a boat race
from the last of the mohicans
by james fenimore cooper
'What now?' asked the scout; 'the lake is as smooth as if the winds
had never blown, and I can see along its sheet for miles; there is not
so much as the black head of a loon dotting the water.'
The Indian gravely raised his paddle and pointed in the direction
in which his own steady look was riveted. Duncan's eyes followed
the motion. A few rods in their front lay another of the low wooded
islets, but it appeared as calm and peaceful as if its solitude had
never been disturbed by the foot of man.
'I see nothing,' he said, 'but land and water, and a lovely scene it
'Hst!' interrupted the scout. - 'Ay, Sagamore, there is always a
reason for what you do. 'Tis but a shade, and yet it is not natural. -
You see the mist, major, that is rising above the island; you can't call
it a fog, for it is more like a streak of thin cloud'
'It is vapour from the water.'
'That a child could tell. But what is the edging of blacker smoke
that hangs along its lower side, and which you may trace down into
the thicket of hazel? 'Tis from a fire; but one that, in my judgment,
has been suffered to burn low.'
'Let us then push for the place and relieve our doubts,' said the
impatient Duncan; 'the party must be small that can lie on such a
bit of land.'
'If you judge of Indian cunning by the rules you find in books, or
by white sagacity, they will lead you astray, if not to your death,'
returned Hawkeye, examining the signs of the place with that
acuteness which distinguished him. 'If I may he permitted to speak
in this matter, it will be to say that we have but two things to choose
between: the one is, to return and give up all thoughts of following
the hurons -'
'Never!" exclaimed Heyward, in a voice far too loud for their circumstances.
'Well, well,' continued Hawkeye, making a hasty sign to repress
his impatience; 'I am much of your mind myself, though I thought
it becoming my experience to tell the whole. We must then make a
push, and if the Indians or Frenchers are in the narrows, run the
gauntlet through these toppling mountains. - Is there reason in my
The Indian made no other answer than by dropping his paddle
into the water and urging forward the canoe. As he held the office
of directing its course, his resolution was sufficiently indicated by
the movement. The whole party now plied their paddles vigorously,
and in a very few moments they had reached a point whence they
might command an entire view of the northern shore of the island,
the side that had hitherto been concealed.
'There they are, by all the truth of signs,' whispered the scout -
'two canoes and a smoke. The knaves haven't yet got their eyes out
of the mist, or we should hear the accursed whoop. Together,
friends; we are leaving them, and are already nearly out of whistle of
The well-known crack of a rifle, whose ball came skipping along
the placid surface of the strait, and a shrill yell from the island
interrupted his speech, and announced that their passage was discovered.
In another instant several savages were seen rushing into the
canoes, which were soon dancing over the water in pursuit. These
fearful precursors of a coming struggle produced no change in the
countenances and movements of his three guides, so far as Duncan
could discover, except that the strokes of their paddles were longer
and more in unison, and caused the little bark to spring forward like
a creature possessing life and volition.
'Hold them there, Sagamore,' said Hawkeye, looking coolly
backward over his left shoulder, while he still plied his paddle; 'keep
them just there. Them Hurons have never a piece in their nation
that will execute at this distance; but "Kill-deer" has a barrel on
which a man may calculate.'
The scout having ascertained that the Mohicans were sufficient
of themselves to maintain the requisite distance, deliberately laid
aside his paddle and raised the fatal rifle. Three several times he
brought the piece to his shoulder, and when his companions were
expecting its report, he as often lowered it, to request the Indians
would permit their enemies to approach a little nigher. At length
his accurate and fastidious eye seemed satisfied, and, throwing out
his left arm on the barrel, he was slowly elevating the muzzle, when
an exclamation from Uncas, who sat in the bow, once more caused
him to suspend the shot.
'What now, lad?' demanded Hawkeye; 'you saved a Huron from
the death-shriek by that word; have you reason for what you do?'
Uncas pointed towards the rocky shore, a little in their front,
whence another war canoe was darting directly across their course.
It was too obvious now that their situation was imminently perilous
to need the aid of language to confirm it. The scout laid aside his
rifle and resumed the paddle, while Chingachgook inclined the
bows of the canoe a little towards the western shore, in order to
increase the distance between them and this new enemy. In the
meantime they were reminded of the presence of those who pressed
upon their rear by wild and exulting shouts. The stirring scene
awakened even Munro from his apathy.
'Let us make for the rocks on the main,' he said, with the mien of
a tried soldier, 'and give battle to the savages. God forbid that I, or
those attached to me and mine, should ever trust again to the faith
of any servant of the Louises!'
