Summary and Analysis Chapter 17



It is just before day on the 10th of August 1757, as a cloaked figure (Montcalm) emerges from the main French tent and moves beyond the farthest outpost to stand against a tree near the western water bastion of the fort. Just as the huge form of Munro appears on the rampart, the dark profile of Magua comes from the lake shore and raises a rifle toward the Scotsman, but Montcalm stops him in time. Le Renard Subtil sullenly explains his reason for revenge, but he leaves, saying hintingly that he "knows how to speak to a Huron warrior."

French drums and English fifes start the day of evacuation. Heyward, who has to lead the troops, puts Gamut in charge of the sisters. Following the soldiers at some distance, the domestics are passing near the Indians when one of them, thwarted in stealing a shawl from a woman, grabs her baby, dashes its head against a rock, and brains the mother with his tomahawk. Since Montcalm has failed in his promised escort for the English, Magua raises a whoop and the appalling (and historic) massacre begins, some of the Indians drinking the blood of their victims. Alice faints, and Gamut's loudly singing a psalm awes the Indians and thus keeps him and the girls safe until Magua, unable to find Munro, grabs Alice and dashes off, followed wildly by Cora. He puts the girls on one of the hidden Narragansets and leads it away as Gamut mounts the other horse and stays close behind. The Huron takes them to the very spot on the mountaintop where the protagonists had released the horses six days earlier. There they watch the massacre until the Indians finally turn to stealing and raising triumphant whoops.


This is the bloodiest section of the novel and its outlines are a matter of history, though Cooper gives the instigation of it to Magua as part of his revenge. The contrast between savagery and civilized conduct is obvious, both in the incident at dawn between Montcalm and Magua and in the evacuation. In spite of his past experiences, Gamut is still the adult innocent, unable to see that the Indians are awed by what they think is boldness or madness rather than by the power of the psalm he sings. Like a character from a heroic play of the English Restoration, Munro is torn between duty and honor, but he passes by his pleading Alice to seek Montcalm and help for all; it is his last tragic act as a whole man, heightened by his disappointment when Alice faints. Magua, of course, is true to his base intentions, and it is thus through him that the second long chase sequence begins.

Back to Top