The calm and deep silence which succeeded these words sufficiently announced the awful reverence with which his people received the communication of the patriarch. None dared to answer, though all listened in breathless expectation of what might follow. Uncas, however, looking in his face with the fondness and veneration of a favored child, presumed on his own high and acknowledged rank, to reply.
"Four warriors of his race have lived and died," he said, "since the friend of Tamenund led his people in battle. The blood of the turtle has been in many chiefs, but all have gone back into the earth from whence they came, except Chingachgook and his son."
"It is true — it is true," returned the sage, a flash of recollection destroying all his pleasing fancies, and restoring him at once to a consciousness of the true history of his nation. "Our wise men have often said that two warriors of the unchanged race were in the hills of the Yengeese; why have their seats at the council-fires of the Delawares been so long empty?"
At these words the young man raised his head, which he had still kept bowed a little, in reverence; and lifting his voice so as to be heard by the multitude, as if to explain at once and forever the policy of his family, he said aloud:
"Once we slept where we could hear the salt lake speak in its anger. Then we were rulers and Sagamores over the land. But when a pale face was seen on every brook, we followed the deer back to the river of our nation. The Delawares were gone. Few warriors of them all stayed to drink of the stream they loved. Then said my fathers, 'Here will we hunt. The waters of the river go into the salt lake. If we go toward the setting sun, we shall find streams that run into the great lakes of sweet water; there would a Mohican die, like fishes of the sea, in the clear springs. When the Manitou is ready and shall say "Come," we will follow the river to the sea, and take our own again.' Such, Delawares, is the belief of the children of the Turtle. Our eyes are on the rising and not toward the setting sun. We know whence he comes, but we know not whither he goes. It is enough."
The men of the Lenape listened to his words with all the respect that superstition could lend, finding a secret charm even in the figurative language with which the young Sagamore imparted his ideas. Uncas himself watched the effect of his brief explanation with intelligent eyes, and gradually dropped the air of authority he had assumed, as he perceived that his auditors were content. Then, permitting his looks to wander over the silent throng that crowded around the elevated seat of Tamenund, he first perceived Hawkeye in his bonds. Stepping eagerly from his stand, he made way for himself to the side of his friend; and cutting his thongs with a quick and angry stroke of his own knife, he motioned to the crowd to divide. The Indians silently obeyed, and once more they stood ranged in their circle, as before his appearance among them. Uncas took the scout by the hand, and led him to the feet of the patriarch.
"Father," he said, "look at this pale face; a just man, and the friend of the Delawares."
"Is he a son of Minquon?"
"Not so; a warrior known to the Yengeese, and feared by the Maquas."
"What name has he gained by his deeds?"
"We call him Hawkeye," Uncas replied, using the Delaware phrase; "for his sight never fails. The Mingoes know him better by the death he gives their warriors; with them he is 'The Long Rifle'."
"La Longue Carabine!" exclaimed Tamenund, opening his eyes, and regarding the scout sternly. "My son has not done well to call him friend."
"I call him so who proves himself such," returned the young chief, with great calmness, but with a steady mien. "If Uncas is welcome among the Delawares, then is Hawkeye with his friends."
"The pale face has slain my young men; his name is great for the blows he has struck the Lenape."
"If a Mingo has whispered that much in the ear of the Delaware, he has only shown that he is a singing-bird," said the scout, who now believed that it was time to vindicate himself from such offensive charges, and who spoke as the man he addressed, modifying his Indian figures, however, with his own peculiar notions. "That I have slain the Maquas I am not the man to deny, even at their own council-fires; but that, knowingly, my hand has never harmed a Delaware, is opposed to the reason of my gifts, which is friendly to them, and all that belongs to their nation."
A low exclamation of applause passed among the warriors who exchanged looks with each other like men that first began to perceive their error.
"Where is the Huron?" demanded Tamenund. "Has he stopped my ears?"
Magua, whose feelings during that scene in which Uncas had triumphed may be much better imagined than described, answered to the call by stepping boldly in front of the patriarch.
"The just Tamenund," he said, "will not keep what a Huron has lent."
"Tell me, son of my brother," returned the sage, avoiding the dark countenance of Le Subtil, and turning gladly to the more ingenuous features of Uncas, "has the stranger a conqueror's right over you?"
"He has none. The panther may get into snares set by the women; but he is strong, and knows how to leap through them."
"La Longue Carabine?"
"Laughs at the Mingoes. Go, Huron, ask your squaws the color of a bear."
"The stranger and white maiden that come into my camp together?"
"Should journey on an open path."
"And the woman that Huron left with my warriors?"
Uncas made no reply.
"And the woman that the Mingo has brought into my camp?" repeated Tamenund, gravely.
"She is mine," cried Magua, shaking his hand in triumph at Uncas. "Mohican, you know that she is mine."
"My son is silent," said Tamenund, endeavoring to read the expression of the face that the youth turned from him in sorrow.
"It is so," was the low answer.
A short and impressive pause succeeded, during which it was very apparent with what reluctance the multitude admitted the justice of the Mingo's claim. At length the sage, on whom alone the decision depended, said, in a firm voice:
"As he came, just Tamenund," demanded the wily Magua, "or with hands filled with the faith of the Delawares? The wigwam of Le Renard Subtil is empty. Make him strong with his own."
The aged man mused with himself for a time; and then, bending his head toward one of his venerable companions, he asked:
"Are my ears open?"
"It is true."
"Is this Mingo a chief?"
"The first in his nation."
"Girl, what wouldst thou? A great warrior takes thee to wife. Go! thy race will not end."
"Better, a thousand times, it should," exclaimed the horror-struck Cora, "than meet with such a degradation!"
"Huron, her mind is in the tents of her fathers. An unwilling maiden makes an unhappy wigwam."
"She speaks with the tongue of her people," returned Magua, regarding his victim with a look of bitter irony.
"She is of a race of traders, and will bargain for a bright look. Let Tamenund speak the words."