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

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"Why, anything; An honorable murderer, if you will; For
naught I did in hate, but all in honor."--Othello


The bloody and inhuman scene rather incidentally mentioned
than described in the preceding chapter, is conspicuous in
the pages of colonial history by the merited title of "The
Massacre of William Henry." It so far deepened the stain
which a previous and very similar event had left upon the
reputation of the French commander that it was not entirely
erased by his early and glorious death. It is now becoming
obscured by time; and thousands, who know that Montcalm died
like a hero on the plains of Abraham, have yet to learn how
much he was deficient in that moral courage without which no
man can be truly great. Pages might yet be written to prove,
from this illustrious example, the defects of human
excellence; to show how easy it is for generous sentiments,
high courtesy, and chivalrous courage to lose their
influence beneath the chilling blight of selfishness, and to
exhibit to the world a man who was great in all the minor
attributes of character, but who was found wanting when it
became necessary to prove how much principle is superior to
policy. But the task would exceed our prerogatives; and, as
history, like love, is so apt to surround her heroes with an
atmosphere of imaginary brightness, it is probable that
Louis de Saint Veran will be viewed by posterity only as the
gallant defender of his country, while his cruel apathy on
the shores of the Oswego and of the Horican will be forgotten.
Deeply regretting this weakness on the part of a sister muse,
we shall at once retire from her sacred precincts,
within the proper limits of our own humble vocation.

The third day from the capture of the fort was drawing to a
close, but the business of the narrative must still detain
the reader on the shores of the "holy lake." When last
seen, the environs of the works were filled with violence
and uproar. They were now possessed by stillness and death.
The blood-stained conquerors had departed; and their camp,
which had so lately rung with the merry rejoicings of a
victorious army, lay a silent and deserted city of huts.
The fortress was a smoldering ruin; charred rafters,
fragments of exploded artillery, and rent mason-work
covering its earthen mounds in confused disorder.

A frightful change had also occurred in the season. The sun
had hid its warmth behind an impenetrable mass of vapor, and
hundreds of human forms, which had blackened beneath the
fierce heats of August, were stiffening in their deformity
before the blasts of a premature November. The curling and
spotless mists, which had been seen sailing above the hills
toward the north, were now returning in an interminable
dusky sheet, that was urged along by the fury of a tempest.
The crowded mirror of the Horican was gone; and, in its
place, the green and angry waters lashed the shores, as if
indignantly casting back its impurities to the polluted
strand. Still the clear fountain retained a portion of its
charmed influence, but it reflected only the somber gloom
that fell from the impending heavens. That humid and
congenial atmosphere which commonly adorned the view,
veiling its harshness, and softening its asperities, had
disappeared, the northern air poured across the waste of
water so harsh and unmingled, that nothing was left to be
conjectured by the eye, or fashioned by the fancy.

The fiercer element had cropped the verdure of the plain,
which looked as though it were scathed by the consuming
lightning. But, here and there, a dark green tuft rose in
the midst of the desolation; the earliest fruits of a soil
that had been fattened with human blood. The whole
landscape, which, seen by a favoring light, and in a genial
temperature, had been found so lovely, appeared now like
some pictured allegory of life, in which objects were
arrayed in their harshest but truest colors, and without the
relief of any shadowing.

The solitary and arid blades of grass arose from the passing
gusts fearfully perceptible; the bold and rocky mountains
were too distinct in their barrenness, and the eye even
sought relief, in vain, by attempting to pierce the
illimitable void of heaven, which was shut to its gaze by
the dusky sheet of ragged and driving vapor.

The wind blew unequally; sometimes sweeping heavily along
the ground, seeming to whisper its moanings in the cold ears
of the dead, then rising in a shrill and mournful whistling,
it entered the forest with a rush that filled the air with
the leaves and branches it scattered in its path. Amid the
unnatural shower, a few hungry ravens struggled with the
gale; but no sooner was the green ocean of woods which
stretched beneath them, passed, than they gladly stopped, at
random, to their hideous banquet.

In short, it was a scene of wildness and desolation; and it
appeared as if all who had profanely entered it had been
stricken, at a blow, by the relentless arm of death. But
the prohibition had ceased; and for the first time since the
perpetrators of those foul deeds which had assisted to
disfigure the scene were gone, living human beings had now
presumed to approach the place.

