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

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"I'll seek a readier path."--Parnell


The route taken by Hawkeye lay across those sandy plains,
relived by occasional valleys and swells of land, which had
been traversed by their party on the morning of the same
day, with the baffled Magua for their guide. The sun had
now fallen low toward the distant mountains; and as their
journey lay through the interminable forest, the heat was no
longer oppressive. Their progress, in consequence, was
proportionate; and long before the twilight gathered about
them, they had made good many toilsome miles on their return.

The hunter, like the savage whose place he filled, seemed to
select among the blind signs of their wild route, with a
species of instinct, seldom abating his speed, and never
pausing to deliberate. A rapid and oblique glance at the
moss on the trees, with an occasional upward gaze toward the
setting sun, or a steady but passing look at the direction
of the numerous water courses, through which he waded, were
sufficient to determine his path, and remove his greatest
difficulties. In the meantime, the forest began to change
its hues, losing that lively green which had embellished its
arches, in the graver light which is the usual precursor of
the close of day.

While the eyes of the sisters were endeavoring to catch
glimpses through the trees, of the flood of golden glory
which formed a glittering halo around the sun, tinging here
and there with ruby streaks, or bordering with narrow
edgings of shining yellow, a mass of clouds that lay piled
at no great distance above the western hills, Hawkeye turned
suddenly and pointing upward toward the gorgeous heavens, he

"Yonder is the signal given to man to seek his food and
natural rest," he said; "better and wiser would it be, if he
could understand the signs of nature, and take a lesson from
the fowls of the air and the beasts of the field! Our
night, however, will soon be over, for with the moon we must
be up and moving again. I remember to have fou't the
Maquas, hereaways, in the first war in which I ever drew
blood from man; and we threw up a work of blocks, to keep
the ravenous varmints from handling our scalps. If my marks
do not fail me, we shall find the place a few rods further
to our left."

Without waiting for an assent, or, indeed, for any reply,
the sturdy hunter moved boldly into a dense thicket of young
chestnuts, shoving aside the branches of the exuberant
shoots which nearly covered the ground, like a man who
expected, at each step, to discover some object he had
formerly known. The recollection of the scout did not
deceive him. After penetrating through the brush, matted as
it was with briars, for a few hundred feet, he entered an
open space, that surrounded a low, green hillock, which was
crowned by the decayed blockhouse in question. This rude
and neglected building was one of those deserted works,
which, having been thrown up on an emergency, had been
abandoned with the disappearance of danger, and was now
quietly crumbling in the solitude of the forest, neglected
and nearly forgotten, like the circumstances which had
caused it to be reared. Such memorials of the passage and
struggles of man are yet frequent throughout the broad
barrier of wilderness which once separated the hostile
provinces, and form a species of ruins that are intimately
associated with the recollections of colonial history, and
which are in appropriate keeping with the gloomy character
of the surrounding scenery. The roof of bark had long since
fallen, and mingled with the soil, but the huge logs of
pine, which had been hastily thrown together, still
preserved their relative positions, though one angle of the
work had given way under the pressure, and threatened a
speedy downfall to the remainder of the rustic edifice.
While Heyward and his companions hesitated to approach a
building so decayed, Hawkeye and the Indians entered within
the low walls, not only without fear, but with obvious
interest. While the former surveyed the ruins, both
internally and externally, with the curiosity of one whose
recollections were reviving at each moment, Chingachgook
related to 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

In the meantime, the sisters gladly dismounted, and 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,
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; "'tis not often that books are made,
and narratives written of such a scrimmage 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
Delawares, because I know'd they were a scandalized and
wronged race. Forty days and forty nights did the imps
crave our blood around this pile of logs, which I designed
and partly reared, being, as you'll 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 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
creatures who had spirits like myself should lay on the
naked 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."

Heyward and the sisters arose, on the instant, from the
grassy sepulcher; nor could the two latter, notwithstanding
the terrific scenes they had so recently passed through,
entirely suppress an emotion of natural horror, when they
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, apparently into the
very clouds, and the deathlike stillness of the vast forest,
were all in unison to deepen such a sensation. "They are
gone, and they are harmless," continued Hawkeye, waving his
hand, with a melancholy smile at their manifest alarm;
"they'll 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, Chingachgook and I only are living!
The brothers and family of the Mohican formed our war party;
and you see before 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 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 Duncan,
"and that they never waged war in person; trusting the
defense of their hands to those very Mohawks that you slew!"

