Chapter 1: Letters
Today Alice received a letter from Duncan Heyward again. He said that was going to come from an encampment farther north to here in Albany to see us. I believe he'll ask our father again for his blessing to marry Alice, and surely he'll get it. I'd love to have Major Heyward in the family, but as I have said, I cannot bear the thought of my sister and I living under separate roofs. This is no way to start out a letter, but I have to tell someone before I absolutely explode with grief.
It gets colder out with each passing day. How do you live during the winter without a roof and four walls around you? And tell me, what kind of holiday do you celebrate in the winter? Us Christians celebrate Christmas, which is when Jesus (the son of God) was born. Our priest has told us that he was really born in the summer, but we celebrate in winter to make the season less dreary. It's been just as dreary for the Mohicans as the Christians for all the centuries before we've existed, so you probably need something to look forward to in these cold months as much as we do.
Around Christmas, we like to roast chestnuts and bake pies (fruits and berries inside of sweet dough). We ask God for peace and joy in the season and upcoming years and, while we wait for our prayers to be answered, on Christmas day, we give one another gifts. I bought Alice a new pair of boots and my father a nice, happy book.
I make Alice and my father go caroling with me on Christmas Eve (the day before Christmas). We don't have too many close neighbors, but I still think singing is important on happy days. It's times like this when I wish we had our singing master! He would never say no to caroling.
Forgive me for rambling. I just have so much love for Christmas. All other days of the year become more difficult the older I get, but every new Christmas is as beautiful my first.
Well, as I said before, the days only get colder and darker. If you ever feel the slightest chill, waste no time in bringing yourself, your father, and Hawkeye to my family's home in Albany. All you needs do is canoe until you reach the port. On any given day I will be waiting here with blankets galore.
- Cora Munro"
Hawkeye read Cora's letter to Uncas, translating as best he could. The sickly-sweet-sentimental parts made him visibly grossed out, and afterwards he pretended to throw up. Uncas threw pebbles at him, laughing along to the performance. The scout handed the paper back when it was over.
"Doesn't she know I've been translating the letters between you two?"
"Of course she knows!"
"Then can't she tone it down for my sake? You two are lucky I indulge these childish follies."
Uncas groaned a very teenage groan. "Are you going to help me write a reply or not?"
"Fine, fine!" In the envelope she sent, Cora had enclosed more paper and another envelope for her wilderness penpal. Hawkeye took it out and layed down on the cold stone ground. Uncas handed him a sharpened piece of charcoal as a pen and sat across from him.
The Mohican boy started to "write" his letter. "Dear Cora,"
Hawkeye wrote furiously. "Dear... Cora..."
"In the winter, I dress in more layers to stay warm."
"I dress... In more layers... To.... Stay warm."
"Furs are the best."
"The caves are warmer than you think. If we
burrow go deep enough inside, it's ^like sunlight. Sometimes we stay with our Delaware friends. They live in hunting camps because the farms are under the snow and ice. Usually one another's company is enough, though. We are loners. Us three have talked about everything and played every game trying to keep ourselves happy in the desolate winter. It's unfortunate that our letters go to-and-fro slower since the snow began to fall.
We have many 'holidays' through the year. Our 'Christmas' would be the Wigwam Festival. It is the most important and we celebrate right before autumn. We thank Mundu, the Creator (like your God, the Creator) for corn. We make yokeag, which is dried corn ground into a powder. It is not only a food, but a symbol for the holiday and the kindness of Mundu. I assume this significance is like roasted chestnuts and pie for Christmas.
If I could ever convince you to return into the woods, I hope you would come by for the Wigwam Festival. I feel at a loss for its higher meaning sometimes. This is because only women truly
relate connect to their ancestors and Mundu through the creation of yokeag (it is a woman's job). But I am a man, as is are Hawkeye and my father. There are no women in our lives.
Thank you for your concern for me in the cold. I would be honored if I could see you again - and your family and the Major as well. I believe he is a good man, despite some
reckless impulsive tendencies. I cannot imagine how you feel to see Alice grow up. You are a mother to her, and I am father to no one. My own father knows I will not be leaving him anytime, and Hawkeye seems is completely disinterested in all things resembling domesticity."
The scout looked up from his scribe work. "That's the most sane thing you've had me write so far."
The boy ignored this and kept dictating. "ANYWAY, how have you been faring? What do you do when it's too cold to leave the house? Yours, Uncas."
"Yours... Uncas. Are you sure you want to tell her that stuff about Heyward?"
"Was I too mean?"
"No, I mean about Alice marrying him."
He was surprised. "What? You don't think they should get married?"
Hawkeye looked frustrated at the letter. "No. Well, I don't know. I don't care. But she probably doesn't want to think about her sister moving away and starting a life separate from her. Maybe you should just agree with whatever she says."
"That might sound insincere. Can we just keep what we have?"
He shrugged. "Sure, whatever, whatever. I shouldn't be condoning this anyway. All this love nonsense is not in your line, and if it were, it would not be with Cora Munro."
"Shut up and give me the letter." He grumbled, snatching the paper away from him. "Why don't you like her?"
"I think she's a lovely girl, but she and you are too different. You'll get frustrated with one another."
"What's so different?"
"I mean, she lives in cities and you live in the wilderness, and sometimes a village. She wears rigid clothes and you wear hunting shirts and breechcloths. She's white - albeit dark - and you're Mohican."
Hawkeye laughed condescendingly. "Ok, you don't have to care, but race is worth caring about."
"Skin is one thing, and personality is different. Does the white man in front of me not speak to me in my own language?"
"And don't you hunt with me? Wasn't it you who taught me to shoot? Was I lighter afterwards than I was before?"
"Then don't be like that." Uncas stood up and looked at the letter. If a stranger saw him, they'd think he was reading it. But of course, he was only trying to associate the English letters to the Mohican words he said. When he was done, he put it carefully into its envelope. "Can you hand me the charcoal?"
Begrudgingly, he obliged. Uncas copied down the words from her envelope to his, using the wall of the cave as a hard surface. He put great care into each letter and hoped it would be clear enough for the courier to understand. With everything noted down, he set out for the dead oak without another word.
Shortly after he left, Chingachgook came back from his short hunt. He didn't catch anything on account of going out alone. A shame, but they had enough food left to last another night without a kill. The two filled one another in on what they'd done so far that day. Chingachgook smiled to hear of his son's infatuation.
"He is like I was as a boy. It's a shame the girl he has his eye on is so far from here."
"And that they don't speak the same language. Am I the only one who thinks that's kind of a problem?"
"They're sending letters, aren't they?"
"Only because of me!" He pointed to himself. "I shouldn't be encouraging this. It's not like they'll go get married in a church and have children and move into a wigwam together."
Chingachgook ignored his drivel. "Well, what did Cora write? Did she say hello?"
"I'm sure the sentiment was there. She really only writes for Uncas. It was just stuff about her family and how it's winter. She wanted to know how us homeless live when it's so cold out. At the end, she invited us to go to the Munro home in Albany - you know, if we can't live in the cold."
"Huh. How kind of her... Maybe we will visit."
"What? We don't need a house." Hawkeye was defensive and almost desperate in his tone. "We have this cave. If we have to, we'll go see the Delawares in their hunting camps."
"But I am guilty of keeping her beloved Uncas from her!" He was only half-joking, mostly to bother Hawkeye.
"That's crazy. We can't just up and leave."
"Why not? We have no responsibilities tying us here. We are only bound to one another."
Hawkeye looked him right in the eye. "Are you serious about this?"
He took a moment to think. The scales in his mind weighed the pros and cons with precision. "Yes, I am. Let's go get Uncas and hand-deliver that letter."
Chapter 2: Here We Are!
Our three favorite lads go to Albany.
The trip, though only taking three days, was rough and cold. They had to put tremendous care into not alerting the Iroquois to their presence, which was easier when it was just the three of them. The waters were as cold as the nighttime winds, or maybe it was the other way around. It was lucky that the river wasn't layered in ice. There were fewer places to be found where they could find shelter, but as always, they made do with what they had.
The snow was glittery and powdered beneath the crust. Moonlight hit it in just the right way to look like the inside of a geode. Stark white broke up the black of the forest at night. Uncas knew that the color gray existed, but could find no drop of it.
In the afternoon of the third day, their canoe mercifully landed in Albany. Some townsfolk walking by were dazzled at the sight of the Mohicans and the white man floating out from the north. The three gathered their things and made their way to the street. Uncas and his father carried the canoe to let Hawkeye talk to the people.
They went further into town, asking where the Munro house was. Some didn't know, and some seemed to know but were too suspicious to say. Eventually two dorky-looking teenage boys approached them, star-struck.
"Hello, do either of you know where the Munro family lives? We have some mail for them."
The shorter boy completely ignored him and blurted out "Are you La Longue Carabine?"
This pseudo-greeting was not well met by Hawkeye. "Who wants to know?"
The taller one took his turn. "Oh, everyone in town's heard of La Longue Carabine and the Indians. Are you him?"
He turned subtly to the Mohicans in a can-you-believe-this-guy kind of way. "I am called that, but I am not that. Where is the Munro house?"
"Oh! We've heard so many stories about you." Said tall-boy.
"Is that Uncas and Ch-chin, Ching, Ching-ah-cook?" Asked short-boy
"That's Ching-gah-ch-gook. Do you know where the Munroes live or not?"
"Yeah, totally! Want us to take you there?" Asked short-boy.
"Our moms don't expect us home 'til later." Said tall-boy.
Hawkeye gave a look back to his friends, who shrugged. "Fine," he grumbled to the teenagers, "But no talking."
"Because the Iroquois will hear us, right?"
"Uh, sure, ok."
So the five of them set out to the outskirts of town, everyone (even the boys) taking turns carrying the canoe. Uncas spent his time in silence thinking about what he was even going to say to Cora. Then he thought about how to say it in English.
It only took an hour to walk there. It would have been shorter had the woods not been totally snowy. In a clearing of pine trees was a simple log cabin, windows illuminated by some candles inside. Figures cast shadows as they walked in front of the light. The group of three all took a breath and set the canoe down.
"We better get lost." The short-boy said.
"Yeah, two men hanging around where two taken women live is pretty weird." Said tall-boy.
"What was that?" Asked Hawkeye.
"Well, Alice is dedicated to an officer, and rumor has it that Cora has a special messenger just for letters between herself and one other person so, really, what does that mean?"
Hawkeye clenched his jaw. "Will you two be safe going back?"
"Yes, it won't be dark 'til we return. Farewell!"
"Ok, bye. Good luck out there."
The trio watched the boys disappear into the wilderness. When they could be sure the boys were gone, Hawkeye slapped Uncas on the shoulder. "I knew that correspondence was a bad idea. The townsfolk have eyes, and god only knows if you can trust the messenger. "
The defendant didn't reply. Instead, he reached inside his coat and removed his letter to Cora. The plan was to hand it to her in person and add a practical element to his surprise visit. The butterflies in his stomach were ready to burst out of his mouth. Both hands shook and sweat from anticipation.
Hawkeye and Chingachgook picked up the canoe and the three walked to the house. Uncas took a breath to calm his swimming mind and knocked open-handed on the door, making a deep, almost threatening pounding sound.
"No, closed-fist." Hawkeye whispered.
"Oh." He corrected himself, making the more peaceful tapping that all are familiar with.
There was muffled confusion from inside, someone saying "Who could that be?" and someone rushing through the house to the door. The Mohican's heart pumped double-time, part from want to see his friends and part from anxiety. He just hoped to God that the Colonel wasn't the kind to greet a guest with the business end of a shotgun.
Someone opened the door slightly and peaked out. Then came a familiar gasp, the door flew wide open, and there stood Cora, grinning and surprised. "Uncas!?!"
He could only nod and smiled that bright, boyish smile. She threw her arms around him and laughed. "I didn't think you'd actually take my offer! I can't believe you're really here!"
He put his arms around her too, while the Colonel and Alice gathered behind Cora, equally surprised.
"Oh, our friends! I didn't know we were expecting company. Come in, come in!" Said Munro, ushering everyone inside. They stomped the snow off their shoes on the threshold.
The full group stood inside the warm, comfortable house. Uncas put the letter in Cora's hand and she laughed more. "You brought it all this way?"
Chingachgook spoke up. "I could not keep Uncas there when he was wanted here."
The Colonel nodded."Of course, you're always wanted, especially for such a special time of year. I'm afraid we're rather underprepared for guests, though Major Heyward should be coming up eventually. He's spending the holiday here."
Alice beamed, overcome with seasonal spirit and friendship. "Oh, you three should really stay for Christmas! Stay until the new year, please, can you?"
"We would never overstay a welcome, but thank you." Hawkeye said.
Munro smiled. "Oh, as long as you can help keep food on the table and wood in the fire, you can stay right here! I invite you to stay."
Hawkeye and Chingachgook looked at each other and Hawkeye reported back their telepathic conversation. "We would be happy to stay, but if the winter softens, if would be wise to return."
He nodded. "Then I hope we are snowed in so that you might stick around! Come, let's sit by the fire. You look frozen."
Cora and Alice pulled up more chairs for the guests by the fire. There were two red arm chairs facing the fire, both of which the old men took. The other four chairs were set up, two beside each easy chair. They were upholstered with plain red wool. Hanging above the fire was a pot with some stew cooking inside.
Uncas marveled at the cushioned seats. He wasn't even used to the cushiest seats of other Natives, let alone the fancy ones of wealthy whites. Another white person would notice there was a very calculated style to the house. The Colonel wanted comfort, but was not interested in displays of wealth. Some houses might have had more silk in the fabrics, paintings on the walls, and silver atop the mantle. But the Mohican boy didn't know anything about those mansions, and stayed dazzled with where he was.
The Colonel noticed his eyes looking from corner to corner of the room. "I know you don't speak much English, but I take your enjoyment of this house as a compliment."
"It is, I assure you." Hawkeye said. "Come to think of it, he's never been inside a white house before."
Alice squinted and looked at Cora. "Our house is a log cabin." She whispered.
"The 'white' is referring to us."
"Oh." She left the sidebar conversation and rejoined the group. "We're glad you like it! It all comes from Scotland."
"I lived there, as I'm sure you know." Said the Colonel. "But when the war brought me here, it brought all of me. And it took all of me too."
Alice laughed nervously and strained at that last part. Her sister did not.
"Have you eaten yet?" Cora asked, surprisingly coldly.
"Uh, no, but don't worry about feeding us. We have food left with us."
"We haven't eaten either. I was making some stew for dinner, but we haven't killed anything recently so there's no meat. It's just beans, chives, and potato. I don't know how good it's going to taste."
"Don't worry, all food tastes good when someone else has made it!" Hawkeye assured her.
Chapter 3: Tug of War
Chingachgook and Hawkeye begin a debate that they won't finish until later.
Cora's stew didn't taste too bad, but it certainly wasn't made with skill. She wasn't used to having so few ingredients at her disposal, let alone those of a different continent. Their guests found it inferior to an average Delaware dish.
After dinner, The Colonel and Alice did the dishes while Chingachgook and Hawkeye stowed their canoe away behind the house. Cora sat in the living room with Uncas, teaching him how she read his letters. Her finger underlined each word as she read it, being careful to let him know which shapes on the page made which shapes in her mouth.
"'Dear Cora: In the winter, I dress in more layers to stay warm'. Can you repeat that back?"
He laughed, just a touch nervously.
"Please? If I hear you talk more then the next time I read a letter of yours I can imagine you saying it aloud."
He cautiously took the page and read along as he recited. His accent was thick and melodious, even if it was kind of hard to understand. He forgot how she had sounded sometimes and let more of his own interpretation of what she said take over. "Dear Cora: In theh winter, I drehss eeen more layers to stay warm."
She grinned ear-to-ear, enamored with his voice. "You wrote that!"
"Ok, he wrote it down, but you made the sentence. And now you can say it too!"
Uncas had such a luminous smile that had there not been candles and a fire lit in the cabin, all the rooms would still be bright and the windows casting rays onto the snow outside. Despite the lightness he put in her heart, Cora couldn't help but feel she fell short for not making the effort to speak to him in the language where he was comfortable.
That could be a topic for another day, though. The Colonel and Alice returned to the living room as Chingachgook and Hawkeye came back inside. "Ah, we are all done!" George proclaimed.
"Seems so." Said Alice tonelessly. Her eyes saw only Cora and Uncas, sitting closer on the couch than she'd ever sat with non-family. Eyes sparkling and cheeks aflame. Flirtatious and young and careless. Who was that?
"We ought to show you to your rooms, I suppose." Said the Colonel. He removed a lantern from the wall. "If you'll please follow me."
Everyone trailed behind him down the stairs into the basement. The house was out of place and creepy with how deep it went underground. The original builders must have had to cut through rock to get so low. The basement was like any normal floor, but with all bedrooms. The stairs led into one hallway with three rooms on the right side all the way down until there was the last staircase (how low could they go?). George opened the first room. Inside was a simple bed, a wood log as a bedside table, and an unlit candle on the table. It was dark and a bit dusty, but not unclean.
"Chingachgook, you can have this one. We have more blankets if you want them." He used the lantern to light the bedside candle.
Hawkeye chuckled. "We've never had the luxury of separate rooms before."
"We can pull the beds in one if-"
He put a hand up. "No, no. Don't go out of your way any more than you already have. We would have been happy to sleep outside."
"And we wouldn't have been happy to let you." The Colonel moved past him to the next room, which was identical and for Hawkeye, and the last, which was the triplet and for Uncas.
They decided to go to bed right away, so the three hosts went back upstairs. Before going to separate rooms, they sat in Chingachgook's with the door closed and debriefed on the adventure thus far.
"Well, Uncas, we're here." Said Hawkeye.
"Yeah, we are. This is nice. Thank you both."
"At the risk of being positive for once, it's nice to have a fireplace and a roof."
"And a door," said Chingachgook. "And windows, and four walls around us. Enough of luxeries, though. How is the company we keep?"
Uncas smiled. "Hospitable. Lovely."
"More beautiful now after months of separation, I'm sure." Hawkeye teased.
"You're not wrong."
"Good, good... She's not a great cook though."
"Nor am I." He replied.
"And she uses English words for ingredients that are not English. That's strange, right?"
Uncas squinted at him. "What are you getting at?"
"I'm saying it's strange how they think so different from us and behave so different."
"They're not all that different."
Chingachgook interjected. "No, they are different. All tribes and all nations are unique from each other. Us three are like none other in this world, and even you and I are dissimilar to Hawkeye."
He hung his head from having been corrected. "Yes, I understand. Still, it is no reason to not be friends."
"I never said I'm not their friend! These are fine people, these ones we know. But I assure you, their kind find good reason to not be friends with us more than you know. As for you Chingachgook, why don't you put a full stop to this? I know you and I know your feelings for these Europeans and these cross-blooded peoples."
"You know what have been my feelings. You recall a conversation months ago, when I sat on the summer log and spoke of rivers and ancestors. It was mere moments after when I began, in my old age, to be changed forever. I proclaimed not to be a prejudiced man, and I now find myself to have been mistaken. The whites are uneducated, clumsy, and often my enemy, but I am wiser now to know that exceptions exist - something I should have learned in our frienship, Hawkeye. No nation, tribe, or even individual person is like all others."
"Well, if you recall the conversation, I said you have to look at the larger perspective and not just the smallest. MOST whites have been bad to you."
"Not you." Said Uncas.
"But I am one white man, and MANY white men are no good for the Indian."
Chinhachgook sensed some ulterior motives to this tirade. "This is the most you've ever spoken out against the white men. Perhaps you feel as I once did; that the white men are taking what is rightfully yours?"
"What do you mean?"
"You think they're taking Uncas from you."
Hawkeye stood up, insulted. "I won't dignify that with a response. I'm going to bed."
Chingachgook smiled ever so slightly. "Goodnight, white man."
"And goodnight to you, Sagamore." He shut the door, leaving father with son.
Uncas looked to his dad and asked "Am I a fool for this?"
He took a moment to truly consider this. Then, with calculated words, said "I'd be a liar to say I'm not weary or afraid for the future that your relationship to the Munro brings. But when a group of people have been through the things we have been through, there will be no other to understand us like one another. Within our collective story are our individual tales, as is the case with groups within tribes - think small perspective. You and Cora share a story that neither could possibly share with another person. I am now considering that perhaps it has never been race that makes a husband fit for a wife, but rather their shared agony. I mistook the two because they usually overlap."
The boy nodded. Those words expressed all he'd wanted to express when he had been lacking the wisdom to come up with them. They bid goodnight to one another and Uncas went to his room.
Poor lad didn't even bother trying to sleep. He was in so much pain and love at the same time that his brain refused to let itself shut down. It was up to his thoughts and his thoughts alone to keep him busy while he stared upwards at the dark ceiling. As the reader knows, that's not always good for a person. That was just how it was.
Chapter 4: Morning Tensions
Cora and Uncas are getting along as well as ever, and the better they get along, the worse everyone else gets along.
Needless to say with the Last of the Mohicans, but I feel like I should mention, is that I've tried to make my writing reflect how Cooper wrote these characters. I completely disagree with the idea that certain races own a skill over another. I only include this concept because it's a driving principle of these characters.
That morning Uncas awoke to the sound of footsteps on the floor above. He got up right away, grabbed his bow, and went up alone, happy to have beaten his father and Hawkeye to the punch.
The stairs creaked as he dashed up them. He heard someone in the living room. When he poked his head up over the floor, he saw just a flash of Cora's green petticoat as she scurried into the kitchen. "Good morning!" She called over her shoulder.
"Good morning," He repeated, cautiously leaving the stairs. He leaned his bow against the wall by the front door. "Is Cora - uh, you - good?"
"I'm fine!" She said.
He smiled and went into the kitchen after her. But upon crossing the threshold, Cora retreated to the dining room. Uncas stopped, confused. What was she hiding for?
"Yep! I'll be right there, don't worry."
After a moment of thought, he made a plan. He audibly stepped like he was going into the dining room, which elicited her to rush back into the living room. Then, he silently went back through the other door. There he found her, desperately tying up a mountain of beautiful, curly black hair over her head.
"Oh, didn't hear you there," She said, surprised and embarrassed. Clearly she'd been caught in some grand secret - though it didn't look it at all. "Forgive my messy hair. I just woke up. I try to keep it straight but it doesn't - "
Sensitive to any response, she looked with eyes that betrayed vulnerability. "What's that?"
"Uh, the dark hair is good."
If Uncas knew more English he would have made the true translation to what he said, which was "beautiful" in Lenape. Uncharacteristic as it was for a warrior to speak of beauty, he was compelled to say something encouraging. If only she could understand the language. Even then, she may not take it to heart under the cloak of her own insecurity.
She turned away from him, melting under his gaze. "Thank you."
He watched her struggle to get the ribbon around all her hair. It seemed that she was shaking somewhat. Generously, he reached out his youthful yet weathered hand. She looked at his silent offering and just stared for a moment.
"Uncas will help." He said.
"Ok." She placed the brown ribbon in the palm of his hand, looking right into his eyes. Then she turned around and collected all her hair with both hands into one bunch. He carefully tied it around the wilderness of curls and he wondered to himself which was denser; the woods around the Horican or the woods springing from her scalp.
When he let go, she turned back around and looked at him. "Does it look good?"
"Thank you... I like your hair too. I've never seen a young man with a scalp so nearly bald." She tapped a finger on his head and flicked his scalping tuft.
He grinned, amused by her wonder. He mimicked shaving along his scalp. She laughed a little, showing off those bright white teeth of hers. "Is that how all Indian men wear their hair?"
"How come? Does hair get in the way?"
"No." He held up the scalping tuft again and drew a finger around the circumference of his head, mimicking with his voice the "shhhhk!" sound of a knife to flesh.
That didn't amuse her at all. While not being exactly horrified, she was visibly unnerved. Uncas noticed his discomfort and mentally jotted down that ladies don't like talking about scalping. That may have been the first time in his life when he'd said something he shouldn't have. If you never say anything in the first place like him, you can never say anything wrong.
"Uh, should we have breakfast?" She asked, trying to change the subject.
"Yes." He murmured.
"Go sit down, I'll bring you something."
He did as she said, taking a seat at the table. Meanwhile, Hawkeye came up from the basement. His floppy blonde hair was a mess and his eyes were only half-open. "Uncas?" He called.
"Hugh!" Exclaimed the lad.
Hawkeye clambered into the dining room and smiled. He spoke to his friend in Lenape. "Look at you, sitting at the table like a polite little colonist."
"What? Do I offend? Would it offend worse if I said all you need now is petticoats and a high voice?"
Cora came in with a loaf of bread, some plates, and a little pail of milk. Hawkeye hadn't noticed her at first and was thankful she didn't speak Lenape. Uncas would've had the scout's head on a silver plate if he'd embarrassed him that much. "Oh, good morning Cora."
"Good morning." She said. "I envy your knowledge of languages, Hawkeye."
"Oh, you need not envy a thing of mine."
"Did you attend any school in your youth, or have a tutor?"
"Ha! No, not at all. Not even when I had the chance to. There are plenty of lessons to be learned from people other than scholars."
"I must say, I'm inspired. I'd like to think there's still a chance to learn some things, like that language."
"Maybe." He said, taking a seat beside Uncas. "But it's hard to learn."
"As is English, which Uncas is learning in leaps and bounds only by listening. Heyward had to go to school his whole childhood to learn French."
"Mmm, well, it's a good idea to learn the language of your enemy. Isn't it, Uncas?"
When Cora turned around to get cups from the kitchen, Uncas pinched him under the table. Hawkeye whispered "ow!", but held off on revenge as the lady returned. She poured milk in a cup for each of them. The sounds of gentle steps descending the other flight of stairs echoed to the trio.
She picked back up on it. "And I admit, it's good strategy to understand the enemy, but this is not why Heyward learns these things. If the Delaware people seemed to us as wealthy and influential as the French, every white man, woman, and child in Europe would be speaking Lenape."
Alice entered the dining room to hear this from her sister. She defended her love from this subtle insult. "But Cora, he doesn't learn it in admiration of the French! He wouldn't betray our countrymen like that."
"Good morning Alice." She grumbled.
"Good morning." She sat beside her sister. "Enough about him, let's talk about our guests. Uncas, have the letters been coming with much delay?"
"Good. And have you had trouble with the Hurons since the trouble we've already had?"
"Not much," Hawkeye answered for him, "But the battle of us against them rages on always, even when we cannot see each other."
Alice nodded. The four didn't have much else to talk about. They ate their breakfast in silence. Occasionally they'd look up at each other. Cora would look up at Uncas, who would have been already looking at her, and he would look away in embarrassment.. Then she would look away as well, and they'd repeat this about once every two minutes. Alice and Hawkeye would look at the two and one another without social constraint - one in childish curiosity and one in confidence.
After God knows how long of this, Chingachgook came up into the dining room. All the younger ones smiled to see him, and he returned the expression.
"Hello Chingachgook!" Alice said. "Did you sleep well?"
"Yes." He replied, taking the seat at the head of the table beside her and Hawkeye. Cora got up to get him food too. He and Uncas looked at each other.
In Lenape, Chingachgook said "What have you been talking about?"
"This and that. Nothing important."
Cora returned with breakfast for the Sachem. They made eye contact. He smiled with that charming Mohican smile, and Cora reciprocated the gesture with her own. "Thank you for your invitation."
"No, thank you for coming. I'd hate to pressure you out of your normal routine."
Hawkeye decided to, as usual, give his two cents. "There's no chance to make a routine in the wild, where nature is different every day, and you have to become different every day too to compete."
"Lucky for me, then," She replied.
Chingachgook wasn't happy with Hawkeye's depiction of their lifestyle. Thanks to Uncas' infatuation, it had become a hidden agenda of his to make Cora desirous of such a way of being. "No, Hawkeye is telling stories. We have routine. We hunt in the same places in different times of the year, and while we have more than one home, we have few, and all are comfortable."
Well, it was a shame that Chingachgook's goal was to draw Cora in, because it was Hawkeye's to push her out. "Oh no, believe me, it's not a comfortable existence out there. We have no furniture and our beds are only piles of hide and leaves between us and the dirty ground."
"In warm seasons, the ground is not dirty. Rain and wind washes the caves clean."
"And the rain and wind wash us clean too! It's cold and wet out there, worst of all when you're sleeping."
The three others at the table darted their gazes back and forth between the two woodsmen as their banter increased pace and ferocity.
"The forest is cleaner, more beautiful, and better smelling than the towns of the whites. Towns make the whites sick"
"And when you get sick in the forest, you die."
"People are respectable in the forest. The Indian has respect for one another that the white man does not."
"You have me there, Chingachgook, but it is not a cruelty that makes the Indian frightening, but rather his cunning and skill for battle."
This exchange was starting to really irritate the old man. "Hawkeye only says these things because his white blood is not as suitable for the wilderness as ours."
That stung. He as all in favor of excluding himself from things, but when others did it, his pride took a hit. "If the forest is only for the Indian, then that is all the more reason Cora would dislike it."
