"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.
"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."
"Take you the wampum, and our love."
"Nothing hence but what Magua brought hither."
"Then depart with thine own. The Great Manitou forbids that a Delaware should be unjust."
Magua advanced, and seized his captive strongly by the arm; the Delawares fell back, in silence; and Cora, as if conscious that remonstrance would be useless, prepared to submit to her fate without resistance.
"Hold, hold!" cried Duncan, springing forward; "Huron, have mercy! her ransom shall make thee richer than any of thy people were ever yet known to be."
"Magua is a red-skin; he wants not the beads of the pale faces."
"Gold, silver, powder, lead - all that a warrior needs shall be in thy wigwam; all that becomes the greatest chief."
"Le Subtil is very strong," cried Magua, violently shaking the hand which grasped the unresisting arm of Cora; "he has his revenge!"
"Mighty ruler of Providence!" exclaimed Heyward, clasping his hands together in agony, "can this be suffered! To you, just Tamenund, I appeal for mercy."
"The words of the Delaware are said," returned the sage, closing his eyes, and dropping back into his seat, alike wearied with his mental and his bodily exertion. "Men speak not twice."
"That a chief should not misspend his time in unsaying what has once been spoken is wise and reasonable," said Hawkeye, motioning to Duncan to be silent; "but it is also prudent in every warrior to consider well before he strikes his tomahawk into the head of his prisoner. Huron, I love you not; nor can I say that any Mingo has ever received much favor at my hands. It is fair to conclude that, if this war does not soon end, many more of your warriors will meet me in the woods. Put it to your judgment, then, whether you would prefer taking such a prisoner as that into your encampment, or one like myself, who am a man that it would greatly rejoice your nation to see with naked hands."
"Will 'The Long Rifle' give his life for the woman?" demanded Magua, hesitatingly; for he had already made a motion toward quitting the place with his victim.
"No, no; I have not said so much as that," returned Hawkeye, drawing back with suitable discretion, when he noted the eagerness with which Magua listened to his proposal. "It would be an unequal exchange, to give a warrior, in the prime of his age and usefulness, for the best woman on the frontiers. I might consent to go into winter quarters, now - at least six weeks afore the leaves will turn - on condition you will release the maiden."
Magua shook his head, and made an impatient sign for the crowd to open.