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

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"They linger yet, Avengers of their native land."--Gray


The warning call of the scout was not uttered without
occasion. During the occurrence of the deadly encounter
just related, the roar of the falls was unbroken by any
human sound whatever. It would seem that interest in the
result had kept the natives on the opposite shores in
breathless suspense, while the quick evolutions and swift
changes in the positions of the combatants effectually
prevented a fire that might prove dangerous alike to friend
and enemy. But the moment the struggle was decided, a yell
arose as fierce and savage as wild and revengeful passions
could throw into the air. It was followed by the swift
flashes of the rifles, which sent their leaden messengers
across the rock in volleys, as though the assailants would
pour out their impotent fury on the insensible scene of the
fatal contest.

A steady, though deliberate return was made from the rifle
of Chingachgook, who had maintained his post throughout the
fray with unmoved resolution. When the triumphant shout of
Uncas was borne to his ears, the gratified father raised his
voice in a single responsive cry, after which his busy piece
alone proved that he still guarded his pass with unwearied
diligence. In this manner many minutes flew by with the
swiftness of thought; the rifles of the assailants speaking,
at times, in rattling volleys, and at others in occasional,
scattering shots. Though the rock, the trees, and the
shrubs, were cut and torn in a hundred places around the
besieged, their cover was so close, and so rigidly
maintained, that, as yet, David had been the only sufferer
in their little band.

"Let them burn their powder," said the deliberate scout,
while bullet after bullet whizzed by the place where he
securely lay; "there will be a fine gathering of lead when
it is over, and I fancy the imps will tire of the sport
afore these old stones cry out for mercy! Uncas, boy, you
waste the kernels by overcharging; and a kicking rifle never
carries a true bullet. I told you to take that loping
miscreant under the line of white point; now, if your bullet
went a hair's breadth it went two inches above it. The life
lies low in a Mingo, and humanity teaches us to make a quick
end to the sarpents."

A quiet smile lighted the haughty features of the young
Mohican, betraying his knowledge of the English language as
well as of the other's meaning; but he suffered it to pass
away without vindication of reply.

"I cannot permit you to accuse Uncas of want of judgment or
of skill," said Duncan; "he saved my life in the coolest and
readiest manner, and he has made a friend who never will
require to be reminded of the debt he owes."

Uncas partly raised his body, and offered his hand to the
grasp of Heyward. During this act of friendship, the two
young men exchanged looks of intelligence which caused
Duncan to forget the character and condition of his wild
associate. In the meanwhile, Hawkeye, who looked on this
burst of youthful feeling with a cool but kind regard made
the following reply:

"Life is an obligation which friends often owe each other in
the wilderness. I dare say I may have served Uncas some
such turn myself before now; and I very well remember that
he has stood between me and death five different times;
three times from the Mingoes, once in crossing Horican, and

"That bullet was better aimed than common!" exclaimed
Duncan, involuntarily shrinking from a shot which struck the
rock at his side with a smart rebound.

Hawkeye laid his hand on the shapeless metal, and shook his
head, as he examined it, saying, "Falling lead is never
flattened, had it come from the clouds this might have

But the rifle of Uncas was deliberately raised toward the
heavens, directing the eyes of his companions to a point,
where the mystery was immediately explained. A ragged oak
grew on the right bank of the river, nearly opposite to
their position, which, seeking the freedom of the open
space, had inclined so far forward that its upper branches
overhung that arm of the stream which flowed nearest to its
own shore. Among the topmost leaves, which scantily
concealed the gnarled and stunted limbs, a savage was
nestled, partly concealed by the trunk of the tree, and
partly exposed, as though looking down upon them to
ascertain the effect produced by his treacherous aim.

"These devils will scale heaven to circumvent us to our
ruin," said Hawkeye; "keep him in play, boy, until I can
bring 'killdeer' to bear, when we will try his metal on each
side of the tree at once."

Uncas delayed his fire until the scout uttered the word.

The rifles flashed, the leaves and bark of the oak flew into
the air, and were scattered by the wind, but the Indian
answered their assault by a taunting laugh, sending down
upon them another bullet in return, that struck the cap of
Hawkeye from his head. Once more the savage yells burst out
of the woods, and the leaden hail whistled above the heads
of the besieged, as if to confine them to a place where they
might become easy victims to the enterprise of the warrior
who had mounted the tree.

"This must be looked to," said the scout, glancing about him
with an anxious eye. "Uncas, call up your father; we have
need of all our we'pons to bring the cunning varmint from
his roost."

The signal was instantly given; and, before Hawkeye had
reloaded his rifle, they were joined by Chingachgook. When
his son pointed out to the experienced warrior the situation
of their dangerous enemy, the usual exclamatory "hugh" burst
from his lips; after which, no further expression of
surprise or alarm was suffered to escape him. Hawkeye and
the Mohicans conversed earnestly together in Delaware for a
few moments, when each quietly took his post, in order to
execute the plan they had speedily devised.