"No, for Cora is dark-skinned, and is well fitted for the ways of the woods."
She stood abruptly. The dishes on the table clinked together with the sudden movement. Her face was red with embarrassment. Her voice cracked in shock. "I'm going to go see if my father is awake."
Fast as lightning, she left. Uncas did that kind of blink where a person shuts their eyes really tight for a few seconds before opening them back up, wide. Chingachgook and Hawkeye gave each other stern and blaming glares, but wore shame on their own faces as well. Alice was surprised and sad and embarrassed, and maybe even a little mad at her guests.
Uncas had not lost the manners his father taught him, even when his father himself had lost them. He looked at Alice. "Sorry."
His apology sat in the air for a moment. His humility warmed her heart.
"Uncas, you have only ever been kind and good and... And valiant. If there ever comes a time when Cora is unhappy and you think that it is you who made it that way, you are pitifully mistaken." She drank some of her milk and blotted her mouth with a napkin. She looked at Hawkeye, who'd been looking at her already, but averted his gaze upon sensing hers.
"She has tremendous respect for you, Hawkeye."
"Cora. She gets Uncas' letters and she says 'Did you know Hawkeye writes these all on the paper? Isn't he good? Isn't he smart? Isn't he strong?'... And Chingachgook, she thinks you are the wisest, most powerful man to walk the earth. Papa will tell us about troubles in our city and she says 'If Chingachgook were the Chief of Albany, there would be nothing to complain about'."
This tale of friendship only made the two feel worse. Hawkeye looked down at the table. Chingachgook kept looking at Alice, since it's the honorable thing to do when your flaws are being exposed. A man like him rarely ever spoke out of turn. He recognized that the pressure of potentially losing his son to domestic life made him act unfairly.
"Sometimes when we go to town we meet people who have heard of our adventures with you, and they beg for stories about you. Her eyes light up and she gives them accounts of you more flattering than the apostles spoke of Christ. Now they all say 'Oh, Hawkeye and Chingachgook! I want to meet the woodsmen! I want to watch Hawkeye shoot from a hundred yards! I want to see the Sagamore put his ear to the ground and sense oncoming Indians!'."
"Kind of her to say," Hawkeye mumbled. It was undeniable that, as rugged as he was, he had a need to be admired by others.
"Yes, it is." Alice picked up her dishes like she was going to get up and take them to the kitchen, but she set them back down. She wasn't done yet. "Actually, it's more than kind of her. It's unnecessary and dramatic."
Her tone took them off guard, even Uncas. Vitriol like that had never been heard in a voice so feminine.
"Her stories are about an enlightened pair of men who are all knowing, ever accepting, and absolutely lovable. They do the impossible. They're the chivalrous knights of mankind, saving ladies and respecting the rules of men. The kind part is that she named these gods amongst mortals after the two of you."
They expected her to make her exit then, but she didn't. Rather, she stayed seated and looked between them with her judgmental stare. The silence was worse than when she was berating them. Cora didn't come back with the General. Neither had actually expected her to anyway. The day was not off to a great start.
Chapter 5: Amends
Chingachgook feels bad for how his and Hawkeye's heated back-and-fourth hurt her, so he goes to apologize.
When much time had passed since Cora left, the three woodsmen got worried. The Colonel had come downstairs, blissfully unaware of the unpleasantness from the morning. He said her door was closed and he could hear her spinning wheel roaring away within. It was then that the guests learned that a great deal of the linens in the house had been made by Cora, from shearing the sheep to spinning the yarn to knitting or weaving. All the fabrics in the guest rooms had been made by her. It occurred to Hawkeye that last night, shortly after trying to sully her good name to Uncas, he’d wrapped himself up in those blankets she’d lovingly crafted and went to sleep.
Everyone went about their own little tasks for the day. Alice didn’t stay mad at them at all, but Hawkeye and Chingachgook felt the black hole of guilt widening in their souls. The two younger ones prepared to fix up their snowshoes so they could go hunting the next day. Chingachgook couldn’t focus. He and Uncas were very similar in that they never, EVER said anything without thinking about it first. Uncas had been noticing that, in Cora’s presence, he had been saying things imprudently. He was getting so comfortable around her that he felt he could talk more, but out of nerves, he would just out and say whatever he was thinking. There was a similar effect on Chingachgook, but the unnerving force for him wasn’t love, but rather fear. Fear of his life changing for good by his son’s love. He wasn’t the Sachem he’d once been. He was getting older, and Uncas was growing to take his place. What if, in fulfilling the words of Tamenund as the “panther of his tribe, the eldest son of the Lenape, the wisest Sagamore of the Mohicans”, Uncas forgot his father?
Chingachgook chided himself for this paranoia. It would never be said that an honorable Mohican man like Uncas would forsake his father in creating his own family. Furthermore, that would be completely out of character for his son. No one was kinder and more loving to Chingachgook than his only child. They were best friends. He felt foolish for thinking that Uncas would betray such a bond. In his hysteria, he tried to push Cora to where he wanted her. All it did was drive her away from him. He had to make things right.
While Hawkeye and Uncas went out to collect branches and bark, Chingachgook climbed the stairs to the top floor. As he walked up, he could clearer hear the spinning wheel turning. Cora and Alice’s room was at the end of the hall. He gathered his thoughts before he knocked.
The wheel noises stopped. “Come in,” she said.
He opened the door but hesitated to enter, staying in the threshold. She sat at the wheel on a wooden stool faced towards the right side of the room (her side), creating white yarn. There were two beds and two side tables, but the spinning wheel workspace took up the most area. Yarn and needles and all kinds of tools covered the flat surfaces on Cora’s side. She was prolific in her textile work.
"Oh, hello Chingachgook.“
"Hello,” he replied, followed by silence as he took it in.
"Do you want to come in?“
"Yes.” He sat down on her bed.
She started spinning the wheel again and fed more wool to the yarn. The Sachem watched over her shoulder, fascinated with this skill. She didn’t say anything to him like he’d thought she might. It didn’t feel like she was angry, but rather meditative in her work.
"I want to say sorry.“
"Sorry for what?” She didn’t even look up.
"For speaking without thinking.“
"You didn’t say anything untrue, I don’t believe.”
"I said things that would make you believe we live in comfort when that is not completely true.“
"We call that ‘lie by omission’. That means you leave parts of the truth out, but it’s not really the truth if it’s not the full truth.”
He didn’t know what to do with this information. “I am sorry.”
"Well you have my forgiveness for anything you have done or ever will do. I know you would never maintain a lie against me, Chingachgook. You’re a virtuous man.“
Not feeling deserving of this compliment, he said “thank you”.
"And as for my race making me suited for wilderness life, I think you’re mistaken on my origin. My great-grandmother, the grandmother of my mother, is of a tropical West-Indies people. Beginning with my grandmother, we have belonged no place.“
"That could not be true,” he said. What a sad thing to say about your own lineage!
"It is, Chingachgook. You should know that. You and Hawkeye are proud of your ‘uncrossed blood’ because it tells you who you are and where you go. My grandmother and my mother were abandoned women, not wanted in Europe for darkness and not wanted in the Indies for whiteness. And, I, though the lightest of us, am as unwelcome in this world as they were.“
"Cora - ”
She put the pedal to the metal, turning her wheel faster and faster. “Not welcome in the Indies because my Scottish father raises me like a Scot. Not welcome in Scotland because, despite my wisdom, despite my beauty, despite my virtue, I'm the motherless Negro - ”
Spinning still faster. “Cora - !”
”- And my father - he’s a debaucher for his marriage to my mother, but a Lancelot for his marriage to Alice’s! All because her body had the misfortune of brown skin, and thus mine too. So never tell me I would live happy where you’re from, Chingachgook, because I have no home.“
He stood and put a hand on her shoulder. “Cora!”
She took her foot off the pedal. The wheel spun out until it lost momentum, and the room was still.
Tears threatened to break their surface tension on her eyes. “You and Uncas are the two only Mohicans in the world, but my race is lonelier.”
Her words weighed heavy on him. He considered his next words thoroughly so as to comfort her with the full truth. “Cora, you are more welcome to us than the most ancient, full-blooded Delaware.”
The gravity of that sentiment was not lost on her, but she had a conversational agenda to complete. “Chingachgook, tell me, why did you and Hawkeye try so hard to convince me of things that weren’t true; you telling me I would adore living like you and him telling me I wouldn’t survive?”
He took his time to craft a response. His voice was low so as not to be overheard. “Uncas is in love with you, and we know this.”
The frankness surprised her. “W-what? That's a silly assumption.”
This didn't derail his train of thought. "And we believe that you and Uncas may be married someday with a family of your own. It makes us afraid because we know that Uncas could not continue to live as we do now, and our lives would change. I tried to secure the continuation of our ways by convincing you to join us, and Hawkeye tried to do the same, but by taking you and Uncas away from one another.“
She nervously fiddled with the yarn between her fingers. "Don't you think you're thinking a little bit too into the future? He barely knows me, I mean, I wouldn't say he loves me."
"Maybe something is getting lost in translation."
"No. Uncas loves you."
"Well, I love Heyward, but I don't want to marry him."
"Uncas is in love with you."
It was no use questioning him. He meant what he said. It scared Cora as much as it thrilled her. Her cheeks were bright red. "Well, let's not get ahead of ourselves. Even if what you say is going to happen, there are a lot of steps before marrying someone."
"I have lived a long time, and Hawkeye longer than you. We see the future no matter how far it is."
The Sachem turned to leave, but Cora leapt up and stopped him. "Wait!" He could practically see how fast her heart was beating in the look in her eyes. "... I think I love him too."
He smiled that joyful ancestral smile of his lineage. "I am glad to hear."
"A-at least I think I do! I can't tell what it's supposed to feel like. Oh, forget I said anything!" She sat back down on her stool and started the spinning wheel back up. "Forget all of it. I forgive you for, for whatever it was you said."
He shut the door behind him.
Chapter 6: 11th Day Before Christmas
The Boiz™ go hunting and talk about stuff.
As they had planned, the woodsmen went hunting the next day. It was the 11th day before Christmas. They knew because they woke up to Alice prancing around on the floor above them, singing “On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me, a partridge in a pear tree”. It was a song Hawkeye had once known, but the lyrics were now lost on him. It had been a long time since he kept track of how close Christmas drew.
They left the house for the woods, familiar in its proximity to their own but unfamiliar in landmarks. Chingachgook led them to a spot he deemed best for lying in wait. They sat by the hemlocks, which deer are apt to eat in winter. One was old and big enough to have deflected much of the snowfall, and so they were more comfortable to rest there. As much as they wanted to speak to one another, they wouldn’t. It would reveal their presence.
You could have cut the tension with a knife. Uncas and Hawkeye had spoken a little yesterday about the unpleasantness. Hawkeye had said sorry in that snarky Hawkeye sort of way where he doesn’t really say sorry. Usually Uncas would accept it and move on, but this time was different. He wanted the scout to set aside his pride and admit fault.
In his heart, Hawkeye knew he was being a jackass about the whole thing. But the ends justify the means, right? If he’s right and the two don’t get together (or stay together), then he’s a champion of the right way of living. If they do, which seemed a slim chance in his mind, only then he’s an ignorant bully.
Chingachgook was wiser than Hawkeye. He knew the world wasn’t black and white. It was ridiculous for him to be threatened by a lady. Things would fall happily into place no matter what became of their relationship. He had been afraid of the uncertain future, but when had his future ever been certain?
As for Uncas, he could feel the changing currents. He could feel, like the rain falling out of the clouds, himself falling into a new life, and Cora falling with him to some unseen common ground
The three sat for maybe an hour and a half before fortune trotted their way. As the wind blew east, a buck came in from the west. It didn’t see or smell them as it chewed on a hemlock. Hawkeye, sitting on the far left, had the best angle at which to shoot it. The group exchanged glances. Hawkeye carefully raised his rifle and looked down at the sight, but paused. He lowered the rifle and looked to the young chief. The scout nodded to him as if to say “You take this one”.
Uncas was confused, but understood. He gently drew his bow and, silent as a butterfly, it flew into the deer’s chest. The animal, wounded and afraid, ran off. They all breathed a sigh of relief. The creature mule-kicked and blood had spurted out of it’s chest - a heart shot to be sure. They would wait a half hour or so before pursuing.
“A fine shot, Uncas!” Said Hawkeye. “It won’t hurt for much longer, I’m sure. You have a keen eye!”
Chingachgook gave an approving nod. The boy smiled. “Thanks.”
They continued to sit and wait for fifteen more minutes until Uncas had to share a thought. “Hawkeye, could you not get a good look at it from there?”
Uh-oh. His bluff was about to be called. “Uh, yeah, it wasn’t a great angle.”
Uncas could smell the bullshit from where he was sitting. He got up and inspected the bitten off hemlock branches, then the deer’s tracks. Then, he walked over to Hawkeye and squatted beside him, looking to the tree. “You would have had a perfect aim on the chest.”
“Well, you had that too.”
“But you have a gun, and it would have had more of an impact.”
“Well I couldn’t get a good view on it!”
The Mohican smirked. He clearly got his brother in a corner. “You let me have it!”
“Ha! That’s ridiculous.”
He poked at him. “You wanted to be nice to me, didn’t you?”
“You have the imagination of a child, boy!”
“Could it be that even Hawkeye - our keen hunter, our brawny warrior - could feel womanly emotions?”
“What’s more womanly - giving you the shot, or falling in love with a European?”
“Ha! So you admit you let me have it on purpose!”
Hawkeye looked to Chingachgook for help, but he sat back on the tree, amused by them. He let out an exasperated sigh. “Fine! I feel guilty for offending Cora, and to make it up to you, I thought I’d let you kill this one so you could impress her, ok? Happy?”
Uncas laughed with such a charming voice that the scout could hardly be angry. “I knew it! I know you, Hawkeye. Never do you give me the shot, ever!”
“Yeah yeah, you got me. I guess I’m just sooo predictable.”
“You are.” He stood up. “Is this your blessing then?”
His brow furrowed. “Huh?”
“You want me to impress her now? You couldn’t stand the thought of us and now you want me to impress her?”
Hawkeye was at a loss for words. Feeling stuff made him uncomfortable. Chingachgook decided to get involved. “Did you forget that he has translated all your letters?”
“... Yeah, he has.”
“And even when he said he disapproved of the tenderness in them, he read hers and wrote yours?”
Neither got where he was going with this. He had to lay it out plainly. “Perhaps the thing Hawkeye opposes isn’t your relationship with Munro’s daughter.”
The scout stood up. “Alright, will we sit and gossip like women or track this deer?”
Uncas squinted at him. “What is it then?”
He looked off into the distance, wishing he was anywhere but there and doing anything other than having that conversation. “I don’t know, I... I guess I didn’t want to see you leave the woods for a Yengeese house.”
“Nor did I,” Chingachgook added. “I admit that this feeling has motivated many of my decisions, including the one to visit down here.”
It scared Uncas to hear this because it brought fears he’d kept in the back of his mind to the forefront. “You don’t know that she would reject a wigwam.”
The two older men exchanged looks.
“And even if she didn’t want to live in a wigwam, we could compromise! She already lives in a cabin on the outskirts of her town. Surely she wouldn’t mind a blockhouse in the forest.”
“I have spoken with her,” Chingachgook said, “And I believe her to be an industrious, good woman. I cannot say she would not take that option, but I can assure you that she enjoys the comforts of the white lifestyle.”
Uncas looked at his feet, defeated. His throat was tense with sadness. He knew he couldn’t live without his father and Hawkeye. Only recently did he start to think he might not be able to live without Cora either. He didn’t want to choose.
“However, there is a fact that none can deny, and that is that she values you over all material possession.”
Hope came back to him like a boomerang. He picked his head up.
“She told me herself that she loves you.”
Hawkeye’s eyes opened wide in surprise. Uncas’ heart contracted tight and expanded big as if a Huron were on his heels. “Oh, did she?”
The Sachem stood. “She said it as if it had been as involuntary as a sneeze and, in the modesty of her sex, she implored me to forget that she’d said it.”
“Oh.” He looked away and desperately tried to conceal his glee. It was no use. His handsome face betrayed him.
“And so, I will leave you be. Whatever the Great Manitou wills will be.”
This rugged family had finally buried the hatchet, at least for now. Hawkeye put a hand on Uncas’ shoulder. “Let’s go find that deer now.”
They marched out on the blood trail, hearts lighter and minds eased.
Meanwhile, back at the Munro’s house, Alice looked out the south-facing window. Golden sunlight complimented her pink face, but worry blotted the canvas. The Colonel sat back in his chair, staring at the wall. Cora laid down on the couch, reading a book. “Alice, sit down. You’re making me tired.”
“Heyward said he’d be here by today. Now it’s nearly sundown and he’s not here.”
“He probably had delays. Sit down.”
“What if those savages got him in the forest and took his head off?”
Cora rolled her eyes, not just at the use of “savage”, which she’d come to hate. Alice had a tendency to get worked up into a tizzy.
“What if he’s dead and we’ll never hear from him again and I’ll have to live the rest of my life wondering what happened to him? What if they took him captive and have him enslaved? What if they burned him at the stake like a witch? What if he fell into a river and it swept him away, or he drowned, or an animal- Oh, there he is! Cora, look!”
She and the Colonel hopped up and rushed to the window. Just like she said, there came Heyward, riding towards the house, looking like a knight atop his horse. Alice squealed and rushed to the door, no bothering with a jacket. Cora and their father followed.
“Hello!” He called, waving to his friends.
Alice ran out the door and into the snow in just her shoes. “Duncan! Duncan!”
When he was close enough, he leapt off the horse and ran over to her. He scooped her up in a hug and picked her up above the snow. “Alice! You’ll get cold!”
“I missed you,” she said.
“I missed you too,” he replied. “Let’s get inside before you freeze your feet off.”
He set her down and took his horse’s reins. Alice led Heyward by the hand and he led his steed. Cora and the Colonel gave a less grand welcome. They waved.
“Major Heyward!” Called Munro. “It’s been far too long!”
“Yessir, I agree. I can’t thank you enough for the invitation.”
“What better Christmas gift for my Elsie than you?”
“Oh, you’re exaggerating. But I thank you.” He took the saddlebags off his horse. “Where would it be best for me to put these?”
“Well, we’ll have to figure that out. We have some guests of Cora’s occupying all our extra rooms.”
“Oh, really? Who?”
In perfect timing, Alice gasped and pointed to the treeline. “Over there!”
Out from the forest came Chingachgook, Hawkeye, and Uncas. The latter had their kill, a fine-looking stag, slung over his shoulders. Cora gasped. He was the very image of strength and masculinity, trudging out of the forest after a long day’s work. The golden light of the retreating sun made him look straight out of a renaissance painting.
That being said, no mortal man could carry a deer on their shoulders for the whole way they had walked that day. In reality, the men had dragged it out together until they were close to the house. At which point, Chingachgook and Hawkeye put the beast on the boy’s shoulders and insisted he go the rest of the way with it. He didn’t mind. He was looking to impress.
Well, it worked. Cora was totally impressed. Like her sister only moments ago, she ran out in the snow. Uncas couldn’t hold back a wide, wide smile. She had a talent for melting away his characteristic solemnity, and he had the same effect on her.
“Woah, Uncas! That’s a huge deer! Did you shoot that?”
Chingachgook and Hawkeye said “YES” in unison.
Cora’s heart fluttered. “H-here, let me help you.”
He held up a hand as if to say “No, I’ve got it”.
They walked back up to the door and Uncas carefully set the deer at the feet of Munro. A six point buck. The old man was stunned.
Heyward, ever admiring the Mohican’s strength and agility, greeted his friend. “Uncas! I’m so happy to see you! I hadn’t been expecting you! And my Lord, what an entrance!”
Uncas smiled to him. Alice wasn’t so overjoyed. “Uncas, as usual, you’ve dazzled me, but that dead deer is nothing less than revolting until it’s been cut into skins and steaks! I’m afraid I can’t look at it any longer.” She retreated inside, followed, of course, by Heyward.
The Colonel had gathered his thoughts. “I have to say, I’m very glad right now that Cora invited you here! This is magnificent fortune!”
The warrior did his best to regain a stone expression while his father beamed in open pride. “My son hunts as his forefathers have.”
“I believe it! He has skill unmatched even by the soldiers I have known! Had I a son, I’d hope he would have half your courage and strength, Uncas.”
“Thank you,” he replied. Though Cora had been the main target of this, it didn’t hurt to get in the good graces of her father.
“Aye, this is the talent of a fine young man! How is it that you’re not married? I’ve known women to wait lifetimes for lesser men than you!”
Oblivious as always to the tension he created, Munro waited for an answer. Uncas hoped that one of the other two would provide one, but they were barely holding back laughter at the discomfort on the two youngest’s faces. Cora clench her jaw and looked away.
“Women think I am strange,” he said at last.
“Ha! Strange! What a tragedy that nowadays it’s strange to see a young leader of men! I tell you Uncas, though your color, dress, and customs are unfamiliar, I don’t find you strange! Nor does Alice, nor Duncan, nor Cora here!”
“No, not strange,” she muttered obediently.
“Well then, how about we take him into the barn? There’s a hook and table there to skin the creature.”
“No,” Hawkeye said, “You and Chingachgook don’t need to worry about menial tasks like butchering. The lady, Uncas, and I will remove what needs be removed.”
The elder men accepted the offer and went into the house. Uncas picked the deer up again (Cora lauding his strength) and the three trudged to the barn in the back. It was a blessed resource of the Munros to be able to keep animals. They had two brown sheep, two white sheep, a cow, and a bull. The barn was dry and warm on account of the shielding from the winter winds. Uncas put the animal down on a big wooden table, above which hung big butchers knives and some hatchets. Cora shut the doors. She removed an apron from a hook on the wall and put it on.
She just looked at the deer for a moment before saying “You never cease to amaze, Uncas.”
The two contemplative youths stared at one another for some time before Cora looked away. “It’s gross how there’s still heat coming out of him.”
He nodded and held a hand up over the steam flying from it’s opened stomach. She put a hand on it’s back. Her mothering heart couldn’t help but pity it.
“I see you shot it in the chest,” she said.
Hawkeye came and stood by the table too. “In the heart, actually. A perfect shot. It didn’t suffer.”
“Incredible... I’m so glad you decided to join us. For your company mostly, and secondarily for your skill.”
Uncas smiled, resisting the urge to give a full, bright grin. “I am glad too.”
This simple exchange tugged at Hawkeye’s heartstrings. There was a tenderness between them that he had never known. It could have brought him to tears. How could he have tried to drive a wedge between the two? Well, no longer. In the words of Chingachgook, “Whatever the Great Manitou wills will be”.
Chapter 7: 10th Day Before Christmas
The gang goes sledding!
It had snowed the night before the 10th day before Christmas. When Alice woke up and looked out her window, she saw a winter wonderland of untouched snow. Her child’s heart filled with glee to see the glittering crystals of white. She nudged her sleeping sister.
“Cora! Cora! It snowed!”
The lady grumbled and rolled over.
“Cora! Get up!” She yanked her covers off. Cora growled, but sat up.
Alice rushed down the steps and woke up Heyward. He was sleeping on the couch, practically falling off of it. “Heyward! Look out the window.”
“There’s fresh snow! We have to go sledding.”
He got up, his curly brown hair a complete wreck and bags under his eyes. “Alice, we have to eat... And wake up.” He laid back down.
Frustrated and energized, Alice went into the kitchen and started making toast for everyone. She would go sledding, whether everyone wanted to or not.
A boring hour passed as everyone got up and ate, Alice anxiously watching. The woodsmen weren’t fans of being watched while eating. The only things that watch you eat in the forest are animals that are waiting to eat you .
When the last bite of toast had been swallowed, she started putting on her winter clothes. “Come on everyone, let’s go outside!”
Cora rubbed her eyes when Alice set a pair of boots in her lap. She knew resistance was futile when her sister got an idea. Listlessly, she put them on.
Hawkeye thought it was funny. “Alice, only one as young as you could have so much energy as to want to expend it on fruitless tasks - sledding down, walking up, sledding back down, walking up - it’s tedious!”
“It’s fun ! And you have to come along. Cora and I are going to race Duncan down the hill!”
“You are?” He asked. “You’re bound to win that, it’s the weight of two against the weight of one.”
“Fine then... Hawkeye, will you join Duncan?”
He chuckled. “No. I’m too old for sledding”
“Too old for fun,” she retorted.
Alice huffed. She scanned for another person until her eyes settled on the young chief. “Uncas!”
He turned his head fast.
“Uncas, come sledding with us! Cora and I are going to race you and Duncan down the hill. It’ll be great, you’ll love it!”
Hawkeye translated for her, saying in Lenape “The lighthair says that she and Cora and Heyward are going to bolt down a hill only to climb back up it a thousand times until she’s too tired for more. You better go, or Cora won’t be so happy.”
The boy looked back to Alice and said “Unc- uh, I , will go”.
She smiled and clapped. “Good! Get on your coat because we’re going now now now!”
Quick as a wink, she grabbed both Cora and Heyward by the wrists as they were still putting on their winter gear and dragged them out the front door with the strength of someone who’d been awake for a respectable amount of time. Uncas rushed behind, throwing on his coat.
“I have to see this,” said the Colonel. “Shall you join me, my friends?”
The two hunters exchanged looks and stood up, ready to follow.
Alice and Cora got the sleds out from the back of the barn. Each was just big enough for two, and only verging on being ratty. When they walked they kicked up plumes of snow like sand on the beach. The snow was so cold that it didn’t even melt on the bottoms of their skirts. They were pretty as a picture and perfect as a painting.
The sisters put the sleds at the top of a sleek slope with no obstructions to the bottom. The territory was uncharted. It was up to them to lay the sled trails to be followed over and over, and if they messed them up, it would be laborious work to fix them. The metaphor there wasn’t lost on Heyward’s poetic mind, having observed the situations of his friends.
The elder men stood behind them as the teams took their sleds. Hawkeye made some quips to Uncas in Lenape, which he returned with a quick wit. Heyward and Cora sat at the fronts of their sleds, the reins in hand, ready to steer.
“Papa, push us!” Alice demanded.
“And Hawkeye, if you will,” Heyward asked.
The two knelt down and got ready. “On the count of three:
Each gave a big push and the two sleds went flying. Alice and Cora giggled and squealed, the eldest shifting her weight to and fro, and the youngest throwing her hands up and feeling the wind. Heyward shouted that roller-coaster type of shout and Uncas, having discovered a new winter sport, couldn’t hold back a laugh. The sled that got to the bottom first was the men’s.
When the ladies came to a stop, Alice indignantly shot up. “Hey, no fair! You’re both heavier than us!”
The rest of them got out of their sleds as well. Heyward contested her analysis. “Alice, you’re the one who insisted we race you! If anyone made it unfair, it’s you!”
She wasn’t listening to him. She was doing calculations in her head. “Ok then... Me and Uncas against you and Cora!” She jogged over and took the Mohican’s hand, holding it up with hers in the air. With the other, she grabbed the sled’s rope. “Come on, let’s go everyone!”
Cora and Duncan exchanged a look and followed after the girl who had Uncas in tow. The other three were still standing at the top, now Munro and Chingachgook were both smoking their pipes. Tobacco smoke was indiscernible from breath in the cold air.
“I’ll steer, since I know how,” Alice said to her companion. He didn’t care. He was having fun simply going along.
Heyward took the front of the other one. Cora waved to Uncas. “Get ready to lose!’ Jeered the lady. He smirked.
The pushers took their positions.
Woosh ! The four cheered on their way down. Alice pulled the reins like wild while the other just enjoyed the ride. The wind made their noses and ears cold, but they were so happy they didn’t notice. When the world moves fast past you, it almost turns into slow motion. The trappings of the most brutal of seasons adorned the forest, yet it didn’t make them sad. New opportunities for fun alit in their eyes.
Much to Alice’s shagrin, Cora and Heyward got down first. The sounds of laughter from the three at the top echoed down to them. Frustrated, she tossed the rope and groaned.
Heyward poked fun at her. “What can I say Alice? I guess I’m just a sledding champion.”
“I’ll agree to nothing of the sort! You’re just the heaviest.” He helped her up out of the sled. “Well, if you can’t beat them, join them. Duncan, you and I versus Cora and Uncas!”
“We can’t lose!” The two held hands and rushed up the hill, Heyward dragging the sled along.
Having observed from his friend, Uncas offered a hand and helped Cora out of the sled. “Thank you,” she said. The two plodded back up the hill. “If we don’t win, we won’t hear the end of it!”
He had nothing to say except to offer that heartwarming smile. She noticed that his handsome face was not mighty, but rather cute with the quintessential wintery red nose and cheeks. No matter the skin tone, the human body was bound to take on these traits in icy winds. These same features on Cora’s face didn’t go unnoticed to the brave.
Back at the top, Alice and Heyward had already got in their sled, the latter at the front. The other two set theirs at the head of its track. “Uncas, you steer,” Cora said. “I’ll be too busy making faces at Alice.”
