The Last of The Mohicans: Novel Summary: Chapter 18-23
Three days after the Fort William Henry massacre, Munro, Hawkeye, the Mohicans, and Heyward approach the ruined fort, making their way past the many victims that still lie where they fell. Hawkeye says that he has never seen such a horrifying spectacle of carnage, and vows revenge. He also blames Montcalm for not protecting the English. Then Uncas discovers a fragment of Cora’s riding-veil. They conclude that she has been taken north to Canada. Heyward finds a footprint and Uncas declares that it was left by Magua. They also find David’s discarded pitch-pipe, and assume that he is still with Cora. Then they find some jewelry that Alice used to wear around her neck.
Hawkeye and his party spend the night at the ruined fort. Heyward fears that there may still be Indians lurking, but Hawkeye does not share his view. He tells Heyward that the noises he hears are wolves, not Indians. But then they hear another sound, not made by wolves. Hawkeye gets Uncas to investigate it. Soon there is the sound of a rifle shot, aimed at Chingachgook. Uncas gives chase to the single assailant and kills him, returning with the victim’s scalp. Hawkeye and the Mohicans then sit together to decide what to do next. They smoke a pipe and pass it around between them. The Mohicans want to pursue Magua and his hostages by land, whereas Hawkeye wants to do it across water. He argues that this will be easier for Munro, and also it will leave no trail. The Mohicans agree to Hawkeye’s plan.
The men rouse themselves before dawn to commence their pursuit and take a canoe out onto the lake. They realize that at some point they will probably encounter hostile Indians once more. Soon Uncas spots a small encampment in the distance. Hawkeye does not know whether it belongs to the French or the Indians. They press forward, alert to the danger. It soon transpires that the group is made up of hostile Indians, who fire at the canoe as soon as they see it. They jump into two canoes and give chase. Another Indian canoe appears, heading for Hawkeye’s party, and their situation is perilous. The two canoes glide on parallel lines, separated by less than two hundred yards, but Hawkeye’s canoe is faster. The Hurons shoot several times but fail to hit anyone. Hawkeye remarks that they are poor shots. He then shoots one of the Indians, and in the exchange of fire Chingachgook is slightly wounded. They then accelerate their pace, leaving the Indians far behind. The Hurons appear to abandon the pursuit. Hawkeye and his party land at the northern end of the lake, where there they spot a Huron canoe following them. They drag the canoe ashore, and leave a false trail in the woods before launching the canoe again. They end up by evening in a quiet haven on the western shore where they land again, concealing the canoe under a pile of brush.
The party makes its way through the wilderness, heading north. But they cannot find the trail they seek, and Hawkeye is concerned. But Uncas soon sees evidence that Cora has passed that way. They pursue the trail, avoiding the false trails the Hurons left. They find the two horses that the Hurons had left behind several days previously, but for a while the main trail goes cold. They search every inch of the ground to try to pick it up again. Eventually, Uncas finds the footprint which they decide must belong to David. He has been made to go first, and the others have trod carefully in his footprint. As the pursuers follow the trail anew, they also find footprints belonging to Cora and Alice. They near a Huron encampment, and Hawkeye senses danger. He and the two Mohicans split up, each taking a different route. Hawkeye, Heyward and Munro then come upon an Indian village in a clearing. He sees an Indian less than a hundred yards from him. The Indian is also observing the village. Hawkeye joins Heyward, and notes that the Indian is unarmed. Then Hawkeye starts to laugh silently. He says he will take the Indian alive. But when he reaches him he merely taps him on the shoulder. The “Indian” turns out to be David.
Hawkeye teases David, and then asks him about the two women. David replies that they are safe but have been separated. Cora has been taken to a nearby Indian community; Alice is being held two miles away among the Huron women. David explains that he is allowed to come and go as he pleases, since the Indians think he is mad and they never harm someone who is not sane. Hawkeye returns David’s pitch-pipe and David attempts to play it. David then explains everything he knows about the journey they took. Hawkeye quizzes him about the nature of the tribe where Cora has been taken. David only knows that they are allies of the French, but they did not take part in the massacre at the fort. Hawkeye chides him for not being more observant. They decide to sent David back to the Indians, so he can inform Cora and Alice of their arrival. Heyward insists on going as well, in order to rescue Alice. The Mohicans paint his face, hoping to disguise him so that he looks a peaceable fool and might pass as a juggler who speaks French and moves amongst the friendly Indian tribes. David and Heyward then embark on their dangerous mission.
