Summary and Analysis
Deerslayer explains privately to Tom Hutter what has been done with the chest; and the latter calmly accepts the explanation about the discovery of the key, the searching of the chest's contents, and the use of the chess pieces for ransom. Hutter is rather relieved that the whole chest was not searched. When they rejoin the others, Hurry asks Deerslayer about the prospects for peace. As an answer, Deerslayer throws toward Hurry a bundle of sticks, the ends of which have been dipped in blood: the "gauntlet" signifying a declaration of war. He says that an Indian tossed it on deck only minutes ago. Hurry Harry impetuously tries to seize a canoe to chase and shoot the Mingo, but Deerslayer and Chingachgook stop him.
Tension runs high; only the innocent intervention of Hetty, admonishing Hurry Harry, prevents a serious quarrel among the men. However, Tom Hutter, Hurry Harry, and Chingachgook decide to attack the Indians. Hutter and Hurry want to get scalps for bounties, and Chingachgook wants some for trophies. Although Deerslayer obviously wants no part in this expedition and criticizes the two white men for their aggression, he gives his Indian friend approval, but tells Chingachgook to fight mercifully and honorably. The trip to the shore is useless because the Mingos have abandoned the site of their previous encampment. When the three white men return to the ark, Chingachgook and Deerslayer make plans for the rescue of Hist. Deerslayer, convincing Judith of the necessity of this new mission, leaves in a canoe with Chingachgook, toward the Mingos' new camp, at the place where Hist was supposed to be waiting for them.
After approaching the shore cautiously, Deerslayer and Chingachgook bring the canoe to land, then separate to carefully study the terrain near the Mingo camp. They also try to see how closely Hist is guarded and conclude that, although the Indians have increased the guards because of Chingachgook's suspected presence on the ark, the rescue is not impossible to attempt. The warriors rest during the night, and the women, watching Hist, are not as alert as their male counterparts. Deerslayer and Chingachgook, after talking together, crawl toward Hist's hut. Chingachgook imitates the chirping of a squirrel which Hist recognizes. Soon afterward, Hist's old guard is told to bring water and she and Hist head toward a spring, located a short distance from the camp. Chingachgook wants to tomahawk the Mingo squaw, but Deerslayer is afraid of an outcry from the intended victim. Deerslayer seizes the Mingo woman by the throat to prevent her from screaming as Chingachgook and Hist flee toward the canoe. But the old woman, pretending to be passive, suddenly screams so that three or four warriors come to her rescue. Deerslayer, releasing the squaw, runs in the direction of the canoe.
The challenge of the Mingos is related and interpreted as part and parcel of the chivalric code of the American Indian. This episode of the sticks dipped in blood is an example of Cooper's adaptation of the medieval background from Scott's novels and the Gothic romances, "nationalized" by him to the American scene. Deerslayer elaborates on the differences between the moral world of the Indian and that of the white man in his fraternal advice to Chingachgook before the latter's departure for the shore. The Christian lesson is the line of division between the two worlds, and Deerslayer again stresses his belief in the ethical values of religion. Although he defends Christian principles, Deerslayer is not fully in favor of organized churches. He makes the point, for example, that church buildings are not necessary because the earth and nature are appropriate temples of worship to arrive at understanding and respect for God.
Judith's love for Deerslayer, which is now becoming very evident to Hurry Harry, is intensifying the rivalry between the two white men. For example, Deerslayer and Hurry Harry, in their confrontation on the deck, are contrasted sharply once more. Deerslayer, of course, proves his moral superiority and mental worth in this scene. Hurry Harry and Tom Hutter, although they have recently escaped from certain torture and agonizing death, have learned nothing from their captivity. They are still determined to resort to violence to satisfy their greed for money in exchange for scalps, and they are now spurred to another attack by the desire for revenge in payment for their humiliation as prisoners of the Mingos.
The characterization of Deerslayer is important in these chapters on the psychological level at first and on the physical level later. He has become friends with Judith, and they speak warmly and frankly. She, however, knows that he has been prejudiced against her virtues by the gossip of Hurry Harry — accusations never denied by Deerslayer for their influence upon his opinion of Judith. Deerslayer's discussion with Judith during the raiding party's absence is also a major contribution toward the understanding of his code. He is against living in society and prefers the solitary, untamed forests. Civilization is "contradiction" and nature is "concord" in Deerslayer's terminology.
Deerslayer is characterized in these two Chapters as "a man of strong, native, poetical feeling." As a result of his constant love and enjoyment of the natural beauties of the American hinterland, he has a moral sense which makes him angry at "universal decay." This term is defined as the decline brought about by waste and violence rather than by the inevitable natural changes. All these traits give Deerslayer an outstanding physical superiority in addition to his moral and ethical stature. He is consequently steadfast in danger and afraid of no crisis. These comments by Cooper are put to the test in the thrilling pages concerning the attempt to rescue Hist. Deerslayer's motive is one of friendship for Chingachgook, and the salvation of Hist was the primary purpose of his trip to Glimmerglass.
Chapter 16 brings the romance to a climactic moment: the prelude to the capture of Deerslayer. So thorough is Cooper in his planning and execution that he can continue the excitement and suspense into the next chapter with the audience's attention at a high pitch. The technique is the familiar one of escape and pursuit, and later capture. The quality of verisimilitude, however, is upheld, and the entire lengthy description of the expedition is realistic and detailed.