The warrior in the oak had maintained a quick, though
ineffectual fire, from the moment of his discovery. But his
aim was interrupted by the vigilance of his enemies, whose
rifles instantaneously bore on any part of his person that
was left exposed. Still his bullets fell in the center of
the crouching party. The clothes of Heyward, which rendered
him peculiarly conspicuous, were repeatedly cut, and once
blood was drawn from a slight wound in his arm.

At length, emboldened by the long and patient watchfulness
of his enemies, the Huron attempted a better and more fatal
aim. The quick eyes of the Mohicans caught the dark line of
his lower limbs incautiously exposed through the thin
foliage, a few inches from the trunk of the tree. Their
rifles made a common report, when, sinking on his wounded
limb, part of the body of the savage came into view. Swift
as thought, Hawkeye seized the advantage, and discharged his
fatal weapon into the top of the oak. The leaves were
unusually agitated; the dangerous rifle fell from its
commanding elevation, and after a few moments of vain
struggling, the form of the savage was seen swinging in the
wind, while he still grasped a ragged and naked branch of
the tree with hands clenched in desperation.

"Give him, in pity, give him the contents of another rifle,"
cried Duncan, turning away his eyes in horror from the
spectacle of a fellow creature in such awful jeopardy.

"Not a karnel!" exclaimed the obdurate Hawkeye; "his death
is certain, and we have no powder to spare, for Indian
fights sometimes last for days; "tis their scalps or ours!
and God, who made us, has put into our natures the craving
to keep the skin on the head."

Against this stern and unyielding morality, supported as it
was by such visible policy, there was no appeal. From that
moment the yells in the forest once more ceased, the fire
was suffered to decline, and all eyes, those of friends as
well as enemies, became fixed on the hopeless condition of
the wretch who was dangling between heaven and earth. The
body yielded to the currents of air, and though no murmur or
groan escaped the victim, there were instants when he grimly
faced his foes, and the anguish of cold despair might be
traced, through the intervening distance, in possession of
his swarthy lineaments. Three several times the scout
raised his piece in mercy, and as often, prudence getting
the better of his intention, it was again silently lowered.
At length one hand of the Huron lost its hold, and dropped
exhausted to his side. A desperate and fruitless struggle
to recover the branch succeeded, and then the savage was
seen for a fleeting instant, grasping wildly at the empty
air. The lightning is not quicker than was the flame from
the rifle of Hawkeye; the limbs of the victim trembled and
contracted, the head fell to the bosom, and the body parted
the foaming waters like lead, when the element closed above
it, in its ceaseless velocity, and every vestige of the
unhappy Huron was lost forever.

No shout of triumph succeeded this important advantage, but
even the Mohicans gazed at each other in silent horror. A
single yell burst from the woods, and all was again still.
Hawkeye, who alone appeared to reason on the occasion, shook
his head at his own momentary weakness, even uttering his
self-disapprobation aloud.

"'Twas the last charge in my horn and the last bullet in my
pouch, and 'twas the act of a boy!" he said; "what mattered
it whether he struck the rock living or dead! feeling would
soon be over. Uncas, lad, go down to the canoe, and bring
up the big horn; it is all the powder we have left, and we
shall need it to the last grain, or I am ignorant of the
Mingo nature."

The young Mohican complied, leaving the scout turning over
the useless contents of his pouch, and shaking the empty
horn with renewed discontent. From this unsatisfactory
examination, however, he was soon called by a loud and
piercing exclamation from Uncas, that sounded, even to the
unpracticed ears of Duncan, as the signal of some new and
unexpected calamity. Every thought filled with apprehension
for the previous treasure he had concealed in the cavern,
the young man started to his feet, totally regardless of the
hazard he incurred by such an exposure. As if actuated by a
common impulse, his movement was imitated by his companions,
and, together they rushed down the pass to the friendly
chasm, with a rapidity that rendered the scattering fire of
their enemies perfectly harmless. The unwonted cry had
brought the sisters, together with the wounded David, from
their place of refuge; and the whole party, at a single
glance, was made acquainted with the nature of the disaster
that had disturbed even the practiced stoicism of their
youthful Indian protector.

At a short distance from the rock, their little bark was to
be seen floating across the eddy, toward the swift current
of the river, in a manner which proved that its course was
directed by some hidden agent. The instant this unwelcome
sight caught the eye of the scout, his rifle was leveled as
by instinct, but the barrel gave no answer to the bright
sparks of the flint.

