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

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"Cursed be my tribe If I forgive him."--Shylock


The Indian had selected for this desirable purpose one of
those steep, pyramidal hills, which bear a strong
resemblance to artificial mounds, and which so frequently
occur in the valleys of America. The one in question was
high and precipitous; its top flattened, as usual; but with
one of its sides more than ordinarily irregular. It
possessed no other apparent advantage for a resting place,
than in its elevation and form, which might render defense
easy, and surprise nearly impossible. As Heyward, however,
no longer expected that rescue which time and distance now
rendered so improbable, he regarded these little
peculiarities with an eye devoid of interest, devoting
himself entirely to the comfort and condolence of his
feebler companions. The Narragansetts were suffered to
browse on the branches of the trees and shrubs that were
thinly scattered over the summit of the hill, while the
remains of their provisions were spread under the shade of a
beech, that stretched its horizontal limbs like a canopy
above them.

Notwithstanding the swiftness of their flight, one of the
Indians had found an opportunity to strike a straggling fawn
with an arrow, and had borne the more preferable fragments
of the victim, patiently on his shoulders, to the stopping
place. Without any aid from the science of cookery, he was
immediately employed, in common with his fellows, in gorging
himself with this digestible sustenance. Magua alone sat
apart, without participating in the revolting meal, and
apparently buried in the deepest thought.

This abstinence, so remarkable in an Indian, when he
possessed the means of satisfying hunger, at length
attracted the notice of Heyward. The young man willingly
believed that the Huron deliberated on the most eligible
manner of eluding the vigilance of his associates. With a
view to assist his plans by any suggestion of his own, and
to strengthen the temptation, he left the beech, and
straggled, as if without an object, to the spot where Le
Renard was seated.

"Has not Magua kept the sun in his face long enough to
escape all danger from the Canadians?" he asked, as though
no longer doubtful of the good intelligence established
between them; "and will not the chief of William Henry be
better pleased to see his daughters before another night may
have hardened his heart to their loss, to make him less
liberal in his reward?"

"Do the pale faces love their children less in the morning
than at night?" asked the Indian, coldly.

"By no means," returned Heyward, anxious to recall his
error, if he had made one; "the white man may, and does
often, forget the burial place of his fathers; he sometimes
ceases to remember those he should love, and has promised to
cherish; but the affection of a parent for his child is
never permitted to die."

"And is the heart of the white-headed chief soft, and will
he think of the babes that his squaws have given him? He is
hard on his warriors and his eyes are made of stone?"

"He is severe to the idle and wicked, but to the sober and
deserving he is a leader, both just and humane. I have
known many fond and tender parents, but never have I seen a
man whose heart was softer toward his child. You have seen
the gray-head in front of his warriors, Magua; but I have
seen his eyes swimming in water, when he spoke of those
children who are now in your power!"

Heyward paused, for he knew not how to construe the
remarkable expression that gleamed across the swarthy
features of the attentive Indian. At first it seemed as if
the remembrance of the promised reward grew vivid in his
mind, while he listened to the sources of parental feeling
which were to assure its possession; but, as Duncan
proceeded, the expression of joy became so fiercely
malignant that it was impossible not to apprehend it
proceeded from some passion more sinister than avarice.

"Go," said the Huron, suppressing the alarming exhibition in
an instant, in a death-like calmness of countenance; "go to
the dark-haired daughter, and say, 'Magua waits to speak'
The father will remember what the child promises."

Duncan, who interpreted this speech to express a wish for
some additional pledge that the promised gifts should not be
withheld, slowly and reluctantly repaired to the place where
the sisters were now resting from their fatigue, to
communicate its purport to Cora.

"You understand the nature of an Indian's wishes," he
concluded, as he led her toward the place where she was
expected, "and must be prodigal of your offers of powder and
blankets. Ardent spirits are, however, the most prized by
such as he; nor would it be amiss to add some boon from your
own hand, with that grace you so well know how to practise.
Remember, Cora, that on your presence of mind and ingenuity,
even your life, as well as that of Alice, may in some
measure depend."