About an hour before the setting of the sun, on the day
already mentioned, the forms of five men might have been
seen issuing from the narrow vista of trees, where the path
to the Hudson entered the forest, and advancing in the
direction of the ruined works. At first their progress was
slow and guarded, as though they entered with reluctance
amid the horrors of the post, or dreaded the renewal of its
frightful incidents. A light figure preceded the rest of
the party, with the caution and activity of a native;
ascending every hillock to reconnoiter, and indicating by
gestures, to his companions, the route he deemed it most
prudent to pursue. Nor were those in the rear wanting in
every caution and foresight known to forest warfare. One
among them, he also was an Indian, moved a little on one
flank, and watched the margin of the woods, with eyes long
accustomed to read the smallest sign of danger. The
remaining three were white, though clad in vestments
adapted, both in quality and color, to their present
hazardous pursuit--that of hanging on the skirts of a
retiring army in the wilderness.

The effects produced by the appalling sights that constantly
arose in their path to the lake shore, were as different as
the characters of the respective individuals who composed
the party. The youth in front threw serious but furtive
glances at the mangled victims, as he stepped lightly across
the plain, afraid to exhibit his feelings, and yet too
inexperienced to quell entirely their sudden and powerful
influence. His red associate, however, was superior to such
a weakness. He passed the groups of dead with a steadiness
of purpose, and an eye so calm, that nothing but long and
inveterate practise could enable him to maintain. The
sensations produced in the minds of even the white men were
different, though uniformly sorrowful. One, whose gray
locks and furrowed lineaments, blending with a martial air
and tread, betrayed, in spite of the disguise of a
woodsman's dress, a man long experienced in scenes of war,
was not ashamed to groan aloud, whenever a spectacle of more
than usual horror came under his view. The young man at his
elbow shuddered, but seemed to suppress his feelings in
tenderness to his companion. Of them all, the straggler who
brought up the rear appeared alone to betray his real
thoughts, without fear of observation or dread of
consequences. He gazed at the most appalling sight with
eyes and muscles that knew not how to waver, but with
execrations so bitter and deep as to denote how much he
denounced the crime of his enemies.

The reader will perceive at once, in these respective
characters, the Mohicans, and their white friend, the scout;
together with Munro and Heyward. It was, in truth, the
father in quest of his children, attended by the youth who
felt so deep a stake in their happiness, and those brave and
trusty foresters, who had already proved their skill and
fidelity through the trying scenes related.

When Uncas, who moved in front, had reached the center of
the plain, he raised a cry that drew his companions in a
body to the spot. The young warrior had halted over a group
of females who lay in a cluster, a confused mass of dead.
Notwithstanding the revolting horror of the exhibition,
Munro and Heyward flew toward the festering heap,
endeavoring, with a love that no unseemliness could
extinguish, to discover whether any vestiges of those they
sought were to be seen among the tattered and many-colored
garments. The father and the lover found instant relief in
the search; though each was condemned again to experience
the misery of an uncertainty that was hardly less
insupportable than the most revolting truth. They were
standing, silent and thoughtful, around the melancholy pile,
when the scout approached. Eyeing the sad spectacle with an
angry countenance, the sturdy woodsman, for the first time
since his entering the plain, spoke intelligibly and aloud:

"I have been on many a shocking field, and have followed a
trail of blood for weary miles," he said, "but never have I
found the hand of the devil so plain as it is here to be
seen! Revenge is an Indian feeling, and all who know me
know that there is no cross in my veins; but this much will
I say--here, in the face of heaven, and with the power of
the Lord so manifest in this howling wilderness--that
should these Frenchers ever trust themselves again within
the range of a ragged bullet, there is one rifle which shall
play its part so long as flint will fire or powder burn! I
leave the tomahawk and knife to such as have a natural gift
to use them. What say you, Chingachgook," he added, in
Delaware; "shall the Hurons boast of this to their women
when the deep snows come?"

A gleam of resentment flashed across the dark lineaments of
the Mohican chief; he loosened his knife in his sheath; and
then turning calmly from the sight, his countenance settled
into a repose as deep as if he knew the instigation of passion.

"Montcalm! Montcalm!" continued the deeply resentful and
less self-restrained scout; "they say a time must come when
all the deeds done in the flesh will be seen at a single
look; and that by eyes cleared from mortal infirmities. Woe
betide the wretch who is born to behold this plain, with the
judgment hanging about his soul! Ha--as I am a man of
white blood, yonder lies a red-skin, without the hair of his
head where nature rooted it! Look to him, Delaware; it may
be one of your missing people; and he should have burial
like a stout warrior. I see it in your eye, Sagamore; a
Huron pays for this, afore the fall winds have blown away
the scent of the blood!"