"'Tis too late, 'tis too late!" Hawkeye exclaimed, dropping
the useless piece in bitter disappointment; "the miscreant
has struck the rapid; and had we powder, it could hardly
send the lead swifter than he now goes!"

The adventurous Huron raised his head above the shelter of
the canoe, and, while it glided swiftly down the stream, he
waved his hand, and gave forth the shout, which was the
known signal of success. His cry was answered by a yell and
a laugh from the woods, as tauntingly exulting as if fifty
demons were uttering their blasphemies at the fall of some
Christian soul.

"Well may you laugh, ye children of the devil!" said the
scout, seating himself on a projection of the rock, and
suffering his gun to fall neglected at his feet, "for the
three quickest and truest rifles in these woods are no
better than so many stalks of mullein, or the last year's
horns of a buck!"

"What is to be done?" demanded Duncan, losing the first
feeling of disappointment in a more manly desire for
exertion; "what will become of us?"

Hawkeye made no other reply than by passing his finger
around the crown of his head, in a manner so significant,
that none who witnessed the action could mistake its

"Surely, surely, our case is not so desperate!" exclaimed
the youth; "the Hurons are not here; we may make good the
caverns, we may oppose their landing."

"With what?" coolly demanded the scout. "The arrows of
Uncas, or such tears as women shed! No, no; you are young,
and rich, and have friends, and at such an age I know it is
hard to die! But," glancing his eyes at the Mohicans, "let
us remember we are men without a cross, and let us teach
these natives of the forest that white blood can run as
freely as red, when the appointed hour is come."

Duncan turned quickly in the direction indicated by the
other's eyes, and read a confirmation of his worst
apprehensions in the conduct of the Indians. Chingachgook,
placing himself in a dignified posture on another fragment
of the rock, had already laid aside his knife and tomahawk,
and was in the act of taking the eagle's plume from his
head, and smoothing the solitary tuft of hair in readiness
to perform its last and revolting office. His countenance
was composed, though thoughtful, while his dark, gleaming
eyes were gradually losing the fierceness of the combat in
an expression better suited to the change he expected
momentarily to undergo.

"Our case is not, cannot be so hopeless!" said Duncan; "even
at this very moment succor may be at hand. I see no
enemies! They have sickened of a struggle in which they
risk so much with so little prospect of gain!"

"It may be a minute, or it may be an hour, afore the wily
sarpents steal upon us, and it is quite in natur' for them
to be lying within hearing at this very moment," said
Hawkeye; "but come they will, and in such a fashion as will
leave us nothing to hope! Chingachgook"--he spoke in
Delaware--"my brother, we have fought our last battle
together, and the Maquas will triumph in the death of the
sage man of the Mohicans, and of the pale face, whose eyes
can make night as day, and level the clouds to the mists of
the springs!"

"Let the Mingo women go weep over the slain!" returned the
Indian, with characteristic pride and unmoved firmness; "the
Great Snake of the Mohicans has coiled himself in their
wigwams, and has poisoned their triumph with the wailings of
children, whose fathers have not returned! Eleven warriors
lie hid form the graves of their tribes since the snows have
melted, and none will tell where to find them when the
tongue of Chingachgook shall be silent! Let them draw the
sharpest knife, and whirl the swiftest tomahawk, for their
bitterest enemy is in their hands. Uncas, topmost branch of
a noble trunk, call on the cowards to hasten, or their
hearts will soften, and they will change to women!"

"They look among the fishes for their dead!" returned the
low, soft voice of the youthful chieftain; "the Hurons float
with the slimy eels! They drop from the oaks like fruit
that is ready to be eaten! and the Delawares laugh!"

"Ay, ay," muttered the scout, who had listened to this
peculiar burst of the natives with deep attention; "they
have warmed their Indian feelings, and they'll soon provoke
the Maquas to give them a speedy end. As for me, who am of
the whole blood of the whites, it is befitting that I should
die as becomes my color, with no words of scoffing in my
mouth, and without bitterness at the heart!"

"Why die at all!" said Cora, advancing from the place where
natural horror had, until this moment, held her riveted to
the rock; "the path is open on every side; fly, then, to the
woods, and call on God for succor. Go, brave men, we owe
you too much already; let us no longer involve you in our
hapless fortunes!"

"You but little know the craft of the Iroquois, lady, if you
judge they have left the path open to the woods!" returned
Hawkeye, who, however, immediately added in his simplicity,
"the down stream current, it is certain, might soon sweep us
beyond the reach of their rifles or the sound of their

"Then try the river. Why linger to add to the number of the
victims of our merciless enemies?"

"Why," repeated the scout, looking about him proudly;
"because it is better for a man to die at peace with himself
than to live haunted by an evil conscience! What answer
could we give Munro, when he asked us where and how we left
his children?"

