All this the unhappy Roland beheld, and with a revulsion of feelings, that can only be imagined. He saw, without, indeed, entirely comprehending the cause, the sudden confusion and final flight of the little band, at the moment of anticipated victory. He saw them flying wildly up the hill, in irretrievable rout, followed by the whooping victors, who, with the fugitives, soon vanished entirely from view, leaving the field of battle to the dead and to the thrice miserable captives.
The conflict, though sharp and hot, considering the insignificant number of combatants on either side, was of no very long duration, the whole time, from the appearance of the Kentuckians until the flight, scarce exceeding half an hour. But the pursuit, which the victors immediately commenced, lasted a much longer space; and it was more than an hour,—an age of suspense and suffering to the soldier,—before the sound of whooping on the hill apprised him of their return. They brought with them, as trophies of success two horses, on each of which sat three or four different Indians, as many indeed as could get upon the animal’s back, where they clung together, shouting, laughing, and otherwise diverting themselves, more like joyous schoolboys than stern warriors who had just fought and won a bloody, battle.
But this semblance of mirth and good humour lasted no longer than while the savages were riding from the hill-top to the battle-ground, which having reached, they sprang upon the ground, and running wildly about, uttered several cries of the most mournful character, laments, as Roland supposed, over the bodies of their fallen companions.
But if such was their sorrow while looking-upon their own dead, the sight of their lifeless foemen—of whom two, besides the negro Emperor, who had been tomahawked the moment after he fell, had been unhappily left lying on the field—soon changed it into a fiercer passion. The wail became a yell of fury, loud and frightful; and Roland could see them gathering around each corpse, striking the senseless clay repeatedly with their knives and hatchets, each seeking to surpass his fellow in the savage work of mutilation. Such is the red man of America, whom courage, an attribute of all lovers of blood, whether man or animal; misfortune, the destiny, in every quarter of the globe, of every barbarous race, which contact with, a civilised one cannot civilise; and the dreams of poets and sentimentalists have invested with a character wholly incompatible with his condition. Individual virtues may be, and indeed frequently are, found among men in a natural state; but honour, justice, and generosity, as characteristics of the mass, are refinements belonging only to an advanced stage of civilisation.