"Heyward, and yours!"

"Mine is of little moment; it is already sold to my king,
and is a prize to be seized by any enemy who may possess the
power. I have no father to expect me, and but few friends
to lament a fate which I have courted with the insatiable
longings of youth after distinction. But hush! we approach
the Indian. Magua, the lady with whom you wish to speak, is

The Indian rose slowly from his seat, and stood for near a
minute silent and motionless. He then signed with his hand
for Heyward to retire, saying, coldly:

"When the Huron talks to the women, his tribe shut their

Duncan, still lingering, as if refusing to comply, Coras
said, with a calm smile:

"You hear, Heyward, and delicacy at least should urge you to
retire. Go to Alice, and comfort her with our reviving

She waited until he had departed, and then turning to the
native, with the dignity of her sex in her voice and manner,
she added: "What would Le Renard say to the daughter of

"Listen," said the Indian, laying his hand firmly upon her
arm, as if willing to draw her utmost attention to his
words; a movement that Cora as firmly but quietly repulsed,
by extricating the limb from his grasp: "Magua was born a
chief and a warrior among the red Hurons of the lakes; he
saw the suns of twenty summers make the snows of twenty
winters run off in the streams before he saw a pale face;
and he was happy! Then his Canada fathers came into the
woods, and taught him to drink the fire-water, and he became
a rascal. The Hurons drove him from the graves of his
fathers, as they would chase the hunted buffalo. He ran
down the shores of the lakes, and followed their outlet to
the 'city of cannon' There he hunted and fished, till the
people chased him again through the woods into the arms of
his enemies. The chief, who was born a Huron, was at last a
warrior among the Mohawks!"

"Something like this I had heard before," said Cora,
observing that he paused to suppress those passions which
began to burn with too bright a flame, as he recalled the
recollection of his supposed injuries.

"Was it the fault of Le Renard that his head was not made of
rock? Who gave him the fire-water? who made him a villain?
'Twas the pale faces, the people of your own color."

"And am I answerable that thoughtless and unprincipled men
exist, whose shades of countenance may resemble mine?" Cora
calmly demanded of the excited savage.

"No; Magua is a man, and not a fool; such as you never open
their lips to the burning stream: the Great Spirit has given
you wisdom!"

"What, then, have I do to, or say, in the matter of your
misfortunes, not to say of your errors?"

"Listen," repeated the Indian, resuming his earnest
attitude; "when his English and French fathers dug up the
hatchet, Le Renard struck the war-post of the Mohawks, and
went out against his own nation. The pale faces have driven
the red-skins from their hunting grounds, and now when they
fight, a white man leads the way. The old chief at Horican,
your father, was the great captain of our war-party. He
said to the Mohawks do this, and do that, and he was minded.
He made a law, that if an Indian swallowed the fire-water,
and came into the cloth wigwams of his warriors, it should
not be forgotten. Magua foolishly opened his mouth, and the
hot liquor led him into the cabin of Munro. What did the
gray-head? let his daughter say."

"He forgot not his words, and did justice, by punishing the
offender," said the undaunted daughter.

"Justice!" repeated the Indian, casting an oblique glance of
the most ferocious expression at her unyielding countenance;
"is it justice to make evil and then punish for it? Magua
was not himself; it was the fire-water that spoke and acted
for him! but Munro did believe it. The Huron chief was tied
up before all the pale-faced warriors, and whipped like a

Cora remained silent, for she knew not how to palliate this
imprudent severity on the part of her father in a manner to
suit the comprehension of an Indian.

"See!" continued Magua, tearing aside the slight calico that
very imperfectly concealed his painted breast; "here are
scars given by knives and bullets--of these a warrior may
boast before his nation; but the gray-head has left marks on
the back of the Huron chief that he must hide like a squaw,
under this painted cloth of the whites."