The youngest heard this and stuck her tongue out at her sister, which elicited the moose ears gesture in response.
Cora sat down behind Uncas. The Mohican felt his teammate was surrounded by a cloud of warm air, because she was exceedingly warm against his back. She wrapped her arms around him. That was not a gesture that Heyward had received from her. As for what she thought of him , she was very comfortable sitting close together. In her observations throughout her life, she’d found that boys usually got a distinct sweaty-boy-smell from even the slightest exertion, which was much more offensive to her senses than a woman’s smell after even the hardest labor. Uncas, however, didn’t have that. Not that he smelled like perfume, but just normal. Was it strange for her to think something like that?
Before they knew it, Cora and Uncas were racing down the hill. In truth, Uncas didn’t even steer. The trail was deep enough for it to move them in a way that it didn’t matter how hard they tried to shift their weight. He glanced back at Cora.
The ribbon in her hair, which had been coming loose, was now gone, lost somewhere in the snow. She didn’t seem to notice, despite the tumultuous river of black hair flowing behind her. Icy crystals kicked up from the back of the sled were caught between strands and perched there without melting, displayed like diamonds on a crown. Her head was thrown back in a laugh, and her face glowed in contrast to the stark white snow. She tightened her hold of him with each little turn and bump. Feeling bold with adrenaline, he put a hand over hers. Even through her wool mittens, the touch made her heart pound. She wondered if he could feel it.
The sleds came to a stop and, for the third time, Alice didn’t win. She howled. “Impossible! Ridiculous! I have terrible luck!”
Though Cora let go of Uncas, their hands stayed together. They didn’t get out of the sled. They just looked at one another and giggled.
Alice stood up. She kinda just watched her sister and the chief. Her matronly sister, always so cold in her interactions with men, was actually flirting! And the boy she was flirting with wasn’t a tinker or tailor or soldier or spy, but a chief. It was Uncas. Brave, strong, kind, poor, foreign, Mohican Uncas. Had she not been having so much fun beforehand, she might have been unnerved.
Cora saw her sister and put the attention on her. “Well Alice, we beat you!”
“Yeah... But I think you just got a better push!”
“Did not!” She got up. “We’re the better team, face it!”
Alice, at the end of her childish rope, gathered snow in her mittens, formed it into a ball, and threw it right at Cora’s head.
She turned her head just in time for it to miss her face, but it still chilled her temple and neck. In playful retaliation, she launched one right back.
Heyward got out of the sled. “Cora! I’m afraid I’ll have to defend against you for that!”
“Do your worst, Major!” Ready with another snowball, she nailed him in the chest. The three at the top of the hill made “oooo!” sounds when they saw this.
The two readied an arsonal against her. She turned to Uncas. “Will you defend me from danger as you have done so many times before?”
Chivalrous as always, he took the challenge. He made a snowball and wholloped Heyward in the head. The valiant soldier pretended he was gravely hurt. “Oh, Uncas, my friend! What a betrayal!”
The snowball fight continued, giddy and goofy as ever. Eventually the teams broke down altogether and it was a free-for-all. The older men laughed and laughed at the show. Chingachgook and Munro cheered on their respective children. Hawkeye, always a lover of chaos, started launching some into the group. Was it a blizzard or a game? Who could tell?
The scout caught Alice’s attention. She pointed up the hill. “We’re under attack!”
In the bond of having a common enemy, the two men rushed up the hill and the ladies followed suit with the sleds. Hawkeye didn’t retreat. He didn’t even care that people witnessed him, The Pathfinder, having fun.
Uncas got up the hill first. He launched himself at the white man and tackled him to the ground. The old men howled with laughter. When Heyward caught up, he took the opportunity to snatch the raccoon cap from the assailant’s head. As the ladies rounded the crest, he began his best impersonation of the hunter.
“Aye, there’s Iroquois in the woods! I say Iroquois, for if it isn’t a Delaware, it’s an Iroquois! The Frenchers, the Hollanders, the Spaniards - all Iroquois!” He made handguns and pew pew pew! sounds.
Alice laughed so hard that, on top of the exertion of running, she let herself fall into the powdery bed of snow at her feet.
“Oh Duncan,” she groaned with all the drama she could summon, “I cannot go on! You’ll have to build an igloo around me!”
Cora took the hat next. With all the theatrics of a true thespian, she began her own little show. “Never fear, ‘tis I, Leatherstocking! For I wear both the clothes of the redman and the skin of the whiteman! I possess the best of the European and the Native, making me the most superior man in the world! Christ himself, with his tribe of Judah, cannot claim a stronger lineage than I!”
Chingachgook laughed particularly hard at this depiction. He’d spent most of his life in the woods with Hawkeye having to hear him brag about his “genuine, gifted” whiteness. It wears on a man who has had to watch his people who, though brave, die at the hands of Hawkeye’s greedy, unfeeling kin.
Uncas and Hawkeye stopped wrestling. The scout got up. “Ok Miss, I’m going to need that hat.”
She didn’t give it up. Instead, she put it on the head of the Sachem. The two had shared a brief moment of bonding over the folly of the white man. Hamming it up, she squinted at her friend. “Why, is that none other than La Longue Carabine?”
Chingachgook remained dignified as ever, even in mockery. He said something in Lenape that was apparently an absolute riot, because Uncas gave a rip-roaring cackle that brought him to his knees just like Alice. The others didn’t need to know what the chief said. They laughed on just his son’s mirth alone.
Hawkeye trudged over and swiped his hat from the Sagamore’s head, who let him do so without flinching. Peeved, he put it back on. “Well, this has been as futile as it has been fun, and I’m going back inside.”
The youngest ones booed as he and the two fathers returned to the house, tobacco smoke and chuckles trailing behind them. When they were gone, there was a tired yet happy lull as each of them regained some energy. The cold didn’t feel so cold. Maybe the excitement they caused had warmed the air.
Alice sat up. “Ok, now we build a snow fort!”
Chapter 8: 10th Night
That night, after an absolutely delicious venison dinner, the group rested in the living room. Everyone sat on a chair or couch except for Uncas, who sat in front of the fire, and Alice, who was tired and laid down on the floor. No one spoke. They were enjoying the peace in the air. Hawkeye remembered back to his youth and the silent nights in the comfort of a home. He had the same childish energy of Alice back then and spent many an evening himself laying frustratedly on the ground. He preferred the excitement of the forest. Nothing had changed on that front, but he could appreciate better the appeal of domesticity with his age.
The scout’s eyes, ever-roving, landed on Cora. She was looking between her sister on the floor and Heyward beside her on the couch, practically falling asleep. He could tell what was on her mind. It couldn’t be denied that she admired Heyward for his his bravery, smarts, and sensitivity. It was with these virtues that he was to steal her sister away from her.
The lady felt eyes on her and turned her attention to Hawkeye. He didn’t look away. She waved to him, and he nodded back. There was an underlying understanding between them in this moment.
Finally, breaking the silence, Alice said “I’m bored”.
“I thought you were tired,” replied the Colonel.
“You can be both.”
Cora sighed. “Alice, I simply cannot bring myself to get up from the couch for anymore romps.”
“No, no getting up. Why don’t you tell us a story to keep our minds busy? I wouldn’t mind something to wake me up a little, like a ghost story. You know chilling ghost stories, Cora.”
“‘Twould be one you have heard before,” replied the sister.
“I don’t mind.”
“No,” said the scout, “When one speaks of spectres, they invite them for the storytelling!”
“What if she speaks low enough for them not to hear?”
“A man unconfined to a bit of flesh and bone has no limit in his capacity to see and hear!”
Cora understood his superstition. “Hawkeye has reason here. You cannot avoid ghosts. But I can assure you that all spirits here are benevolent.”
He relented, though he didn’t believe what she said. Cora sat forward on the couch and all eyes turned to her. She had the gleam in her eye of one remembering a happier tale than that which she was about to spin.
“When I was young, there was a fortune teller in in town.”
“In Scotland?” Duncan asked.
“Nay, in the Indies .” They way she said “Indies” carried a theatrical level of mystery about it for the benefit of the listeners. “This fortune teller was a very old woman who had had five daughters, all passed away in childhood or childbirth. Her psychic abilities had been finely tuned not only with her special connection to the dead, but in the natural maternal ability bestowed to a mother - a supernatural talent that God sadly does not give the father.”
Chingachgook and Munro looked at each other. She was completely right. In raising children they’d felt a deficit everytime they couldn’t identify the source of their offspring’s ailments. Their dearly departed wives wouldn’t have made the mistakes they had.
“And so, with her gift of foresight, she could tell the townsfolk of life’s impending changes. One morning at the market, the fortune teller ran into my mother, recently betrothed to my father.”
“Ah, I recall this story,” said Munro. “I say Cora, tell an imaginary story! The truth is too frightening.”
Alice protested. “No, I love this one!”
Cora continued. “The fortune teller walked up to my mother and said to her that she felt the spirits giving her bleak predictions for my mother’s life.” Cora floated her hands around her head as if she herself was receiving messages from the great beyond. “She suggested to my mother that she travel deeper into the Indies and farther from the Europeans, for they would bring disease powerful enough to cut many lives short. My mother would not retreat from colonization, of course, not only for her love of my father, but for her family, that themselves contained members who’s lineage she’d accused of plague-bringing.”
Munro sighed. These memories sat heavy on his heart. Cora was saddened as well, but continued, knowing the better end.
“The fortune teller told her that she would be crushed between the nations clashing both around her and within her. However, she added that a spirit so strong as my mother’s needed not rely on a body.” There she took a dramatic pause, letting the words sink in. “The old psychic told her that she was destined to watch over her lineage until the combatting nations in it found peace. As was her own mother, and as would be I.”
The guests hung on each word. Heyward let his mouth open in awe. Chingachgook didn’t move, but he listened and let himself learn. Uncas was leaned forward, understanding these concepts of the supernatural better than anything his European friends had spoken of before. Hawkeye gripped the arm of his chair like a vice.
“This warning chilled her, but would not keep her from what she wanted. She married my father and the two had me. She lived until I was four, at which point she died of typhoid fever.”
The memory of this brought pain to her and her father. The old man tilted his head up to heaven and hoped that gravity would keep tears in his head.
“My father and I boarded a ship sailing for Scotland shortly after. Though so long ago, I can remember clearly how tough the travel was.” She stood and walked behind the couch, using it as a set piece in her story. “I recall standing on the edge of the ship, which rocked wildly on the waves. I leaned too far over the edge -” She mimed this, “ - and my small body was thrown forward towards the black sea.”
All were on the edges of their seats.
“However, rather than fall victim to Poseidon's wrath, I felt two hands firm against my head, pushing me backwards.” Hunched over the couch, she put both her own hands on her skull and stood herself upright again. Hawkeye, wide-eyed, let out a small gasp with this twist.
“Unless it was a mermaid, I cannot say there was a body in the ocean there to protect me. Many more times in my childhood, when my father was distracted, I got into things that could have irreparably hurt me, like fires, heights, depths, knives, and countless others. All these times when it would have been understandable and logical for God to take me back from whence I came, unseen hands came to my rescue.”
“It’s true!” Alice cried, “I’ve seen candles blown out and fires weakened when they threatened to burn her!!”
“And for these reasons, we must believe that even now, as Hawkeye says, we are in the presence of ghosts.”
The scout was just about ready to jump out of his skin. He could handle the spirit of an ancient Algonquin, but not that of Cora’s own mother! What would such a ghost do to a man who had recently behaved so rudely to her daughter?
“Was your mother a vengeful woman?” He asked, his tone betraying fear.
The lady sensed her power here. “Well, of course! All women are vengeful, just as much as men, but even more so among mothers. When you say “vengeful”, you think of man’s vice, but I think of woman’s virtue.”
The scout’s heart pounded. He was on red alert. “Hist! Did you hear that outside?”
“No, you imagine things. My mother, like you say of the Indian, is more likely to be felt before she is heard or seen.”
“Well Cora, that is quite the story!” Heyward was now wide awake. “I might presume to say that your unearthly guardian has kept us just out of reach of the Huron tomahawk many a time before!”
She didn’t confirm this, but simply said “We have had unnatural luck.”
Alice sat up at last and leaned against the wall. “I love that story. I’ve never felt my mother after her passing.”
“Oh Alice, she was a good woman. She rests assured that you will live comfortably. My mother doesn’t have the privilege.” The lady made eye contact with Chingachgook, who cooly listened on. There was something he wanted to say, and she could hear it in his mind.
“What think you, Sachem?”
He took a small pause, then said “I will not rest.”
Uncas looked back into the fire. The group felt a twang of pain when these words touched their ears. The Brits considered him a living ghost - a spectre of a dead race.
However, Cora said something to the contrary with a confidence that surprised them all.
“No, you will rest.”
The two of them locked eyes and stared, somewhere between a power play and friendship. Each felt increased respect for the other with every second where they didn’t avert their gaze. Those in the room who hadn’t quite grasped the native customs felt uncomfortable with this. When white people stare, it usually means a fight is brewing.
Alice changed the subject. “Uh, does anyone else have a story? Papa? Duncan?”
The young man answered her. “I’m afraid my mind has only thoughts of battle in these times, and few of ghosts.”
“Still in battle,” mused Cora, her mind elsewhere. “It seems just yesterday that I cowered in the caves of the cataract, bracing for agony. I’m surprised that everyone else’s worlds didn’t change so drastically as mine has in this time.”
Heyward nodded. “Such is a feeling I cannot escape nowadays. You understand the mind of the soldier, Cora. Though we fight as a unit, we each experience individual, soul-carving horrors that few, if any, share with us.”
The room was in silence until the Major asked her a very genuine question.
“Do you feel like you’re a different person now?”
Cora looked at him briefly. Her sad eyes could have cut his heart open more efficiently than any bayonet or tomahawk. It didn’t seem she was ready to respond, so he answered his own question. “As for me, I know I am not so naive as I had been. And the small lessons I’ve learned add up to a completely different set of behaviors in me. I don’t even grimace at violence that could once make me shout. I don’t fall asleep with any ease, nor can my resting mind ignore an unusual sound. I used to consider myself a believer in the Lord, but I know now that I was mistaken as to what his presence looks like. The truest lesson to be learned as to the might of Providence is found in front of our faces, and not in the pages of a book.”
Hawkeye, though rattled by visions of ghosts, was warmed to here this. “There, Major, you have learned the wisest lesson of them all - one not afforded to us whites as it is the Native. I have long been a professor of the superiority of experience over reading.”
“And you then, Hawkeye, do you think yourself different? I know you have seen many such battles before we came along.”
“No, I have seen battles, but none the like of ours... Yes, I suppose a man cannot have struggled, suffered, and survived as we have and learnt nothing.”
Duncan sensed the scout’s hesitation to elaborate on his change, lest he sound womanly. Hawkeye passed off the spotlight. “Are you different, Chingachgook?”
The Sachem nodded without delay. The answer was undeniable and plain. His ways of thinking, acting, and speaking, had been irreparably altered. Not entirely, and for the better, presumably. He looked at his paternal white counterpart.
The Scotsman sighed. “Sadly, yes. I can’t pretend I am not a bleaker man, less trustful and a great deal more cautious, which must make me less courageous.”
“No,” Cora said, snapped out of her fog in these words. “That’s untrue.”
He continued. “However, as Heyward mentioned, I too am a firmer believer in our Lord, that which you, my Mohican friends, call Manitou. And I am ever increasingly thankful for that which I still have, though it be only a fraction of what I once did.”
Alice crawled to the edge of the couch where her father sat and put her pale little hand over his. “I am different too,” she told the group. “I am not so carefree anymore. And like you Papa, I am ten times more defensive. Not in a melancholy way, though. In an angry way. Not a rage, but I find myself having more frequently a sharpness of thought. And my timid nature, while not gone, is eroded...” She looked at the gloom on her sister’s face. “Cora? You haven’t said anything yet.”
“Mmm. I am in a similar state as you, Alice, though I began bolder than you. I have almost no tolerance for unpleasantness now... And I say honest things without questioning their prudence.” She and Chingachgook exchanged glances for that confession. “I rely more on my intuition, as much as I still value reason. And I fear... I fear not what I once did, but rather all that was once familiar and friendly...”
Her tone was so dark, gruesome and low, that Alice visibly shivered. Her sister was distant in some terrible thought. There was no retrieving her from her own mind. Those last words of hers resonated so truly in the hearts of all present that further conversation, and all that which had lead up to that point, became a waste of breath. She’d summed it up.
Alice panicked under the solemnity. “Can we tell more ghost stories please? Cora?”
Unreleased from her mental haze, she blankly replied “These are the realest ghost stories. From us, who ought to be dead, and ghosts ourselves.”
The girl clutched her father’s hand tight. Heyward sought to alleviate his love’s uneasiness. “What about you, Uncas? We don’t know anything about who you were before our trials.”
A pause, as all listened closely for his answer.
Chapter 9: 9th Day
A friend of the sisters, Bernice Eckland, stops by to deliver some news.
The next day wasn’t very busy with chores. Excitement remained in the air nonetheless, because a friend of the Munro sisters came to visit.
Alice swung open the door late that morning to find Bernice, one of the most popular young women in Albany. She was known not only for her beauty, but her charming personality.
“Bennie!” Alice hugged her cold friend and pulled her inside. “Oh, it’s so good to see you! I’ve missed you! What are you doing here?”
“Oh Elsie, I’ve missed you too!” She took off her cap and mittens. Her freckled face was nearly as red as her hair after feeling the frost of winter, but the warm air in the house returned her complexion. “Merry tenth day before Christmas!”
“I can hardly believe it’s almost here! It’s my second-favorite, next to Easter, as you know. And it’s Cora’s number one favorite.”
“I love it too. I can’t pick a favorite, but I love it. Really I’m here sort of because of Christmas.”
“Yeah? What is it?”
“Well, you know I have an aunt in Vermont. My parents are going to get her and bring her and the family back so she can spend the holiday with us. In that time, me and my siblings will have full reign over the house for three days.”
Alice grinned mischievously. “ Ooooh , I seeee .”
“Yeah, so I’m inviting some people over for a little party tomorrow, since they left just today.”
“Well, Cora and I would love to come! I remember how fun your parties are.”
Bernice’s eyes twinkled at memories of wild times passed. “Yeah, there have been some good ones. But Alice, I have to tell you, that’s not my only reason for coming around today.”
“I heard you have some interesting guests around.” Bernice glanced around her, trying to spot some proof of a stranger.
“You’ve heard correct! We have many guests, and all of them are actually out in the barn right now doing something or other. They hate being confined to a house.”
“I’ve heard, I’ve heard. Are they who I think they are?”
“Well, I invited Major Duncan Heyward, who is here only briefly for Christmas before battle re-ignites in the north.”
Her eyes grew wide. “Yeah, but what about the others?”
Alice smirked. She was purposefully stringing her friend along. “Oh, Cora’s guests?”
“The ones who came here just recently?”
“The father and son and their friend?”
“YES, Alice, you’re killing me here!”
“Fine, fine! It’s true, we have Hawkeye - La Longue Carabine - and his friend the chief Chingachgook and his son Uncas.”
“Wow! They’re heroes, and they’re here? I knew they were real, but it’s crazy that they’re really real.”
“I can’t believe it myself. Their manners are unusual, but they’re really lovely. Hawkeye is a white man, but he speaks like the Indians and he has few behaviors like us, though he would be livid to hear me accuse him of assimilation to a race besides his own. And his friend Chingachgook is much more quiet than he, but very smart.”
“Smart!?! I wouldn’t have guessed.”
Alice, who, only a few months ago would have overlooked (if not agreed with) such a statement, felt the cringe of ignorant words on her ears. “Uh, yeah. But he is, Bernie, I’m telling you! He looks around the room like this -” she mimicked the eye movements- “and he can tell you of an incoming enemy from a mile away!”
“Yeah! And his son, good Lord! Uncas is the most amazing person you’ll ever meet.”
“Really. He has the face of a Greek bust, Bernie! And he runs so fast that a bullet couldn’t fly quicker than him! Just like his father, he’s an absolute genius. He speaks little English, but the things he does say are eloquent, even with limited vocabulary.”
The visitor could barely contain her excitement. “Elsie, I absolutely have to meet them!”
The girl reached for her coat. “Let me get on my boots and I’ll introduce you right now.”
The two set out to the barn. The doors were shut to keep out the cold, and when they opened them, they found the four men just kind of sitting around inside. Whatever they had been doing was seemingly done. Chingachgook sat criss-cross on the table, smoking from his pipe. Hawkeye was beside him on a hay bale, head resting in his hand. Leaned on the other wall was Heyward, staring up into the rafters, and Uncas, braiding some pieces of hay together. Everyone looked at the girls when they entered.
“Hello!” Alice brought her friend inside and shut the door behind them. “This is my friend, Bernice Eckland.”
Heyward stood up, embarrassed by the momentary lack of grace. “How do you do, Miss Eckland?”
“Please, call me Bernice. And you must be Major Duncan Heyward! I’ve heard so much.”
“All good things, I hope.”
The lady’s laughter sounded like silver bells. “Rest assured, nothing to make me worry for Alice here!”
The Munro girl gestured to the eldest Mohican. “This is Chingachgook, chief of the Mohicans.”
Bernice was so enraptured by his appearance that she almost forgot to curtsey. “How do you do, Chief?”
He didn’t reply, but only nodded his head. It was clear on his face that he was happy to meet her. The girl looked him up and down. She’d never seen a scalping tuft before, and it frightened her to think that a man would maintain on himself an aid for his enemy to carve him up. Besides that, she quite liked the other decorations he wore. Despite ignorance of each one’s significance, she knew that his owning them distinguished him as important.
“And this is Hawkeye, the... The everything, really.”
He stood and shook the lady’s hand - a rugged-type greeting that expressed measures about him right away. “Nice to meet you, Bernice.”
“The pleasure is mine. You’re quite the legend around town, Mr Hawkeye.”
He tried to cover his love of flattery. “So I’ve heard.”
Finally, Alice gestured to youngest, who had not yet got up. “This is our dear friend Uncas, the last chief of the Mohican race.”
Bernice held back a gasp as, in an instant, he stood to greet her in the same fashion as Hawkeye. Everything Alice had said about him was more true than she could have imagined. “Uncas, it’s an honor to finally meet you.”
“Hello,” he replied. His vocal quality alone gave her a glimpse into the depths of his beautiful mind.
“I know it’s not polite to admit, but after all the stories I’ve heard about you, I wanted to prove to myself that you’re real. And you are! You’re real!”
He didn’t quite follow. “Yes.”
“Yep! Really real!.. I’ve heard noble tales about you. They say you’re not easily persuaded to consider your own safety before that of anyone else.”
The Mohican was not completely flattered by this, as he felt many men held these self-sacrificing traits. Good thing he didn't know very many people, or he'd know better than to think so highly of people. Bernice could perceive a glimmer in his eyes that told her these words were not totally lost in translation.
She continued. “How old are you, Uncas?”
He stared off in thought, brow furrowed. Time was not easy to convey between these languages. He looked to Hawkeye for help.
“The Mohicans here don’t use the same dates as the Europeans, but go by season to measure a year. I recall the day he was born to be the fifteenth of September, twenty-one years ago.”
He nodded, confirming Hawkeye to be an authority on the matter.
“A contemporary of ours, and yet so accomplished! I’ve known no man my age to be such a leader - “ she remembered the company she kept - “save, of course, for Major Heyward.”
Duncan, though honored, shook his head. “No, I can assure you, he has a far higher status among his people than I have among ours.”
Uncas, following in humility, shook his head as well, but said nothing.
Satisfied with what she’d seen, Bernice looked over at her friend. “Well, it’s been lovely meeting you all, but I really ought to take my leave. I have a lot of chores left to do today.”
“Of course, Miss,” said Hawkeye. “It’s been a pleasure.”
They waved goodbye and exchanged civil smiles. The ladies trudged through the snow back to the front door of the house. Deciding they were sufficiently out of earshot, Bernice assessed the encounter. She admitted to not being a fan of certain small mannerisms, but excused everything. To the highest superlative she could conjure, she praised the humble, noble, and kind qualities of the woodsmen. To conclude her recounting of the event, she made a request of Alice.
“I’m simply beside myself to see Uncas in the flesh! I cannot blame Cora for being so enamored. I’m sure that if I could have seen him defeat so many enemies in my honor, I too would be head-over-heels. And he’s our age too.”
Being reminded of Cora’s love both amused and stressed the sister. “Yeah, he’s amazing.”
“Alice, you absolutely have to bring him along to my party.”
This request surprised her. “Really?”
“Yes, you have to! He’s an absolute riot! I’m almost certain there’s a sense of humor under that solemn expression. To Hell with the language barrier! Were we not in the presence of old people, I bet he would have been less inhibited in his speech.”
“I don’t know, Bernie. I think he’s kinda just like that.”
“Please! Oh, Ben will just love him! And Eddy is so impressed by the stories, my Lord, he’ll be jumping for joy! And Martha and Maggie and Trinity - he’ll be the most popular man in town!”
“They wouldn’t just stare at him like an animal, would they? I’d just die of embarrassment if they made him uncomfortable.”
“I promise you, I swear to you, I’ll make sure they don’t forget their manners.”
The girl was hesitant, but caved in with that classic teenage social pressure. “Ok, fine, fine. I’ll be sure he’s there.”
Bernice wrapped her arms around Alice. “Oh, thank you! Now, I really have to go. I have many more people to tell before the day is over. Normally I’d say hi to Cora, but I’m afraid I don’t have the time.”
“Oh, it’s no worry. She’s probably weaving in the basement or something. We’ll see you tomorrow anyway.”
“You and Cora and Duncan AND Uncas!”
“AND Uncas, yes.”
She patted her henchman on the shoulder before walking off on the path back to town. “See you soon!”
“See you Bernie.” Alice idly watched her go and tried to devise a plot for the four youths to steal away the next day.
Chapter 10: 8th Night
Ya Boiz roll up to the coolest party in Albany.
A little over 24 hours later, Alice had finally maneuvered the party situation in her favor. There were several hoops to jump through to do so, including (but not limited to):
- Finding excuses for all four of the youngest to be out of the house at the same time
- Getting Duncan, a renowned rule-follower, to steal away with them under her father’s nose
- Secretly explaining the whole shabang to Uncas
Through these trials and tribulations, she somehow got them all where she wanted them. They walked to the Eckland’s house, which was closer to town than the Munro’s, but still remote enough so that they wouldn’t have to worry about the party drawing attention from neighbors. The windows were lit up bright, and people cast gray shadows on the panes as they passed by from within.
The Mohican recalled that the Munro house looked much like that one when he first saw it in the evening. This time, however, he didn’t feel too nervous. Really, it was rare to make him nervous in a non-life-threatening situation. Only Cora was the exception.
Duncan knocked on the oak door. Bernice swung it open and squealed to see her most joyfully anticipated guests.
“Oh, hello! Come in, come in! Thank you for coming!”
She hugged Cora as a small apology for not seeking her out the other day. The lady welcomed this gesture. “Hi Bernie. I’ve missed you.”
“And I you, Cora.” They let go and the hostess looked now to Uncas, who was glad to see a semi-familiar face. “Hello! Remember you met me yesterday?”
“Well I simply had to have you with us here. It’s just people our age here tonight! My parents are out of town. You know how it is with parents around - you just can’t be yourself like you can be with friends.”
He genuinely considered her words. Never in his life had he really been without either his father or Hawkeye. He didn’t know how to differentiate “himself” with them between “himself” without them. It didn’t puzzle him too much though. He was sure he’d find out what she meant that night.
She brought them all into the living room. Some of the other guests had already arrived. Bernice had coached them not to stare or obsess over the native, as much as they wanted to. They observed him in several rounds of glances, and barely stifled their amazement. He could feel their eyes on him, and it wasn’t comfortable. It wasn’t the attention - he was used to that. It was how he couldn’t tell what they were thinking. Whites tended to put on airs, and it was faker the wealthier they were. He assessed these people to be middle-class.
The hostess introduced the newcomers to Albany’s other youths. Just as Alice had assessed her checklist for sneaking to the party, the men made their own mental lists of each person.
- Ben was Bernice’s brother. He had red hair and freckles like her, and was maybe two or three years younger.
- Eddy was a robust, tall man with thin blonde hair. He had that governor-of-a-colony look about him. Probably the oldest in the room.
- Maggie was a quiet, gaunt girl about Alice’s age whose every feature, both in physicality and personality, gave the impression that she was trying to disappear into thin air
- Martha was Maggie’s older sister. In every possible way, she was bigger than her sister. Bigger body, bigger hair, bigger voice, bigger character.
- Trinity was a calculated young lady who seemed to enjoy gathering information for gossiping later. She’d already got herself a glass of rum, and everyone wasn’t even there yet.
Ben offered an empty chair behind him to Uncas. This gesture was clearly motivated by childish curiosity. Bernice gave him a subtle yet stern look to warn him against doing anything weird.
