The Last Of The Mohicans
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
Cooper's Leather-Stocking Tales are to-day the most widely read of all his works. He wrote at a time when the Indians of the East had not entirely passed away and villages of the aborigines might still be found in the Great North Woods of New York; at a time, too, when veterans of the Revolutionary War were numerous and not disinclined to fight their battles over again. Even of those early events of which he wrote, such as the massacre of Fort William Henry, Cooper might have obtained accounts at second hand. In short, he was near enough to the times and the people of whom he wrote to get the atmosphere, and yet far enough removed to enable him to get his perspective. His Last of the Mohicans was the second of his Leather-Stocking series, and is probably the best known. The scene is laid in the time of the French and Indian War.
IN the breathing silence that marks the northern American wilderness in July, three men were lying quietly by the side of a swift torrent. The dull roar of a near-by waterfall told whence the black stream's deadly velocity came.
Two of the three showed the red skin and wild accouterments of natives of the woods. On the naked chest of the elder was painted a frightful emblem of death in white and black. The younger was of that beautiful, perfect type that has come down to new generations as the ideal American Indian's figure.
The third member of the little party was a white man, though his skin was burned by exposure to the color of an Indian's. He wore a hunting-shirt of green and held an extraordinarily long rifle on his lap.
Though they were conversing quietly, they were evidently upon the watch; for every bush might hide an Iroquois, and at any moment the war-whoop might ring out. The French General Montcalm was advancing through the woods with his Canadian-French and savage allies to invest the British Fort William Henry on Lake George, only a few leagues away.
The white man was Nathaniel Bumppo—known to the Indians as Hawk Eye and to the French enemies as Long Rifle.
The elder Indian was Chingachgook, the Great Serpent, Saga-more of the Mohicans, an almost extinct tribe of the Delawares. The younger was his son Uncas, the Bounding Elk, the last of his race.
Suddenly the Sagamore bent his body till his ear nearly touched the ground. "The horses of white men are coming."
" God keep them from the Iroquois," said the white hunter, slipping into the cover with his rifle cocked.
It was a strange cavalcade for that wild place that came into his view. Foremost rode a British officer wearing the uniform of a major in the "Royal Americans," who formed part of the garrison at Fort William Henry. Behind him rode two girls—one fair-haired, blue-eyed, seeming too exquisitely tender to move in any except the most sheltered care; the other a dark beauty with coal-black hair.
"I am Major Duncan Heyward," said the officer, answering Hawk Eye's challenge in a voice vibrant with joyful relief. "These ladies are the daughters of Colonel Munro, the commandant at Fort William Henry, whither we are bound. But our Indian guide has lost his way."
"An Indian lose his way?" said the hunter scornfully. He peered at the Indian who stood a little way withdrawn. "I well know the treachery of the Mingos," said he, using the contemptuous term applied to those Indians not allied to the great race of the Delawares.
He gave an almost imperceptible signal and Chingachgook and Uncas slipped like serpents into the bushes to cut off the traitor. Magua uttered a piercing cry and disappeared with a single bound into the bushes.
"We cannot hope to make the fort to-night," said Hawk Eye, when it became evident that the Mingo had made good his escape. "The Mingos will be upon us within a few hours at the most. You must abandon the horses and follow me. Whom have you here?" looking at the fourth member of the party, a strange, gaunt, ungainly man.
"David Gamut, singing-master to the Connecticut contin gent," replied this individual, who was regarded by both whites and Indians as not quite sane, and who had attached himself to the party despite all remonstrances.
In the darkness which had now fallen, Hawk Eye and the Indians took the party aboard a birch-bark canoe and with wonderful skill and strength forced their passage up the wild river till they reached a rocky, cavernous island that lay under the waterfall itself, in a very riot of hurtling waters.
All remained quiet in the strange retreat till the light of dawn came. Then suddenly the Iroquois, stealing from all sides, attacked furiously. But the superb marksmanship of the scout and the Mohicans kept the hostile savages at bay until nightfall, when all the powder was exhausted. While Bumppo and Chingachgook were consulting together, Cora Munro, the dark beauty, proposed that they should steal through the darkness to the fort and bring aid.
"The young as well as the old sometimes speak wisdom," replied the scout. " Chingachcook has advised the same. The Mingos will take you away captive. But we are keen on the trail and will rescue you." The scout and the Sagamore then slipped into the water, which closed over them with scarcely a ripple. To Cora's suggestion that he should follow them the young Indian replied, "Uncas will stay"; but at Cora's further entreaty he stepped on a rock and disappeared in the water, leaving the girls with Heyward, who refused to leave them.
