The Last of the Mohicans By James Fenimore Cooper Summary and Analysis Chapters 20-21

Summary

It is still dark when the party awakens and walks carefully on rocks, stones, and wood to the lake, where they shove off to the northward by canoe in a manner to leave no sign of departure. At dawn they enter the narrows of the lake with its numberless little islands. Discovering smoke in the mist above one of the islands, they make a push but are followed by two canoes of Hurons. They are holding a comfortable intervening distance when another war canoe starts across their course up ahead. By tacking westward, they effect a parallel race with the new vessel and take the lead after being separated by an island. With enough distance to avoid the power of the Indians' short rifles, Hawkeye wounds a Huron with his long rifle "Killdeer," thus achieving escape when the enemy canoes converge and stop.

Upon reaching the northern shore, the men paddle eastward to deceive the enemy. With the canoe on their shoulders, they leave an obvious trail as they move inland, cross a stream, and reach an extensive naked rock. At this point they walk backward in their own footprints to the brook, paddle back to the lake, and, when darkness comes, safely reach the western shore, where they conceal the boat and strike into the vast wilderness. After many hours of hiking, the travelers halt and for once sleep until the sun is up.

Uncas finally finds the trail of the fugitives, and the pursuers follow it to where it disappears in a much trampled area. They are at a complete loss until Uncas diverts the course of a little rill and fantastically discovers the impression of a moccasin in the streambed. Though Hawkeye knows that Magua's abandonment of the horses means that they are now in Huron territory, they follow the new trail and reach a point where they must deploy themselves to seek the enemy's whereabouts. Heyward is sent to the edge of the woods and there mistakes a beaver pond and its hundred earthen dwellings for a lake and an Indian village. Before he can signal the others, a rustling of leaves reveals a stranger Indian a hundred yards away. When apprised of this, Hawkeye makes a circle and is about to brain the stranger but instead taps him on the shoulder. It is Gamut made up like an Indian.

Analysis

These chapters are clearly devoted to the action of the new chase, emphasizing the dangers of frontier warfare and the subtleties of tracking. Even the unbelievable discovery of the moccasin print in the rillbed illustrates the ingenuity of both the pursued and the pursuers.

Otherwise, only three matters of formality are presented. Even at the probable expense of danger and loss of time, Uncas is thoroughly deferential to his elders. During the battle of the canoes, custom will not allow Munro and Heyward to shield themselves by lying down in the boat while the others are exposed, and this foolishness stands in contrast to the practical advice and usage of the woodsmen. At the conclusion, Gamut's admission that he might even try to teach the beavers to sing not only indicates his lack of profit from his frontier experiences but also reflects the dogged formality of his training and profession.

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