"Go to him, and say that you left them with a message to
hasten to their aid," returned Cora, advancing nigher to the
scout in her generous ardor; "that the Hurons bear them into
the northern wilds, but that by vigilance and speed they may
yet be rescued; and if, after all, it should please heaven
that his assistance come too late, bear to him," she
continued, her voice gradually lowering, until it seemed
nearly choked, "the love, the blessings, the final prayers
of his daughters, and bid him not mourn their early fate,
but to look forward with humble confidence to the
Christian's goal to meet his children." The hard, weather-
beaten features of the scout began to work, and when she had
ended, he dropped his chin to his hand, like a man musing
profoundly on the nature of the proposal.

"There is reason in her words!" at length broke from his
compressed and trembling lips; "ay, and they bear the spirit
of Christianity; what might be right and proper in a red-
skin, may be sinful in a man who has not even a cross in
blood to plead for his ignorance. Chingachgook! Uncas! hear
you the talk of the dark-eyed woman?"

He now spoke in Delaware to his companions, and his address,
though calm and deliberate, seemed very decided. The elder
Mohican heard with deep gravity, and appeared to ponder on
his words, as though he felt the importance of their import.
After a moment of hesitation, he waved his hand in assent,
and uttered the English word "Good!" with the peculiar
emphasis of his people. Then, replacing his knife and
tomahawk in his girdle, the warrior moved silently to the
edge of the rock which was most concealed from the banks of
the river. Here he paused a moment, pointed significantly
to the woods below, and saying a few words in his own
language, as if indicating his intended route, he dropped
into the water, and sank from before the eyes of the
witnesses of his movements.

The scout delayed his departure to speak to the generous
girl, whose breathing became lighter as she saw the success
of her remonstrance.

"Wisdom is sometimes given to the young, as well as to the
old," he said; "and what you have spoken is wise, not to
call it by a better word. If you are led into the woods,
that is such of you as may be spared for awhile, break the
twigs on the bushes as you pass, and make the marks of your
trail as broad as you can, when, if mortal eyes can see
them, depend on having a friend who will follow to the ends
of the 'arth afore he desarts you."

He gave Cora an affectionate shake of the hand, lifted his
rifle, and after regarding it a moment with melancholy
solicitude, laid it carefully aside, and descended to the
place where Chingachgook had just disappeared. For an
instant he hung suspended by the rock, and looking about
him, with a countenance of peculiar care, he added bitterly,
"Had the powder held out, this disgrace could never have
befallen!" then, loosening his hold, the water closed above
his head, and he also became lost to view.

All eyes now were turned on Uncas, who stood leaning against
the ragged rock, in immovable composure. After waiting a
short time, Cora pointed down the river, and said:

"Your friends have not been seen, and are now, most
probably, in safety. Is it not time for you to follow?"

"Uncas will stay," the young Mohican calmly answered in

"To increase the horror of our capture, and to diminish the
chances of our release! Go, generous young man," Cora
continued, lowering her eyes under the gaze of the Mohican,
and perhaps, with an intuitive consciousness of her power;
"go to my father, as I have said, and be the most
confidential of my messengers. Tell him to trust you with
the means to buy the freedom of his daughters. Go! 'tis my
wish, 'tis my prayer, that you will go!"

The settled, calm look of the young chief changed to an
expression of gloom, but he no longer hesitated. With a
noiseless step he crossed the rock, and dropped into the
troubled stream. Hardly a breath was drawn by those he left
behind, until they caught a glimpse of his head emerging for
air, far down the current, when he again sank, and was seen
no more.

These sudden and apparently successful experiments had all
taken place in a few minutes of that time which had now
become so precious. After a last look at Uncas, Cora
turne,d and with a quivering lip, addressed herself to

"I have heard of your boasted skill in the water, too,
Duncan," she said; "follow, then, the wise example set you
by these simple and faithful beings."

"Is such the faith that Cora Munro would exact from her
protector?" said the young man, smiling mournfully, but with

"This is not a time for idle subtleties and false opinions,"
she answered; "but a moment when every duty should be
equally considered. To us you can be of no further service
here, but your precious life may be saved for other and
nearer friends."

He made no reply, though his eye fell wistfully on the
beautiful form of Alice, who was clinging to his arm with
the dependency of an infant.

"Consider," continued Cora, after a pause, during which she
seemed to struggle with a pang even more acute than any that
her fears had excited, "that the worst to us can be but
death; a tribute that all must pay at the good time of God's

"There are evils worse than death," said Duncan, speaking
hoarsely, and as if fretful at her importunity, "but which
the presence of one who would die in your behalf may avert."

Cora ceased her entreaties; and veiling her face in her
shawl, drew the nearly insensible Alice after her into the
deepest recess of the inner cavern.



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