"If you find a man there, he shall
die a flea's death."--
Merry Wives of Windsor
The party had landed on the border of a region that is, even
to this day, less known to the inhabitants of the States
than the deserts of Arabia, or the steppes of Tartary. It
was the sterile and rugged district which separates the
tributaries of Champlain from those of the Hudson, the
Mohawk, and the St. Lawrence. Since the period of our tale
the active spirit of the country has surrounded it with a
belt of rich and thriving settlements, though none but the
hunter or the savage is ever known even now to penetrate its
As Hawkeye and the Mohicans had, however, often traversed
the mountains and valleys of this vast wilderness, they did
not hesitate to plunge into its depth, with the freedom of
men accustomed to its privations and difficulties. For many
hours the travelers toiled on their laborious way, guided by
a star, or following the direction of some water-course,
until the scout called a halt, and holding a short
consultation with the Indians, they lighted their fire, and
made the usual preparations to pass the remainder of the
night where they then were.
Imitating the example, and emulating the confidence of their
more experienced associates, Munro and Duncan slept without
fear, if now without uneasiness. The dews were suffered to
exhale, and the sun had dispersed the mists, and was
shedding a strong and clear light in the forest, when the
travelers resumed their journey.
After proceeding a few miles, the progress of Hawkeye, who
led the advance, became more deliberate and watchful. He
often stopped to examine the trees; nor did he cross a
rivulet without attentively considering the quantity, the
velocity, and the color of its waters. Distrusting his own
judgment, his appeals to the opinion of Chingachgook were
frequent and earnest. During one of these conferences
Heyward observed that Uncas stood a patient and silent,
though, as he imagined, an interested listener. He was
strongly tempted to address the young chief, and demand his
opinion of their progress; but the calm and dignified
demeanor of the native induced him to believe, that, like
himself, the other was wholly dependent on the sagacity and
intelligence of the seniors of the party. At last the scout
spoke in English, and at once explained the embarrassment of
"When I found that the home path of the Hurons run north,"
he said, "it did not need the judgment of many long years to
tell that they would follow the valleys, and keep atween the
waters of the Hudson and the Horican, until they might
strike the springs of the Canada streams, which would lead
them into the heart of the country of the Frenchers. Yet
here are we, within a short range of the Scaroons, and not a
sign of a trail have we crossed! Human natur' is weak, and
it is possible we may not have taken the proper scent."
"Heaven protect us from such an error!" exclaimed Duncan.
"Let us retrace our steps, and examine as we go, with keener
eyes. Has Uncas no counsel to offer in such a strait?"
The young Mohican cast a glance at his father, but,
maintaining his quiet and reserved mien, he continued
silent. Chingachgook had caught the look, and motioning
with his hand, he bade him speak. The moment this
permission was accorded, the countenance of Uncas changed
from its grave composure to a gleam of intelligence and joy.
Bounding forward like a deer, he sprang up the side of a
little acclivity, a few rods in advance, and stood,
exultingly, over a spot of fresh earth, that looked as
though it had been recently upturned by the passage of some
heavy animal. The eyes of the whole party followed the
unexpected movement, and read their success in the air of
triumph that the youth assumed.
"'Tis the trail!" exclaimed the scout, advancing to the spot;
"the lad is quick of sight and keen of wit for his years."
"'Tis extraordinary that he should have withheld his
knowledge so long," muttered Duncan, at his elbow.
"It would have been more wonderful had he spoken without a
bidding. No, no; your young white, who gathers his learning
from books and can measure what he knows by the page, may
conceit that his knowledge, like his legs, outruns that of
his fathers', but, where experience is the master, the
scholar is made to know the value of years, and respects
"See!" said Uncas, pointing north and south, at the evident
marks of the broad trail on either side of him, "the dark-
hair has gone toward the forest."