The next morning the Indians of Magua came and decided that instead of scalping their victims at once they would carry them captive.
The gaunt and ungainly form of the singing-teacher, as well as his words and manners—for he insisted upon raising a psalm when he was captured—caused the Indians to regard him as a madman; and as those who are disordered in their minds are regarded among the savages as under a special protection, they left him practically at liberty.
Magua, who took command of the party, hurried them desperately northward all day. Often during the march he bent his fierce gaze on Cora; and when they made camp that night he said to her: "Listen! Bright Eyes," and he pointed to Alice, "can go back to the old soldier of the gray head; but the dark-haired daughter of the English chief must follow Magua and live in his wigwam forever. Once Magua was flogged by order of Munro. Now the English chief can sleep among his cannon, but his heart will be within reach of the knife of Magua, and his daughter will hoe his corn and tend his wigwam."
"Monster!" cried Cora. "You shall find it truth that it is the heart of Munro you hold! And it will defy your utmost malice!"
"What says the savage?" asked Heyward. Cora repeated what Magua had said and cried out : "Oh, my sister Alice, what shall I do ? Shall I purchase your life by such a sacrifice ? "
"No," firmly replied Alice, "we will die together."
"Then die!" shouted Magua, and his tomahawk flew through the air in front of Heyward, cutting off some of the fair ringlets of Alice and quivering in the tree against which she stood.
The sight maddened Heyward. He rushed upon another savage who was preparing with loud yells to repeat the blow. The young officer fell, the Indian on top. He saw the knife gleam in the air and then felt something sweep past him, accompanied by the report of a rifle. The Indian fell back dead as Heyward struggled to his feet.
For an instant the Hurons were silent. Then a wild shout arose: "Long Rifle!" "Long Rifle!"
It was indeed Bumppo, the Sagamore, and Uncas, who, having replenished their powder from a hidden store, had resolved to attempt the rescue themselves rather than take the time to bring help from the fort.. The combat was brief but fierce. Within a short time Magua and such of his band as were left alive were fugitives. When the little party came in sight of the fort, they saw that it was invested by Montcalm; but a dense mist that came suddenly from the lake enabled them to get through the French lines unseen.
Colonel Munro was expressing his gratitude to Duncan Hey-ward when the young man said : "Colonel, you must be aware of the feeling I have long cherished with regard to your daughter Alice. Let me hope that, if I have had a hand in saving her, I have saved her to be mine."
"Well, my boy," said the doughty warrior, "if she is willing I am—that is, if we ever get out of this alive, which I much doubt."
The desperate defense of Fort William Henry by Colonel Munro and his. scanty force is a matter of history. When further resistance was hopeless Montcalm granted to his gallant foe the privilege of marching out with the honors of war and a safe-conduct to Fort Edward. But no sooner had the decimated garrison left the fort and begun its march through the forest, than two thousand Indians attached to Montcalm's army fell upon it.
The sisters stood horror-stricken and nearly helpless. As the shrieks and curses, the prayers for mercy and the savage yells of the Indians rose around, David Gamut, who was with them, said: "If the Jewish boy might tame the evil spirit of Saul by the sound of his harp it may not be amiss to try the potency of music here." Raising his voice so that it was heard even amid the devilish clamor around him, he poured out a psalm of David, solemn and commanding. More than once savages rushed toward the sisters: but always they paused when they saw the strange figure with hands raised above the girls, singing his loud psalm. Before this brief truce was broken Magua appeared with a small band of followers, and seizing David and the sisters they carried them away into the forest.
All was still over the scene of the massacre when Colonel Munro, Duncan Heyward, Hawk Eye, the Sagamore, and Uncas made their way slowly over the field.
The skill of the Indians was not long in deciding that Cora and Alice rested not among the mutilated dead, but had been carried into captivity. They divined that the captors had taken their prisoners toward the Great North Woods, where a body of Hurons as well as a tribe of Delawares had their encampment. These Delawares, of the same race as the Mohicans, had come down from Canada with the French; but they had refused to march with Montcalm on Fort William Henry.
The only chance of rescuing the captives was for the five brave men to follow the trail into the depths of the wilderness and trust to Providence and their own valor for the result. Day after day, Bumppo and the Mohicans guided the officers through the wilderness, until at last the scout said: "I scent the Hurons. Yonder is open sky through the tree-tops. We are getting too near their encampment."