"I had thought," resumed Cora, "that an Indian warrior was
patient, and that his spirit felt not and knew not the pain
his body suffered."

"When the Chippewas tied Magua to the stake, and cut this
gash," said the other, laying his finger on a deep scar,
"the Huron laughed in their faces, and told them, Women
struck so light! His spirit was then in the clouds! But
when he felt the blows of Munro, his spirit lay under the
birch. The spirit of a Huron is never drunk; it remembers

"But it may be appeased. If my father has done you this
injustice, show him how an Indian can forgive an injury, and
take back his daughters. You have heard from Major Heyward

Magua shook his head, forbidding the repetition of offers he
so much despised.

"What would you have?" continued Cora, after a most painful
pause, while the conviction forced itself on her mind that
the too sanguine and generous Duncan had been cruelly
deceived by the cunning of the savage.

"What a Huron loves--good for good; bad for bad!"

"You would, then, revenge the injury inflicted by Munro on
his helpless daughters. Would it not be more like a man to
go before his face, and take the satisfaction of a warrior?"

"The arms of the pale faces are long, and their knives
sharp!" returned the savage, with a malignant laugh: "why
should Le Renard go among the muskets of his warriors, when
he holds the spirit of the gray-head in his hand?"

"Name your intention, Magua," said Cora, struggling with
herself to speak with steady calmness. "Is it to lead us
prisoners to the woods, or do you contemplate even some
greater evil? Is there no reward, no means of palliating the
injury, and of softening your heart? At least, release my
gentle sister, and pour out all your malice on me. Purchase
wealth by her safety and satisfy your revenge with a single
victim. The loss of both his daughters might bring the aged
man to his grave, and where would then be the satisfaction
of Le Renard?"

"Listen," said the Indian again. "The light eyes can go
back to the Horican, and tell the old chief what has been
done, if the dark-haired woman will swear by the Great
Spirit of her fathers to tell no lie."

"What must I promise?" demanded Cora, still maintaining a
secret ascendancy over the fierce native by the collected
and feminine dignity of her presence.

"When Magua left his people his wife was given to another
chief; he has now made friends with the Hurons, and will go
back to the graves of his tribe, on the shores of the great
lake. Let the daughter of the English chief follow, and
live in his wigwam forever."

However revolting a proposal of such a character might prove
to Cora, she retained, notwithstanding her powerful disgust,
sufficient self-command to reply, without betraying the

"And what pleasure would Magua find in sharing his cabin
with a wife he did not love; one who would be of a nation
and color different from his own? It would be better to take
the gold of Munro, and buy the heart of some Huron maid with
his gifts."

The Indian made no reply for near a minute, but bent his
fierce looks on the countenance of Cora, in such wavering
glances, that her eyes sank with shame, under an impression
that for the first time they had encountered an expression
that no chaste female might endure. While she was shrinking
within herself, in dread of having her ears wounded by some
proposal still more shocking than the last, the voice of
Magua answered, in its tones of deepest malignancy:

"When the blows scorched the back of the Huron, he would
know where to find a woman to feel the smart. The daughter
of Munro would draw his water, hoe his corn, and cook his
venison. The body of the gray-head would sleep among his
cannon, but his heart would lie within reach of the knife of
Le Subtil."

"Monster! well dost thou deserve thy treacherous name,"
cried Cora, in an ungovernable burst of filial indignation.
"None but a fiend could meditate such a vengeance. But thou
overratest thy power! You shall find it is, in truth, the
heart of Munro you hold, and that it will defy your utmost

The Indian answered this bold defiance by a ghastly smile,
that showed an unaltered purpose, while he motioned her
away, as if to close the conference forever. Cora, already
regretting her precipitation, was obliged to comply, for
Magua instantly left the spot, and approached his gluttonous
comrades. Heyward flew to the side of the agitated female,
and demanded the result of a dialogue that he had watched at
a distance with so much interest. But, unwilling to alarm
the fears of Alice, she evaded a direct reply, betraying
only by her anxious looks fastened on the slightest
movements of her captors. To the reiterated and earnest
questions of her sister concerning their probable
destination, she made no other answer than by pointing
toward the dark group, with an agitation she could not
control, and murmuring as she folded Alice to her bosom.