The Mohican took the chair. Just as Ben was fascinated by his looks, he was fascinated by Ben. Every feature about him he had only seen before in Bernice just yesterday. His teeth were endearingly crooked. Orange curls cascaded down his head, which was amusing, since most white men he’d seen before had short hair.
Ben greeted the guest with the in-between voice of a boy on the cusp of being a man. “Nice to meet you, Uncas!”
“Do you speak English?”
Bernice cut in, diligent to keep her brother in line. “Well that’s just fine, because Ben doesn’t speak English too well either.”
The boy pretty much ignored the dig. Duncan pulled a chair up beside Uncas. For some strange reason, he felt closer to his Mohican friend than he did to his Albany peers. Alice took her place next to him, and then Cora next to her. Everyone sat in a sort of circle (Maggie beside Cora, Martha beside Maggie, Eddy beside Martha, Trinity beside Eddy, and Ben beside Trinity).
Trinity was a clear master at negotiating social situations. She took the next turn to speak. “So Major, how goes the war?”
“Oh, the normal answer would be to tell you it goes well, as victory appears in our favor - knock on wood.“
Everyone knocked three times on the nearest wooden surface. Uncas followed along as a manner of politeness, though he didn’t know what it accomplished.
“However, I don’t presume to say that a war goes well when I myself have witnessed so many tragedies on the battlefield. Gloomy thoughts aside, I believe, at this time, there is no cause of worry.”
They knocked on wood again. Trinity scratched the back of her neck. “So I trust then that we are not at too big of a disadvantage by having you here and not on the frontlines?”
“Ah, you’ve found my greatest stressor! I think constantly about whether or not I ought to be here, but I was ordered by my commanders to stay at least until Christmas. I do plan on departing immediately on December 27th.”
“A fact which will weigh on us during the holiday,” added Cora, with no particular intention to convince him to stay longer.
Trinity could feel a touch of tension there. She knew all the rumors about how Cora was much more protective of Alice after their ordeal, and was not easily letting her sister go to Heyward. A lover of drama, Trinity decided to give the bear a little poke. “What is there in this town for your commanders to insist you spend Christmas here?”
What was he supposed to say to that? He absolutely could not bring up the touchy subject of marriage. Three long seconds passed before he was drawn backward by the saving voice of Uncas.
“Heyward was missed.”
Duncan breathed a quiet sigh of relief and looked appreciatively to the diplomat.
“Oh, of course,” replied Trinity, clearly beaten at her own game.
Another knock came at the door and Bernice bolted up to welcome them in. These whites knock a lot , Uncas thought. She returned with three more guests, introducing them as
- Bernice’s elder sister Edith, who looked just like her siblings.
- Adam, a short but strong-looking blond boy who was seemingly Edith’s suitor.
- Clayton, the curly black haired friend of Adam, who lit up the room with his confidence and charm.
The sister had only gone out to retrieve the two others. Edith and Adam pulled up chairs beside the couch between Trinity and Ben. Clayton greeted Cora with warm familiarity and put his chair between her and Maggie. “Hey, it’s been a while!” He gave her a hug. “Well really only two or so weeks.”
“Too long Clayton,” she replied. “Has anything happened since?”
“A lot, actually. Obviously you remember my father wants me to be a carpenter, but you know I’ve had a skill with the needle since before you even met me.”
“Yes, you do.”
“Well, I’ve begun working for the tailor, and I’ve been busy with work around the holiday, which brings good pay. I really think I’m good at it! But you, of course, have three times that skill I have.”
She chuckled. “Well, I don’t want to brag, but I’ve made quite a few things I’m proud of. I actually knitted the mittens that Alice and I wore here.”
Uncas quietly eavesdropped on their sidebar conversation while everyone else chattered about who-knows-what.
Time passed with chit-chat. When the last seven of the guests arrived, Martha suggested they push all the furniture to the edges of the room to fit everyone in the circle. Both Uncas and Duncan did mental sweeps of the room to keep track of all the names and personalities. Clockwise, these were the people:
- Ben - the little brother
- Ruth, graceful but cold
- Lacey, outgoing but impulsive
- Edith - the older sister
- Adam - Edith’s suitor
- Irene, happy but shy
- Trinity - the gossip
- Bernice - the hostess
- Nathan, terribly loud but comedic
- Peter, clumsy but kind
- Eddy - looks older than he is
- Martha - big and bold
- Maggie - Martha’s mousey sister
- Luke, polite but glum
- John, smart but anxious
- And finally sitting beside Cora was still Clayton - Adam’s charming friend.
With this complex cast of characters now described, we can begin to get into the events of the party.
Uncas recognized Nathan and Peter. They were the boys that had shown him to the Munro house all those nights ago. They were surprised elated to see Uncas again. With that teenage need to be cool, they treated the chieftain like an old friend.
Now that everyone was present, Bernice now offered up some of the rum that Trinity had found already. Ben, Lacey, Edith, Adam, Irene, Nathan, Eddy, Martha, Luke, and Clayton all partook. Notice that none of the four main characters had any. Heyward, already feeling the guilt of not only sneaking around behind the Colonel’s back, but also not being in battle, couldn’t bring himself to have that kind of fun. Cora and Alice refused in politeness. Uncas was one of few who passed on the chance because of his knowledge of how alcohol can ruin a life - especially that which all tribes call firewater.
Ben nudged the Mohican to get his attention. He whispered “Hey, you’ve met Nathan over there?”
“Then you know how he’s real obnoxious. Don’t be offended if he says or does anything stupid. I told Edith not to invite him but he would’ve found out and been upset if she didn’t.”
“And Lacey is just like him. She says all the wrong stuff, so it’s only a matter of time ‘til - “
“Hey Uncas!” Called Lacey, in horrifically perfect timing, “How come you have your hair like that?”
The whole room cringed. They knew it was a bad idea to give rum to someone already so uninhibited. Ruth slapped her on the arm and muttered “shut up”.
Uncas remembered from a few days ago how Cora, a friend now educated in Native cultures, winced at his explanation for the scalping tuft. Surely he could define it with a gentler touch than he had then.
After mentally translating his thoughts into English, he answered. “If Huron kills Uncas - uh, me , I say he has won, so he takes scalp.”
He looked around the room to assess how he did in the expressions of the others. Only about half of them looked scared or disgusted. Not bad numbers, right?
“Woah!” Exclaimed Nathan. “That’s brave! It’s like saying that you’re so confident you’re going to beat them, you’re giving yourself a disadvantage. If I saw you coming after me, I’d give up.”
“All warriors have the scalping tuft.”
Eddy was compelled to speak now. His voice sounded as old as he looked. Was this guy a youth at all? “Lord, it’s gruesome! Why make it easier for them to butcher you?”
Cora intervened. “It’s honorable, Eddy. It’s respectful.” Her judicious opinion put the rest at ease.
He didn’t relent. “I’ll never understand how one can respect the enemy. I say to hell with them, and let them exert themselves to death in their victory.”
“Of course you couldn’t understand,” she replied, voice tinged with vitriol, “You’re too cowardly to join a fight, let alone see one out to the end.”
Various laughs and “Ooooo”’s danced around the circle. Eddy didn’t debate the matter further. He knew Cora to be a worthy adversary in wits. Bernice, keeping her promise to Alice, changed the subject. “Well, does anyone have exciting plans for Christmas?”
They chattered about this topic for some time until someone brought up music. Bernice had told some of the musically inclined guests to bring along instruments, and she pointed out the beautiful piano that her family kept in the dining room. Irene had brought her pochette (a small violin) and Luke came with his galoubet (flute/recorder).
Bernice had some of them help her wheel the piano into the living room, and thus the three began to show off their skills. The tunes they played were unusual for the period. It seemed that these children of the frontier had taken to making up their own styles and songs.
The first thing they played was a familiar Christmas song. However, they increased the tempo and added their own little flairs in their individual parts. The guests assembled a four part chorus of Alice in soprano, Cora in alto, Ben in tenor, and Adam in bass.
God rest ye merry gentlemen, let nothing you dismay
Remember Christ, our savior, was born on Christmas day
To save us all from Satan’s power when we were gone astray
Oh, tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy
Oh, tidings of comfort and joy
The musicians played a catchy little prechorus there before doubling the speed. The singers were caught off guard by this, but happily followed the rhythm. They repeated the chorus bit with the new pace, and then came the alto solo.
In Bethlehem, in Isreal, this blessed babe was born
And laid with a manger upon this blessed morn
To which his mother Mary did nothing take in scorn
Oh, tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy
Oh, tidings of comfort and joy.
The tempo was so quick that she could barely keep her breath up. Now it was the sopranos turn.
Fear not then, said the Angel, let nothing you affright
This day is born a Savior of a pure Virgin bright
To free all those who trust in Him from Satan's power and might
Oh tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy
Oh tidings of comfort and joy
Finally it was the men’s turn. The instruments dropped out all together, and the two singers lead the rest of the men in clapping and singing the chorus with first a slow speed, morphing to be even faster than the solos.
The group cheered the performers at the end. The energy of the party had subtly increased, inching closer to what Bernice’s parties were renowned for.
The hostess at the piano rifled through the papers she kept on top of it and handed a few to Alice. She had written a Christmas song to be performed by a soprano. The Munro complied, and the band began to play a gentler, slower tune.
When we are born we are swaddled and suckled.
Whispered to, fussed over, tickled and cuddled.
When we grow up things get muddled, and here it is Christmas time.
Will you stop by, for a piece of delicious
Peach pie while I tell you my yuletide wishes.
You can help me do the dishes, cause here it is Christmas time.
The lyrics reflected the warmth of Bernice’s soul, and with Alice’s youthful voice, the song had a very comforting effect on the party, even down to the most shy or excitable of them.
We all want someone who will love us and hold us,
to curl up alongside when the nights are the coldest.
We all want someone who will hug us and kiss us.
All I want is you for Christmas.
All I want is you for Christmas.
Alice looked to the three she arrived with. Each one regarded her with tremendous admiration. She considered all of them, even Uncas, her present for the holiday. As much as she liked real presents, too.
Bernice, caught up with her own song, joined Alice for the next verse, taking the harmony.
Let us examine the holiday spirit
Let the small kids sing so we can all hear it.
Light up a fire and pull the chair near it, cause here it is Christmas time.
Now knowing the tune, all the guests joined in the rest.
We all want someone who will love us and hold us,
to curl up alongside when the nights are the coldest.
We all want someone who will hug us and kiss us.
All I want is you for Christmas.
All I want is you for Christmas.
Now played a lovely instrumental break, at which point Martha hopped up and wrangled Maggie into a little dance. They chuckled at shier girl’s embarassment. Then it came time for the group to finish the song.
When we are born we are swaddled and suckled.
Whispered to, fussed over, tickled and cuddled.
When we grow up things get muddled, and here it is Christmas time.
We all want someone who will love us and hold us,
to curl up alongside when the nights are the coldest.
We all want someone who will hug us and kiss us.
All I want is you for Christmas.
All I want is you for Christmas.
Alice and Bernice, the only ones who could see how it ended, were the only ones to sing the last line.
All I want is you for Christmas.
Applause followed. The musicians decided to do a plucky instrumental piece next. On her way back to her seat, Alice was intercepted by her sister, who had the both of them join Martha and Maggie in dancing.
The rest decided to do the same. This wasn’t like the ballroom parties of their era at all. This was a bit more of a free-for-all. Their moves lacked structure or purpose. This made it both easier and harder for Uncas to follow along. Everyone took a second in their fun to look over and see the Mohican’s bright, handsome smile.
Ben asked him “Are you having a good time?”
He nods, and he wasn't just being polite. It was refreshing to be having fun without snarky remarks from Hawkeye or the watchful eye of his father. In all 21 years of his life, he never really got to just hang out with people his own age. Who would have guessed that the first time he did, they’d all be white?
Cora and Clayton were getting along well. The two danced with each other for some time before the lady left him to hang out with the chief. Both of them noted the humor in the two most solemn people of the group taking part in goofy dancing.
When the song ended, Bernice looked for another singer. “Cora! Do you want to do that one scary song about the werewolf?”
The crowd chuckled at that immediate change in genre. Cora corrected her friend. “It’s not about a werewolf, it’s about a girl in love who behaves like a wolf, remember?”
“Yeah, that’s it. We’re good at that one, and you especially. Will you do it?”
She hesitated with excuses like “It’s too scary” and “I’ve already sang”, but the partygoers cheered her on and she acquiesced. Bernice had her fellow musicians look over her shoulder at the sheet music, but Cora knew the song by heart. It was apparent to Duncan and Uncas that the Albany youth got together often to play music.
Ben leaned in and whispered to Uncas “You’ll like this one. It’s scary, sure, but it’s... I think you’ll understand it.”
The tune was ominous. John, rather than play the flute, stomped his feet on the floor and pounded his hands on the wall to keep the heavy four-four beat.
When Bernice banged out those first three chords, Cora’s eyes practically glazed over. Was this a trance?
If you could only see the beast you've made of me
I held it in but now it seems you've set it running free
Screaming in the dark, I howl when we're apart
Drag my teeth across your chest to taste your beating heart
Cora performed this song with the drama of an opera. She moved her arms like a flag billowing in the wind and flexed her fingers like a wild animal. The group marveled at her incredible acting skills. Heyward asked himself how much was actually acting. He knew she had a secret love of the supernatural. Alice knew this song and didn’t like the dissonance - not musically, but emotionally between her perception of the actress and the character described.
My fingers claw your skin, try to tear my way in
You are the moon that breaks the night for which I have to howl
My fingers claw your skin, try to tear my way in
You are the moon that breaks the night for which I have to
Her voice echoed off every surface, the alto range adding an extra layer of drama. The way she sang the words resembled a fire-and-brimstone preacher defining sin. Maggie clutched onto her sister for comfort. Cora now used the whole room like a stage, taking creepy strides and hiding around the furniture. The movement wasn’t without purpose though.
Now there's no holding back, I'm making to attack
My blood is singing with your voice, I want to pour it out
As she traveled the room, she blew out each candle.
The saints can't help me now, the ropes have been unbound
I hunt for you with bloodied feet across the hallowed ground
Shadows elongated and stood up on walls like their own people. Instinctually, Uncas brushed his fingers on the knife in his belt. Logic told him that there was no danger, but human nature said otherwise.
Like some child possessed, the beast howls in my veins
I want to find you, tear out all of your tenderness
Only one candle was spared from being extinguished, and she carried it with her.
And howl, howl
She pointed into the group like a witch casting a spell.
Be careful of the curse that falls on young lovers
Starts so soft and sweet and turns them to hunters
Our other three main characters pondered the way she said this. Her tone was familiar - a warning. Not just a really well acted warning. It was backed with utter sobriety. Some of the ladies who knew the song whisper-chanted this next part while Cora grabbed another prop - a footstool.
Hunters, hunters, hunters, hunters
Hunters, hunters, hunters, hunters
As selfish as he thought it, Uncas couldn’t help but notice how Ben was right. The concepts in this song were realer to him than those of the previous ones. Not entirely familiar, but enough to make him wonder if the song reminded her of him. She looked the same in the shine of the single candle as she had in the burning light of pine knots. Her frizzy hair glowed like a halo around her head. Cora stood up on the stool when her next verse came around, intense and real.
The fabric of your flesh, pure as a wedding dress
Until I wrap myself inside your arms I cannot rest!
She drew in a massive breath.
The saints can't help me now, the ropes have been unbound
The instruments cut out.
I hunt for you with bloodied feet across the hallowed
The powerful belt of her voice could have opened the earth. Even those who’d seen it coming were blown away. Uncas saw Cora as more of a spirit than a human in this performance. Her intensity only grew as the song came closer to its conclusion. Duncan was now certain that this was no act. She was expressing herself plainly. It chilled him to the bone.
Be careful of the curse that falls on young lovers!
Starts so soft and sweet and turns them to hunters!
A man who's pure of heart and says his prayers by night
May still become a wolf when the autumn moon is bright!
Alice could have sworn that Cora took a glance right at her for that new lyric. The ladies, swept into the performance with a musical frenzy, screamed out the last chorus right along with her. She conducted them with full swings of her arms and wild looks.
If you could only see the beast you've made of me
I held it in but now it seems you've set it running free
The saints can't help me now, the ropes have been unbound
I hunt for you with bloodied feet across the hallowed
The crowd absolutely exploded with cheers. She took humble bows and got down from her little stage. People helped to re-light the candles. Edith patted the actress on the back. “Amazing as usual, Cora! You’re the life of the party.”
Heyward took the chance to compliment her as well. “I knew you to have a talent for singing and pretending, but I am blown away!”
“Well, Bernice and I have done it a few times before, and it’s a good song.”
“Yes, it is.”
They terminated the conversation there while Cora joined the crowd setting up for a chess match between Martha and Peter. Heyward walked up to the musicians taking a break from their instruments. “Bernice, you play beautifully!”
She smiled. “Oh, thank you Major. I don’t have much else to entertain myself with but piano.”
“Well you have a skill. It makes a person smart to keep the mind active like that, you know.”
He glanced at the sheet music sitting atop the piano. “I can tell, because you wrote that last amazing song, yes? Clever poetry in that one.”
“Me? No, I detailed the musical bits, but Cora did all the lyrics.”
He already suspected that. “Oh, truly? Well then I suppose she has the music too.”
“Alice wanted to look at it. She adored the performance.”
“Really? I thought she was too afraid of it.”
Damn. Lie well, Duncan! “Well, she looks afraid, but it’s only because she’s so absorbed in the story with the, uh, the wolves, and all.”
“Oh. Well she can borrow mine.” Bernice handed over the parchment. “Just be sure she returns it to me later.”
“Of course. She’ll be thankful.”
Careful not to catch the elder Munro’s eye, he slyly made his way to his coat and tucked the papers in a pocket. There was something to be learned about her from her work. This wasn’t entirely unseen. Uncas watched him without moving his head.
Well, the night went on all kinds of activities. Those who were drinking only got drunker, and Alice even got herself some rum at one point. This was much to Duncan and Cora’s chagrin, but they let her go. With the both of them watching her, how out of control could it really get?
Trinity and Nathan ended up getting pretty lit. They told stories about the people in the town, like how the lawyer Goodrich got gonorrhoea from a prostitute, and his wife won’t let him sleep in their bedroom anymore. Nathan did hilarious impressions of the kids who weren’t at the party, which garnered laughs from even Duncan and Uncas, who didn’t know these people. What drunkards these two were!
Second in line of the boozing hierarchy were Lacey, Irene, Luke, and our very own Alice. Lacey only became louder and more annoying, and since most had lower inhibitions, they were more apt to tell her to shut it. Irene, the meek violinist, drank to be braver. She was really a funny girl. She showed everyone how to balance a book on their heads. Luke got gloomier the more liquor he drank, if it was possible. He mentioned dying in battle a few times to both Duncan and Uncas, which earned him slaps from whoever overheard.
As for Alice, she was just a lightweight. She really hadn’t had much at all. Nonetheless, she became more giggly than she’d even been before. “Truth or dare!” She yelled, “Let’s play truth or dare!”
Trinity liked this idea a great deal. Everyone else took it as a good chance to up the ante of the party. They returned to a circle again, rearranging whatever furniture had been displaced.
Bernice quickly whispered to Uncas “I’m sorry if these drunkards cause you offense at any point. I’ll shut them up.” She herself was responsibly sober.
Nathan insisted on going first. He chose Ben, and Ben bravely chose dare.
“Ben! Since you are the outlier son of the family, I dare you to put on one of your sister’s gowns and wear it for the rest of the night.”
The kids exploded with laughter while the boy ran to Bernice’s room. He returned with a pretty green dress which Ruth and Lacey helped him put on over his normal clothes. Uncas probably laughed the hardest. In his world, the gender roles were strict. No man he knew would’ve been caught dead in a petticoat, but Ben raced to get it over his skinny little frame.
Once it was sufficiently on, he danced around the circle, pretending to flirt with the guests.
Clayton shouted “Well now we know who’s the prettiest sister!”
More laughter, shuffled in with the protests of the other Eckland girls. Eventually Ben sat down with his costume and eyed the circle for his victim. “Hmmm... Uncas! Truth or dare?”
Heyward whispered to him what either choice entailed, and he decided to take the truth.
“Ok... What do you think if the strangest thing us whites do?”
People nodded and muttered “good one”. The perspective of this judicious man was much sought after. He seriously considered the question, mentally flipping through a long list of European oddities. After careful consideration, he looks at Heyward and said “The warriors.”
“How’s that then?” Asked Trinity.
“The white soldier is too proud to protect himself.”
“If you send the Major down path with thorns, he will not break thorns first, because he will say ‘No, I am the Major, I would be coward to step around thorns’.”
Alice and Cora chuckled. It was true. Sometimes he did send logic to hell in order to keep up appearances. Heyward tried to accept this criticism with grace, but he couldn’t help but be defensive. “Well Uncas, you yourself are guilty of the same inclination towards dignity of position.”
The group make that “ooooo!” sound indicative of an incoming roast. “How’s that, Heyward?” Asked Adam.
“Well, it’s not important to say when I’m just as prideful.”
Uncas wasn’t as defensive as his friend. In fact, he was smiling. This kind of banter was new to him. “No, tell!”
“Ok, ok! You remember in the cataract after we lost that battle to the Iroquois, when Cora told Hawkeye and your father to swim down the river and get help?”
“Well you weren’t about to go! She told you to get out and you just stood there and said ‘Uncas will stay.”
The others laughed at his impersonation. It was very accurate. The man in the hot seat chuckled too, but gave a rebuttal. “You stayed too. It was the brave choice.”
“Yes, that’s true. And it’s not fair for me to accuse you of rigidity to tradition, after all the times you’ve accommodated us in spite of your customs.”
Before he could protest this and keep Heyward quiet, the nosy crowd begged for more details. The Major, having the conversational responsibility, proceeded carefully. “Uncas here, on our first night knowing one another, helped to ensure not only the safety, but the comfort of the Munro sisters, when I know that the latter is not in the warrior’s practices. All thanks to his perfect heart of gold, which is not damned to bow to the soldier’s mind.”
Alice put in her two cents. “Duncan, again you’re Uncas’ equal, for you yourself have more of a gold heart than a soldier’s mind! You’ve rushed to the defense of Cora and I more like an angry mother bear rather than stay back and calculated with the prudence of a Major.”
Trinity leaned back in her chair smugly. “I see a common thread here.”
Clayton, a touch less amused, agreed. “Yes, as do I.”
Ruth only had more questions. “How old are you, Uncas?”
“Twenty-one,” answered Alice.
“So I don’t suppose you’re married, are you?”
“No,” he replied.
“No one here is,” said Bernice. “But that won’t last long, will it Edith?”
“Nope! This Christmas, Adam and I are going to ask Daddy for his blessing to let us be married.”
The group congratulated them. Adam and Edith had been courting for quite some time. They’d all seen it coming. Uncas noted that Duncan was laughing a little to himself. Surely there was a story there.
“Well, let’s get on with the game,” said Adam. “Uncas, it is your turn to pick someone.”
He scanned the room and decided on a familiar face, just to play it safe. “Alice, tru-”
“-Truth! Always truth, Uncas, because I’ve done plenty of regrettable dares in the name of this game.”
He thought about it, but was having a hard time finding a good question that would survive translation and meld to the current social situation. Ben leaned over and whispered one of his own invention to help out, and the Mohican had him do the asking.
“Ok, Alice, sometimes people write letters that they never send. What is the most interesting reason you’ve had to re-draft a letter?”
The tipsy girl furrowed her brow in thought. “Mmmmmmm.......” Before coming to an answer, she shivered a little. This caught her sister’s attention, which she used to her advantage. “Cora, I’m cold. Could you get me my scarf?”
“Sure, I’ll be right back.”
She went off and Alice took the chance. She leaned deep into the circle, prompting the others to do the same. She loudly whispered “Lascivious content!”
“Oooooo”s sounded from every mouth. People slapped their knees with laughter. Heyward buried his head in his hands. As usual, Trinity was soaking in the gossip. “Do tell!”
“Or don’t!” Interrupted the Major.
Cora returned with the scarf. “What’s this noise over?”
“ Nothing !” He said, loud and abrupt enough to practically be shouting. Suspicious as that was, she didn’t care enough to pursue it. People stifled their amusement.
Alice chose her target. “Martha! Truth or dare?”
“Ok... Ummm.... Ok! For the rest of the party, every time a wisecrack happens, you have to have another swig of rum.”
“Gladly!” She went to the kitchen to refill her glass, anticipating she’d be in for a lot more drinking. When she returned, she set eyes on Cora. The two of them always had a witty rapport. “Cora, truth or dare?”
“Well if everyone chose dare, there wouldn’t be a sober one in this place.” Martha took a drink. “And so, I say truth.”
“Yes! Now, imagine, if you will, that the Lord planned judgement day to be today, and the entire world ended, but all of us in this house missed it, and the next time we stepped outside, we’d find ourselves the only humans left on the planet.”
“Gracious, where are you going with this grim scenario?”
She giggled, almost spilling her rum. “NOW, with only those here in this room left, we must do God’s will. That is, go forth and multiply!”
The whole room laughed, and Martha forged on. “SO, who do you pick for your husband?”
The party waited in giddy silence for her answer. What a landmine of a question! “You know what? I think I’ll take dare after all.”
Everyone chanted “No switching!”. Heyward couldn’t hold back a rip roaring laugh, partly out of uncomfortable nerves but in amusement. He’d forgotten his school days, when secret crushes complicated young lives like nothing else.
Ben, still wearing his sister’s dress of course, stood up and curtseyed before the lady. “I would gladly take your hand in marriage, my fellow survivor.”
Peter cut in. “No, marry me, Cora! I’m a clutz and I won’t survive without a strong wife to protect me!”
Clayton playfully took her hand. “We would have the most beautiful children of all these fools!”
Alice laughed, just barely keeping from spilling the rum in her cup. “No, no! You’re all wrong! I think that the best companion for the end of the world, other than Duncan, is - “
“Me?” Joked Eddy.
“Me?” Asked John.
“Me?” Luke piled on.
“No! Uncas, of course!”
Alarms set off in the heads of the two. Meanwhile, the room burst with merriment. Finally they could officially tease them! They’d been waiting to all night for someone to get the ball rolling! Uncas gave Duncan - who was red with laughter - a stern look for this light treachery.
Trinity was all over this. “Give us the rationale then, Alice!”
Too drunk to be inhibited, she gladly explained her train of thought. “Well, everyone we know would be gone, so all of us would have to live together to survive anyway. And he’s the strongest, fastest, smartest, kindest, and handsomest of her other choices - “
The men protested - playfully of course, because they knew it was true. Uncas began saying something in Lenape before he remembered that no one could translate for him. In English, he simply said “not true”.
“It is too!” Alice countered. “You know it, but you’re too humble and good to admit it. Vouch for me Cora.”
She could find few ways to negotiate this banter without revealing too much. Only statements of fact were safe. “He is called the Swift Elk.”
“And he’s strong and smart and kind - “
“No, no,” mumbled the Mohican.
Cora wouldn’t accept his denials. “He has won countless hand-to-hand combats,” she admitted. “And he’s tracked every last one of God’s creatures through the woods without misstep.”
“Very kind. Always kind.”
“And I’ll never forget the first time we saw him! I’ll admit, I was afraid. I’d never met an Indian before, nor seen a person with skin so dark. But Uncas, you have the most trustable face on this Earth!”
Protesting Alice's compliments was not allowed. “Thank you.”
“How can even the most ravenous of humanity be cruel, deceptive, or violent in his presence? Bears and moose themselves, surely, must lay down their claws and hold back their antlers for him.”
“Well, Alice,” said Martha, “I say your logic prevails.”
“Absolutely! If all of us were the only ones left, there’d be no places to return to except here, so we could all stay together. It would be really nice... Except our parents would be dead.”
“Yeah,” muttered Cora. That was the problem, wasn’t it? That they had allegiances to those other than one another.
Well, they went on to play more of the game before they got sick of it. The musicians decided they had more songs in them, so they retook their instruments. Irene and Luke were a touch drunker than before, which both diminished and enhanced their talents. It had been maybe two and a half hours since the party had began.
“A passepied!” Irene demanded. “Let’s play that! We could do that!”
The music was just about as good as you’d expect from drunkards playing from memory, but the ridiculous little parts they improvised made it worth the chaos. Clayton made a show of asking Cora to dance. She accepted.
The passepied is a light-hearted dance involving lots of little hops and a brisk pace. Uncas sat back and observed with the utmost attention.
Three beats per measure, each beat being one eighth note. The other partners were Alice and Duncan, Ben and Martha, Ruth and Nathan, Edith and Adam, Peter and Maggie, and John and Trinity. They weren’t flawless matches, but they were friendly for the most part. You see, if Luke could have played the galoubet and dance at the same time, would have gladly taken John for his partner, and the same was true for Bernice and Martha. But the social complications in the lives of the minor characters aren’t important right now.