"'Tis true in part," returned the scout, "and yet, at the
bottom, 'tis a wicked lie. Such a treaty was made in ages
gone by, through the deviltries of the Dutchers, 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, but kept to
their manhood; as in truth did the Delawares, when their
eyes were open to their folly. You see before you a chief
of the great Mohican Sagamores! Once his family could chase
their deer over tracts of country wider than that which
belongs to the Albany Patteroon, without crossing brook or
hill that was not their on; but what is left of 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
plowshares cannot reach it!"

"Enough!" said Heyward, apprehensive that the subject might
lead to a discussion that would interrupt the harmony so
necessary to the preservation of his fair companions; "we
have journeyed far, and few among us are blessed with forms
like that of yours, which seems to know neither fatigue nor

"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 compliment
afforded him; "there are larger and heavier men to be found
in the settlements, but you might travel many days in a 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. 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, and a bed of grass
and leaves."

The dialogue ceased, while the hunter and his companions
busied themselves in preparations for the comfort and
protection of those they guided. A spring, which 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 corner 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 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 petitioning for a
continuance of the Divine favor throughout the coming night,
they laid their tender forms on the fragrant couch, and in
spite of recollections and forebodings, soon sank into those
slumbers which nature so imperiously demanded, and which
were sweetened by hopes for the morrow. Duncan had prepared
himself to pass the night in watchfulness near them, just
without the ruin, but the scout, perceiving his intention,
pointed toward 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 for
such a watch as this! The Mohican will be our sentinel,
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 soldier. Let
all the party seek their rest, then, while I hold the guard."

"If we lay among the white tents of the Sixtieth, and in
front of an enemy like the French, I could not ask for a
better watchman," returned the scout; "but in the darkness
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 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, 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 precious charge into the arms of
Munro himself. Hawkeye, 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 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 companions, as they lay stretched on
the grass, and to note the person of Chingachgook, who sat
upright and motionless as one of the trees which formed the
dark barrier on every side. He still heard the gentle
breathings of the sisters, who lay within a few feet of him,
and not 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 whip-poor-will became
blended with the moanings of an owl; his heavy eyes
occasionally sought the bright rays of the stars, and he
then 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, 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
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 awakened 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 the
place where it was usually suspended. "Speak! friend or enemy?"

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

"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!"

"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 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 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, 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."

"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, 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!"

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

While he spoke, however, the young soldier seized his rifle,
and advancing toward the front, prepared to atone for his
venial remissness, by freely exposing his life in defense 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 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 fallen in with one
of Montcalm's outlying parties, and they have struck upon
our trail. I shouldn't like, myself, to spill more human
blood in this spot," he added, looking around with anxiety
in his features, at the dim objects by which he was
surrounded; "but what must be, must! 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
Narrangansetts within the ruin, whither the whole party
repaired with the most guarded silence.

The sound 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 calling to
each other in an Indian dialect, which the hunter, in a
whisper, affirmed to Heyward was the language of the Hurons.
When the party reached the point where the horses had
entered the thicket which surrounded the blockhouse, they
were evidently at fault, 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.

"The knaves know our weakness," whispered Hawkeye, who stood
by the side of Heyward, in deep shade, looking through an
opening in the logs, "or they wouldn't indulge their
idleness in such a squaw's march. Listen to the reptiles!
each man among them seems to have two 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 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, by the rustling of leaves, and
crackling 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 luster upon the little area around the ruin, was not
sufficiently strong to penetrate the deep arches of the
forest, where the objects still lay in deceptive shadow.
The search proved fruitless; for so short and sudden had
been the passage from the faint path the travelers had
journeyed into the thicket, that every trace of their
footsteps was lost in the 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.

"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; "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 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 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 space. As he gazed
upon the silent blockhouse, the moon fell 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 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
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 stopped to examine its
nature. At this moment, Heyward observed that the 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 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 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 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! they respect the dead, and it has this time saved their
own lives, and, it may be, the lives of better men too."

Heyward lent his attention for a single moment to his
companion, but without replying, he again turned toward
those who just then interested him more. He heard the two
Hurons leave the bushes, and it was soon plain that all the
pursuers were gathered about them, in deep attention 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, 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, 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 which they 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 themselves in the gloom of the woods.



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