Chingachgook approached the mutilated form, and, turning it
over, he found the distinguishing marks of one of those six
allied tribes, or nations, as they were called, who, while
they fought in the English ranks, were so deadly hostile to
his own people. Spurning the loathsome object with his
foot, he turned from it with the same indifference he would
have quitted a brute carcass. The scout comprehended the
action, and very deliberately pursued his own way,
continuing, however, his denunciations against the French
commander in the same resentful strain.

"Nothing but vast wisdom and unlimited power should dare to
sweep off men in multitudes," he added; "for it is only the
one that can know the necessity of the judgment; and what is
there, short of the other, that can replace the creatures of
the Lord? I hold it a sin to kill the second buck afore the
first is eaten, unless a march in front, or an ambushment,
be contemplated. It is a different matter with a few
warriors in open and rugged fight, for 'tis their gift to
die with the rifle or the tomahawk in hand; according as
their natures may happen to be, white or red. Uncas, come
this way, lad, and let the ravens settle upon the Mingo. I
know, from often seeing it, that they have a craving for the
flesh of an Oneida; and it is as well to let the bird follow
the gift of its natural appetite."

"Hugh!" exclaimed the young Mohican, rising on the
extremities of his feet, and gazing intently in his front,
frightening the ravens to some other prey by the sound and
the action.

"What is it, boy?" whispered the scout, lowering his tall
form into a crouching attitude, like a panther about to take
his leap; "God send it be a tardy Frencher, skulking for
plunder. I do believe 'killdeer' would take an uncommon
range today!"

Uncas, without making any reply, bounded away from the spot,
and in the next instant he was seen tearing from a bush, and
waving in triumph, a fragment of the green riding-veil of
Cora. The movement, the exhibition, and the cry which again
burst from the lips of the young Mohican, instantly drew the
whole party about him.

"My child!" said Munro, speaking quickly and wildly; "give
me my child!"

"Uncas will try," was the short and touching answer.

The simple but meaning assurance was lost on the father, who
seized the piece of gauze, and crushed it in his hand, while
his eyes roamed fearfully among the bushes, as if he equally
dreaded and hoped for the secrets they might reveal.

"Here are no dead," said Heyward; "the storm seems not to
have passed this way."

"That's manifest; and clearer than the heavens above our
heads," returned the undisturbed scout; "but either she, or
they that have robbed her, have passed the bush; for I
remember the rag she wore to hide a face that all did love
to look upon. Uncas, you are right; the dark-hair has been
here, and she has fled like a frightened fawn, to the wood;
none who could fly would remain to be murdered. Let us
search for the marks she left; for, to Indian eyes, I
sometimes think a humming-bird leaves his trail in the air."

The young Mohican darted away at the suggestion, and the
scout had hardly done speaking, before the former raised a
cry of success from the margin of the forest. On reaching
the spot, the anxious party perceived another portion of the
veil fluttering on the lower branch of a beech.

"Softly, softly," said the scout, extending his long rifle
in front of the eager Heyward; "we now know our work, but
the beauty of the trail must not be deformed. A step too
soon may give us hours of trouble. We have them, though;
that much is beyond denial."

"Bless ye, bless ye, worthy man!" exclaimed Munro; "whither
then, have they fled, and where are my babes?"

"The path they have taken depends on many chances. If they
have gone alone, they are quite as likely to move in a
circle as straight, and they may be within a dozen miles of
us; but if the Hurons, or any of the French Indians, have
laid hands on them, 'tis probably they are now near the
borders of the Canadas. But what matters that?" continued
the deliberate scout, observing the powerful anxiety and
disappointment the listeners exhibited; "here are the
Mohicans and I on one end of the trail, and, rely on it, we
find the other, though they should be a hundred leagues
asunder! Gently, gently, Uncas, you are as impatient as a
man in the settlements; you forget that light feet leave but
faint marks!"

"Hugh!" exclaimed Chingachgook, who had been occupied in
examining an opening that had been evidently made through
the low underbrush which skirted the forest; and who now
stood erect, as he pointed downward, in the attitude and
with the air of a man who beheld a disgusting serpent.