Clayton was an excellent dancer. He and Cora moved like smoke in the air. They were second only to Ruth, who was the most experienced. She’d been tethered to Nathan, who didn’t like to dance according to the rules. Frustrated with her rigid nature, he decided to leave her to hang around the tipsy musicians and freestyle his moves. Uncas, seeing an open spot, asked if she might teach him.
She wasn’t so welcoming as her friends. “Yes, I’ll show you how, but you have to do everything I tell you or we’re done.”
Cold as hell, but not bad enough to deter him. She instructed him first how to move his feet, then where to keep his arms, and finally how to hold himself up like an English prince. He was a fast learner. It nearly melted Stone Ruth. Nearly. Not actually.
They danced for many measures before it came the time in the song to switch partners. Uncas was not subtle when he made a B-line to Cora. She smirked to see him. “Uncas, hello. Learning to dance?”
“Yes.” He took her hand and the two repeated the steps. The lady was impressed. He wasn’t perfect, but hey, neither was the music.
“You’re a fantastic dancer.”
“Yes, but I like your dancing more.” They turned and stepped away from one another according to the choreography, then returned. “Alice was right earlier, by the way. If the world ended I wouldn’t want anyone on my side but you.”
His heart genuinely skipped a beat. He didn’t know that could happen to him for anything less than staring death in the face. “Thank you. I would not want any but you.”
The significance of this sentiment from him wasn’t lost on the lady. “I hope my hesitance to answer Martha’s question didn’t offend you. I just didn’t want to be - “
“I know, I know. No offense.” He reassuringly squeezed her hand, almost too gently to be perceived.
“Good. I just had to make sure you knew that I’d always pick you. You know, because of all the reasons Alice listed. Strong, fast, smart, kind, and all that.”
He smirked. “And what else?”
Woah! This was the first time that the solemn, humble, noble Uncas had initiated real teenage banter. It made her truly laugh, right from the stomach. “Oh, you heard her!”
He held his free hand to his ear and mimicked deafness. “What?”
“Well, she said you’re the strongest, fastest, smartest, kindest, AND....”
“AND.... Almost as handsome as Eddy!”
He mimed hurt at this subtle insult. “Oh!”
“And handsomer than Ben, John, Luke, Nathan, Peter, Adam, and Duncan! And any man else... So, in short words, a person could say that it makes you the - “ They turned and stepped away from one another according to the choreography, then returned. “Handsomest! There, happy?”
His grin was printed on his face. “Yes.”
“Well, now I believe that I’m owed compliments too.”
He plotted his response first. “Chitan, lëpo, liteha - “
“Oh, that’s not fair! I don’t know those words.”
She squinted. “Now that one is familiar.”
Familiar indeed. He has called her beautiful in Lenape once before to her face and a thousand times behind her back. He smiled, but didn’t translate. A person can’t show all their cards. As for the reader, you have the right to know that he called her strong, smart, and kind before she cut him off.
They continued to dance together without speaking until Lacey, in a fairly drunken stupor, lost her shoe. Cora tripped over it and fell right into Uncas, who caught her. The people around them stopped to make sure she wasn’t hurt in the falling, and they were glad to see the Mohican came to her aid. Then, they were fascinated to see them actually together. The two were a darling and dear sight. Still, those European “sensibilities” compelled them to be suspicious of any relationship between a native and someone who they thought to be white.
The couple giggled like madmen. She picked herself back up again and hid her blushing with her hands. He leaned in and peeked at her eyes between her fingers. She gave him a little modest push away. Who among the whites was hard-hearted enough to disapprove of a couple so cute?
The party went on into the night, wild and fun. But eventually people got totally worn out and started falling asleep in different places of the Eckland house. But what about our favorite four?
Chapter 11: Uncas and Heyward have a chat
Uncas and Heyward have a late night heart-to-heart.
The party had pretty much died by ten. This might not sound too wild to the reader, raised with electric lights, but for these 18th century people in the dead of winter, that was late. They’d arrived at six, which was after dinner and well after sundown. Four hours of partying will wear on a person.
The Eckland family wasn’t expected back until the afternoon the next day, so Bernice gave permission for people to sleep at her house until it was morning. It’s never wise to let drunks wander the dark forest alone. Trinity, Nathan, Irene, Adam, Martha, and Maggie (by extension to Martha) all decided to take her up on the offer. John, still sober, would walk Luke home, and Eddy was responsible and alert enough to make his way home. Ruth took care of Peter, who wasn’t drunk, but rather too clumsy to be trusted walking home in the dark.
Ben let Adam and Nathan sleep in his room. When the three were leaving the living room, they met up with Uncas and Heyward first. “Hey, are you two staying the night? Because us men are going to be in my room and give the ladies the house.”
“Oh, we’re not staying,” said Heyward. “We really should get back. Their father will be worrying about them.”
“Didn’t Alice make a good excuse to be out?”
“Yes, she mentioned that her excuse gave us the option to return tomorrow morning, but I don’t want to push it. The Colonel is very protective of his daughters, and I would never be disrespectful of that.”
“Of course,” said Nathan, “You can’t be offending him or he’ll never let you around Alice again!”
He chuckled. “Yeah, that’s a large part of it. Thanks anyway for the offer.”
Ben shook his hand, imitating the polite behavior of a man much older than himself. “No problem. Nice to meet you.”
“Nice to meet you too, all of you.”
The three left into the Ben’s room. Uncas tapped Heyward on the shoulder and gave him his two-cents. “It is dangerous to go at night.”
These words gave him a grim reminder of their hellish nights in the forest, surrounded and hunted by Iroquois around every turn. “That’s true... But surely any enemies of ours wouldn’t be lurking this close to the town?”
He shrugged. How could he know? He’d never been that close to a white town before in his whole life.
“Hmmm... I don’t want to risk our lives... Cora has better intuition than I. Perhaps we ought to ask how she feels?”
That wouldn’t be a problem. They fetched the lady, who was sitting in an armchair, watching Trinity fall asleep on the couch with her mouth wide open. They explained the situation to her, which she’d already been thinking about. “I would rather let my father worry for a night and see us tomorrow than have him worry for a lifetime and never see us again.”
Her words were wise. This decision made Duncan anxious as to how he’d deal with the Colonel the next day, but he knew they were right. He went to go tell Ben that they’d be staying after all. Meanwhile, Cora debriefed with the Mohican about the party. “So, was it fun?”
“Did you like me friends? You can speak your mind, no one’s listening.”
He glanced at Trinity, drunk and dozing and drooling. “I like some. I do not like others.”
She smirked. “Yeah, sometimes I feel that way too. But you know how it is with people. They’re strange and flawed and sometimes I can’t stand them, but I love them.”
He nodded. He could see how even the most annoying ones of her friend group could be endearing if you have enough exposure to them. Cora ran a hand over her hair to smooth it down. Dancing and singing and socializing had made it frizzy. Uncas didn’t even pretend not to be following the path of each coil from her scalp to her bun.
“Maybe if you come to visit some more, you can spend more time with them all. I know that Nathan and Peter are just dying to be your friends. And Ben is very sweet and sociable like his sister, and I think he really had fun with you tonight. You know, I could even see the boys going out in the woods and meeting you there sometime!”
Uncas chuckled. This seemed unlikely to him. She felt a twinge of hurt for being laughed at. Was it such a joke that a town dweller might stay connected to a citizen of the forest?
Duncan returned, all business and stress. “So, we can stay. Ben and Adam are sharing Ben’s bed, and Nathan is on the floor in there, so that’s also an option for Uncas and I. As for Bernice and Edith, they’re sharing their beds with Irene and Maggie. Martha is going to sleep on the floor in there, and I see Trinity has already taken the couch. Bernice said we can use as many blankets as we need to make ourselves comfortable... Where’s Alice anyway?”
Cora pointed to the piano. Alice was sprawled out underneath, sleeping. Duncan strolled over and squatted by the instrument. He carefully put a hand on her head and tapped her with the other. “Alice?”
She woke with a start, jolting up. Heyward had anticipated this, and his hand kept her from cracking her skull on the underside of the piano. “Oh, Duncan! What time is it?”
He stood back up and shook out his hand. That would be a bruise. “Still night. We’re going to be sleeping here.”
“You should consider taking a chair for your rest. I don’t think your current spot is very comfortable.”
She slid out and let him help her up. She stumbled a bit on her feet, but he helped her to a comfortable, upholstered armchair. Cora got up to go get blankets from Bernice. She returned with a whole pile and three pillows. Duncan put a blanket over Alice and Cora put another over Trinity. That left four for the rest of them. They had the lady take the extra one and lay it on the ground for some cushioning, then she covered herself with another and laid her head on a pillow. Duncan and Uncas had only the rug for their mattress, but it wasn’t anything they weren’t used to. Really, it was nicer than a lot of places they’d slept. It was fancy to even have a pillow.
Alice fell asleep almost instantly. Cora fought off fatigue a little better, but drifted away relatively quick. Duncan and Uncas kept a candle lit and stayed up longer. Neither of them could fall asleep even if they tried, which they didn’t.
The Major thought that this was an opportune time to have a conversation with his friend and get to know him better, even though they had to whisper. “Just so you know, people usually gossip after parties.”
Uncas wasn’t looking at him. His eyes darted around the Eckland’s dark living room. “Hawkeye says gossip is for women.”
He smirked. “Of course Hawkeye says that. He doesn’t know anyone to gossip about. Really, men gossip just as much as women. We’d never admit it, but we do.”
“Yep. So if there’s anything you want to say, you can go ahead and mention it now.”
“... Anything at all that’s new between the last time I saw you and now.”
“... Maybe you’ve had more battles, or something.”
“... Or maybe you’ve heard some things from the Colonel or Alice or Cora that are... Interesting.”
Still, no reply. This was the end of his rope.
“Oh, dammit Uncas, I know you’ve been courting Cora!”
The change in tone alarmed him, being already on edge. He had to make sure that the Major wouldn't wake the others. “Shhh!”
Losing no intensity, he corrected himself to a whisper. “Alice told me everything. She told me about the letters and the flirting and the tension AND how you love each other!”
Damn. Was nothing secret? “Well, - “
“I don’t mean to be confrontational, but Cora is like family to me, and I wish you’d have told me.”
“We’ve been here for a couple days, and here I’ve been, totally out of the loop.”
“I’m sorry.” He really did mean it too.
Duncan paused and collected his thoughts. “I’m not mad, I’m just surprised. I knew you two were interested in one another, but I admit, I didn’t think it would survive the distance between you. And now here we are, and you two are dancing and joking and laughing, and you love each other! I mean, that’s serious.”
“I’m not sure you do. I’m not sure anyone does. These old people don’t always associate love with marriage, but I do, and Alice does, and plenty of young people do.”
Uncas chuckled nervously. “Marriage.”
Heyward was stern in his opinions. “Yes, marriage. When you love someone, you marry them. What’s so funny?”
Now he had to ask the simple yet infinitely important question that would define his and Cora’s relationship. “Could we?”
Two words, but they hurt the Major’s heart like a tragic love story. “Could you?... Well, it’s not illegal... Of course, the Munros are a Catholic family. You’ll probably have to get baptised if you two are going to be married in the eyes of the church, but that won’t be a problem. It’s probably not even a problem for the Colonel if you didn’t get married Catholic. Is there a problem with the Delawares?”
He considered it. “Mmm... No? I think no?”
“Great. Then there’s no problems at all.”
Uncas shook his head ever so slightly. “Where would we go?”
“Where would you have your house? I assume you’d take the Colonel’s. Cora is the oldest, so she’ll inherit it. And it’s a suitable distance between the forest and the town. Unless you’d rather be closer to the falls, in which case you’d have to build a house farther in the woods.”
“What about the Colonel?”
“He’d probably live with the both of you until he dies - may the day be far off.”
“And my father? And Hawkeye?”
“Hell, let them live there too. It’s a big enough house.”
Uncas looked at the floor. Heyward made these things that caused stress in their lives sound simple. The plan laid before him was easy. People weren’t though. In the truest honesty, he explained this for his friend. “Heyward, I love Cora...” He chuckled and leaned his head back. It sounded stupid to say out loud in English. That didn’t make it any less factual. “I love Cora, and Cora loves me. People do not love me AND Cora. Cora alone, and I alone, but not Cora AND me.”
The truth stung the Major. He bowed his head and sighed. “Ok Uncas, I won’t pretend that anyone wants Cora to marry a native or for you to marry a...” White? Negro? “Non-native. If you’d told me earlier this year that she’d fall in love with an Indian, I’d have been up in arms. I’m a changed man now. All of us are changed. We talked about that.
“Hawkeye tried to, uh...” He made a pushing motion. “With Cora and me.”
“Alienate or seperate, yes. Alice told me that he briefly tried to instill a disdain for your lifestyle in her. He’s hesitant to admit that he’s different now, because then he’d have to acknowledge that he his previous ideologies were a little misguided. I accept that this is the case with me, but perhaps younger men are more willing to admit fault. And your father, he’s the one who relayed the message that you love each other, so you can’t accuse him of being intolerant. Nor the Colonel. He adores you.”
“Alice. Don’t think she likes it.”
This surprised Heyward. Stupidly enough, he hadn’t really considered her viewpoint. “No? Oh. She hasn’t said anything.”
“She wouldn’t say anything.”
“Oh... You know, she usually tells me what she thinks right away. It didn’t occur to me that she might be holding something back... Don’t let it discourage you, but it would make sense. Cora was traumatized from their ordeals. It manifests in some overly-defensive behaviors, especially regarding Alice... I can’t find a reason why Alice wouldn’t have come out the same way.”
“You say ‘defensive’?”
“As in she’s very wary of danger. To the point of mistaking safety for danger. She doesn’t like to be seperated from Alice. I mean, you know how - Wait, no, you wouldn’t know that.”
Uncas’ eyes lit up and he pointed half-accusatory and mostly jokingly at his friend.
“Ok, ok, yes, I’m just as guilty as you for not being upfront about why I’m here! You got me. Do you want to hear what I have to say or not?”
The two of them learned in in that secret-telling kind of way. “Well, I’m sure Cora gave you the idea that I’m here to get the consent of the Colonel to marry Alice.”
“It’s not true. I actually already have his consent - “ Uncas practically jumped up in excitement at this news, but there was more to be said, “ - On one condition : I have to get Cora’s consent.”
“Yep. I need to ask Cora for Alice’s hand in marriage. And since Cora is afraid of things that she doesn’t have to be afraid of, I have to be careful how I go about this. I know she is my friend, because we have been friends since long before our encounters with the Iroquois, but lately she is more apprehensive of my presence. She makes me feel like an interloper.”
“Well, my commanders found out about my situation and forced me to come here for Christmas, Cora’s favorite holiday, so that I might get on her good side, recieve her blessing, and secure my life with Alice. I’m suspicious about my commander’s motives though. I think they just got tired of hearing me talk about it all the time.”
Uncas chuckled. He and Duncan were in some really tangled social predicaments. How did they get there? Love? It snuck right up on them - quieter than the slyest Iroquois!
“Uncas,” the Major slowly began, putting thought into each word. “I know this might complicate things more, but even if you would just tell Cora yourself, face to face, that you love her, you might improve my chances in getting her good favors. She’ll be happier. She’ll see how important love is, and she won’t want to come between her sister and I anymore. Now, if she gives us the blessing, then Alice would be more likely to relinquish her sister too. It would be in our best interests to help each other.”
Uncas really did think on it. Still, he was apprehensive. Heyward had been hoping that he’d have his back.
“It’s ok, you don’t have to do anything for me. But please, if not for me, tell her yourself that you love her for her sake. And your own.”
They looked each other right in the eyes. Every card was on the table right there and then. It scared them both to have a non-relative know them so personally. In their lines of work, becoming predictable to someone would get you killed.
Uncas looked away and at Cora instead. There was no use in delaying the inevitable. “I will say to Cora that I love her.”
Duncan smiled. If there weren’t sleeping people all around them, he would have cheered. “Oh, thank God. When?”
“Perfect. Why waste time, right?” Finally, he reached for the candle. After blowing it out, he pulled his blanket over him and laid down.
Before letting himself doze off, he had one more comment. “I’ll make sure Alice and I give you two space tomorrow.”
The boy smiled into the dark, heart warm with love and friendship. “Thank you.”
“That is, unless you want us to be there,” he joked.
“No!” Replied Uncas, as stern as he could be in a whisper.
The Major chuckled. “Goodnight Uncas.”
He realized it was just a prank. What better proof of camaraderie? “Goodnight Heyward.”
Chapter 12: 7th Morning
The gang heads back home.
When the dawn came, our four favorite characters got ready to leave. They normally would have thanked their hosts before going, but their hosts were still sound asleep. They didn’t clean themselves up or even have any breakfast before stepping out the door. Alice was hungover and not very cooperative. The dim sunlight pinched the nerves in her head.
Cora held onto her sister, both to comfort and stabilize her. “So, Alice, what did you learn from this?”
She shielded her eyes from the sun. “To eat a bigger meal before I go drinking.”
Duncan laughed, which earned him a backhanded thump from the elder Munro. Uncas wasn’t listening to them. He was looking into the woods with those perceptive eyes and searching the snow for tracks of any kind. He tapped Cora on the shoulder and pointed to some four-toed paw prints. “ Chinkwe.”
“ Chinkwe . What’s that in English?”
“An animal. Don’t know the English.”
She smiled. “That’s ok. I’ll remember your word for it. Chinkwe .”
“Chinkwe, chinkwe,” repeated Alice lethargically. “Too many words in the world. What do you call trees?”
“ Hee-t-ook . What a word. Nothing like ‘tree’. What’s ‘tree’ in French, Duncan?”
“And that’s nothing like the other two. Languages are strange... Uncas, I’m amazed you know so much English. It must be hard to learn.”
“I suspect he knows more than he lets on,” said Cora, only half-joking. “You used a lot of English at the party.”
He shrugged and said nothing, further driving home her point.
“You know Uncas,” Heyward chimed in, “I too am impressed with your knowledge of languages. I feel guilty that you can speak to us in our native tongue but we can’t show you the same courtesy.”
“It is Hawkeye. He must speak English sometimes when he forgets Lenape.”
“Then we’ll learn how to speak Lenape in those times when you forget English,” said Alice. “Even I can forget English when I’m tired, and then I’m left with no language at all.”
Cora lovingly patted her sister on the head. “We’re already learning, I think. We know some words.”
Duncan nodded. “Even I remember some from our journey. Hnil means ‘kill’.”
“Kill him ,” Uncas corrected.
“Ah, kill him . Not her or them, but him . Now I know they were talking about killing me , as if I hadn’t already picked up on that..”
“I don’t remember those words,” Cora said, bad memories staining her tone. “I remember only the recent words - the nicer words. I remember yokeag - corn powder. And Mundu - that’s God.”
Uncas chuckled. Her simple definitions and lack of accent were laughable, but these were all completely outweighed by how flattering (and impressive) it was of her to have memorized those words.
“Also seh-kal-hoo-k , which means dark-hair, which is what you used to call me. And wee-sah-ohn-t-peh , which means light-hair, which is Alice, of course. And then well-seet , the word you won’t define.”
Alice smiled. “Ooo, is it a bad word?”
He shook his head and tried unsuccessfully to keep back a grin. “ Wèlsit? No.”
“Then what does it mean?”
He only laughed. Alice was too worn out to pursue this, and Duncan had promised to leave him be for the day. They continued to trudge back in the snow with only occasional conversation.
That day the snow was crusted over like it had been when the woodsmen first travelled towards Albany. On the path, it was up to their shins. Cora looked off into the frozen, dead woods. She couldn’t believe that people lived out there in temporary houses, curled up around fires with hide flaps instead of doors to keep the chill out. She felt like running out to them and bringing all of them into the safety and comfort of her house. Maybe they felt the same about her.
It was an eighteen minute walk back usually, but came out more like half an hour in the snow. When they came in sight of the Munro’s front door, they didn’t even have to get out their key before it opened. There stood the Colonel, awaiting his daughters. Heyward started to sweat.
“Hi Poppa!” Called Alice. He waved in return.
Cora smiled, but through gritted teeth, she muttered to the others “Let me do the talking”. This wasn’t a request, but a demand.
When they got up to the threshold, Munro stepped aside to let them in. Cora hugged her father. “Hi, Poppa.”
They went into the living room, where Hawkeye and Chingachgok were already sitting. This made the youths uneasy. Those two were more restless than to sit still all morning.
The Colonel kissed his daughters on the tops of their heads, like they were little girls. “I’m glad you’re back. When it got late I sensed that you were staying at the Eckland’s.”
Cora held her father’s hand. “Yes, it took longer than anticipated to - “ she looked at Alice, forgetting the details of their excuse.
The girl filled in the blank. “ - to console Edith. You know, Poppa, how I told you that Adam said he didn’t know if he could marry her?”
“Yes, of course. Is she ok? I know they have been together for quite some time.”
“Oh, yes. Uh, in fact, he came by to apologize while we were there there. They made up, and soon, he’s going to ask the Ecklands for permission to marry her.”
He smiled, not detecting any bending of truth. “Oh, that’s great! I’m so glad things worked out. You’re good friends for going to her side when she needed you. How did the two reconcile?”
“Well, he only said the things he said because he was afraid that her parents would think he was too poor for her.”
“Ah, yes, a story I know all too well. These good boys shouldn’t let things like that stop them. If it’s so dire, the parents will make a decision. More often than not, they’re fine young men. Most young men aren’t wealthy at that age anyway.”
Hawkeye rubbed his eyes. He looked tired, and was getting restless with this chit-chat. “So why did Uncas and the Major go with you again?”
“It’s dangerous for two ladies to travel alone,” retorted Cora.
He and Chingachgook were clearly not buying this. “These fathers stayed up all night in case you returned,” the scout said.
“You don’t look well-rested yourself, Hawkeye.”
“Oh, I am though. I slept. I wasn’t waiting,” he lied.
Now came that cultural tension that the youths had previously discussed - their differences in language. Uncas spoke to his father and Hawkeye in Lenape, none of them having time for translation, nor desire to get the others involved. While they spoke, Alice, her father, and Duncan went into the kitchen for breakfast. Cora stayed in the living room and idly listened to the sounds of the Mohicans.
“Uncas,” began Chingachgook, “Is what they say true?”
He wouldn’t lie to his father. “No. The light-hair - “ He stopped himself when he remembered that Cora could recognize that monicker. “The younger one was invited to a party, and the hostess told her to bring us three others. I didn’t know this was the case until she told me once we were already on the way. We were in the location she said we were in, just not for the reasons she said.”
The old man nodded, smarting a little under the reminder that he couldn’t protect his son all the time if he didn’t have him at his side all the time. In truth, though he had promised not to stand in the way of his son and Cora, it made him feel a little less happy about their relationship, for it only reinforced his worst fear. He was losing control of his son.
Undeterred, he had to have more information. “Was there drinking?”
“Yes. None by me, father, I promise.”
“I know, I know. You’re better than that. And as one who has, in my stupid youth, had a drunken night or two, I can tell the difference between those who do and who don’t have rum in their stomach. None of you seem so, save for the light-hair.”
Again, Cora perked up to hear her sister’s nickname. Uncas moved right on. “Yes, she had her own kind of fun. But I had normal fun. I’ve never met so many people my age.”
“I’m glad you are back safely.”
Before they could continue, Cora had to clarify something. She stood, walked over between the Sachem and the scout, and squatted down to whisper into their ears. “I suspect you know that our little story isn’t factual.”
“Yes,” replied Hawkeye. “I had a feeling when I saw the dark bags under your beautiful younger sister’s eyes.”
“Tell me truthfully, have we caused you too much concern?”
“No,” Chingachgook lied.
“I promise that Alice would never lead us into peril. She has an excellent intuition for that kind of thing. And if she accidently did so, I’d correct her.”
The eldest Mohican just smiled and nodded. He knew in both his heart and mind that she was a trustworthy girl. But remaining in the heart was the ache of watching one’s child stop depending on them.
“We don’t tell our father because he doesn’t like us to do anything he considers ‘dangerous’, like go anywhere where there’s boys. He confuses safety with danger when it comes to his daughters.”
Uncas bit the inside of his cheek to quell a smile. How hypocritical of her!
“And so, I hope we might keep this between us.”
The men exchanged a look. After their telepathic conversation, they agreed to keep the secret.
“Thank you. Before we go eat,” she stood back up, “I promise to repay you with stories of what a good dancer Uncas is!”
The two men burst out laughing at the boy as he tried to convince the lady not to recount that, but she was deaf to those pleas and just sauntered into the kitchen. What was she supposed to do, keep this golden information to herself?
Chapter 13: 6th Day
Plenty of fighting, singing, and dancing in this one. Once again I'm a terrible writer and I use a modern song as a was to develop an 18th-century character. Happy Sunday!
The 7th day before Christmas was a Sunday. The Colonel and his daughters got up early to go to church, and apparently, they weren’t the only ones awake at the crack of dawn.
The Munros came downstairs that morning to a familiar sight - the three woodsmen debating something-or-other. They sat in the living room and spoke back and forth in Lenape. Hawkeye and the Sagamore seemed to be the primary combatants, though Uncas was paying the utmost attention. The lad, as usual, let his elders speak, and didn’t say anything. Heyward was with them and watching, though he wasn’t following the particulars on account of the language barrier.
When the ladies and their father descended the steps, Uncas interrupted Hawkeye’s speaking with a tap on the shoulder. He stopped and looked over at their hosts.
“Good morning,” said Alice. “What are you talking about?”
Heyward jumped out of his seat and ushered the three to the kitchen, giving the adventurers space. “Our friends are discussing, uh, a matter of importance, that Uncas and I brought up. Or, that mostly I brought up, regarding a task that was supposed to be completed yesterday and yet was, uh, delayed.”
“What is it?”
He absolutely didn’t want to answer that. “Well, you three better get breakfast before you go! I’ll just make sure things stay civil out there.”
The Colonel squinted his eyes. The boy was clearly covering something up. He looked with concern back into the living room. “Is there anything I can do to help?”
The whole matter was suspicious, but he trusted them. “Oh. Ok, well, here’s hoping it’s resolved before we return.”
Duncan left the Munros alone to eat and retook his seat. Chingachgook was speaking. His gestures served well to clue the white man in on what he said in his own language. The reader has the privilege not to want for an English translation.
“Hawkeye, you flout to us constantly that you’re a ‘man without a cross’, and you take pride in having never fallen in love. That being so, why should you dictate what’s love and what isn’t? If you’ve never felt it, why should you get to define it?”
“Now that’s unfair to say, and you know it. I’ve never loved a woman, no, but I love my life - our lives - in the woods. I love having no orders to follow, sleeping under the stars, and surviving day-to-day. You can’t have that when you fall in love with a woman. She’ll want you around all the time, and to live in a house, and to think about the future!”
“I love our freedom as much as you, but if my Wah-Tah-Wah hadn’t passed away so young, I’d have that life of responsibility and stability right now, and I’m sure I would be just as happy.”
“You don’t know that.”
“Regardless of what I think, Uncas must choose his path.”
“I’m afraid he’s not thinking about it hard enough.”
“Just because he doesn’t reach the same conclusion as you doesn’t mean he’s not thinking right. Lay the blame on yourself before you do it to others. You’re afraid of change.”
He laughed harshly, defensively, and loudly. Alice peeked her head around the corner, but not understanding a word, returned to her own business.
“You’re afraid of losing Uncas.”
“Lose him to death , yes, there you have me. But lose him to a lady, you’re kidding. You’re just trying to irritate me with accusations of womanly feelings. I’m not the boy’s mother! I don’t weep when he leaves my sight!”
“You’ve raised him as much as I have. You’ve invested just as much time and effort and love into him as I have.”
Hawkeye and Uncas made eye contact. The boy said nothing, but his expression spoke volumes. This whole love ordeal had been a point of contention between the two for months. On one hand, Hawkeye wanted to see Uncas happy. Cora made him happy. But Hawkeye didn’t believe Uncas could have both her and their forest life. The thought alone could break his heart.
The sound of dishes rattling came from the dining room. The Munros walked into the living room.
“Well, we’re off,” said Cora. “Any of you are welcome to come along, but I don’t think you’d like it. There’s a lot of Latin.”
“We’ll be fine,” replied Heyward. “Be safe!”
She nodded warmly to him, and the three took their leave. The instant the door shut, Duncan took the chance to catch up. He had Uncas explain the last few points to him, and he found something to say on the matter.
“Hawkeye, you once told me one of the most touching things I’ve heard in my life, and all about Uncas.”
They didn’t say anything in response. The three were captive listeners, Hawkeye more anxiously, for fear his own words could be used against him.
“When Uncas had been captured by the Hurons, and the both of us sat in the cave with Alice and the dying woman, you were determined to go rescue the boy. You said that if the devils killed him, they’d have to kill you too.”
“A common sentiment among companions in the wild!” Exclaimed the scout.
“And you said that you’ve heard people say the love between a young man and woman is stronger than that familial bond of between father and son. Then you gave an example of this ‘bond’, which I believe you meant to mean love, as risks I took in being reunited with Alice. I was flattered, but I think love were better applied to you with what you said next.”