"Hound never ran on a more beautiful scent," responded the
scout, dashing forward, at once, on the indicated route; "we
are favored, greatly favored, and can follow with high
noses. Ay, here are both your waddling beasts: this Huron
travels like a white general. The fellow is stricken with a
judgment, and is mad! Look sharp for wheels, Sagamore," he
continued, looking back, and laughing in his newly awakened
satisfaction; "we shall soon have the fool journeying in a
coach, and that with three of the best pair of eyes on the
borders in his rear."
The spirits of the scout, and the astonishing success of the
chase, in which a circuitous distance of more than forty
miles had been passed, did not fail to impart a portion of
hope to the whole party. Their advance was rapid; and made
with as much confidence as a traveler would proceed along a
wide highway. If a rock, or a rivulet, or a bit of earth
harder than common, severed the links of the clew they
followed, the true eye of the scout recovered them at a
distance, and seldom rendered the delay of a single moment
necessary. Their progress was much facilitated by the
certainty that Magua had found it necessary to journey
through the valleys; a circumstance which rendered the
general direction of the route sure. Nor had the Huron
entirely neglected the arts uniformly practised by the
natives when retiring in front of an enemy. False trails
and sudden turnings were frequent, wherever a brook or the
formation of the ground rendered them feasible; but his
pursuers were rarely deceived, and never failed to detect
their error, before they had lost either time or distance on
the deceptive track.
By the middle of the afternoon they had passed the Scaroons,
and were following the route of the declining sun. After
descending an eminence to a low bottom, through which a
swift stream glided, they suddenly came to a place where the
party of Le Renard had made a halt. Extinguished brands
were lying around a spring, the offals of a deer were
scattered about the place, and the trees bore evident marks
of having been browsed by the horses. At a little distance,
Heyward discovered, and contemplated with tender emotion,
the small bower under which he was fain to believe that Cora
and Alice had reposed. But while the earth was trodden, and
the footsteps of both men and beasts were so plainly visible
around the place, the trail appeared to have suddenly ended.
It was easy to follow the tracks of the Narragansetts, but
they seemed only to have wandered without guides, or any
other object than the pursuit of food. At length Uncas,
who, with his father, had endeavored to trace the route of
the horses, came upon a sign of their presence that was
quite recent. Before following the clew, he communicated
his success to his companions; and while the latter were
consulting on the circumstance, the youth reappeared,
leading the two fillies, with their saddles broken, and the
housings soiled, as though they had been permitted to run at
will for several days.
"What should this prove?" said Duncan, turning pale, and
glancing his eyes around him, as if he feared the brush and
leaves were about to give up some horrid secret.
"That our march is come to a quick end, and that we are in
an enemy's country," returned the scout. "Had the knave
been pressed, and the gentle ones wanted horses to keep up
with the party, he might have taken their scalps; but
without an enemy at his heels, and with such rugged beasts
as these, he would not hurt a hair of their heads. I know
your thoughts, and shame be it to our color that you have
reason for them; but he who thinks that even a Mingo would
ill-treat a woman, unless it be to tomahawk her, knows
nothing of Indian natur', or the laws of the woods. No, no;
I have heard that the French Indians had come into these
hills to hunt the moose, and we are getting within scent of
their camp. Why should they not? The morning and evening
guns of Ty may be heard any day among these mountains; for
the Frenchers are running a new line atween the provinces of
the king and the Canadas. It is true that the horses are
here, but the Hurons are gone; let us, then, hunt for the
path by which they parted."
Hawkeye and the Mohicans now applied themselves to their
task in good earnest. A circle of a few hundred feet in
circumference was drawn, and each of the party took a
segment for his portion. The examination, however, resulted
in no discovery. The impressions of footsteps were
numerous, but they all appeared like those of men who had
wandered about the spot, without any design to quit it.
Again the scout and his companions made the circuit of the
halting place, each slowly following the other, until they
assembled in the center once more, no wiser than when they
"Such cunning is not without its deviltry," exclaimed Hawkeye,
when he met the disappointed looks of his assistants.
"We must get down to it, Sagamore, beginning at the spring,
and going over the ground by inches. The Huron shall never
brag in his tribe that he has a foot which leaves no print."
