The Last of the Mohicans HTML version

Chapter 18
"Why, anything; An honorable murderer, if you will; For naught I did in hate, but all in
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.