"Here is the palpable impression of the footstep of a man,"
cried Heyward, bending over the indicated spot; "he has trod
in the margin of this pool, and the mark cannot be mistaken.
They are captives."

"Better so than left to starve in the wilderness," returned
the scout; "and they will leave a wider trail. I would
wager fifty beaver skins against as many flints, that the
Mohicans and I enter their wigwams within the month! Stoop
to it, Uncas, and try what you can make of the moccasin; for
moccasin it plainly is, and no shoe."

The young Mohican bent over the track, and removing the
scattered leaves from around the place, he examined it with
much of that sort of scrutiny that a money dealer, in these
days of pecuniary doubts, would bestow on a suspected due-
bill. At length he arose from his knees, satisfied with the
result of the examination.

"Well, boy," demanded the attentive scout; "what does it say?
Can you make anything of the tell-tale?"

"Le Renard Subtil!"

"Ha! that rampaging devil again! there will never be an end
of his loping till 'killdeer' has said a friendly word to him."

Heyward reluctantly admitted the truth of this intelligence,
and now expressed rather his hopes than his doubts by saying:

"One moccasin is so much like another, it is probable there
is some mistake."

"One moccasin like another! you may as well say that one
foot is like another; though we all know that some are long,
and others short; some broad and others narrow; some with
high, and some with low insteps; some intoed, and some out.
One moccasin is no more like another than one book is like
another: though they who can read in one are seldom able to
tell the marks of the other. Which is all ordered for the
best, giving to every man his natural advantages. Let me
get down to it, Uncas; neither book nor moccasin is the
worse for having two opinions, instead of one." The scout
stooped to the task, and instantly added:

"You are right, boy; here is the patch we saw so often in
the other chase. And the fellow will drink when he can get
an opportunity; your drinking Indian always learns to walk
with a wider toe than the natural savage, it being the gift
of a drunkard to straddle, whether of white or red skin.
'Tis just the length and breadth, too! look at it, Sagamore;
you measured the prints more than once, when we hunted the
varmints from Glenn's to the health springs."

Chingachgook complied; and after finishing his short
examination, he arose, and with a quiet demeanor, he merely
pronounced the word:


"Ay, 'tis a settled thing; here, then, have passed the dark-
hair and Magua."

"And not Alice?" demanded Heyward.

"Of her we have not yet seen the signs," returned the scout,
looking closely around at the trees, the bushes and the
ground. "What have we there? Uncas, bring hither the thing
you see dangling from yonder thorn-bush."

When the Indian had complied, the scout received the prize,
and holding it on high, he laughed in his silent but
heartfelt manner.

"'Tis the tooting we'pon of the singer! now we shall have a
trail a priest might travel," he said. "Uncas, look for the
marks of a shoe that is long enough to uphold six feet two
of tottering human flesh. I begin to have some hopes of the
fellow, since he has given up squalling to follow some
better trade."

"At least he has been faithful to his trust," said Heyward.
"And Cora and Alice are not without a friend."

"Yes," said Hawkeye, dropping his rifle, and leaning on it
with an air of visible contempt, "he will do their singing.
Can he slay a buck for their dinner; journey by the moss on
the beeches, or cut the throat of a Huron? If not, the
first catbird* he meets is the cleverer of the two. Well,
boy, any signs of such a foundation?"

* The powers of the American mocking-bird are
generally known. But the true mocking-bird is not found so
far north as the state of New York, where it has, however,
two substitutes of inferior excellence, the catbird, so
often named by the scout, and the bird vulgarly called
ground-thresher. Either of these last two birds is superior
to the nightingale or the lark, though, in general, the
American birds are less musical than those of Europe.

"Here is something like the footstep of one who has worn a
shoe; can it be that of our friend?"

"Touch the leaves lightly or you'll disconsart the formation.
That! that is the print of a foot, but 'tis the dark-hair's;
and small it is, too, for one of such a noble height and
grand appearance. The singer would cover it with his heel."

"Where! let me look on the footsteps of my child," said
Munro, shoving the bushes aside, and bending fondly over the
nearly obliterated impression. Though the tread which had
left the mark had been light and rapid, it was still plainly
visible. The aged soldier examined it with eyes that grew
dim as he gazed; nor did he rise from this stooping posture
until Heyward saw that he had watered the trace of his
daughter's passage with a scalding tear. Willing to divert
a distress which threatened each moment to break through the
restraint of appearances, by giving the veteran something to
do, the young man said to the scout:

"As we now possess these infallible signs, let us commence
our march. A moment, at such a time, will appear an age to
the captives."