'He who wishes to prosper in Indian warfare,' returned the scout,
'must not be too proud to learn from the wit of a native. Lay her
more along the land, Sagamore; we are doubling on the varlets, and
perhaps they may try to strike our trail on the long calculation.'
Hawkeye was not mistaken; for, when the Hurons found their
course was likely to throw them behind their chase, they rendered it
less direct, until by gradually bearing more and more obliquely, the
two canoes were ere long gliding on parallel lines within two hundred yards of each other.
It now became entirely a trial of speed. So
rapid was the progress of the light vessels that the lake curled in
their front in miniature waves, and their motion became undulating
by its own velocity. It was, perhaps, owing to this circumstance, in
addition to the necessity of keeping every hand employed at the
paddles, that the Hurons had not immediate recourse to their
firearms. The exertions of the fugitives were too severe to continue
long, and the pursuers had the advantage of numbers. Duncan
observed, with uneasiness, that the scout began to look anxiously
about him, as if searching for some further means of assisting their
'Edge her a little more from the sun, Sagamore,' said the stubbon
woodsman; 'I see the knaves are sparing a man to the rifle. A
single broken bone might lose us our scalps. Edge more from the
sun, and we will put the island between us.'
The expedient was not without its use. A long, low island lay at a
little distance before them, and as they closed with it, the chasing
canoe was compelled to take a side opposite to that on which the
pursued passed. The scout and his companions did not neglect this
advantage but the instant they were hid from observation by the
bushes they redoubled efforts that before had seemed prodigious.
The two canoes came round the last low point, like two coursers at
the top of their speed, the fugitives taking the lead. This change had
brought them nigher to each other, however, while it altered their
'You showed knowledge in the shaping of birchen bark, Uncas,
when you chose this from among the Huron canoes,' said the scout,
smiling, apparently more in satisfaction at their superiority in the
race than from that prospect of final escape which now began to
open a little upon them. 'The imps have put all their strength again
at the paddles, and we are to struggle for our scalps with bits of flattened
wood instead of clouded barrels and true eyes. A long stroke,
and together, friends.'
'They are preparing for a shot,' said Heyward; 'and as we are in a
line with them, it can scarcely fail.'
'Get you then into the bottom of the canoe,' returned the scout -
'you and the colonel; it will be so much taken from the size of the
Heyward smiled, as he answered:
'It would be but an ill example for the highest in rank to dodge,
while the warriors were under fire!'
'Lord! Lord! that is now a white man's courage!' exclaimed the
scout; 'and like too many of his notions, not to be maintained by
reason. Do you think the Sagamore, or Uncas, or even I, who am a
man without a cross, would deliberate about finding a cover in a
scrimmage, when an open body would do no good? For what have
the Frenchers reared up their Quebec, if fighting is always to be
done in the clearings?'
'All that you say is very true, my friend,' replied Heyward; 'still
our customs must prevent us from doing as you wish.'
A volley from the Hurons interrupted the discourse, and as the
bullets whistled about them, Duncan saw the head of Uncas turned,
looking back at himself and Munro. Notwithstanding the nearness
of the enemy, and his own great personal danger, the countenance
of the young warrior expressed no other emotion, as the former was
compelled to think, than amazement at finding men willing to
encounter so useless an exposure.
Chingachgook was probably
better acquainted with the notions of white men, for he did not
even cast a glance aside from the riveted look his eye maintained on
the object by which he governed their course. A ball soon struck the
light and polished paddle from the hands of the chief, and drove it
through the air, far in the advance. A shout arose from the Hurons,
who seized the opportunity to fire another volley. Uncas described
an arc in the water with his own blade, and as the canoe passed
swiftly on, Chingachgook recovered his paddle, and flourishing it
on high, he gave the war-whoop of the Mohicans, and then lent his
strength and skill again to the important task.
The clamorous sounds of 'Le Gros Serpent!' 'La Longue Carabine!'
'Le Cerf Agile!' burst at once from the canoes behind, and
seemed to give new zeal to the pursuers. The scout seized 'Kill-
deer' in his left hand, and elevating it above his head, he shook it in
triumph at his enemies. The savages answered the insult with a yell,
and immediately another volley succeeded. The bullets pattered
along the lake, and one even pierced the bark of their little vessel.
No perceptible emotion could he discovered in the Mohicans
during this critical moment, their rigid features expressing neither
hope nor alarm; but the scout again turned his head, and laughing
in his own silent manner, he said to Heyward:
'The knaves love to hear the sounds of their pieces; but the eye is
not to be found among the mingoes that can calculate a true range
in a dancing canoe! You see the dumb-devils have taken off a man to
charge, and by the smallest measurement that can he allowed, we
move three feet to their two!'