"There, there; read our fortunes in their faces; we shall
see; we shall see!"

The action, and the choked utterance of Cora, spoke more
impressively than any words, and quickly drew the attention
of her companions on that spot where her own was riveted
with an intenseness that nothing but the importance of the
stake could create.

When Magua reached the cluster of lolling savages, who,
gorged with their disgusting meal, lay stretched on the
earth in brutal indulgence, he commenced speaking with the
dignity of an Indian chief. The first syllables he uttered
had the effect to cause his listeners to raise themselves in
attitudes of respectful attention. As the Huron used his
native language, the prisoners, notwithstanding the caution
of the natives had kept them within the swing of their
tomahawks, could only conjecture the substance of his
harangue from the nature of those significant gestures with
which an Indian always illustrates his eloquence.

At first, the language, as well as the action of Magua,
appeared calm and deliberative. When he had succeeded in
sufficiently awakening the attention of his comrades,
Heyward fancied, by his pointing so frequently toward the
direction of the great lakes, that he spoke of the land of
their fathers, and of their distant tribe. Frequent
indications of applause escaped the listeners, who, as they
uttered the expressive "Hugh!" looked at each other in
commendation of the speaker. Le Renard was too skillful to
neglect his advantage. He now spoke of the long and painful
route by which they had left those spacious grounds and
happy villages, to come and battle against the enemies of
their Canadian fathers. He enumerated the warriors of the
party; their several merits; their frequent services to the
nation; their wounds, and the number of the scalps they had
taken. Whenever he alluded to any present (and the subtle
Indian neglected none), the dark countenance of the
flattered individual gleamed with exultation, nor did he
even hesitate to assert the truth of the words, by gestures
of applause and confirmation. Then the voice of the speaker
fell, and lost the loud, animated tones of triumph with
which he had enumerated their deeds of success and victory.
He described the cataract of Glenn's; the impregnable
position of its rocky island, with its caverns and its
numerous rapids and whirlpools; he named the name of "La
Longue Carabine," and paused until the forest beneath them
had sent up the last echo of a loud and long yell, with
which the hated appellation was received. He pointed toward
the youthful military captive, and described the death of a
favorite warrior, who had been precipitated into the deep
ravine by his hand. He not only mentioned the fate of him
who, hanging between heaven and earth, had presented such a
spectacle of horror to the whole band, but he acted anew the
terrors of his situation, his resolution and his death, on
the branches of a sapling; and, finally, he rapidly
recounted the manner in which each of their friends had
fallen, never failing to touch upon their courage, and their
most acknowledged virtues. When this recital of events was
ended, his voice once more changed, and became plaintive and
even musical, in its low guttural sounds. He now spoke of
the wives and children of the slain; their destitution;
their misery, both physical and moral; their distance; and,
at last, of their unavenged wrongs. Then suddenly lifting
his voice to a pitch of terrific energy, he concluded by