"It is not the swiftest leaping deer that gives the longest
chase," returned Hawkeye, without moving his eyes from the
different marks that had come under his view; "we know that
the rampaging Huron has passed, and the dark-hair, and the
singer, but where is she of the yellow locks and blue eyes?
Though little, and far from being as bold as her sister, she
is fair to the view, and pleasant in discourse. Has she no
friend, that none care for her?"

"God forbid she should ever want hundreds! Are we not now
in her pursuit? For one, I will never cease the search till
she be found."

"In that case we may have to journey by different paths; for
here she has not passed, light and little as her footsteps
would be."

Heyward drew back, all his ardor to proceed seeming to
vanish on the instant. Without attending to this sudden
change in the other's humor, the scout after musing a moment

"There is no woman in this wilderness could leave such a
print as that, but the dark-hair or her sister. We know
that the first has been here, but where are the signs of the
other? Let us push deeper on the trail, and if nothing
offers, we must go back to the plain and strike another
scent. Move on, Uncas, and keep your eyes on the dried
leaves. I will watch the bushes, while your father shall
run with a low nose to the ground. Move on, friends; the
sun is getting behind the hills."

"Is there nothing that I can do?" demanded the anxious Heyward.

"You?" repeated the scout, who, with his red friends, was
already advancing in the order he had prescribed; "yes, you
can keep in our rear and be careful not to cross the trail."

Before they had proceeded many rods, the Indians stopped,
and appeared to gaze at some signs on the earth with more
than their usual keenness. Both father and son spoke quick
and loud, now looking at the object of their mutual
admiration, and now regarding each other with the most
unequivocal pleasure.

"They have found the little foot!" exclaimed the scout,
moving forward, without attending further to his own portion
of the duty. "What have we here? An ambushment has been
planted in the spot! No, by the truest rifle on the
frontiers, here have been them one-sided horses again! Now
the whole secret is out, and all is plain as the north star
at midnight. Yes, here they have mounted. There the beasts
have been bound to a sapling, in waiting; and yonder runs
the broad path away to the north, in full sweep for the Canadas."

"But still there are no signs of Alice, of the younger Miss
Munro," said Duncan.

"Unless the shining bauble Uncas has just lifted from the
ground should prove one. Pass it this way, lad, that we may
look at it."

Heyward instantly knew it for a trinket that Alice was fond
of wearing, and which he recollected, with the tenacious
memory of a lover, to have seen, on the fatal morning of the
massacre, dangling from the fair neck of his mistress. He
seized the highly prized jewel; and as he proclaimed the
fact, it vanished from the eyes of the wondering scout, who
in vain looked for it on the ground, long after it was
warmly pressed against the beating heart of Duncan.

"Pshaw!" said the disappointed Hawkeye, ceasing to rake the
leaves with the breech of his rifle; "'tis a certain sign of
age, when the sight begins to weaken. Such a glittering
gewgaw, and not to be seen! Well, well, I can squint along
a clouded barrel yet, and that is enough to settle all
disputes between me and the Mingoes. I should like to find
the thing, too, if it were only to carry it to the right
owner, and that would be bringing the two ends of what I
call a long trail together, for by this time the broad St.
Lawrence, or perhaps, the Great Lakes themselves, are
between us."

"So much the more reason why we should not delay our march,"
returned Heyward; "let us proceed."

"Young blood and hot blood, they say, are much the same
thing. We are not about to start on a squirrel hunt, or to
drive a deer into the Horican, but to outlie for days and
nights, and to stretch across a wilderness where the feet of
men seldom go, and where no bookish knowledge would carry
you through harmless. An Indian never starts on such an
expedition without smoking over his council-fire; and,
though a man of white blood, I honor their customs in this
particular, seeing that they are deliberate and wise. We
will, therefore, go back, and light our fire to-night in the
ruins of the old fort, and in the morning we shall be fresh,
and ready to undertake our work like men, and not like
babbling women or eager boys."

Heyward saw, by the manner of the scout, that altercation
would be useless. Munro had again sunk into that sort of
apathy which had beset him since his late overwhelming
misfortunes, and from which he was apparently to be roused
only by some new and powerful excitement. Making a merit of
necessity, the young man took the veteran by the arm, and
followed in the footsteps of the Indians and the scout, who
had already begun to retrace the path which conducted them
to the plain.



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