a rifle, which must have been
handed down from generation to generation, as, our holy
commandments tell us, all good and evil gifts are bestowed;
though I should be loath to answer for other people in such
a matter. But every story has its two sides; so I ask you,
Chingachgook, what passed, according to the traditions of
the red men, when our fathers first met?"
A silence of a minute succeeded, during which the Indian sat
mute; then, full of the dignity of his office, he commenced
his brief tale, with a solemnity that served to heighten its
appearance of truth.
"Listen, Hawkeye, and your ear shall drink no lie. 'Tis
what my fathers have said, and what the Mohicans have done."
He hesitated a single instant, and bending a cautious glance
toward his companion, he continued, in a manner that was
divided between interrogation and assertion. "Does not this
stream at our feet run toward the summer, until its waters
grow salt, and the current flows upward?"
"It can't be denied that your traditions tell you true in
both these matters," said the white man; "for I have been
there, and have seen them, though why water, which is so
sweet in the shade, should become bitter in the sun, is an
alteration for which I have never been able to account."
"And the current!" demanded the Indian, who expected his
reply with that sort of interest that a man feels in the
confirmation of testimony, at which he marvels even while he
respects it; "the fathers of Chingachgook have not lied!"
"The holy Bible is not more true, and that is the truest
thing in nature. They call this up-stream current the tide,
which is a thing soon explained, and clear enough. Six
hours the waters run in, and six hours they run out, and the
reason is this: when there is higher water in the sea than
in the river, they run in until the river gets to be
highest, and then it runs out again."
"The waters in the woods, and on the great lakes, run
downward until they lie like my hand," said the Indian,
stretching the limb horizontally before him, "and then they
run no more."
"No honest man will deny it," said the scout, a little
nettled at the implied distrust of his explanation of the
mystery of the tides; "and I grant that it is true on the
small scale, and where the land is level. But everything
depends on what scale you look at things. Now, on the small
scale, the 'arth is level; but on the large scale it is
round. In this manner, pools and ponds, and even the great
fresh-water lakes, may be stagnant, as you and I both know
they are, having seen them; but when you come to spread
water over a great tract, like the sea, where the earth is
round, how in reason can the water be quiet? You might as
well expect the river to lie still on the brink of those
black rocks a mile above us, though your own ears tell you
that it is tumbling over them at this very moment."
If unsatisfied by the philosophy of his companion, the
Indian was far too dignified to betray his unbelief. He
listened like one who was convinced, and resumed his
narrative in his former solemn manner.
"We came from the place where the sun is hid at night, over
great plains where the buffaloes live, until we reached the
big river. There we fought the Alligewi, till the ground
was red with their blood. From the banks of the big river
to the shores of the salt lake, there was none to meet us.
The Maquas followed at a distance. We said the country
should be ours from the place where the water runs up no
longer on this stream, to a river twenty sun's journey
toward the summer. We drove the Maquas into the woods with
the bears. They only tasted salt at the licks; they drew no
fish from the great lake; we threw them the bones."
"All this I have heard and believe," said the white man,
observing that the Indian paused; "but it was long before
the English came into the country."
"A pine grew then where this chestnut now stands. The first
pale faces who came among us spoke no English. They came in
a large canoe, when my fathers had buried the tomahawk with
the red men around them. Then, Hawkeye," he continued,
betraying his deep emotion, only by permitting his voice to
fall to those low, guttural tones, which render his
language, as spoken at times, so very musical; "then,
Hawkeye, we were one people, and we were happy. The salt
lake gave us its fish, the wood its deer, and the air its
birds. We took wives who bore us children; we worshipped
the Great Spirit; and we kept the Maquas beyond the sound of
our songs of triumph."
"Know you anything of your own family at that time?"
demanded the white. "But you are just a man, for an Indian;
and as I suppose you hold their gifts, your fathers must
have been brave warriors, and wise men at the council-fire."
"My tribe is the grandfather of nations, but I am an unmixed
man. The blood of chiefs is in my veins, where it must stay
forever. The Dutch landed, and gave my people the fire-
water; they drank until the heavens and the earth seemed to
meet, and they foolishly thought they had found the Great
Spirit. Then they parted with their land. Foot by foot,
they were driven back from the shores, until I, that am a
chief and a Sagamore, have never seen the sun shine but
through the trees, and have never visited the graves of my
"Graves bring solemn feelings over the mind," returned the
scout, a good deal touched at the calm suffering of his
companion; "and they often aid a man in his good intentions;
though, for myself, I expect to leave my own bones unburied,
to bleach in the woods, or to be torn asunder by the wolves.
But where are to be found those of your race who came to
their kin in the Delaware country, so many summers since?"
"Where are the blossoms of those summers!--fallen, one by
one; so all of my family departed, each in his turn, to the
land of spirits. I am on the hilltop and must go down into
the valley; and when Uncas follows in my footsteps there
will no longer be any of the blood of the Sagamores, for my
boy is the last of the Mohicans."