Setting the example himself, the scout engaged in the
scrutiny with renewed zeal. Not a leaf was left unturned.
The sticks were removed, and the stones lifted; for Indian
cunning was known frequently to adopt these objects as
covers, laboring with the utmost patience and industry, to
conceal each footstep as they proceeded. Still no discovery
was made. At length Uncas, whose activity had enabled him
to achieve his portion of the task the soonest, raked the
earth across the turbid little rill which ran from the
spring, and diverted its course into another channel. So
soon as its narrow bed below the dam was dry, he stooped
over it with keen and curious eyes. A cry of exultation
immediately announced the success of the young warrior. The
whole party crowded to the spot where Uncas pointed out the
impression of a moccasin in the moist alluvion.
"This lad will be an honor to his people," said Hawkeye,
regarding the trail with as much admiration as a naturalist
would expend on the tusk of a mammoth or the rib of a
mastodon; "ay, and a thorn in the sides of the Hurons. Yet
that is not the footstep of an Indian! the weight is too
much on the heel, and the toes are squared, as though one of
the French dancers had been in, pigeon-winging his tribe!
Run back, Uncas, and bring me the size of the singer's foot.
You will find a beautiful print of it just opposite yon
rock, agin the hillside."
While the youth was engaged in this commission, the scout
and Chingachgook were attentively considering the
impressions. The measurements agreed, and the former
unhesitatingly pronounced that the footstep was that of David,
who had once more been made to exchange his shoes for
"I can now read the whole of it, as plainly as if I had seen
the arts of Le Subtil," he added; "the singer being a man
whose gifts lay chiefly in his throat and feet, was made to
go first, and the others have trod in his steps, imitating
"But," cried Duncan, "I see no signs of--"
"The gentle ones," interrupted the scout; "the varlet has
found a way to carry them, until he supposed he had thrown
any followers off the scent. My life on it, we see their
pretty little feet again, before many rods go by."
The whole party now proceeded, following the course of the
rill, keeping anxious eyes on the regular impressions. The
water soon flowed into its bed again, but watching the
ground on either side, the foresters pursued their way
content with knowing that the trail lay beneath. More than
half a mile was passed, before the rill rippled close around
the base of an extensive and dry rock. Here they paused to
make sure that the Hurons had not quitted the water.
It was fortunate they did so. For the quick and active
Uncas soon found the impression of a foot on a bunch of
moss, where it would seem an Indian had inadvertently
trodden. Pursuing the direction given by this discovery, he
entered the neighboring thicket, and struck the trail, as
fresh and obvious as it had been before they reached the
spring. Another shout announced the good fortune of the
youth to his companions, and at once terminated the search.
"Ay, it has been planned with Indian judgment," said the
scout, when the party was assembled around the place, "and
would have blinded white eyes."
"Shall we proceed?" demanded Heyward.
"Softly, softly, we know our path; but it is good to examine
the formation of things. This is my schooling, major; and
if one neglects the book, there is little chance of learning
from the open land of Providence. All is plain but one
thing, which is the manner that the knave contrived to get
the gentle ones along the blind trail. Even a Huron would
be too proud to let their tender feet touch the water."
"Will this assist in explaining the difficulty?" said
Heyward, pointing toward the fragments of a sort of
handbarrow, that had been rudely constructed of boughs, and
bound together with withes, and which now seemed carelessly
cast aside as useless.
"'Tis explained!" cried the delighted Hawkeye. "If them
varlets have passed a minute, they have spent hours in
striving to fabricate a lying end to their trail! Well,
I've known them to waste a day in the same manner to as
little purpose. Here we have three pair of moccasins, and
two of little feet. It is amazing that any mortal beings
can journey on limbs so small! Pass me the thong of
buckskin, Uncas, and let me take the length of this foot.
By the Lord, it is no longer than a child's and yet the
maidens are tall and comely. That Providence is partial in
its gifts, for its own wise reasons, the best and most
contented of us must allow."
"The tender limbs of my daughters are unequal to these
hardships," said Munro, looking at the light footsteps of
his children, with a parent's love; "we shall find their
fainting forms in this desert."