"Are the Hurons dogs to bear this? Who shall say to the wife
of Menowgua that the fishes have his scalp, and that his
nation have not taken revenge! Who will dare meet the
mother of Wassawattimie, that scornful woman, with his hands
clean! What shall be said to the old men when they ask us
for scalps, and we have not a hair from a white head to give
them! The women will point their fingers at us. There is a
dark spot on the names of the Hurons, and it must be hid in
blood!" His voice was no longer audible in the burst of
rage which now broke into the air, as if the wood, instead
of containing so small a band, was filled with the nation.
During the foregoing address the progress of the speaker was
too plainly read by those most interested in his success
through the medium of the countenances of the men he
addressed. They had answered his melancholy and mourning by
sympathy and sorrow; his assertions, by gestures of
confirmation; and his boasting, with the exultation of
savages. When he spoke of courage, their looks were firm
and responsive; when he alluded to their injuries, their
eyes kindled with fury; when he mentioned the taunts of the
women, they dropped their heads in shame; but when he
pointed out their means of vengeance, he struck a chord
which never failed to thrill in the breast of an Indian.
With the first intimation that it was within their reach,
the whole band sprang upon their feet as one man; giving
utterance to their rage in the most frantic cries, they
rushed upon their prisoners in a body with drawn knives and
uplifted tomahawks. Heyward threw himself between the
sisters and the foremost, whom he grappled with a desperate
strength that for a moment checked his violence. This
unexpected resistance gave Magua time to interpose, and with
rapid enunciation and animated gesture, he drew the
attention of the band again to himself. In that language he
knew so well how to assume, he diverted his comrades from
their instant purpose, and invited them to prolong the
misery of their victims. His proposal was received with
acclamations, and executed with the swiftness of thought.

Two powerful warriors cast themselves on Heyward, while
another was occupied in securing the less active singing-
master. Neither of the captives, however, submitted without
a desperate, though fruitless, struggle. Even David hurled
his assailant to the earth; nor was Heyward secured until
the victory over his companion enabled the Indians to direct
their united force to that object. He was then bound and
fastened to the body of the sapling, on whose branches Magua
had acted the pantomime of the falling Huron. When the
young soldier regained his recollection, he had the painful
certainty before his eyes that a common fate was intended
for the whole party. On his right was Cora in a durance
similar to his own, pale and agitated, but with an eye whose
steady look still read the proceedings of their enemies. On
his left, the withes which bound her to a pine, performed
that office for Alice which her trembling limbs refused, and
alone kept her fragile form from sinking. Her hands were
clasped before her in prayer, but instead of looking upward
toward that power which alone could rescue them, her
unconscious looks wandered to the countenance of Duncan with
infantile dependency. David had contended, and the novelty
of the circumstance held him silent, in deliberation on the
propriety of the unusual occurrence.

The vengeance of the Hurons had now taken a new direction,
and they prepared to execute it with that barbarous
ingenuity with which they were familiarized by the practise
of centuries. Some sought knots, to raise the blazing pile;
one was riving the splinters of pine, in order to pierce the
flesh of their captives with the burning fragments; and
others bent the tops of two saplings to the earth, in order
to suspend Heyward by the arms between the recoiling
branches. But the vengeance of Magua sought a deeper and
more malignant enjoyment.

While the less refined monsters of the band prepared, before
the eyes of those who were to suffer, these well-known and
vulgar means of torture, he approached Cora, and pointed
out, with the most malign expression of countenance, the
speedy fate that awaited her:

"Ha!" he added, "what says the daughter of Munro? Her head
is too good to find a pillow in the wigwam of Le Renard;
will she like it better when it rolls about this hill a
plaything for the wolves? Her bosom cannot nurse the
children of a Huron; she will see it spit upon by Indians!"

"What means the monster!" demanded the astonished Heyward.

"Nothing!" was the firm reply. "He is a savage, a barbarous
and ignorant savage, and knows not what he does. Let us
find leisure, with our dying breath, to ask for him
penitence and pardon."

"Pardon!" echoed the fierce Huron, mistaking in his anger,
the meaning of her words; "the memory of an Indian is no
longer than the arm of the pale faces; his mercy shorter
than their justice! Say; shall I send the yellow hair to
her father, and will you follow Magua to the great lakes, to
carry his water, and feed him with corn?"

Cora beckoned him away, with an emotion of disgust she could
not control.

"Leave me," she said, with a solemnity that for a moment
checked the barbarity of the Indian; "you mingle bitterness
in my prayers; you stand between me and my God!"