“Whatever it was, I was most likely just trying to get you to be quiet.”
Duncan grinned ever so slightly. He clearly had Hawkeye in a corner. “You recalled teaching Uncas how to shoot with the pride. You said that so long as he and Chingachgook were at your side, you knew you were safe. You said how you have eaten with Uncas, shared turns keeping a look out while the other slept, and that it’s impossible for you to ever stand idly by while he suffers. And Hawkeye, if you were to ask the Colonel to describe his love for his daughters, he’d give you a very similar speech.”
There was little to be said to refute any of this. “Well, Heyward, perhaps I do have some paternal hand in Uncas’ upbringing. What does it prove?”
Confident at this tiny victory, Duncan was ready to argue on his friend’s behalf. “Chingachgook doesn’t want to watch his son grow up, but knows there’s no use in being stubborn. You refuse to let go. But you have to.”
“But - “
“No , Hawkeye, listen . You make up all these reasons about how they’re from two different cultures and they shouldn’t be together, but it’s all a cover-up for your own selfish feelings! Forgive my tone, but I absolutely cannot stand all this unpleasantness anymore. You need to give him your blessing, officially and sincerely.”
A massive, pained silence followed the Major’s outburst. Uncas, despite being the main character in this shit-show, had no lines. Though he had countless things he wanted to say, he knew none of them could alleviate the problem at hand.
Hawkeye sighed. “Fine then. Uncas, tell Cora you love her for yourself, though your father has already made the matter clear. She’s a lovely, virtuous lady, and I don’t doubt that she will take the news happily.”
Uncas nodded humbly. “Thank you.”
It seemed, for a moment, that he was defeated in this battle. However, a mischievous look grew on his face as a new idea emerged. “Well, Uncas, I’m sure that once you two speak of love face-to-face, she’ll naturally want to discuss marriage.”
The word both excited and stressed him. “Yes.”
“And when it comes to marriage, I think you ought to have a conversation with her father before her.”
Everyone else’s stomach sank. He had a point. With that, progress came to a roaring halt. Chingachgook threw up his hands in frustration.
“What, am I wrong?” He asked, knowing very well he wasn’t. “Major, shouldn’t he consult the Colonel before any marriage plans are made?”
Duncan wracked his brain to find an answer that would give the outcome he wanted, but could find none. “... I suppose you’re right.”
Hawkeye openly smiled. “Then I suppose we’ll have to delay for another day then.”
Chingachgook stood from his seat and started just yelling in Lenape at the trickster. They fought back and forth, but it was no use - Hawkeye was right. Uncas would have to follow the custom and talk to Munro first.
Well, eventually the host family came back. But something was up with them.
The Munros entered single file and immediately shut the door behind them, standing in the threshold. Each had a bright grin on their faces - even the melancholy father. The four men met them by the door and tried to assess what they were doing.
Alice decided to do the honors of speaking. “So, at church, the choir started singing, and we heard a very familiar voice.”
Hawkeye’s face absolutely lit up. Could this day get any better? “Oh Lord, don’t tell me - “
“I now present to you, the one, the only, Mr. David Gamut!”
The three threw open the door and scattered from the threshold to reveal the singing master, just the same goofy man he had been when they last saw him. He smiled, flattered at their insistence on theatrics for his arrival. Hawkeye and Heyward cheered and clapped, absolutely elated to have their favorite clown back. Uncas bit the inside of his cheek to try and hold back laughter, but didn’t succeed in stifling a full-toothed grin. Chingachgook smiled too, but was still unhappy from the arguing, and couldn’t find it in his heart to fully celebrate.
All eight of them, reunited, sat down in the Munro’s living room together. They listened to Gamut recount his last few months. He taught psalmody in Connecticut, as he had been tasked to, for three months. The little town had few children, so once they’d all been sufficiently instructed, he decided that it was his duty to reach more young minds and voices. Albany was a burgeoning city on the frontier, and he deemed it necessary to create a “wall of music” around the colonies, so that the art of psalmody might bleed into the eldest parts and out into the future territories. The journey brought him to the town on the 7th day before Christmas, looking for some place - any place - to go to church. He happily mixed in with the local Catholic choir, which brings us the the present.
Well, not a single person ignored this yarn he spun. The personal life of this strange, unsightly man had been largely a mystery. Everyone had wondered to themselves at some point after their parting what had become of him. Cora clasped the man’s hand with all the friendship and giddiness she felt for him. “David, though we have many guests already, I believe I speak for my father and sister when I say that we’d be absolutely honored if you would stay with us until you can find more permanent lodging in town, and if you would fill our Christmas with song.”
The lady’s compliments warmed his soul. “Even so, Miss Munro, the honor is mine. Though the Jewish King lived long before our Savior presented himself in the flesh, he knew the ways of our Lord well enough to write songs worthy of this holiday.”
Alice leapt out of her seat. “Play us a song! This reunion calls for singing and dancing!”
The other men were amused and charmed with her childish spirit. The Colonel’s eyes shined with contentment at his daughters. Alice’s request was happily met by David. He pulled his pitch-pipe up from out of his coat along with his music book.
“No,” said the girl upon seeing the psalmody sheets, “We have a better hymn here, written by one of our own!”
She rushed upstairs without explanation, pursues by her sister, shouting “No!” and “Stop!”. Alice returned only a moment later, still being chased, but now with papers of her own in hand. She passed them to David just before Cora could swipe them from her hands.
“Oh, it’s an unworthy song!” Explained the elder as David gave the arrangement a look.
Alice disagreed. “No, I say it’s a masterpiece! There’s no better way to praise the Lord than in your own honest words. I know it by heart, and love it by heart. David, you must play it!”
After scanning the lyrics, he determined there was no profane word or meaning in the work. He looked up from the papers and smiled warmly at Cora. “Miss Munro, I would like to play this, if you don’t mind so much.”
She was anxious to share her work with others, but flattered enough to allow it. She humbly took the responsibility of humming some of the instrumental part, in lieu of a piano to play it. Alice sang loudly and gladly, unembarrassed in the spotlight. Her sister’s song made her joyous from head to toe. Nothing could warm her heart quite like Cora’s wellbeing.
Sometimes I feel like throwing my hands up in the air
I know I can count on you
Sometimes I feel like saying "Lord I just don't care"
But you've got the love I need to see me through
The tune was pleasing to the ear, and the lyrics were surprisingly happy in their worship. Alice had a lovely soprano voice that did justice to this hymn. With some additional musical flourishings from Cora and David, the verse came along.
Sometimes it seems the load is just too rough
And things go wrong no matter what I do
Now and then it seems that life is just too much
But you've got the love I need to see me through
When food is gone you are my daily meal, oh
When friends are gone I know my savior's love is real
Your know it’s real
Heyward, having learned the harmony part, took Cora’s part and encouraged her to join her sister in the melody. After looking around to see all smiling faces, she gave in to Alice’s will. Together, they chanted:
'Cause you got the love
You got the love
You got the love
You got the love
You got the love
You got the looove!
The merriment of the girls was enough to make even Chingachgook forget the disagreements of the week. The Colonel laughed heartily, clapping along to the beat of his girl’s song.
Time after time I think "Oh Lord what's the use?"
Time after time I think it's just no good
'Cause sooner or later in life, the things you love you lose
But you got the love I need to see me through
Three beats of rest succeeded this verse. The smiles remained physically on the listener’s faces, but the gleam in their eyes briefly disappeared. How typical of Cora to let some sadness slip through. As of late it had been nearly impossible for her to take any contentment without a dose of misery.
Well, the moment didn’t last long, because they were right back at the chorus. Dancing and fun resumed. Alice forced Hawkeye, Heyward, and Uncas to stand and dance along with them. Cora made Uncas spin her around and around until she got dizzy and fell into Heyward. Alice noticed Hawkeye’s apprehension and grabbed his hands, moving him around like he was a marionette. Chingachgook laughed unexpectedly loud at how the scout’s amusement backfired into him being forced to express merriment. Along came the last verse.
Sometimes I feel like throwing my hands up in the air
I know I can count on you, oh
Sometimes I feel like saying "Lord I just don't care"
But you've got the love I need to see me through
Everyone applauded the sisters and singing master. The musicians bowed and, now that the ladies’ energy had been expended, they sat on the ground beside the fire.
The group chit-chatted about this and that for some time. Cora mentioned that they were running low on meat, and Hawkeye was more than happy to offer that he and the Mohicans go hunting the next day (effectively adding yet another day of delay to any talk of love and marriage). Chingachgook begrudgingly played along, and Uncas didn’t mind. He needed time to figure out what the hell he would say to the Colonel anyway.
It was still a whole 7 days until Christmas, and nothing of import had been accomplished. There was both too much and too little time to say what had to be said.
Chapter 14: 5th Day
The Munro sisters discuss important things.
On the 5th day before Christmas, the three woodsmen went hunting, accompanied by Heyward, who felt he should never go too long without the practice of at least holding a gun. Gamut went to town to do God-knows-what chores he was compelled to do. Nothing too spectacular happened on either expedition, so we’ll spare you those details and focus instead on the Munro girls.
First of all, they decided it would be a good idea to bathe. In an era without running water, this was a whole ordeal.
In the 18th century, people believed that warm water was bad for you. It supposedly lets diseases in through your pores. Furthermore, submerging yourself in stagnant bathwater was complicated to set up and inefficient for cleaning, since the scum just floats to the top and clings to you when you get out.
Instead, the ladies took sponge baths of sorts. They filled two buckets with snow, melted them by the fire, and let them cool down to be lukewarm. Then they went out to the barn, draped a blanket over a beam for privacy, and took turns bathing while the other stood by the door.
Alice went first. She spoke to her sister through the blanket.
“Christmas comes right before the new year. It’ll be 1758 before we know it.”
“I can’t believe it. It feels like 1739 was just yesterday.”
“The year I was born.”
“Yep! You were an ugly newborn, though. Better to be ugly for your first day and beautiful for all others.”
Her 0th birthday brought melancholy thoughts to mind. “I’m sure I wasn’t a happy newborn.”
“No, not happy. It was hard to be happy, but it was hard to be sad. When it comes to birth and death, you can’t decide what’s more important.”
The girl didn’t say anything in return. Cora continued to think aloud. “It’s strange how your mother raised me more than she got to raise you. I’m grateful for the time I spent with her. I don’t think I really understood that she was gone until the next morning.”
This tale was upsetting the girl, but she was no longer one to shy away from tragic memories. “I pity you the worst, Cora. You’ve lost two mothers in your short life.”
“But you never had one.”
“That’s not true. I have you.”
The elder girl’s heart absolutely melted. Her sister was too darling for words. “I’m a proud woman that you call me mother.”
“I’m the proud one.”
They just rested in silence for a while as Alice finished washing up. Once she was dry and dressed, the girls switched places. Cora’s water had long since got even colder, and though it was uncomfortable, she stood by the colonial belief that cold water was healthy.
Alice thought about more things to say. “I do like my birthday. Even though there’s reason to be sad.”
“I refuse to see your birthday as sad, no matter who dies on it. Even if you died on your birthday, I would celebrate as if you were still here.”
“Well, that had better not happen - knock on wood.”
They observed the ritual, and Alice continued to talk. “But this year I’m very excited. I’ll be nineteen!”
“So old! I can’t wait for the year 1800.”
“I probably won’t live to see that. I’ll be ancient.”
“You will, you will. You’ll only be...” She counted in her head. “Sixty-one.”
“Absolutely archaic! That’s older than Papa is now. Older than Chingachgook. Older than our ages combined.”
“You’re better taken care of than them. I’ll see you live to be a century old.”
“With your help, and with good children, and Duncan.”
Cora was thankful for the blanket between them, so the girl couldn’t see her wince at the latter two of her list. “Yeah.”
Alice knew all about her father’s agreement with Heyward. This felt like a good time to plant ideas in her sister’s head. “He hasn’t proposed yet, you know.”
“At this rate I’ll be a crone before he gets around to it, or dead. Do you think Papa won’t let him?”
“He wouldn’t be here if that were the case.”
“Yeah, I suppose not... But I’m really really anxious for him to get around to it. He’ll make a fine husband. I can only ever think about starting my life with him.”
Cora didn’t respond to this. The tension was obvious, and Alice couldn’t stand it. Their conflict had to be resolved, or she’d just explode.
“Do you like Duncan?”
This came seemingly out of left field. “Do I like Duncan? What kind of question is that?”
Alice wasn’t used to this kind of deflecting. “Oh, I don't know. Just a question... Do you though?”
“Well, yes, of course I do.”
“Good... It’s just that sometimes it feels like you don’t.”
“Oh. Well I do.”
“Good.” The eldest sister was clearly trying to cut this conversation short. Alice had to power through. “But sometimes lately you talk about him and you don’t sound like you like him.”
“Well, last week you were talking to Hawkeye about learning languages and you sort of, I guess, downplayed Duncan’s achievements.”
She could spin that story in her favor. “Oh... I only meant that he learns the languages of Kings and diplomats.”
Alice wasn’t buying it. “Oh, that’s nice. It just kinda sounded like you were implying that he’s a pompous blunderbuss who only cares about talking like rich people.”
A labored pause preceded the response. “I can see how it might have sounded like that.”
“Yeah, and it kind of feels like you don’t want him here.”
“Oh, well... I don’t know, I guess I kind of wanted to just spend this holiday with my family without him pushing this marriage thing again.”
“I’d hardly say he’s pushing it. I’d argue he’s dragging his feet.”
Now dressed in her shift, Cora came out from behind the blanket. Alice helped her put on her other layers of clothes. They said nothing, but the stress of the situation made the younger want to cry. The two worst fates in the world were to live without her family or without Heyward, and it currently felt like either-or. Her throat strained and she held back little tears.
“C-Cora,” she muttered.
The hurt in her sweet voice got Cora’s attention. She turned around to face her sister, and put a hand on her cheek. “What’s wrong?”
“Do you not want Duncan to marry me?”
That was the question, wasn’t it? A better one would have been to ask if she wanted anyone to marry her. Still, how could she be so selfish, so cruel, so cold-hearted as to deny her sister happiness just to keep her around?
“Alice, I’d be honored to call him my brother-in-law,” she replied. And in her heart, she really did mean it.
This made her feel a little better. “Promise?”
She hugged the darling young girl. “I swear.”
Alice surrendered her stress and sadness to the loving embrace of her sister. Something about Cora could make a person believe that everything would be just fine, if not even great. There was good reason to think that, because she really was resolving herself to learn to let go, at least a little bit.
Cora cried too. At least a little bit.
Alice wiped away her sister’s tears when she saw them, but didn’t comment. Cora hated to be seen crying.
They got their stuff together and returned to the house. While they were gone, the mail had arrived, and was left nicely on their front stoop. Thanks to the holiday, they had quite a few letters awaiting them.
Quickly forgetting recent tears, Alice got swept up in the excitement of receiving messages and grabbed the pile. They kicked the snow off their feet and went inside.
Alice plopped down in an armchair and read the envelopes. “All our family’s Christmas letters are here!”
“From across the sea. Cousin George, Aunt Margaret, Cousin John, and Cousin Cecil. Aaaaand Uncle Aaron!”
“Really!?! Oh, I miss him so much!”
“The only brother of my mother - our mother. How old do you think the cousins are now”
“Uh, maybe ten and twelve? He’ll mention it in the letter.”
“I won’t open it yet. There’s more. Huh! A letter for Heyward!”
“Wow. I suppose he told her he’d be coming here.”
“He must have. They started writing to one another again after she had a baby.”
“That’s very good. Why did they ever lose touch?”
“They were never close. I guess their family is just like that. It always made him unhappy... The other letters are from friends. The Ecklands, Peter, Ruth, Martha and Maggie, Irene, John, and Clayton... Oh.”
She held out the envelope. “Clayton’s is just addressed to you.”
Cora walked over and took the letter, looking inquisitively at it as if answers could be found just written on the outside. “Huh.”
Alice smiled. “All the others are for the both of us. I guess he wants to give you a special one.”
“How kind of him...” She opened the envelope almost reluctantly. Abruptly before reading even the first line, she looked over at the rest of the mail. “Let’s open the one from Uncle Aaron.”
Her deflection was obvious. “Nooo, let’s hear from Clayton first.”
Cora sighed. She read his letter aloud, not particularly thinking about whether or not he’d want to keep any parts of it private - nor caring, for that matter.
How are you? I know I just saw you, and you looked well, but things can change in a few days. I bet you’re even better, since Christmas is coming up.
How is Alice? She had a lot of fun at Bernice’s house. I quite liked that Major Heyward. He was a gentleman, but not stuffy. If our army is made of men like him, we’ll never lose to France.
I had a fantastic time seeing you the other night. Every day that I spend not seeing you will surely add another wrinkle to my brow in my old age.”
“Awww!” Alice cooed. Cora ignored her and kept reading.
“I never knew you were such a good dancer! I suppose I could have guessed it, though. Beautiful people aren’t clumsy.”
“Wow, Clayton! So bold!”
Again, Cora powered forward. “It seemed to me that moving on and growing up were the themes of the night, what with Edith and Adam’s announcement, as well as meeting the Major. In the spirit of this, perhaps sometime I can come by and convince your sister that it is I, not anyone else, who would make your best companion for the end of the world..
- Clayton van den Berg”
“He writes beautifully. I can tell you now, though, that I’ll never relent on my logic which prefers Uncas for life-or-death scenarios. Lucky for Clayton, we don’t live life-or-death anymore.”
She set the letter down. “Everything is life-or-death, if you think about it.”
“Clayton is a fantastic boy. Perfect manners, many skills, and a kind heart. Not to mention, he comes from a good family. We should invite him by sometime.”
Up went the lady’s stone-cold emotional barriers. “Maybe after Christmas.”
“Cora, you can’t pretend you’re not flattered by this love letter!”
“It’s not a love letter. He just fancies me.”
Alice saw an opportunity to pester her. “Oh, no, it’s not love. And you’d know all about love, since you love Uncas and he loves you.”
Cora’s face burned red. She turned and looked out the window so she wouldn’t have to be seen. “So says Chingachgook, at least.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean that Uncas never said so himself. Chingachgook was insistent, but I don’t know... It just hurts, I guess.”
She clenched her jaw, but let up to speak. “I mean... I really do love him... It’s like it’s all I ever think about... I feel like I’m going completely insane, honestly!”
“Yeah. It’s because you are.”
She spun around. “Excuse me?”
“It’s totally insane. We all went insane in the woods, I believe, and we never turned re-sane.”
“Alice, I was just saying that. I don’t really think I’m insane... I think.”
She turned on the couch to face her sister. “Well I think we are. We don’t see the world normal anymore. Papa is rarely happy anymore. I think every shadow is an enemy, and you fell in love with Uncas. Better yet, he fell right in love with you too! It’s all insane. No one would do the things we do.”
Cora didn’t reply. She looked back out the window. “What do we do then?”
“Well, I suppose we’ll all just have to be insane and get along anyway. There’s harder things to have to be. We could have lots limbs.”
“Yeah. Instead, we lost our minds.”
Cora contemplated her sister’s simple, harsh-truth statements. Maybe she was right. After all, she did feel different. Much different. “Do you think Duncan is insane too?”
“Yes. He’s paranoid like us, and though he’s just as kind and good, nothing shocks him anymore. You could reach into your chest and pull your beating heart out right in front of him and he’s stand there and say ‘You better put that back’.”
She nodded. He was a touch colder, and yet no less warm. A funny thought came to mind. Smiling, she asked “What about Mr. Gamut?”
Alice laughed. “He did a full turn, and got more like everyone else!”
Having lightened the mood, the girls read the letters from their other friends. When their father woke up, the three heard what their family across the sea had to say.
Eventually, David returned, successful in finding a little schoolhouse. They hired him to teach music, which made him absolutely elated. Everyone was very happy.
Better yet, just before twilight turned to night, the four men returned from hunting. They had yet another deer, two crows, and one lowly gray squirrel. More than enough to elicit cheers and celebrating. They greeted the other half of their group at the door.
They spent that evening all very happy, despite the chaos they felt was soon to be unleashed.
Chapter 15: 4th Day Before Christmas
On the 4th day before Christmas, Uncas was determined to talk to Colonel Munro about how to proceed with Cora. The Christians seemed to be having a very fun time doing Christmas-time activities. He had fun participating too, but his mind was on his incoming task.
Alice and Cora were busy baking a pie while he was staring into the fire and thinking about when he should bring things up. In perfect luck, the Colonel came down the stairs fairly peacefully before stopping halfway down the flight. Everyone looked at him and he made an official-sounding announcement.
“There seems to be a bat in my room, and I’d like some help chasing it away.”
Alice heard from the kitchen, gasped, and ran in. Cora followed. Hawkeye laughed. “A bat! I’ll get Killdeer and we’ll have target practice!”
“No!” Protested Alice. “You’ll shoot holes in the house! Heyward, will you help him chase it off?”
Duncan got up, completely ready to run to this beloved family’ aid, before he got an idea. He pulled Uncas up. “I think Uncas is the better man for the job.”
“Very well, come along,” said the Colonel to the warrior, who hastily followed him up the stairs.
The sisters looked at Heyward in confusion. He was never one to pass off a task to be brave. “Yup,” he said, “Uncas will do it. He lives in the woods. He’s good with nature.”
Everyone else aside. The Colonel took Uncas to his room. The second floor had a hallway going down with two doors on either side. The right door was the girls’ room and the left was the Colonel’s room. Munro put his hand on the doorknob and turned to Uncas.
“Now, I already have the windows open. I just need you to help me scare it out them.”
The boy nodded. The Colonel flung open the door and slammed it behind them. The bat took flight from the beams on the ceiling. They waved their arms and darted around to shepherd the creature out.
The thing left without too much hassle. The Colonel shut the window with pride. “Excellent job, Uncas! Truely a skillful herding.”
He nodded. Munro waited on him to start to leave, but he stood still. He wasn’t quite finding the right words, and so the men stood in silence for some time. Just looking at each other.
Eventually the Colonel realized that maybe the boy had something to say. “Is there something wrong, Uncas?”
“Uh, wrong? Uh, no.”
“Is there something good, then? Or perhaps not particularly either?”
This was a very nervous moment for a warrior who barely even feared death. His knowledge of English was momentarily lost on him. He stood in silence. The Colonel could tell this in his expression. “Boy, if language is what’s in your way, don’t mind it! I can hardly speak English myself,” he joked.
The lightheartedness made things a little easier. He regained some of that characteristic eloquence and found a way to do this. Slowly, he said “I am glad Cora, uh, invited me, and Hawkeye, and my father.”
“Yes, she’s been looking forward to your letters since you started sending them. She and Alice always enjoyed the mail, but this seperate courier adds a second thing to look forward to each week.”
“I do not want to, uh, not talk, uh - “
“You don’t want to lose contact with her.”
“No. Er, yes. I mean, yes, you are right.”
“She didn’t want to lose contact either. She loves to hear from you. She’ll get your letters and say things like ‘Uncas caught a raccoon this week’ or ‘Uncas says the sun is a man and the earth is a woman’. Then she’ll tell all her friends, and they live off these stories.”
He smiled to hear this. The flattery didn’t derail him. “Cora is very good. Very, uh, important, to me.”
The Colonel smiled. “It warms my father’s heart to hear, boy. She is very good. Damn me for bragging, but I’m certain that I have the finest girls in the entire world. Lord only knows how they managed to become such lovely ladies without mothers, and when I was certainly lacking as a father... As a matter of fact, come over here. Let me show you something.”
Munro led Uncas over to the other side of his room. There were three beautiful oil paintings hanging on the wall, not particularly large, but certainly well done. The old man gestured to them with pride. “These, Uncas, are some of my most prized familial possessions.”
Like a museum guide, he gave full histories on each one. The first was of a young woman with a bronze complexion in European dress, smiling. The Colonel looked on it with love and stinging nostalgia. “This here is my first wife, and Cora’s mother. I made her sit to have this done shortly after we were married, and before Cora was born. She didn’t want to, but I insisted. Perhaps in the back of my mind I knew I wouldn’t have her for long... I’ve always been happy I got this done. I can see every day new things in Cora that remind me of her mother... Her name is Marisol.”
“Marisol,” Uncas repeated.
“It means sea and sun, as she’d say. She lived in a place with lots of sea and sun, all the time. Fitting for her. And this one,” he gestured to the middle painting, “is myself, Cora, and Alice’s mother, also named Alice.”
Though this little tour wasn’t in Uncas’ plans, he let himself be at ease enough to become intrigued. It was a strange painting, to be sure. A toddler with curly hair sat on the lap of a lithe, blonde, pale woman with Munro standing beside them, a hand on the lady’s shoulder.
“The older Alice lived for only one year after our marriage.” This was certainly an unhealed wound, and though the sadness caught in his throat, he continued. “She died in the younger Alice’s childbirth. I had this picture done very soon after we were married. I had the portrait to remember my first wife through the luck of good timing, and I’d learned the value of a picture.”
Uncas was riveted on it. His own family situation was different from most, and this was a whole different kind of different.
“The older Alice loved Cora like she was her own. She was never resentful at me for marrying in my absence. The woman was too good for me.”
After a brief moment of silence, he moved on the the last and most interesting picture. It was himself and the girls, Alice was about twelve and Cora was probably sixteen. Munro was sitting, as was the common position to show a person’s familial status and age. Alice stood to his left, smiling. Cora was to the right, smiling as well, but in a more world-weary kind of way. In her own kind of way.
“I had this done four years ago. I wanted to document my beautiful daughters, just as I had done for Marisol and the elder Alice. These paintings weren’t cheap, and though I’ve never been a wealthy man, I’ve always found money I could allot for posterity.”
“Huh,” replied Uncas. There no word in any language better fitted for the situation than simply “huh”.
“Yes, these show the progression of my family... How it’s tragic that we love people forever and they don’t live that long. But that’s the way of the world, I suppose. Our loved ones die on us and we die on our loved ones. We’d be cowards to shy away from love in fear, wouldn’t we, Uncas?”
The two contemplated these words in silence for quite some time, looking at the paintings. These stories, the heartbroken Colonel, and the unblinking paint eyes lit a fire under him like nothing else. Like a sneeze, Uncas came out with the words that had weighed on him for months.
“I love Cora.”
Lord, he could have keeled over and died right then and there. How was it that three words could open the door to chaos? It felt like he’d just let his whole spirit out of his body. He truly didn’t know how the Colonel was going to react. He might kick him out. He might fight him. He might laugh in his face. It had to have been less than a second before he got a response, and just like the cliche, it felt like ages. Even though everything in him wanted to run away, Uncas stood stone-statue still, waiting.
It didn’t take long for Munro to show his colors. His weathered face lit up and he gave a timeless, wide smile. The same smile in the paintings. The same smile on Cora’s face. He wrapped his arms around the boy and swung him like a rag doll. Uncas thought for a split second that this was combat, but it occurred to him that this white man was actually happy to hear this - that an Indian loved his daughter.
“Oh, Uncas! It took you long enough to say it, boy! I may be an old man, but my eyes are still good enough to see what’s right in front of me!”
He released the warrior, who couldn’t hold back an expression of both relief and confusion. Munro could hear all the things he was thinking without him having to make them English words.
“You’re surprised, are you? Well, I know why, and I suppose you have good reason to be. My nation hasn’t shown brotherhood with the Indians since white feet first landed here. But I wish you wouldn’t think me a prejudiced man, even to those peoples who I’ve never encountered before, like you Mohicans. No, Uncas, you see, God gave us legs and horses and ships so we might use them to find those we ought to love. And with all these, my family found yours! What luck! Nothing can make my worn heart feel young again like watching God’s plan come to fruition, especially when it means the happiness of my own flesh and blood.”
“I love Cora,” he repeated. “Very much, I love Cora.”
“And she adores you! I can hear my daughters when they gossip around the house, and she admitted her love for you to her sister.”
“My father, too. Cora said so to my father.”
“I’m amused that she’s managed to tell everyone but you!”
Uncas looked away from him in slight shame. “I have not said to her.”
“I’m not worried about that. You’re a stoic warrior, and I’m sure the matter feels unnavigable to you.”
He nodded earnestly.
“I’m very, very glad to hear it from you, Uncas. Cora is a beautiful, virtuous girl. Many suitors have come her way, but none were remarkable. She sees them as foolish lads, but me with my critical father’s eyes see worse. I see boys who want her to be their lifelong servant and slave.” The matter was making the Colonel passionate with anger. “My dear Cora is a dark-skinned woman, and tragically, our European boys see her as a practical tool, and not a darling wife. But Uncas! I know you’re better than that! You’re not prejudiced!”
“Thank you,” he said. He’d never been so relieved in his life, except for the times when his life was at stake. The Colonel was actually happy for them. No shame, no rage.