As they stole cautiously to the edge of the wood, whence they could look down on a stream where a colony of beavers was disporting amid their curious huts, they saw a strange figure which they soon recognized as David Gamut. He informed them that Alice was a prisoner in the camp of the Hurons, about two miles away, while Cora had been placed by Magua in the camp of the Delawares, some ten miles distant. Magua and most of his braves were away on a hunting trip. As yet the captives had suffered no harm and had, on the whole, been kindly treated: though for what fate they were reserved was uncertain.
It was arranged that Heyward should disguise himself as an envoy of Montcalm and visit the camp of the Hurons with the hope of rescuing Alice. Uncas and the scout were to proceed to the camp of the Delawares to look after the welfare of Cora; and Colonel Munro was to be placed in a secure retreat, under the care of the Sagamore.
Within a short time Duncan, disguised as an Indian, was guided by David into the camp of the Hurons, where he was received in council and accepted for what he pretended to be—a scout of Montcalm. But the council was interrupted by the arrival of a party of braves bringing in Uncas, as prisoner, and Magua came shortly after with his party.
Uncas, proud and haughty, taunted his captors and dared them to do their worst, while the vengeful Magua, his eyes burning in their sockets like live coals, watched the young chief with looks of triumphant hatred. Some of the Indians were for killing the Mohican at once, but Magua would not give his enemy such a short and easy exit from life. After enjoying his triumph for a while, he ordered the young chief to be taken to a separate lodge, strongly guarded, and preparations for torture to be made.
In the interest over Uncas the Indians had forgotten the presence of the supposed messenger of Montcalm; but now an old chief came to him and said: "The white brother has skill in magic?"
"Why, yes—somewhat," replied Duncan.
"An evil spirit has entered into the wife of one of my young men. Come and cure her." The Indian led the way to a cave in the mountain side at a little distance from the camp, where they found a young woman, evidently very ill.
As they passed into the cave, Heyward noticed that they were followed by a bear, which he supposed to be one of the tame bears sometimes kept in the Indian villages.
No sooner had the Indian gone than the bear, rearing on its hind legs, removed its muzzle and disclosed the features of Bumppo the scout.
"After the capture of Uncas," said he, "I was prowling around the village, when I came upon an Indian conjurer preparing himself for one of his rites. Binding him, I took his bear's skin and donned it myself. Then I came to play the part that the Indians were expecting him to play—though not quite in the same way. But hasten. Alice is probably in here somewhere!"
They had just found her in an inner cave when from one of the passages leading into it appeared the vengeful Magua. His surprise was so great that before he could cry out or make a move, Duncan and Bumppo had bound and gagged him. Swiftly wrapping Alice in a blanket, Duncan took her in his arms, and followed by Bumppo, who had resumed his bear disguise, appeared at the entrance of the outer cave.
"The evil spirit has left her," he said in French to the people gathered about the entrance. "It is now shut up in the cave. Let no one enter for an hour. We take the sick woman to the magic place in the woods to complete the medicine, when we will return her well." And followed by the bear, rolling and growling as it went, he passed swiftly through the crowd and into the woods. At a distance from the Huron camp Bumppo said: "The Hurons will follow quickly. There is only one chance of escape. The trail is plain before you to the camp of the Delawares. Follow it and demand protection. If they are true Delawares it will be granted to you. But for me I must go back. The Hurons hold in their power the last high blood of the Mohicans and I must return to see what may be done. If Uncas is to die, then the Hurons shall see how a white man can die, too."
Clad once more in his bearskin Hawk Eye approached the Huron encampment and finding David Gamut mooning about the outskirts, revealed himself and explained his plan for aiding Uncas. David, raising one of his loudest psalms, led the way to the wigwam where the Indian youth was prisoner and announced that he would enter with his friend, the bear conjurer, and work a spell on the defiant captive. They would take away the courage of the Mohican, so that when brought forth to his death, he would weep and beg for the dress of a woman. The Indians, still believing that the skin of the bear contained their favorite magician and that David himself was possessed, like all demented persons, of supernatural powers, after some hesitation allowed the two to enter the lodge.
Once inside, a hasty explanation to Uncas was followed by a rapid change of costume. Uncas put on the bearskin and the scout assumed the strange garb of the singing-teacher, leaving him behind, as they knew the Indians would not harm him.
Hawk Eye and Uncas had not proceeded far into the recesses of the forest when they heard a shout from the Indian village. The deception of the cave and the deception of the prison lodge had both been discovered. Magua had been unbound and the Hurons were on their trail.
But the fugitives had a start which, combined with their knowledge of woodcraft, rendered pursuit ineffectual; and after a desperate effort to apprehend them Magua withdrew his men and planned for the morrow.
