Poem: Lift Not the Painted Veil Which Those Who Live - Percy Bysshe Shelley
Characters: Alice-centric; Alice/Uncas
Disclaimer: Last of the Mohicans does not belong to me.
Lift not the painted veil which those who live
Call Life: though unreal shapes be pictured there,
And it but mimic all we would believe
With colours idly spread,—behind, lurk Fear
And Hope, twin Destinies; who ever weave
Their shadows, o'er the chasm, sightless and drear.
I knew one who had lifted it—he sought,
For his lost heart was tender, things to love,
But found them not, alas! nor was there aught
The world contains, the which he could approve.
Through the unheeding many he did move,
A splendour among shadows, a bright blot
Upon this gloomy scene, a Spirit that strove
For truth, and like the Preacher found it not.
The first thing she lost was her hat.
It wasn't a particularly expensive hat. Nor was it a thing of great beauty. But it was her hat. Besides, that soldier had complimented her on it. A pretty hat, he had said, all sunshine smiles and blue eyes. He was dead now, barely recognizable under all the blood.
The second thing she lost was her horse.
This loss she didn't mind as much. Because when he stilled her hands, she felt a warmth seeping from them that made her suddenly aware of the ice in which she was trapped. His name was Uncas. And he was everything she had been taught to fear.
She lost her shoes along the way. He gave her a pair of moccasins. She couldn't get used to them; they lacked the rigidity and structure of her sharp toed and curved heels. The moccasins were soft and supple, changing with her steps to suit her feet. The freedom of movement was uncomfortable, and the choice they allowed her juxtaposed her manner of walking.
She lost something on the canoe. Perhaps she lost her fear. Or perhaps she lost her courage. The sky was streaked in angry reds, and the screams of the dead were almost audible over the deafening thunder of the cannons. She took Uncas's hand. Crouched in the bed of the canoe, she dared not look at him, but she couldn't stop her hand from clutching almost desperately at his. The screams didn't seem so loud after that.
At the fort, she hoped again. She believed that like a nightmare, her father could make it all go away. All that she had lost would be found. Silly thoughts of a schoolgirl; for the men she had put on pedestals were not gods.
She lost her way then. All the foundations of British law, all the foundations of justice, all the foundations of equality and truth, scattered into the wind. If Duncan could lie, then anyone could. If her father could condemn a good man, then no one was good. She had to go back to England. Only there, hidden in her petticoats, gloves, hats, and umbrellas could things make sense again.
In the meantime, she looked at Uncas. And he looked back.
Then she lost her father.
His heart, ripped out. His screams, ignored. His life, gone. She was breaking apart, leaving a trail of pieces behind her. She tried to catch them, but it was as useless as trying to catch the moon in a fish net. How had the world not stopped? Surely the screams would cease and the killing would end. Surely everyone would be stunned into silence as her father took his last breath. Surely the world would end. But only Uncas stood still, gazing at her across the blood stained grass.
At the waterfalls, she lost Alice.
Alice had been a perfectly tailored lady. She was taught to dance and sing, to curtsy and exchange pleasantries, to serve tea and play the harpsichord, to sip her soup and embroider cushions. Alice had been milk and honey, sweet words and shy smiles. Every word and phrase she knew had been put in her mouth with the sole purpose of crafting a model lady out of her. Alice was not a person. Alice was a fitted dress she had been made to wear. Without a shell, what was underneath would vanish like smoke. Uncas held her tight, and she let him, willing the seams to stay together.
Cora was the last thing she lost.
The words of the sachem were impossible to understand. Nathaniel and Duncan's faces were easier. Cora, her sister, sacrificed. She didn't know why, nor did she try and understand. Somewhere inside of her, something whispered a small word of parting. When the man who killed her father yanked her behind him, she didn't fight.
He came for her, Uncas. It was like seeing the sun.
She hadn't cried when she lost her hat. She hadn't cried when she lost her horse, or her shoes, or her faith. She hadn't cried when she lost her father, her sister, or herself. But then the stone-faced man plunged his knife into Uncas.
He looked at her, and then he was gone.
It hurt. So much.
She couldn't lose anything else.
Why she moved, she did not know. Perhaps she thought she could catch him by peering over the ledge. The hatred in the savage man's eyes trapped her in ice. Uncas had fallen, and nothing would bring him back.
She remembered her mother saying: from the ashes shall rise a phoenix. What pretty lies. She was no phoenix. Ashes, ashes, we all fall down.
Another glance over the ledge. Down below, Uncas looked peaceful in death.
She could jump.
Instead of falling down, bearing the brunt of all the branches along the way, she could jump. She wasn't Alice anymore, but if she jumped, she wouldn't have to be.
For all she had lost, she could still find a stranger.
She would be one of a pair. She would be the girl who wore moccasins and let a red man plait her hair.
Why did she jump?
Because it was easy.