“I'm telling you Uncas, think me not prejudiced either! I will agree that white fathers have strict ideas of what a man's status and wealth ought to be to court his daughter. I do as well, very high standards! But status and wealth must be translated across the nations. You are the son of chief Chingachgook. When I hear this, I hear the word ‘prince’! And you have no sound home or dollars, but your family is descended from large tracts of land, and your countless skills have earned thousands upon millions in goods and labor. When I hear this, I hear the word ‘rich’!”
Uncas beamed. He had to admit pride for his station among other natives, but the whites had often disregarded his and his father’s status. Munro really understood who he was.
Now came some leading questions. “So, Uncas, you love my daughter! Why do you tell me this?”
“Well...” The English words weren’t coming to him.
“May I be presumptuous enough to suggest that you see Cora as the darling wife I’ve hoped a boy to consider her one day?”
Uncas grinned. “Yes.”
“Well you have my blessings, a thousand times over! I know not how we’ll make the marriage official, but we will, I swear to you, and so long as you keep my daughter safe and comfortable and happy for all time, the rest is up to the both of you.”
This was the brotherhood that God, Manitou, whoever-you-call-it had intended for the people of the world. The two men, old and young, Scottish and Mohican, felt the puzzle pieces fit together in their hearts. Uncas extended a hand in friendship, which the Colonel gladly took. It felt to them, naively enough, that perhaps colonists and natives could live in harmony, if they’d only share in their sufferings and love.
“Propose to her,” said the veteran, “and be my son. You don’t have British money, British religion, or British behaviors, but you have virtue, and all else is extraneous compared to that.”
Uncas nodded, smiling. “Thank you, Colonel. I will. Tomorrow.”
“Perfect. I can assure you that her answer will not disappoint.”
After one last handshake, the two went back downstairs. All the men but Gamut had expected what might have been discussed up there, and awaited some kind of confirmation of their suspicions. Heyward and Chingachgook waited with excitement while Hawkeye was more anxious.
“Uh, so, how did it go?” Asked the Major.
Uncas didn’t answer him directly. Rather, he said something in Delaware to his father and Hawkeye, which made the former beam with pride and the latter slump back in his chair. Duncan translated the reactions for himself and was absolutely elated.
“We chased it away successfully,” said the Colonel.
“That’s wonderful! I can’t say how glad I am!.. That you chased the bat away.”
Alice stood in the threshold again, followed by Cora. “It’s gone?”
“Yes,” replied Uncas.
“Oh, good. You know, Christmas is going to be great this year. We’re baking pies, we have lots of food, and we’re all together. There aren’t many chores left to do.”
Cora added onto that. “I still have some gifts I want to bring to some people in town, though. I didn’t have them done in time to make the mail, so now I have to just walk them out there. I’m going tomorrow.”
“I’ll go with you,” said Alice. “We can split up and get it done twice as fast.”
The Colonel saw a way to influence the situation. “Don’t go alone girls. Perhaps Uncas and Heyward can go along and watch out for you.”
“Of course,” said Heyward.
“Sounds fun!” Cheered Alice.
Cora and Uncas didn’t speak. They smiled and nodded, as they’re more apt to do.
It seemed for a while to everyone that all was right with the world. But Hawkeye, ever-opinionated, wasn’t at peace whatsoever. He leaned over to Chingachgook and whispered, in Delaware, “This couldn't possibly be this easy. No way, Chingachgook. No way.”
Chapter 16: 3rd Day before Christmas
[insert chapter summary here]
The next morning, Cora gathered her gifts for her friends and put them on a sled, to be dragged behind her as she, Alice, Duncan, and Uncas walked to various houses to deliver them. Everyone woke up early with the youths to see them off. The Colonel usually was a late sleeper. For a long time since that fateful August, he preferred to be unconscious rather than awake. Today, though, he had a new spirit. As a matter of fact, he was the first person awake. The man was more than happy to be up before the sun, waiting patiently in the living room for everyone else to join him.
When the Colonel came downstairs, he woke Duncan up from his sleep on the couch. “Heyward? Are you sleeping?”
The young man blinked hard and did his best to keep his eyes open. “Huh? Oh, yes, er, no, I’m awake.”
“Good, because I have something to ask of you.”
He sat up and made room for Munro. “Uh huh, yes, of course. What is that?”
“I’m not sure if you know already or if you should know at all, but I feel I should tell you anyway.” He took a solemn breath, and finally announced “Uncas told me yesterday that he’s in love with Cora, and he wanted my blessing to propose to her.”
Wearily, giddily, and uncharacteristically indelicate, he laughed. “Oh, Lord! I know it so well that I get downright sick of it.” It occurred to him, as he was leaving the Land of Nod and entering the real world, that he was being a little rude. “Oh, I mean, yes, I have heard.”
“Well, Major Heyward, you know I trust you in all endeavours, down to the most dire of situations.”
No matter the hour of the day or night, Duncan was always open to some praise. “Thank you, Colonel. I take that trust very seriously.”
“I know it. And so, I have to ask you today to make sure Cora and Uncas are left alone so he may ask what he wants in private.”
“Oh, of course! I’ll keep Alice out of the way, and myself too. It’s not easy to seperate your daughters, but I suppose I’ll manage.”
“Thank you. Though I know it is not so much in your control, if you could just please make sure all goes well, I’d be very grateful.”
“Colonel Munro, I would rather be taken prisoner by the French than do anything less than the best for your family.”
The old man smiled and patted him on the back. “You’re a good man, Duncan. And I’m sure that once this battle is won, Cora will be more than happy to give you her blessing.”
He beamed. “I hope so.”
Everyone else would wake up soon after they were done talking. None of their wilderness adventurer guests seemed to have gotten a full nights sleep, for various reasons. Neither the Colonel nor Chingachgook spoke together of their children for the sake of politeness, but they both knew today was the day when two wildly different families would find a way to become one - so long as Uncas asked what he was supposed to on their trip. Hawkeye, almost needless to say, was not so thrilled. The two oldest men, whose ideas of race were similar, already had their hard hearts melted on the matter of marriage. But Hawkeye was not so easy to change.
The night before, he’d been trying to convince Uncas against proposing. He fed into his every doubt on the impracticality, strangeness, and difficulty of such a marriage. The one doubt that didn’t exist, however, was whether or not he loved Cora. That was the only one that really mattered.
“Uncas, you’re like a son to me,” he’d said. “I only give you this advice because I care about you. I have no agenda and no greater scheme. My purpose is your happiness, and I don’t see you being happy in such a marriage.”
“Who are you to tell me about marriage and happiness? Your happiness is derived from practical solitude, which you chose . My solitude is forced on me by birth, and I’d rather be accompanied.”
“You are! By your father and I!”
“For how long, Hawkeye? Until he dies? Until you die? I’m in love, and that means I never have to be lonely for a day of my life, even after the both of you are gone.”
“Love is lonelier than you know yet, Uncas.”
“What would you know? You’ve never been in love.”
It was those last words that shut Hawkeye up. It shattered him from head to toe that he was perceived like that. He didn’t think of himself in such a way, but maybe it was true. Maybe he didn’t know a thing about love, and he was just a selfish, bitter old man.
He and Uncas didn’t speak that morning, and that hurt like a gunshot. The most precious person in his life was about to take a huge step, and he was being shut out. The pain was so raw, he couldn’t even twist it into anger. He could only sit among the trappings of an Albany homestead and suffer under his own skin.
Breakfast had a tense undertone. Cora sensed something might be up, but she told herself it was just crabby sleeplessness. Alice was oblivious, and chattered on about this-and-that and all the town gossip as usual. She and Gamut goofed around, and their lightheartedness made the uneasy among them more calm.
Despite picking up on some hard feelings in the group, Cora was actually very happy. She loved Christmas, and celebrating a little before the big day was priceless. She hummed Christmas songs to herself while she put packaged gifts on the sled. Heyward wanted to encourage these good feelings. He spoke to her while he put on his snow clothes
“Cora, you’re chipper today! I believe it’s the happiest I’ve seen you in a long time.”
“Well, you haven’t missed much in your absences then. I too believe this is my happiest in many months. Even before our August traumas, my brighter days weren’t so bright as today.”
Alice overheard this. “Even past Christmases?”
“Childhood Christmases excluded, yes. Included, no. One’s first memory of Christmas cannot be beat.” She laced up her last boot. “Is everyone ready?”
Heyward checked the others. He, Alice, and Uncas were all dressed for the deep snow. “I believe we’re set for the journey. And Cora, I’m more than just relieved at your joy, I’m elated! I feel like I could take on any enemy with you in this mood.”
“Like we are invincible,” Alice elaborated. “No challenge is too great for us today! Let’s go!
Cora opened the door for the others to walk out, and as Uncas passed, he said something in Delaware that she couldn’t understand.
“What was that?” She asked.
“He said that your smile has that effect on people,” said Hawkeye. Perhaps it was resignation, forgiveness, sorrow, or fatigue in his tone, but whatever it was, it made Uncas look over his shoulder. Those dark eyes and high features betrayed nothing to the naked eye, but the woodsman’s soul saw respect. Real, painful, raw respect.
And with that, the four youths left the older men behind. Gamut watched them to through the window. “I hope all goes well.”
“Hope is weak,” Hawkeye tersely replied.
“Even so, King David has words to prove hope’s strength. Psalm three-two: ‘Many are saying of me ‘God will not deliver him’. But you, Lord, are a shield around me, my glory, the One who lifts my head high.’”
“The God of Kings is not the God of Cheifs.”
“Aye, you have me there. Though there is only one true God.”
The Colonel disagreed. “No, I say it is all the same Lord! We may call him different names, but God is God!”
Chingachgook chimed in as well. “Manitou stands with my son. This is all he has and all he needs.”
Hawkeye sat himself down in an armchair. “It doesn’t matter what you call it or what it is. Two so different in living are different in being, and two different in being are different in Heaven.”
The Colonel’s Scottish temper was woken by these words. “I know not what you imply, but I resent it.”
Feeling the anger, Hawkeye stood up to meet him face-to-face. “I say that the eternal happiness of a Mohican does not look like the eternal happiness of, well, anything else.”
A poor choice of words to use with this father. “And what does that mean?”
“It means what it means, Colonel.”
“Well hear me, Hawkeye, and learn from a man who knows better. Eternal happiness is being surrounded by who you love, not what . Whatever happy hunting grounds you envision for yourself and your Mohican friends are earthly illusions. They may make you happy here, but when we all pass, we can’t bring them with us, nor return to them.”
“I’d love to know what’s left, then!”
“All those equally empty-handed souls that you loved on this superficial land. I’ll be damned if I keep my daughter from joy only because of differences in origin and possession.”
“Origin and possession make us who we are in life, and who we are in life is who we are in death.”
“There we disagree, Hawkeye. Those things do not make us ourselves. Would I not be the same man with a Spanish parantege, or Oriental one?”
“From the start of a different life, there would be no way to make the same man I see now. Our philosophical contrasts matter not, Colonel. Today we will learn what is true and what isn’t, and I am afraid of being correct.”
“Well, I am perfectly content in reality. And I worry not.”
George looked to Chingachgook for some reassurance, and found none. The Sachem didn’t fein confidence. He saw points to Hawkeye’s fervent, though loveless argument. For most of his long life, he’d believed in the separation of races. Only recently did he consider something else, and the idea was not strong enough to be a conviction.
Hiding his anxiety, the Colonel went to the dining room and sat at the table. Gamut looked out the window again at the youths’ tracks in the snow. As in all times of uncertainty, he offered a song for comfort - Psalm 2, to be exact.
Why do the nations conspire,
And the peoples plot in vain?
“Let us break His chains,
And cast His cords away”.
You kings, be wise, be warned,
Be broke with rods of iron
The Lord, he laughed in scorn
“I have set my king on Zion”
I will declare the holy decree
The Lord hath said this unto me
“Thou art my son, I begotten thee”
Blessed are they who trust in He.
Chapter 17: 3rd Day Deliveries
This story is a lot like taking the SATs. I'm just making shit up on the spot.
Alice happily burst out from the virgin snow of the outskirts and onto the town’s horsepaths, heading towards the clusters of houses and shops. “The worst part of the winter is that the snow re-covers every pathway, and you have to make them new when you walk again.”
Uncas nodded. “We should wear, uh, the... The, uh - “
“Snowshoes?” Heyward interjected.
“No worries anymore,” said Cora. “Roads are well-worn in every season in town. So, I believe the closest house is Maggie and Martha’s, and that would be this way.”
Heyward jumped in before she could start down the path. “Uh, actually, perhaps it would be best if we split up to deliver these. You know, get it done quicker.”
Cora was taken by surprise. “Oh. Yes, I suppose that would be efficient.”
He thanked God that she took the bait. “So Alice and I could take one gift each, deliver them together, and then find you two wherever you are.”
“That’s a smart idea,” said Alice.
“I’m ok with it. Uncas, does that sound good?” Cora asked.
He managed to nod, even though he could have just about fell right into the snow and died.
“That’s good then, Duncan. Thank you for helping.”
Heyward smirked. “Oh, it’s nothing.”
Alice picked up a gift. “I’ll take Trinity’s. She can tell me all the gossip when I see her. Duncan, you take Luke’s.”
“Yes, or, I don’t know, Clayton’s.”
“No! He’d want Cora to deliver that one.”
“But he lives closer to here, doesn’t he?”
“Yes, but let Cora and Uncas give that one! We’ll just walk a little farther to Luke’s.”
He knew it was pushing his luck to try and keep the two away from Clayton entirely. It wasn’t that the boy was a real romantic rival, it would just be easier if they didn’t see him at all. He took Luke’s gift and the two left.
Uncas could feel the chance to ask was there, and the words were just on the tip of his tongue. But his vision blurred with nerves. Cora noticed he was staring into space, caught in his head on something. She hooked arms with him and the two walked on to Maggie and Martha’s.
They made some small talk about the winter and how Cora couldn’t believe he’d lived through so many out in the woods.
“My father says I’m good in all seasons, since I have Scottish and West Indies blood. It’s true, but I believe the Scots take over there, because I prefer the cool weather... What about you? Do the Mohicans like the hot or cold?”
“Hmm... We like both.”
“Yeah, I can understand that. You need every season. But do you yourself have a favorite?”
He thought about this for a moment. Then, the answer came easy. “End of summer.”
“I remember that. It’s the Wigwam festival. Since you’re spending my favorite holiday with me, I’ll have to come celebrate the Wigwam festival with you this next summer.”
He chuckled. His face felt hot. She was making future plans with him. How would she not want to marry him?
They arrived at Maggie and Martha’s. The girls were very happy to see them, and grateful for Cora’s gifts. Martha wanted to open hers, but Cora insisted that she wait until Christmas day. She came around to the idea, and left the package alone .Then, Maggie gave Cora the gifts they had for herself and Alice. This show of friendship made her heart lighter than helium, especially since she hadn’t been expecting anything in return. They bid the sisters goodbye and moved on towards Bernice, Edith, and Ben Eckland’s house.
Cora wanted to gossip as they walked. “Heyward’s a tricky fellow. He found a good excuse to run off alone with my sister.”
“Well - “
The lady was too lost in her train of thought to even notice him trying to comment. “You know I don’t have angry feelings towards Duncan, of course. He’s a good man, and I’d be happy to see my sister with a husband like him. She’s just so very young! Only eighteen, and younger more in her heart. She’s not ready to start a family.”
“Maybe Duncan - “
“Oh, Duncan, of course, he’s no readier. He knows everything a husband and father must do, and he wants to do those things, but he has this way of stumbling that causes me endless worry. You’ve seen it, so you know. He tries and tries and tries and doesn’t quite get over the finish line. And that’s not to say that trying is worthless, because it’s not! It’s well over half the battle. But it would be nice if I knew he could just succeed at these little tasks for once.”
“He - “
“He’s an excellent man though! And I’m being selfish perhaps. I want to keep my little sister safe under my own care for as long as I can, I know. But she needs the caretaking. I’m just surprised Duncan hasn’t proposed yet. Do you think he’s even gotten my father’s blessing yet? It would be hideously slow of him if not. My Lord, can you imagine if he didn’t ask Alice to marry him? That would get me more worked up than I am over the thought of them being their own family in the first place!”
“Cora, I think Heyward took Alice away so we could be alone.”
“Oh. Well, that’s nice... Listen to me, tearing him apart when he’s not here. That’s stunningly unfair of me.”
Uncas smiled. “If you know people, you should tear them apart when they’re not here. It is fun.”
Cora laughed. “You’re a gossip! Have you ever actually gossiped before? Doesn’t Hawkeye say gossip is for us silly, stupid women?”
The name of the scout was bitter on his ears. “Never listen to his... bad speaking.”
“I think the word is ‘nonsense’. And I don’t. But I’m dying to hear what you think of my friends! We never really got to talk about it!”
“Uh, they are nice. Trinity drinks a lot.”
“Oh, you’re telling me. She’s a rotten drunk, and not always very nice. She spreads rumors about people all the time. She told everyone once that Edith was secretly in love with John, which was so obviously untrue. We think she just did it because she’s enchanted with Adam, and didn’t want them to be together. What good that did her! Now she’s a jealous fool.”
Uncas had never been familiar with these stories of love gone awry. He supposed it made sense, though. Some people are complete messes - not to imply he had it together. “Poor Edith, things said about her that are bad.”
“It was no matter. The world takes Trinity’s word with a grain of salt, as it ought to. But Uncas, the real gossip can go even deeper between people, living only as whispers and thoughts. For instance, many of us are starting to believe there’s an infatuation between Luke and John.”
“I know! Two men! I swear though, it feels true. The way the speak to each other, good Lord, girls absolutely dream of meeting the boy that will talk about them the way those two talk about each other.”
“They cannot have children.”
“Well, no, but there are people who never have children, even if they’re a married man and woman. And though they obviously cannot be married, all I say is that they should not marry women if they have already found what their hearts want.”
Romantic love was unfamiliar to Uncas, and since Cora seemed to be his teacher, he decided to take her word for it.
He hadn’t noticed sooner, but they were pretty much on the Eckland’s doorstep. Cora trudged through the snow to their door and knocked three times. After a little scurrying inside, Edith answered. Soon enough Bernice and Ben came along to talk and say hello too. They were all touched that she brought them gifts, and kindly enough, they too had things for herself and Alice. She was honored, and Bernice stopped them before they could leave for the rest of their journey.
“Wait, hang on! We actually wanted to give Uncas something too.”
He was taken aback. For all this time he’d really been more along for the ride with the holiday, and not participating or involved. It was an imperceptible moment in history for Native American-Colonist relations that the Ecklands acknowledged him as a unique person present in their world.
Bernice disappeared for a moment and reappeared with her hands behind her back. She prefaced the reveal. “It’s nothing very special, but Nathan said that you send letters sometimes, so we wanted to give you some paper and a pencil!”
She held out the gifts, hoping he’d like them. The pencil was a graphite stick wrapped in string, which was traditional, though most pencil-users of the era had them encased in wood or a metal case. The paper was nice to Uncas’ standards - untorn, off-white, fairly uniform. He was overcome by their kindness and generosity, he didn’t know what to say. The English words for the way he felt weren’t in his vocabulary yet, so he just said “thank you” a thousand times over.
Cora was flattered on his behalf. She explained how much of a pain it was for him to write letters with the few resources he had for such a thing. The Ecklands told them it was no problem at all, and they wanted him to be able to express himself as easily as possible. Of course, they insisted that he send them letters, and that there was no good excuse now. Their genuine desire to know him and be friends with him melted his stone-plated heart.
After endless thank-yous and you’re-welcomes, Cora and Uncas left for their next stop. “You’ll have to learn a little writing, now,” she said.
“Yes, I must.”
“It’s not too hard. I can help teach you, and so can Hawkeye.”
He frowned. “Hawkeye will not help.”
“Why not? He has been for this whole time - which I have to thank him for, by the way.”
“Thank him for nothing. He is not helpful.”
Cora grabbed Uncas by the coat and halted the both of them. “Ok, something is wrong with you two, I know it. Both of you looked bitter this morning, and I can’t bring him up without making you angry.”
“He knows nothing, and that makes me angry.”
“What doesn’t he know? He’s like your father and your brother, Uncas. It’s sad that you two should fight.”
“People! Hawkeye knows nothing about people, and... People.”
“Well he’s a loner, I know, but so are you!”
This caused a little offense. “No, I’m not.”
“I don’t mean it unkindly, Uncas. It’s just that he lives away from any village or town or anything. He doesn’t like being affected by others in any way. And your father, though he may have once loved the world, feels all alone. So he makes himself alone, with you and Hawkeye.”
“I did not choose it.”
“I know you didn’t choose it, but you love it anyway! You love the hunting and fishing and fighting and not worrying about the silly things that come along with knowing other people.”
“I love hunting and fishing and fighting, but I love the world too! And I love other people, and I love you.”
Her heart froze and sank like a rock to her stomach. “What?”
At long last, he said it. And it felt so much better than he thought it would. He’d always been a bold man, and when he said something, he didn’t back down. “I love the world, and people, and you. Mostly you. I’m not a loner! I love villages and the Delaware and towns and the British. I love you Cora! I’m not a loner!”
These words felt like the happiest kick to the stomach ever - it knocked the wind out of her. Where did she begin? She followed her first and socially incorrect instinct. She smirked. “You’re father already told me.”
Even though this news was a betrayal, he smiled at how it twisted his situation. “He did?”
She laughed and nodded. “He did! He really did!”
“Not Alice? Not Heyward?”
“Nope! Your own father!” She hid her face in her mittens and laughed, totally embarrassed.
Uncas wasn’t disheartened. Actually, he was amused. “Can you tell me anything about yourself that my father has not told me?”
She could just melt and die. Was she such an open book? “I think not, Uncas! I think not! I think you’ve heard it all!”
“I think that too, but I think I need to hear you say it.”
She giggled and shoved him on the shoulder. “Fine, Uncas! You win! I love you. I really, really do love you. I was afraid to say I love you because I thought I was being rash but I’m, in fact, being very very late with it. I’ve loved you from the first time you saved me and I’ve only loved you more and more since. Are you happy?”
Was he happy? Were there even English words for how happy he was? It felt totally unnatural not to hold her after this. He took her hands and kissed her for the first time. She smiled, laughed, and pulled her cape up over her face so that just her eyes peeked out. “You can have that kiss, Uncas, for being so sweet. And I’ll be rationing out all the rest!”
He chuckled. “Yes, of course.”
“And if it’s all well with you, I think it’s best I hand some out now.”
He nodded eagerly. She kissed him once, declaring it to be for that first time they met when he argued in their favor to hide them safely in the Glen’s caves. A second, for sharing his food with her. A third, for keeping watch that night. A fourth, fifth, and sixth, all for fighting so valiantly on the island the next morning. Uncas wasn’t paying attention to the reasons. He just hoped that still more remained.
“I’m withholding further appreciation, young Sachem, for fear that you’ll burst into flames with any more.”
He looked away and laughed, cheeks red with embarrassment. He hated having his heart on his sleeve. It was usually best to keep it really deep in his rib cage, safe from enemy arrows and knives.
Cora retook the rope of her sled. “Well, Uncas, we still have deliveries to make, even though I feel like floating. Sometimes you have to do the same chores, whether it be in pain or joy.” She held out a hand, waiting for him to take it.
Would she really walk around houses with him, fingers interlocked? Was it not shameful for her? Optimism flooded their young heads. He took her hand and the two walked off to Clayton’s, disregarding how he might feel to see them so close.
However, as it turned out, no one was home at Clayton’s. Cora left his gift at the doorstep
It wasn’t lost on the Mohican that this was the home of his semi-rival, though he’d seemingly bested him. At the party a few days ago, Clayton appeared to be head-over-heels for Cora. He’d danced with her every chance he got and his jealousy practically burned holes through Uncas whenever he was the focus. The guy would’ve married Cora that very night if he’d had the chance.
Marriage! Uncas had almost forgot it entirely in his astonished haze. Their love had just been declared at real to one another, and it didn’t matter for a second what the world thought. But if you love somebody that much, you have to make it official and let all the Claytons of the world know to fuck off.
Well, thankfully his confidence was immeasurable after their declarations of love. Cora tugged the sled along away from Clayton’s house. “Alice and Duncan ought to be back soon, I hope. I get worried about her. I hope they’re not lost, or something.”
This reminded Uncas that there was no time to waste. He stopped walking. “Wait, Cora.”
Hold on. This actually felt a little scarier than recently anticipated. “Will we... Will we be married?”
The lady drew in a breath like a knife was against her throat. “Married?”
Her reaction made him want to retreat. “Uh, yes.”
She wouldn’t meet his gaze. She looked fearfully away at their surroundings. Her mouth stuttered through her words. “Well, you see, that’s a question you can ask in lots of ways, and some people say ‘Would you marry me’, and if you asked it like that, well, then I’d say yes, of course.”
Silence. Uncas tried to wrap his head around that classic British obfuscating. She tried to trek on again, but he gently took her arm to stop her. “Wait, what?”
Her expression was the same as it had been when she tried bargaining for her life with Tamenund. “Well, ‘Would you marry me’ just asks if I’d do it, and I would. But ‘Will we be married’ isn’t just about me and you, is it? It’s about every possibility and -”
“I don’t understand,” he said, practically for a straight answer.
“I guess what I’m trying to say is I don’t know. I don’t know if we’ll be married.”
More silence, if you don’t count the sound of Uncas’ heart breaking. The wisest words that this eloquent Mohican prince could conjure were “Why not?”.
Before she could give cloudy nonsense answers, the voices of Duncan and Alice sounded, approaching nearby. Cora was saved by the bell. In one last desperate attempt to get an answer, he took her hand and put his face right in front of hers. “Cora, why not?”
She took a step back from him as the other two rounded the corner. They looked happy as ever. In the fashion of a woman long forced to put on airs, Cora smiled and pretended nothing had just happened. She greeted them and asked how things went.
“Great!” Chirped Alice. “Trinity told me all kinds of interesting things, but we can talk about that later. And Luke said to say hi. He was in a surprisingly good mood!”
“Wow, he’s usually very glum. Well, good news is that we’re all in a good mood too! Right Uncas?”
Uncas was no actor, but the social world of Albany had taught him to be a liar. Betraying his absolutely miserable countenance, he said “Yes, good mood”.
Alice didn’t understand the dissonance in his expression and words, but she ignored it. Heyward did not. Clearly the mission had gone awry. “Um, Alice, perhaps we should split up again for more - ”
“No,” Cora interrupted. “No, we’ll just go together. There’s not much left.”
“Are you sure? Because - “
“We’ll just all go together, ok? It’s better that way. And more fun! Right Alice?”
She linked arms with her sister. “I’ve been having more fun this Christmas season than anyone else in the world! Let’s go see the rest of our friends.”
“That’s the spirit! Is that all well with you, Duncan?”
His eyes darted quick to Uncas, who was very clearly unhappy. So no, it was not all well with him. But there was no natural, subtle way to express that. So it was better to acquiesce. “Uh, yes. Yeah, that is a good idea.”
The group then set off to the next house. Uncas and Duncan trailed behind the girls and behind the sled. They didn’t speak, but Heyward looked at him every now and then. Whatever had happened, it wasn’t good. And the Colonel wasn’t going to like it.
Chapter 18: 3rd Night
i have countless possible endings and im just crawling to the finish line while i decide which one to take. f for respects.
The men found a moment alone to discuss the day when Cora and Alice went out to the barn to tend to the sheep. It was the 3rd day before Christmas, and yet their heart felt an absence of cheer.
Munro sat in an armchair and Chingachgook in another, both staring into the fireplace, resembling a Delaware council fire nearly to a T. The Chief sat cross-legged and squinted into the light. The Colonel bit on his thumb nervously. Heyward, Uncas, and Hawkeye sat in a semi-circle in front of them, searching their faces for some kind of hint as to what they were thinking. Gamut was tuned out, reading through his little songbook.
The Colonel took in a breath, and all heads turned to him. He looked at Uncas. “What did she say exactly?”
He furrowed his brow, and spoke the words in Delaware for Hawkeye to translate better.
“Uncas says that the lady disagreed with the wording of his question, because he asked ‘Will we be married’, and her final answer was that she did not know.”
“Did not know,” Chingachgook repeated, deep in thought. “That is not no.”
The boy continued in his native tongue, with Hawkeye giving the English. “Uncas says that she told him she would have said yes had he asked if she would marry him, but he asked if they will be married, and that is too... Unsure, I suppose.”
“Tis my fault,” the Colonel groaned. “I have made her believe that this is an impossible marriage.”
“No!” Heyward argued, almost angry. “What could you possibly have done or said to insinuate such a thing? No, you’ve been perfectly supportive.”
“Is it her friends, then?” He asked. “Have they said anything?”
“Well, not that I know of. Perhaps, but I believe Alice would have mentioned something of the sort.”
“We cannot pretend as if the lady has no fair reason to worry in her own mind,” added Hawkeye. “She is likely wondering where they’ll live, how they’ll live, how they’d raise children, and all of that sort. Certainly the Mohican and British ideas of these things are very different.”
“Hawkeye is right,” said Chingachgook. “Cora is afraid.”