The slight impression produced on the savage was, however,
soon forgotten, and he continued pointing, with taunting
irony, toward Alice.

"Look! the child weeps! She is too young to die! Send her
to Munro, to comb his gray hairs, and keep life in the heart
of the old man."

Cora could not resist the desire to look upon her youthful
sister, in whose eyes she met an imploring glance, that
betrayed the longings of nature.

"What says he, dearest Cora?" asked the trembling voice of
Alice. "Did he speak of sending me to our father?"

For many moments the elder sister looked upon the younger,
with a countenance that wavered with powerful and contending
emotions. At length she spoke, though her tones had lost
their rich and calm fullness, in an expression of tenderness
that seemed maternal.

"Alice," she said, "the Huron offers us both life, nay, more
than both; he offers to restore Duncan, our invaluable
Duncan, as well as you, to our friends--to our father--
to our heart-stricken, childless father, if I will bow down
this rebellious, stubborn pride of mine, and consent--"

Her voice became choked, and clasping her hands, she looked
upward, as if seeking, in her agony, intelligence from a
wisdom that was infinite.

"Say on," cried Alice; "to what, dearest Cora? Oh! that the
proffer were made to me! to save you, to cheer our aged
father, to restore Duncan, how cheerfully could I die!"

"Die!" repeated Cora, with a calmer and firmer voice "that
were easy! Perhaps the alternative may not be less so. He
would have me," she continued, her accents sinking under a
deep consciousness of the degradation of the proposal,
"follow him to the wilderness; go to the habitations of the
Hurons; to remain there; in short, to become his wife!
Speak, then, Alice; child of my affections! sister of my
love! And you, too, Major Heyward, aid my weak reason with
your counsel. Is life to be purchased by such a sacrifice?
Will you, Alice, receive it at my hands at such a price?
And you, Duncan, guide me; control me between you; for I am
wholly yours!"

"Would I!" echoed the indignant and astonished youth.
"Cora! Cora! you jest with our misery! Name not the horrid
alternative again; the thought itself is worse than a
thousand deaths."

"That such would be your answer, I well knew!" exclaimed
Cora, her cheeks flushing, and her dark eyes once more
sparkling with the lingering emotions of a woman. "What
says my Alice? for her will I submit without another

Although both Heyward and Cora listened with painful
suspense and the deepest attention, no sounds were heard in
reply. It appeared as if the delicate and sensitive form of
Alice would shrink into itself, as she listened to this
proposal. Her arms had fallen lengthwise before her, the
fingers moving in slight convulsions; her head dropped upon
her bosom, and her whole person seemed suspended against the
tree, looking like some beautiful emblem of the wounded
delicacy of her sex, devoid of animation and yet keenly
conscious. In a few moments, however, her head began to
move slowly, in a sign of deep, unconquerable

"No, no, no; better that we die as we have lived, together!"

"Then die!" shouted Magua, hurling his tomahawk with
violence at the unresisting speaker, and gnashing his teeth
with a rage that could no longer be bridled at this sudden
exhibition of firmness in the one he believed the weakest of
the party. The axe cleaved the air in front of Heyward, and
cutting some of the flowing ringlets of Alice, quivered in
the tree above her head. The sight maddened Duncan to
desperation. Collecting all his energies in one effort he
snapped the twigs which bound him and rushed upon another
savage, who was preparing, with loud yells and a more
deliberate aim, to repeat the blow. They encountered,
grappled, and fell to the earth together. The naked body of
his antagonist afforded Heyward no means of holding his
adversary, who glided from his grasp, and rose again with
one knee on his chest, pressing him down with the weight of
a giant. Duncan already saw the knife gleaming in the air,
when a whistling sound swept past him, and was rather
accompanied than followed by the sharp crack of a rifle.
He felt his breast relieved from the load it had endured;
he saw the savage expression of his adversary's countenance
change to a look of vacant wildness, when the Indian fell dead
on the faded leaves by his side.



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