"Of that there is little cause of fear," returned the scout,
slowly shaking his head; "this is a firm and straight,
though a light step, and not over long. See, the heel has
hardly touched the ground; and there the dark-hair has made
a little jump, from root to root. No, no; my knowledge for
it, neither of them was nigh fainting, hereaway. Now, the
singer was beginning to be footsore and leg-weary, as is
plain by his trail. There, you see, he slipped; here he has
traveled wide and tottered; and there again it looks as
though he journeyed on snowshoes. Ay, ay, a man who uses
his throat altogether, can hardly give his legs a proper
From such undeniable testimony did the practised woodsman
arrive at the truth, with nearly as much certainty and
precision as if he had been a witness of all those events
which his ingenuity so easily elucidated. Cheered by these
assurances, and satisfied by a reasoning that was so
obvious, while it was so simple, the party resumed its
course, after making a short halt, to take a hurried repast.
When the meal was ended, the scout cast a glance upward at
the setting sun, and pushed forward with a rapidity which
compelled Heyward and the still vigorous Munro to exert all
their muscles to equal. Their route now lay along the
bottom which has already been mentioned. As the Hurons had
made no further efforts to conceal their footsteps, the
progress of the pursuers was no longer delayed by
uncertainty. Before an hour had elapsed, however, the speed
of Hawkeye sensibly abated, and his head, instead of
maintaining its former direct and forward look, began to
turn suspiciously from side to side, as if he were conscious
of approaching danger. He soon stopped again, and waited
for the whole party to come up.
"I scent the Hurons," he said, speaking to the Mohicans;
"yonder is open sky, through the treetops, and we are
getting too nigh their encampment. Sagamore, you will take
the hillside, to the right; Uncas will bend along the brook
to the left, while I will try the trail. If anything should
happen, the call will be three croaks of a crow. I saw one
of the birds fanning himself in the air, just beyond the
dead oak--another sign that we are approaching an
The Indians departed their several ways without reply, while
Hawkeye cautiously proceeded with the two gentlemen.
Heyward soon pressed to the side of their guide, eager to
catch an early glimpse of those enemies he had pursued with
so much toil and anxiety. His companion told him to steal
to the edge of the wood, which, as usual, was fringed with a
thicket, and wait his coming, for he wished to examine
certain suspicious signs a little on one side. Duncan
obeyed, and soon found himself in a situation to command a
view which he found as extraordinary as it was novel.
The trees of many acres had been felled, and the glow of a
mild summer's evening had fallen on the clearing, in
beautiful contrast to the gray light of the forest. A short
distance from the place where Duncan stood, the stream had
seemingly expanded into a little lake, covering most of the
low land, from mountain to mountain. The water fell out of
this wide basin, in a cataract so regular and gentle, that
it appeared rather to be the work of human hands than
fashioned by nature. A hundred earthen dwellings stood on
the margin of the lake, and even in its waters, as though
the latter had overflowed its usual banks. Their rounded
roofs, admirably molded for defense against the weather,
denoted more of industry and foresight than the natives were
wont to bestow on their regular habitations, much less on
those they occupied for the temporary purposes of hunting
and war. In short, the whole village or town, whichever it
might be termed, possessed more of method and neatness of
execution, than the white men had been accustomed to believe
belonged, ordinarily, to the Indian habits. It appeared,
however, to be deserted. At least, so thought Duncan for
many minutes; but, at length, he fancied he discovered
several human forms advancing toward him on all fours, and
apparently dragging in the train some heavy, and as he was
quick to apprehend, some formidable engine. Just then a few
dark-looking heads gleamed out of the dwellings, and the
place seemed suddenly alive with beings, which, however,
glided from cover to cover so swiftly, as to allow no
opportunity of examining their humors or pursuits. Alarmed
at these suspicious and inexplicable movements, he was about
to attempt the signal of the crows, when the rustling of
leaves at hand drew his eyes in another direction.