David and Heyward enter the village without incident. They enter the nearest lodge. The Indian warriors observe Heyward closely but do not speak. Heyward speaks to an elderly chief in French, saying that he comes from the Canada father (the French) to heal the sick. His explanation is well received. Then there are yells from outside, and uproar in the lodge. It transpires that a Huron war party is returning with the scalps of those it has killed. They bring with them two Indian prisoners, whom they intend to kill. One prisoner accepts his fate with dignity and calmness; the other hangs his head in shame and fear. Suddenly, the first prisoner tries to escape, running hither and thither. He seeks sanctuary by touching a small painted post before the door of the principal lodge. By tradition, this means that his fate must be decided by a meeting of the tribal council. The prisoner bears the taunts of the women and children with great dignity. It transpires that the prisoner is none other than Uncas. As he is led into the lodge, Heyward manages to follow. The second prisoner is also brought to the lodge. During his interrogation, Uncas remains defiant. He was captured only because of the cowardice of the other prisoner, who, running away, inadvertently led Uncas into a trap. The cowardly warrior is then executed by means of a knife thrust into his heart.
Chapter XIX reveals more of the complex attitude of both Hawkeye and the author, Cooper, to the Indians and their relations with the white man. Hawkeye is full of reflections about Indian ways, and they are by no means hostile. In his musings on the nature of paradise, for example, he argues that people are rewarded according to their “dispositions and gifts.” This being so, he is willing to grant that the Indian after death may indeed find the “glorious hunting-grounds of which his traditions tell.” In Chapter XXII, he declares that “even the Mingo adores but the true and living God.”
This respect and understanding of Indian religion and culture is apparent also (if in a rather odd way) when Hawkeye marvels at Chingachgook’s ability to decide from a scalp the tribe the scalp came from. Hawkeye remarks, “What right have Christian whites to boast of their learning, when a savage can read a language that would prove too much for the wisest of them all!” This again shows Hawkeye’s contempt for book-learning and his reverence of practical knowledge gained from experience. He later acknowledges that if a man mixes much with another people (as he himself does), love will grow up between them, and in the same breath he shows his knowledge of the ill effects the white man has produced in the Indian tribes, as far as relations among themselves are concerned: “It is true that white cunning has managed to throw the tribes into great confusion.” He repeats this sentiment in Chapter XXII.
Later in chapter XIX, the narrator comments on the debate between Uncas and Chingachgook about their course of action. He points out that a Christian assembly could learn a lot from the courtesy and respect shown to the other’s point of view. The narrator also praises the ability of Uncas and Chingachgook to change their minds with honesty. Had members of a “civilized” nation acted in such a way, their political careers would have been destroyed by charges of inconsistency. This respect for the Indians, although it is regularly mixed with the prejudices common to his time, can be found again in Chapter XXI, when Hawkeye and his party reach the Huron village. They find it “possessed more of method and neatness of execution than the white men had been accustomed to believe belonged, ordinarily, to the Indian habits.” In Chapter XXII, even Duncan, who knows little about the Indians, admits as he gazes at the village that “even the brutes of these vast wilds were possessed of an instinct nearly commensurate with his own reason.”
Chapter XXI reveals another example of Hawkeye’s attitude to knowledge. It occurs after Heyward wonders why Uncas did not speak up earlier about what he knew. Hawkeye explains that in the white man’s culture, where knowledge is measured by what has been learned by books, the son will readily speak up to contradict the father. But in Indian culture, where “experience is the master,” the younger man respects the knowledge of his elder.
There is a significant moment in Chapter XXII, when David shows his loyalty to Cora and Alice. Since they were put under his protection, he chose not to escape from the Hurons even though he had ample opportunity to do so. This wins him the approval of the Mohicans and Hawkeye. He is starting to show some courage, and will show more as the novel reaches its climax. It shows he has traveled some way beyond the passive Calvinist predestinarian he was at the beginning.