The Last of the Mohicans HTML version

Chapter 23
"But though the beast of game The privilege of chase may claim; Though space and law
the stag we lend Ere hound we slip, or bow we bend; Whoever recked, where, how, or
when The prowling fox was trapped or slain?"--Lady of the Lake
It is unusual to find an encampment of the natives, like those of the more instructed
whites, guarded by the presence of armed men. Well informed of the approach of every
danger, while it is yet at a distance, the Indian generally rests secure under his knowledge
of the signs of the forest, and the long and difficult paths that separate him from those he
has most reason to dread. But the enemy who, by any lucky concurrence of accidents, has
found means to elude the vigilance of the scouts, will seldom meet with sentinels nearer
home to sound the alarm. In addition to this general usage, the tribes friendly to the
French knew too well the weight of the blow that had just been struck, to apprehend any
immediate danger from the hostile nations that were tributary to the crown of Britain.
When Duncan and David, therefore, found themselves in the center of the children, who
played the antics already mentioned, it was without the least previous intimation of their
approach. But so soon as they were observed the whole of the juvenile pack raised, by
common consent, a shrill and warning whoop; and then sank, as it were, by magic, from
before the sight of their visitors. The naked, tawny bodies of the crouching urchins
blended so nicely at that hour, with the withered herbage, that at first it seemed as if the
earth had, in truth, swallowed up their forms; though when surprise permitted Duncan to
bend his look more curiously about the spot, he found it everywhere met by dark, quick,
and rolling eyeballs.
Gathering no encouragement from this startling presage of the nature of the scrutiny he
was likely to undergo from the more mature judgments of the men, there was an instant
when the young soldier would have retreated. It was, however, too late to appear to
hesitate. The cry of the children had drawn a dozen warriors to the door of the nearest
lodge, where they stood clustered in a dark and savage group, gravely awaiting the nearer
approach of those who had unexpectedly come among them.
David, in some measure familiarized to the scene, led the way with a steadiness that no
slight obstacle was likely to disconcert, into this very building. It was the principal edifice
of the village, though roughly constructed of the bark and branches of trees; being the
lodge in which the tribe held its councils and public meetings during their temporary
residence on the borders of the English province. Duncan found it difficult to assume the
necessary appearance of unconcern, as he brushed the dark and powerful frames of the
savages who thronged its threshold; but, conscious that his existence depended on his
presence of mind, he trusted to the discretion of his companion, whose footsteps he
closely followed, endeavoring, as he proceeded, to rally his thoughts for the occasion. His
blood curdled when he found himself in absolute contact with such fierce and implacable
enemies; but he so far mastered his feelings as to pursue his way into the center of the
lodge, with an exterior that did not betray the weakness. Imitating the example of the