“Of what!?” Exclaimed Uncas, letting go of a little bubbling frustration.
“Of losing her life,” Hawkeye answered, not looking him in the eyes.
Gamut looked up from his book. “Forgive my intrusion, but perhaps if it is the lady’s fear that is in the way, you should try to make her not afraid.”
Heyward rolled his eyes. “Thank you, Mr Gamut, for the insightful advice.”
“No, he’s right,” sighed the Colonel. “I don’t know what we’re supposed to say or do, but it has to be something... By God, I am worn of losing in every endeavour.”
“That’s not true, Colonel,” said Heyward. “We are very lucky people. One or two loses in a life full of success is nothing.”
“No, Duncan, no. I lose love, I lose friends, I lose innocent lives, and I do wrong by my daughters. They’re both fine and ready to be married off and have their own families and yet here we are, all confused and worried and doing nothing.”
“That’s not your fault, Colonel. It is... Well, I cannot think of a fair place to put the blame.”
He hammered his hand down on the arm of his chair. “To hell with the blame! I have not much time left in my life to spend in confusion and regret. If I can’t see Cora happy so soon as I’d like, I’ll see so for Alice. Tomorrow, you ask her sister for her blessing, and you propose.”
This came out of left field. He hadn’t thought he was in the hot seat yet. “ Tomorrow ?”
“I, uh, I think it may be more prudent to wait.”
His Scottish passions flared. “No! No more waiting! No more tiptoeing! It’s been long enough.
Heyward knew that to be true. It had been August when he asked for the father’s blessing, and now it was December. Still, does something being due make it ready?
It was an order from his superior, and it was a good argument at that. He nodded. “Yes, I see your point, sir. I will ask tomorrow. I can only hope all goes well.”
“It must,” said the old man. “Unless this family is cursed, it must. And Uncas, we absolutely will ease Cora’s mind. Don’t you worry, boy.”
Gamut flipped a page in his book. “Even so, perhaps it will not help the lady to see her sister engaged tomorrow. From what I can gather, she is a touch protective.”
“I hate to agree,” mumbled Hawkeye. “Maybe it’s best we three depart for now and revisit this another time.”
“No,” said Uncas, anger bubbling just under the surface.
“I’m just saying that it may - “
Whatever unhelpful thing he was about to say was interrupted by the sisters returning from the barn, chatting loudly and pulling off their chilled winter gear.
“Then Trinity told me that Clayton said that John said that he’s going to visit Luke on Christmas eve.”
“Did he really?”
“He did! And then Eddy told Clayton that Luke’s mother is expecting to have him over not just for a second in the day, but for dinner. And then Clayton told Trinity that.”
“That is just like Luke and John. Why did Clayton tell Trinity?”
“Well Clayton was mad at John because John told Lacey that he thought the mittens he made for Eddy were bland - “
“And obviously Lacey can’t keep a secret.”
Alice sat down in the armchair beside her father. “Yes, so then Clayton’s feelings got hurt and he just spilled his guts to Trinity.”
Cora kneeled beside her and leaned on the arm. “Terrible gossip, Alice! Terrible, evil, wicked gossip! So what else happened?”
The Colonel’s heavy heart was lightened by the joy of his daughters, even if it was from terrible, evil, wicked gossip. He reached out and took Alice’s hand. “You two had fun seeing your friends, did you then?”
“So much fun,” replied the younger. “I love to hear from them and just think about whatever I hear until the next time I see them.”
“ No , she loves the gossip ,” Cora teased. “And I’ll admit, though I truly love all my fellow children of the Lord, I love almost as much to know what trouble they get themselves into.”
Gamut found this a good opportunity to spread The King’s word. “Ladies, ‘tis written in Psalm 34:13, ‘Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from telling lies’.”
Alice laughed lightly. “Mr Gamut, you mean to tell me that if I happened to ask you to tell me of all the sins you’ve witnessed in your time teaching Psalms, you would be absolutely able to control any evil impulses?”
He put his hands over his ears. “Lead me not into temptation, but deliver us from evil!”
David’s absurdity gave even the most momentary amusement to the saddest of them. Hawkeye enjoyed it most of all. “So, Cora, has this gossip and pious speech made your Christmas cheer any greater?”
“Well, yes, I’d say so. Christmas itself is lovely enough to cheer me up. Even sad things don’t feel sad around Christmas. Not that I have a reason to be sad! I guess there’s always something to be sad about, if you consider it. But not around Christmas. Nope, all happy! Just Christmas, with my dear family and dear friends.”
Everyone did a pretty good job keeping a poker face through that stumbling speech, except Uncas of course, who kept frowning as he had been.
Cora stood up and yawned. “I ought to go to sleep, and so should you Alice.”
“No! It’s not very late yet.”
“We have big days coming up, and we should get our sleep now. We have caroling and Christmas and eating and dancing and - “
“Ugh, fine! Fine, you’re right. Goodnight everybody!”
They bid the ladies goodnight and they disappeared upstairs into their room. Heyward breathed a sigh of relief and leaned against the wall. The men sat in contemplation for a moment before he said something.
“Maybe it won’t go so poorly tomorrow. By God, we might just make it to Christmas in one piece.”
Hawkeye stood up and started walking off to bed himself. “Wishful thinking, Major. Don’t be fooled.”
Chapter 19: 2nd Day Before Christmas
You can really taste my mental decline with each chapter of this
Uncas woke up early the next morning to scuffling in the kitchen above his head. Even though sadness wanted him to stay in bed forever and ever, his instincts were better. He got up and went upstairs.
The person up there was Cora, carrying a basket of evergreen, holly, and mountain laurel branches. She was placing them in every pretty spot she could think of. There was an unlit candle in every window, ready for the nighttime. The rooms all smelled like pine and he quite liked how the fabrication of the home gave over to the beauty of nature.
When Cora noticed Uncas, she didn’t do the British-ly polite thing, which would be to ignore the elephant in the room and play dumb. Rather, she set down the basket and threw herself into his arms, crying silently. Her openness caught him way off guard.
“My Lord,” she whispered, strained and sad. “I couldn’t stop thinking about what I said, oh Lord! I told you I love you and then I sounded like I don’t love you, but my God, I love you like I don’t know how to describe. I’d marry you in an absolute instant, Uncas. I’d marry you today and tomorrow and every day forever if I could.”
He’d learned enough English to know that this didn’t mark the end of their problems. “You said ‘if I could’.”
She cried a little harder and dashed over to the window, opening it and letting the freezing winter air cool her down. “Who would marry us? Where would we live? Would people even acknowledge that we’re married? And what would happen to Alice without me?” This last question made her kind of collapse, propping her body up only on the windowsill.
Uncas held her up, and she pressed her face into his shoulder to muffle the little sobs. He wrapped his arms around her and tried to keep her heart from falling out and cracking wide open on the floor. He kissed her on the top of the head once, twice, three times. Each kiss made her cry a little less. After a few minutes just holding each other, her crying had disappeared into just shaky breathing.
He put a hand under her chin and lifted her face up for a kiss. She laughed and wiped away tears. “And what was that for?”
“ Everything ? No, let me show you.” She kissed him. “That’s for not wanting to leave my side in the caves.” Another kiss. “That’s for following us in our first capture through the forest.” Another kiss. “That’s for being so clever and following the hoofprints.” Another kiss. “That’s for rescuing us for the second time.”
This moment felt like crawling into bed after a long day, but with none of the fatigue. Just relief and peace. Their heads were like magnets. He kissed her for as long as he could, like he could breathe only the air in her lungs. She couldn’t help but smile and pull away for another comment.
“Only you can bring a person from tears to laughter in no time at all.”
He returned the smile. “I did not know this about myself.”
“Really? Has anyone ever said you’re handsome?”
He laughed. “Not like you do.”
“In that case, I’m the only honest person to have ever crossed your path. You’re handsome, and I’m not ashamed to admit it.” She shut the window, returned to her basket, and continued decorating. “I’d ask for your opinions on myself, but I believe I know them, and it’s not appropriate to pose those questions.”
He followed her into the dining room as she hanged the branches. Finally, some happy conversation about something he was passionate about. “You are the most beautiful person I have seen in my life.”
She blushed and chuckled. “It’s not like you’ve known many women anyway.”
“There can be no woman more beautiful than you. It does not matter if I have met her.”
“That’s very confident of you, but if you’d seen more of the world, you might change your mind.”
He counted on his fingers. “Not Bernice, not Edith, not Martha, not Maggie, not Lacey, not Ruth, not Trinity, not Irene - “
“Not Ben in a dress?” She joked, trying to keep her volume down.
“No, not Ben in a dress.”
She laughed openly loud, and moved her decorating to the living room. He followed. “Well, if I can triumph over Ben in a dress, I really must be a catch.”
Uncas noticed that Heyward was fast asleep on the couch. He got concerned that he could hear them, and Cora noticed his alarm. “Oh, don’t worry about Duncan. Our speaking won’t wake him, nor laughing, and not really crying either. Only those subtle sounds he’s been trained to hear, like this.”
She removed a pine branch from her collection and shook it next to his head. The rustling awoke him with a start. Uncas was startled by how fast he became lucid.
“Qui va la?!” He cried, his hand reaching for a rifle that wasn’t there. Cora put a comforting hand on the top of his head, and he realized where he was. Releasing a huge sigh, he laid back down. “For God’s sake!”
“My apologies Heyward, my decorating must have woke you up.”
He looked around. “Decorating already? Christmas has not begun!”
“I know, I know. It’s for Alice, really. As a little girl she used to anticipate the holiday season so much, she’d bring branches in herself and put them all over. So now I do it for her at any day around Christmas before she wakes to surprise her.”
He rubbed his eyes and came to his senses. “Oh, that’s very kind. No one has a sister so kind to them as you are to Alice.”
“Well, you know that if I had to choose between her and the sun, I’d be nocturnal. Her or laughter, and I’d go mute. Her or everyone else on the earth, and we’d be God’s only children.”
He sat up. The lady seemed to be in a good mood. Perhaps that would be a good opportunity to seize. “I know the feeling... You know Cora, I have been meaning to ask - “
This was interrupted by footsteps running down the stairs. There was Alice, still in her nightgown, wasting no time to see the decorating. She smiled and exclaimed her praises. Rushing to her sister, she wrapped her arms around her and swung around.
“Oh, Cora! I knew you were going to bed early for this! It’s perfect!”
“It's tradition, after all. It makes the house pretty.”
She floated into the dining room. “And smell pretty. It's like I stuck my head in a pine tree.”
Cora followed after her, and Uncas stayed with Heyward. The two men sat on the couch together.
“How long have you been awake?” The Major asked him, voice low.
“A little time.”
“Did you and Cora speak?”
“And is she well? Did she tell you anything more?”
Uncas sighed a little. “Yes. All that Hawkeye said, I admit. About home, children, all that. But Cora loves me, and I love her.”
“That's the hardest accomplishment, Uncas. Everything else will fall into place.”
He hummed in agreement. The girls then returned to the living room, chatting. The four youths conversed pleasantly, telling jokes and stories and whatnot. Heyward tried especially to be in Cora’s good graces. Despite having cried earlier, she was actually feeling happy. Perhaps the weeping got it out of her system.
Chingachgook and Hawkeye were up next. They were relieved to see things looked well with Uncas. Even Hawkeye, whose goals weren't totally in line with his compatriots, could breath easier. Still though, the young chief avoided talking to him.
David awoke next and shared his heart of song so loudly that the Colonel, too, had to rise, since he could sleep no longer in the ruckus. The old man was downtrodden, but not yet beaten. The slightest hope shown in his face. His daughters noticed he looked worse that morning, but did not comment.
The Munro sisters went about some serious decorating and cooking. Alice cleaned the house up while Cora cooked the Simmons Christmas Cookie - a recipe Maggie had given her a while back.
The men had nothing to say, even though things could have been worse. They sat and listened to the sounds of the kitchen, fire, and wind outside. Hawkeye looked out the window. “The winter should soften soon.”
Chingachgook hummed in agreement. Uncas sat still as a rock. Munro glanced out at the snow. “I recall you saying you were leaving when the weather warmed.”
He didn’t seem to react to this at first. “Yes, I did say that.”
This conversation was interrupted when Cora came out of the kitchen and began putting on her winter clothes.
“Where are you going?” Hawkeye asked.
“I left some branches outside and forgot to bring them in. I’d hate to go half-decorated.”
Heyward robotically sprung out of his seat. “Let me help you get them.”
His suddenness and mechanical behaviors caught her off guard. “Oh, of course. Thank you.”
He put on his boots. There was a glaze over his eyes that she’d observed only from battle-worn men. The brain gave the body commands and processed no feedback. There was something wrong.
He opened the door for her, and even the freezing winter air didn’t snap him out of it. When they were both outside, she asked him questions as he followed in her trail. “Did you sleep well, Duncan?”
“Yes, I did.” No elaboration.
“Did you men talk about anything in there?”
“Hawkeye mentioned it was warm.”
“He did? I don’t think so... Well, maybe for a winter’s day...”
She listened to his footsteps behind her. They were a rhythmic, steady pace. Not the gait of his true personality - brisk and uneven. It was a relief to hear them stopped when they reached her little brush pile.
“Is there something wrong?” She finally asked. “You look... I don’t know. A certain way.”
Her honesty broke the dissociative spell. “Wrong? No. Or, well, I was just thinking about things. My responsibilities.”
She gathered some branches in her arms. “The longer the war wears on, the more it wears the men who fight it. I’m sorry to see you under pressure. You’re practically Atlas - a man with the world on his shoulders.”
The irony of this coming from Cora made him smirk. “ I’m Atlas? That’s hyperbole if I’ve ever heard it. I have many things to worry about, but I’m not Atlas. My most weighty decisions will affect, at the very most, the next thousand years. Atlas may destroy or save the entire earth on an impulse.”
She smiled to see his poetic nature returned. “Let’s hope, then, that he has sympathetic and merciful judgement.”
Picking up some branches, he replied “I hope.”
The two returned to the house and, shaking the snow from themselves and the boughs, entered. Cora went about decorating again, buzzing around the mournful men in the living room. Chingachgook subtly watched her, partly in curiosity, and partly in dejection. Munro looked at Chingachgook, silently wondering if he felt equal misery to his own. Uncas looked at Munro and asked himself how that downtrod white man had fathered one so lovely as Cora. As for Hawkeye, he looked at no one and no one looked at him. Rather, his attention was out the window and in the woods. There was a great feeling of dread pooling in his chest, and his instincts told him to run into the forest, be it to face or flee the danger.
Since Heyward was lucid again, so to speak, he decided to try lifting spirits. “Cora, I believe the morning is worn, and yet we haven’t heard a single song from our manager of mirth!”
Gamut perked up. “A song, Major?”
“Yes! I know I’ve been opposed to them in the past, but I believe a home in the Christmas season is the perfect time and place for music, rather than the forest in war.”
“Aye, Major Heyward, here you have reason! Let us have a song then! But what is it you’d hear?”
“I’ll leave the choice to Miss Munro. She’s worked hard to make us cheerful, and that’s a hard task among this lot.”
The oldest three men chuckled bitterly yet sincerely, thereby acknowledging their unhappy feelings. Cora was flattered to make the song selection. “Well, I quite like the song Last Ride. It isn’t a hymn or carol though. Are you familiar with it Duncan?”
“Well, yes, I think I know the name. Are you Mr Gamut?”
He took his pitch pipe out. “I make it my duty to know of every worthy song on earth.” He blew into the instrument, prompting the note, and the three sang.
How long have I known you brother?
Hundreds of lives, thousands of years.
How many miles have we wandered
Under the sky, chasing our fears?
Some kind of trouble is coming,
We don’t know where, we don’t know what.
I will stand by you, brother,
‘Til the daylight comes or I’m dead and gone.
Heyward took Cora’s hand and the two danced to the tune, stamping out the battle-drum beats. The lady laughed and happily accepted his merriment. Alice skipped in and whistled the instrumental part along with them, having abandoned her cookie-making for the fun at hand. The Colonel even smiled a little. Then came the second verse and, much to everyone’s surprise, Hawkeye sang along. He knew every word.
I’ve shared my life with you, brother.
Since I recall, you’ve been my friend.
You say we’re not like the others,
Still, we must die. All things must end.
I know I can’t stop what’s coming,
But I will try, oh, how I’ll try!
Will you fight with me, brother, for one last time
On one last ride?
The youths changed partners, Cora twirling into Hawkeye’s arms and Heyward reaching out to Alice. Though the scout had not been ready to dance, he followed her lead. Uncas and Chingachgook had learned the song’s drum beats from watching the merry-makers’ footsteps. The father beat his chest to the rhythm and Uncas clapped.
Don’t turn away!
Don’t tell me that we’re not the same
We face the fire together,
Brothers ‘til the end.
Don’t run away!
Our time will come, but not today.
I’ll stand beside you, brother
With you ‘til the end.
Hawkeye saw Uncas enjoying the song, and couldn’t help but feel another twang of great guilt, unbecoming of a man who was (mostly) convinced of his correctness on the matters the bickered over. But Hawkeye would give anything for Uncas’ joy. Even his “rightness”.
He twirled his dancing partner around and, in an instant, grabbed the Mohican boy and pulled him to his feet. Then, he replaced himself with the lad. By the time the chorus began again, she was in Uncas’ arms.
Don’t turn away!
Don’t tell me that we’re not the same
We face the fire together,
Brothers ‘til the end.
Don’t run away!
Our time will come, but not today.
I’ll stand beside you, brother
With you ‘til the end.
Inspired by Hawkeye’s kind act and his friends’ love of music, Uncas decided to sing along to the instrumental, in his own language. Much in the chanting sound distinct to tribal music of the region, Uncas repeated the words “don’t go away” in Delaware.
Kàchi ikal, ikalia
Kàchi ikal, ikalia
Hawkeye, now seated beside Chingachgook, was equally enthralled in the song, and joined Uncas’ tune, knowing the words. The father followed along, proud to hear his son speak their language in an English household, to an English song.
Kàchi ikal, ikalia!
Kàchi ikal, ikalia!
Not one voice was silent when the chorus returned. The four youngest had infectious joy that could bring even the most disheartened to set aside their sighing for singing.
Don’t turn away!
Don’t tell me that we’re not the same
We face the fire together,
Brothers ‘til the end.
Don’t run away!
Our time will come, but not today.
I’ll stand beside you, brother
With you ‘til the end.
Don’t tell me that we’re not the same
We face the fire together,
Brothers ‘til the end.
Our time will come, but not today.
I’ll stand beside you, brother
With you ‘til the end.
George Munro, at the end of this joyful chorus, laughed heartily, and gathered his daughters in his arms. The song had served his spirit well, and Heyward was very happy to see this his suggestion had gone over more than well.
The Colonel bellowed out in that thick, proud Scottish voice “Aye, those are my girls! Lord, forgive my gloom! I’ll be damned if I should be glum when my children are glad. What more might a father ask for? No, for we are together, among family and friends. My dear Sachem friend and I may not have our wives - the mothers of our children - but all our time is short compared to the ‘arth. Yes, let us celebrate as Christmas draws nigher, and let us celebrate the twelve days hence! Mr Gamut, another song!”
The choral director sprung to his feet in duty and service. “What will you have, Colonel?”
“Why, a tune you surely know well! Let us hear ‘Ye Jacobites by Name’!”
Chapter 20: 2nd Night
That night, Cora prepared the last of the deer for dinner. She kneeled in front of the fire, occasionally turning fine venison steaks on the spit. The delicious smell lingered in everyone’s nose, and even the most practiced patient eyes among them suffered once or twice to glance at the progress of the meal. Alice and Heyward told Cora jokes to keep her amused while she cooked.
“Bernice told me this one,” Alice began. “A man is courting a girl and tells her ‘I am a millionaire, haven’t I got enough money for the both of us?’ The girl said to him ‘Yes, but only if your tastes are very modest’.”
It took a second for Cora to get it, but once she did, she laughed heartily. Hawkeye got a kick out of it too, and translated for his Mohican friends, who liked it equally. Then it was Heyward’s turn.
“What can you fill a barrel with to make it lighter?”
“What?” Cora asked along.
More laughter from the room. Hawkeye made a note in his mind to remember that joke next time he got the chance to use Killdeer.
Alice nodded. “Very witty, Duncan! But match this: A wise man goes to see his friend, who is very sick. The sick man’s wife greets him at the door, and says her husband has departed. The wise man replies ‘Well, when he is returned, will you tell him I asked how he is?’”
Munro thought that was the funniest. A man who’s seen so much death has to find humor in it, or he’d never be jolly again.
Cora turned the spit. “I say one more joke, and this ought to be done. Heyward, I believe it’s your turn.”
“I believe I have to worthy one. Well, there was a man asked to be a witness in court. The counsel asked him if he was born in wedlock. ‘No sir,’ he said, ‘I was born in Devonshire’.”
This made Cora laugh the hardest. She liked jokes on the crass side.
Alice poked fun at her sister’s taste for jokes. “That’s no joke for a lady, Cora.”
“Lord knows we’ve heard worse. Lord knows you’ve told worse!”
“Aye, you have! You told the one about - “
Munro covered his ears. “Girls, must you suffer your father to hear of your goings-on?”
She smiled warmly. “Fine, fine. I’ll spare Alice for now. Besides, I believe it’s time to eat.”
She removed the meat from the spit as the rest went and took their seats at the table. Alice poured water into their cups while Cora brought the plate to the hungry group. Once all had food in front of them and David lead saying grace, they began eating.
Munro mentioned his gratitude to their guests for killing the deer they’d been eating for the past few days. Hawkeye dismissed his thanks, for they would have gone hunting whether they were guests of the Munros or not, because they live to hunt. The Colonel didn’t rescind the thanks on account of this.
They kept eating. Uncas muttered something in Delaware to his father, and it seemed to intrigue him and catch Hawkeye’s attention. The boy seemed to tell a joke of his own, and it made all three of them laugh.
“What did he say?” Alice asked Hawkeye.
He shook his head, still chuckling. “Oh, Miss Munro, a warrior’s obscenity is not for innocent ears to hear.”
“What about my ears?” Cora asked.
Hawkeye glanced a cautious, humored eye to Uncas. The lad nodded with his permission, and possibly even forgiveness for the scout.
With this warrant, Hawkeye leaned over to Cora’s ear and whispered the joke in English. A smile grew fast on her face, until she broke into a full belly laugh, head thrown back to the ceiling. The three foresters were amused all over again to see a lady so civilized and proper enjoy their crassness.
“Tell me Cora, tell me!” Alice whined.
“Never, never! My Lord, never. Uncas! Is it becoming of the Mohican chief to say such words, especially in front of your father?”
Hawkeye sat back in his chair. “I have known Chingachgook in his youth, and I can promise you that Uncas’ wit was not licked off the grass.”
“Terrible, terrible!” Cora reprimanded, completely un-serious. “Men ought not be so profane, as their nature lets them be!” She stood up and slinked back to the fire, to ensure it would stay burning. “What wicked jokes!” As she passed Uncas, she whispered to him “I have a better one to tell you later”.
The table laughed, and continued with loud, rowdy conversation. Heyward, however, felt his heart jump in his chest. Cora was in a good mood, and alone. He could finally do what he’d come all this way to do.
While the others were distracted with their merriment, he slipped away to the fire as well, and knelt beside her while she poked the embers.
“Hello, Duncan,” She greeted. “If you’re here to ask what Uncas’ joke was, save your breath! I could not repeat it.”
“Ha! No, no. I wouldn’t ask you to. I’m aware of what soldiers and warriors alike might find funny. No, I joined you so we might speak about something of a greater importance.”
Silence. Mirroring the Mohicans’ native patience, each waited for the other to speak. Duncan was too impatient, and didn’t wait for her to ask “what”.
“It has been on my mind for some time now.”
No response from the lady. She only looked at him with all the interest but emotional distance of a deer in a field, watching the hunter in the treeline.
“It is a matter I’ve discussed with your father, and we two are in accord on the subject. But he has made it clear that the only permission, dare I say, blessing, I need seek is from you.”
Her face changed. There came a flash of anxiety, mostly, but something else as well. A stranger to Cora might not have known what it was, but Duncan was trained. She was challenging him from his fright of her, and cowardice. She was challenging him to speak plainly.
“My request, as you know, Cora, went so far as to presume the honor of being your brother in law.”
Every ounce of her, physical and spiritual, sank. She looked away into the embers. Neither said a word for a very long time. The silence was backdropped by the sounds from the dining room, of their friends and loved ones having a good time. Miss Munro didn’t speak. Why didn’t she speak? There was so much to be said!
“Did you hear me?”
Silence. Laughter and utensils clinking sounding in the room over. Her eyes slowly turned from the fire to the fire iron in her hand.
“Do you understand what I mean?”
Silence. Heyward believed death would be more tolerable than this. He inhaled deep, ready to say more, but he was interrupted by Cora.
“You have my blessing.”
“Did you hear me?”
“I don’t know.”
“I said you have my blessing. That’s what I said.”
Silence. Her gaze went back to the fire.
“Do you know what I want your blessing for?”
“But - “
“What else could you ask my blessing for? To go to war? To kill? To live and breathe? No, no. You have the one and only blessing that you will ever need from me.”
Her aggression threw him. “Cora, I - “
“You have my blessing to marry Alice. Be content.”
Mustering all her energy left, Cora stood and set the fire iron down. Heyward followed after her like a beaten dog - hurt and confused, but no less loyal. He reached out to hold her arm, but she coldly shook him loose.
“What is it?” He asked.
“What is what?” She returned, angry and sad and defensive.
“Why do you look at me, speak to me, run from me like you hate me?”
His voice was unconsciously raised in his emotional whirlwind. Those still at the table stopped goofing around and rather turned their attentions backwards to the two in the living room. Cora noticed them, and tried to hush him.
“No, Cora. You’re my friend, nay, my best friend, and I will not suffer a second of enmity with you. Tell me now what is wrong, and let me repair it.”
Her eyes brightened and words hung on the tip of her tongue, but she didn’t permit them go free. “Duncan, I have no qualms.”
“Don’t you think I know you well enough by now to see when you lie?”
Alice stood from the dinner table. “What are you - “
Cora put a hand up to her sister, stopping her instantly. “It is no matter, Alice. No need for concern.”
“Answer me, Cora,” Duncan persisted. “Why do you hesitate?”
“I don’t!” She cried, rushing into the kitchen. He followed her, then Alice, then the men still seated stood as well and watched from the doorway.
“Is there a single part of myself I haven’t made plain to you? Is there anything of mine that is not yours? What more do you want from me? My blood?”
She swung around like a ballet dancer. “No, but I should!” She snapped, with wicked sincerity. “I have the right to ask for your blood! Blood and sweat and tears! But the only thing more I want from you is so much less on your part, it were a joke I even have to ask it of you.”
“What then! Tell me, Cora! My Lord, your mystery and solemnity are unyielding!”
Pointing an accusatory finger, she hissed “My sister will be provided for by the volition and love of her husband, not by the duty of the negroes enslaved to him.”
Deader than the forest at night, deader than a rock, deader than all their ancestors, was the silence that succeeded this declaration. She’d broken a dear rule of “civilized” society. She brought up an uncomfortable truth.
Not one of them knew what to say. What was there to say? She could not be refuted. She could not be brushed off. It was a fact that the Heyward family of America had made their wealth off the servitude of others, and they continued to do so. Could they expect Cora to give her sister away to become another perpetrator?
Her voice, now quiet and broken, found a few words left to say. “You know slavery to be a great evil to my blood, and I know slave owning to be a great pride to yours. Therefore, so long as you are Duncan Heyward, and she is Alice Munro, I cannot give you my blessing.”
She passed by him and her sister, walked through the living room, and started up the stairs. Alice cried out “Wait!”
The lady stopped in her tracks. All of them gathered around to see the scene about to unfold even further.
“Cora, I... I thought... You once said he was deservedly dear to all of the name of Munro.”
“Aye, I said this, and meant it. His first name, his own name, has earned every commendation that our last can give it. But his last name gives a debt of sin that his first has not repaid.”
“It isn’t fair!” The girl wept, not knowing what else to say. “It isn’t fair!”
“I know, I know,” she said, comforting as she could be. “And if I could be the great decider of events, I never would have shackled you to me. That was the greatest injustice of all. If only God had made one another hateable strangers!”
With this, she finally fled upstairs to her bedroom. The door slammed behind her and in superhuman time, the sound of her loom clanking back and forth floated to those below her. The Colonel hung his head in despair. Alice threw herself into the arms of her star-crossed lover.
Hawkeye was compelled to speak. “Surely, she will think clearer tomorrow morning.”
“Yes,” muttered Duncan. “And she’ll ask me to leave.”
“Major - “
“It’s ok, my friend. I won’t stay where I’m not welcome.”
Alice sobbed harder, and buried her face in his shirt. All her tears didn’t wash away the problems.
“I’ll be gone before midday. I had best get my rest.”
Thus, the evening was concluded.