Heyward and Alice had been received into the camp of the Delawares, and when Uncas and Hawk Eye appeared they were placed under guard, but their reception was, on the whole, friendly. With the morning appeared Magua, dressed and painted as for peace, and made formal demand for his prisoners. A great council was called to consider the matter. Hardly had it assembled than, supported on either side by two old men, the venerable and celebrated Tamenund appeared, bent under the weight of more than a hundred years, but still possessing the wisdom and authority that has sent his name down through legend and history as "Tammany."
"I am Tamenund of many days," said the venerable chief. Fixing his eyes upon Cora he asked: "Who art thou?"
"A woman—a Yangee, if thou wilt; but one who never harmed thee and who demands succor," replied the girl.
"And who art thou?" asked the chief, turning to Uncas. The young man drew himself up and answered: "I am Uncas, the son of Chingachgook, the last of the high blood of the Mohicans, a son of Unam, the Great Turtle." And stepping on the platform where Tamenund sat with the elders, he dropped his blanket and showed, so that all could see it, a blue turtle tattooed on his breast. A great murmur arose from the assembly. "The hour of Tamenund is nigh!" exclaimed the aged chief. "Uncas, the son of Uncas, is found. Let the eyes of the dying eagle gaze on the rising sun."
All who looked upon the Indian youth knew him then for the hereditary chief of the Turtle clan of the Delawares, the very tribe or half-tribe among whom he now found himself. And the words of the venerated Tamenund confirmed it.
Tamenund set the youth before the people for their chief, and Uncas was hailed with loud shouts of joy and devotion. But Magua now stepped forth and insisted on his right to Cora. The others might be kept from him; but by Indian law she was his— a captive whom he had lodged among the Delawares.
" Go. It is the law. Take your captive with you. The sun is now among the branches of the hemlock tree and your path is -short and open. When he is seen above the trees there will be men on your trail, " said Uncas; and he watched until the sun shone above the tree-tops, then gave the war-cry and, followed by his tribe, started in pursuit of the Huron.
Heyward and Bumppo, with a party of Indians assigned to them, took a different route from that of Uncas, picked up Colonel Munro and the Sagamore on the way, and attacked the Hurons in the rear.
The Hurons fought with desperate bravery, but were at last forced to take refuge on a rocky height that hung over the site of their village. Into these fastnesses the Delawares pursued them, killing and sparing not.
Amid all the tumult of the fight Uncas kept his eye on Magua; and when the Huron seemed to be hemmed in on all sides Uncas saw him suddenly turn and make a rush into the cave.
Uncas pursued. Behind them came Heyward and Bumppo.
The fluttering of a white robe was seen at the end of a dark tunnel. "'Tis Cora," exclaimed Uncas, bounding forward like a deer. Out of an entrance to the cave on the farther side of the mountain Magua rushed with his victim and began to scale the precipitous side of the rugged heights. He was joined by several of his fugitive braves and his pursuers saw the party outlined on the verge of a precipice.
They saw Cora break loose from the hold of the chief and heard her defy the Huron and dare him to kill her. "Death or my lodge!" said Magua. "Choose."
Bumppo and Heyward did not dare to shoot, for the form of the girl was between them and Magua. "Mercy, Huron!" cried Heyward. The form of Uncas appeared high up above them on a ledge over the one on which Magua and his victim stood. The Mohican uttered a piercing cry. He leaped, and his form shot between Magua and Cora. At that moment one of Magua's Indians sheathed his knife to the hilt in the bosom of Cora. Uncas stumbled and fell, and as he landed on the ledge Magua buried his tomahawk in the back of the prostrate Delaware. He shouted in exultation. But he was answered by a cry of vengeance. He sprang into the air, striving to leap across a huge crevice that yawned before him. The scout forbore to shoot, watching the fearful leap.
The Huron almost reached the other side. His hands convulsively grasped the long grass on the edge; so great was his strength that he drew himself up until his knees rested on the rim of safety and he uttered a shout of defiance. The rifle of the scout spoke; and Magua's dead form went whirling and falling into the depths beneath.
Next morning found the Delawares a nation of mourners. They had avenged an ancient grudge by the extinction of an entire community. But in the struggle many of the best and bravest of the Turtle clan had fallen, greatest among whom was the young chief so lately restored to them. With all the pomp and the wild ritual of the Indian race Uncas and Cora were laid to rest, surrounded by a mourning tribe; and the Indian girls sang songs of their spirits reunited in heaven.
Bowed with his tragic grief, Colonel Munro, accompanied by Bumppo and Heyward, took Alice back to civilization. On the borders of the wilderness the scout bade them farewell. His life had been too long amid the scenes of nature to permit of his resting content amid cities, and he had sworn to remain with the old Sagamore forever.