"Uncas is here," said another voice, in the same soft,
guttural tones, near his elbow; "who speaks to Uncas?"
The white man loosened his knife in his leathern sheath, and
made an involuntary movement of the hand toward his rifle,
at this sudden interruption; but the Indian sat composed,
and without turning his head at the unexpected sounds.
At the next instant, a youthful warrior passed between them,
with a noiseless step, and seated himself on the bank of the
rapid stream. No exclamation of surprise escaped the
father, nor was any question asked, or reply given, for
several minutes; each appearing to await the moment when he
might speak, without betraying womanish curiosity or
childish impatience. The white man seemed to take counsel
from their customs, and, relinquishing his grasp of the
rifle, he also remained silent and reserved. At length
Chingachgook turned his eyes slowly toward his son, and
"Do the Maquas dare to leave the print of their moccasins in
"I have been on their trail," replied the young Indian, "and
know that they number as many as the fingers of my two
hands; but they lie hid like cowards."
"The thieves are outlying for scalps and plunder," said the
white man, whom we shall call Hawkeye, after the manner of
his companions. "That busy Frenchman, Montcalm, will send
his spies into our very camp, but he will know what road we
"'Tis enough," returned the father, glancing his eye toward
the setting sun; "they shall be driven like deer from their
bushes. Hawkeye, let us eat to-night, and show the Maquas
that we are men to-morrow."
"I am as ready to do the one as the other; but to fight the
Iroquois 'tis necessary to find the skulkers; and to eat,
'tis necessary to get the game--talk of the devil and he
will come; there is a pair of the biggest antlers I have
seen this season, moving the bushes below the hill! Now,
Uncas," he continued, in a half whisper, and laughing with a
kind of inward sound, like one who had learned to be
watchful, "I will bet my charger three times full of powder,
against a foot of wampum, that I take him atwixt the eyes,
and nearer to the right than to the left."
"It cannot be!" said the young Indian, springing to his feet
with youthful eagerness; "all but the tips of his horns are
"He's a boy!" said the white man, shaking his head while he
spoke, and addressing the father. "Does he think when a
hunter sees a part of the creature', he can't tell where the
rest of him should be!"
Adjusting his rifle, he was about to make an exhibition of
that skill on which he so much valued himself, when the
warrior struck up the piece with his hand, saying:
"Hawkeye! will you fight the Maquas?"
"These Indians know the nature of the woods, as it might be
by instinct!" returned the scout, dropping his rifle, and
turning away like a man who was convinced of his error. "I
must leave the buck to your arrow, Uncas, or we may kill a
deer for them thieves, the Iroquois, to eat."
The instant the father seconded this intimation by an
expressive gesture of the hand, Uncas threw himself on the
ground, and approached the animal with wary movements. When
within a few yards of the cover, he fitted an arrow to his
bow with the utmost care, while the antlers moved, as if
their owner snuffed an enemy in the tainted air. In another
moment the twang of the cord was heard, a white streak was
seen glancing into the bushes, and the wounded buck plunged
from the cover, to the very feet of his hidden enemy.
Avoiding the horns of the infuriated animal, Uncas darted to
his side, and passed his knife across the throat, when
bounding to the edge of the river it fell, dyeing the waters
with its blood.
"'Twas done with Indian skill," said the scout laughing
inwardly, but with vast satisfaction; "and 'twas a pretty
sight to behold! Though an arrow is a near shot, and needs
a knife to finish the work."
"Hugh!" ejaculated his companion, turning quickly, like a
hound who scented game.
"By the Lord, there is a drove of them!" exclaimed the
scout, whose eyes began to glisten with the ardor of his
usual occupation; "if they come within range of a bullet I
will drop one, though the whole Six Nations should be
lurking within sound! What do you hear, Chingachgook? for
to my ears the woods are dumb."
"There is but one deer, and he is dead," said the Indian,
bending his body till his ear nearly touched the earth. "I
hear the sounds of feet!"
"Perhaps the wolves have driven the buck to shelter, and are
following on his trail."
"No. The horses of white men are coming!" returned the
other, raising himself with dignity, and resuming his seat
on the log with his former composure. "Hawkeye, they are
your brothers; speak to them."
"That I will, and in English that the king needn't be
ashamed to answer," returned the hunter, speaking in the
language of which he boasted; "but I see nothing, nor do I
hear the sounds of man or beast; 'tis strange that an Indian
should understand white sounds better than a man who, his
very enemies will own, has no cross in his blood, although
he may have lived with the red skins long enough to be
suspected! Ha! there goes something like the cracking of a
dry stick, too--now I hear the bushes move--yes, yes,
there is a trampling that I mistook for the falls--and--
but here they come themselves; God keep them from the
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Last of the Mohicans