The young man started, and recoiled a few paces
instinctively, when he found himself within a hundred yards
of a stranger Indian. Recovering his recollection on the
instant, instead of sounding an alarm, which might prove
fatal to himself, he remained stationary, an attentive
observer of the other's motions.
An instant of calm observation served to assure Duncan that
he was undiscovered. The native, like himself, seemed
occupied in considering the low dwellings of the village,
and the stolen movements of its inhabitants. It was
impossible to discover the expression of his features
through the grotesque mask of paint under which they were
concealed, though Duncan fancied it was rather melancholy
than savage. His head was shaved, as usual, with the
exception of the crown, from whose tuft three or four faded
feathers from a hawk's wing were loosely dangling. A ragged
calico mantle half encircled his body, while his nether
garment was composed of an ordinary shirt, the sleeves of
which were made to perform the office that is usually
executed by a much more commodious arrangement. His legs
were, however, covered with a pair of good deer-skin
moccasins. Altogether, the appearance of the individual was
forlorn and miserable.
Duncan was still curiously observing the person of his neighbor
when the scout stole silently and cautiously to his side.
"You see we have reached their settlement or encampment,"
whispered the young man; "and here is one of the savages
himself, in a very embarrassing position for our further
Hawkeye started, and dropped his rifle, when, directed by
the finger of his companion, the stranger came under his
view. Then lowering the dangerous muzzle he stretched
forward his long neck, as if to assist a scrutiny that was
already intensely keen.
"The imp is not a Huron," he said, "nor of any of the Canada
tribes; and yet you see, by his clothes, the knave has been
plundering a white. Ay, Montcalm has raked the woods for
his inroad, and a whooping, murdering set of varlets has he
gathered together. Can you see where he has put his rifle
or his bow?"
"He appears to have no arms; nor does he seem to be
viciously inclined. Unless he communicate the alarm to his
fellows, who, as you see, are dodging about the water, we
have but little to fear from him."
The scout turned to Heyward, and regarded him a moment with
unconcealed amazement. Then opening wide his mouth, he
indulged in unrestrained and heartfelt laughter, though in
that silent and peculiar manner which danger had so long
taught him to practise.
Repeating the words, "Fellows who are dodging about the
water!" he added, "so much for schooling and passing a
boyhood in the settlements! The knave has long legs,
though, and shall not be trusted. Do you keep him under
your rifle while I creep in behind, through the bush, and
take him alive. Fire on no account."
Heyward had already permitted his companion to bury part of
his person in the thicket, when, stretching forth his arm,
he arrested him, in order to ask:
"If I see you in danger, may I not risk a shot?"
Hawkeye regarded him a moment, like one who knew not how to
take the question; then, nodding his head, he answered,
still laughing, though inaudibly:
"Fire a whole platoon, major."
In the next moment he was concealed by the leaves. Duncan
waited several minutes in feverish impatience, before he
caught another glimpse of the scout. Then he reappeared,
creeping along the earth, from which his dress was hardly
distinguishable, directly in the rear of his intended
captive. Having reached within a few yards of the latter,
he arose to his feet, silently and slowly. At that instant,
several loud blows were struck on the water, and Duncan
turned his eyes just in time to perceive that a hundred dark
forms were plunging, in a body, into the troubled little
sheet. Grasping his rifle his looks were again bent on the
Indian near him. Instead of taking the alarm, the
unconscious savage stretched forward his neck, as if he also
watched the movements about the gloomy lake, with a sort of
silly curiosity. In the meantime, the uplifted hand of
Hawkeye was above him. But, without any apparent reason, it
was withdrawn, and its owner indulged in another long,
though still silent, fit of merriment. When the peculiar
and hearty laughter of Hawkeye was ended, instead of
grasping his victim by the throat, he tapped him lightly on
the shoulder, and exclaimed aloud:
"How now, friend! have you a mind to teach the beavers to
"Even so," was the ready answer. "It would seem that the
Being that gave them power to improve His gifts so well,
would not deny them voices to proclaim His praise."
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Last of the Mohicans